Letting Your Light Shine in the Little Places

Letting Your Light Shine in the Little Places: finding joy and rest in God's seemingly small assignment for your life

I’m so proud of him. He has given up so much to be here…” I said, for perhaps the 18th time in as little as a year.

And although it escapes my memory who I was talking to, I know exactly who I was talking about: my husband.

A hyperintelligent young man, he was accepted into Princeton University as a high schooler and had plans of graduating with a law degree, undoubtedly at the top of his class. And with his nearly perfect test scores, he could have accomplished it all without paying a cent.

But God had a different course for his life, and after several sleepless nights and the heaviest spiritual wrestling matches he has ever experienced, his plans were rerouted: he would become a minister. That acceptance letter to Princeton was discarded and to Oklahoma Baptist University he went, where he graduated with honors before continuing his education at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky.

I knew he was a smarty-pants all along, but it wasn’t until after we married and I joined him at SBTS that I realized exactly how brilliant he was. He excelled in all of his classes on the advanced track to a Masters of Divinity, and was a shoo-in for the prestigious P.h.D. program. On several occasions, I heard his friends make light-hearted predictions that he would be the next president of the seminary.

I was certainly in awe of him. Because not only was he as bright as a 200-watt, he was down-to-earth. Humble. Kind. A magnificent speaker. Wise. And one of the funniest people I knew, with a wit so sharp it could cut the blues right out of you. Everyone liked him. He always knew what to say. He never took a wrong step.

He could have done anything.

But one semester into his very exciting and beloved P.h.D. studies, God tapped him on the shoulder with another unmistakable call, and after seeking guidance from his professors, with bittersweet resolve, he walked away from his very bright future, for three reasons…

1. God was strongly compelling him.

2. I was pregnant and he wanted to give me and our baby more than his work load would allow.

3. Our tiny church back home needed help.

Fast forward seven years. He has been senior pastor of that church now for five years. Attendance: 100, on a good day.

Growing up, he probably expected that by the age of 33 he would be a well-established lawyer, and I have no doubt in my mind that we would be bathing in dollar bills by now.

And even after he surrendered his life to the ministry, I’m sure there were dreams. A big, thriving church with thousands of podcast subscribers. Magazine articles and book deals. Big-time speaker at SBC conferences and church camps. Board member at OBU and SBTS…

instead, he willingly and passionately oversees this tiny flock that God has bound to his heart.

He creates tissue-paper poofs for baby showers, he keeps nursery on some Sunday mornings when our other pastor is preaching, he drives elderly congregants to the hospital, and he unclogs church toilets.

The work is challenging, and the results are slow.

No one really cares what he could have been.

And the only writing he does these days is the daily Bible reading guide that he crafts specifically for our congregation to help us meditate on the exposited Sunday text.

There are no book deals. No interviews. No headshots. No board meetings.

And what I didn’t realize was that there were hidden parts of me that struggled with this until I heard those words come out of my mouth yet again: “He has given up so much…

the Spirit pricked me.

What, exactly, my dear, has he given up?

Money?

Prestige?

A name?

All passing fancies and possible traps that could lead to the ruination of Mr. Gore.

Ten thousand people instead of a hundred?

As if the one hundred were not worthy of a life laid down for them…

as if the one hundred deserved someone less smart, less wise, less qualified, less caring.

I would never have said it in so many words, but what God uncovered in my heart that day was the lingering (and toxic) idea that big gifts needed to be used in BIG places, and that anything less was sort of wasteful.

Silly me.

Indeed, from a worldy perspective, Mr. Gore has given up much to obey God’s call on his life, and I have watched him continually lay down his life to pursue difficult things and to crucify the parts of him that could have been used to build up a kingdom for himself.

It is never easy to deny yourself, take up your cross daily and follow Christ.

There is great loss involved.

But how twisted was my underlying thought that there was any import in the number of people someone impacted, rather than in the impact itself?

As if success could be gauged by how many church members one had, or how many baptisms, or how many students, or how many awards, or how much money, or how much exposure, or how many Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest followers, or how many subscribers, or how many fans…

as if the unseen work of God could be measured and weighed and calculated.

It is important to note that this belief I was harboring in my heart was nearly undetectable. I LOVE our church (almost as much as my husband does). I love my life. I pursued these people and cried out to God to spend my life with them. You would have to move me from this place kicking and screaming, and there is nowhere on earth I would rather be than walking alongside the brothers and sisters God has placed on my path. But my constant acknowledgement of what Mr. Gore had given up was a red flag, and, once I examined my heart, I found a root of pride twisting its way through my belief system.

And, as we all know, roots of pride must be demolished.

As usual, God has been faithful to uproot and rebuild me, and it is for this reason that I am so eager to encourage you today.

To the mom who chases after toddlers. The blogger with fifteen subscribers. The pastor’s wife who disciples two young women. The pastor who never receives a plaque at the associational meetings. The church body whose building is outdated and embarrassing. The layman who sees the same two employees all day, every day. The photographer who has seven clients. The teacher in the small classroom in the small school in the small town. The musician who sings and plays on the smallest stage. The grandmother who invests in her handful of grandchildren. The prayer warrior in the tiny church. The homeschooler whose college diploma gathers cobwebs in a cardboard canister while she teaches her children how to read…

Never let the miracle escape you that, even though your light is shining in seemingly small places…you have a light.

Your work is no less important to the Kingdom and no less assigned by the God of the universe.

And if you lined up all of our rural towns and our private homes and our homeschools and our classes and our ministries and our prayer meetings and our blogs and our tiny churches where God is being made much of day by day, and you flew up into the clouds and you looked down at night, you wouldn’t be able to differentiate the big lights from the little lights…

you would just see one giant, beautiful remnant that reached all across the world and back again.

A light is a light is a light.

Don’t be ashamed that yours is shining in a place that no one else knows about.

Don’t feel like a failure because you’re not moving on to “bigger” and “better” things.

Don’t be afraid to live and die in a tiny church in a nameless town.

And don’t think that your gifts are wasted because the recipients are few.

Your light is a vibrant and necessary part of God’s story, whether you are shining on the biggest platforms in the world…

or the smallest.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may seen your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:14-16

 

Spirit-led Parenting

"The challenge isn't so much in knowing the right and wrong things to do, but in learning to listen to the Spirit in my heart in each moment, and to obey the various pulls and tugs, even when I don't want to."

While it has obviously tied up my writing time, nursing a baby for the past 6 months has not only given me lots of time to play Candy Crush, it has given me lots of time to think, about lots and lots and LOTS of stuff.

But the thing I’ve been ruminating over the most has been so freeing and so life-changing, it sort of begged me to sit down for a bit this afternoon and share the wealth.

Spirit-led parenting.

It is changing everything for me.

Question: how many parenting blogs have you read in the last two months?

Me? Probably 15 or 20.

Make that 25.

At least.

Articles are great. They are easy to read, they address one specific topic, and they give these great daily boosts of encouragement and motivation. I love a good article.

But articles can also be dangerous.

Here’s why…

What you are essentially reading in most articles and blog posts is an author’s personal conviction. Something has come up in that person’s life that has bothered them, and they are turning over a new leaf. Or, like me, they’ve been ruminating on some “stuff” and they sit down to hash it out on their blog.

It is a gift to be let in on these glimpses of personal growth and conviction, and they can be greatly used by the Spirit to promote change and conviction in our own hearts.

But what we, as readers, can sometimes do, is stand up from our daily dose of internet consumption in a fog of guilt-by-comparison.

What?…This lady doesn’t spend time on the internet? I must be a bad mom for loving Facebook so much.

This lady doesn’t tell her kids to ‘hurry up’? I’ve said that at least five times this week! I’m the worst!!

This lady doesn’t buy paper plates anymore? I’m never going to use a paper plate again without feeling like a failure…

And in this rush to heap guilt upon our heads, we make a major mistake, failing to recognize that what we are reading is one snippet from one person’s life that is very specific to their situation.

Let me explain.

I threw in the part about the paper plates because, GASP, I am the lady who doesn’t buy them anymore. After deciding to give them up a couple of years ago, I haven’t bought one. single. package.

I know. I’m incredible.

Now. Imagine if I shared that information in a blog post highlighting tips for cutting down on waste or ideas for improving your monthly budget.

And then imagine that you got that guilty feeling in your stomach because you can’t imagine giving up paper plates. “How is she able to do that?” you ask yourself, “I’m such a loser!!”

But what you wouldn’t realize in that 1000-word blog post (what?! sometimes I keep it to 1000 words) is that, yes, I gave up paper plates, but there is no way in a hundred years that I could give up disposable diapers. Or wet wipes. Or paper towels. Or Hostess donut gems.

It didn’t hurt me much to give up paper plates.

And my real motivation for chucking them in the first place? I wanted extra spending money for fresh flowers.

Because fresh flowers make me happy, and in comparison, paper plates, in my opinion, are kind of…meh.

SO. Obviously, you shouldn’t feel bad about yourself when you read about my paper plate fast.

Now, that was just one example, and a silly one at that, of the misguided comparisons we can make as readers. But now let’s take it to the next level.

What do you do when you read blogs that focus on the very essence of who you are, a wife, a mama, a daughter of God?

Do you unobjectively compare yourself?

And even worse, do you immediately make unfair judgements about yourself followed by sweeping resolutions to make improvements, thinking that if you “do” or “don’t do” these things, you will be more pleasing to God?

The possibilities are clearly endless…

Give up screens for a month.

De-activate your Facebook account indefinitely.

Pull the plug on television. Forever!

Decide that Santa is the worst.

Decide that Santa is okay so long as he is portrayed as St. Nicolas.

Decide that Santa is the BEST.

Do Elf on the Shelf.

Don’t do Elf on the Shelf and think that people who do Elf on the Shelf are ridiculous.

Orchestrate precious birthday parties for your kids.

DON’T orchestrate precious birthday parties because parties are the stupidest, most indulgent thing ever.

I could go on forever, but if we are not careful in our blog perusal, we can tie man-made nooses around our necks, so that the only way we feel successful in the parenting department is if we adhere to this ever-growing list of goals, ideas, resolutions, wars, stances, boycotts, philosophies and even menus.

Our days are spent in guilt because we aren’t sitting in front of our kids, watching every minute of their growth, and because we said this one phrase to this child, and we didn’t throw the party like this one Mom did, and we don’t eat anything organic or we have too much stuff in our house or WE DON’T HAVE ENOUGH STUFF or we….

whew. Can I stop now? I’m exhausted.

The internet (and even this blog!) is RICH in help and advice…

but sometimes our little tummies just can’t handle that level of decadence.

We are one person.

With one story.

And this is why I’ve been so encouraged lately, not only to be a better reader, but to realize that there is a huge difference between listening to another believer’s journey and gleaning wisdom from their story and unjustly comparing myself to them.

There are things that we, as parents, MUST do.

Bible things.

Deutoronomy 6:1-9, I Corinthians 13, Proverbs 22:6, Ephesians 6:4, 2 Timothy 3:15 (and many more).

And then…

well, then there are the other things.

The nonessentials.

The opinions.

The personal convictions.

The things that we’ll find alllllllll over the internet.

And while the advice and journaling from other believers might just change our life for the better, sometimes we are so busy trying to be 100 other people, we forget to listen to the most important voice in our lives…

the voice of the Spirit.

The Helper.

The Comforter.

And here’s what it all comes down to.

I know when I’ve been sitting at the computer too long with my back to the kids. I can feel it in my heart and I can see it on their faces.

(But then, if I’m being honest, I can also recognize those free moments when I can spend some time with my friends and family on Facebook).

I know when I need to put down Candy Crush and just watch my baby nurse and marvel at God’s miraculous provision.

(But then sometimes I feel perfectly allowed to zone out with some chocolate candy balls and stripy candies and exploding candies. Key word: candy. p.s. I will CRUSH you).

I know when I need to allow my daughter to bake with me and learn alongside me.

(But sometimes, after gauging the situation and her countenance, I can send her on her way because I need to hurry so we won’t be late to church).

The challenge isn’t so much in knowing the right and wrong things to do, but in learning to listen to the Spirit in my heart in each moment, and to obey the various pulls and tugs, even when I don’t want to.

All of the above was the most roundabout way ever to say this…

Let’s stop comparing ourselves to every mom and wife and lady on the internet. We don’t know their situations any better than we do Martha Stewart’s or Michelle Obama’s.

But then again, let’s also be very honest about our own situations and focus more on pleasing God with our innermost thoughts and motivations than we are on fulfilling this pipe dream of perfect parenting.

Are you spending too much time on the internet? Only you know that. (but you know you know it).

Do you need to give up something to be financially faithful? (may I suggest paper plates? Just kidding).

Have you assumed that by doing what everyone else is doing that all is well between you and God? You’ll know the answer to that if you simply ask, and it is a really important question.

Are you fulfilling lots of 10-step programs to better housekeeping and homeschooling and parenting but failing to live the gospel out for your kids to see?

It would just be really unnecessary to lose ourselves in a sea of helpful voices only to forget that God Himself is in our homes. Right here. Beside us. In us. Everywhere.

He knows what is best for our family.

He knows how to parent the quirky individuals He crafted for us to bring up.

He knows what we need to add, what we need to give up, where we are excelling and where we are lacking.

He knows our schedule. He knows our hearts.

And He even knows when we should have a big ol’ birthday party or scale things back a bit…

which leads me to my next post, “Mother Hen’s Seventh Birthday”, coming up next week!

~

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Have you snuffed out the voice of God in your preoccupation with looking like the perfect mom?

How is He teaching you and convicting you in your specific situation?

Do tell!

 

 

 

When “I Signed Up For This” Doesn’t Work

My New Year’s resolution of “I Signed Up For This” has done me a lot of good, for several reasons:

1. It has connected me with many new enthusiastic readers, all of whom I love and appreciate dearly. Hi, you’s guys! Welcome to our online community of randomness.

2. It resulted in my first ever magazine article (Yippee!).

3. It has actually worked.

Most days, I feel like a new woman on the motherhood, homemaking and homeschooling front.

Like, you know, a grown-up or somethin’.

And I can’t TELL you the last time I sighed when I loaded the kids up in the car. January 1, at the latest. (Two months may not seem very long for some of you, but for a perpetual sigher, it is like a millennia!)

As far as resolutions go, this one (by the grace and help of God) has seemingly reformed me, through and through.

Oh…

except for that frustrating day last month.

And that horrid afternoon a couple of weeks ago.

And last night, for a spell. 

And, um…all day today.

Even though a “mantra” or a resolution might pull a sinful woman like myself out of habitual and mindless complaining, there are days – lots of them – where I need something more.

Something deeper.

Something higher.

Today was definitely “one of those days”…

A random foot injury caused me to acutely feel every step I took, and in a two-story house with four little ones underfoot (pun intended), that’s too many to count.

Another covering of snow outside our windows was causing me to feel hemmed in and blahhhhhhh.

The children were rabid with cabin fever. I actually think they had foam coming out of their mouths.

I couldn’t think of anything to fix for lunch OR supper.

Rebekah’s hair was a tangled mess and I couldn’t find the hairbrush anywhere.

There were about two thousand tiny pieces of Play-Doh under the kitchen table.

And the list went on and on and on and on…

By 3:00 p.m., I wasn’t only sighing, I was hissing.

What had begun that morning with just a hurt foot continually climaxed to the point that a typical littering of Play-doh in the kitchen made me want to lay in the floor and cry like a baby; my despair had stacked up so high that I was being buried underneath it, and I felt like I was drowning!

I really knew that things were beyond my reach when I told myself “remember, you signed up for this…” and myself responded by saying “shut up, Mrs. Gore!”

Yikes.

Touchy.

On any other day, none of the things I mentioned above would necessarily cause me to want to throw in the dish towel.

Which is my point, exactly.

Rarely are the toughest days circumstantial, usually having more to do with how we are feeling on the inside than what is actually taking place around us.

As this kind of sinkhole frustration can be very common in the “trenches” of motherhood, I thought it would be a good idea to pen my thoughts on a day when I needed more than a New Year’s resolution, in case it might be a help to someone else.

Without further ado…

What do we do when “I Signed Up For This” doesn’t work?

1. The first thing I always try to do when I want to implode is to take a moment to pray.

This doesn’t have to happen in the quiet privacy of my room or in the church sanctuary. In fact, on this day, it took place in our schoolroom with kids running all over the place. I sank down onto the antique steamer trunk that holds all of our curriculum, I put my elbows on my knees, I propped my chin up with my hands, and squishing my cheeks up and down with my fingers, I began to talk to God.

“What is UP with me today?…”

What followed was a good moment of introspection coupled with many minutes of wordless pleas for help, in which I identified that my problem, as usual, had little to do with what I had been handed that day, and more to do with my lack of purpose, discipline and contentment.

Seriously.

I’m not being hard on myself and I’m not heaping unnecessary guilt upon my head; this is just pure, unadulterated truth, that I have a gloriously sweet and blessed life, yet, when left to myself, I will always, always find something to complain about.

Dang.

Talk about sobering.

But while this sort of “digging in” is always painful, I really believe that if I skip this step, I will miss something huge.

Here’s what I mean: imagine if life was composed entirely of comfortable moments. For instance, a morning at the spa followed by a shopping spree followed by a deliciously catered lunch followed by a nap followed by an idyllic walk through the countryside, day after day after day…

Or even in less grandiose terms, imagine if my life as it is was frustration-free. My foot would not be throbbing, my menu would be planned, my children would be so thirsty for knowledge that they would sit on the edge of their seats and drink in my every word, I’d know where the hairbrush was hiding, and I would be constantly aware and accepting of the fact that what I’m doing here is important and eternal.

Sounds dreamy, doesn’t it?

But that’s exactly what it is: a dream.

And while a hiccup-less life is what I sometimes (always) long for, without the hiccups…

I would never grow.

I would never conform into something that looks less like me and more like Christ.

And so, while it might seem like the spilled milk and the beyond-energy-filled 1st grader are random happenstances in the day, they are so much more than that.

Or, rather, they can be.

Being at the end of our rope reminds us of how tiny we are. How fallen. How needy.

They remind us that there is a Care-taker on whom to cast our burdens.

And, as a result, they allow us to pursue holiness when we probably wouldn’t be otherwise motivated to do so.

This is why it is a good thing that “I signed up for this” doesn’t always work.

And this is also why, although I truly adore “me-time”, I never want to run to it first, because doing so would be like applying a band-aid to a mortally gaping wound.

My wounds need antibiotics, not bandaids.

And so I run to my Father, where healing and change are found.

2. After I have asked for help from God and confessed my sin, I feel very free, happy and wise to look for help from outside sources.

In the vein of “I Signed Up For This”, yes, our children and our homes are completely and 100% our own responsibility, and we are not entitled to outside help or relief. We shouldn’t whine about it. We shouldn’t expect it.

But on the other hand, we are not meant to walk this life alone.

Do you feel overwhelmed at the mountain of tasks that lie before you? That’s because there is a mountain of tasks lying before you. You can’t tackle that by yourself.

Do you feel like you just can’t do it all? That’s because you can’t. If you can find me a woman who can cook three meals a day, spend time with the Lord, bathe and groom all of her kids, teach them all their different lessons for the day, bathe and groom herself, nurse a baby every three hours, clean the entire house, buy all the needed groceries and school supplies, do all the laundry, read aloud to each child, and still be sane by 3:00 p.m., I so desperately want to meet her and learn all her secrets.

In my house? It’s just impossible. I need help.

And help can look a thousand different ways…

Sometimes it is enough to simply put a movie on for the kids so I can retreat to my room for some alone time. Television, when used wisely and in moderation, can be a great friend in times of need!

Sometimes my husband takes the big kids to the church in the afternoon while the little ones sleep, giving me a chance to clean or write or nap or simply to cry without an audience.

Sometimes I call my mom and ask if she has a day she can help me deep-clean the house.

Sometimes we all just load up in the van and drive around town counting animals.

Sometimes we retreat to mom’s house for afternoon coffee and snacks.

Sometimes I ask my husband if we can get a pizza for supper.

Sometimes we do a joint supper with friends to brighten up our routine and pull us out of the doldrums.

I could go on and on, but it is less about the particulars, really, and more about the principle: after engaging in combat with the “old woman” that still hangs out in my heart, and after diligently chipping away at the root of sin that my despair has illuminated, I seek to start afresh and give myself a break…

no guilt…

no shame.

Because it is just an incontestable fact that sometimes mommy is broken and needs to depend upon her support system, whether that can be found in a husband, a church family, a mama, a sister, a family member, a friend, a neighbor, or, yes, a 30-minute show on Nick Jr.

~

There is no formula, really, to any of this, and being a mama is no different than any other calling: there are easy moments, there are joyful moments, there are average moments, there are very sad moments, and there are excruciatingly difficult ones…

such is the rhythm of life and sanctification.

But every moment counts, and can be used for God’s glory and for our good.

I’ll try to remember that the next time I’m sitting on a trunk in the schoolroom squishing my cheeks and trying really, really hard to hold it together. I hope you will, too!

Mrs. Gore’s Tips for Not Making Your Pastor Wish He Was Anything But a Pastor

One aspect of my life that I don’t talk about very often is the fact that I am married to a pastor.

My shepherd at church is also my shepherd at home.

Not to be confused with my infant baby, Shepherd. You can tell him apart from my husband/pastor shepherd because he wears onesies and his name has a capital “s”.

Anyhow, this not only makes me the heralded “pastor’s wife”, it makes me an expert in all things pastorly.

And since I am both a full-time layperson/congregant and married to a full-time person of the cloth, I thought I would merge my two worlds today and give some pointers on how people like us (the congregation) can be a help and not a hindrance to people like us (the minister and his wife and family).

As usual, I can only talk about things like this because our church is the totes awesomest. I give you my word, there is no hidden agenda or lurking jabs in the words that I shall henceforth be sharing.

Or in the words that I heretofore shared.

Let us begin.

1. Obviously, don’t be a poo-poo head.

I’m glad we had this talk.

2. Guard your little words.

As your God-appointed leaders, your pastor spends his week praying and, if you’re lucky, maybe even fasting, with you in mind, expecting the Lord to do something great in your life; thus, imagine how it must deflate him when he sees you at church and says “Good morning! How are you?” and your response is “It’s cold in here” or “Your microphone is too loud.” Um, ouch. Try instead to tell him what you appreciate about him or how the Lord used the sermon to impact you. He truly wants to hear about it. Then you can tell him you’re cold. In a nice way, of course (see point #1).

3. Likewise, guard your big words.

Speaking of “um, ouch”, I’ve taken note over my lifetime in church of how folks tend to speak more bluntly to pastors than they do others. As a full-time SAHM/homeschooler, I can’t imagine what it would feel like if someone walked into my home and started picking apart my realm, not only finding fault with the things that make up my entire life, but sharing my faults openly with others, all before giving me pointers on how to do my job better. It would be heartbreaking. Guard your tongues, ye brutal and loose-tongued opiners, and, not to be redundant, but…see point #1.

4. Give your pastor plenty of family time.

Our church is the BEST at this. We are five years into our ministry here, and never once have I felt that I am competing with the church for my husband’s attention. Granted, he has set firm guidelines in this area, but our church has also done its part, giving him freedom to come home when he chooses, to keep flexible office hours, and to arrive and depart from church with his family rather than in separate vehicles (meaning, no late-night meetings, etc.).

A church that competes with, rather than nurtures, their pastor’s life at home fatally damages his potential for fulfilling his biblical call. Tsk, tsk, tsk. That’s worse than being a you-know-what  (see point #1).

5. Incline your ear and follow your leader.

My husband pour hours into preparing his sermons, every week. On top of that, he writes a daily Bible reading guide so we might better ingest the exposited text. He asks us to pray for specific things. He encourages us in specific areas. He gives us tasks that are unique to our situation…

that’s his job.

Now it is the job of the congregation, myself included, to follow. The most encouraging church members are the ones who really listen and do the things their pastor asks them to do (obviously, this includes neither sinning nor drinking any kind of poisoned fruit punch).

6. Think about your particular gifts and use them to minister to your minister.

It has been a joy for me to watch our congregation encourage our family, in all kinds of different ways. Their gifts literally keep us going. Whether it is the deacon who makes hospital visits to give our pastors plenty of study time, or the older women who tidy up my husband’s office, or the young mom who brings us food, or the widow who frequently sends us encouragement, or the couple who constantly prays for us, or the man who mows our yard, the love and generosity of our church family makes the way so much easier for us.

Do the same for your pastor, and I’m pretty sure you’ll get an in-ground swimming pool in heaven.

7. Work hard to keep your pastor safe.

You can do this in so many ways. Pray for him. Give him plenty of rest. Pray for him. Protect him from she-devils with wicked intentions. Pray for him. Be his visitation buddy. In other words, be his watchdog and his mother hen. Taking care of your pastor helps ensure he will be equipped to take care of you.

Oh and don’t forget to pray for him.

8. Give him time and room to grow.

Although it is imperative that he meets the requirements that scripture lays out for his eldership, your pastor is being sanctified just like you are. Remember, pastors are people, too. And people are poo-poo heads sinners.

9. Give him time and room to preach.

It has become a token joke in today’s church culture to make references to the length of the pastor’s sermon, and although this is usually in good fun, I can imagine that it could easily turn harmful.

Imagine, for a minute, the pressure of knowing that the God of the universe was watching to make sure you said everything you were supposed to say. And then imagine looking out across of sea (or a small pond) of people who were tapping their feet and checking their wristwatches, expecting you to accomplish that daunting task in twenty to thirty minutes per week.

Cherish the pastor who is more afraid of God than he is of you, and give him the freedom to do his job and do it thoroughly and “with joy” (see Hebrews 13 below).

10. View your pastor and his family as a team.

This advice is more practical than it is biblical, but I appreciate it so much that, when our church members pray aloud for my husband, they pray for me and our children, too. I also personally love it when women include me in messages they send to my husband or seek us both out for advice; it is in no way necessary (because I read all his messages anyway), but it is a very cool thing to do, and it strengthens our family unit, which, again, is only for the good of the church.

11. Pay him well.

Many dole out big bucks for their doctors, dentists, accountants and personal trainers without question, but then expect their pastor and his family to live like paupers.

You pastor has been assigned by God to watch over your soul and train you in righteousness, the single most important aspect of your life…

you can help by making sure he doesn’t have to worry during the week about how he is going to afford some cornbread to go with his beans.

(Kudos to our church family for our generous salary and for a yearly cost-of-living increase!).

12. Include him in your decision-making.

I’m guessing at the math here, but 9 times out of 10, congregants approach their pastor for advice on big decisions…

after their decision is made.

Contemplating a huge change? Tempted to join another church? Feeling like getting a divorce? Make haste to the preacher-man, seek his biblical advice and counseling, and, if he isn’t leading you in something that is unbiblical, do what he says to do. Which leads us to our next point…

13. Make the way easy for him by submitting and not grumbling.

This one is straight from the Bible. Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account. Let them do this joyfully, and not sadly, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

Your pastor will answer to God for how he led you. You will answer (also to God) for how you followed.

‘Tis a very freeing and simple arrangement, is it not? I wish I had realized that sooner.

14. Keep poo-poo heads accountable.

Lastly (but almost certainly not leastly), if you hear someone speaking ill of your shepherd, either gently rebuke them or change the route of the conversation. Their words will not only harm your pastor, they could harm your own ears, planting seeds of discord in your heart that could lead to a root of bitterness. Which could turn you into a…well, see point #1.

~

As with any list of advice or etiquette, I am sure these pointers are far from comprehensive, but I hope they provide some helpful insight. How I could have used this list when I was younger! If I could go back and be a better sheep for my former pastors, I most certainly would. Consider this my public apology, for when I typed these words and revisited old memories, I felt sheepish, indeed. Baaa.

I also deeply apologize for how many times I said or referenced “poo-poo” in this blog post. 

~

Mrs. Gore’s comment policy: all comments are read and appreciated, but only those that are edifying and do not lead to lengthy internet discussion are approved.

And, finally, because I love ya, a pin for your bookmarking and sharing convenience…

pastor tips

Dear Beautiful

Dear Beautiful, a letter to my daughters about being pretty

To my beloved daughters, aged 4 and 2,

I remember when I was quite young and my Mama would tell me what made a girl pretty…

her smile. She said a happy smile was the prettiest thing in the world.

And she always told me that it was what was on the inside that counted.

“Inner beauty”.

I listened.

I tried to take it in.

But I didn’t really believe her.

Because I had seen what beautiful was…

She-Ra. She had long, blonde, flowing hair and a white mini dress. (and a unicorn with rainbow wings).

Miss America. The ballgowns, the swimsuits, the sparkly crowns, the perfect smiles.

Barbie. Big boobies. Big, big boobies.

Paula Abdul. I don’t know. I just loved her. Did you know she used to be a Laker Girl? I did, because I read her biography. In the 3rd grade.

As a little girl, I looked, wide-eyed, upon the outward features that made something beautiful to me – a certain type of hair, a beguiling turn of the eye, a fancy schmancy body – and I dreamed of attaining that level of pretty.

And the more I admired what was beautiful to me, the more my mom’s definition of “pretty” seem kind of hokey and like something people said to make sure that every girl at least felt pretty, whether she was or not; inner beauty was a good thing, and I wanted it, but it seemed to have little bearing on whether I was perceived as a beautiful person or not. And I wanted to be jaw-droppingly beautiful.

I spent years, even my outwardly-prettiest years, shrugging off her compliments. “You’re my Mom,” I would say, “of course you think my hair looks good like this.”

“You’re my Mom,” I’d laugh, “only you would think this dress looked nice on me.”

“You’re my Mom. You have to say that.”

But, little girl, then I had you.

They placed you on my chest, squalling and crying and covered in birthing stuff, and everything she ever taught me about beauty made perfect sense.

You were alive and breathing and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

And every morning when you walk down the stairs and I see that you are still alive and still breathing…beautiful.

I finally get it now: the prettiest thing about a girl, any girl, is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made by God. She is alive. She is a person. She has a soul.

Do you understand how fantastic that is? God made you! I know He did, because you weren’t there, and then you were there.

I didn’t make you (minus that one night with your Papa, wink wink, nudge nudge).

Fate didn’t.

A coincidental twist in an evolutionary cycle didn’t.

God did.

I like to think about Him crafting you, weaving all of your different features together into a unique and breath-taking work of art.

Your hair? It’s so amazing. It was made by God.

For you, Rebekah, He chose golden hair, with a natural side part that suits your face just right. It is straight and silky, with a slight bend at the end; sunlight runs to dance among your strands, crowning you like a glowing halo. God gave you a gift when He crafted your locks.

And Betsie Fair, yours is light brown and wild, a perfect match to your carefree and joyful childhood. When you wake up in the morning, your mane is as big as your eyes, ready to take on the world, ready to catch syrup and dirt, ready to make a most fitting frame to your precious, ornery little face.

Your hair is beautiful.

Your bodies? They were made by God, so different, but equally lovely.

Rebekah, my love, your body is like your spirit: strong, sturdy, and precious to behold. When I hold you in my arms, my heart is full and soothed.

And Betsie, your slinky, skinny body is so fun to watch. You run and hop and leap and dance uninhibited, and I marvel at the way you move, like an instrument that proclaims with every step that God is singing over us.

Your bodies are beautiful.

Your eyes? God made them, giving me windows into your sweet, sweet souls.

Your cornflower blue eyes burn holes into my heart, Rebekah Sunday…

and Betsie, your naïve glances cause me to melt.

Your eyes are beautiful.

Your hands? God made them. They’re beautiful.

Your feet? Your toes?

Made by God.

Beautiful.

Your nose? Your mouth? Your lips? Your teeth?

God, God, God, God.

So beautiful.

And oh, those smiles.

Your Grandmother was right. When you smile and your eyes perk up with twinkles of happiness, you are the essence of beauty. And when you throw back your head and laugh, the trees tip their hats and the mountains bow in reverence to this pinnacle of God’s creation.

Yes. Your smiles are beautiful.

So, please, my darling daughters…

Don’t spend a day feeling miserable and fat.

Don’t look with covetous eyes at the hair that was given to another girl.

Don’t wish for blue eyes when yours are green.

This world is not your mirror, a reflection of what you are lacking or what you should look like.

It is your playground.

Live here, freely, happily, and unhindered by the chains and lies of a worldview that says some people have beauty and some don’t, that some have perfect bodies and some don’t, that some are made for magazines and the big-screen and some are not…

because that’s about the stupidest and most shallow thing a girl can believe.

You were created for richer feasts.

When you gaze at your reflection, do your Mama a favor and admire the handiwork of God. And then…

walk away.

Run and play.

Sing.

Laugh.

Dance.

Love.

Tell your friends how beautiful they are.

And, through the grace of the God who made you, work every day to purify your soul and mortify your sin, leaving a beauty inside of you that will dazzle this sad and captive world with the light of Jesus Christ.

They will never know what hit them.

Falling on Grace

The following was written the night before Mr. Gore’s spinal fusion and I’ve just gotten around to finishing it up. Thanks for waiting. Even though you didn’t know you were waiting.

~

Betsie fell down the stairs this morning.

I was walking a few steps behind her, a hamper full of random stuff on my right hip, when I saw her foot slip just past the landing before she tumbled down…

down…

down.

My eyes were fixed on her slender little neck the entire time, willing it to remain untouched, prayers of “Oh, Lord!” and “Oh, God!” bouncing off of my tongue in panicked tones.

Her shoulder.

Her knee.

Her arm.

As she was rolled and tossed about by stair after stair, seemingly every part of her body made contact with the floor, except for her neck.

Finally, she landed with a “splat!” on her belly in the kitchen and I shot down to retrieve her, the hamper that I dropped in my distress tumbling down behind me, leaving a slew of toys and clothes on the stairs as it fell.

She was screaming.

I was sobbing.

And as we sat on the bottom step and rocked back and forth, our tears flowing, my heart racing, I could tangibly feel the grace of God in my arms.

In the body of my little girl who was alive and unbroken.

In her beating heart and her breathing nostrils.

Within minutes, her tears were spent.

But mine were just beginning.

“It’s okay, Mama…” she soothed me with her halting and precious toddler vocabulary. “You need some…toilet…paper?”

I nodded, and away she scampered, soon returning with a tiny piece of tissue that she used to pat my face and neck.

You know you’ve cried a river when your neck is wet.

It was awful, terrible, horrible and every other word in the thesaurus for “really super duper bad”.

But it was also interesting…

once my initial distress had subsided and I could think and say something besides “are you okay?” and “oh, Betsie” and “thank you, God!!”, and once my tears finally stopped flowing and my hands stopped shaking, I felt a surprising amount of gratitude for what I had just gone through.

For one, Mr. Gore’s surgery was tomorrow and I’d been needing to cry about it. Two birds. One horrifying stone.

And secondly, with that pending surgery in mind, my apprehensive heart needed to be reminded of the seen and unseen grace of God that guides our every step.

My husband has led me in this truth for years. A naturally fearful person, my anxiety began to climax when I first became a mom, and I found myself drowning in worst-case-scenarios and constant thoughts of what-could-happen…

Mr. Gore never indulged or babied these thoughts, but faithfully used the Sword of Truth to slice through my sin and lead me to a renewed mind, always pointing out that I was ignoring the million ways that God had taken care of me to focus on one scary situation (at a time) that hadn’t happened to me.

When he put it that way, I slowly began to see my fears for what they were: silly. Senseless. Illogical. Ungrounded. Totally unnecessary.

But even though I’ve grown, I still struggle sometimes.

Especially the day before my husband will be heavily sedated and having his spine tinkered with.

And for all these reasons, although it scared the living daylights out of  me, seeing Betsie tumble down the stairs and walk away unscathed made me feel loads better about…well, everything.

It brought to mind all the times we’ve gone up and down the stairs and haven’t fallen. All the drives we’ve taken without crashing. All the sicknesses we’ve endured for a day or two before getting completely better. All the food we’ve eaten without choking…

all the millions of seconds and the countless moments where grace has sustained us and kept us safe and kept us from stumbling and kept us from sin and we never even had a clue.

I’m not promised health and life on any given day this side of heaven, and no amount of positive thinking can buy me that sort of security; but whether we live or die, are sick or healthy, are rich or poor, the grace of God is as sure on surgery day as it is on going up-and-down-the-stairs day. And whether Mr. Gore is working in the garden or going under the knife, his story is written and his life is firmly held in the hand of a most-wonderful Creator.

These are hard truths to comprehend, but they are comforting.

Rebekah asked me one day if I loved God more than I loved her…

I was about to pop out a textbook “of course I do!” but the words lodged themselves in the middle of my throat; I know my heart, and on my worst day, in the words of John Calvin, I am “an idol-making factory”, doting more on things seen than unseen. I might be redeemed, and I might even be devout, but my penchant for blindness and stupidity knows no bounds.

But the reason her question really stumped me was because, even on my best day, my love for God feels so different than my love for my family…

the two are all bound up together in a thick cord of awe and affection and gratitude, and if I am being very honest, it is hard to separate and categorize them sometimes.

Thus, my answer to what I wish was a simple question went something like this: “When I say ‘I love God’ it doesn’t feel like the same love I have for you, Rebekah. My love for you is different. But one thing I am really sure of…my love for you leads me to God. I can’t look at you and love you without thinking about God and loving Him more…”

I love my husband. I love my kids. They are walking reminders to me of the greatness of God, who can so intricately design specific personalities for specific purposes at very specific times; I am continually astounded and filled with wonder by the scope of His craftsmanship and I have a houseful of His handiwork to study. To me, their very presence shouts of “God!” It is like living among the stars…

But that love runs so deeply and throbs so intensely, and if I don’t guard myself, my worship can turn towards the created over the Creator. And questions plague me.

Would I still love God if Betsie had broken her neck today?

Would I still love Him if Mr. Gore doesn’t wake up from his surgery tomorrow? If he wakes up paralyzed?

Would I still be faithful if one of my worst-case-scenarios comes true?…

Oh, how I tremble in the wake of these accusatory questions, and there is only one thing that causes the trembling to stop.

Grace.

The grace that tumbled down the stairs alongside my baby girl this morning.

The grace that will be with us tomorrow as Mr. Gore is wheeled into a surgery room.

The grace that has kept, is keeping, and WILL keep my feet from walking away from the faith, come what may.

The grace that has been there, since day one, before I even knew it existed.

Della.

From Della to Mr. Gore, July 2007…

Jackson Energy ERM 9

If you had told me two weeks ago that my first outing with Baby Shepherd would be to Ms. Della’s funeral, I wouldn’t have believed it.

But such is the nature is death…

if we knew when it was coming, we would spend every waking moment in bedside vigils, hanging onto the ankles of those we knew would soon be departing.

As it was, they were so habitual and ordinary, I don’t even remember my last words to Della.

I know we were probably standing either in the dimly-lit church sanctuary or in the fellowship hall, where we crossed paths Sunday morning after Sunday morning after Sunday morning, for as long as I can remember.

I would have told her how beautiful she looked.

(She always looked beautiful).

She would have asked how I was feeling and might have exclaimed over how much Betsie has grown or how handsome Gideon looked in his dress clothes or how Rebekah’s hair is getting so long.

(She always took time to notice the kids and ask how I was doing).

We probably hugged, and I am positive that I felt happy on the inside just to see her for that brief moment before we moved on to our respective Sunday School classes.

(Della always made me happy).

But whatever greetings we swapped during our last meeting on this earth, one thing is certain: I had no idea they would be my last to a woman who meant so much more to me than a passing hug, and who I admired for so much more than her physical beauty.

If I had known…

I would have cradled her beautiful face in my hands and told her that she was dearly loved…

I would have thanked her for consistently exhibiting to me those Christian fruits that are most admirable in a woman of God…

I would have asked her to tell me all of her funny stories one last time so I could write them down for safekeeping…

I would have recorded her speaking voice so I could listen to her rich and indescribable tone anytime I wanted…

I would have asked if I could come over and learn how to make her to-die-for homemade rolls…

I would have told her that, during the toughest days we’ve had in the ministry, her unswerving faithfulness, gentle guidance and genuine words of encouragement helped keep us going…

I would have hugged her tighter, I would have memorized the lines of her face, and I would have sat beside her at worship…

I would have asked her to wait just one more week, so she could hold my new baby…

And I would have promised her that I would miss her every Sunday and at every women’s fellowship and everytime I drove past her tidy, yellow house for the rest of my life.

Della was not a relative of mine, and if it were not for our like faith, we never would have known each other…

but when the grace of God reached down and plucked her from the road that leads to destruction to place her on the path to life, and then did the same for me years later, all of that changed; by the world’s standards she wasn’t my grandmother or my great aunt or even a distant cousin — she was just a “little old lady” who went to the same church as me.

But my redeemed heart knows better…

she was my sister. My mother. A vibrant, intrinsic part of my family.

And though I know we will spend forever in the same place, my humanity weeps bitter tears at the thought of saying goodbye.

Tears that bring to mind a day, half a decade ago, when Mr. Gore and I were discussing our future and weighing the pros and cons of him applying to be senior pastor at the church I had grown up in; to say that things at the time were messy and complicated would be an understatement. And although my husband was inexperienced and fresh out of seminary, he was a brilliant man with accolades and references galore; he could most likely have found work anywhere…

but “anywhere” wasn’t the story God had written for us. He wanted us here, and He tuned our hearts and our passion to stay, no matter how difficult the road ahead seemed to be.

The church was in turmoil, the budget was limited, and due to an unfortunate church split five years prior, well over half of the remaining membership was over the age of 65. There was one baby in the nursery and he was ours…

But it didn’t matter. We were in love.

“I just can’t leave them…” Mr. Gore said, with conviction. “I want to be their pastor. I want to walk them through the rest of their life. I want to preach their funerals…”

My heart agreed, most vehemently.

But here we are so many years later, and my, those funerals are hard…

Each lifelong friend who leaves us for “Beulah Land” leaves a huge vacancy in our hearts, not to be filled until we meet once more in our forever home; God has only caused our love and tenderness for them to multiply, and while our initial dream of walking these dear saints through life has come true, it carries with it a pain that we couldn’t have imagined…

The day before Della’s funeral, Mr. Gore went to her viewing at the funeral home. Finding himself very much alone with the body our friend left behind, he sat and wept. Della had ministered to him in ways no one else ever saw, giving him godly advice, sending him encouraging notes and cards, praying for him

much like our sister Thelma and our brother Richard, the world might not have known the tiny little lady in the little yellow house, but she mattered, and her role in the Kingdom was vital and beautifully performed.

Since the day we pursued this ministry, God has been so faithful to us and to our church. The division we inherited has flown the coop. Old wounds are being healed. Our membership, though smaller, continues to grow purer and purer. Love abounds. And while our budget is still limited, God has met every single need.

If the thought ever crossed my mind that we would be giving something up to “lay down our lives” for a church that was tiny and troubled and, frankly, not-the-coolest, five years with Della (and so many like her) has proven me stupid…

we have gained the world, drinking in priceless wisdom and encouragement from some of God’s very best, and learning what it means to be the body of Christ.

We grieve over the precious and important member we lost this September…

even as we thank God for the gift of knowing her at all.

~

Della, holding Baby Rebekah at our women’s fellowship in 2009

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Want to know more about Della and the sweet people in our church? Read one of my favorite posts: The Early Birds

What A Day That Will Be

As my 2-year old Betsie would say, “Oh derr…”

Things are about to get all sentimental up in here.

The baby has left my tummy, and though it might make me sound a bit dramatic, I am already reconnecting to the old Mrs. Gore…

the one who really likes people and loves life and enjoys playing with my children and also the one who cries at beautiful things.

Not to be confused with Small Elephant who just cries at…things.

Like, seriously. Inanimate objects. Scents. Plants. Anything.

And my heart is light with relief, and delightfully heavy with an awareness of what I’ve been given, not just for this vapor of a life, but for eternity. Because He is good, I am so sure that God will save my children, and though my prayers for them are desperate, they are also confident. I think I will be with them forever, in the Eden we could have/should have/would have lived in were our hearts not so wicked and prone to wander…

and I rejoice in this knowledge.

But I live in a pilgrim’s body, with a pilgrim’s heart and a pilgrim’s understanding, and the dying part of me acutely feels the passing of each day we have on this earth together…

Even though I hope and believe in eternity, I long for it as if it doesn’t exist. And when I hold my newborn baby boy, a part of me praises God for the forever Kingdom we will be a part of, while another part of me mourns for this transient and blink-of-an-eye life that I can so tangibly feel in my arms and see with my eyes.

It passes so quickly, and the joys and beautiful moments and triumphs from which I would drink so deeply slip by as I scramble, wide-eyed, trying to hold on, trying to remember, trying to cling to the shadow rather than to the hope, and I am reminded over and over again that I am far too sinful and far too stupid to properly understand this great, big, mysterious, overwhelming life.

Holding Baby Shepherd…

it’s like holding Baby Gideon all over again.

6 and 1/2 years since the day my eldest and I were born into a mother/son relationship, 6 1/2 years since my soul was awakened to the nurturing fire of motherhood, 6 1/2 years since my feet were set on a path to dying more and loving more and feeling more and wanting less…

and as I breathe deeply of the sweetly indescribable scent of new life and baby lotion and as I feel once more that velvety soft baby skin underneath my chin, those 6 1/2 years of memories dance wildly about in my mind, causing me to cry, causing me to laugh, causing me to pray.

There are no words, really. Just silent meditations. Wordless pleas. Whispers of thanks. And maternal cries for help to survive the heartbreak of seeing them grow.

Gideon…

Rebekah…

Betsie…

and now Shepherd.

I would hold each of you just as you are for an eternity.

I would go back to any day in our history and stay there forever.

I would journey with you to our future and never leave your side.

And so I entrust us all to God, for safekeeping, knowing that one day our faith really will be made sight. The pilgrim will be gone. The citizen will be born. The mysteries will be revealed.

And we will rest in the place that our hearts have longed for since the day we first met.

“What a day, glorious day that will be…”

Do Not Forsake: my wrestling match with Hebrews 10:24-25

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

~

“I don’t know…” I said, “I’m just so tired of talking about it. I don’t want to answer any more questions. I don’t want to talk about how my belly has dropped or that yes, I’m “still here”, you know?…”

My husband just looked at me.

I squirmed.

I knew exactly what he was thinking and, as usual, it was conveniently lining up with what the Spirit was already telling my heart.

It was late Saturday night and we were discussing what I should do come morning. Nearly one full week past my due date, I knew that no one would expect me to be at church, and would even be surprised if I made an appearance, but I was feeling so torn about it.

“If you don’t feel well, that’s one thing,” my husband encouraged me, “and even if you just want to stay home and rest, that’s perfectly fine. But don’t not come because of what you just said…that’s not you.”

I knew he was right. Even as the words left my mouth, I was uncomfortable with them, as they went against everything we say we believe and have worked toward in our church.

You see, the last couple of years in our congregation have centered on learning to become a family. Loving each other as true brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers. Being transparent and real with one another. Assuming the best of each other. Bearing one another’s burdens…

And if I truly examined my heart, I was lying about why I didn’t want to come to church the next morning, because, honestly, if I showed up and no one mentioned my pregnancy or how I was feeling, I might have returned home confused and hurt, feeling like no one cared. I love those people. And I love their concern for me.

The truth of my resistance was simple to diagnose:

I wanted to bear my burden alone.

I didn’t want to humble myself and accept sympathy.

I didn’t want to appear weak or tired or haggard or needy.

In other words, I just wanted to disappear from among “my family” for a bit until I could return to them in better form…sitting up straighter, feeling more like myself, victorious over this pregnancy….you know, normal. Healthy. Whole.

I didn’t want them to see me defeated.

So now I was really torn about going to church, because this had just turned from a simple question of “should I?” or “shouldn’t I?” into a very personal spiritual battle that I didn’t want to deal with; I didn’t want the Spirit to be teaching me anything. I was a week past my due date! Wah!!

But deciding we were borrowing trouble by worrying too much about it – after all, my water could have broken in the next 20 minutes and all of this discussing would be a moot point – we decided to just wait until morning and see what happened.

The next day, Mr. Gore decided to let me sleep until I woke up; by the time I joined the land of the living, there was only enough time to fix Rebekah’s hair and send my family off to Sunday School, tentatively planning to join them for worship.

On their way out the door, my husband continued to gently encourage me to attend if my body was feeling comfortable, reminding me that I could retreat to his office and rest on his recliner at any point during the service or the post-service potluck.

But, shutting the door behind them, I still didn’t know what to do…

it was so quiet in my house.

So safe.

So comfortable (I was wearing my muumuu).

And no one could see how big I was, or how tired, or how mentally fatigued or how weak; I was alone, and a part of me really liked that, even as my heart yearned to see the dear faces I had been missing over the past two weeks.

But I really needed to make a decision, spit-spot!

And in the end, it wasn’t my stamina that got me dressed and ready and out the door in time to make it downhill to hear the preaching. It wasn’t a supernatural burst of energy or resolve. It wasn’t even a spiritual change of heart or mind…

It was the truth of scripture and the example of my husband.

You see, during the 9 months that I have been growing our 4th child, he has been dealing with his own set of problems; a year and a half ago, he had a non-invasive surgical procedure done on a herniated disc, one that would potentially put a stop to his chronic back and leg pain without resorting to major back surgery.

Sadly, while it gave him relief for almost a year, he blew the disc out again early this year, and it has been undeniable that a fusion was in his future, the sooner the better, not only to put a stop to his pain, but to keep his nerve from becoming permanently damaged.

But I was pregnant.

And we have three little children.

And a two-story house.

And in a huge act of sacrificial love, he chose to put off surgery until I could have a full month to recover from having our baby…

Which meant that he had an extremely long year ahead. Pain management has been key, but even on medication, he has been either persistently uncomfortable or downright hurting. Sitting for long periods is unbearable for him, meaning he needs to be on his feet or lying down on the floor. His “office” became the couch in our church’s foyer where he laid with his laptop and a pile of books nearby, and most of his meals in 2013 have been eaten at his family’s feet…

and while God has been so gracious to allow him to comfortably stand and preach every Sunday morning, he comes home pretty sore in the afternoon and desperately in need of rest.

If anyone should feel the right to stay home on Sunday night while our other pastor teaches, it is him.

And if anyone should feel free to cut out early after that teaching and skip our weekly fellowship meal, it is him.

But I’ve watched him.

All year.

He wakes up from his Sunday nap, he takes his pills, and he goes to the one place that he knows he needs more than anything else.

To his church.

His body.

His family.

And he does the most unheard-of thing I have ever witnessed in my 31 years of church life.

He gets the pillow out of his office….

and he lays down in the floor at the back of the sanctuary to hear the Bible lesson.

People walk past and he talks to them, waving, smiling, never blushing, never acting as if it is out-of-the-ordinary that he is laid out on the floor in a house of God.

You know why?

Because when he says he loves his church family, he means it. And when he says that there is no better place for him to be than among the brethren, he truly believes it. And when he expounds Hebrews 10 from the pulpit and teaches us that one of the greatest and most powerful tools for our growth and encouragement is to spend time with each other, he then lives it out for his flock to see.

And as I considered his example on Sunday morning, I started to realize what I would be missing if I stayed home in my muumuu…

Getting my act together and making it to church wasn’t about a legalistic check-mark to prove how godly I was; this was a chance for me to have faith in the word of God and to seek His way rather than my own. And as much as I didn’t want to put real clothes on and face my own vulnerability by making a public appearance, it was undeniable that the Spirit was wooing me to come.

Take up thy pregnant girth and follow Me.

And so I took my bath. I got ready. I made some biscuits for the potluck.

And right as the preaching began, I waddled into my home-away-from-home.

The minute I entered into that familiar room filled with familiar faces, I knew that God had been good to pursue me in this. I needed this time with my family. I needed their love and concern. I needed to hear the Word expounded.

I needed to trust in what the Bible says is good for me and not what I felt like I needed.

And as unimportant and gross and exhausted as I felt that Sunday morning, my church needed me, too. To see that I was okay. To use their gifts to minister to me. To be encouraged by my gifts. Such is the beauty of the body and every single one of its members. There is no doubt that I would have enjoyed my Sunday morning at home, but I was richly blessed by joining my local congregation to worship the God who made us a family in the first place. I might have gone home tired, but I was refreshed.

Again, attending church every Sunday isn’t some sort of mystical bullet on a spiritual to-do list that will earn you points in heaven….

but we should never underestimate how important each opportunity to “stir one another up” is and take advantage of those opportunities, whether it is easy and we are excited about it or whether it is difficult and as inconvenient as getting a pregnant lady out of her muumuu.

We don’t need to wait until we are healthy and well…sinless…perfect and put-together…strong. We need to go now, just as we are…

just like the guy who lays in the back of our sanctuary every Sunday night.

Let not conscience let you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream, all the fitness He requireth is to feel your need of Him. I will arise and go to Jesus, He will embrace me in His arms, in the arms of my dear Savior, oh there are ten thousand charms.

1 Corinthians 13 and Vomit

At 1:45 on Saturday morning, she threw up in my hair.

And as my husband and I quietly ministered to our 4-year old daughter in the middle of the night, the entire world seemingly asleep around us, I discovered once more that some of the sweetest moments take place during the most unlikely and difficult circumstances.

Even though your stomach turned at the sight and the smell, who knew that wiping the vomit off of a loved one’s face could bring Matthew 25:40 to life, loving the least of these by meeting their most vulnerable needs?

Even though it woke you up through and through, who knew that a 2:00 a.m. shower where you wrapped her in your embrace and rocked her under the warm stream would make you feel like you were holding the world’s greatest treasure in your arms and doing the most important job on the planet?

Even though he justifiably could have stayed in bed, who knew that a husband working alongside you, stripping and washing sheets, rinsing out nightgowns, emptying stinky receptacles and making up the bed would cause you to see with wonder-filled eyes how faithfully and humbly Christ loves the church?

Even though you were dead on your feet and aching to lay back down and call it a night, who knew that seeing your work through to completion as you sat up in bed and gently brushed the tangles out of her wet hair would make you deeply cherish and understand the Christian fruit of perseverance?

And even though you are naturally the most selfish person in the world, who knew that God would use motherhood and vomit to conform you into His image in the middle of the night as 1 Corinthians 13 sealed itself in your heart for the ones He has entrusted to your care?…

As my husband and I laid quietly in bed and slowly fell back to sleep, our clean and detangled and much-loved daughter securely hemmed in by our hearts and our bodies, I prayed and prayed that the way we tended to her that night would aid her in discovering the Way, the Truth and the Life. We tell her about it all the time…

I was blown away by how satisfying it was to put our words into action.

We love you, Rebekah Sunday, and it brings us unspeakable joy to take care of you. I never thought I would say this, but…thank you for throwing up in my hair.

~

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13