I haven’t blogged in so long.
2017 was an interesting year. I don’t remember much of the year other than the ups and downs. I definitely struggled more this year than in other not-so-eventful years, but I’m grateful to God for His sustaining grace and that He has been gracious to help me turn things around, ending on a high note and excited for all He has in store.
I’d say the themes of this year were hope amidst darkness and God’s sustaining grace for all of us and for most of all me.
I struggled in life and in ministry. I struggled with the weight of comparison and coveting. I struggled with the magnitude of our ministry commitments (which is odd because just a few years ago I was struggling with not having much ministry at all). I struggled to heed God’s voice and obey.
I struggled relationally. I don’t think Kenny and I have ever disagreed as much as this year. I reevaluated friendships and struggled to give unconditional love. I struggled to truly love others, being unoffendable in spirit, and continued my struggle with people-pleasing and doing things not for the sake of God, but for the sake of appearance and performance and the affirmation of man.
For the first time, this year, I felt the impact of death. The deaths were not the closest in relational proximity, but I saw Christian leaders and little ones and friends be called home and to the full healing of Heaven by the Lord.
Yet in all these things, in the struggle, in the doing of “the stuff” as Carol Wimber called it (sadly, the only book I think I read this year… though if I was to only finish one book, I sure am glad it was this one— a real page turner it was as Renee Rector said!), I can see God’s grace and His hand extending to me, reaching out, meeting me where I am, sometimes in the muck, saying “Here I AM. I AM here. Believe in Me.”
So amidst pain and struggle and refining, I see light. I see that God is a God who is gentle, who meets us in our weakness, who loves to help those who need His mercy, those who are weak, weak like me.
“A bruised reed He will not break, and a smoldering wick He will not snuff out.”
One of my favorite verses of all time. And He proves it to me over and over and over again.
The Kingdom of Heaven belongs to the poor in spirit, so then being poor in spirit, the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to people like me. How good, how gracious, how wonderful is this great reversal? How beautiful the exchange God gives to a sinner turned Saint, like me?
Amidst the struggle and darkness this year, I found hope. The hope of His light, the hope of His goodness, the hope of His work still being done in me.
Amidst relational strife, I found healing and release from living a life bound by the fear of other people’s opinions of me. I found God willing to meet me in my weakness, giving me supernatural love and the ability to forgive when I cried out to Him, telling Him I could no longer brute force love, but needed Him to help me. I found greater intimacy and belonging in being able to better voice my feelings and desires to Kenny. I found our relationship growing healthier and healthier in light of conflict, or rather because of it. I found the power of the light and iron sharpening iron, as I opened myself up to deep heart-level accountability, taking a plunge that was truly frightening, exposing my deepest darkest sins and mentalities. What I found was that I wasn’t alone, I wasn’t the only one struggling, and that being so open and vulnerable about my need for Jesus started to stir a greater fire in all of us for righteousness, for light, for fervor, for healing. I found what I think are the beginnings of true fellowship and Christian community.
In the highs and lows of ministry, I found God’s faithfulness. In 2017, God called Erika, an 18-year-old, recent high school graduate, to become Seeds of Life’s first international short/medium-ish (is 6 months medium-ish?) term missionary. Kenny and I received a lot of praise. And though it is affirming and encouraging seeing Erika living so passionately for Jesus, it is humbling knowing that as much as we may have had something very small to do with it, we also had nothing to do with it at all as only God can stir up a fire for His name. And conversely in the struggles, in the feelings of “why are we doing this” and “are we really making an impact” and “does this even matter,” I can rest in Jesus. I can be at peace knowing that He does see us and He is faithful and He is at work behind the scenes, doing amazingly wonderful things we don’t dare ask or even dream.
Amidst death, I find that as this article puts it, death is a profound teacher. This verse is currently up on our whiteboard, our family verse for January:
“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”
Teach us to number our days. Death truly has brought to light this truth to me.
Our lives are short whether they are 1 year or 10 or 100, life goes quickly. And to be honest it’s disheartening to see the faithful be called home to the Lord. I struggled this year asking why him, why her? Why is God calling home these people who seem to have so much life ahead and so much potential, who seem to be doing so much for the Lord? I don’t have answers, but what I’ve seen through death and life this year are men and women who were faithful. Men and women who ran hard not just in health, but in illness, in great pain.
One of the women who went home to be with the Lord this December was Debra Williams. Debra was a friend and co-worker at Door of Hope. Debra was a pastor, a mom, a woman of the Lord. She ran hard, harder than most of us could ever know. Her memorial service proved that as person after person got up to share how Debra impacted them personally and their community. We thought her ministry stopped at Door of Hope and her church and her family, but Debra’s impact extended far beyond these sectors. What I saw in Debra was someone who preached the Gospel and God’s goodness when she was in health, and who preached them all the more after she became sick. One story that I hope will forever impact me was told by her pastoral mentor, another gifted preacher who shared at her memorial. She said on the night Debra was to move back home for hospice, she sat up in her bed, frail, but determined to sing out to Jesus. As she sang at the top of her lungs, her mentor tried to discern the song she was signing. After a few verses, she realized this song was not one she had heard before and that Debra was sing-writing her own last worship song. In her song, she spoke of her weakness and frailty, but in her song she also sang of God’s strength asking Him to help her stay near and help her finish her race.
As Ms. Almaz exhorted me when we spoke about Debra’s passing (among other things) on New Year’s Day morning,
“God doesn’t need any more lukewarm Christians.”
Harsh words perhaps, but convicting. I don’t want to be lukewarm. I don’t want to be like the virgin whose lamp stand is not filled with oil. I don’t want to be on the sidelines. I don’t want to be disqualified from the race. Like Debra, I want to be found faithful. And I can only be found faithful by His grace.
2017 was a year of ups and downs. But 2017 was another year of God’s tremendous grace and God’s goodness. And I would be remiss to not end it by singing songs of praise.
As my darling Eva loved to sing this past year (among Frozen and Moana and Baby Shark and many other things),
Let the King of my heart be the mountain where I run
The fountain I drink from; oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart be the shadow where I hide
The ransom for my life; oh He is my song
You are good, good oh
You are good, good oh
Let the King of my heart be the wind inside my sails
The anchor in the waves; oh He is my song
Let the King of my heart be the fire inside my veins
The echo of my days; oh He is my song
You’re never gonna let, never gonna let me down
When the night is holding onto me
God is holding on
God, You are good and in Your grace, You hold onto me. Help me grow in 2018. Continue to strike down my unbelief. Continue to stir up a great passion and all-consuming fire inside of me. I need Your goodness, I need Your mercy, I need Your grace. Oh, how You hold onto me. Help me to keep the faith. Help me to keep burning. I lean in. I am available. I want to love You, to know Your love, and to do Your will. Be glorified in me. Be glorified in our family. Be glorified in this world.