Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lessons in Motherhood and Faith: Brokenness

The past few days have been exhausting. I have been playing single mom while Daniel has been away on a work trip. Justus hasn't been sleeping well, which means I haven't been sleeping well (though I usually don't sleep very well while Daniel is away). And a lot of my plans haven't worked out quite right, which has added to the stress.

But I have enjoyed the quiet evenings to myself, which has allowed me to journal and think through some things. Hence, this post.

Today marks 17 years of walking with the Lord. That means that half of my life now I have been a Christian. (This also marks the 10th year since I first blogged about this.) That's crazy to think about. Seventeen years is a long time. I have changed so much since that time and learned so much more about God and salvation and Jesus Christ as well.

Last year, continuing into this year, was a year of breaking and refining for me. Motherhood has tested my faith and stretched me in ways I could have never imagined. God has used this new role to chip away at my self-sufficiency and independence in new ways. It really is a daily dying to self for the sake of another who is completely helpless. But isn't that the gospel? Jesus died to pay for the sins of those who could not help themselves so that they could be restored to a right relationship with God. I should rejoice that I get to identify with His sufferings in such a small way.

But I don't.

I complain. I baulk. I doubt. I get discouraged.

One of the problems I realized I have - shamefully - is that I don't have a high view of motherhood. I have this underlying feeling that I should be doing more (as in more ministry outside of the home - my view of that is too exalted). I don't think this feeling comes from God. I think it comes from me finding my worth in things I do - especially things that people can see. (It was really hard to write that last sentence).

But what the Lord has been showing me is that I should be content with what He gives me and where He has me. "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance" (Psalm 16:6). The influence I have on my son is an awesome privilege and responsibility. He needs the gospel just as much as anyone I might meet in an outside-the-home ministry. Motherhood is a high calling and a gift. And it's hard. It's constant and demanding and there's no manual. But there is God. And He promises to equip us with everything we need to do His will.

I recently read two articles from Desiring God that spoke into my situation and encouraged my faith. You can find them here and here. I was reminded through them that God wants me to be broken and humbly dependent on Him and that knowing Christ (which comes through brokenness) is better than any gains I could perceive (like sleep, ministry, down time - did I mention sleep?). The breaking has a purpose. It's to make me a better disciple and mom and wife and friend, etc. I often think I have a better idea of what would make me "better" and it usually doesn't involve anything uncomfortable. One of the articles stated, "Though it feels like we [mothers] are being killed all the day long, [Jesus] is renewing us inside." She reminded me that "death precedes life," something that I had forgotten. I was so consumed with how much I was dying that I lost sight of the fact that in Christ a resurrection is coming. He brings death out of life, and only in knowing Him in His suffering and death will I be able to know Him in His resurrection. This is hope. This is what I needed.

Because, honestly, the last year or so, I have not been in a good place spiritually. And I've hated it. But the truths from these articles have been like fresh water to a dehydrated soul. Instead of giving into complaining and grumbling because things don't go the way I'd like, I have been fighting to trust that God is working for my good (this has been especially hard the past few days, but the Lord has been helping me). He breaks us to bind us. He humbles us to exalt us. He reveals His strength in our weakness. He refines us so that we may know Him more. Therein is true life and joy.

My faith may not be where I would like it to be, but that's not where my focus should be anyway. It should be on the One in whom my faith rests and He will hold me fast.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Slow to Anger

So much has happened since I last posted. The holidays came and went. Daniel graduated with his PhD. A new year begun. Justus turned one (!). It's been a whirlwind in many ways and between my daily duties and trying to squeeze in a nap, writing has fallen by the wayside.

But there's something deeper than busyness that's kept me at bay. I haven't had motivation to write. I haven't been inspired. Which says more about my heart than anything else. I have been numb spiritually for quite awhile now and when that happens, thoughts and words feel stifled.

I can pinpoint where the apathy began to take root. It was almost a year ago. Justus was in the hospital with an infection, and I was beside him, watching him suffer. I felt abandoned by God. I felt that God didn't hear my prayers, let alone care about me. I felt that things were unnecessarily hard. I felt alone.

I should listen less to my feelings.

The seeds of bitterness took root during those lonely, difficult days in the hospital, and they continued to grow throughout 2017. I began to tally every disappointment, every hardship, and every loss and add them to the pain. It's hard to want to draw near to God when you keep a record against Him.

But God did not leave me in this state. Even now, I can see how He pursued me in different ways during that time. He didn't answer my "why" questions, but He did beckon me to come to Him. He showed me in His Word how He is near to the broken hearted (Psalm 34:18) and walks with us through the Valley of the Shadow of Death (Psalm 23:4). He reminded me over and over not to depend on my own understanding (Proverbs 3:6) and not to look at the seen things (2 Corinthians 4:16-18), but to trust in Him because He is good and does good - always (Psalm 119:68).

Still I wavered.

During the last few weeks, while studying James 1:19-21 and then listening to a sermon on it at Safe Haven Church, I saw a familiar verse in a new light. Verse 19 says, "Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." I had always thought about this verse in regards to relating to other people. But when I read it this time, I was struck by the fact that this verse is in relating to God. The Apostle James is writing to a group of suffering Christians. He had earlier in his letter told them to count suffering all joy (v. 3), that those who remain steadfast in suffering are blessed (v. 12), that every good gift comes from our Heavenly Father (v. 17) - even the ones that come in difficult packages, -and that God saved us according to His own will (v. 18). Now James tells them to be quick to listen to God's Word in suffering, to be slow to speak (rashly) to and against God in suffering, and to be slow to anger against God in suffering.

Fail. Fail. Fail.

I had been slow to listen to God's Word, even when I knew what I was reading or hearing was addressing my heart attitude towards the Lord. I had been quick to speak against God in my heart, doubting His goodness and promises, as well as His disposition towards me. And I had been quick to be angry and resentful at God for all the hard things He was allowing in my life. I was full of pride, thinking that God was getting it wrong and not trusting that His ways are higher and better than mine because He can see the whole picture and because He has my ultimate good in mind.

James goes on in verse 20 to say that the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. He is not talking about righteousness by justification, as in trying to make oneself right with God. Jesus alone accomplished that. He makes us right with God. He is our righteousness. Rather, James is talking about a righteousness that leads to living according to God's standards. Man's anger doesn't do that. My anger doesn't do that. What does? A life lived by faith in Christ.

After hearing the sermon on this passage, my heart was pricked and exposed. I could see how I had put God on trial, demanding Him to answer my questions and answer to His ordering of my ways. I was foolish and prideful. But God in His mercy was patient to continually speak to me through His Word until, by His Spirit, I had a breakthrough. He opened my eyes to see His truth and my sin.

Verse 21 gives me the way out: "Put away [i.e. repent of] all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive [believe] with meekness [an attitude of humility] the implanted word, which is able to save your souls." "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). I have repented and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, I am trying to trust God's Word over my feelings and circumstances. I am trying to choose thankfulness. There is still much healing to be done in my heart and much fighting to be done to trust in the One who alone is trustworthy, but He fights for me and with me and He will see me through.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Lessons in Motherhood: Daily Deaths

The Christian life involves a lot of dying to self in order to put the interests of Jesus Christ and of others before our own. This isn't easy or natural for any of us. It's also counter-cultural. We are told over and over to "look out for number one," meaning ourselves. But Jesus gives us a different pattern to follow, one that involves laying aside our own wants, desires, preferences, and even needs for the good of those around us.

Nowhere have I had to face this more than in this new role of being a mama. Motherhood exposes my selfishness in ways that nothing else has. My preferences, desires, and sometimes needs are constantly challenged and the question is asked, "Will I serve my son or myself?"

I am fiercely independent and I am used to doing what I want, when I want, when it comes to most things in life. But when Justus arrived all that changed. My wants, preferences, to-do lists, and practically everything else had to take a backseat to him. He is absolutely helpless and is dependent upon me for his every need. For the most part, if I put myself first, his needs will go unmet. Dying to myself in new ways is perhaps one of the hardest things for me regarding parenting. It has exposed my selfishness and desire for control and structure and a host of other sinful heart attitudes. It's much easier to serve others when it's on our terms, right? But with a new baby, I don't get to define the terms. I can't schedule serving him when it's convenient for me. I don't get a "break."

I am not saying this to complain. I love my son and enjoying taking care of him. But I won't sugarcoat it: it's been a difficult adjustment. For me, ministry and daily activities have been home bound. It's a season, I know, but it's hard to remember that at times, especially since all of my adult life has been ministry mostly outside of the home.

But God is doing a work in my heart through this. As the months wear on, I am finding more joy in caring for this precious boy and I am slowly letting go of the idea that I'm not doing "enough" because most of my "work" is unseen, unmeasurable, and unending. The Lord is giving me a vision and passion for ministry in my home and helping me to understand that motherhood is very important work. God has entrusted me (and my husband) with the responsibility of shaping a human soul. Granted, nothing of eternal value can be accomplished without God's strength, guidance, wisdom, and Spirit (John 15:5). Only He can open the spiritual eyes of Justus to see the glory and beauty of Christ - and we earnestly pray for that to happen. But God has entrusted me and Daniel with teaching Justus His word and ways. This responsibility is one of eternal significance. Making disciples of Christ (Matthew 28:18-20) is the most important things we can do with out lives and that includes making disciples inside our home. We have the privilege of having most influence in Justus's life.

So these daily deaths - trying to get a shower, Bible reading being interrupted, waiting to eat, having to delay going to the bathroom, not being able to write, read, or exercise like before - all these things are not for nothing. They are for the good of the one God has entrusted to my care, and, I trust, that the way Daniel and I sacrifice for our son will be a pointer to the One who sacrificed His Son for us all.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Lessons in Motherhood: Trust

There have been many challenges in being a new mom (like trying to find time and energy to write this post) and with those challenges many spiritual lessons. The three main ones are entrusting Justus to the Lord, dying to myself, and embracing this new calling (while at the same time counting my other ambitions as loss).

In this post I want to focus on the first one: entrusting Justus to the Lord. This is one that the Lord has been challenging me with before Justus was even born and was further heightened when he was admitted back into the hospital at two weeks old.

As recounted in an earlier post, Daniel and I lost our first baby to a miscarriage. So, although we were trying not to be ruled by fear, we were apprehensive the first few months of our second pregnancy until we were able to hear Justus's heartbeat. I found myself fighting fear off and on throughout the rest of the pregnancy: when was the last time I felt him move? What if he has a genetic abnormality? Questions like that came and went, but the Lord helped me to commit them to Him and reminded me that He was the one sustaining my baby, not me (although I was the primary means of that sustaining). Then little Justus was born, perfectly healthy. I was reminded of how fretting leads to nothing but emotional turmoil and spiritual doubt.

Two weeks later, we found ourselves back at the hospital with Justus as he had developed an infection in his umbilical cord stump (you can read about that here). Again, I was faced with the decision of whether or not I would entrust this sweet baby to the Lord. I still couldn't sustain him; only the Lord could do that (even though I was still a means of sustaining him). The Lord created Justus and knows him intimately (Psalm 139). But would I trust Him?

I am learning this is the theme of parenthood. There are always things to worry about concerning our children. Justus, for instance, just learned how to roll over onto his tummy and likes to sleep face down. As new parents, we find this terrifying. I hardly slept the first night and checked on him more than I would like to admit. I was gripped by fear (of SIDS) and had to confront that fear with the truth of God's Word if I was ever going to rest (and be sane). So I went to a familiar passage in Philippians 4:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (v. 6-7)
I prayed these words to God and tried to obey them. I thanked God for Justus and told Him that I entrusted him to His care. I recounted my fears and repented of my anxiety. And then, as a practical way of showing that I trusted Him, I did not check on Justus as much as I would have liked. When I wanted to do so, I told God that I trusted Him and knew He was taking care of Justus. And you know what? Those verses came true. God gave me peace, the strength to trust Him, and helped me to sleep (which I very much needed).

This doesn't mean I won't struggle with this anymore; I will. This is a lesson that I will continually learn and grow in, but hopefully I will find things less fearful as time moves on and find God more trustworthy. That, after all, is what it looks like to walk in faith and grow in Jesus: "progess, not perfection" (Pastor Rob, Renaissance Church).

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In Loving Memory

Three weeks ago, my Grandma Pyles (mom's mom) passed away. Although she had been on dialysis for several years, her death was quite unexpected and sudden. Most of us are still trying to wrap our minds around it all.

My grandma constantly tried to be in mine and my sister's lives - something I took for granted and hadn't really took note of until now. She took my sister and me to church with her when we were little and to VBS during the summer. She made our birthday cakes and attended every birthday party. She came up to see us (for she lived right down the road from us) in our dresses before we headed off to prom and attended our graduations. In fact, she even drove to Louisville to attend my seminary graduation. When we moved away, she did her best to keep up with us. She read my blogs and commented on them. She followed us on Facebook. She had stuff published about us in the local newspaper (like our graduations from college and seminary).

My grandma was a hard-working woman, working up until she was no longer able to drive (2011) due to Pasture's Syndrome. She used to make her own clothes and was known, at least in my family, for her cakes. I still can't eat a store-bought cake because I was so spoiled by eating hers.

As long as I can remember, my grandma went to church. She not only attended, but she served in many capacities. Even after she was no longer able to drive, she faithfully attended (the church picked her up).

I appreciate these things about my grandma, but I regretfully never her told her that. But the Lord did allow me to talk with her on the phone briefly a few days before she passed. Justus and I were even able to FaceTime with her that day (she never got to meet him in person). I told her I loved her, was sorry I didn't get to see her over Easter, and tried to encourage her with the hope of heaven (for she professed faith in Jesus Christ). She told me she believed, and I am thankful that I can grieve with hope. My prayer is that other people on my mom's side of the family will come know and be transformed by this hope - a hope that never fades or disappoints, and which is found only in Jesus Christ.

Kristi and me with our grandma: Velma Pyles (1933-2017)

Monday, March 27, 2017

2017: Brand New Territory

This year has been a whirlwind of changes and challenges. I usually write a New Year's post and a post reflecting on my new birth in Christ (which was Saturday). Time has been limited - and so has mental clarity - and writing has taken a setback to many other things. While I have a few moments to spare (and this is my third day working on this), I thought I would combine my three annual posts (New Year's, spiritual birthday, and Easter) into one. 

So much has happened since I last had the opportunity to write. This year literally began with change as we moved to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, on January 1 for Daniel's new job. I was seven months pregnant at the time. We have had a lot of change in a very short amount of time (new job for Daniel, new church family, new city, new routines, new house, and a new baby). My introverted and routine-oriented self is still coming to grips with it all. Almost nothing is familiar, which is why I titled this post "Brand New Territory." 

As much as I did not enjoy living in the city of Pittsburgh, it was very painful to leave our church family and dear friends at Renaissance. God used the leadership there as well as the members to grow us in what it means to live by grace, to point others to grace, and to live in deep community with other believers. I miss them so much.

One of our biggest fears in leaving Renaissance was that we wouldn't be able to find a church where living in community with out believers was so central. The Lord was so very kind to connect us to Safe Have Church - Big Sandy the first week we arrived in Tuscaloosa. It wasn't long before the Lord started giving us new friends and opportunities to serve within the church. Even though the people there hardly knew us, they took it upon themselves to take care of us when we arrived and when our son was born. It will take time to develop the depths of friendships that we crave, but we are excited for what God has in store for us in and through this local body of believers. 

During the first month, I spent most of my time cleaning our new house (yep - we're home owners now!) and making it feel like home. I wanted to do a lot of the deep cleaning before our baby boy was born. I thought I had more time than I did, but he surprised us by coming two and a half weeks early. Justus Garrison* was born on Valentine's Day, weighing in at 8 pounds, 10 ounces. 

This is not only new territory for us, but uncharted territory. 

I expect this new year to keep up the theme of new territory as we settle in here and grow in parenting Justus. Even though we don't really have to teach him much in the way of verbal lessons, we can already see our lack of wisdom and strength for this awesome task.


As almost everyone had warned us, the first few weeks were rough. Add to this the fact that Justus was admitted into the hospital when he was two weeks old with omphalitis (an infection in his umbilical cord stump). He was in the hospital for a total of 9 days. It was a very difficult and dark time. It was so hard to see him poked and prodded so much. He had to receive strong doses of IV antibiotics and his IV blew 4 times. Every time they had to do a new IV, they had to stick him multiple times before they could get it to take. It was almost unbearable to watch. I struggled with understanding how this could be for Justus's good and became angry at God as the week wore on for allowing everything to be so hard and painful. He reminded me that He knew intimately what it was like to watch His Son suffer. 

Indeed, that is why we celebrate Easter. God was not only willing for His Son to suffer to save a people for Himself, but He ordained it (Isaiah 53). I confess that this truth, as marvelous as it is, only brought me a little comfort at the time. My heart was embittered towards my heavenly Father for what He was permitting to happen to Justus. I have since repented of my hardness of heart and apathetic spirit - which is why Jesus had to die, to save hard-hearted sinners like me. The cross of Christ proves the depths of God's love for me, even though I had lost sight of that at the time.

I mentioned that Saturday was my spiritual birthday - the day when Jesus Christ gave me new spiritual life (John 3). It has now been 16 years of following the Lord. As I grow in faith and in the knowledge of Him, I realize more and more how much I need His grace. He saved me by His grace and He sustains me by His grace. I bring nothing to the table, except the sin that required His death on my behalf. The Lord reminded me today as I reflected on Him saving me that it is only by His grace that I still believe in Him. It's only by His grace that I did not walk away from the Christian faith when enduring that dark week at the hospital with Justus. We never outgrow our need for the gospel. We need it to save us from our sin and bring us to God and we need it to continue believing in God until we reach Heaven, where our faith will become sight. Reflecting on these truths helps me see Easter, as well as my spiritual birthday, in a different light. These were not just events that happened in the past, but they are events that continue to impact the here and now. 

As Christians, we have much to rejoice in as we think about the Lenten season leading up to Resurrection Sunday. Our sins have been paid for. We have been redeemed. Perfect obedience has been imputed to us. We have been made right with God. We have been adopted as His sons and daughters forever. We have been given the Holy Spirit to lead and guide us. And God Himself will see to it that we endure in faith until the end. Celebrate God's grace with me this Easter season. Without it, we would be hopeless and dead in our sins. But God, being rich in mercy, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)!

Photo credit: Gary Franklin Photography (www.garyfranklinphoto.com)
*We chose the name Justus (besides the fact that we just liked the name) because we liked its meaning ("just"). Plus, I liked how it was a biblical name (though not a common one). Garrison is a play off my dad's name, Gary, and means "fortified stronghold" and "son of Gary." 

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Words that Support Life

As has been the case, I am behind on blogging. I haven't written my annual New Year's post, but still hope to find time to, especially before Baby Hurst arrives.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the loss of our first baby, Judah. He was eight weeks old in the womb when we lost him. Tomorrow, I have a routine ultrasound scheduled with the new practice I am going to here in Tuscaloosa. I am 35 weeks into this pregnancy with our second son and I look forward to getting another peek at him tomorrow. I don't believe in coincidences. I believe the Lord intentionally put these two events next to each other and He is very kind to do so.

Sometimes it’s hard to know how to talk about these pregnancies and to know how to be pro-life in a non pro-life culture. What are ways that we can support the life and dignity of the unborn? Not everyone is called to lead a protest, to sit outside an abortion clinic, to volunteer at a pregnancy resource center, or even to give financially to support pro-life causes and organizations. We all have limited resources and time and must use them as God leads us. The Bible very clearly, though, articulates the worth and dignity of every human being from before they are born until the day they die. Their days are numbered by God and He alone has the right to shorten or lengthen them.

There is one way, however, that every evangelical Christian can express his or her pro-life theology and that is through our speech. How do you speak about the unborn? How about pregnancies and miscarriages? After our miscarriage, I have been thinking a lot about this. I am in my second pregnancy now and in conversations with others, both inside and outside of the Christian faith, I am inevitably asked (especially now that we live in a new city), “Is this your first?” Well, Yes and No. Yes, this baby will be my first delivery, but, no, this is my second baby. My husband and I didn’t get to meet or hold our first baby. But he did have life and he does have a name. It’s hard to know how to best answer that question. I know the meaning behind the question is “Do you have any children that are here in the flesh?” But regardless of whether a baby makes it through pregnancy or not, the baby is still a baby and the would-be parents are still parents.

I have answered the question both ways, struggling in my heart with the most appropriate reply. I want to give honor to our first baby, to his short little life, but I also don’t want to go into the details or some long explanation. As the months have gone by, however, I am becoming more convinced that choosing to acknowledge the loss of our first baby when answering questions about how many children we have or whether this is our first pregnancy says volumes about what I believe about human life and dignity. If our first baby would have been born and then passed, I don’t think I would have hesitated to say that I have two children with one being no more and that this is my second pregnancy.

We live in a hush-hush culture when it comes to miscarriage, even within the walls of the church. People, Christians and non-Christians alike, do not know what to do with women and families who have suffered through a miscarriage(s). Before my own miscarriage, I remember being in this same boat. I felt compassion, yes, but did not think deeply of the significance of a miscarriage or the impact it has on the parents. We expect the parents to grieve momentarily and then quickly move on, to “try again.” We don’t consider the loss of hopes and dreams that are quickly envisioned when that pregnancy test shows positive. We don’t think about the trauma for the mother from the miscarriage itself or even for the father who loved the baby just as much and experienced the trauma alongside his wife. For unbelievers, this is more understandable as they may or may not recognize an unborn baby as a baby. For Christians, however, could it be that we are too focused on the here and now, the things that are seen? Granted, my husband and I never met our first child. We never got to see him or feel him or hear him. We barely had the chance to announce his presence. But he was real. He was our baby. 

One of the most basic ways we as believers can challenge the culture of death is by speaking in ways that support life in our private conversations with both believers and unbelievers. It may be awkward or conversation-stopping, but should that stop us? The gospel can be awkward and conversation-stopping as well, but it gives life to those who believe it and we are commanded to testify to its truth and goodness. The gospel is life and gives life and will give life to the conversations surrounding the unborn if we are willing to lay aside our fears and stand up for what is true and beautiful and lovely.

So the question we must ask ourselves is: Do we really believe that every life matters? Do we believe that a miscarried life matters? Do we believe that unborn babies with genetic abnormalities matter? If we do, how will that translate into our speech and actions? Like I said, I am still wrestling through some of these questions (or maybe with just the boldness in speaking up in conversations).  

How will your words support life?