Surrendering ‘Supposed to’

adoption loss orphan grief grace surrender

Guest post by Christy Britton

Through this past year of writing more and contributing to different websites, God has given me an unforeseen blessing of forming friendships with other writers. (Yes, as surprising as it seems, it’s possible to develop genuine relationships through social media channels pervaded by fake or misleading content.) One of my dearest friends is Christy Britton, whom I consider a faith and writing mentor. She is also a boy mom to four biological sons and shares my love for adoption, a passion which led her to pursue adopting a young girl in Uganda.

Her story breaks my heart. Things didn’t go as she’d hoped. The plan that was supposed to bring another child into the family never came to fruition. Yet even in deep pain and loss, she kept loving her daughter and her heavenly father who had brought them together as a family. She continues to grieve with open arms, submitting her shattered expectations to our good and holy God.

It’s a tremendous honor to share her story through her own words, and to honor the life of her daughter, Gracious. I pray this will accomplish what I know is her desire: to uplift others who are hurting, and encourage us all to turn our sorrows over to our Savior.

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“It wasn’t supposed to be this way.”

Have you ever said these words? Thought them? I suspect I’m not the only one. We all experience circumstances not of our choosing, situations that don’t go the way we want or expect.

Our supposed to’s may seem harmless, but they can easily become idols. If we’re clinging to our supposed to’s, we’re not clinging to Christ. When we prefer our own plans, we reject his. When we think we know better, we deny his wisdom and authority. We’re back to the garden. Like Eve, we think God is withholding something good from us, and we doubt his goodness.

There is tension between our wills and what our good father wills for us. There are gaps between our desires and his. In this tension is a sweet invitation to trust God. In each gap is an opportunity to release our grip on what we want and reach for what he offers.

I’m learning to let go of my own supposed to. Honestly, it’s a work in progress with much work to be done. I had a plan for my life. A good one that would have brought glory to God. I thought it was what God wanted for me, too. I was mistaken.

A trade-off
As an orphan advocate with 127 Worldwide, a nonprofit that partners with local leaders around the world caring for orphans and widows, I get to travel to Africa. Three years ago, I met Gracious, a little girl living in Uganda,  and immediately fell in love with her. My husband and I began to care for her as best we could from afar. We visited her, prayed for her, and made sure all her physical needs were met. After much prayer and wise counsel, we felt God stirring us to pursue her adoption.

While the adoption process was difficult and costly, we made our best effort to bring our girl home. After 18 months of paperwork, we were preparing to relocate to Uganda for the required one-year residency to complete her adoption. However, right before our scheduled flight, we received the news that our daughter had passed away.

She wasn’t supposed to die. She was supposed to be a Britton.

I’m supposed to be in Uganda right now. I’m supposed to be caring for my daughter.

These are my supposed to’s.

I wake up each morning with the temptation to give into the bitterness that comes from not getting my way. I wake up each morning to the reality that the plans I had will never come to fruition. Each morning begins with a dull pain that reminds me of what was supposed to be.

But do you know what else each morning begins with? New mercies (Lamentations 3:23). God is with me in each of these starts to my day offering fresh mercy. He holds his hand out to me.

Taking his hand forces me to release my grip on my supposed to’s. Holding onto him means letting go of the comfort and familiarity of my plans. God gives me himself, on his terms. He invites me to trade my supposed to’s for him.  

As beloved as I’ve built up my supposed to’s in my mind, he is better still. As good and holy as my plans are, his plans are better still.

Better vision
What about you? Do you live with the tension between what you think should be and what is? What “supposed to” do you need to release?

Maybe you, too, are missing the child you were supposed to raise. Perhaps you’re not in the job you’re supposed to have. Maybe you don’t look the way you’re supposed to look. You weren’t supposed to be sick; your best friend wasn’t supposed to move away; your marriage wasn’t supposed to be this hard.

These supposed to’s we hold onto must be let go in favor of something better – God’s will for our lives. He wholly offers himself to us, but wholly on his terms. He gives us a vision of himself, so we will turn our eyes away from lesser things.

Our father is not careless in what he withholds; he is purposeful. We may not understand the why, but we can trust the who.

Our God is for us (Romans 8:31). He is with us (Matthew 28:20). His plans are for our good (Jeremiah 29:11). He promises that we will share in his glory when we share in his sufferings. He offers life through his Son when we die to ourselves. Death is painful, and we should not expect to die to our wills without hurting.

What we can expect is that our temporary affliction is preparing for us eternal glory beyond all comparison (2 Corinthians 4:17). My affliction exists in the form of grief, in an unfulfilled longing. My day can easily get derailed at the sight of the empty chair at the dinner table. But I cling to the promise that afflictions don’t last forever. In heaven, all my longings will be satisfied in my Savior.

Take his hand
I want to want God more than I want anything else, including my supposed to’s. I look to Christ for motivation. His prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane before his crucifixion demonstrates the tension between what he wanted and what his father wanted.

“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42).

Love caused him to release his own desires and submit to his father’s. Love for us. We were supposed to suffer God’s wrath. We were supposed to pay the penalty for our sins. But Christ died on the cross in our place. He paid the debt for our supposed to’s.

Jesus surrendered his will to the father so that we could be adopted into his family. As his children, will we not surrender our own wills to him? Will we refuse to let go of our precious plans? Our father who gave up his own beloved Son to secure our redemption can surely be trusted with the way our lives are supposed to go.

I don’t know what your supposed to’s are. But I do know that you can release and entrust them to a good father.

When you wake up and feel crushed under the weight of unfulfilled longings, reach for Christ. Take his hand and accept the new mercies he holds out to you. Live in this mercy. Ask him to transform your desires into longings for him. Allow your earthly disappointments to lead you to your father who always satisfies.

This is how your life is supposed to be lived.

ChristiandGraciousmeet

Christy Britton is a wife and homeschool mom of four biological sons. She is an orphan advocate for 127 Worldwide. She and her husband are covenant members at Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, NC. She loves reading, discipleship, Cajun food, spending time in Africa, hospitality, and LSU football. She writes for several blogs, including her own, www.beneedywell.com.

Every New Beginning Comes from Some Other Beginning’s End

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It’s here. A day I’ve been simultaneously dreading and anticipating. The first day in a chain of revolutions that will repeat and progress, accelerating toward spinoff.

Both my sons are now attending school full-time. They’re still under my care, still living at home. I hope to always represent home to them.

But they’ve grown up. Those wings they’ve so desperately wanted to spread unhindered are getting airtime. They get to expand their minds and explore new terrain, spending a good portion of their day learning from others. They’ll gain skills, make mistakes, help and be helped by friends, mature into men of wisdom and integrity, all without me present. I don’t have to supervise, referee, lecture, defend, or nag them ’round the clock.

Each of us is ready for the change.

Firsts and lasts
Going to school is exciting, as many firsts are. First words, first steps, first time sleeping in a big boy bed. Each new action precipitates wonder and possibility. We love celebrating all that’s new.

A first also necessarily brings a last. If something new is coming, something old must pass. You quit a job to start a new one. You dump singlehood status to enter into marital bliss. You leave home to move away to college. You drop your youngest baby off to his first day of kindergarten and end your role as an all-day caregiver.

It’s the end – not of the world, not of life as I know it. Some call it the changing of a season, or closing of a chapter. I’m calling it death.

That phase of scheduling my day around meals, naps, playdates, bathroom stops; of whipping out wipes like a gunslinger when a cup inevitably spills; of trips to the library and park and loathsome grocery store; of cozying up on the couch, reading away the afternoon; of losing my temper, again, and coming to them, sobbing, embracing them in sweet reconciliation – it’s done. I can remember, but not bring it back. That stage died.

Yes, of course, I’m being dramatic. No person died. My life isn’t ruined now that my kids are in school. My identity, though closely interlinked with my sons, doesn’t hinge on being a mom. I have a husband, for one thing. We like each other, and like doing activities together. I keep busy, invest in relationships and ministry, look for ways to create and connect. Better than all that, I know Jesus, and am known by him.

No, life isn’t over for me, even as a stay-at-home mom whose kids aren’t home all day, anymore. This next phase of parenting holds bright expectancy for joy. Yet I can’t deny, and don’t want to suppress, the real grief over the ending of an era.

It’s OK to be sad that I’ll miss it.

Mourning dust
That’s life for ya – an inexorable series of deaths and resurrections. It’s the circle that moves us all, if we’re to believe the philosophy espoused by The Lion King. From a tree centered in a garden to a tree staked in a skull-shaped hill, the cycle repeated throughout biblical times, and continues ad infinitum today. Like a line from a ’90s pop rock favorite of mine, “Closing Time,” copping a quote from Stoic philosopher Seneca, the world echoes:

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.

Endings come in waves – through a flood, across a tumbling wall, in a veil torn apart; by winter’s invasion and crushed dreams and relational doors slammed shut. Death never wins, though. Just as winter cedes to spring, so do ashes birth life. Jesus rose from the dead and raised us up with him, granting us a new home, new family, new richness in living for him.

If death is merely a vehicle to greater life, why do we loathe it? Victors in Christ have nothing to fear; he defeated condemnation. At some point, you’d think we’d get used to it, the cyclical pattern of dust to dust.

Yet when the dust is beloved, and it flits away, accessible only by reminiscence, we cry. The end of something is the loss of something, and those left behind are made losers.

God has made us for eternity, and we crave its permanence. Even in small shifts from one season to the next, we feel the pains of labor, groaning along with creation for ultimate restoration – when all will truly be well. Our bodies of dust are continuously handed death in order to unveil resurrection.

Every passage of an age shows us greater glory awaits, and weighs on us in the meantime.

Paradox united
I recently read my boys a chapter from a children’s devotional that whacked me with irony.

“When Stars Die” explains how those big balls of gas eventually peter out, shrivel up, and soak in massive energy until they explode in a jaw-dropping supernova. The author compared this phenomenon to Christ’s death on the cross, and how it was both a horrible tragedy and beautiful spectacle of grace.

This paradox will never cease to amaze me. I doubt I’ll fully grasp the depth of the gospel mystery this side of heaven. Why would the only Perfect Person die to save a thoroughly imperfect me?

Only God knows.

I see him now, but dimly. I thought I knew him, but am just now awakening to how all of life points to Christ – the small and momentous ways that recite his miraculous narrative. Moments like saying goodbye to my youngest at his first day of kindergarten display a necessary death that initiates joy unfolding. It’s exciting and hard, as you’d expect any birth to be.

All the emotions that accompany the birth/death cycle – tears of anguish and rapture for arrivals and homegoings – coexist at the cross. Life doesn’t spin in futility. We have a Savior who secured a future without pain, fear, or sorrow, and who stays in us and with us, renewing our hope for the unseen.

We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. ~ (Romans 6:4)

There’s a carpet unrolling before me, leading to new life ahead. Sure, it’s just one goodbye in a series of beginnings and endings that will repeat all the days I’m alive. Yet this one small goodbye reminds me that death’s next of kin is birth, and weeping for joy and grief can be exhaled within the same breath.

I’m sitting here, typing this, crying because I miss my baby; glad because we’re being reborn.

Image courtesy Element5 Digital on Unsplash.

Christian Clickbait and the Lost Art of Using Our Brains Online

christian clickbait online discernment

This must be a joke.

Confusion, shock, and other unpleasant emotions smoldered under my skin when I first read a recent viral post featuring a graphic and title that you’d expect to see on the Christian parody site The Babylon Bee.

“Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos” blew up on social media last week, generating a flood of commentary that you’d expect to result from a post headlined that provocatively.

As soon as I heard about it, I began gratuitously liking the many social media posts denouncing the piece and its author. I joined the ranks of those who publicly criticized her for espousing legalistic ideas that could lead her followers astray and heap shame upon those believers whose pasts included impure choices – none of which are beyond redemption – and lifestyle choices irrelevant to a life of faith. (Condemning tattoos? Really?!?)

After further reflection on the original post and ensuing backlash, I developed a few more thoughts that went beyond pure gut reaction. Rather than dismantle the flawed theological suppositions point by point as others already have done, I wanted to zoom out from the specific arguments and expand to a broader discussion about discernment.

This situation illustrates how easy it is for anyone of us to mislead and malign on social media. Though it’s inevitable that we’ll make mistakes, we can still make an effort to walk out our faith in a manner worthy of Christ by activating our minds and filtering our words. With love and humility, we can exercise good judgment with how engage with others online, according to the grace he gives to all his undeserving children.

Baiting clicks by provoking reaction
As connected technologies have shaped our culture and changed the ways we communicate, we tend to value emotional stimulation more so than mental exertion. We’re drawn to whatever makes us feel happy, sad, or mad and react accordingly with little to no deeper thought. Bloggers and other media producers capitalize on this impulse and churn out content they expect to gain visits to their sites, hence the term clickbait.

Whether the author intended it or not, the title “Men Prefer Debt-Free Virgins Without Tattoos” is a prime example of this. It bears little relevance to the post’s content, which presents the author’s argument that Christian women should focus on homemaking instead of pursuing an expensive college education, which she loosely ties to the passage in 1 Peter 3:4 calling for women to have meek and quiet spirits.

[For a thorough analysis of these theological claims weighed against Scripture, I recommend reading Phylicia Masonheimer’s recent post.]

Besides misapplying biblical concepts, the post fails to substantiate its claim with data or sound logical reasoning. The author offers no statistics, no interviews, no references to credible outside sources, only conjecture and opinion. It reads like an uninformed dating advice column billed as biblical wisdom – a dangerous type of post to go viral. Yet it makes sense why it would.

In a reactive culture, we rely on our feelings to guide the information we seek and engage with. So a post written by someone who isn’t a verified authority on the subject matter can gain widespread attention by publishing material that elicits extreme emotional responses – positive or negative.

People not only share what they love, but also what they hate in order to shore up support within their comfortable echo chambers.

Understanding with discernment
While there’s nothing inherently wrong with posts that evoke feelings (at least I hope not, as I often write about emotional topics), it’s important to exercise discernment with content we read online, especially when biblical claims are made.

For Christians trying to determine what’s biblically accurate, we should approach online content with a filter. What someone states as “my truth” is likely his or her experience or opinion, and might not be rooted in Scripture or reality. As we consume media, we should question the veracity of messages touted as truth and process them according to the litmus test of Phil 4:8: think on what is true, good, just, pure, lovely, and worthy of praise.

In an age of fake news and blatant political affiliations, this is becoming harder to accomplish. How do we know what’s really going when we hear conflicting reports with differing statistics presented through biased viewpoints?

However difficult it might be to distinguish between fact and fiction, we can still use our God-given brains to think critically about the information presented to us online. Whether the messages are coming from a famous author with a huge platform or a hobbyist blogger with a small audience, we have a responsibility to go to the Word and check for accuracy and merit. We’re called to take every thought captive in obedience (2 Cor 10:5) and to test the spirits to determine sound doctrine (1 Jo 4:1).

As we consider how to digest media, we can ask the Lord for discernment in testing the ideas laid before us. Using our minds renewed by the Spirit, we can conduct research, apply logic, and discuss ideas with trusted peers and mentors so that we don’t merely feel and react, but pause to think and assess.

These same principles that guide how we read and process online media should also govern how we respond to others in an online forum – even or especially if we disagree with them. 

Communicating with humility
In the uproar over this controversial blog post, certain Christian bloggers and writers blasted it all over social media, some in ways that came across as harsh and disparaging toward the author, who professes to be a believer. As the post made the rounds across different platforms, commenters swamped her Facebook page with vicious insults and hateful messages.

Amidst my own righteous indignation over this post, God reminded me through conversations with my wise and discerning husband to consider this blogger’s worth and dignity as a person, and possibly, a fellow sister in Christ.

She demonstrated flawed thinking – but so have I at various times. She communicated a message that hurt others – as I have done and likely will do so again, much as I hope won’t happen.

None of us is above reproach with what we’ve posted online. We’ve all made poor decisions, had to remove or delete a post, and if and when necessary, apologized for it.

As important as it is to reject false teaching, God’s Word calls for us to correct others in a gracious manner using words that build up, rather than tear down. Scripture prescribes a process for handling these types of disputes in 2 Timothy 2:23-25:

Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth,

Whether online or face-to-face, Christians are to clothe ourselves in humility, speak the truth in love, and correct others with gentleness, striving to maintain unity with our brothers and sisters in the Lord.

Yes, we should address wrong teaching and shine the light of the gospel to portray a clearer picture of who Jesus is and how we can reflect him. The burden on his followers is to do so in a way that imitates his character – his patience, his long-suffering, his self-sacrificing humility.

This might not be possible to accomplish in the context of a tweet. It might require reaching out personally, going beyond the highly visible realm of social media where we can form a bandwagon or jump on someone else’s, to invest the time and effort in developing a relationship and engaging in deeper conversations for the betterment of the whole body.

Engaging with grace
We can’t believe everything we read on the Internet, nor should we act like we’re better than everyone else using it. For it’s by grace we are saved, and by grace we are called to live in harmony with one another.

God has given us minds to discern what’s good and true, both in what we perceive and how we communicate. Recognizing that every good thing we have is an undeserved gift given freely in and through Jesus, we can engage graciously with others online, thinking critically and speaking kindly to glorify him and edify others.

Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph 2:29).

Resources for further study:
God’s Not Looking for Debt-Free Virgins by Phylicia Masonheimer
The Five Tests of False Doctrine by Tim Challies
9 Ways to Make Social Media More Christian by Karen Swallow Prior
My Wife Has Tattoos: Marriage and New Birth by Spencer Harmon

[Image courtesy Jesus Kiteque on Unsplash]

Ordinary Influence: Advancing the Kingdom Without Being an Evangelical Celebrity

Blank stares. A cleared throat. Some “hmmming” and legs being crossed, then uncrossed. You can always tell when women feel uncomfortable answering a question in a group discussion. In this case, the group was discussing the speeches we’d just heard during a conference video streamed at our church women’s retreat. The conversation had been moving steadily until we reached a stumper: “Who in your sphere of influence could you disciple to follow Christ?”

It’s an intimidating question to pose to a crowd of teachers, office professionals, and stay-at-home moms and grandmas right after listening to powerhouse Christian speakers deliver rousing messages.

Many of us who occupy “ordinary” roles find it difficult to acknowledge our impact on other people. We underestimate the effect we have on others, not necessarily because we’re humble, but because we doubt the actual merit of our oftentimes mundane work.

This is an easy lie to believe, especially in today’s culture. It takes a quick scroll through Instagram and some simple math to compare our number of followers to a peer’s and conclude we’re not as popular, and thus, not all that influential.

Read full post at Morning by Morning.

God Never Wastes the Space Between

“I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work,” the doctor said gently, then exhaled: “We didn’t get any embryos.”

And with her sigh, my dream of motherhood disintegrated.

It had been a long haul to reach this point. Tests, medications, surgeries. Unsure diagnoses, ineffective treatments, bills upon bills. And all for what? One tiny, pink, glaring negative line, month after month, year after year.

So much invested in fulfilling this deeply rooted longing, only to produce nothing but tears and prolonged ache.

What a waste.

God led me through this place of defeat so that I had nowhere else to turn but to Him.

Read full post at incourage.

woman church alone infertility support

God Remembers the Barren, and So Should the Church

I walked in the door to a foyer teeming with children. My husband and I entered the sanctuary and sat down in the back, where I began counting the number of pregnant women in the pews around us.

We had just moved to a new town and were trying out a church. My husband had to drag me there, because I didn’t want to go. I thought it would be painful to be surrounded by what I wanted desperately, but God had not yet given.

My assumptions proved correct. As I flipped through the bulletin, I saw listed several ministries the church offered various adults: singles, newly marrieds, families with kids, empty nesters. Nothing for childless, not-wedded-yesterday couples.

I was already feeling rejected by God. Now, I felt left out of His church.

The truth of His promise

Though I was impatient with His timing, God was patient with me during my years of infertility. Even before He brought us our two sons, He granted abundant grace and revealed more of His character to me in a personal way.

During and after this season, God grew my compassion for others facing these trials and my desire to search His Word for true comfort, discovering how God interacted with women in the Bible who struggled to bear children.

One of the most prominent examples is Hannah, who is so distraught over her childlessness that she pours out her soul to the Lord in the temple and is mistaken by the priest as a drunk. She leaves with “her face no longer downcast,” and once she returns home, God answers her cry.

“And Elkanah knew Hannah his wife, and the LORD remembered her.” (1 Samuel 1:19)

The word “remembered,” when used with God as the subject doing the “remembering,” appears elsewhere in Scripture when He delivers His people: Noah from the flood (Genesis 8:1), Abraham and Lot from Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:29), the Israelites from Egypt (Exodus 2:24), and the Israelites from the desert (Psalm 105:42).

In all these examples, God doesn’t forget His people as if they slipped His mind. That would be impossible – it would go against His omniscient character.

Instead, God “remembers” His children by bringing His promises to pass.

He saved Noah, like He said He would. He saved Abraham and the people of Israel, like He said He would.

He enabled women like Hannah to miraculously conceive because He made a covenant (promise) to provide a lineage that would eventually produce a miraculously conceived Savior.

The Bible doesn’t guarantee that every couple will bear children. But it does confirm a powerful promise that God is committed to redeem the sorrows in our lives through the death and resurrection of His Son.

Left out of the club

Even with this biblical comfort, couples that struggle with infertility can feel forgotten and isolated – especially in environments like church that emphasize families and childrearing.

As the leader of an infertility support ministry, I’ve heard from women describing upsetting circumstances when someone at church made a comment implying that their infertility was caused by sin. This assumption adds to the shame those dealing with infertility already face, making them feel excluded from fellowship in the body of Christ.

One woman in an online support group describes her loneliness:

“I find church the hardest place to be at the moment. The lack of understanding has floored me. I can’t bear more hurt by other believers.”

In my experience, it seems most insensitive comments about infertility stem from ignorance about the subject. It’s hard to understand what you haven’t personally suffered.

As with other rarely discussed health issues, many people aren’t aware of the ramifications of infertility.

They don’t know that it’s a disease affecting one in eight couples. They haven’t felt the embarrassment of being the only couple in church without kids to send to Sunday school. They aren’t experiencing the month-to-month roller coaster of emotional and sometimes physical pain, only to be told by someone in Bible study the well-meaning but hurtful advice: “You just need to trust God and relax.”

Instead of perpetuating unwitting insensitivity, the church can seek better understanding about infertility to build one another up in unity of faith.

Bearing one another’s burdens

Armed with greater knowledge and empathy, those of us who lead or even just attend church can, by God’s grace, help carry the burdens of those who are suffering this type of disappointment. Working together, we can create an environment of compassion, rather than exclusion from the baby club.

Teaching

We know from Scripture that children are a blessing (Psalm 127:3-5), and are familiar with the command to “be fruitful and multiply,” though some miss the Old Covenant context within which God delivered this mandate and construe it as an assurance of reproductive ability. But how many churches have spent time expounding upon the many accounts of delayed fertility recorded in the Bible?

In miraculous displays backing up His declaration in Genesis 18:14, “Is anything too hard for the Lord?”, God enables seven women whom the Bible describes as “barren” to conceive for His divine purposes: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s mother, Hannah, the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings, and Elizabeth.

If you’re a pastor or other ministry leader, you can preach sermons and offer Bible studies examining these stories, not as a prescription for fertility success, but rather to demonstrate God’s attentiveness to His children who are longing for a blessing, corresponding to the gospel truth of our longing for a Savior.

Recognition

Mother’s Day is difficult to endure for women experiencing infertility and miscarriage. Having to stay seated while most every other woman in the congregation stands for applause or receives a rose shoots like a dagger to the heart of a woman who desires but hasn’t yet been given children.

While it’s appropriate for pastors and churches to honor moms on that Sunday, you can also acknowledge the sorrow this day stirs for those who’ve lost a baby or haven’t been able to conceive. Rather than making an ostentatious display showing the haves and have-nots, make it a point from the pulpit to commend all women who do important work “mothering” others in practical and spiritual ways and affirm the value of every believing woman as a daughter of Christ.

Apart from Mother’s Day, consider planning an annual service honoring the losses associated with miscarriage and infertility, such as the Service of Memorial and Lament priest and author Tish Warren offered at her church this January. Similarly, just as churches hold infant dedications or baptism services, provide prayer times for couples waiting for children, petitioning the Lord for healing, peace, and wisdom on behalf of those undergoing medical tests and treatments or who are pursuing adoption.

Focus adjustment

Churches have traditionally emphasized marriage and motherhood as worthy aspirations, and for good reasons. Yet somewhere along the way, the role of mother got propped up as the ultimate calling for all women, to the point that some women’s ministries are structured solely around mom life activities and events.

Though well-intended, this emphasis can become so overblown that it devalues women who don’t have the label of “mother,” and dismisses the vital role all women play in the church.

To better serve and utilize the giftings of women, those who are in church leadership can broaden its focus on the Kingdom callings of women to include motherhood AND other areas of service, such as administration, outreach, teaching, organization, communication, and many other facets that are all needed to keep a church alive and thriving as one body growing up in Christ (Ephesians 4:15-16).

Support

Infertility is a life crisis that entails a grieving process. To help people in the congregation as well as reach out to your community, you can host and/or help individuals start support groups, providing safe places for people to share their struggles and comfort one another with the comfort God supplies (2 Corinthians 1:4). If you offer a resource library, keep on hand books specifically written for those facing infertility, infant loss, and childlessness. Thanks to increasing awareness, we have more faith-based resources addressing these issues at our disposal today than we did 10 years ago, and we need more still.

God “remembers” couples experiencing infertility by keeping His promise to work for the good of all His children. Everyone in the church, from pastor to parishioner, can love those who are suffering in our midst by encouraging those who are aching for a child and pointing to Christ as our ultimate hope for a fulfilling life.

[Featured image: Ben White on Unsplash]

Why I Identify with Michael W. Smith, Kevin from ‘This Is Us,’ and the Hulk

Long before the Chris Tomlin Takeover of modern Christian radio, those of us church youth groupies jammed to the kickin’ beats of Amy Grant, Petra, Steven Curtis Chapman, and everyone’s favorite “friend forever,” Michael W. Smith.

A pop music crush for my sister and thousands of other WWJD bracelet-wearing teenyboppers, Michael W. Smith released one of the greatest hits to emerge from this period, “Place in This World.” The tune was catchy, the singer captivating, the lyrics sufficiently ambiguous to interest a mainstream audience and attract a direction-seeking generation of youth:

A heart that’s hopeful
A head that’s full of dreams
But this becoming
Is harder than it seems
Feels like I’m
Looking for a reason
Roaming through the night to find
My place in this world
My place in this world 

Smitty’s angsty song might as well be my vocational anthem.

Since those elementary school days of learning penmanship and diagramming sentences, I’ve been trying to find my place in the writing world.

Am I a reporter, blogger, or aspiring author?

Should I write fiction or nonfiction? Satire or analysis? Memoir or devotional?

Do I use a formal or informal voice? Emotional or straight-laced? Witty or heart-rending?

What message am I trying to convey, to what audience?

Just why exactly am I writing?

Through trial, error, disappointment, and a few mid-shower epiphanies, these gray areas are beginning to clear. I can see direction, though not destination.

It has been a process. And God has been leading me the whole way through it, uncertainty notwithstanding.

The topic dilemma
As a grade schooler, I launched my career authoring a saga about kittens. I don’t recall the plot, but my grandma reassured me it was riveting.

After graduating college with a degree in journalism, I bounced around jobs at a daily newspaper, business journal, community newsletter company, and technical magazine publisher. While these gigs helped pay the bills and expand my abilities, the topics they entailed didn’t typically excite me. I was invested for the sake of completing my work well, not because I cared deeply about the subject matter.

Then something changed. Longing to become a mother and struggling to fulfill that desire drove me to the computer to type – furiously, comprehensively – so that I could process my emotions. I didn’t write because I had to, for work. I wrote because I had to, to think, understand, and exhale.

Blogging my way through infertility became an instrument of healing in my life.

And God’s grace extended beyond this therapeutic gift. In writing about a personal and rarely discussed life crisis, I could invite others into a place of vulnerable disclosure and, through the faithfulness of the Lord and not myself, point to the redeeming hope of a risen Savior.

This compulsion to write lay dormant during the early parenthood years raising my two active boys. Disappointment over not having a third child reignited this drive, and then, perhaps as a way to take my mind off what my life was lacking, I tried my hand at other topics, specifically, humor, faith, and mommy blogging.

I’ve taken this eclectic approach for several reasons, including my resistance to being pigeonholed in one subject. In this sense, I can relate to Kevin Pearson.

In the TV show “This Is Us” (which I highly recommend viewing if you’re in an emotionally stable place right now), the character of Kevin Pearson starts out as an actor looking to land more serious work than the role he’s known for on a sitcom called “The Manny.” Even as he successfully branches out in his career, everywhere he goes, people recognize him and, to his dismay, blurt out his cheesy catchphrase from the show.

Like Kevin, I don’t want to be a Manny, typecast by one niche topic. I don’t even consider myself a blogger. A blogger writes short, casually worded posts. I’m far too verbose for that.

Also, I have to be honest and admit that writing exclusively about infertility reopens old wounds and creates a conflict of interests. Infertility-specific posts don’t always resonate with other readers, while posts on topics such as motherhood potentially alienate those aching for a child.

Yet writers must have a certain audience in mind. There’s no way to please all the people all the time. And before you can determine your audience, you need a specific message you want to communicate through your words.

So I’m a writer, looking for a place, an audience, and a clarified message.

The call to write
Two years ago I read a book that revolutionized my faith.

Women of the Word” provides guidelines for how to study the Bible first from the perspective of what it tells us about God, then what it tells us about how to live. Before explaining the steps of inductive study, author Jen Wilkin emphasizes one pivotal truth:

The heart cannot love what the mind does not know.

This is a Bible study game-changer. It helped me grasp the importance of building accurate knowledge of God to more fully and rightly grow in my affection for Him – not some weak and incomplete version I imagine Him to be.

Knowing the truth about God’s nature then helps transform how I see and respond to sin in my life, leading to a clean heart that loves and pleases God. Romans 12:2 confirms this:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”

Beyond these life applications, this mind and heart concept has influenced what I want to write about and why.

I realized this when I came across a piece on Desiring God discussing the question, “Has God Called Me to Write?” John Piper answered with this:

… my understanding of this kind of calling is that it is a work of God in our minds and hearts and abilities and relationships that results in a recurrent, not temporary; long-term, not short lived; compelling, not merely interesting; benevolent, not selfish; Christ-exalting, not self-exalting desire to write, which proves fruitful in the lives of others.

I read this, and my heart sang.

All those years of working, venting, experimenting, crafting – roaming through the night to find my place in this writing world – has been building momentum to realize this purpose:

I want to write about God, for God.

I’ve never thought of it this way before – writing as a calling, my calling – to serve a higher objective than self-expression or creativity.

Other topics I’ve written about are important and worthy of contemplation. I believe all edifying words can be expressed to glorify God, directly or indirectly.

Yet there’s a distinct quality about writing as a calling, and I think the Lord has shaped my experiences and changed my impulses in a way that resembles Piper’s description:

Then there is the impulse to write, not only to learn and not only to create something beautiful or interesting or compelling, but also the impulse to instruct and awaken and delight and transform people into obedient worshipers of Christ.

This is what and why I want to write: The gospel of Jesus confirmed by the truth of His Word and revealed in the reality of our lives.

The how I want to write is another place where mind and heart come into play.

The good news
I’ve been slowly working my way through a video workshop designed for moms who write. In one of the sessions, the instructor recommends fine-tuning your writing voice to attract and engage readers.

This spurred some second-guessing of my preferred styles, including ironic humor and sentimentality.

I wondered: Can someone who wants to publish books in the Christian nonfiction genre effectively balance two different styles, or do I have to pick a lane?

Though I didn’t determine a solid answer to that question, I stumbled onto a way to resolve this inner conflict at an unlikely moment – while watching “Thor Ragnarok.”

It’s not spoiling anything to say the Hulk plays a major role in the movie. Like many other superheroes, Hulk has a dual identity as placid, brilliant Dr. Bruce Banner who, triggered by emotional outburst, turns into a fierce green giant.

Surely, it’s a stretch to compare my writing with an Avenger, but for some strange reason, it clears things up for me.

I can write with both voices because that’s who I am. Emotional, but not constantly sappy. Analytical, but not always serious.

This dual-sided approach to writing style corresponds with my newly defined writing emphasis.

I want to engage others’ minds and my own through studying Scripture and reliable source material so that we can know God better. I also desire to encourage our hearts to be real about and surrender our emotions, weaknesses, and affections so that we can love God better.

I suppose you could think of it as going Hulk on the gospel. Except that that sounds a little weird and a tad violent.

To this end, I’m shifting the bulk of my efforts from building a platform via social media to contributing articles for Christian blogs and websites. I’ll still participate in social networking – it’s mandatory in this day and age – but not pressure myself to produce content every day.

Regarding topics, I expect to continue writing about what’s dear to me – infertility, adoption, and motherhood – and intentionally draw out gospel implications in these areas. I also plan to write on the church, culture, and straight-up theology, while integrating witty comments on occasion to make my words creative and relatable.

Only God knows how this calling of writing will fully play out in my life, and only He can accomplish it. For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things.

He is my “place in this world.” To Him be the glory.