Only By God’s Grace—a Marriage Testimony

Only By God’s Grace—a Marriage Testimony

Romantic comedies have a formula: girl meets boy, boy and girl have some strange and complicated confusion, boy and girl discover they are truly made for one another, then everything is bliss, marriage is inevitable, life is good. Or something like that.

Romantic comedies often leave out the part that marriage is more like a lifetime of learning to enjoy and love and forgive and serve a person who will inevitably sin against you. Romantic comedies leave out months of mourning the loss of a baby or dealing with illness or late night talks through tear-filled eyes. Romantic comedies leave out the restless nights, financial struggles, prayers for safety, conversations about children, and thoughts about the end of life. Oh, some romantic comedies may hit on a few of these things, but these movies are typically one-dimensional, fairy tales and can’t encompass all that marriage entails through a lifetime of knowing and being known by another person.

My husband, Thern, and I have lived what many may think is a bit of a fairytale. We love each other dearly, and we actually enjoy one another too. Though we are far from perfect, we really are happy. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank the Lord for this union and covenant of marriage

On December 6 Thern and I will celebrate 14 years of marriage. We anticipate that this 15th year will be filled with the same joys and sorrows that each year so far has brought. But we once again anticipate the faithfulness of God. Today, I wanted to share a small taste of our testimony—a testimony of God’s grace and faithfulness.

Our Testimony

Thern and I started dating when I was incredibly young. I was 19 years old when we first began to show interest in one another. Thern was 25 and basically ready for marriage. I was ready to explore college life. Neither of us were Christians, but both of us enjoyed our friendship and what became a romantic relationship—except it was not a good or healthy relationship. My immaturity and desire to explore didn’t match his readiness for marriage. We tried twice at engagement and broke it off twice. Both heartbroken by sin and what seemed like the end, we parted ways.

After that second engagement to Thern ended, I went to a friend’s church, heard the gospel for what might have been the twentieth time, and submitted my life to the Lord. My life was forever changed. I still loved Thern, but I knew that now we could never be together. After awhile, my heart for Thern changed from a desire to be with him romantically to a desire for him to know the Lord. So, after a year of praying and waiting, I invited him to an event.

weddingkissTo make a long story short, Thern came to the event. After meeting with a now-dear friend, Thern, too, became a Christian. But that didn’t mean we immediately got back together. In fact, Thern and I barely spoke to one another, even though we now attended the same church. Many wouldn’t have even known that we had once been engaged (twice!). Thern was active in the singles ministry, and I was working for the church doing campus ministry. We kept our distance for the most part, enjoying a chat from time to time.

Finally, after another year, Thern asked me if I’d be interested in a courtship. (“Courtship” was what we were doing back then in certain Christian circles.) I said I was not interested at the time because I wanted to concentrate of serving the college ministry. I knew that I wanted to spend that year focused on ministry. Of course I spent that year worried that Thern might find someone else—so much for concentrating!

The year passed, and I anxiously waited to see if Thern might still be interested in me. He was! By then I knew that I wanted to be his—forever, if he’d have me. We were married six months later.

Grace Upon Grace

God was merciful to us, first reconciling each of us to Himself and then to one another. Our testimony is that God who is rich in mercy, because of the great love that he has for us, made us alive in Christ. By his grace we have been saved. We recognize God’s sovereign wisdom in all the brokenness we experienced prior to our marriage. We also believe that those obstacles that kept us from getting together at first were actually a blessing, that God was likely protecting us from what might have been a miserable and hard marriage. God is so good!

And we believe it’s a bit of icing on the cake that we are in an interracial marriage. In many ways God allows us to testify about his ability to bring together people from every tribe, tongue, and nation every single day. Again, our God is so good!

methernThern and I have experienced more happy and wonderful days than sad, but to say we haven’t had terribly sad days would be a lie. Oh, how grateful I am that neither of us has to put on a mask, pretend we have it all together, or fake our way through this life. God has used the counsel of others and the local church as a means of protecting and caring for our marriage. Thern and I know that every trial and sorrow and struggle that we’ve experienced only points back to the awesome sustaining grace of our Father. We can honestly say that we love one another more today than we did yesterday. This is only because of the grace and mercy of our God.

So, thank you for reading our testimony and celebrating with us! We are thankful for these past 14 years together. God has been faithful! We don’t have a RomCom marriage—and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

 

thefam

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

Sorrowful, Yet Always Rejoicing

I have walked this earth a short 39 years, but in that time I have experienced a wide range of trials. When I was a young child, my parents’ financial struggles meant that occasionally the electricity would be shut off and we would have to visit a relative’s home. During my freshman year of college, I was the victim of sexual assault (not rape, thankfully). A few months later my father passed away from his battle with cancer. As a young adult I have experienced four miscarriages, general health issues, and recently the sudden loss of my oldest sister.And yet I can honestly say I am joyful.

Joyful—but not without sorrow.

This Thanksgiving I imagine there are many of you who are wondering how in the world you might rejoice. How can you be thankful in a world full of pain? How can you be sorrowful, yet always rejoicing?

Real Pain

Trials of any kind bring a rush of emotions. The pain is real. The sorrow is real. It’s hard to endure at times. And it’s all but inevitable.

God never once promised this Christian life would be without trouble. In fact, Jesus told us explicitly that we will have tribulation in this life (John 16:33). All we need to do is live long enough, and surely trials will arrive.

So we don’t have to pretend to be without pain this Thanksgiving—or any day of the year. And thankfully we have a Savior who relates to our suffering. Jesus is aware of and acquainted with human grief—my grief and your grief. The God-Man endured both trials and temptation, though he did not sin (Hebrews 4:15). He faced agony to the point of sweating blood (Luke 22:44). He even prayed fervently that his Father would take the cup of suffering away if at all possible.

And yet we know that Jesus willingly drank that cup. He chose to go to the cross, to suffer physical agony and emotional devastation. In his final moments on the cross, Mark records him saying, “’Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” (Mark 15:34).

Jesus endured great pain, pain I can only imagine. But his pain was for a purpose—the redemption of the world. He did it on my behalf—and yours.

Purposeful Pain

Our pain, too, has a purpose. The believer knows that there’s a great and glorious purpose in trials. Suffering is designed to purify our faith. Peter comforted the Christians in Asia Minor by reminding them (thus reminding me) of the great purpose of suffering. He writes, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire— may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

Any trial or suffering I endure is a testing of the genuineness of my faith. Charles Spurgeon addresses this in his classic, The Suffering of Man and the Sovereignty of God. Referring to Job, whose genuine faith was tested by extreme suffering. Spurgeon writes, “In what better way can the believer reveal his loyalty to his Lord? He evidently follows his Master, not in fair weather only, but in the foulest and roughest ways.”

The beauty of faith is that it isn’t something I have to come up with on my own. It’s a gift from God! All good things, including the faith to endure trails, comes from him (James 1:17). He graciously grants me faith to trust that he is with me in my days of trouble and will sustain me to the end as he has promised. So though trials may come, I can be confident that he will give me the sustaining grace for them.

And I Rejoice

You and I can rejoice in suffering because we know we have a living hope. We know that our hope will bring us to an eternal glory. You and I will one day rise and be with Christ forever. We can rejoice in suffering today because we know that “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3–5). This is the truth that you and I can easily forget in times of sorrow but that God is good and faithful to remind us of through his Word, his Spirit, and friends who preach it to our hearts and minds.

So though I have experienced various trials—and will no doubt experience more in the future—my hope is in Christ. I can rejoice during these trials in my living hope, knowing that nothing—no great trial, no pain or sorrow, and no one—will separate me from the love of God.

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? . . . No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35, 37–39).

Mourning with Those Who Mourn

Mourning with Those Who Mourn

It was unexpected, swift, and yet seemed like an eternity. The phone rang. Sis is in the hospital. I wasn’t too concerned. I told my husband it sounded serious, but I felt sure she would be released.

Moments later: It doesn’t look good.

A few hours after that: She’s gone.

My older sister was 40 years old. It was her birthday. And she had passed on to eternity. Her heart had failed, and ours were broken.

That was a sad night, and the weeks that followed were difficult. I was tasked with taking care of things that must be done when a loved one passes—things I never thought I’d need to do so soon. And in the years that have passed since then I’ve mourned her death in various ways.

There have been moments of incredible hope because of what I know. I know that one day death will be swallowed up. I know death has already been defeated because of our Savior. The truth of these verses leaves me longing for heaven, anticipating the glorious day when there will be no more tears or sorrow, but only rejoicing—forever.

But there have also been days when my tears could fill a river. Sometimes, despite my hope, I feel a heaviness that’s indescribable. So I don’t try to explain. I simply cry.

And something else has happened during those years. The process of mourning the loss of my sister has changed the way I interact with others who have lost someone they love. The Scriptures tell us to mourn with those who mourn, but I have learned that how we do that can make a big difference.

 The Urge to Fix

 When we see a dripping faucet, our first thought isn’t to just let it continue dripping. Each drip annoys us, costs us money, and creates rust. We need that faucet fixed. So we either try to fix it ourselves (not an option for me!) or we call in an expert and ask him to work on the faucet until the drip is gone.

And that’s all fine for the plumbing. But there’s a temptation to treat our mourning friends like leaky faucets that need to be fixed—and attempt to fix them ourselves instead of relying on the Expert who really knows what to do and is capable of doing it.

We may spout Scriptures we have memorized or wisdom we have heard. We may even run to the concordance and look up search terms— “mourning,” “sorrow,” “pain,” “Job”—then lay our findings onto our friend, hoping to fix the leak. The effort is well meaning, and there’s certainly a time and place to share wisdom. But too often we search for the perfect knowledge that will bring comfort when all we really need to do is be there. To wait with the grieving person for God to do his work.

When a friend is weeping or seems lost, it’s hard to say, “I don’t know, I don’t understand.” We want to know. We want to make it all better. But it’s so easy to forget that our friends, coworkers, or relatives are not faucets to be fixed—they are flesh and blood to be loved. Those moments when we’re anxiously trying to find the perfect words are often the best moments to humbly embrace our weakness and lack of knowledge.

This doesn’t mean we never speak at all. It doesn’t even mean we never share our perceived wisdom. It might actually involve acknowledging we do understand. We understand our friend’s sorrow enough to be willing to bridle our tongues, to speak carefully and thoughtfully, to pray and wait.

Silence Is a Virtue

Have you ever spent any time in the book of Job and found yourself cheering on Job’s friends? I know I have. I’ve struggled to understand why their advice is wrong. At face value, much of it sounds pretty wise. But those so-called friends weren’t comforting Job. They were accusing him, telling him how he should act and how he should feel. They were feeding him explanations and rattling off unhelpful advice instead of listening to him. One even asked a rhetorical question in an attempt to discount Job’s wisdom (Job 15:2). In chapter 16 Job lays out exactly why these brothers were not helpful, calling them “miserable comforters” (Job 16:2).

Did Job’s friends intend to be miserable comforters? Absolutely not. Each had a genuine desire “to show him sympathy and comfort him” (Job 2:11). So what went wrong? They spoke without waiting and without thinking. More important, they acted out of their own need for answers and relief, not out of true wisdom and compassion. Too often we do the same.

The next time a friend needs comfort and you have no idea what to say, perhaps you shouldn’t say much. Instead, just be there. Take the opportunity to cry together. Look for ways you can be of practical help. And maybe you could, with a compassion-filled heart, pray together. But hold on the advice and the explanations, and when you speak, weigh your words.

Our Lord is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. He comforts us so we may comfort others (2 Cor. 1:3–5). We must trust him, for in his time he will bring comfort to those who mourn.

Loving Father or Tyrannical Boogeyman?

Loving Father or Tyrannical Boogeyman?

Our smallest offense deserves the full wrath of God. That’s hard to hear if we forget that God has indeed not only covered our sin because of Jesus, but also allows us to continually approach him to receive that grace anew. We also know that God is holy—set apart in his perfection, glory and majesty. We are sinners who sin every day. Our sin should grieve but not condemn us, because we serve a God who is good and gracious but also holy and just. So, what are we to do with this enigma of our sinfulness and God’s holiness, which clings so close to us? Repent and receive God’s amazing grace.

God, the Boogeyman?

There it is again. That eerie dark shadow lurking in the closet. He seems so unpredictable. What might he do next? What might happen? Will he jump out and get me? MOM!

Those used to be my fearful thoughts as a young child. I would fearfully snuggle into my bed, waiting for the boogieman to jump out of the closet and get me. When I became a Christian, I realized that much of the way I related to God was like that childlike fear of the boogieman. I felt like I didn’t have much control over my life, but instead of realizing I was in the hands of a good and loving Father, I viewed God as tyrannical. He had all the control, I thought, and the only love he showed was on the cross (which of course would have been enough!). I really did think God was like the boogieman hanging out in my closet just waiting for the right moment to punish me or cause some harm.

How sad.

If we only know God as the sovereign ruler of the world, then we might make that same mistake I did as I young Christian. It wasn’t until I understood the great love of God that I began to see all His ways as good and loving. Yes, even those tough things in our lives are part of God’s loving hand (1 Pet 1:3-9; Heb. 12: 3-17). We can rest knowing that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways and yet he is still thoughtful of man (Isa. 55:8; Psalm 8:4). We see evidence of this in Isaiah 55, which begins with an urgent call for us to come and drink—God delights in meeting our needs (spiritual and otherwise). We have a Father who invites us to the throne of grace to receive help in our time of need (Heb. 4:16). And though I didn’t fully grasp the significance of the cross as a young Christian, I now understand that God displayed his ultimate love for us through the sacrifice of His son on our behalf. Is there a greater love than this?

God is not the boogieman. He is the sovereign, loving, awesome God who came to redeem a people for himself. He is good and loves us relentlessly. So, in response to our knowledge of His loving character, we discipline ourselves to daily repent of the sin Christ already died for.

Walk in the Light

One of the many side effects I’ve experienced from getting older is an inability to see the road while driving at night. Everything glows and if it rains it’s as if someone is shining a bright light in my eyes. Like the responsible adult I am, it took me months to go to an eye doctor. So, I was driving around in the dark, blind as a bat. Thankfully, we don’t have to do this as Christians. We’ve seen the light. The gospel has shined light into darkness and this light isn’t disorienting, it’s a gift of grace that purifies and guides us.

But perhaps you’ve been walking around like you are still in the dark. God calls you to walk in the light. To walk in the light means to walk in the goodness and grace of God, living a life that is reflective of the Savior, and walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. Repentance is one of the clearest ways to walk in this light. John tells us that, “If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth” (1 John 1:6). To walk in darkness is either to walk with the knowledge of sin and ignore it, or to walk as if we are completely without sin never repenting (v.8). The grace of God allows us to not only acknowledge that we indeed continue to struggle with sin, but also to turn from our sin.

We see clearly that our walking in the light isn’t perfect, not even close. We will never reach perfection on this earth. That’s why repentance is such a beautiful gift from our God. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1:9). Oh what grace! We confess our sins to God—acknowledging our great need for him to turn us from our sin and what does he do? He does what he’s already done—pours out the grace we need to change. His wrath was reserved for Jesus. We don’t receive punishment or wrath for our sins—we receive grace. There are, of course, consequences for sin but even still our standing before God doesn’t change.

God is sovereign and rules over all. He is holy, yet because of Jesus we can approach him. Run, don’t walk to the throne of grace. Don’t walk like a blind man while you have the capability to walk in the light that is available to you. Walk in the light. Confess your sin and receive grace. There is no condemnation for you. Grace, that’s all he has for you and me.

 

A version of this article first appeared in Tabletalk

A Call to Prayer During Anxious Time

A Call to Prayer During Anxious Time

Praying is never an overreaction.

I shared that sentiment a few weeks ago on twitter and I believe it is true. While prayer is never an overreaction, I would dare to say it’s not always our first reaction. Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, encourages us, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; 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” (Phil 4: 4-7).

We live in an anxious world and in an anxious time. Likely many of you are anxious about something right now. When we take one look away from God and His Son, we can easily fall into despair. This seems especially true given our current cultural moment. To say that we live in the most racially divided time in our history would be erroneous. But for those of us born in the 70s, 80s and 90s, we have acutely felt this heavy weight of race division. We continue to live in a racially divided time.

Hate is at every turn. I can’t turn on the TV or log onto social media without seeing the evidence of how this fallen, broken world has affected race relations in our country and in our world. And I know the divide and pain isn’t something that’s only found out there in the world, it’s right here in the church too.

The reality is we will not see this anxious division become whole until Jesus returns. But are we simply resigned to anxious waiting until that day?

What if instead we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful prayer?

What if we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful preaching, writing, or your own unique creative outlet?

What if we took our anxiety related to racial division and turned it into faithful action?

Our hope is not in our prayer, our preaching, nor our action. Our faith and our hope is in our God. We can rest and trust him. We look to that future grace and hope of a new heaven and new earth to motivate us to bring heaven to earth now.

Ultimately, we need to trust God for our future. The future doesn’t look bright to an anxious world. When we look out at the landscape of our culture, it looks dim.

But don’t listen to your fears.

Fear has a way of whispering lies in our ears about who God is.

Fear tells us that there’s no hope for our nation.

Fear tells us that the gospel isn’t enough for unity.

Fear tells us that there’s no way that God can save this community.

But God.

God.

God is not a genie in a bottle ready to grant all of our wishes. We don’t shake a magic 8-ball to learn all that he is doing. We wait and trust. God is always working whether we recognize it or not.

And one day our faith will become sight.

God is not on this throne wringing his hands hoping we get our political act together so things can be fixed.

God has not given up his rule and authority.

We can resist anxiety and fear by remembering what is true about God. We have a different and better allegiance and it is not to any ruler or authority on this earth. We must remember that our kingdom is of God and is of heaven.

God is awesome.

God is sovereign.

We are not entrusting ourselves to a wimpy, powerless God.

God is also our loving Father and he invites his children to come to him and find rest in our Savior who died for our fear and anxiety. He is our peace.

Read again, the words that Paul writes: “The Lord is at hand; 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.”

Right now we have a great opportunity to submit our requests to the Lord. Would you join me in the month of September to praying for racial harmony in our country and revival in our churches?

Some ideas for how to pray:

  1. Go on prayer walks with friends
  2. Set out to pray every morning
  3. Organize a prayer gathering at your church
  4. Journal your prayers
  5. Get in your prayer closet alone

Your prayer time does not have to be anything elaborate, but I am praying that for you and me, it will be consistent–every day in September. You do not need to sign up for anything, just commit in your heart and get started.

Some ideas for what to pray:

  1. The gospel to penetrate hearts
  2. The gift of repentance for our own racial bias
  3. The gift of repentance for those who struggle with racial pride
  4. Strength, wisdom, and courage for church and religious leaders (pastors, seminary presidents, organizational leaders, etc.)
  5. Unity among believers
  6. Opportunities to love your neighbor
  7. Racial harmony, reconciliation, etc.
  8. Healing—where there is hurt, need for forgiveness, etc.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).

 

 

 

 

 

Mind: Stop Spinning

Mind: Stop Spinning

I’m an advocate for gaining knowledge, being informed, and keeping up with what is going on in the world. As I heard a friend once say, “Ignorance is not bliss, it’s just ignorance.” But with all the information that we are presented with throughout each day, I have wondered, for myself and for you, is it possible to sit and watch a sunset without worrying or thinking? Are we able to simply sit any longer? Do we ever shut off our minds? The answer is likely sometimes, but more than likely hardly. World events aren’t the only things that keep our minds spinning, the daily mundane tasks, our unfinished projects, broken relationships, worrying about finances, the list goes on and on because the cares of this world are many.

So what are we to do?

In an interview recently regarding race, I was asked how I practice “self-care” so as not to burnout and to be encouraged in my soul. My answer was simple: I stop. I stop thinking about the issues for a moment. I don’t forget them. And I don’t pretend that they don’t exist. But there comes a time when, in order to have true and lasting peace, we have to understand that burdens were never meant for us to fully carry and taking captive our thoughts is a means of caring for our souls. I don’t do this perfectly—I never will—but stopping is a practice that reminds me that I’m not God and He desires to carry all the things that keep my mind spinning. And sooner than later, the spinning stops and there’s peace. I’m given the grace to think clearly and I remember—God.

Today, if you are troubled about many things, may I encourage you to stop, to pause, and ask God to clear your mind. Even if it’s just for a moment, it will be worth it. I believe God will honor your act of faith, trusting Him with your concerns rather than carrying them on your own. He is faithful.

“You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isa. 26:3).

 

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