When There is Only One Plan

This post first appeared in August 2013 in The Pastor’s Post, on Bethany EMC website.  I wrote it as a guest blog for my husband.  I wanted to repost it because there is a POSTSCRIPT to this!  So this one comes first and then I’ll blog about what has happened and how Plan B has worked out for us in a couple of days!  Tell you where it’s taken us!  It’s good, so you’ll want to check back in!

It’s the end of August.  Less than a week before school starts and there are some major changes happening in our household.  I’m not a last minute sort of person when it comes to major decisions.  Nor do I like big changes to my routine, even if the routine has not been in place for two months.  What I like even less is when my plans change.

Over the weekend I heard a sermon about how Paul planned for A but ended up with Plan B.  How his disappointment was an appointment by God.  I can relate.  More than I’m comfortable with.  My life has a decidedly B feel to it.  (And B meaning that it’s not what I planned for.  Still struggle with the appointment part. )  My plan A for my kids has taken a detour.  It’s now a Plan B.

Plan A for my children was for them to attend public school in south-western Ontario where from Jr. Kindergarten to Gr. 8 they would learn the three R’s, at a school where they had friends and great teachers.  That country school that looked out onto corn fields for miles.  I realize that my view of this school has taken on a rather rose coloured hue.  It only lasted until they were in grades one and two.  Then we landed 280ish km away in a new city and a new public school.  Which saying it was a disaster, it putting it mildly!

As a result we are now at Plan B.  Private school.  I said I’d never do it.  It’s not a commentary on private vs. public.  In our situation, with a dad who’s a pastor, I felt our kids lived in enough of a bubble that the public school was the only way to go.  But a year and a half of struggle and stress and anxiety had led us down this road.  So with a week to go until school starts, they have just been enrolled in a private Christian school.  I’m struggling with it.  I wanted my plan A.  There are some very good reasons to stick to plan A.  But there are equally good reasons to switch it up to plan B.  My fear of change and my fear of making a wrong decision has me digging in my heels.  Is there really a “right” answer to our plans: A’s or B’s?

I’ve thought about this sermon a lot in the last few days.  It struck me that perhaps with God there isn’t really a plan A or B but rather there is just HIS PLAN.  We may think it’s plan B but it’s the plan that was in place all along.  This theme runs throughout the bible.  Esther didn’t plan on being a queen.  I’m sure she thought she’d be a regular mom and wife.  Instead she was basically kidnapped and taken to the palace to compete in a beauty competition to become Queen.  She won SO she could save her people from a deadly fate.  God had that all figured out well ahead of time.  For Esther it may have seemed like Plan B but it wasn’t.

Jesus was late showing up for sick Lazarus so he went to the grave.  Four days he lay dead.  When Jesus arrived Mary and Martha had been waiting and waiting for him.  I’m sure they thought this was Plan B.  But it wasn’t.  Jesus had it all worked out.  He raised his friend from the dead and God was glorified. Mary, Martha and the disciples as well as everyone who has read that story since, got a glimpse of how time doesn’t really matter in God’s kingdom.  He’s not racing the clock or pushing it forward.  God is time’s master not the other way around.  HIS PLAN is always on time.

These Plan B’s have God’s fingerprints all over them.  They would be impossible without him in it.  A Jewish maiden becoming Queen of Persia?  A man dead days, comes walking out of the tomb?  Our little Plan B is an impossibilty on so many levels that it has to be Him directing this or else we are just plain crazy!  The impossibility of it all actually comforts me because I know he has to be in it.  Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible.  But with God everything is possible.”  Matthew 19:26 NLT

Although it’s comforting, in a world that pushes Plan A as the only way, it’s hard not to be disappointed with Plan B.  It’s ok to be disappointed.  It’s a very natural response.  I’m sure Esther grieved the loss of her normal life. Martha verbalized that she believed that if only Jesus had come sooner, Lazarus would not have died. (John 11)  Disappointment is natural, it’s what we do with it in the end that matters.  I am disappointed with the public school that the boys have attended in our new city.  I’m disappointed that they have to pack up and move to another school and be the new kids again.  That they have to make a whole new set of friends and leave some new old friends behind.  In fact, I’m not sure who’s taking it harder, me or them. I’m white-knuckling the Plan A.  If I let my fingers relax the hold on Plan A, maybe I could embrace just THE PLAN.  After all Esther became a Queen who saved her people.  Purim still acknowledges that event and celebrates it.  Lazarus, a dead man, walked out of the tomb to live out his life.  Yeah maybe I just need to embrace THE PLAN, HIS PLAN, and trust that He is good and faithful.  See where it takes us.

When Hard Work Pays Off

My husband is home on holidays this week…

Some of you may be thinking “how nice”.  Others may have taken a sharp intake of breath.  Yeah that breath choked me on the way out!  I freaked last week when I was reminded that he was on holidays this week!  It’s not that I mind having him home but I had planned for the next three weeks to be busy working on a writing project and preparing for a writing conference that is uncomfortably close!  I had planned on quiet.  No distractions.  He quickly reassured me he was going to do some gardening and painting.  He would be out of my hair.  (The guy deserves a medal!)

It’s been okay.  I’m on a deadline so I’m a bit more focused than usual.  Fear is a good thing when it works to motivate you!  It’s been nice weather so Mark’s been out in the yard, working hard.  He loves gardening so it’s somewhat therapeutic for him.

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I was out last night admiring his hard work.  The gardens are coming along.  It takes time.  Last year he removed a couple of ugly shrubs and it’s made a big difference this year.  Some of the plants that were underneath them are now blossoming in the freedom of sunlight and air.  We can see as we back out of our driveway better than before!  (Who puts shrubs and trees along the sightline of a driveway?!)

He’s planted some perennials (plants that come back year after year.  I only know this because he’s had to tell me this every year for the last ten years!). They have come up again bigger and better.  Some died over the long harsh winter but most came through.

He’s also planted some pretty annuals (flowers that you have to plant every year).  They look awesome!  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they will remain in tact and out of growing boys’ feet as they run across the yard!

As spring is in full swing now and summer close on its heels, it marvelous to see the rebirth and growth in the world around us.  It reminds me of the growth in my heart over the last few years.  It’s been a journey of growth and rebirth.  Can you see it in your own heart?  A continual feeding of God’s word into our hearts and lives brings lush green growth if we apply it, practice it.  Obey Him even when we want to resist.  Why do we resist?

Understanding truth in the Word and in my life, has birthed confidence, belief in good things and the ability to dream again.  What kind of growth have they brought in your life?  These things weren’t easily won as you know.  Each was a battle well fought.  For the new to grow, other weedy things needed to be pulled because they were ugly.  Bad habits, lies.  They needed to die.  They stunted growth and wouldn’t let the fruit come forth.

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When we fail to do the work, the weeds start to come back.  For me, the temper gets shorter.  Panic starts to flood in.  I get sharp and thorny.  The boys take cover, afraid the thunder is going to roll, because sadly, in the past, it has.  What about you?

Maintenance is essential.  I have been reminded of that this week because I haven’t been tending to the garden of my heart.

Yesterday I said to God, “This is all overwhelming. Give me the direction to move and then give me the courage to follow it”.  Then in my head I added the hashtag #inovermyhead.  (God understands hashtags too!)  At the moment it was more about my project but today I’m realizing that it’s actually about life.  We all feel in over our heads at times!

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Reassurance that the work I’ve put into the last few years have brought me to this place today, chases away the fear.  God is in control and has been leading me to this moment.

What about you?  I would love to hear how hard work, obedience has paid off in your life.  Leave a comment and tell me about it.

The Awkward Pastor’s Wife

I did something I haven’t done in a loooong time.  I went out to a big girl’s movie with some friends.  We went to see the movie Moms Night Out.  I didn’t really know what to expect because I haven’t really been keeping up with movie news.  The only movies I hear about are the superhero genre.

Whoever wrote Moms Night Out, NAILED IT.  I understood the main mom character all too well.  It was funny and bittersweet.  I laughed so hard I cried.  For me that is a movie worth watching.

The other fascinating part of this movie for me, was the character, Sondra, the Pastor’s Wife.  I’m always fascinated by Pastor’s wives, real or imagined.  We’re complicated.  Who isn’t?  Sondra was no exception.  I think the writer(s) of the movie have an ‘in’ with a pastor’s wife because in a few scenes it was like taking a peek into my life.  Other parts I didn’t relate at all which is the way it should be.  I’ve learned that all our journeys are different and unique so of course we aren’t all going to experience the same things.  We’re not cookie cutouts.  But there were a few things I totally identified with.

One scene, at the beginning of the movie (Don’t worry I’m not going to spoil the movie!) Sondra, has just had a run in with her rebelling teenage daughter while searching and finding her husband’s lost sermon notes in his office.  While her daughter natters in her ear, she makes a beeline for her husband across the church building.  It’s Sunday morning of course.  The worst ever day of the week.  Alone at last, she is on her way to the foyer of the church.  But before she gets there, she stops, closes her eyes and takes a breath.  Takes a moment really.  The image is seared on my brain.  She’s standing there leaning up against the wall, head down, in a dimly lit hall, the foyer lit up beyond her, waiting for her.  It’s so real.  I’ve been there as I’m sure you have.  Whether you’re a pastor’s wife, or not, we’ve all been there.  Needing to take a moment, before we enter the foray in the foyer.

As I’ve said before, I’m an introvert and that whole greeting people in the foyer at church, or a gathering of some sort where there is no agenda leaves me feeling lost, dizzy and idiotic.  Am I the only one?

It’s especially important to take those moments if you know there are going to be people there watching you, perhaps judging you, or just wanting a piece of you.  Sondra is facing all three.  She really lived in the fishbowl of ministry.  That makes it extra hard.  Thankfully the fishbowls I’ve lived in to date, have been relatively cloudy and small.  Or else I’m blissfully naïve.  Some are not that lucky.  We all go into arenas where people are watching, judging, or wanting a part of us.  It’s life.  Just the fact that the writers recognized this filled me with hope.  Why?  Because it takes a chink out of the fishbowl.  It starts to crack the stereotype.

It was interesting to watch the reaction of the other women in the film to Sondra.  She has been placed on the pedestal that so often gets put under ministry leaders.  Her acquaintances, one in particular, spent much of the movie with their mouths open in shock.  Sondra isn’t a real person to them.  There are little peeks into her realness but like everyone else in the movie, these moms have put Shondra in a box – a rather confining one.  It’s stamped with PW (PASTOR’S WIFE) in big bold red letters.

When you are put in the PW box, it is assumed that you have the answers to life’s quandaries, crisis, etc.  PW’s have all the right words to comfort in times of trouble.  Do the right thing.  We are and have been good girls.  You get the picture.  Let me tell you straight up.  It’s a lie.  At least for me.

Any answers I have, come from hard work studying or the Holy Spirit, or both.  I have studied the bible through many bible studies.  I do not have a bible degree from a college or university.  I did not go to bible college.  I have studied, not so I’d have all the answers, but because I wanted to know God better.  I wanted to be more like him because my own self wasn’t too nice.  I try to read the bible every day.  I’m working on my prayer life (It really needs some work).  Am I perfect?  NO.  Is your pastor’s wife perfect?  No.  No perfect people here or at any church.  That’s why we have Jesus.

I’m totally lame at saying the right thing.  I hide behind Mark to some degree when we go to funerals and visitations.  Because honestly, most of the times I’m tongue –tied.  My brain fails me.  Awkward.  I’m so awkward in these situations it is laughable.  I don’t see it getting any better.

The other scene that stood out for me was during church.  The preacher is up at the pulpit preaching (do they still have those?) Shondra and the teenage daughter are sitting right up front.  All by themselves.  There is a mile wide radius of empty pews around them.  I’ve seen this in real life.  You can spot the wife and children right in the front row.  All around them, there is empty space. It’s like they have a plague.

I’m not condemning those who want to sit up front.  It’s totally up to you.  I’m a backseater by nature but I have moved to midsection.  I find the very front row, suffocating.  I also have a practical reason.  I can’t watch the screen or read the words because it’s too close.  I start to feel motion sick.

My kids sit up front with their dad because they want to be near him.  It’s fun for them.  When it’s no longer fun, then they will move.  For the moment it works and it’s also a break for me.  YAY!

I won’t go into what else happens in the movie as it would spoil it. I like the ending for Sondra. I hope we all (pastors’ wives or not) have a similar one. If you have some time Go See This Movie!

If you’ve seen this movie, what stood out for you?  What did you take away from it?  

If you go to church, I’d love to hear what you love about your pastor’s wife!  Then maybe go tell her?!

Why We Can Still Be Comforted, When It Feels Like the World is Crashing Down Around Us

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Exodus 13:21

Moses is fast becoming one of my favourite heroes in scripture.  I’ve had a fascination with him over the years but as I grow older I’m truly starting to appreciate his life, his leadership and his friendship with God.  It’s truly amazing.  (I know I’ll be writing about this in the future!)

As I’m reading through Exodus, I’m seeing with new eyes how extraordinary Moses’ life was.  I’m only at chapter thirteen and WOW!  Sometimes I think it would be super cool to live a life like Moses and then other times I think I’d want to run as far away from it as possible!

Today as Moses was leading the Israelites out of Egypt and into the desert and onto the Red Sea, I came across this little gem of a verse in Chapter 13 verse 21.  (It’s at the beginning of today’s blog)

Are you feeling it too?  It’s been a busy season, summer is right around the corner but all of sudden a few more things have been added to our plates.  Some of them not too welcome either.  It’s out of our control.

There’s been a lot of death in our city of late.  Two funerals at our church in less than a week.

Sickness.  The Senior Public school, across the street from my kids school, it’s flag flies at half mast again today.  They have had two children die in five months; brain tumors, both.  Very quick.

A child is sick with cancer in our school.  This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to curl up in bed and cry.  I can’t even follow the blog because it makes me too sad.  Unfortunately there are another two or three like it on Facebook that I could follow too.

With all this sadness and grief around, what are we to do?  Add it to the desperation of feeling so busy that our heads are spinning?  When one more detail added to the enormous helping already, would put us over the edge?

Today I found great comfort that God will lead us even if the world is crashing around us or is spinning out of control.  He led the Israelites by day and night.  He gave them light so they could travel whenever they needed.  He did not leave them alone for one second and gave them everything they needed.  The pillar of smoke and the pillar of fire stayed with the Israelites, day and night.

When they started to pass through the Red Sea, it moved behind them to give them light on their side and darkness on the Egyptian side.  Neither side could get near the other. God provided both light and protection for His people.

I take comfort that God never changes.  He is the same today as He was back when He led the Israelites out of Egypt and through the Red Sea.  He still navigates us through the hardships, grief, doubt and the general messiness of life.  He gives both light and protection to His people.

I feel a sense of peace in this.  I hope wherever this finds you today, whatever you are experiencing, that you are comforted by the fact that God is still leading us, protecting us and providing for us today, even when we don’t understand the world around us.  Even more so.

Two Lists to Help You as You Guide Little Ones

I love to read.  I’ve learned a lot over the years from reading.   If you read and are a parent, you’ve probably read numerous parenting books.  I’ve read quite a few over the last decade.  Some were good but I’ve forgotten over time.  Other’s were burned forever into my brain!  Some I’ve read bits and pieces from – taking what I needed for the season.  You know how it is; time is limited.  You can’t read everything.  So I thought I would help you out a bit and list a few of my favs that I’ve kept handy, to reread, for future reference:

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Here they are in no particular order:

Anything by Tim Kimmel:  I’ve heard him speak and read his books.  I love how he highlights what’s really important in raising kids!  Surprisingly they are not spelled S-U-C-C-E-S-S or M-O-N-E-Y.  How much money your child will earn or what awards he/she will win in the long run is not the most important thing.  Truth.

Anything by Kevin Leman: He speaks frankly.  I’ve said it over and over – I wish the man lived in my house so I could ask him the countless questions I have!

Be the Parent by Kendra Smiley.  The title says it all.

Who Made the Moon? by Sigmund Brouwer.  Science and faith.  For those of you who have kids who question you about creation vs. science.  I haven’t read all the way through this one yet but it certainly gives some food for thought.  The little I have read has made me rethink how I answer those questions from my boys.

The Whole-Brain Child by Daniel J. Siegel & Tina Payne Bryson.  My sister-in-law recommended this book.  It’s very readable, not too clinical.  Helps you understand how we are wired and act the way we do.  I had to put it aside because I was reading something similar and didn’t want to confuse them, but I really like what I’ve read so far.  It’s one I’m going to go back to.

She’s Gonna Blow by Julie Barnhill.  This book saved my life.  It was the catalyst that started me on the long road to healing and wholeness.  It’s not normal to be angry all the time! If someone tells you it is, that’s a lie.  Just saying….

Motherhood: The Guilt that Keeps on Giving by Julie Barnhill.  We all feel guilty for something that we have done as mothers, father, teachers…

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On that note, we all suffer from guilt.  We aren’t perfect.  That’s been a really hard lesson for me to accept.  I told myself over and over this lie: If I’m not perfect, I will screw up my kids.  It actually made my behaviour worse.

I know all about guilt.  There are some pictures from when my guys were little that I can hardly look at without crying.  I know how dark and desperate I felt at that time.  I can’t go back but I can move forward into a whole and healthy life.  Guilt is a wasted emotion.  True remorse brings change, guilt only brings shame.  In Motherhood: The Guilt that Keeps on Giving, Barnhill asks you to create a list of things you’ve done right as a mom.  That’s what I’m going to do!

Go ahead and create your own.  You may surprise yourself.  You’ve probably done more right than you give yourself credit for.  Remember that your list won’t be the same as mine because we all are unique and so are our kids.  There is no judgement here.AT.ALL.

Here are five things I’ve done right over the years.  I hope they inspire you to write your own list.  Give yourself that gift.

1.  Establishing an early bedtime routine and sticking to it!  Thank you Mom for instilling that in me in the early days of motherhood.  It has saved me again and again.  Babysitters will thank you for it!

2. Sitting on the floor and teaching my kids how to play.

3. Saying I’m sorry when I made a mistake.  Some days this was multiple times.

4. Letting them be boys.  That means stomping in puddles, climbing high into trees, getting muddy, playing with toy weapons.  (Remember NO JUDGEMENT)  Letting them learn to be a hero because it is written into their DNA.

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5.  Going to get help for myself when I needed it.  It is worth the money, time and other sacrifices to be healthy – physically, mentally and spiritually- for myself, my husband and my children.   There is NO SHAME.

Happy Mother’s Day

Jen

What things have you done right as a mom, grandparent, aunt or teacher?  Care to share any resources that were invaluable to you?  I’d love to hear about them!

To My Women Peeps

I am preparing for a couple of projects this week.  Feeling a little overwhelmed!  Preparing to give the message at church for Mother’s Day so I am cheating a bit today as I am reposting a blog I first wrote last year for my husband’s blog on the Bethany EMC website (May 2013).    However saying Thank you can never be said too much or too often, especially to the women in our lives.  I hope you enjoy it (again!).

 

It’s Mother’s Day week and everywhere you turn it’s all about moms.  I’ve lived through enough Mother’s Days wishing to be a mom and witnessed the agony of friends and family dealing with infertility, that even when I became a mom, I still cringe.  Not that I don’t think mothers work hard or deserve to be honoured and thanked.  I’m all for it but perhaps we could widen the net.  Honour all women who give the gift of their hearts to children and young people everywhere.  Perhaps they mentor younger women who have become their spiritual daughters.  Or give a hug to their child’s motherless friend.  Maybe they are the beacon at the top of the hill they live on in an otherwise dark and dreary neighbourhood.

As I’ve read or more likely skipped over blogs this week about moms, I started to think about the women who have shaped my life and the many gifts they have given from their own hearts to my own growing heart.  Here’s a few of those precious women:

My Mom: I’m blessed to have a Mom who has loved and encouraged all seven of her children.  She hasn’t had it easy.  Seven kids get into a lot of trouble.  She worked hard cleaning, cooking and all the other mundane tasks that come with running a household.  Even though she had to go to work full time as a teenager and never graduated high school, she instilled in all of us the importance of education.  All seven of us went on to post secondary education.  She gave us the gift of learning.  She has loved us deeply.  She has nursed us well, prayed for us and let us go forth, independent and ready to start life.  She has taken us back when things didn’t go as exactly as planned and then let us go again. Better equipped as we had time to work through our stuff.  Over almost 60 years of mothering she has sacrificed a lot, loved a heart full and more, and built into those lives she was given.  She has given us the gift of her heart as only a mother can.

Sisters: I have a lot.  Five to be exact plus a couple of sister-in-laws.  Being the youngest gave plenty of opportunity to watch them grow up.  I learned a lot.  Some of it was what not to do!  I’ve watched them become great moms and successful career women.  But the greatest gift they’ve given me is that we still have fun when we get together.  At my niece’s wedding, all of us – my sisters, my sister-in-law and my mom, had the most fun dancing the night away.  One of my sister’s friends wanted to be an honourary sister.  It’s a great gift to be able to have some fun with your sisters.

My Mother-in-Law: She raised up two great men who love their wives, children and God.  Their integrity and strength add to the churches and communities they help lead.  I reap the seed that she sowed and sacrificed.

Women I grew up watching: Women who were my mom’s friends.  They gave us summer jobs when we needed them.  They cared for families not their own.  Meals came when sickness or surgery came calling.   They brought birthday cakes for my twin and me, when my own mom was stuck in her hospital bed due to a broken ankle and wrist.  They gave the gift the royal law:  To love your neighbour as yourself.  They spread it all around the neighbourhood.  I witnessed it again and again as I grew up.

Teachers: I was fortunate to have many good teachers growing up.  My grade two teacher was a standout.  I thought she was the best thing ever.  She left to start her own family but let me be her pen pal for many years, even until I was grown up.  She made me feel special and that I mattered among the many students she taught.  It was a gift that probably changed my life.

Other Pastor’s Wives: They have loved and shown grace when I probably didn’t deserve it so much.  They have encouraged and cheered me on.  They have taught me by their actions.  They have been the hands and feet of Jesus himself in both good and bad times.  They have let me grow on my on learning curve and extended the gift of letting me be myself.  They have poured all this into a sometimes ungrateful, graceless and rebellious young woman.  They never gave up on me.

Wiser women: There have been many women I have encountered as we have moved from place to place.  They have supported me in prayer, in friendship and in many other ways.  They have loved my children.  They have imparted wisdom and grace.  They have shown me that grey hair is a crown of glory.  That old age is a state of the mind and heart.  That you can be in your senior years but in your heart, you’re still eighteen.  A priceless gift as time keeps moving swifly on.

Friends: Over the years and in many different cities, countries and provinces, I have a trail of friends who have impacted my life in such awesome ways that I can’t even imagine who I would be if I hadn’t had them in my life.  Each has contributed to who I am and who I will become.  They have loved, trusted me with their hearts and I in turn, trusted them with mine.  They gave me the gift of friendship. I could go on and on.

I guess on this Mother’s Day I’d rather celebrate a woman’s heart God created women in his image and because of that we are special.  We are made for relationship – first with our Father in heaven and then with others here on earth.  Our hearts are made for love and when we give that love away, we become a little more like Him.

Jen

 

I hope to be back with a fresh blog at the end of the week!  Prayers for the weekend would be deeply appreciated!  I have more sympathy for my husband when I do this!  He does this every week!  Bless him!