Not Frightened by Fear

I had the privilege of sharing a bit of my story this morning at Women’s Bible Study. It’s a bit different format since I was speaking, not blogging, but here’s what I spoke on:

I wanted to share a testimony of how 1 Peter 3:5-6 really encouraged me during the months leading up to my divorce. I really like how the ESV translates this passage: “For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord. And you are her children, if you do good and do not fear anything that is frightening.”

Submission is never an easy thing but it’s particularly challenging when married to an unbeliever or a husband making ungodly choices. No one knew that better than Sarah. If you’ve never read the story in Genesis 12, let me summarize it. Abraham was traveling in the foreign land of Egypt. His wife Sarah was very beautiful and he was scared that the Pharoah would want to take Sarah for himself, and would kill him to do so. He didn’t trust that God would protect him, so he made the foolish decision to lie about who Sarah was. He told the Pharoah that she was his sister, so Pharaoh let him live and took Sarah to be his wife. Was her situation frightening? Absolutely. And yet this passage says she “didn’t fear what was frightening.” She trusted that God would be her Ever-Faithful and Perfect Husband. She trusted in God rather than Abraham — and God protected her.

Over a year ago my husband began to walk away from the Lord. As you can imagine it was a terrifying time. My decade old marriage began to crumble without having our faith in common. I’d look at my 3 small kids and feel paralyzed with fear. Many of you ladies walked through that season with me and know how hopeless I was at times. How could I follow a husband who wasn’t following God? How could I trust him to lead our family? And what if he decided to leave me?

I read through this passage during that time. I was reminded that I was supposed to follow Sarah’s example and not “fear what is frightening.” Regardless of how terrifying my circumstances became, I knew that Jesus would be my husband and that He would ultimately protect my family. My prayers shifted from “Lord, please change my husband” to “Lord, help me trust in you no matter what.” I decided to obey God and to trust Him, even when my husband was making bad choices. I continued to submit myself to his leadership and pray that God would protect me and my children.

And God answered my prayers with hope. He gave me a confident and sure hope that I had a future and that I could trust His plan. Even when my circumstances got worse and my husband decided to leave, I experienced a confidence in who Jesus is and that allowed me not to live in fear. He has been my Faithful and Perfect Husband, never leaving my side. I can look back and see how He was with me every step of the way and has never left me on my own.

We’ve all heard the phrase “everything happens for a reason.” It can be used in insensitive ways to justify terrible things that happen. But from God’s perspective, it really is true. Nothing happens without His care and involvement. That includes choices that the people in our lives make. He has promised to watch over us and be with us, even as people we trust fail us. We can be free to trust in Him and not be shaken by the insecurity of our circumstances. That’s how we can follow Sarah’s example and not “fear what is frightening.” Because we know who ultimately plans our days and He is GOOD.

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Reputation

I haven’t given much thought to reputation since my high school years. Of course, during early adolescence it was everything. I took great pride in being known as a good girl. I liked that people looked to me for advice. That they knew I was the one to ask for a Bible verse or prayer on hard days. I didn’t want to be popular, those girls were trouble. But I did want to be liked and to have a place– and in its own weird way being a good girl gave me that identity.

I transferred my identity to marriage and motherhood over the years. Having a reputation as a natural mama, a homemaker, an ally on all things faith/sexuality, a safe place, a great cook, a loving wife –this has all been core to who I am. Some of those identities were scarier than others. Some invited criticism from strangers and it was scary to know that my reputation was at stake. To know that people I had never met had the power to interpret things I’d written or said (or even just the existence of my marriage) and had things to say about me was terrifying.

But all of that still felt purposeful. If I was being maligned, it felt to me that it was for the cause of Christ. That I was being slandered because I was saying things about God and faith that needed to be said, but some people just didn’t want to hear. That I was helping push the Church in ways that it needed to pushed. And that I was doing it alongside my teammate, my leader, and my best friend. At least we were in the mess together and anyone who really knew us believed in what we had to say.

Then my most recent identity came to include the title of divorcee. Now just walking into Home Depot with my three kids invites comments from complete strangers. A thousand assumptions are made about me every day and there is very little I can do about. Nor does it feel very purposeful. It often feels like it invalidates my ability to minister or serve more than it enables me. Being a single mom comes with all kinds of looks and completely uninvited comments. I remember as I walked through the last months of my marriage, feeling it’s inevitable demise, that I often found myself praying: “God — your glory is at stake here! What happens to me says something about you!”

It was during that time that I found myself drawn to a particular phrase in Scripture. One that I came across again and again, “Those who trust in him will never be put to shame.” I struggled with this phrase immensely. I mean, we all know believers who are falsely maligned or who have lost their reputation through no fault of their own. So what is this promise? It doesn’t mean we won’t experience the shame of having a bad reputation, so what does it mean?

This past week I’ve been studying 1 Peter in my Women’s Bible study. 1 Peter 2:6 landed in my lap and reminded me of all those churning thoughts from a year ago: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” My dear friend Nikki shared some facts about cornerstones in our study on Tuesday. How they set the tone and structure for the rest of the building. A good solid cornerstone creates straight and strong walls that will create a safe and reliable building. The walls won’t crumble and they won’t be “put to shame.” 

This idea of the cornerstone being responsible for our lack of shame was an a-ha moment for me. It’s so easy to think that our reputation matters because of what it says about us to others. But what I believe God is promising us is that the building he’s creating (us!) will never crumble or fall. That when people look at us they will see Christ, the chosen and precious cornerstone bearing all our pain and weight and creating a gorgeous and strong building. It’s not about people thinking the world of me, it’s that they will see me and see Jesus. And you know what? Seeing Jesus causes a lot of people to stumble and reject truth (1 Pet. 2:7-8). So their response to us might look like being put to shame in the world’s eyes.

And yet, the promises of 1 Pet. 2:9-10 wrap us in Jesus’ comforting arms. If we are rejected and our reputation is damaged in the world’s eyes, we are still God’s holy and chosen people. Though we have no home and people on this earth revile us, we are God’s special possession. Once not a people, now the people of God. Now that’s a reputation and an identity I can rely on. Never failing, never vacillating, not dependent on what’s in vogue at any given moment: forever chosen and adored by God. Hallelujah.

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Of Crooked Smiles and Happiness

I was born with a very smushed face. Part cross bite, part “wombs are tight places”,  I carried a crooked smile all the way into adolescence. Orthodontia helped a great deal; so did perfecting the ideal smile. I remember after I got my braces off, I’d flash a smile at myself every time I walked by a mirror. It was very Dorian Grey and vain, but I learned quickly how to look perfect. I was always told that I had a great smile and knew how to light up a room. I would sometimes model for my photographer friends and that perfect smile would always be on display.

I’ve struggled with happiness most my life. I was a depressed and angsty teenager and carried a lot of that discontentment into marriage and early adulthood. I eventually learned how to fight for joy, but in the later years of our marriage also lived in quite a bit of pain. All the while the perfect family pictures and model-like portraits were displayed for all the world to see. I’ve often been told that we were the most photogenic family. It was so hard for people to believe the pain we were in when we all looked so darn perfect.

A funny thing has happened in this year of endings followed by new beginnings. My crooked smile has returned. I first noticed it in the Fall. Since then it keeps cropping up in selfies and pictures where I least expect it. It is not planned or posed — and it certainly is not perfect. And yet, the way my right lower lips droops to one side is evidence of a happiness I haven’t known in decades.

 Movie day with my sister with a full droopy-lip smile on display!

My life isn’t perfect, but of course, it never was. Now the imperfection in my photos merely reflects that perfectly imperfect life I’m living. There is still residual hurt which I’m sure will take years to heal, but predominantly God has replaced my Eeyore attitude and replaced it with something more resembling Tigger. I have even found that my personality on Myers-Brigg changed. Going through a catastrophic life event has shaken me to my core. But more than that, it revealed to me that a lot of my exterior was not meant for me. It was a facade that I had created to look perfect, but it was not fundamentally “me”.

So now I’m finding out who “me” is. It seems so cliche and very chick-flicky, but divorce has stripped me of everything I thought I was and shown me a stronger, happier, and (hopefully) kinder version of myself. A self that has a crooked and undeniably happy smile and a more robust laugh; a self that isn’t ashamed of crying easily and being hopelessly sentimental; a self that desperately loves Jesus and tries to love others well; and a self that has learned how to stand on her own while trusting God on her knees. 

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