Encourage Yourself in the Lord

Ups and downs in life are inevitable. Some days, I feel at the top of my game spiritually. I’m up early praying and reading my Bible. I see God answer those prayers. I feel close to Him. Other days, I get up later than I want to, go through the day feeling spiritually drained, or end up regretting missing out on what I see (in retrospect) as “God opportunities.” Practically speaking, maybe I go to bed tired and wake up tired and feel irritable all day. Maybe I successfully hold my tongue when the volume from our nine children increases beyond my tolerance level, or when I hear their cross words and they refuse my kind correction. Or, maybe I don’t hold my tongue, and then all of us feel bad for a while until I sit them all down and apologize. Some days I am productive and feel good. Other days, I just hope no one comes to the door (unfortunately, that rarely happens around here!).

None of us want to be “people-pleasers,” doing what we do to get accolades and pats on the back. But,  the Bible does tell us to “encourage one another and build each other up,” and to “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” We all need a boost from people around us sometimes, and I think God knows that we need other people to come alongside of us to help us be our best. But in the day-to-day grind and the ordinariness of everyday, there are few people who do that for us with any consistency. Frankly, much of what we do is unseen by others. We live largely independent lives and often just don’t cross paths with people. And maybe you’ve been in the same position as me on occasion: when you do get some words of encouragement  (“Your children are so well-behaved!,” for example), all you can do is think to yourself, “Yeah, they should sit at our supper table for a few nights, then they’d hear how often I have to correct things like feet on the table, eating with fingers, not washing hands with soap, over-indulging in food,” etc., etc. Even what is meant as encouragement, when turned over in a negative mind, can have the opposite effect and we end up meditating on all we wish we could change.

Spiritually speaking, there are going to be times when you lack a mentor who can challenge you and encourage you to stay strong in your walk with the Lord. One of my dearest sisters in the Lord never let a conversation end until she asked me, “What are you reading during your devotional time?” or, “How is your prayer life?” I really loved that about her and, as a result, I’ve always tried to have interactions that SPEAK life rather than just TALK ABOUT life. I try to be consistent with prayer and reading, but let’s face it, we all go through times where we get busy and don’t have regular time for that (even worse if it’s purposely so, because we don’t really want to hear from God…ouch!) If you don’t have someone who knows where you’re at and can provide some accountability, it’s often hard to get back on track. Whether practical or spiritual encouragement, let’s face it: Encouragement is so necessary, but often so absent.

Over the years, I’ve learned something important about both my walk with the Lord and my parenting journey: neither are going to have the outcome I desire unless I encourage myself in the Lord. I can’t depend on other people, my own emotions are often deceitful, and circumstances are out of my control. The only sure thing I have, the only thing I can depend on, is God and His Word. So when I need encouragement, that’s where I have to go. And if I don’t, it’s as Hebrews says–it’s all too easy to become “hardened by sin’s deceitfulness” (see Hebrews 3:13).

bible_transparent_208I remember being a young Mom of three and sitting in my prayer closet during the wee hours of the morning. I don’t know exactly what I was crying to God about, but that’s what I was doing. And then I opened my Bible to 1 Samuel 30 and read of the distress of David: the Amalekites had destroyed his city and taken his wives and daughters captive, along with the families of all his men. The people talked of stoning him. And what did he do? He “strengthened himself,” or “encouraged himself in the Lord.” (verse 6). What does this mean? This passage doesn’t specify, but if you read the Psalms, you can see it. Even when things wee at their worst (perhaps especially so, in fact), David meditated on who God is: the goodness of God; His love; His faithfulness. He remembered how God had worked on his life: rescuing him from his enemies, keeping his promises, working all David’s circumstances for his good and for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. David also, even in his angst, put his hope in God and in His Word. He trusted God and believed He would see God’s goodness. He knew God would be faithful to His Word, so he focused on that rather than on his circumstances. This is what I have tried to train myself to do over the years (though I still have times when I’m not as good at it as I need to be).

And this is how we must encourage ourselves in the Lord when we don’t have others to share our burdens, when we stumble and don’t have someone to steady us, or when we get discouraged and need to re-focus. God is there. He sees and knows. He is our Helper in times of trouble. Hid Word does not return void. One of the best things I’ve done is to memorize God’s Word over the years. Reading is good, but memorizing is even better. I actually haven’t devoted much time to Scripture memory in recent years, but I was very faithful to it during my early years as a Christian and it has served me well. When I am discouraged or struggling and need to hear from the Lord, He speaks to me–usually through the Words that have been memorized over the years. And I am encouraged in the Lord. I put my hope in His promises.

Do you have a Scripture that you faithfully pray over your family, or a “life verse” that you remind yourself of regularly? Are you “encouraging yourself in the Lord” through regular times of reading and prayer? Are you reminding yourself often of what God has done in your life, trusting that He’s still at work in ways you don’t see?

 

The Lord Knows What we Need

For quite a while now, we’ve felt like we really needed to get away as a family. Sometimes living here as the only wazungu in town is like living in a fish bowl.  Just a quick illustration:

In discussing the issue of being home-bound yet again with Marc, suddenly he had an idea. Silas owns a large shamba—several acres of farm, field, and trees bordering a river—not too far from our house. He wondered, why couldn’t we go there, spend a few hours and enjoy a picnic lunch? Silas was agreeable to our going and we decided, to everyone’s excitement, to try out a trip there are a family. I was certain that this would help fill in the gaps in terms of what the children felt they had been missing, and I was thankful for the opportunity for some fun family time. Truth be told, the daily grind and Marc’s busy schedule sometimes leave me wishing for a bit of a “Sabbath rest” for all of us, and I hoped this would be it.

We had fun just getting there. It wasn’t “too far,” but a bit of a stretch for lots of little legs to walk comfortably. Isaiah stayed at home with several of the children while Marc, Micah, Jubilee, and I (with Enoch in the Ergo) zipped down to Silas’s on the motorbike. Marc went back for the girls while Isaiah and Jonah rode down on their little Suzuki dirt bike. Of course we had to greet Silas’s mother (who in Kenyan culture is just called “Mama Silas”). She spoke not a word of English but was happy to welcome us to her shamba.

Silas showed us around and, to my disappointment, the river at the back of the property turned out to be at the bottom of about a 10-foot drop-off. Instead of letting the kids leisurely explore as I imagined they would, I nervously kept a grip on Enoch and watched the littles to make sure they didn’t wander too close to the banks. The overgrown fields were fun to explore for a while, but there weren’t as many good climbing trees as the boys thought—those were closer to the house, so back we trekked.

Unfortunately, by the time we made it to the house again, an entourage of about 30 children was watching us like hawks and trying to meet up with us at various points. It seemed there was no  “getting away.” And once we got back, Silas unexpectedly told Marc that he had been committed to sharing about the Gospel of the Kingdom at a “Christianized” circumcision ceremony at the house of his neighbor. It was expected that he would stay to eat, but simultaneously Silas’s Mom was also preparing lunch—pulling out all the stops and sending someone to get what was, for them, very expensive fish because she knew the wazungu liked it. By now the children were eager to go home, the morning not turning out to be what they thought, but there was no way we could offend Mama Silas. It seemed we were in a “lose-lose” situation. Ultimately, our fun family day ended up with Marc going next door (for as short a time as possible) and the rest of us hanging out much longer than planned at Silas’s. We ate a lunch of fish which, while tasty, was certainly not accommodating to our mzungu sensibilities. (Whole fish, having been dried and left in the sun at the market, often ends up with maggots in it, and we found some floating in the fish broth. Not to mention, the experience of eating fish whole was not quite appetizing.) We were thankful for the hospitality and were truly blessed that Mama Silas wanted to give us her very best; however, we were also glad to return home after an unexpectedly…interesting morning.

 

So you can see, we were all out of ideas when it came to what to do to enjoy some time together as a family.

I don’t want to make a long story longer, so I’ll spare you to details of how our family was connected with a group of Mennonite missionary families here in Kisumu–but of course, it was a “God thing.”

Much to our delight, we were invited to their compound for a few days following Christmas. They said we could stay in a guest house there, be well-fed, and have transportation at our disposal to visit the local museum and zoo. After a long but uneventful ride in a semi-private matatu we were warmly welcomed, fed lunch, and enjoyed the company. There were lots of children for our kids to play with and the adult fellowship was a true blessing to me. I don’t think I had realized how much I missed it.

During our first full day we visited both the museum and zoo, so the second day was spent just enjoying the company of several of the families and relaxing. I even got to do two loads of laundry in a washing machine! Needless to say, I felt incredibly spoiled and it was so nice to get a break from that day-in-day-out manual labor. I was equally blessed that they made sure we ate well for every meal—a much greater variety of food than what we have available in our village and even in the next big town. Not to mention, refrigeration meant an opportunity to have cold smoothies and homemade granola with cold milk! It’s amazing how much you take those little things for granted—and what a blessing it was to enjoy for the short time we were there. Most of all, we were blessed by the obvious love of all of these Kingdom Christians and their willing generosity.

Here we are in Kisumu–a rare photo of the whole family, in which *almost* everyone is looking cheerfully at the camera–and only three takes, I think:

(I’m sure you can’t help but notice Micah’s new haircut in the photo. When Silas told us that “Africans no care about quality, they care about price,” he wasn’t kidding. We bought a set of clippers here and I decided to cut Micah’s hair. He likes it short, so opted for a “1,” which has always been super cute on him. Much to my horror, the comb fell off the razor as I was buzzing by his ear, so he was shaved almost to the scalp in a split second. Convinced that I could somehow rescue it, I put the comb back on and continued, only to have it happen again. So, Micah got totally buzz-cut but he had a super attitude about it, praise God!) Now, for the conclusion of our story…..

I came away truly refreshed from our mini-vacation, the burden of discouragement which I had been feeling at that time greatly lifted. The family was likewise encouraged, and we returned to home and “normal” with a renewed sense of God’s grace and goodness (in spite of another round of illness that hit us almost immediately upon our return!) I share this not simply to relate our experience, but to encourage you to consider how you might spur someone around you on to love and good deeds (see Hebrews 10:24)—even if, to you, what you offer seems small.

We are thankful, and God is good.

 

Not Listening to the devil…

Those of you who know me, know that I have historically battled depression but have experienced victory through Christ in the past several years. I don’t believe that discouragement or depression are sin, but certainly they can lead us to sin. As well, when we take our focus off of God and put it on ourselves, that is self-love and self-glorification–which is an affront to God. Because of my history and my disposition, I am often “tempted” to give in to negative emotions and I have learned that I have to be vigilant to recognize the enemy’s schemes, and his subtle voice–the voice of a liar who comes to do nothing but steal and destroy. Emotions are an area of weakness for me and surely the enemy knows that.

I also am aware that times of transition are particularly good opportunities for the enemy to gain an advantage. Frankly, I don’t like change. At all. So when I have to deal with life change–especially multiple “changes”– I have to be on guard. The move to Africa has been no exception. Tiredness and sickness are also “triggers” that can precipitate episodes of discouragement or depression–and those, too, have been part of the experience here this past month. There have been many moments when I’ve had to cling to various Scriptures of hope and promise. I’ve made myself get up early every morning for time with the Lord, no matter how busy things have been and how tired I am as a result. I’ve let myself cry a couple of times but then, like a good soldier, I give myself a kick in the pants and get back up again. All I can say is, God has been incredibly faithful.

Something new in the emotional struggle is fear. I can’t say that I’ve faced the demon of fear very frequently in my life, so it has been a bit of a surprise–but I’m dealing with it the same way I’ve dealt with other negative emotions. I’m not letting the enemy have the victory! In the flesh, there are many things I could fear…but I’m choosing to focus on God, not on the lies of the enemy. And I’m trusting that if anything negative should happen, it will be for my good and God’s glory.

This week I have been meditating on 1 Peter 3:1-6, focusing on the latter part of verse 6: “you have become her [Sarah’s] children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear. ” It is comforting to know that holy women of the past have felt fear, but have overcome that fear through righteousness.

God is good…all the time.

 

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“I get like that, too…”

As parents, we all want to give good things to our children and see them growing up strong in the Lord–particularly in areas where we ourselves have been weak. But of course, there are inevitably those negative character traits, harmful appetites, and so on that we unintentionally transmit. Then there are genetics and environmental influences that often don’t work in our favor.  And I don’t even want to open the Pandora’s box of “generational curses.” Some days I ponder this reality and I can only be tremendously grateful for God’s grace.

This morning we got to laughing over which of the kids had “Dad’s feet” (really cute Flinstone feet) versus “Mom’s feet” (umm, not-so-cute). Which turned into a discussion of who among them had “Dad’s nose” versus what we call a “Starkey nose” (a “larger” nose, of course from my side of the family). And then there were even a few comments about teeth, in which I also came out quite the loser by comparison. Thankfully, I can call a spade a spade and my physical flaws no longer bother me so much.

What did bother me was a conversation I had later in the day with one of my children, who often has problems with school assignments and sometimes struggles to have a good attitude and remain diligent. This particular child has made a lot of progress in this area, but today the lesson (being something new), combined with the self-induced pressure of feeling “behind” and the frustration of contemplating not having any free time  because school work would take so long, brought on some bouts of tears which said child tried very hard to control, but which (upon further contemplation of the facts at hand) sprang up again within a short time.

I told this child about a Scripture that I often meditate upon when I am discouraged. It comes from 1 Samuel 30, where we read about a very challenging situation that King David is facing; and the text sums it up this way:

“And David was greatly distressed…but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. ” (1 Samuel 30:6)

With that, I recommended that this child remain encouraged in God’s presence and in His ability to comfort, strengthen, and enable us for the task at hand. I almost left it at that. I like to keep things simple, knowing that God will continue to speak to my children’s hearts in the absence of my many words. Instead, I decided to share a little bit about my history of depression, and how I have (with God’s help) experienced victory in that area of my life. I thought it would be helpful to share a couple of strategies for dealing with discouragement, and a little bit of personal testimony often helps a message hit its mark.

I began quite simply with a question: “Do you know what depression is?” And after the “I think so” response I explained it, just for clarification: “Depression is when you feel discouraged or very sad, and sometimes it’s hard to stop feeling that way, even though a lot of times you can think of lots of reasons why you should be able to be happy.” And then I was going to move on to simply offer a couple of tips on how to cope with negative emotions, which I was sure would be helpful. But there I was interrupted, with a comment that made my heart sink: “Yeah, I get like that, too.”

Really, I thought so. I saw that this child had a personality like mine, a predisposition to those negative emotions that “run in the family.” Still, I hoped against hope that this sweet soul wouldn’t have the same struggles that I have had. But, I am thankful that I am in a position to truly disciple this child through difficult moments, with understanding, with love, and…with hope of victory. Because there is victory!

Several years ago now, when I was going through a season of struggling with depression, I deeply appreciated the message of this song (“Keep Singing,” by Mercy Me):

Though I’ve not had any bouts with depression in quite a long time, there has been some “warfare” in that area lately. I’ve had to be on my guard and in prayer. And I keep asking God, as the lyrics to this song ask, “Can I climb up in your lap? I don’t want to leave…” Discouragement doesn’t stay around long when you envision yourself climbing into the lap of the Father who loves you and keeps your soul (Psalm 121). By His grace, we truly can “encourage [ourselves] in the Lord,” as David did, and experience victory even when things are overwhelmingly discouraging. I am so thankful for His compassion, and also grateful that I can share the hope of this journey with my child.

Self esteem

It’s just ironic how our children are taught that they are the result of a cosmic accident, emanating from primordial slime-to-apes—ultimately, just smart water that will go out like a light bulb one day—and then reaffirm their self-worth with self-esteem propaganda that flies in the face of our very essence and nature before an awesome God.

Recognizing who we are in relation to a loving, and all-powerful God, having been created in His image, but bound to a body of sin and death, is what helps us maintain a humility that God rewards.

“Man is a mere phantom as he goes to and fro: He bustles about, but only in vain; he heaps up wealth, not knowing who will get it. But now, Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.” (Psalm 39:6-7)

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