Ministry Moment: Loving those Newlyweds

Marriage is good and marriage is hard.

The more we say it out loud the more we edify the thing that is marriage, as well as those enjoying and slugging through it each day.

Marriage is GOOD.

Genesis 2:18 reminds us that God calls marriage good.

Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.”

Something God calls good, let us not call blah or outdated, second rate or defective. If He says it’s good, it’s good. Even when it feels not so good.

What is good in marriage –

support

affection

two heads and two hearts for all of life’s problems

sexual expression

knowing and being known intimately

safety

Marriage is hard.

Marriage is imperfect.

Marriage involves two sinners, two wills, two personalities, two ways of processing, two of everything.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 reminds us that two, however complicated, has its benefits:

Two are better than one…Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?12 And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

Two sinners, saved by grace, willing to let Him work in all that is hard, and let His light shine in the dark places, that’s marriage at its best, folks.

We need one another.

For some reason we have entered the last centuries with an ever more conscious idea that marriage is a private thing, that in order to keep intimacy, we need to keep our marriage triumphs to ourself, and our marriage troubles out of sight.

There are private things. There are things just for the two of you, but when God created the Body of Christ, He also may as well have sent us a giant flashing red light that said, “You need each other!”

God knows.

He knows we need others to build up our marriages, just as they build up our individual selves.

He knows we need safe and caring places and people to confide in, to get wisdom from, to turn us around, and to help us see our own sin in the matter.

He knows we need people who stand on the sidelines and pump us up for this wild marriage ride. People who will cheer us on as we get to mile five of the marriage marathon, and then will throw water in our face and yell at us to Never. Give. Up. at mile 23.

But all of this isn’t just common knowledge. Newlyweds need people in their lives to reach out and say it out loud –

Marriage is good. Marriage is hard.

They need people to open the conversation, and to keep it going, a safe space for advice and ideas, and someone to rip off that Band-aid of privacy even a little, so that encouragement can come in and heal.

Here are a few ideas for loving on and encouraging the newlyweds around you:

Be a marriage mentor, intentionally.

Mentors are a great idea, but we all tend to have a hard time finding them. Offer yourselves, not as an expert, but as a couple to walk alongside another couple. The difference between a mentor relationship from straight up friendship is that one person is more seasoned than the other and both parties are honest about that. Mentor relationships should involve a certain reciprocity, however. There is intentional love and intentional learning, in kindness and safety. Most people would love a mentor and have no idea who to ask. Offer yourself in humility and kindness, with genuine affection. Couples- seek mentors out. Just do it. Churches – consider creating a marriage mentor situation for couples who are newly married or in pre-marriage counseling.

Invite them to dinner

Take a newlywed couple out to eat or invite them into your home. Nothing creates good relationship like good food and good conversation. Love on them, literally. Shower them with a meal they probably can’t afford, show them what date night wow looks like, or feed them hearty food and hearty affection through your open door. Celebrate the good and the hard of marriage together.

Ask questions

What is marriage like for you?

What surprises you about marriage?

What differences do you see between yourself and your spouse? How are they helpful?

What is good about marriage for you?

What is hard about marriage for you?

Cook together or make freezer meals

Imagine if every newlywed couple in your church was invited by someone to make freezer meals – they leave with at least six meals, some good conversation, and a fuller heart. Or imagine that every newlywed couple from your church receives six meals with devotional cards attached and an encouragement to take it easy and just spend time together one night. This obviously could have nothing to do with “church” the organization. Find a newlywed in your life and love on them with some food prep.

 Give them a surprise gift card for date night

Teach them confession and forgiveness

Ask them what they need and remember what you needed

More on all of this in the podcast, on the I Love My Shepherd podcast, episode 7, Ministry Moment: Loving on our newlyweds, linked below, or found on iTunes and Stitcher.

Do you have an idea to share? Please do so in the comments of this blog post. We’d love to hear your wisdom and suggestions!

Now, go to it!  Loving on our newlyweds is a team effort.

Let’s rejoice in the good and hard of marriage together, every day.

Postpartum Anxiety – It’s real. I’m not crazy.

“This is it,” I thought, “I’m finally going crazy.”

I know the word crazy has a terrible connotation and can be quite disrespectful for those in the midst of a mental health struggle, but those are the honest words I said to myself, folding my laundry, in the quiet of my home, on a very normal Tuesday.

I had a gorgeous seven month old, a pretty decent routine. I felt like I was conquering momhood, finally sleeping, and able to give my husband some attention. I had friends, good friends, I could call for anything. We had recently moved, were both really still students, so impoverished, but happy.

So why, oh why, did I feel so overwhelmed by the simple task of folding a washcloth?

I had a problem and I knew it. I felt fine three-quarters of the time and then the rush of panic would come on, intense, out of nowhere. It never had anything to do with my beautiful baby, my marriage, or anything meaningful. It just was.

The anxiety and panic had its own realm, its own hold on my soul, and I felt like I would never escape it…it felt like an eternal vacuum, but in reality was really about two minutes, and then it would pass.

Every woman’s experience with postpartum anxiety is different, just like every person’s experience with any health issue is different. Just like diabetes and strokes have various symptoms and manifestations in our bodies, so it is with mental health. There is a list of symptoms – someone may experience three of them, or eight of them; they may be intense, or pretty vague; they may be there all the time, every day, or they may be more transient, and come and go.

Being a person interested in health and mental health, I read lots of articles and google searched everything I could, but I couldn’t find anything to match up with what I was experiencing. I found lots of questionnaires asking me if I was feeling blue or having trouble with motivation, but nothing that used words like

“anxious”

“foreboding”

“panic”

“on edge.”

However, on that day, folding laundry, I knew I needed help. I asked our family doctor at my baby’s next well visit…

“So is it normal to feel super anxious after having a baby?”

She looked up from checking my baby, and gently laughed, “Well, I think just about anything is ‘normal’ after having a baby! But let’s talk about what you’re experiencing.”

She sat down and asked me lots of questions, she shared a little of her own experiences with postpartum ups and downs, she told me about postpartum blues, postpartum depression, and a gamut of postpartum fireworks, from hormones, to body changes, to life transitions.

For the next half hour she sat with me and figured out some ways to try and relieve my symptoms and put our ideas in order of try now, try if it doesn’t work, and what to do in an emergency. We made a followup appointment for two weeks.

In that office, in a tiny town in Nebraska, my doctor gave me a gift:

I felt hopeful.

14 years later, we know a whole lot more about postpartum anxiety than we did then. It’s a thing. It has a name, and there are people working to have it recognized. When we shine light on a hard topic and give it a name and a realness, we help someone else to walk out of darkness, to feel less alone. We end misconceptions like “crazy,” so people can find truth and solutions instead.

My postpartum anxiety subsided slowly, with the help of three things:

Rest

I made a pact with my Dr. that I would do nothing or read a book for pleasure for one hour an afternoon, every afternoon. Sometimes I read a novel, sometimes I read the Bible. This was the first time in my life I ever sat down and read the Bible for reading sake, enjoying the words and soaking in the peace of it. It was a learned skill, cultivating rest, and I’m not sure I would have ever learned it without my doctor’s encouragement and help.

Support

She encouraged me to be more open about my struggle. She asked me to pick three people I could talk to about it that week, and who I could call on at any time if I needed help. As a new wife and mom, I was so afraid that I wasn’t doing life “right” that I was a closed book. I had no idea people were so important in this mom gig. Because of this struggle, and this wisdom, I have since learned that without people, everything is infinitely harder, less enjoyable, and life is laden with guilt and shame. People matter more than most anything – for my own good, as well as theirs.

Medication/Supplements

Doctors and other professionals are absolutely the best people to explain this. Let my encouragement be this: there is a time and a place for medications. There is no shame in utilizing medication as a part of treatment for any physical or mental health issue. It may take time and energy to find the right one, the right dose, and the right timing. My doctor prescribed me an as-needed medication and those as-needed moments came. I was grateful she had foresight to see past my flippant “I’ll be fine” to push a little harder, explaining and reassuring me with kindness and grace.

There is no crazy.

Life is hard.

Life is good.

Christ gives us the gift of one another, the wisdom of people He places in our lives, just for this purpose – to share His Hope in the struggle and His joy in the victory.

For more information on postpartum anxiety diagnosis and treatment, please see the following links, or ask your doctor or local mental health provider. I’d love to hear your story. Feel free to message me from the “About Me” page of this blog or share in the comments below:

Postpartum Support International

lots of resources for individuals and professionals also, symptoms, online support, and more

The Other Postpartum Problem: Anxiety

a really helpful, normalizing article from parents.com

2020 Mom Project

advocacy, awareness, and resources for maternal mental health

 

Love the Sojourner

First of all, this is not a political post.

Second of all, this is a Jesus post.

Neighbors, brothers, sisters, friends, immigrants, refugees….

The truth is, we are all sojourners. We are strangers in a strange land.

Our land never quite feels right. We don’t quite fit in. We don’t know where to put things like loss, heartbreak, hate, anger, fear, doubt, pain, grief, war, shame.

Just like the children of Israel slugging it through slavery in the land of Egypt, we look around, we see sin and its consequences, and we know the truth – we are sojourners traveling through a land briefly. Our home is eternal. Our home is comfort in the arms of our Savior. Our home is the feast to come, the victory of heaven, not the blackening landscape of a home that passes away.

We get glimpses of this land through His Word, His sacraments, and through one another.

For this reason, Deuteronomy 10:19 speaks His Word of direction to us:

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 

God gently reminds Israel and us of all we’ve been given, of the freedom that has been won, of where we have been, of where we are headed, so that when we look in the eyes of our neighbor, we’ll see our own experience as the sojourner far off…the sojourner who was once a stranger to God, welcomed with open arms, by a neighbor named Jesus.

We GET to be part of all of that. We get to be welcomers into the Body of Christ and the kingdom, because we ourselves have been welcomed, not because we have lived in Haiti, or Germany, or Africa but because we have eternity. We have a home with no shame, a new home of grace that will one day be full and complete.

We have been brought out, so that others may be brought in.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. 

Who are these others? Look around you. Who is on the outskirts looking in? Who are those that do not know what we know of grace? We can reach across our lawns and we can reach across our oceans and love, love, and love some more.

God does not limit Himself to what is visible in providing for our needs. There is always more room, more trust, more mercy, more comfort, and more provision in the economy of Christ. Where do we doubt His ability to keep us safe, to provide resources for us, and to give us strength when we look at the sojourner in need?

Just as God answers the fears of the people of Israel proactively, He answers ours in the same Word.

Deuteronomy 10:20-22:

20 You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. 21 He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.

He is your praise. Look what He has done! Can He who raises the dead provide what we need to love? Why yes, I think He can.

Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.

A tiny little command, tucked inside a whole lot of promise.

We raise our hands in Praise to Him who can, and simply ask Him to point us in the direction of where to send all the love.

 

Free Love the Sojourner iPhone Wallpaper

Look for the Love the Sojourner line coming out in May 2017, on our Products with a Message page. #surroundme #starttheconversation #productswithamessage

 

Different fruits for different folks

Artwork attributed to Jennifer Tinkey. Find the free printable link at the end of today’s post.

What kind of fruit do you most want to shine in your life?

Are you familiar with the Galatians passage about the fruit of the Spirit? Let’s look at it for a moment to gain some Biblical insight on fruit. Open your Bibles or read below, Galatians 5:22-23 –

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.

These are good things. God things. Which has spoken to your heart before? Which have you sought more of in a particular season?

I abound in joy. Even in dark times, joy is something that weeps out of my pores. Patience have I sought. Self-control, God has called me to pray for particularly in the areas of my words and in parenting.

I love this list. It helps me focus in and consider all God offers me. But we can get so caught up in one list of Scripture that we forget- God has more fruits!

Look at James 3:17. We’ve read it before, so it may sound familiar. You can also find our printable of it at the end of the blog today.

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

The word fruits in this verse is the same Greek root word as the one we find for the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5 – karpos. The Bible Helps tools found at biblehub.com tell us that karpos is fruit, or anything done in partnership with Christ.

What do you do in partnership with Christ? Don’t limit yourself to seeking patience; although it’s a good fruit, it’s not the only fruit. God gives more grace, remember?

What good fruits have you seen in James so far that God gives us? Let’s make a giant list. Skim through the book of James and see what fruit you find. Jot down a list of anything you get that speaks to life with Christ, things done in partnership with Christ.

One thing I think you’ll see clearly if you wrote any kind of list, no matter how large, is that when we speak of fruit and a life lived in partnership with Christ, that fruit could be boiled down to relationship with God and with one another.

The fruit we find throughout Scriptures that we often miss is Life Together.

I can have joy, but I can’t have it without Christ, not truly. And it is best experienced with others.

I can have self-control. Without Christ, self-control is really just morality and that breaks down. Where do I turn in my moments of weakness and temptation? Self-control is also best seen in our relationships with others. Where better to harness some self-control than with those we love, at work, or with His people?

I can have gentleness, but without Christ, it’s just nice. With Him it ministers to the souls of all the faithful and all those who do not know of His faithfulness around me.

Do you see it? We’ll return to this passage at a later date, but look to James 5:13-16 and see a vivid pictures of life together turning toward Him together in any and all of life’s situations –

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 

Suffering? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Praising? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Sick? God offers the fruit of Life Together.
Leading? God offers the fruit of Life Together.

Pray. Turn one another to Him. Sing with one another. Isn’t it gorgeous? What ripe and plentiful fruit we have in one another.

Who is part of your tree of fruit from the Lord? Who do you work in partnership with for Christ? Who prays with you? Share with us today. Let’s encourage one another in the good fruit of all He gives us on the journey.

Free James 3:17 printable

 

Discussion:

What do you do in partnership with Christ?

Who do you work with in partnership with Christ?

What fruits from Galatians or James or anywhere in the Bible are you seeking to grow in today? Share with us so that we can pray alongside you!

 

The forgotten gift of warmth

 

This January we bought a house that was built in 1885. I love it. It has nine foot ceilings, hobbit doorways, and comes in just under 1000 square feet. It’s very “us” and I wouldn’t trade it in for the world.

I do miss warmth though.

Any historic homeowner knows that the struggle is real. Yesterday I dared to crank up my heat to a wild and aggressive 72 degrees, lest I actually freeze to death in my own home. Hot tea is no longer a nice little luxury, but a necessity for warming your hands on cold, cloudy days.

I layer on my cabin socks, my chunky Irish knit sweater, my slippers, and, let’s be real, sometimes a hat. I grumble and then I look out my front window and am reminded just what a lucky girl I am. Blessed in my place and time in this life with a home, blankets, a family to fill it all with joy. Blessed to have hats and scarves if necessary. Blessed to realistically crank up the heat to 75 if I so desired and still be able to pay the bill, albeit reluctantly.

James 2:14-17 talks a lot about clothes and food and the blessings of daily life. But what really spoke to me when I read through it again today was warmth.

Read James 2:14-17 so we can be on the same page:

14 What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17 So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

When we look at this passage our eyes and ears immediately go to the word dead. It’s natural. It’s a shocking and dramatic word for us. Couple it with a big word like faith and all kinds of anxiety starts poking out. We also don’t want the relationship between faith and works to be misunderstood. It’s important that we don’t pile up expectations on ourself (see yesterday’s study 😉 ) or act like God could care less about our life here on earth, so we spend so much time explaining verse 17 that we never get around to hashing out verses 14-16.

So we glide over simple words like clothes and food and settle on the bigger words, haphazardly giving them a place of higher importance and in need of greater explanation.

But today, I want to talk about warmth. It’s a little word, so mundane and basic. James imitates the flippancy of a person who is slapping a Band-aid on a person’s gushing wound, in verse 16.

And the gushing wound of our current cultural context is warmth.

We may (or may not) be clothing the homeless, feeding the impoverished, caring for the brother or sister in need, but I think our bigger problem, the root of the problem, is warmth.

Christ Jesus is not only loving, caring, compassionate, holy, good, and true. He is warm. He takes time for people. He invites people in, even when he knows it’s going to hurt, when there will be loss, when there will be betrayal, when there will be drama.

We have so little time. I understand that. But how can we show Gospel-bred warmth to our spouse, to our families, to the people we pass along the streets?

Note the language in James 2:16. We are the ones saying, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled.” Rather than saying, “Come, take a moment. Rest a while here with me. Let’s pray together. Let’s tackle life together.”

What if “Go in peace” turned into “Come, let me help you see His peace”?

The Greek word for be warmed back in James 2 is thermainesthe. It’s related to our word for thermos. What if it was as simple as sharing food with someone rather than handing them food? Shopping for a coat with someone rather than putting it in a collection bin? Inviting a friend over, into our stack of dirty dishes and cluttered chaos, rather than, well…not?

The world is hungry for warmth, friends. It’s a door to the Gospel. It was as true at the time of Christ, as it is today. Read Matthew 14:13-21 in your Bible. Jot down or take a mental note. What kinds of things does Jesus do that offer warmth to the people?

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick. 15 Now when it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They said to him, “We have only five loaves here and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.”19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass, and taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.20 And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of the broken pieces left over. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Jesus also sees our need for Help and gives us the Holy Spirit. His Spirit is warmth filling our hearts and souls so that we ourselves can share it.

If you’re like me, you have a thermos tucked away somewhere, or a to-go coffee tumbler. Let’s put them to use today. Bring a warm beverage to someone in your life. It’s simple, I know. But it’s a start. Life-giving Gospel sharing is built on life lived together and that starts with some warmth. Go meet a neighbor. Bring a fresh bag of Starbucks. Put a Bible verse of encouragement with it. Bring a pot of tea to boil and pack it in a thermos for that mid-afternoon slump at work. Share it around and share a little bit of yourself and Jesus in the process.

We are free, friends. Free to live different, to take time, and to open our chilly but wonderful houses and hearts to those around us.

Discussion:

What’s your favorite hot beverage, warm piece of clothing, and/or thing to do on a cold day?

Make a list of what gifts of warmth Jesus has given you. I’ll get you started – love, compassion, fellowship…

When has someone shared the gift of warmth with you?

How can we connect the warmth that we share with the message of Christ, be it immediate or over time in relationship? We’d love to hear your examples and experiences or ideas!