Recovering from Church {the conversation we need to have}

(I am stepping away from my usual blog topics and usual blog lengths to talk about something that’s been on my heart for a while. Honestly, I hope this blog isn’t for everyone, but I am sharing it on the chance it might be for someone. And if that someone is you… sister [or brother] I’m standing here with you.)

 

My husband and I have been in counseling.

It started a couple months back when we had a fight. The same fight we’ve had for the past four years.

It would only come up every few months, so we looked like a healthy couple. But it never actually got resolved. So this last time we decided we’d had our fill of this argument, and, since we’d been thus far unable to resolve it ourselves, we probably needed a counselor. I emailed our pastor the next day asking for recommendations. He offered to meet with us himself.

Here’s what I want you to know: we’d been fighting over church. When to go, how often to go, how big of a priority being a part of a church is, and how we wanted to present Christ and the church to our kids. Spiritually, my husband and I had been living on two different pages for a very long time.

I’d chocked up the issue to Mike’s job in law enforcement and tried to give my husband space to work out his faith with God. While the job might have had something to do with it, here’s what I discovered in counseling: we were both traumatized by church.

I mean, I knew we’d faced hurts, I just didn’t realize how long it can take to recover. I didn’t realize how deep pain can penetrate. I didn’t realize all the ways it can affect your life.

Because of what my husband’s experienced in church, without even realizing it, he was trying to protect his family by not prioritizing church. And because of what I’ve experienced, I desperately needed him to be the strong one that wanted to be a part of church so I didn’t have to be.

At our first meeting, our pastor gave us an assignment: write a sort of pros and cons list to our past church experience—all the positives and all the things we needed to forgive.

It was great advice. We started with the pros, and we felt warm and fuzzy inside remembering the good stuff our former pastors had poured into us. We almost wondered why we were having issues with church in the first place. Then we started listing the things we needed to forgive. Once we got going, it just poured out of us. Wrong, after wrong, after wrong. Pages were filling up with hurts—some long buried and almost completely forgotten. We dredged them all up. We left stirred up and angry.

The past couple months, revisiting the trauma, have been hard. I wish moving forward looked like taking the whole lot of it, pushing it under a rug and never looking at it again.

Forgiveness doesn’t look like that though. And that lump sitting underneath the rug? Well, we’ve been tripping over it for a really long time.

I felt like I needed to share this with you. It’s messy, right? This whole church thing?

What my husband and I have experienced is spiritual abuse. Spiritual abuse is “when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse). It’s hard for me to find that line between what we allowed and what was perpetrated—I’ve tried to figure out who is more at fault. Is it the one who misused his/her spiritual authority or the one who misplaced man’s authority above God’s? I’m not sure, I’m just ready to shake off the shame. I’m ready for healing.

I think the modern church might be pretty good at telling us how to connect, but it’s terrible at telling us how to recover. It’s like the church is afraid to talk about the real mess of living out our salvation alongside our brothers and sisters.

I wish someone had sat down with me a few years ago and validated the pain and frustration I felt. Maybe it’s the shame culture that surrounds abuse that keeps us quiet, I don’t know. But I know the enemy hangs out in the dark, so I am going to bring this into the light. I am going to start the conversation I wish someone would have started with me years ago. I haven’t arrived, friends, but I learned some things along the way.

Five Ways Forward after Spiritual Abuse:

Forgiveness.

I love that Jesus told Peter to forgive 490 times (seventy times seven). (Matt. 18:22) Not that Jesus was being literal about the number, but I think He was making a point. We forgive in layers, the deeper the hurt the more layers you have to get through. Forgiveness is a form of surrender—a letting go. Sometimes it takes laying something down 490 times before we stop picking it back up again.

Real forgiveness first recognizes what it needs to forgive—it can name the wrong. It’s sort of like a nasty splinter, you have to first recognize that there is a splinter in your skin and that it needs to come out. You can ignore it, sure, but it will make itself known. It will fester and ooze. It will come out in ugly words and anger, and you might not even realize the true source. In my case, it got my husband and me at odds with each other even though the pain didn’t come from either one of us. Satan is sneaky like that.

For years I kept excusing and rationalizing the behavior of those who were misusing their spiritual authority, as if it would be easier to forgive if I could produce their reasons for them. But really, all I was doing was denying the real pain I felt and the real forgiveness I needed to offer. No matter how you color it, rationalizing and excusing other’s wrongs is classic co-dependent behavior. Their reasons are between them and God. What we have to deal with is the real wound left behind. It means saying, “They were wrong”—and sticking a period at the end of that sentence. When you do that, it’s then that you can finally get a tweezer-tight-grip on the splinter and pull.

You also have to forgive yourself. Forgive what you allowed. Forgive where you didn’t speak up. Forgive where you got caught up fearing a person more than you feared God. We serve a God who can take ashes and make them beautiful. Who can work all things—even our own failings—together for our good. Whose lovingkindness and mercies are new every day. (Amen!)

Counseling.

Imagine someone you love was in an abusive relationship. Maybe it never got physical, but, verbally and emotionally, they were abused. Years after that relationship dissolved, this loved one has no idea how to move forward or how to be close to someone again. What would you tell her? You might recommend counseling, right? It’s the same with church. If you have been spiritually abused by church leadership and cannot move forward, get counseling. Listen: your spiritual-self is your eternal-self—and it’s at least as important (I would argue more important) as your physical and emotional self. Invest in it.

Rest.

Have you heard the parable of the Good Samaritan? I had become that guy on the side of the road in the story: beat up and hollowed out by the anxiety and depression that came with the performancism I lived under. The ones who should have cared passed by me. But just like in the Bible Parable, my story has a Good Samaritan—Jesus Himself—who bandaged my wounds, who cared for me, and who paid the full-price for my recovery. (Luke 10:25-37).

It wasn’t that I disconnected from church, it was that I needed to disconnect from all the unhealthiness that had gone along with church. I had to recover away from my abusers.

God had me sort of cocooned for almost 2 years. Imagine someone who’s recovering from an illness—weak, fragile, in need of care. I still went to church on Sundays (finding different churches we could hide out in). I felt the call of raising my kids in church and knowing the importance of faithfulness, but I couldn’t get involved. I was healing. Being connected to the body of Christ looked different in that season. It was my dear mom’s group. It was the counsel of an older wiser woman of God. It was phone calls to my mom. It was a small facebook group of praying police officer wives. Sometimes, it was even the smiling faces of strangers on a Sunday morning.

When you are in recovery, Satan would like nothing better than to use your pride to get you to do one of two things. He will either try to get you separated and on your own where he can devour you. Or he will get you to skip the recovery process so that, while you are still weak and in the thick of things, he can easily trample you. Injured people need care. And injured people need to take the time to recover.

The Body of Christ.

Sometime last year, I knew it was time to go about the hard work of being vulnerable again. When trauma hits your life, you now live amongst those keenly aware that it can happen, that it did happen, and that it can happen again. You feel like you have a target on you.  But you can start allowing fear to govern your life. Because God is all about restoration, it is often the very thing that hurt you that God uses to heal you. If you have decided that church is wherever you are and you don’t need a building or an institution, could it be that you have real wounds caused by church?—that you are like the abused partner who determines to never be in a relationship again? When I read my Bible cover to cover and look at the whole picture and specific Bible passages, connecting to the body of Christ isn’t optional. It isn’t subject to the state of the western church. It doesn’t look only like walks in nature or conversations with friends. In Paul’s letters to the different churches, I see a vibrant and diverse community, a regularly gathering community, and a sometimes messy community.

Listen to this: A life spent following Christ is never safe. And sometimes the scariest and most vulnerable thing you can do is follow Him straight into the midst of broken people and offer your gifts.

The True Cornerstone.

One of the hardest parts of all this is having to take a hard look at myself and realize I had tried way too hard to please people. The weight I placed on measuring up, on mattering, and on the opinions of others was idolatry. It’s hard to admit that. But it was. So while we are meant to be fitted together as one body of Christ, each with our own function, Christ is our cornerstone. He’s the giant stabilizing brick that gets laid down first. He has to go first, before ministry and ministers and everything else. And He’s the one we all lean upon. Peter puts it like this: “As you come to Him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house…  For it stands in Scripture: ‘Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:4-7).

We’re meant to get cozy right up next to our fellow stones—our brothers and sisters in Christ—and be fitted together into one spiritual house. But Christ is our cornerstone.

As I have been trying to move forward, scared that this is all church is—hurt and pain and betrayal and mess— and that it could happen again. God whispers quietly: “But you aren’t the same woman, Amanda. I’ve used that pain, and produced in you a steadfastness rooted in Me. You’ve learned to lean on me and to fear Me.”

I am moving forward, slowly, with fear and trembling, leaning on my Cornerstone. He is enough. He’s always been enough. I don’t know how Jesus can take messes and ashes and what the enemy meant for our demise and make all of it into something beautiful, but He can. He does. He has.

 

I’d love to have your voice in this conversation. How do we recover from pain caused by the ones meant to help us?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

PS If you would like to read more on spiritual abuse, I came across this article while preparing this one. Mary DeMuth outlines what spiritual abuse is, how to spot it, and offers wisdom on how to deal with it.

When Mothering Has You Feeling Uprooted and Threadbare

This year I planted a veggie garden.

I’d been dreaming of one of my own since I was little girl sneaking sweet peas and green beans off the vines in my daddy’s garden. I was the pickiest eater alive and cringed and fussed and gagged over everything green on my dinner plate. But during clean-up, when all the food I’d protested was swept off my plate, I’d head out into the backyard with my dad. He’d water, and I’d snack on raw vegetables. Cool evenings and conversations with my dad sprinkled some kind of magic over green healthy stuff: they were the secret ingredients to a delicious memory.

So, this year, when my dad made me a raised planter for my birthday, I dreamed big green dreams. I planned out the layout, picked the veggies, mixed the soil, and brought my kids into all of it—just as my daddy had with me. I showed them how to gently extract a plant from its container and where and how to place it. We spent hours working in the sun.

When it was all done, I stood back and admired the labor. The raw potential held within my backyard. Wouldn’t life look more romantic with veggies carried inside in a basket? The way the light would filter through feathery dill leaves onto shiny waxy pepper skins. There would be poky cucumbers and smooth tomatoes and little hands sneaking strawberries away.

The next morning, I went out to water and discovered my entire garden unearthed.

Chives were buried, an almost-onion uprooted, a pea plant was lying haphazardly, every single one of the borage I’d planted to keep the tomato bugs away was out of the soil and on their side, and my pepper plant had been practically plucked naked.

All courtesy of one lightning-fast almost-two year old.

I cried.

And, guys, while I worked to salvage my garden, Sam went straight to the food storage drawer, pulled out a new roll of foil, and unraveled it all over the house.

I was frustrated. I was disappointed. Maybe it was a silly dream—who dreams of baskets of vegetables anyways?  Maybe I was just a failure—a terrible gardener and a mom who stops to blink? My work felt futile, all of it. Messes on top of messes and why couldn’t I be good enough to protect my garden and my foil rolls? It all whispered of failure.

Messy. Uprooted. And buried. Like my plants.

I can’t help but think that maybe mothering little ones feels a bit like this. Like you are constantly being pulled out and apart at your very core: the tension between the pull of your great love against all your shortcomings and selfish longings. The way you feel buried, suffocating even, under the mundane tasks and the weight of the little souls you are nurturing: the string of errands that govern your day, the endless stacks of dishes and laundry, and the ever evolving needs of your kids that always seem to leave you stumped. The way your dreams look laid aside. The way your work feels useless. The yelling you thought you’d never do. The way you never seem to be able to do it all or do it as well as you think you should.

Motherhood touches right up against the cracks in our own souls.

 

It’s been a few weeks now since I (re)planted that garden. My plants limped for a few days in the recovery, but the water did its work and righted their posture. The practically-naked pepper plant grew a few more limbs so it’s looking a little less pathetic now—there’s even the bulbous swelling of future buds.

I’m struck by it. The resilience of plants. The way they were made to bear fruit. The way even in the uprooting and replanting, growth has still happened somehow. Sure, it's required extra care, and I certainly couldn't leave it all uprooted. But it's growing. I don't quite understand it. Maybe it's all a little less fragile than it seems.

The same is true for Sam and I.

We are still growing.

We were made to bear fruit.

And maybe we are a little more resilient and far less fragile than we feel.

 

I think of that often quoted verse in James:

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” (James 1:2-4, NKJV).

The Greek word for patience here is hypomone. It’s more than a content waiting though. It means steadfast, constant, and full of endurance. It’s an active, immovable, clinging-to-the-Lord stance. Jesus gives a picture of that word, hypomone, when he teaches the parable of the sower and his seeds. If you remember in the parable, a man went out to plant, and his seeds fell on different types of soil, each with different results. Here’s what Jesus says about the seed on the good soil: “But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15, NKJV). Bear fruit with patience. With steadfastness. With endurance. With hypomone.

It’s the slow patient enduring that keeps us rooted in good soil and leads to that perfect and complete work.

And I’m just saying, dear heart, no matter how you feel—how exhausted or inadequate or overwhelmed or even uprooted and laid bare—God is doing a work in your soul. He is suring you up, growing you in steadfastness. Maybe you’d like some kind of magic formula to get you through these small years. Like maybe there would be this one technique to parenting that once implemented would cause your child to immediately know how to behave. But it’s in the quiet enduring—the small faithfulness of daily watering, replanting if necessary, and a faith set deep in your heart that God loves you and His grace is sufficient for you. It’s the cleaning and recleaning, the never ending laundry cycle, and all the things for which it seems there is no end in sight. It’s the slow work, the steady work, the do-my-best-and-hope-it-all-works-out work. It’s failing and trying again. It’s knowing your need for a Savior and binding {and rebinding} your ever-wandering heart to Him.

It’s recognizing that while you do the tending and the watering, it is God who does the growing and the producing.

He made you to bear fruit. And you shall.

 

What sort of messy parenting moment have you stumbled through this week? How is parenting through these summer months going? Share in the comments? I’d love to hear from you.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

What Does It Mean to Be a Mother? {And Maybe What All the Women Struggling with Mother's Day Need to Know}

I counted the Mother’s Day when I was 7 months pregnant as my first Mother’s Day. I spent extra time in the bathroom that morning, readying myself for church. It felt like I had waited a lifetime to join the mass of women standing up to receive their flower at church. Mike walked in while I stood drawing lines above my eyelashes.

I waited for him to say something. His focus was on getting ready, so I thought I’d help him out.

“It’s my first Mother’s Day,” I said, my words coated with excited expectancy.

He paused. Lowered his voice to a meek confessional tone. “Oh, I didn’t think this counted yet. Wait, this counts?” He looked at my growing belly.

I turned around, facing him. “What do you mean, does it count? Puking for months, losing sleep over hiccups and having to pee, waddling everywhere, fat ankles, a swollen face—I can’t even wear my wedding ring. All that doesn’t count as being a mom yet?”

“Oh.” He looked at the floor. “Yeah. I’m sorry, Amanda. I guess I didn’t think about that. I thought you had to have the baby already in your arms to be a mom.

I cocked my head sideways and looked at him, deciding if I should be mad about it or if, perhaps, I was being too sentimental. I took the black eyeliner I held in my hand and drew a kohl-black frowny face on the middle of his forehead instead.

{I know. I’m always a model of maturity and grace.}


What is it that makes a mother?

It is a baby growing in a belly? A baby in one’s arms? A shared DNA?

Is it the sacrifices a mother makes—the always laying down? The staying home, the working hard, the laundry never quite done?

What of the women in waiting? The women aching? The women poking themselves with needles, the women praying hard, the women excavating a little more hope out of themselves each month?

What of the women who have heard “not viable” pronounced over the hope they carried, who have cramped and bled and felt hollowed out? How they began making room—in their heart and their body and their home—and how that room became a black-hole void.

What of the women who have heard the silence—the grunting groans of hard contractions and hard pushes replaced by the resounding stillness of a babe whose cry would never fill any rooms here on earth?

What of the women who have been mothers, who feel like mothers, who have loved like mothers, but no longer have a child to mother?

What of the super aunties, the step-moms, and the step-in-and-be-a-moms? What of the teachers, the neighbors, the kind strangers?

What is it that makes a mother?

Can it be measured by sleepless nights?

In stretch marks? Or adoption paperwork?

By kisses or silly songs or how many stories you've read?

Can it be measured by mini-vans or car seats? By the number of cheerios that have been swept off floors? By plastic rainbow-colored IKEA plates stacked up tall in your cupboards? By the magic erasers that have scrubbed crayons and markers and grubby hand prints off of walls?


My mother-in-law once looked at me chasing my little ones and told me she wasn’t very motherly. Not like you, she said. I didn’t come with that natural mothering thing.

I stopped and turned towards her, head tilted, like the leaning would help with the comprehending. Mom, I told her, that’s not true. My husband is a fine man. Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all just different kinds of mothers.

Maybe we are all care-takers. Helping out and raising up—offering all we know—wrestling with all we don’t know.

Maybe we are the ones who notice and celebrate the unique shape of the ones around us—who create space inside our bodies and inside our hearts and inside our homes.

Maybe we are the ones who have saved back a little for ourselves and ended up giving that too because someone needed it. Maybe we are the ones longing for an ice cream cone unlicked by anyone else, a secret drawer of fine dark chocolate.

Maybe we are the ones who have scraped the bottom of our energy reserve, the bottom of our possessions, the bottoms of our souls.

Maybe we are the hopeful ones, the believe-the-best ones, the you-are-beautiful-just-how-you-are ones. Maybe we are the safe space, the I’m-always-here-for-you place.

Maybe we are the ones with banged up knees and an iceberg faith—behind closed doors and in our cars lifting up the ones we love by laying ourselves down—Always believing and hoping for life in the unseen places in our hearts.

Maybe we all feel that grim not-measuring up. What we wished we had. What we no longer have. What we wish we were doing better. Like somewhere there’s this woman in a gingham apron making funny shapes out of pancakes and mothering is easy and natural and everyone loves her. Meanwhile our life is messy and we are just winging it. We think we are failing somehow.


I am sitting here thinking of Hagar—flung into motherhood as the handmaiden of her mistress, Sarah. Hagar, the half-hope. Hagar, the despised. She flees to the wilderness to escape Sarah’s cruelty. An angel of the Lord appears to her there and tells her she will have a son who will “be a wild donkey of man” and “whose hand will be against everyone.” Then he tells her to return. (Genesis 16). I ponder this—these hard promises, these hard requests.

Hagar gives God a name there—El-Roi—the God who sees me. Because this life—it isn’t always easy. And mothering is sometimes the least natural thing—in the way it hasn’t happened or in the way it hasn’t looked a thing like you thought it would or in the way you’ve been asked to do what you didn’t sign up for.

But there is a God who sees you. Who sees beneath the surface, all the unseen longings, the silent prayers, the places you think you are failing, the well of your soul you wish was deeper so you wouldn’t keep scraping against the bottom. My pastor says it like this: what God requires, He provides. What He has asked of you, He is the answer to.

What He has asked of you, He is the answer too.

And, dear heart, He sees you.

He sees you Mother. Lover. Caretaker. Bottom-of-your-soul scraper.

He sees you grandma, step-mom, not-yet-a-mom, empty-armed mom. He sees you even if you don’t want to be a mom. He sees you, woman. And He loves you.

This weekend. I have no idea if there is anyone thinking of you, but, dear heart, I want you to know I am.

Here’s to you, woman, the one God sees.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

Raising a Strong-Willed Child is HARD, And Why That's a Good Thing

Hope For The Hard

A few weeks back, I took Jed with me to my small group. I set him up in the adjacent room with a coloring book, a handful of plastic reptiles, and his teddy bear.

In the middle of our small-group discussion time, the leader’s dog started barking from her kennel. Our leader shushed the dog twice to no avail. There was a lull in the conversation while we all waited for our leader to either get up and tend to the dog or ignore the dog and keep going.

In that moment of quiet indecision, my son’s voice rang out.

“Be quiet now!”

Loud. Full of authority. A touch of impediment lingering on a few of his sounds (he is five).

And the dog stopped.

Jed must have thought nothing of it, because he immediately returned to his play. Meanwhile, a living-room full of grown-ups sat puzzled at the man-child who could speak with such authority.

It took my breath away, so unlike his mother, but so completely Jed.

He is growing. He has grown.

God Chooses Imperfect Moms

I was there when he—iron-willed—rocked his crib till it fell.

I was there when he screamed and kicked his legs aiming for me from his shopping cart throne, the loud tyrant of the Walmart.

I was there when he threw every toy he could get his hands on, defiant to the last that he would never lay down on his own bed—not now, not ever.

I’ve been there for every relentless spew of his repetitive line of questioning, “Mom, can I…, Mom? Mom? Mom? MOM!”

That moment at my small group Bible study, it was like a gleaming light illuminating the God-given purpose of Jed’s form. All along, buried in the rocky soil of his unplowed will, were strengths. These years have been trying, but I blinked and before me is this man-child with a God-given authority. I may not know what he will grow up and do or be, but I know God delights in him. I know that iron-will is there on purpose.

His iron-will is a gift, and not a curse.

It’s not that we’ve arrived (oh. Gosh. No. We have not arrived.) If I am honest, three years ago my gratitude to the Lord for letting me be Jed’s momma was at times a desperate hope of one day. It’s not that it was all bad (please don’t think that). It’s that it was HARD. It felt impossible and inconvenient for all the times I had to leave the grocery shopping half-completed or stand bewildered at the tantrum before me or wait and wait and wait for his will to finally give and accept basic things like green vegetables and sleep. Most days, I felt like I didn’t come with enough patience or perseverance (and the truth is I didn’t).

I can't even tell you how many times I felt clueless, like I was winging it, going forward on a hope and a prayer that I wasn't royally screwing up.

But already, I can look back at how far we’ve both come and thank the Lord that I get to be this boy’s momma. It’s always been grace.

Overwhelming. Undeserved. Grace.

I tuck him into bed mostly willing now and argue over who loves who more. He’s sounding out letters and counting up to 100. It’s been hard work tilling up rocky soil, but oh the joy of seeing the first sprouts, the first fruit. I know what it’s taken to get here. I know when and where it looked impossible. I know the refinement we’ve received. And in all that I rejoice. My cup is running over with gratitude.

That I should get to be the one he calls mom. That I should get to see God's unfolding plan for my boy.

Yes. God's Grace has held us all along.

And by Grace, He'll carry us all the way home.

 

8 Ways You Can Help Your Child and 3 Truths You Need to Know Today

Can I whisper a few a gentle encouragements to all the moms in the thick of it? Raising a strong-willed child sometimes feels a bit like hacking through a dense jungle at night, doesn’t it? I’m not a parenting expert, but my hope and prayer is that these scraps of what I have learned thus far might help you see the way through.

(By the way, I used the pronoun “he” just to be clear, but that’s not me making an assumption that only boys have strong wills.)

  1. If he could obey, he would. He doesn't know how. He doesn't know how to control his emotions yet. Your high calling as mom is to show him (and this might take so much longer and be so much harder than you realized when you first imagined being a mom).
  2. Does your child seem a bit like a one-track freight train about whatever his heart is set on? Then imagine he actually is like that freight train. He can’t make sharp turns or sudden stops. It’s not that you should allow his will to run over you (you shouldn’t), it’s that you should understand your role is to gently teach him how to slow down and change directions. Just like with a train, this takes a long time. So much as is in your power, try to foresee those changes and prepare him for them.
  3. Pep-talk everything. When you arrive at the park, tell him how long you will be there. Before you let him play, quiz him on what he should say when you say it’s time to go. This goes back to #2 and I can't tell you how much this one thing has helped us.
  4. Anytime he asks for something, pause and think through your answer. Once you give your yes or your no, you commit to it and don’t change it. (Or next time, he will know that if he presses long enough and hard enough you can be changed).
  5. Praise and rejoice over the small victories. Notice them. Celebrate them. Make him feel all mushy-gushy good inside when he makes a good choice.
  6. Read Dobson’s The Strong-Willed Child.
  7. Choose your threats wisely and follow through.
  8. If you get it wrong, don’t be afraid to apologize. Use your own life as an example for him to follow.
  9. The only way out is through. I wish there was an easy-button. I haven't found it yet. I do know that the refinement comes in the thick of things, in you and that precious child. One day you will look back and testify of the all-sustaining goodness of the Lord. 
  10. God's Grace is sufficient. And for all the ways you might feel like you are failing miserably, like you are overwhelmed, like you are ill-equipped for this; know that the gifts and callings of God are without repentance (Rom. 11:29). God has never once regretted placing this child in your care. Lean on Him, momma. He is enough. 
  11. How your preschool-aged child behaves is not a reflection on your abilities. Though he is half your DNA, he was made in the image of God. He is fearfully and wonderfully made. He is a reflection of the Most High God and the uniquely designed individual God intended him to be. And he's a work in progress, as are you.

 

Do you have anything to add to this list? Tell us in the comments!

Are you in the thick of it right now? I'd love to pray for you. Let me know in the comments, shoot me an email at amandaconquers at gmail dot com, or hit the reply button if you are an email subscriber.

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

Sharing in this lovely community of story-tellers:

Kristin Hill Taylor - Porch Stories

 

When All You See Is Everything You Didn't Do

We took a family vacation last month. Disneyland and ocean and all three kids.

We went, we did, and it was quality family time (except for maybe when the rain poured down and Sam screamed his blonde-fuzzed head off from under his poncho-covered stroller and I could not get out of the park fast enough. But even that we chalked up to memories).

After all we did in the name of childhood and family bonding, I wanted to do something just for my husband. I noticed a highly-rated microbrewery on our return route that advertised smoked meats and a family picnic space.

Craft beer and pulled pork sandwiches basically sum up Mike’s passions in life.

But here’s the thing:

As we were getting closer to the brewery, I could feel it right up in my throat. Whatever internal meter I have that indicates when I have spent too much energy, been too touched, used too many words, that meter was reading in the red danger zone. I know this because my default warning is tears and yelling.

If you have any measure of introverted qualities, you might identify with the desperation I felt. (I mean, six days straight, guys. They are the people I love most in this life. But six.days.straight.)

I had this internal dialogue going in my head as we drove. It was something I wanted to do. It seemed like something I should have been able to do--it's just one hour, Amanda. I kept telling myself things that started with “Why can’t you just…”

Let me tell you, nothing good comes from a sentence that starts with “Why can’t you just…”

I’m learning to assert myself and be honest about my needs (with myself too) sometime before I am crying and yelling and wishing I had just listened to my body and said no. Finally, I told Mike, “I wish I could do this. I really want to do this for you. But I have nothing left. I won’t be able to handle watching the kids while you enjoy a beer. I just know it’s going to end in tears and yelling.” {Maybe I started crying just in the confessing.}

God bless my husband, he said something freeing: “You know, it might have been nice. But it’s just really not worth that much to me. I’d rather have you pleasant than get a beer and have you feeling crazy.”

While my husband might have a knack for putting things rather bluntly, there was no mistaking the tenderness in his voice. He loves me. I have a feeling most husbands feel this way: they would rather come home to a happy loving wife than a clean home and a hot dinner and a wife who is losing her ever loving mind because she’s poured herself out all day long and never took the opportunity to allow the Lord to pour back into her.

Ask your husband, I think he might agree: the best you is better than the perfect everything you are chasing.

So, we grabbed Chipotle instead, and that beautiful man took all three kids into the restaurant, ordered the food, and brought me mine. While he sat in the sunshine with the kids, I sat in the glorious quiet of an empty car.

Instead of being hard on myself, I chose to receive that half hour like a gift. My husband had made room for me to be exactly as I am, how I am. I needed to make room for me too.

 

I was reading in the Psalms this morning and came across this: “You have relieved me in my distress” (Psalm 4:1b, NASB). “Relieved” was translated from the Hebrew word “rachab.” It means “enlarged, made room for.” I imagine the glory of unbuttoning the top pants’ button after a filling meal. God makes room for us in our distress. He doesn’t find us inconvenient or force us into some sort of generic shape of should be or should do or why can’t you just—this imaginary perfect wife and mom we are constantly striving to be. He makes room for us—as we are.

Think about this: Real love makes room.

Real love is the stretching carved out space of a woman’s body making room for new life. Real love is the gentle words on a mother’s lips: I love you just the way you are. Real love is the two people hiding out behind a locked door for just a few moments to be all about each other, to remember the love that brought forth the rambunctious kids on the other side of the door.

We are the mothers, the lovers, the nesters who pluck from our own selves the feathers that make the home for each life, each unique shape of a person, entrusted to our care.

We push aside, we clear off, we make room.

Dear heart, when you slump down tired and all you see is everything you didn’t do and you lament the place your energy gave out, knock that off. You are chasing perfection instead of God’s grace. You are striving; really, you are at odds with God, because the one thing you haven’t made room for is His Grace.

God doesn’t look at your short-comings, your temporary (or long-term) struggles, and wish he had picked out someone else to mother and wife and build your home—the callings of God are without repentance (Rom 11:29). He sees you and cares for you and rejoices over you with singing (Zeph 3:17). And the place where you run out? Oh, He never runs out. He is your strength and your refuge.

Jesus came down and stretched his body wide open upon the cross. He made room for you.

And maybe if we began to see that these gaps and cracks—our shortcomings and struggles—are the places where we are making room for God; maybe then we would see God's abundant grace shining through our lives and homes.

Yes, Jesus, come dwell here.

Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
— Matthew 11:28-30, ESV

How do you know when you desperately need rest? How are you at communicating your need for rest?

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

P.S. This little community has more than doubled since last I wrote. (!!!) I want to tell you how welcome you are here. This space is for us—us not-enough ones, always-running-behind ones, feeling-a-little-weak ones--learning how we too shall be called more than conquerors through Christ.

A few things about this space:

1. I post about once a month right now, so if you want to make sure you don’t miss a post, subscribe to the email list.

2. If you want to keep up in between posts, you can catch me on Facebook and Instagram.

3. I love hearing from you! You can always drop a comment below a post or, if you get my emails, you can hit the reply button to email me directly. I do my best to respond as much as I am able {I do try to disconnect from social media a couple of days per week.}

4. I am so glad you are here. If you have a moment, jump over to my about page and let me know what we have in common! I'd love to meet you. <3

 

Joining in this beautiful community of storytellers: 

A Weary Woman's Guide to Making Christmas Magical {And Maybe the Best News for This Season}

Four years ago, I learned the meaning of Christmas.

We lived in a one bedroom apartment at the time. Addy was four, and Jed was eighteen months. Addy’s bed was in a small bonus space off the kitchen, and Jed slept in our walk-in closet.

Mike had just completed police academy and was in the hiring process with a few different agencies. We were just waiting and hoping for an official job offer.

A year prior, Mike had taken a job that was less pay but allowed him to attend the academy. Our finances had been tight before the job change. But the year he was in academy was so tight our purse strings stretching across our bills might have sounded like the brakes of freight train screeching to a halt.

It wasn’t just the finances. The finances were just the glaring reminder that we weren’t enough. We didn’t have enough.

I was in this season of motherhood where I felt stretched thin and lacking. I wanted to give my kids the world, but I couldn’t even keep my apartment clean. I wanted to raise up warriors-for-Christ, but I had no idea how to tame their wild defiance.

Christmas was coming, and I was so tired, and I had no money to spend on presents.

I have always loved the Christmas season, but when you become a parent, Christmas suddenly comes with a load of pressure to make memories and create traditions. It means picking out a fresh tree, gingerbread houses, deciding whether or not to mention Santa, light parades, elf on the shelf, salt dough ornaments, sugar cookies, Christmas movies, advent devotionals, and buying the right number of gifts without spoiling. Guys, it’s a lot. And it’s all good stuff. But all it did was overwhelm this tired mother.

It felt like I was about to fail miserably. My kids were going to miss the magic of it all, and I was going to ruin their childhood.

All I wanted for Christmas was to see two pajama-clad kids, hair alive with bed head, step out into the living room and watch their eyes brighten with the wonder of Christmas morning. I wanted the squeals, the anticipation, and the “Mom! Look at THIIIIS!!!” All those noises, all that delight, somehow it would translate in my ears to: “Mom, you did good. I know you love me.”

But I had a hand-me-down 3 foot tree and a grand total of five presents (two of which were for our youngest brothers) to put under that tree. That was it.

_____

That was the year I had turned on Josh Groban’s “O Holy Night” while I set out to clean my house. Addy began running through the apartment turning off the lights. She begged me to light every candle. So I did. We twirled through the living room. I picked up Jed, and he leaned his head back into the centripetal force as I spun him around. We shattered the dim holy glow with our laughter and our loud singing. Addy declared it her favorite song of all time, and I knew it was worship.

I couldn’t have planned it out if I wanted to. All I had to do was set down my to-do list and be present. That moment remains one of my most favorite memories to date. One of those times where you just know: This is it. I’m doing it. And God is right here with us.

_____

That was the year I called up my in-laws and asked to borrow all the string lights they weren’t using. While the kids dreamt of what they might awake to, Mike and I set to work, untangling cords, climbing chairs, hooking lights around the room.

I remember stepping back to admire our work, holding the arm of my husband. My face was wet with tears. Small tree, a few presents, and light glittered all over the room.

I had reached in and scraped the bottom so I could pull out everything I had. It wasn’t much. But if I have ever seen a room lit up with love, it was then.

_____

This year, as I am parenting a toddler again (and feeling so tired and so behind), I keep thinking about Mary.

How the mother of the Christ-King was simple and humble. How she gave birth in a small town far from home. How there was no room for her. How the nursery of the first-born Messiah was earth and straw and the smell of livestock. How Mary must have felt thrust into motherhood, wholly unprepared and a bit too young.

I keep thinking how Mary must have looked at that manger, primitive and plain, with tears in her eyes for all she longed to give her baby but couldn’t. How she must have fluffed straw more gingerly than she ever had before in her life and lined that manger into the best cradle she could muster.

I’m struck by the fact that of all the women, of all the circumstances—this was exactly what God chose.

It’s like God is gently whispering through this story to weary mothers everywhere: If what Mary had was enough, what you have is enough too.

Mary made Christmas where she found Christmas. It came to her. And she was caught up in the wonder of it. I know because Luke says: “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart” (2:19, NASB).

She was struck by profound grace. She didn’t have much to give, but it wasn’t about what she could give the Savior. It's about what He gave mankind.

Listen, dear weary momma, Christ came through a mother—humble and ordinary. He came in the midst of frustrating government circumstances. He came to a lowly town and slept in an animal trough.

It’s like God wanted to make it abundantly clear: it’s not about what you can give. It’s not about decorations or sugar cookies or piles of presents. It's not even about family traditions or making memories. 

Really, all that stuff is chaff. It's the shell that covers the real kernel. It serves a purpose; it protects the kernel while it grows, but it's not what lasts forever.

It’s that God so loved you and your family, that He reached down and scraped the very bottom so that He could give everything He has to offer—His Son—Immanuel. And through Him, His Kingdom.

Whether you prepare the way with gingerbread and Christmas carols, He is still coming.

He is still coming. And He is already here.

He is with you, and that really is best Christmas news ever.

 

Raise your hand if you are feeling a bit overwhelmed this Christmas season. {And maybe tell me you are raising your hand so I can offer a solidarity fist bump and then keep you in my prayers.}

 

By Grace,

Amanda Conquers

 

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How a Law Enforcement Wife Faces Fear

It’s been a rough week for law enforcement. Five officers have been killed in the line of duty in this past week.

Maybe you’d think that a law enforcement wife gets used to the news of officers injured or killed (250 officers shot and 59 deaths this year alone), but you never do. At least, I never have. I avoid the news because my heart can’t handle the constant bleeding. I see the black band over my husband’s badge (I don’t think it’s been off more than one day at a time this year). That has to be enough for me.

This last week though, it hasn’t just been rough nationally. It’s been rough locally.

A couple Sundays back, we woke to news that the local black lives matter movement in our city had used social media to get an officer’s address. They looked through pictures of his family and the places they frequent. They did this in an attempt to protest in front of his house and, well, harass him and his family. (By the way, I have no idea if this was officially or even unofficially sanctioned by the chapter, but it happened nevertheless.) We were advised to remove our names and locations from all social media.

Later that day (in an unrelated incident), we got the news that a deputy was slain one county over. He was ambushed while alone and executed at point-blank range. Executed.

My heart doesn’t even know what to do with that kind of hatred. But I can tell you these stories cut my heart right open.

_______

A few days ago, Mike took an overtime shift. I couldn’t shake this overwhelming sense that I needed to pray for him. I pray for him every night he’s working, usually with my kids at bedtime. But on this night, I just knew I needed to pray. Like pray, pray. You know?

The next day after he’d slept the long night off, he told me about his shift. He was involved in a situation that could have gone at least ten different ways—none of which would have been good. But it didn’t turn out any of those ways. It was fine. He was fine.

In a moment where he had seconds to make life-altering decisions with limited information, he used sound judgment. He made the right call.

This isn’t the first time this has happened. Thus far, every time I have felt that call to pray over Mike, the next day my husband has a story for me. One where he’s fine, but he faced some kind of situation that could have gone so wrong so fast.

Part of me rejoices. I mean, I know that God is actively watching over my family. It’s like God is saying to me: “See, Amanda? I am with Mike. I watch over your family. I know your comings and your goings, and I will be with you.”

But there’s this other part of me that feels vulnerable.

We use the phrase “hits close to home” when tragedy strikes close. Maybe it misses our home, but it hits our faith anyways. It’s this moment where we are looking pain and loss right in the face and realizing our faith doesn’t keep us from hardships, it preserves us through them.

Can I be honest? My gut-reaction is that I straight-up want to pluck myself right out of God’s hands in an attempt to save all I hold dear. It’s okay, God. Thanks for trying. But I got it from here. {As if. Oi.}

Really, those “close to home” events challenge us to mature our faith. It calls us into the realization that God’s goodness doesn’t equal comfort and safety and homes filled with stuff. But His goodness is still good. And we can trust Him.

Fear’s aim is to sweep away the nearness of God with the nearness of death. It can get us to ignore the very present Emmanuel—God with us—for all the it-could-have-been-me’s happening around us.

Listen: it’s not about whether it could have been you or not, it’s that God is with you.

God is with us through abundance and happy times. And He is with us through storms and loss. {And he is with my husband and all the law enforcement officers holding the thin blue line.} 

These hits and near-hits are where our faith matures. These are the places we learn to trust.

_______

5 Ways to Grow Your Faith When You Are Afraid

Having walked through anxiety attacks, post-partum anxiety, and a season where tragedy kept striking, God has cultivated in me five ways to grow faith instead of fear.

1. Keep up your courage. Addy has been reading The Courage of Sarah Noble. It’s about this young girl who is faced with difficult circumstances and keeps reciting the words her mother gave her every time she feels afraid: Keep up your courage, Sarah Noble. I think there’s something to that phrase. Courage is facing your fears, even while afraid. And courage is something that must be kept up, regularly maintenanced. I love that Sarah recited it with her name in it. It’s important to remember who we are; moreover, WHOSE we are. You are a child of God. You are seen. You are held. You are dearly loved.

2. Small Victories. While in therapy for post-partum anxiety, my therapist advised me that when we encounter harm whether real or imagined, our natural response to try to avoid it in the future. But avoiding actually gives fear ground. It’s like we are agreeing with fear. The only real way to fight through fear is to face it. When the fear feels overwhelming and debilitating, we need to face it in small baby steps, celebrating each small victory. Can hardship strike? Yes. Can I control that? No. The only thing I can control is how I handle fear. I can be afraid and live brave at the same time. I can see my husband off to work. Maybe I kiss him a little longer, live like my goodbyes could be my last words to him, but I send him off nevertheless. I pray. I work at getting decent sleep. Small victories.

3. Give yourself grace. Perfect love casts out fear. So don’t go berating yourself for how you shouldn’t be afraid. Full on embrace the love of God. The LORD is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. Psalm 145:8

4. Recite Scripture. The way to expel fear is to recite the truth of God’s love for you {and believe it}. In those moments of panic, take your brain power away from the worry and use it to remember what God says. Because you can't both worry and try to remember scripture at the same time, you cripple fear (and squash a panic attack. amen.) My go-to’s are Psalm 23, 139 and the Lord’s Prayer. I made this list two years back when I first found out I was pregnant after 4 miscarriages in a row. I placed it on my bathroom mirror and referenced it often in those first months. (It's not fancy, but it has a bunch of fear-busting scriptures all on one sheet if you want something to print and hang up in your house today.)

5. Pray. I think this one scripture sums up this whole point: "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." Philippians 4:6-7

 

Have you ever had a "hits too close to home" incident? Share with me in the comments? And maybe, consider sharing this with the law enforcement wives you know with a note that you are praying for them and their families?

 

By Grace, 

Amanda Conquers

 

Sharing in this beautiful community of storytellers: