Every so often I glance over my website to check the flow and feel of it. I want to make sure that my readers are engaged and not distracted. Uplifted (even through my difficult posts), and not weighed down.

I noticed something interesting today as I skimmed the site.

There is a hard, clear shift in the visual content beginning with the first post after my husband returned from his deployment in Afghanistan, and in every post thereafter.

It looks brighter and happier!

Now, I had noticed earlier on that my posts were not particularly joyful from a visual perspective though I have tried to maintain solid hope and truth in the articles nevertheless.

The point is that I had initially tried to change it and failed.

I found myself unable to commit to the “happy” persona it seemed I must have in order to be a well-received, Christian writer. I couldn’t commit because it was not authentic… and I’m terrible at faking it, or as I’d rather call it, “lying”.

A rip-off is a put off and that’s what faking it eventually produces: repulsion.

I just can’t do it!

I’ve heard that there is a certain persona one must maintain when in the public eye. I have heard that there is not much wiggle room for pastors. If anything there is less.

We Christians tend to hold our leaders to an impossible standard of holiness and perfection. Perhaps this is because we have too often placed our hope in them instead of the Lord?

I refuse to be part of the insanity.

I appreciate leaders who do not subject themselves to such things. My own pastor says often that if you are looking for the pastor who has it all together, he’s not that guy. While I share on a much deeper level than generalities, I concur. None of us have got it all together.

The difficult part is acknowledging our shortcomings and being willing to walk through the obscurity.

Anytime we are following God’s will there is going to be obscurity. When certainty abounds it is likely we have inserted our plans into the places God had intended to work miracles.

Where are you today?

Do you have it all figured out? Is the master plan going along swimmingly as you climb the ladder? Is everything is measuring up to what you imagined?

If it is you are settling for less.

I want to encourage you to make peace with the unknown. It is in the dessert where God prepares us for the Promised Land. It’s okay to be lost in the desert for a while. It happens to all of us. It will all make sense later.

Being on the other side of this I can tell you that it doesn’t last forever and there is always hope.

Don’t hide.

Don’t isolate.

Don’t try to be what you think you’re supposed to be when God has approved you with His own blood!

He’ll work it out. All you have to do is stay close to Him. Most importantly, remember His love for you and saturate yourself in the Word. My bleakest situations have been those I failed to confront with the truth of scripture.

If life is about how you see it, choose to see the truth.

Your sister,

Monica

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Last night I realized that my current favorite worship song requires only 4 chords on the guitar!!! Needless to say I spent some time worshipping and crying my eyes out because, let’s be honest… who doesn’t cry when Reckless Love comes on?!

(Unless of course you have defense mechanisms against the “feels” )

I stayed up late enough to find this out because I was having trouble sleeping. My heart was full and a bit broken at the same time (a common paradox for anyone in ministry.)

I was rejoicing in the fact that our oldest daughter and our niece were just baptized!

Rochelle’s baptism:

Jayla’s baptism:

Praise the Lord!

On the other hand, I have had some very real, very constant let downs.

I’m not one to get crushed by the big stuff. It’s the little every day battles that eventually wear me down.

Last night was one of those nights. I was depleted.

So I went to my prayer room, plugged in my phone (that was almost dead from overuse playing meaningless game apps that brought me absolutely NO peace), and proceeded to search up guitar chords so I could get right in the presence of my Savior.

Amid my sobbing a certain line stuck out to me. “When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me. You have been so, so good to me.”

Instantly I remembered that this reckless love holds a unique answer to my heartache. Not only did Jesus pursue me in a way that could not be defeated even by my worst sins, but we are to pursue others the same.

It is by loving like Him that I walk in freedom.

I must love in a way that is unrestrained and is not limited by sin or emotions or even real, unjust events that occur. Absolutely NOTHING can take precedent over the love of Christ flowing unhindered through me and into this hurting world.

This is what God calls “good.”

Still, I don’t like it.

I don’t prefer to be “the one” who is “always” patient and feeling let down. I want relief. But I’ll tell you this:

The Lord has also shown me some deep truths about Him that I may have never learned if I were not experiencing what He goes through while loving us.

“When I was Your foe, still Your love fought for me.”

And THAT is the real goal in life. To know God and be known by Him.

We do this by following Jesus.

Becoming Christlike is a journey that is full of pain at times. The reality is that we are going to have pain in this world regardless of our beliefs. But, when we are redeemed and have hope in the Lord, His Spirit can meet us right in the middle of despair and comfort can begin to flow in and from that wound.

When you deny the Lord access to these places, you deny Him the canvas upon which He would display your miracle.

You may not be able to handle the darkness but He can. Open up today. Call on Jesus who is your truest friend. Pour your heart out. You won’t regret it!

Maybe you’ll end up like me… starting with agony and ending in authentic smiles of gratitude and joy.

May He heal all your wounds, even now. Even today!

Your sister,

Monica

I am not here to put my two cents in on what Cosby may or may not have done.

I trust the Lord will sort that out and work in our justice system as necessary.

I am, however, glad to hear that there is a retrial on the horizon.

Regardless of the outcome, the fact that this case is being given a retrial is a huge indicator of how far America has come in regard to treating women as fully human; a sentiment we have seen eerily echoing out from our past sins of racism.

(imagine the combination of both prejudices that “angry” black women have to deal with every day in America)

Women in general have had a rough go of it for centuries. We were reminded of this just yesterday as dialog about women being the first to preach a risen Savior flooded our social media feeds (mine anyway), and people lashed out in protest.

There’s a difference between preacher and pastor” one man commented, clinging to his superiority.

I kept my comments to myself and decided to enjoy Easter with my family, sans debate on church patriarchy. I have seen enough to know that God is at work (still) and there is no need to argue on the matter.

I believe however, that He is on the side of the oppressed and that our nation is now having to face the harsh reality women have lived for so long.

In the coming year, we will see one man (Cosby) held accountable for his alleged actions against women. America is finally moving in the direction of Jesus’s ideal of how we should respect and value one another as humans. We’ve got a long way to go, albeit, but it gives me hope nevertheless.

It gives me hope that the church will continue to lead the way for our equality despite the naysayers and power-seekers.

It gives me hope that this type of thing could be just what we need for whole church to begin realizing the lingering bias and ignorance.

It gives me hope that my daughter, who is 8 and wants to be a pastor someday, will not have her dream ripped away by some fool that worships law over the Lord.

So, I am grateful that the Lord works all things for good. All the horrible things these women have had to endure at the hands of politicians, celebrities, and for many of us, even our family members…

All these things are being worked together for our good. The world is taking notice of our struggle and God is on our side.

For my brothers and sisters, I ask you to decide where you stand.

Will you be on the right side of history when our nation looks back on these events? Will you bear the load of your fellow Americans when we could not speak for ourselves? Or will you turn your face away because it is just easier not to listen?

I pray your heart is softened and your eyes are opened to the struggles of those around you today and every day.

Your sister,

Monica

Six years and one day ago I was baptized.

Spiritually, I felt like the chic in this photo… but with really cold bubblescause my pastor thought it was funny to dunk us in freezing water. (Just kidding, but it was legit COLD!)

Anyhow, that baptism was the cumulation of a week of fasting for my marriage (during which I realized I didn’t actually believe the gospel), a time of complete surrender, and the beginning of this ministry journey I have been on ever since.

The realization of my unbelief CRUSHED me. It was the darkest hour of my life. In an instant everything lost its meaning and there was no hope. No purpose.

I begged for faith. I received it immediately. I went right back to scripture and read about Peter’s reconciliation with Jesus.

Do you love me?” Jesus asked three times. After the third time Peter professed his love for Christ he was instructed to “feed My sheep” by his Savior.

I had faith. I had gratitude overflowing as a result. I wanted to feed His sheep too!! So I begged:

“Let me feed your sheep!”

He granted this ability along with the passion faith had produced. I had purpose! Only, it didn’t materialize as quickly as I hoped.

This eventually frustrated me.

I’m an action person. Observe, orient, decide, act. I’m such an action person that I often skipped the other steps.

This landed me in little puddles of hot water along my ministry journey.

I needed time to mature in faith.

I kept walking in my calling the best I could, awaiting the time I might be entrusted with a larger flock. Sometimes I wanted to quit. I got tired in all kinds of ways: physically, spiritually, emotionally. Sometimes I picked up other people’s demons and didn’t know how to battle in prayer to get the suckers off my back. At one point, my marriage (the very thing that had prompted my spiritual honesty) almost ended.

I was spent. I couldn’t go another day. I had allowed myself to be isolated…

And then I found a church that felt like home.

Not only could I serve here, but I was taught how to really battle in prayer. Our family was prayed over. My marriage was restored beyond belief. Our finances were restored. (We had made quite a mess of things.)

Now, I could settle in and just be a part of instead of leading so much. After two years of serving, however, the opportunity to serve again in the way I pleaded for has presented itself. So…

What happens when everything you’ve wanted suddenly becomes possible? Will you still want it? Will you ignore the naysayers (including yourself)?

The answer to these questions may uncover if your really ever wanted it at all.

My first reaction was to recoil and not be “self-promotional”. Then I remembered a sermon one of our pastors delivered about discerning God’s will. In a nutshell, it was ‘obey God, be helpful not harmful, and include room for the desires of your heart’ (God put them there after all!)

my chicken-scratch notes:

I found myself wrestling with that top right corner. The most difficult option for me.

The option that was left after I had checked the situation against scripture, prayed about it and discerned that my preferred decision is actually very beneficial… too beneficial, because it includes benefit for me.

I have to make a decision that is what I want to do.

No matter how far I separate myself from fear and shame it seems to find a way to creep up and start tapping at the door again. Perhaps my biggest struggle is sheer unfamiliarity with the concept itself.

The concept that we should actually enjoy this life.

Without struggle or self sacrifice as an option and with my dreams in front of me wide-open for the taking, I have to choose to do something that could be seemingly selfish.

The shame I left behind when I accepted Jesus as sufficient is still beckoning me to depart from my calling.

Today I’m choosing not to listen to it. I can’t know the perfect will of God in every choice I make. When I meet Him someday it will all be clear.

Until then all I’ve got is the next best step and confidence that I have walked in righteousness the best I can. I can trust my discernment even if it happens to include my benefit…

Because He loves me and wants good for me.

So I want to encourage any of you who are struggling with similar things. Any of you who have become so adept at survival that it is foreign to see things working for your good.… I’m here to tell you that this is not how it was meant to be.

God DOES work for your good!

Whatever voices are stuck in your head: be it from parents, teachers, or simply a well intended yet false message delivered from the lips of a friend… It is time to walk away from the lies!

Step into who you are and fully into your calling. Don’t apologize. Don’t explain.

Lose yourself in mountains of prayer and praise as you navigate through these times. Hide away and stay on your knees until they go numb if you must. Seek the heart of God. For it is there and ONLY there you will find your true self your true purpose… and there is no shame in His presence.

It is only there that you can truly honor Him by being who He has created you to be.

May you walk in freedom and joy every day.

Your sister,

Monica

Waiting for us at the end of my husband’s year long deployment was a loving reunion embroidered with hints of tears, fears and relief.

It was also the beginning of the season of transition. A transition I had been uneasy about since I began hearing stories of other women who had husbands in military service.

The anticipation kept me awake at night wondering what might be on the horizon.

Would he adjust well?

Quickly or slowly?

How much space do I give him?

How will the kids adapt?

What will I do when I no longer have time to blog as often or I have to leave for school when I would rather be home?

What about all the things I picked up to fill my time? My book? Serving at church? How would my relationship with my kids change? What will people think when they get to know my husband? I’ve built an entirely new social life while he was away…

I was warned that there may be a power struggle between us.

We had some real issues before he left. Would it be like starting from scratch or would we carry the past hurt after all this time?

Surprisingly, the power struggle that so often accompanies military homecomings has occurred less during this transition than it had before his deployment. I still like to have my way and stomp my feet mind you, but I am more quickly inclined to pass the reigns to my hubby than I had ever been before.

Being concerned that your loved one may get blown up by a bomb on any given day tends to make the dirty socks under the dining room table look like not such a big deal.

I have a healthier perception of what is important, necessary, and considered an emergency. My patience has grown because of this.

I was more than happy to pass the leadership baton to Peter upon re-entry. He walked in saying that he wanted to sit back and ease slowly into my program. He did just the opposite.

He started leading!

Thank the Lord! Hallelujah! I have been praying for this for so long!

(Prior to now, however, I was holding the reins tightly in my own hands while screaming at him to take them)

In his absence I began to see the imbalance caused within a home when the father is not present. I saw this growing up in my own home but a child tends to block it out rather than consider the deeper effects of his absence.

I have now witnessed, as a wife and mother, the lack of direction that exists when the head of the home is away. The lack of obedience.

I give my children plenty of directions. I have plenty of vision which I share with them. I say the things that he says in the EXACT… SAME… WAY. Still, their response to him is different.

There is something about a father’s voice that in and of itself is a call to action.

Something I am incapable of reproducing.

(Which is why I don’t believe men or women should lead the church but the Father through them; only the Father has authority and we must learn His voice.)

There was a point in time where I would become very frustrated and even angry about this.

“Why don’t they listen to me?!”

I would cry out around the house as the children disobeyed and ignored me. Some days I would drop to the ground and pray, hoping to find some peace so that my complaining wouldn’t do anymore damage. As some of you know I’ve had quite a struggle with complaining and yelling. (you can also read about that here and here)

That too has come to rest. I’ve got my leader back and I know I can trust him.

It’s easier to let go of control when you have a trustworthy leader.

When Peter looks at me squarely and says “we’re not going to yell in this house,” I know that even though I still struggle I have support in this endeavor.

We are in agreement.

Sameness of vision and is necessary for anyone to grow. My husband has also decided to drop the curse-words (a thing he has always leaned on for expressing himself.) He has decided to subject himself to a similar measure of control in that regard. No more cursing. We will support each other in this and we have been for the last several weeks.

As a team we have already come farther than was ever possible as the two unique entities we kept trying to be.

I battled constantly to control my mouth during our separation over this last year. I prayed. I talked about it. I wrote about it. I did my best to exercise self-control… But absolutely none of these things were sufficient when I was lacking accountability; when I was lacking a leader who I had chosen to follow and trust.

Perhaps the Lord gives us these leaders (our men) because we need them? Following Jesus in singleness is one thing, but when we enter into family with all the messiness and crazy good insanity it brings, we need a physical leader we can see and be accountable to help build us up in Christ. (this goes both ways of course)

So I am more than glad to share with you, my friends, that the missing piece to overcoming my struggle at home has finally returned. I can, and now do, more effectively keep myself from using my words as daggers and my attitude in a controlling way.

I can “let go and let God” more readily knowing my husband is here to support me in that.

I want to encourage all of you today to look to your spouse as the possible missing piece in your battle armor. We’ve got spiritual armor for sure and YES, put that on daily! But for the everyday struggle against flesh, even if it seems to be your spouse (hint: it’s often not them) we have an underutilized resource in our significant other.

Let yourself be led in humility in your marriage, regardless of your gender, so that you may be built up in your walk with Christ.

I have found this to be very pertinent factor in my own sanctification. I pray you do as well.

Your sister,

Monica

Over the last couple of weeks it has come to my attention that there are certain things, certain patterns, in my life that I do not possess the power to break.

Of course I am aware that without the Lord I am unable to do many things. But what I’m talking about here is habitual, patterns of sin and my frustration in not being able to overcome them.

These patterns of sin have a way of wearing us down. We battle them in our own power for so long, trying to move the mountain of self will run riot, and then give up. We decide to just “live with it”.

When I came to Christ I walked away from many things that I knew were not glorifying to Him and who I wanted to be in Him.

Other things, these habits, were not so easy to leave behind.

In fact I discussed one of these things in my last blog post. It happens to be something that many of us struggle with. Especially the moms out there.

As usual God was right on time with an answer.

No sooner had I published the blog post, than I received a solution. Sitting in my Theology and Practice of Ministry class, I listened carefully to the wise words of my teacher (a woman with twenty plus years of ministry under her belt, the type of woman we need more of in the church).

Her words, though convicting, fell like a soft embrace around my open wounds of doubt. “I know the Lord is capable, but I am incapable. Why can I not change my behavior?” I bemoaned.

“They are patterns. You must pray “God, cause me ________.”

As wonderful as this sounded and comforting as it was (because any option was better than nothing and I had exhausted them all), my hope was seasoned with reservation.

Thank the Lord only a mustard-seed-sized faith is enough!

Since that day (exactly six days ago) I have begun every morning with that prayer.

“Father, cause me. Cause me to be more kind with my words and tone toward my children. Cause me to walk in Your Will and not my own.”

Make me do it!

Order my steps in Your Word!

There was a time I hurled similar words at my earthy parents, but they were meant to be challenging rather than submissive.

I now bring that same zeal, that same stubbornness, to the Lord in my request.

I have always been rough around the edges. Unrefined, raw, and wild. I thought for a long time that God wanted me to calm down. To be pleasant, sweet and light like some of my Christian sisters. Not so. As I wrote recently in a private worship moment:

“I was wild and running from You

Never wanting to be tamed

Come to find all You desire

Is that I’m wild for Your name”

It was quite a relief to realize that I was not in sin because of who I am; I am not fundamentally flawed in some way. God has made me exactly as I am supposed to be and redeems me from sin I impose upon His perfect creation.

I was simply misusing my zeal!

He made me to be passionate, wild, and even aggressive at times. This is a reflection of Him and His kingdom!

Does this look tame to you? Because it’s the image God chose to use to describe Himself and His people are in His image…

The problem is that I kept taking the ‘easy’ way out (in hindsight it was SO not easier!) But, it was less work upfrontto throw my will and weight around than to go toe-to-toe with an Almighty God and beg Him to “make me do it” His way.

Now, I ask. And He answers!

Each day becomes easier as I press into His will and choose surrender. His yoke is truly light in contrast to the weight I was lugging around!

And the best part? I get to be me! Thereal me who is found in Him! I don’t have to sacrifice my zeal, I just have to re-purpose it. To rightly purpose it in a way that honors His will instead of my own.

Why on earth would I do that?

Because He loves me and He made me!

He alone knows the plans for my life and He has designed me specifically for each task.

You are no different.

I pray that this simple prayer is a blessing to those of you who still struggle like I have. I’m sure I will continue, as is our life in this flesh, but I pray all of us find increasing freedom with each new day.

Be who you truly are in Him. Submit that self to His will daily, beg for His intervention, and watch the miracles form from the inside out.

This, my friends, is how we change the world! One person at a time; starting with the self (which only God can change).

Until next time, may you be encouraged and conscious of the God who is always lovingly conscious of you.

Your sister,

Monica

The first time I tried to write this article I found myself beginning by listing all of the things that are so difficult in my life right now.

I was making excuses.

Perhaps somewhere in the back of my mind (my sinful, fleshy mind) I would still rather not take full responsibility for what I am going to share with you. Something tells me I’m not the only one.

The story goes like this:

I was busy yesterday and trying to get away for some sanity time at the end of the evening. Finally, I put myself together and was on my way out the door. My oldest son was helping take the puppies out so I wouldn’t come home to yet another mess.

He is helpful like that. Brian is always stepping up to help whether he has asked or not. I would like to take credit for this, but I believe it is more in spite of my parenting than because of my parenting.

Some people are endowed by God with a servant heart.

Brian is one of those people. I was one of those people as a child… and then the world broke me.

In fact, I can recall the exact moment when I decided I would stop serving other people; the moment I threw deuces to the rest of the world and decided to just “do me.”

One afternoon, as I visited with a friend, someone asked me for something. I think it was to get an apple for them from the kitchen or something like that. Something simple. Immediately I jumped up and went to go get it.

Why not?

As I walked into the kitchen I heard a voice behind me say, “good dog,” followed by a room full of hushed laughter.

No, this is not some story about how I was bullied by my friends.

It was one of my own family members sitting in the living room that said this to me. One of my sisters who had been encouraged by our parents in her taunting because it was “funny” and she was “just having fun”. Nevertheless, the part of me that cared started to harden that day.

With each subsequent request or need for help that I refused, my heart hardened even more.

This went on for years.

Now, as Christ is healing me from this, I realize I still have a long way to go. I had become like that critical mean voice in my head. Sometimes daily, I battle with it so that I don’t spill it onto my own children.

Each time, I have to turn it over the the Lord because I have proven no match against my own flesh.

So yesterday, as I ran to the car to get my much-needed “me” time (because it’s mine and not the Lord’s right?), I fussed at my son for not helping properly in the way I would have done it.

While he was helping, I fussed at him.

I caught myself and stopped. Then I hurried into my car, dropping my phone on the driveway in the process.

As I drove away I lamented my broken phone. The Lord put on my heart to consider where I am placing value.

“You would become so upset, so angry over a broken, lifeless piece of technology… And yet you fracture your son, your own son, and move on with no regard for what you have done?”

Ouch.

I hate that I still have this struggle against my flesh. I have known this struggle for sometime. I know why I do it. I know that Ido it less. I just can’t change it as fast as I would like… and that’s not good enough for me.

Such is the frustrating process of sanctification.

Sure, there are professing Christians that make few, if any, changes to their lifestyle. Personally, I could never live that way.

I have been forgiven so much that I consider even the smallest sin to be a terrible offense to my Father. I know He forgives me. It is because He forgives me that I want so much to please Him.

I know He was pleased when I returned to my son (I called him as soon as I realized what I had done) and asked for his forgiveness. I explained what the Lord had revealed to me about my behavior and that it was not my son’s fault that I had a bad attitude.

This process is always painful.

So the point of this particular post is simply tell you (for those of you who are enduring this as well), you are not alone.

We all struggle…

We all sin…

Those of us who are passionate about serving our loving God in a way that honors the Spirit He has gifted us are brokenhearted when we fall short. If we were not, we might do well to question why we have chosen the label “Christian.”

So, if this is you… if you find yourself in shoes like mine, rest assured you are in good company. There are many who toe the same line each day, learning to surrender old habits as we are being made new.

We are in this together my friends. Let us then, share our struggles openly and encourage one another. Please be in prayer for my continued sanctification as I will be also for you and yours.

Be blessed in the Lord today.

Your sister,

Monica