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Wait… Who’s On First?

I went to my very first Cubs game at Wrigley Field last weekend. I’m not really a baseball fan but how can you live in Chicago and never go to a game, right?

I didn’t watch most of the game because I was so distracted. First, upon walking into the Stadium I was welcomed by the strong aroma of hotdogs.  I hadn’t eaten at all before getting to the game so needless to say that’s all my mind was focused on until I practically swallowed a six-dollar dog whole.

Next, I was met with very strong cold winds. Not expected… and very distracting.

When my eyes were able to finally focus on the field they then quickly drifted to the flock of birds flying over the players. Each time the ball was hit my eyes would follow the ball up into the sky and somehow end up following a bird flying away.

In the last inning of the game, as I was thinking of the long walk we still had to make back to the car, a fan a couple seats down began yelling at the opposing team:

“Loser! Go back home! You’re no good! You can’t play!”

I know the loud mouth was just trying to intimidate the other team, but the Holy Spirit quickened in me how the devil does the same thing to us Christians. He’s trying to distract us to lose our focus.

“Loser! Your marriage will fail! Your kids hate you! You’re nothing! You’re a failure! You’ll keep messing up! You’ll never change!”

The devil is constantly yelling these things in our ears just waiting for us to turn our head and miss the mark. It can be so easy to get distracted, but God gives us encouragement otherwise.

Proverbs 4:27  Do not swerve to the right or to the left; turn your foot away from evil.

2 Timothy 1:7 …for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. 

Isaiah 54:17 …no weapon that is fashioned against you shall succeed, and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord and their vindication from me, declares the Lord. 

1 Peter 5:8-9  Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.  

So, let’s not let anything distract us from living the life God wants us to lead, raising our kids in Christ, or having the marriage God desires for us. Keep your eyes on the prize and enjoy the journey.

Through My Eyes

This past week has been a whirlwind of activity for my family and our church as we prepared for a community Easter egg hunt and an illustrated Easter message. Today, I can finally take a breath and look back on everything that God has done. After filling more than three thousand eggs, passing out thousands of flyers, baking one hundred cupcakes, seeing hundreds of neighbors come out to our first community egg hunt, cleaning the church, and preparing a lesson for the children’s class, here are a few of this week’s highlights through my eyes.

We printed a combined total of 5,000 flyers and door hangers to pass out in our neighborhood for both events. Every free night we had my family and a handful of people from our church got together and invited as many people as we could. On one particular night, one of the guys in our group handed a flyer to an old man walking in the middle of the street. We soon found out that the man did not speak English and he was very drunk. As he took the flyer we could see the tears well up in his eyes. He then dropped to his knees—still in the middle of the street—and stretched out his arm handing us his beer. We surrounded him and prayed. Finally, two others in our group that knew Spanish made their way to us and were able to communicate the love of Jesus to him. So many times since we have started church planting I have felt inadequate.  But the Lord continues to remind me, through days like this, that it is not us but Him who is doing the work in the lives of people. We just need to continue to be faithful and available.

Between 400-500 people came out to the Easter egg hunt! That’s a lot of kids and a whole lot of eggs. But I am more amazed that such a small church could accomplish such a big event. Which brings me to my next highlight of the week. We don’t have a big church. So when a handful of people pitch in to help they are doing a lot! I am humbled and grateful for those who are laboring along side us. Even the kids managed to hang door flyers for three hours straight one Saturday (well, I might have had to bribe them with pie afterwards). It takes a lot of work to fill over 3,000 eggs and it takes a lot of work to clean the church and prepare for a special illustrated message. And, it takes a special group of people who are willing to help no matter what the sacrifice to pull it off.

I’m sure the illustrated message on Easter Sunday was powerful. As it ended I could see people pass my class in route to the restroom to grab a tissue. Sometimes I feel like I’m missing out when it’s my turn to teach the children’s class. But one of the highlights of my week happened in class this Sunday morning. We had a new kid in class, which is not strange at all except this kid spoke his mind. As I began my lesson he wasn’t afraid at all to say, “I don’t understand.” So I did my best to explain and answer every question he had. As the service was ending one of the adults entered the room with communion for me. All of the kids stopped what they were doing and started asking questions. The new kid said, “I don’t understand,” and once again I explained to all of them how Jesus died for us and rose again. As I began talking about Heaven, this new kid blurted out, “I want to go to heaven!” The whole class prayed together as he accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. Isn’t this what it’s all about? What an awesome week to reflect upon.

Preparing My Home

The weather here in Chicago has been beautiful. Every window is open letting in a gentle breeze carrying with it the sound of birds singing. As I begin to sweep the floor I wish I could just relax today by the window reading a book sipping an iced coffee. But like every other Friday I have to clean for the Bible study that meets in our home each week.

Cleaning is definitely not my favorite thing to do. At times I wish I had enough money to hire a maid and other times I feel ashamed that I even call myself mother and wife and dread that part of my job description. As I lethargically move from the dishes to the toilets to the laundry God is revealing to me a new way to look at the importance of what I do.

Instead of just cleaning because that’s what we wives are supposed to do, God is showing me that it is important to prepare the atmosphere of my home. Not just physically but spiritually as well.

I want my kids to be able to walk through the front door and be met with a clean environment. When the table is covered with paper work that I still have not filed it’s hard to find a spot to do their homework. It’s hard to focus with clutter all around. But just as important is that they are met with the peace of God when they walk through that door.

As I am folding the clean clothes that have been piled high on my bed for some time God is telling me to pray for my husband. He does a lot to provide for our family and he works hard every day. On top of a stressful day at work he comes home and has a family and a church to care for. As his helpmate, I have the ability to make things easier for him.

Even as I prepare my home in the physical every Friday for Bible study, God is showing me to pray while I am cleaning. People will be walking into my home after a long day at work or school. Some are stressed, some are depressed, some are having a bad day, and all of them are coming because they need a touch from God.

So once again it’s Friday. But today I will be doing so much more than folding laundry, straightening up, or cleaning the house. I have the honor of preparing my home for the work of God in my family . . . and my community.

 

Zumba

Years ago I vowed to never take another fitness class at the gym. Why? Mainly because I have absolutely no coordination therefore when the class moved one direction I found myself going the opposite way. I was so embarrassed that after a mere few minutes that felt like an eternity I walked out and jumped on the treadmill.

Recently, countless friends have been talking about Zumba on their Facebook pages and I found myself curious to try it out. I would never venture on my own into one of these classes after my previous fitness class experience, but a friend convinced me to try it out this week.

I felt a little more comfortable knowing I wasn’t the only one who didn’t know what they were doing. I strategically picked a spot in the back where the whole class couldn’t see my mistakes. Unfortunately, a big mirror pillar was blocking my view of the instructor so I scanned the room to see who looked like they knew what they were doing and fixed my eyes upon them trying my best to keep up.

In our Christian walk, we are all called to be an example. Our children watch how we interact with our husbands; younger women are looking for a glimpse of the right way to do marriage, and singles are searching for an example of what a Godly marriage looks like. Paul says in Philippians 3:17, “Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do.” Being an example is a powerful way to help others find and learn to live out their faith in a real world. It’s actually part of our calling to be that model that others can pattern their lives after.

When I walked into that Zumba class I didn’t know a thing about it. I didn’t know the instructor. I didn’t know the dance moves. I didn’t recognize the music. All I knew is that I simply wanted to learn. I’m so thankful for those “examples”—that probably didn’t even know I was watching—that helped me to learn. Who knows? Maybe someday I will be the one someone else will be watching. For their sake, however, let’s pray that day doesn’t come too soon.😉

 

 

A Lesson From Space

On the morning of February 1, 2003, the space shuttle Columbia broke up during reentry, more than 200,000 feet above Texas. The subsequent investigation revealed the cause of the accident. During liftoff, pieces of foam insulation fell off the external fuel tank and struck the left wing.

The insulation damaged the heat protection tiles on the wing. When Columbia reentered the atmosphere, hot gases entered the wing through the damaged area and melted the airframe. The shuttle lost control and broke up.

Reentry is also a critical time for military families. Even stable marriages experience stress after a spouse has had frequent or long periods of deployment. Communication and understanding these potential problems appear to be the best remedy against a meltdown.

Karen is married to a military officer who frequently travels throughout the world. I spoke with her about reentry and how she navigated her husband’s return to family life.

Karen has observed two things that happen after her husband’s initially happy reunion. First, her children continue to come to her for anything and everything, leaving her husband the odd man out. Second, she finds that her kids tend to play one parent off another, especially when they aren’t getting what they want.

Karen found that reentry happens when Dad tries to regain his position as leader and the kids don’t like what they hear. His control is challenged, and conflict results. For Karen, the helpmate of her husband, this moment is critical. She can either build her husband up, giving him back his position as head of the home, or she can undercut his authority.

Karen said she has to choose wisely by supporting him in front of the kids, encouraging him, and making him look good as the leader of the family. She found that sometimes her husband had incomplete information at the time of reentry. She would need to speak with her husband, out of the children’s hearing, to fill him in on the details that happened during his absence. Karen found she needed to consciously elevate her husband and his opinion. She realized that she held the power to restore order to the home upon her husband’s return. With her words and actions, she could either celebrate his return to his rightful place or insert herself and upset the balance.

 

*Excerpt from Dancing with the One You Love (Moody Publishers, 2008). Used with permission

On Being “Liked”

 

My morning routine usually goes one of two ways.

Up at six, four kids out the door to school by seven forty-five a.m., a cup of coffee in hand, a Bible opened in my lap, and a few quiet moments of reading and talking to God.

Or, if I’m honest, my morning goes another way. Up at six, four kids out the door to school by seven forty-five a. m., and a mad dash up to the computer by eight o’clock. Sometimes a craving rises up in me that can’t even be quenched with morning coffee. I sit in my tiny orange chair and wait for the computer to brighten, and try to look nonchalant although no one else is around. The computer purrs and I quickly click to my Facebook account. Did anyone respond to the witty status I wrote last night? Has anyone new ‘liked’ my author page? How many ‘friends’ does my husband have today? Oh, man, I have like five hundred more than him!

Instead of a Christian woman, a writer, a mother of four, I am suddenly the school girl who receives a note in class. Do you like me? Check yes or no.

And a little box is checked off somewhere deep in my heart.

More times than I care to admit, my morning routine lies behind door number two.

I have become a social media junky.

Lately, I have started to wonder if I give my husband Sergei as much attention as I give to refreshing my Facebook home page. Do my children know that I ‘like’ them best of all? Do they know that I am interested in the status of their day? Does my family know I am their biggest fan?

My first defense is to blame Twitter and Facebook and blogging. Yes, I was never like this before a giant cloud of all the people I have ever known were right at my fingertips. There was a time when I actually had to call someone on a telephone with a curly beige cord. But those days are gone. Now I can communicate with anyone from the comfort of my living room while I’m still in my pajamas.

But who I pay attention to is not my computer’s fault. This issue is much deeper than that. If I am not looking to Christ alone for validation, I will look in other places. And more distance from God, means a dimmer witness, less attention to my family, more world, less Jesus. It’s my fault. Worldly validation is like taking a hit of some drug. It feels good for a while and then tapers off. You end up feeling worse than before. You quickly start looking for another fix.

The only lasting validation I can count on is from Jesus. And the only way I can ensure that I am showing my family the attention they are due is by stepping back, laying my sin at the foot of the cross, and asking Jesus to reset my priorities for his glory alone. The mornings I choose door number one, and take a few quiet moments alone with God is like 1,000 likes for my soul. And they are true likes. They are “I like you so much that I died for you” likes.

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FEATURED GUEST: GILLIAN MARCHENKO

Gillian Marchenko is a writer, speaker, and advocate for individuals with special needs. Her writing has appeared in Mom Sense Magazine, EFCA Today, The Four Cornered Universe, and is forthcoming in Chicago Parent. Gillian lives in Chicago with her husband Sergei and their daughters Elaina, Zoya, Polly and Evangeline. Connect with Gillian on Facebook or Twitter, check out her website at GillianMarchenko.com, or follow her family blog Pocket Lint

Are You Encouraging Your Husband

I was on the elliptical working out that morning when I began to pray for my husband, “Lord, make him strong.” He was going through such a rough time after getting laid off from work. He wasn’t able to eat or sleep. He was weak and he was broken. As I was praying for him the Lord spoke to me, “This is where I want him—broken”. When I finished my workout I went to my husband and apologized.

This was the single hardest time in my life. Not because of finances, we had been through that trial before and God showed himself faithful. It was the physical and emotional toll it took on him, and I wasn’t sure how to encourage him. I wanted so badly for him to be better, to be strong during this trial. I didn’t understand it when he said, “I know God’s Word, I am standing on it, but my body doesn’t seem to be listening.” But looking back on it all, God was doing a work in my husband… and within me as well.

Here are some things I realized during this season that might help someone else going through a similar experience.

  1. Continue to pray God’s Word over your husband. I know in trying to encourage him I said a lot of things that probably didn’t help. What you don’t want to do is make him feel less of a Christian for not getting better when you think he should. The more you pray the Word over your husband, the more you will speak it.
  2. Be there for him. In Ecclesiastes 4:9-10 it says, “Two people are better off than one, for they can help each other succeed. If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.” There were many times during this season that I could tell my husband just wanted to be near me to know that I was with him in all of this. He knew it was hard on me too; he just needed to know that we were still okay.
  3. Don’t lose hope. God is faithful. Sometimes in the midst of a hard season we can’t see the light on the other side. We wonder if things will ever change. I have to admit I wasn’t the strongest during this season. At one point the thought entered my mind, What if he doesn’t get better? I don’t want to live like this the rest of my life. Proverbs 13:12 says, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Dare to dream.
  4. Encourage him to talk to a pastor or a friend. Through it all, my husband called our pastor several times to share what he was experiencing. Later, a friend that experienced something similar prayed over him. It meant so much to my husband that he wasn’t the only one or the only “Christian” that had felt this way.

This trial opened my eyes to see that I have a very important role as a wife. I am to be an encourager, not only when he is going through the hardest time of his life, but day to day as we journey together.

What are some ways that you have encouraged your husband either through a difficult time or on a daily basis?

When The Darkness Sets In

I tend to sleep a lot when I’m feeling down. My eyes open in the morning and the sky is gray and the house is dark, much like how I feel on the inside. To escape I pull the covers over my head and try not to think. Usually there is something bothering me when I feel this way. In junior high it was all about the boys, the way I looked, and wishing someone would like me for who I was. After I was married it was all about the disappointments in life, not being where I thought I would be at that time.

One day I woke up with my loving husband beside me and in the exact place I longed to be in life. I had absolutely no reason to feel down. Yet I felt an overwhelming heaviness on me. I always thought it was my circumstances that made me feel blah. I always assumed that when everything lined up perfectly I wouldn’t experience that feeling of depression again. I was wrong.

Each morning I am faced with a decision to make.  I can go against what I am feeling and get up or I can pull the covers over my head and escape. I’m not going to lie, some days I don’t feel like fighting—which then makes me feel weak and ashamed.

God continually reminds me to stand on His Word and not my feelings. Jesus says in John 8:32, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  The truth is… Jesus has given us “The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness,” (Isaiah 61:3a). The Hebrew word for “garment” teaches us “to wrap” or “cover” ourselves—that the garment of praise is to leave no openings through which hostile elements can penetrate. Jesus has given us everything we need; we just need to “put on” this garment of praise. It’s no good to us if we don’t put it on.

It doesn’t matter what has discouraged you, maybe it’s your marriage, or your children. Maybe life didn’t turn out the way you thought. Maybe you have experienced a loss in your life. Or maybe, like me, you are just dealing with a spirit of heaviness for no apparent reason. Jesus has come to set the captive free. Put on that worship CD and begin to put on the garment of praise.

Just like Paul and Silas in prison, when they began to praise God their chains were loosed.  Praise will cause every chain of bondage to fall away. There is power in praising God!

 

 

Are You Ready?

I pulled my wedding dress out of the bag. It had a yellowish tint and was full of wrinkles. Why didn’t I think to have it cleaned before the ceremony? Across the room I spotted one of the groomsmen steaming his tux. I quickly made my way to the other side of the room and asked if I could steam my dress. At least I could get rid of all the wrinkles. It was too late to do anything about the stains on the dress.

The time was approaching and I knew there was no way I would be ready.

I grabbed two close friends and my mom to help out. Watching my friends do everything possible to help, I felt bad that I didn’t think to ask them sooner to be in the wedding. Now with no time left to find dresses, my heart was sad that they would not be by my side during the most important day of my life.

I glanced at the clock and realized I was an hour late already.

The food for the reception was set out, but after looking at the plates, I didn’t think there would be enough food for everyone. Surely the food would get cold before the ceremony even started. Finding someone in the family, I asked them to help out by making more food.

This time I looked at the clock and was horrified that I was now three hours late.

Then to top it off, I looked down and saw that my stockings were torn and full of holes. My makeup and hair were still not done. I asked my mom to concentrate on my makeup while I pulled my stockings off, deciding not to wear them at all. Wait! My shoes. I forgot to buy shoes. I couldn’t possibly wear the black clunky ones I came in. I’ll just go barefoot I thought.

Slowly the music from the alarm clock woke me up. The first thought that filled my mind was…

ARE YOU READY?

 

Ephesians 5:27 (New International Version)
“…and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

Ephesians 5:27 (New Century Version)
“He died so that he could give the church to himself like a bride in all her beauty. He died so that the church could be pure and without fault, with no evil or sin or any other wrong thing in it.”

Revelation 19:7
Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.

Matthew 25
The Parable of the Ten Virgins

 

 

Lesson From A Pressure Cooker

When I was a child, my mother canned fruits and vegetables. I vividly remember her preparing the Ball canning jars and placing them in our pressure cooker. Before fastening the lid over the cooker she would shoo her kids out of the kitchen with the warning, “stand back in case it blows.” If my mother did not let enough steam escape through the pressure release valve, there was a slight danger that the lid could blow right off.

Our husbands are like pressure cookers, and we have the ability to help them either release steam or explode. Poor health is only one issue that can add pressure to our marriage. Our husbands often live under the weight of unrealized goals. They may hate their jobs, feel themselves to be inadequate providers, or experience stress related to the high expectations of their employer, or… their wife. Sometimes we forget the burdens our spouses carry on a daily basis.

Our husbands may have pressure building in them. It will eventually manifest itself, either externally in the form of anger and depression, or internally in the form of illness or heart failure. As their wife, we usually know what would help them release that pressure, and what will send them to the brink of explosion.

Watch for signs of built up pressure in your husband. Encourage him to make healthy adjustments that would allow him to safely release his pent up frustration. While women may shop, or spend time with friends in an effort to reduce stress, men may benefit from physical exercise, or a hands-on project. Others may experience relief through a hobby, or simply spending time alone.

Encourage your husband verbally. Appreciate the stress he carries and support his efforts with your respect and confidence.