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Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Who Comes First?

Joan rested her hands in her lap, crossed and uncrossed her ankles. The entire week was filled with activities again. It had been months since she enjoyed even an afternoon to herself. As for family and friends, it would take a shoehorn to wedge in quality time with them.

And here she sat wasting time at the doctor’s office for a follow up to an annual physical.

“Joan Phillips?” The nurse’s voice was tight.

Joan rose and followed the perky blonde down the blue-carpeted hallway. The casual pace and chitchat made her wonder if she’d be on time for Bible study. Gesturing toward a black leather chair set in front of a massive desk, the nurse assured Joan the doctor would be right along.

Dr. Johnson entered the room as his personable self, but when he folded his hands on the green blotter his eyes tightened. He took a deep breath, and said, “Joan, I’m sorry Dave couldn’t be here, but this can’t wait. I have to tell you your test results came back and . . .”

On the drive home, the only words she could remember were, “If we can get hold of this now, you have plenty of quality years ahead of you.” How could that be? I feel fine.

A tearful conversation with her husband Dave when he returned from his trip followed by a three-way discussion with Dr. Johnson brought clarity. The ongoing stress of her busy lifestyle had taken a toll on Joan’s body. Immediate corrective action was recommended to stabilize her overall health.

Dave and Joan went through her schedule and cut back all but essential responsibilities. Her symptoms improved somewhat, but Dr. Johnson was not satisfied. “You’re getting more sleep and regular exercise, but there’s still a harmful level of tension. Can you pinpoint the cause?”

His question drove Joan to the inner courts of heaven. LORD, please reveal the problem. I want … I need to rest in Your peace. Thank You for Your grace. Amen

God granted her request in the days and weeks ahead, bringing her to a fresh understanding of His priorities. The key element was Holy Spirit’s whispers through two main references to convince her that leaving herself at the bottom of every list was not the Father’s design.

With support from Dave, Joan began to exercise biblical self-care. Embracing her identity as a cherished child of the Risen Savior relaxed her soul. The inner transition carried peace filled her life with peace and blessed those around her.  The transformation took mental and emotional effort, but a year later Dr. Johnson gave her two thumbs up.

 Each of you should look not only to your own interest, but also to the interests of others (Philippians 2:4).*emphasis mine

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Leviticus 19:18; Matthew 19:19, 22:39; Mark 12:31,33; Luke 10:27; Romans 13:19; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8).

Are your days regularly over-the-top busy?
Could it be time to consider your priorities in light of these verses?

About the Author:
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s an award-winning speaker and author, and a sought-after mentor. Sandra writes for a number of publications and has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Weight of Waiting

You know how, in January, people claim a word for the year? I’ve been doing that for a long time, as in, since the hashtag symbol meant “number.” One of my early words was obedience. Another was balance.

Then one year, about mid-February (not ironically), the Lord gave me a different kind of word: wait, or more specifically wait on the Lord. Wait is not a very inspirational word. I mentally argued with Him about claiming it. I needed something to get me through the year, not hold me back.

As I reflect now, I can name several periods of unexpected waiting in my past—times when I thought God was ready for me/us to move forward, but instead, He told us to wait.

Perhaps your mind has already gone to that classic verse about waiting.

But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength;
    they shall mount up with wings like eagles;
they shall run and not be weary;
    they shall walk and not faint.  -Isaiah 40:31 ESV

We think of waiting as a dormant period where nothing much happens, but Isaiah says waiting is a time of strengthening. Why is it “they” can fly, run, and walk endlessly? Because they first waited.  And in the waiting, they got stronger. They lifted weights, so to speak.

That’s another thing people do in January: They resolve to get fit, maybe through lifting weights. When you lift, you schedule rests between each set of exercises. It’s in those waiting periods that your muscles connect more tightly and become stronger. If you don’t wait before jumping into the next set, you’ll hurt yourself.

Two things happen when we wait for the Lord. God prepares the way for us (as in Proverbs 3:5-6’s “make your paths straight”) and God prepares us for what’s coming.

In my year (fourteen months, actually) of waiting, we faced unexpected…let’s call them challenges instead of difficulties or trials. Sometimes I felt like I was doing squats with weights too heavy for me. However, when the time came to take off in flight, we soared instead of stumbling.

Imagine Hannah’s heavy weight of waiting (1 Samuel 1). Year after year, she endured the teasing of a rival wife. Year after year, she hoped the next festival season would be different, that she would carry a son rather than the twin dumbbells of disappointment and shame.

But God caused her to wait. On the outside, He was preparing a place for her eventual son with Eli, the priest. On the inside, He was cultivating Hannah’s heart so she could and would give her child to Eli and the Lord. Both these things had to happen before the time was right for Samuel to be born. Without those years of “heavy lifting”—of strengthening her heart—Hannah might not have fulfilled God’s purpose in her life.

The NIV translators chose another word in Isaiah 40:31. Look at this:

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength...  -Isaiah 40:31 NIV

Our waiting is a time of hoping, of looking confidently toward the future, of knowing we will soar if we are obedient in the meantime.

So do some squats and lunges while you’re waiting…I mean hoping.

Question for Reflection: Have you been frustrated by a time of waiting? Reflect on that time and document how He strengthened you during those days. It may have been pure encouragement, the acquisition of a new skill, a maturing of the Fruit of the Spirit, or something else. Regardless, we find ourselves praising Him once it’s over!

We would love to hear from you in the comments below if you’d like to share your own experience with waiting (or any other response).

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.comor on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Pastor's Wife Devotional Launching November 28th

I'm so excited!!! My long-time friend and fellow pastor's wife, Leigh Powers, joined our pastor's wife blog in the summer of 2016 -- writing articles, assisting with social media, and also arranging for other guest bloggers to encourage pastors' wives around the globe.

Now, Leigh is launching a devotional book for pastors' wives. Truthfully, I find many devotional books -- especially those aimed at women -- to be trite and shallow, or too syrupy for me to stand for very long. But this one stands apart.

Leigh is a gifted and insightful writer, holding an M.Div.Bl from Southwestern Seminary; and more importantly, a love for her fellow pastor's wife.

Each devotional practically identifies with the pain/emotions we're feeling, ends with encouragement and insight from God's word, followed by prayer and action steps that lead to healing.

Read an excerpt online at Medium. This is the very first devotional in the book--the one that kicks off the 40-day journey from lamenting the pain to loving the church again.

Here's a sample:

I see the hope in my husband’s eyes slowly dying. It dims a little with every idea shot down, every deacon who puts a finger in his face before he gets up to preach ...

We live in a messy, sin-stained world. Those who are meant to be God’s people don’t always live like it. As ministers and church leaders, being on the front lines of the battle means we get hit by the shrapnel. It hurts, and sometimes anger is our gut-level response to the pain. Anger at ourselves. Anger at our churches. Anger at God, because it’s his fault we’re here in the first place.

When you are angry at God, the worst thing you can do is hide it....

Read the rest at:



Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Tell Yourself the Truth

Her dearest friend was away the morning she found out. The information halted her breath and drove Judy to her knees. When she could move, she shut off her cell phone and left it on the floor. The patchwork quilt cocooned her on the tan corduroy loveseat. She wept as she realized the details were too deep and personal to share with anyone.

By the time the afternoon shadows lengthened, the crisis dominated her mind and heart. She rose and fumbled through dinner preparations, forgetting to add tuna to the casserole. Dread about how she ought to respond settled over her as she ladled out the soup. The brave front she adopted left her family unaware of her dilemma. She excused the children from clean up, saying it was her turn.

Have you been isolated by events or emotions on occasion? Or do you keep your own counsel by habit?  

Either way, in reality we’re never truly alone. We can turn to God at any moment. But sometimes the human condition can make our heads feel like an MRI scanner. Thoughts bounce and bang ominously as they repeat past messages, conjure odd ideas, evoke wild emotions. Even devoted believers fall into this pit. There is an escape route.

1. Listen to the rebounding clamor and write down what you hear.

2. Read the comments aloud to engage the objective side of your brain.
Would you call a friend one of those names? Refuse to say it to yourself.
Does that evaluation or plan make sense? Double-check the facts.
Is the fear, anger, or pain out of balance? Verify their sources.

3. Research what God says about and to you, and write it down.
Are you yearning to be valued or belong, to dwell in a place of security?
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine (Isaiah 43:1).
Is the constant barrage wearing you down, and the turmoil stealing your peace?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind (Romans 12:2).

4. Rephrase His Truth as godly self-talk, not I-centered statements.
“Judy, you are redeemed. You belong to God.”
“Judy, soak your mind in God’s Word. You will be revived.”

These strategies are tools to uncover our human frailties and restore our confidence in who we are in Christ. As we implement them in obedience, we build our defense system and promote our peace.

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

About the Author:

Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her transparency, warmth, and humor. Sandra has two manuscripts underway, Wallflower Women and Naomi. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Redeeming Halloween

Halloween is a tricky, touchy subject in many churches. What do we do with this “holiday” that seems to celebrate the demonic but offers such great outreach opportunities?

In the fifteen years we’ve had children in the house, we’ve tried just about every option. One year, we even hid in the house with the lights off and hoped no one rang the doorbell.

For the last two years, however, we’ve approached this cultural observation differently. We’ve chosen to redeem Halloween—at least on our street—and use it to bless our neighbors. It’s a friendly, non-threatening way for us to meet our neighbors and for them to rub shoulders with real Believers.

Our approach involves:

We set up a table at the end of our driveway so we meet parents. If we were in the house, children would approach the door while parents hung back on the street. We want to get to know our neighbors, so we moved out to where they are.

2    Welcoming Spirit

We set up some chairs and hang out at our table all night. We ask people questions and try to have conversations rather than just “Happy Halloween!” with a wave.

      Adult treats

We offer muffins or cookies for the chaperones. If it’s warm, we have apple cider punch, and if it’s cold, we have hot cocoa. I make up a big batch of homemade cocoa so we can serve people small cups instead of mixing packets one-by-one. My recipe is much like this one except I add cinnamon. (I just Googled this. It’s not an endorsement of the site.)

We make a playlist of fun, clean Halloween-ish songs and put it on shuffle. We have a little, inexpensive Bluetooth speaker so we can just use a phone for this.


This is the most important part! If you’re going to do this, don’t be the cheap-skate house with the bad candy. Invest in the good stuff, be generous with it, and you’ll be the house people want to visit at other times of the year.

In one night, we met dozens of people from our neighborhood—people who generally drive into their garages and are never seen again. What an opportunity! The second year, people told us how much they enjoyed the year before and said they looked forward to coming our way again.

Our idea might not work where you live because of your church expectations or the greater culture of your area. But before you decide what to do for Halloween, pray for God’s leading and make sure you take advantage of Halloween rather than it taking advantage of you.

Question for Reflection:
How is God leading you to redeem Halloween this year? Will you be brave and follow His leading, even if it’s unexpected or a little out of character for you?

For some thoughts on discipling your children through Halloween, check out this guest post on my parenting blog.

Have you found fun ways to redeem Halloween in previous years? Please share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!


Carole Sparks still hasn’t found the perfect Halloween costume because there were no prominent women theologians in the Reformation. Her husband is threatening to go as Martin Luther this year and shave his head in a tonsure. (That’s where you shave the center and leave the sides.) We’ll see.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Sometimes All He Wants is Yes

I'd prayed about it. It was not something I really desired to do but I felt Him leading me in the direction of the opportunity in front of me. I struggled with the decision but knew it was what He wanted so I said yes. I began to pray about this new responsibility and prepare myself for the changes it would bring into my life. I'd have to travel and do things I really wasn't interested in, but I had peace about it because I knew it was what He had been asking of me. 

The next week I was at a dinner and, unbeknownst to me, the guest speaker got up to introduce the new person in the ministry position I'd just accepted. As Elizabeth was introduced I sat bewildered and a little embarrassed. 

I later shared what happened with my husband who called one of the two people in charge of this position. Frank was beside himself and angry that this had taken place without his knowledge. Frank contacted Melinda (the other person in charge) and she assured him that Elizabeth was indeed given the position. 

Two branches of this ministry team looking in different directions without consulting each other caused a lot of confusion over the next several days. Emails were sent to all involved, apologies were made, conversations held, all the while with me wondering if I'd gotten it wrong. 

I was relieved that I didn't have to take this position and was thrilled that my friend Elizabeth got it, she would be much better at it than I would. She's proven this to be true in the years since. 

I still struggled with the decision since I'd known God had wanted me to say yes, but then I realized that maybe the yes was all He wanted. I think sometimes He just wants to know we are willing to do what He asks, even if it is something we don't want to do. 

By taking this position, Elizabeth has gotten to shine and grow her personality in a way what would have had me shrinking back. By me not having it I've been able to focus on things that have taken more of my time and energy than I'd thought would. 

Through this I've been reminded once again that God will never do anything to hurt or harm us and that His tests cause us to grow. I could have reacted to this in several ways that wouldn't have pleased Him.

Rejection: I could have taken this personally and looked at it as if I'd been rejected. Once I'd done this I would have surely had a list as long as a six-year old's Christmas list, filled with reasons for the rejection which would have only left me in a puddle of self-pity.

Elizabeth is younger than I and offers different skills than I do, but different does not mean better. I could have spent hours awake at night going over all of the reasons why she was a better choice than me. This would have ruined our friendship.

Anger: I could easily talk myself into being justified with anger over this situation. I mean, it was unfair. I should not be treated like this. Who did they think they were? I could let it downward spiral until I ruined a friendship with Elizabeth and ruined my reputation with the ministry leaders.

The list goes on. No matter which I'd chose it would never be better than choosing to let it go. By letting it fly away I was able to maintain the friendship with Elizabeth and encourage her to shine in her special way. I maintained my reputation with the ministry leaders, and kept my testimony of what the Lord is doing in and through me in tact.

Through all of this I was reminded that sometimes He just wants our willingness. Sometimes all He wants is yes.

About the Author:

Suzanne Schaffer has been in full-time ministry with her husband Wayne since 1992, pastoring in Pennsylvania and Illinois. She has two grown children and spends most of her days either writing or reading with a cup of tea close by. She enjoys attending auctions and sometimes brings home more stuff than she knows what to do with. She believes life is too short for mediocre food and insists on having good chocolate in the house at all times. You can connect with Suzanne at her blog, www.notenoughchocolate.blogspot.com

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rest and Trust

Racing thoughts spilled over the rim of Nicole’s mind. The annual ladies retreat was only a week away and the musician was suddenly unavailable. Her two teenagers were getting out of hand. Prayer meeting was in an hour and dinner wasn’t near ready. She dropped the vegetables on the counter and pulled out the cutting board.

Grateful the church was only ten minutes away, she considered other ingredients on hand to throw into a summer salad she could call dinner. The leftover chicken would add protein. Fresh pecans would delight her husband. And she was pretty sure there was a bottle of everybody’s favorite dressing in the fridge. It just might work.

Her hands flew as she started chopping. Clack, clack, clack. The knife’s rhythm somehow calmed her breathing. By the time she broke open the bell pepper and rinsed it, she was absorbed in the task. Her palm pressed into the handle as she sliced through the red vegetable’s skin. Bite-size pieces materialized.

She didn’t notice the blood until she rested the onion on the board. Dropping the knife, she reached across and grabbed at her injured thumb. Exerting pressure to close the wound, she stepped to the sink and pushed at the faucet with her elbow. The scarlet stream sent balls of light floating before her eyes. Her forearms caught her body weight against the counter’s edge. What now?

Once her head cleared Nicole inspected the injury and decided to treat it herself. While she alternated between applying pressure and wrapping gauze around the gash she turned to the Lord for solutions to her dilemma. Surely He created her for more than the incessant pressure that drove her.

She called her daughter to come finish the salad. When her son appeared to announce his hunger, she had him set the table. What would happen if I took on less?

They joined hands as her husband prayed. “Eat up, kids. We don’t want to be late.” The ping of forks on porcelain kept a bustling pace.

“Jeff, my hand is sore. I think I’ll stay home.” Nicole paused to check his reaction.

“That sounds like a good idea. Are you sure you’ll be all right by yourself? Caroline can stay with you.” Anxiety laced his words. “Can I pick up anything for you at the store?”

She closed her eyes as she took a cleansing breath. “No, dear. I’ll be fine.” Concern left his face and teased out a smile on hers. “Would you mind asking Joan Bennet to find a replacement musician for the retreat? I can’t think of anyone.”

“Sure. I’ll be happy to take care of that. Joan’s got connections. I’m sure she’ll find someone. Don’t worry.” He wiped his mouth with the checkered napkin. “Okay, kids. Let’s go.”

Peace I [Jesus] leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).

Brief Bio
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to enjoy the life God created them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/
You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

FOMO for PKs in Small Churches

I want the best for my kids. We all do. It’s part of being a mother.

When God called us overseas, we had to forsake a loving nursery where every worker had a background check, followed by a well-structured, modern children’s program, and culminating in a large, energetic youth group. Without these, I was anxious about the spiritual education of my children.

·         Who would teach them the Bible stories?
·         Would they be “normal kids” without pizza parties and emphasis weekends?
·         How would they learn how to battle PEER PRESSURE?!?
·         What if they never learned “Jesus Loves Me”?!?!? (I was happy to avoid “Father Abraham,” because that song just drives me crazy.)

Maybe you’re in the same position. Maybe you live in a place with no churches or you serve in a small church with no “quality” programs for families. Maybe your FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) has kicked in, too, and you think God might be short-changing your children for the sake of the unreached people around you.

I did.

One day, I was almost crying as I walked through the narrow streets of our city, torn by my conflicting responsibilities, when the Holy Spirit stopped me in my tracks. Literally; I stopped walking and may have stopped breathing for a second there. In prayer, I realized something I should have known all along: God loved my children just as much as He loved the lost person I was going to visit. He was equally interested in the spiritual development of my children and my lost friend. Sure, I knew it intellectually, but this fact hit me at a heart level. I knew His purposes in bringing us to this far-away place included my children. I knew their souls were not sacrificed on the altar of service.

Over the next few months, I began to notice the depth of their spiritual understanding. I taught them “Jesus Loves Me,” but they loved and trusted the Bible at a deeper level than that. They prayed incredible prayers, and they spoke of faith issues with confidence.

Another mom in church planting felt the same way. She watched her children learn how to pray for lost people. She saw their faith deepen from sitting in small groups with adults because there were no children’s programs. She, too, is glad for the lack.

There are many great things happening in larger churches with children’s programs and youth groups, but don’t bemoan your church’s lack of such things. Don’t think your children are missing out because your church plant, small church, or house church lacks programs for kids. God will place people and events in your children’s lives that strengthen and expand their faith in unique ways. He loves them just as much as He loves the people you’re trying to reach with the gospel.

And as far as I know, my kids still haven’t learned “Father Abraham.” Whew!

Question for Reflection: Are you anxious about some aspect of parenting because of ministry? Relax into God’s faithfulness and watch Him mold your children for good in that exact area.

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.comor on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

I was Miss Fix-It

“I’ll be right there.”

The Lord has crossed my path across those of countless women. One characteristic we all have in common is wanting to fix things. We do everything we can to keep our homes or offices running smoothly. It’s our fondest hope for those around us to get along so we oversee their lives. Some of us even work on appliances and vehicles that won’t run.

We come by that trait honestly. After all, God created woman to benefit the man who was alone. They made a team until Genesis 3 happened and the Fall damaged every aspect of creation. Who could blame us if we get carried away? Sometimes especially when we minister.

“I can take care of that for you.”

The idea never crossed my pastor’s wife mind. It’s been six years since my time in direct ministry, and I served from the pews for ten years before Curt was ordained. Regular attendance is reacquainting me with the other side of the pulpit, so to speak. And there’s a fresh perspective dawning that bears consideration.

It seems that during the time I lived with the Lord’s servant, I have forgotten a detail or two. At least that possibility struck me in a phone conversation. Jane* is a dear friend who’s a seasoned pastor’s wife. We were catching up on each other’s lives when she asked if Curt was still in Maine. When I said he was, she asked how we were doing. I assured her we were fine except for him finding a job.

Jane spent the next twenty minutes giving suggestion after suggestion of what Curt could do, should do to join me. At first I tried to explain why some of her ideas weren’t feasible, but it didn’t slow her down. It was when she started quoting Scripture and implying we were in sin because we weren’t together that I paused the conversation.

“Are you sure there isn’t anything else I can do?”

I explained our surprise over the delay and our confidence that God had a plan. Our conversation ended shortly thereafter. I can’t help but turn back the clock and wonder if I respond in similar ways. Do I evaluate anyone’s situation without knowing all the facts, and judge them? Do I find anyone’s circumstances uncomfortable and try to get them to match my preference so my feelings can settle? I have to say, “Probably.”

With a humble and contrite heart, I put Miss Fix-it out of her misery. I’m grateful for the security of His forgiveness, but my confession feels a bit paltry. Now I ponder much longer with the Lord before opening my mouth. I pray my repentance brings glory to His Name.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, for through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2 NIV1984

*name and nuances changed for privacy

About the Author:
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to enjoy the life God created them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/

You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Twitter, LinkedIn, or Google+ she’ll be delighted by a reason to practice.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

How to be a true helper

I made two batches of chili today.  Not because I planned to make two batches, but rather it was because whenever you try to accomplish something that involves a 3 year old ‘helping’ there is bound to be a redo at times!   

My youngest daughter Rachel loves to help me cook.  Today was no exception, however as I was making the chili every time I turned my back Rachel would quickly add something of her own initiative.  As I reached to get the chili powder, she would add in a dash of oregano.  If I turned to get a utensil, in went some onion peels or some other random item that had no business being in chili.  Although I know she was trying to be a big girl helping her mommy cook, none of what she did on her own helped to achieve the end result we were aiming for.  If anything, her attempts to help were only slowing down the process.  

With my garlic, celery and onions sautéing on the stove, Rachel’s constant attempts to ‘help’ distracted me long enough to completely burn the big pot of simmering goodness that was on the stove with no hope of recovering it.  While dumping my first pot of chili in the garbage, I wondered if my own attempts to ‘help’ God ever got in the way like that?  What should have taken a short time to do, took a lot longer to accomplish because Rachel simply would not obey my instructions.  

Although I had the recipe in plain sight because Rachel could not read she had no idea what was to come next.  Similarly, we can not know what the big picture of God’s plan is.  Even though Rachel could not read the recipe, I still enjoyed having her by my side helping me to achieve our task.  It was her persistence in trying to follow her own agenda that kept getting in the way.  If she had been willing to wait until the proper time to add a new ingredient as I instructed her to, then her help would have been an invaluable contribution to one tasty chili!

Today, I was once again reminded of the importance of letting go of my own agenda and to stop trying to ‘add’ in my own random items to God’s already perfect plan.  If I can slow myself down long enough to wait and listen for God’s instruction and be willing to obey them, that is when I am truly being a mighty helper of God.  

About the Author:

Tracy  Birtch currently lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and is mom to Crystal, Jamie, and Rachel and a Pastors wife to Aaron.  Six years ago they planted a church which was an incredible adventure that brought them both some wonderful high and painful low experiences.  From this, Tracy has developed a heart to see the emotional wounds of others experience the full healing that God can bring. 

Connect with Tracy:
Website: Find

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

The Season of Our Discontent

Sometimes an indefinable restlessness comes upon a Christ-follower…a dissatisfaction with life even though nothing has changed. We’ve learned to call it holy discontent.

When God called us to move to a difficult, distant location, we hung contentment on the wall like a plaque. We memorized Philippians 4:11, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances,” and we determined to choose contentment regardless of what happened. Because really, contentment (the flipside of gratefulness) is a choice. Will I focus on the difficulties, troubles, and inconveniences in my life, or will I focus on God’s blessings?

We made a practice of declaring the good in each day and quashed complaining. We sought satisfaction with our new normal, and God gave it to us. For several years, we missed our families…and autumn…and onion rings, but we were truly content with our circumstances. We understood Paul’s advice to Timothy that “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6). Our spiritual lives were fruitful, and we liked who our children were becoming.

Until this one day when everything changed…

No, not really. There wasn’t a single day or week that booted us out of the contentment camp. Over a couple of months, however, my husband and I both came to realize we just weren’t satisfied with life-as-we-knew-it, so we stepped back and did some self-examination.

1.      Was there sin in our lives? We examined our hearts, prayed confessions, and begged the Holy Spirit to reveal anything—anything at all—that might be separating us from God’s favor. There were, of course, some sins, but nothing habitual or significant enough to rip away our contentment.

2.      Had we lost our focus? We dug into Scripture, renewed our prayers, even retreated for a few days to gain perspective. Nothing changed.

3.      Were we simply bored? We bought a new couch. We changed some daily habits. There was refreshment in those things but no return of contentment.

4.      Was this a spiritual attack? We recruited prayer warriors to intercede for us. We pressed into the work to which He had called us, declaring Bible verses over our city, our home, and ourselves. All this was good to do. The renewed vigor helped us maintain our priorities because discontentment is distracting! But nothing erased the unsettled feeling in our hearts.

Then one day (and this really was one day), after at least six months of trying but failing to regain the contentment we had cherished, we admitted to each other that this restless feeling must be from God. And that’s when we labeled it holy discontent.

If contentment were commonplace for Christ-followers, we wouldn’t need encouraging verses like, “Those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength” (Isaiah 40:31 NASB), and we wouldn’t need King David’s example of asking “How long?” (e.g. Psalm 13 and 94).

When we finally named our situation, we stopped trying to grab the slender threads of contentment and learned to wade through the restlessness. We came to understand that God was preparing us for something new, that the discontent had a purpose: to help us begin disconnecting from the ministry into which we had poured our lives.

See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? -Isaiah 43:19a NIV

All of us quickly grow attached to the ministries in which He places us. Sometimes the restlessness of our souls is a gift from God to move us forward in His purposes. Without it, we would cling to the old thing when He wants to do a new thing in and through us. I pray my story helps you face your discontentment, examine it, and either embrace it or reject it according to His Will.

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com, or on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Letting Go of Perfect

After a crazy summer, I was looking forward to our perfect vacation. We’d rented a three room suite at a resort by Lake Superior. I was anticipating lazy beach days, exploring, and snuggly family time. Things didn’t go as planned.

Our suite had plumbing problems, so the owners “upgraded” us to their home. It was beautiful but also awkward and nerve wracking with two small children. Our four-year-old decided this was a great time to express how the summer’s lack of consistency had affected him. He turned into a raging, defiant, fit-throwing monster every time things didn’t go his way. It rained. A lot. So much for perfect.

Our ideals rarely come true. Perfect vacations. Perfect marriages. Perfect children. Perfect churches or ministry situations. It’s pretty obvious that we live in a world broken by sin.

We can drive ourselves crazy striving for perfection.

There is a lot of pressure on women in ministry to “have it together.” Both external pressure from other people’s expectations, and internal pressure from our own expectations. Outward performance can feel vitally important.

I went to a women’s retreat recently and one of the leaders had forgotten her suitcase at home. Instead of having cute outfits and matching accessories, she wore jeans and retreat t-shirts all weekend. She confessed this to us at a session and spoke honestly about how vulnerable it made her feel. How she was afraid we wouldn’t like her because she wasn’t “put together.” Maybe it was just me, but I liked her even better this way because she was real. She seemed fun, down-to-earth, and approachable when she “wasn’t perfect.”

The truth is, outward perfection can cover a lot of inward brokenness. But, it’s our inner self, our heart that really matters. If we are honest, we will all admit to being broken in some way. Guess what? It’s okay to be a hot mess. That’s the reality of life in a fallen world.

This why the gospel is such good news. Jesus, because of His amazing love for us, even though we were messed up sinners, died for us. (Romans 5:8.) He died to give us forgiveness, power, and life. Familiarity sometimes causes us to lose sight of this beautiful truth.

Jesus loves our broken, hurting hearts exactly like they are. He doesn’t expect us to have it all together. He isn’t shocked or disappointed by our mistakes. In fact, there is nothing you can do to make God love you any less!

Romans 8:1 says “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Are you “in Christ”; have you trusted Him alone as Savior? Then there is no condemnation. Period.
I don’t know where your pressure is coming from. It could be your spouse or family member. Maybe it’s people in your ministry. Or it might be your own personal expectations. Will you believe the truth about who you are in Christ? Will you let go of perfect and just be real?

 About the Author:

Christy Wood is a former youth pastor’s wife, mother of two, lover of Jesus, hater of legalism, blogger, and hopeful author. After spending her teens in a legalistic Christian cult, Christy is passionate about the truth and about helping people find genuine relationship with Jesus Christ. She blogs at www.letmebefoolish.com.

You can connect with Christy on Twitter (@letmebefoolish) or Faceboo

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book Excerpt: Simple Things by Suzanne Schaffer

Our own Suzanne Shaffer has a new book out, and we wanted to share an excerpt with you. Simple Things is available from Amazon, and proceeds will be developed to Convoy of Hope. 

Have you ever seen a recap of a Red Carpet event? The fashion experts critique the dresses and outfits of the attendees.
She wore it well.
What was she thinking?
Which designer do you think is more pleased? The one who heard affirming comments about his creation or the one who received less than flattering ones? Just like the designer spent time creating the clothing for these ladies to wear, our Father in heaven created you. He spent time thinking about you. You are the work of His hands.
“So God created mankind in his own image in the image of God He created them; male and female He created them.” Genesis 1:27 (NIV)
When you take time to make something, you take pride in it. When I bake a cake to take to a dinner, I want everyone to know it’s mine. I might handwrite what kind it is and put it next to my cake because I know my penmanship is easily distinguished. I worked hard on that ganache, and I want it to represent me well. In the same way, God wants us to represent Him well. If we wear the label of a Christian, but aren’t any different than the world, doing what they do and acting as they act, then how well are we representing? Don’t put the label on your life if you aren’t willing to live it. The Bible is clear about how we are to deal with people who claim to be Christians but live otherwise. And it’s a little scary.
“But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people.” 1 Corinthians 5:11 (NIV)
There are too many people claiming to be Christians yet living for themselves. A one-time prayer is not enough. Being a good person is not enough. Live the life worthy of your calling as a Christ-follower.
If we live daily as He wants us to, He will daily guide us, and we will have a clear understanding of what He wants for us. We will know His will. He will lead us in the way He wants us to go. His leading is sometimes as simple as a desire He gives us. Remember when I said I was a teenager when I felt the desire to be a pastor’s wife? God put that desire there as a hint about His plans for my
life. I never thought about being a missionary. I never considered a career in politics. Teaching was the major I chose in college because I had to pick one, but I knew I wasn’t going to teach. The military wasn’t something I was considering even though they tried to lure me with their ASVAB testing. My results said I’d make a good mortician. So not enticing. I don’t even like touching live people, let alone dead ones. Managing a retail store didn’t appeal to me. Being a businesswoman in a big city unnerved me. I did have a strong desire to be a wife and mother. He gently guides us. I love that about Him.
Following this line of thinking is not always easy. If it were, our churches would be full of mature Christians instead of aging people who haven’t grown in decades. The devil will pester you like a sand flea at the beach when you start living this way. You will be ridiculed and heckled for your stand, even at the hand of other believers. I’ve had other ministry wives tell me my desire to live a pure life and be separate from the world is foolishness and isn’t for them. This breaks my heart. God gave so much for us. Can’t we live sacrificially for Him? It’s for our own benefit.
What about you? Are you the Sunday morning Christian who can’t get a handle on the rest of the week? Do you desire to be closer to Him but find the things of the world creeping in? Or are you stuck somewhere altogether different?

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Is it Really Worth It?

A fellow PW sent us this post as an anonymous submission. 

Jennifer sat down with the pastor to discuss plans for her mother's funeral. Elizabeth had lived a long life of service to her Lord, church, and numerous other churches as she grew in popularity as a women's minister. It seemed everywhere Jennifer went she was recognized as being Elizabeth's daughter and praised because of it. 

"You are so lucky to have Elizabeth as a mom, she is such a Godly woman."
"Your mom is the reason I'm saved."
"Elizabeth was always there for me, she gave me the strength to go on after my husband left me."

Jennifer didn't share the fond memories that those outside of her home did, for the mother she knew was rarely home. The family photo albums showed Elizabeth with numerous strangers but not with her children. Her four daughters don't have the memories they wished for or the relationship with their mother that they'd craved.

From outside everyone thought they were the perfect family, but appearances were more important than making memories. 

When Jennifer's pastor shared this with us at a ministry dinner, my heart broke for her and her three sisters. While Elizabeth was doing the Lord's work her family suffered. While Elizabeth concerned herself with how she looked, she never gave thought to how left out her children felt. Sure, they were surrounded by people all the time, but the one they needed was their mom.

I don't think this is how it is supposed to be. Ministry wives aren't Stepford Wives. We shouldn't be put into a mold and be made to conform to unrealistic expectations of people who truly do not care for us in the same way our family does. 

What Jennifer and her sisters needed was a mom who wasn't afraid to get dirty and have fun instead of a mother who plastered on a smile anytime she left the house no matter how deep the hurt or frustration.

If your children see a different person at home than they do at church, there might be a problem. Don't be afraid to be real. More people will be able to relate to you in your bad days than if you're faking it. The world needs real Christians. People who aren't afraid to take off the mask and admit that life is hard. The church needs strong women who face the difficulties of life and are able to show it. Don't be afraid when your screaming toddler throws a fit in the fellowship hall. Other mothers are watching to see how you discipline. Your child gets kicked out of school? Someone can relate to you. Sometimes we are more effective in the middle of our mess than when everything goes as planned.

Jennifer is estranged from church at this time. She wants nothing to do with what she feels stole her mother from her. 

It didn't have to be this way. 

If Elizabeth had spent more time at home with her children instead of doing church work, I'm sure this story would have had a different outcome. I'm not sure if she would think the loss of relationship with her children was worth what she paid. Sometimes, when we're in the middle of what we think we should be doing, it's hard to see what's right in front of us. Your family needs you more than people at the church do. There is always time for ministry, but you've only got your kids for a little while. Make sure they know their importance in your life. All the accolades in the world can't stand up to how much you matter in the life of your child.

A the end of your life journey it won't matter who put you on a pedestal--they likely won't be around. Your family will ache for you and for what they'll miss. Don't make them ache out of bitterness and regret. Be there for them today. It passes too quickly. 

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Just a Touch

There are seasons in the Christian life, and perhaps especially in frontline service, when the path we walk darkens. We find ourselves surrounded by pain or grief, facing burdensome assignments or insurmountable obstacles. The air we breathe reeks of danger and fear … worsened by silence from heaven, the sense we’re alone. All alone.

God promises to be with us always, but sometimes we forget. Thankfully He floods our lives with reminders of His presence.

I learned the value of training my spiritual eyes from Edith Schaeffer, wife of Dr. Francis Schaeffer. Her weekly Bible studies during my years at L’Abri unveiled a fresh perspective. She wove observations of every day sights and situations we tend to overlook into illustrations of God’s hand at work in the world.* Her teaching rivaled the expertise of the miller’s daughter in Rumplestiltskin who spun straw into gold.

Developing my focusing skills bore fruit when I was recovering from hip replacement surgery. The simple task of taking a shower morphed into a prisoner of war experience—small enclosure, drumming water, complete isolation, imminent danger. My cruel captor was the fear of falling, beating me to remain upright when I wanted to hunch in a corner. Darkness like a black bag over my head disoriented me as I clenched my eyes against stinging shampoo. Yet I stood and endured.

In one particular torture session I felt myself tilting sideways and panic surged. My hand shot out and struck the white tiles. No handhold to grasp, but the wall held firm. I leaned into the support and gulped at the security I found. My pulse settled and peace penetrated. I opened my eyes and stood erect. A breath or two and I took hold of the back brush, returning to my mission. Occasionally I poked out my elbow to confirm rescue was less than an arm’s length away.

And so it is with the pilgrim journey in a fallen world. We find ourselves in shadowed valleys, feeling overcome by what’s behind, beside, or before us. Whether in a local church or on the mission field the LORD is our all-sufficient Sovereign, more secure than any vertical upright. He’s the ever-present promise-keeper who rescues and loves on those He calls His own.

Let me encourage you. The next time you find yourself in a tight spot, battered and nearly broken, remember God is closer than your tub surround. You don’t have to open your eyes to find Him. Slip out your hand and lean into His strength. Draw peace from His presence. He’s right there.

“Never will I Ieave you; never will I forsake you.” Deuteronomy 31:6, Hebrews 13:5 NIV1984

*A Way of Seeing, by Edith Schaeffer, is a collection of sixty essays with fresh insights on biblical Truth.

About the Author
Sandra Allen Lovelace is a continuing missionary, a pastor’s wife emeritus, and a homeschool pioneer. She’s a well-respected speaker and author known for her candor and warmth. Sandra’s current manuscript invites wallflower women to reach for the life God intends them to live. She enjoys hiking with a camera in her hand, best done on an international adventure. Sandra and her husband Curt are transitioning to South Carolina.

Get to know Sandra at her website, http://sandraallenlovelace.com/

You can also connect with Sandra on Facebook. If you contact her at Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, or Instagram she’ll be delighted with a reason to practice.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Authenticity and Some Good Advice: An Interview with Sandra Allen Lovelace

Her eyes were bright and her smile contagious, but it was her spirit—something in the set of her backbone and the confident lift of her chin—that drew the attention of everyone at the table. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t have known she was the same woman I’d met two years earlier. After one of those lunches where you forget to eat, I knew I had to share her story with you!

Sandra Allen Lovelace grew up on the coast of Connecticut. Forty-eight years ago, she met and married her husband, Curt, in college. For thirty years, the Lovelaces served in paid pastoral ministry. In the early years, their isolated, international locations meant Sandra didn’t have encouragement from other ministry wives, so she had to figure things out on her own.

I asked Sandra about her calling alongside her husband’s paid ministry, and I think you’ll appreciate her be-yourself attitude. She explained,

We did our best to help others realize I was Curt’s wife and not a co-pastor. At the same time, I saw my responsibility as his wife to come along side and support him in any way I could. Making our home a place he could find peace and harmony was at the top of the list. After that came the task of teaching and training our two children. However, I found myself contributing a fair amount of hands-on participation to his ministry—regular hospitality, attention to newcomers, ladies Bible studies and retreats, curriculum for children’s ministry, cleaning and reorganizing his office and storage areas. There were limits though. I don’t play piano and I’ve been known to forget to add the tuna to a tuna noodle casserole. I never taught Sunday School and only provided refreshments for VBS. Organizing typical ministries, such as meals to shut-ins or secret sisters wasn’t my thing.

Some challenges are unique to minister’s wives. Like many of us, Sandra struggled with the impossible task of trying to please everyone in the church. Looking back on those years, she advises us, “No matter what’s going on around you, remember your life is lived before an audience of One. And by His all-sufficient grace, it’s the condition of your heart He values.” She turned to Romans:

"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death."
 -Romans 8:1-2 NIV

Sandra wants you to know she wasn’t the “super saint” people thought her to be while she served beside her husband all those years. And being a pastor’s wife didn’t turn her into a saint either. (I think we can all agree with that for ourselves, too.) She says, “I’m merely an everyday pilgrim along with my brothers and sisters. I make my way with the same Spirit all believers share.” It’s the Spirit Paul described to Timothy:

"For the spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline."
  -2 Timothy 1:7 NIV

She concludes, “What He does for me He can and will do for anyone who comes with a confessing heart.”

When Curt retired, Sandra had to redefine her calling and untangle her role in the church (pastor’s wife) from her role in her family (Curt’s wife). She didn’t retire from being his wife! At about the same time, God began to work in Sandra’s heart in a fresh way. Here’s how she describes it:

My New Look is the outward expression of the recovery God has been granting me. I cried out to Him in desperation when I realized I was a wallflower woman. While the lives of everyone around me benefited from my contributions, I was trapped flat in the wallpaper. There was so much more I wanted to do, felt gifted to pursue. The first hint God might have created me for more than I knew came at a retreat where my true and quirky self was accepted and celebrated. Since then it’s been a thrilling adventure of getting to know the One who calls me the apple of His eye. I’m writing a book about the process to encourage and guide other wallflower women to reach for the life God created them to live.

That straight back and confident chin I first noticed? In Sandra, I found a woman fully enjoying who God created her to be, delighting in her new-found freedom as a daughter of the King, and digging more deeply into God’s purpose and calling than the “wallflower woman” ever could. And that’s attractive.

You’ll get to know much more about Sandra soon because she’s a new columnist for Pastor’s Wives! Give her a big welcome here, and be sure to leave a comment for me or Sandra if this brief interview blessed you.

#PastorsWives #Interview: Your life is lived before an audience of one. @pwconnect @SandraALovelace @Carole_Sparks (click to tweet)

Question for reflection: It always helps our perspective when we verbalize what we’ve learned from our experiences. Even if you’ve been in ministry for only a few years, what’s your best advice for a new pastor’s wife? Feel free to share that advice in the comments below.

About the Author:

Carole Sparks is passionate about God’s Word—about how it can change our everyday lives! After years of globetrotting, she now lives, learns, and loves (plus a good bit of writing) in the hills of East Tennessee. Connect with Carole through her website, http://carolesparks.com or her blog, http://notaboutme1151.wordpress.com.

You can also find Carole on 
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