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Showing posts with label Carole Sparks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carole Sparks. Show all posts

06 March

When the Calling and the Children Collide

We’re moving again. The kids will have new schools again. We’ll get to know new neighbors and new local shops again. How can this be good for my children? Kids need stability and routine, and we’re about to toss them in the air. Again.

My ministry responsibilities pull me away when they’re at home. What about my responsibilities as a parent, my calling to be a mom? What if they need me while I’m out counseling someone else?

They don’t know the Bible stories and the Sunday School songs other children know. They have no consistent Godly influences in their lives except my husband and me. I have to teach them everything they need to know about the Bible, God, faith, and Jesus! How can I possibly do that? (This was while we lived overseas.)

Does any of this sound familiar? I’ve thought…okay, said...all these things over the years.

The calling to be a minister isn’t an individual proposition. If your husband is called into church leadership or some other kind of ministry, his family is called as well. Chances are, you too are called, and no matter what, you want to stand alongside your husband in ministry. There’s seminary to consider for one or both of you, as well as possible cross-country moves and the inevitable odd demands of life in ministry: late-night visits, working while others relax, preparation for the next meeting. It takes a toll on your family life…on your children.

In fact, some of those ministry decisions appear detrimental to our children’s development. They go against conventional parenting wisdom. But here’s what I want you to know:

God loves your children more than you love them.

God not only wants the best for your children, but He is actively pursuing it. He knows their future occupations and experiences. He knows what they need right now to move toward their own callings. He smiles on children, loves them, protects them. Even on the days when you should have stayed home but you put the ministry ahead of your own family, He filled in your gaps.

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. -1 Peter 5:6-7

If He has called you far away from family and friends, He will take care of you. If the lean years of seminary mean you can’t afford a Christmas tree, He will sustain you. If your kids don’t get to go to Sunday School for all their elementary years, He will open their minds to His Word in other ways.

He did all that for us—and more. I’m counting on Him to continue, too, because we’re planning to move. Again.
Question for reflection: Do you feel the pull of differing responsibilities? Do you sometimes feel the clash between your calling to be a parent and to minister outside your home? How can you cast all that anxiety on Jesus because he cares for you…and your children?

Need more? Check out this post on my blog: When Guilt Grounds Me.

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.

06 February

God for Us and our Marriages

A year ago this month (February), we stood in a marriage retreat with our church.

Often, families in ministry don’t sit together in services. Even more often (and not just for people in ministry), husbands and wives don’t sit next to each other because…well, you know…kids. Often, families in ministry have responsibilities before, during, and/or after services, so it’s easy to get distracted or be pulled away just as we draw our focus onto worship.

Let’s be really honest here: An intense love for the Lord doesn’t mean corporate worship time is automatically easy.
So with no children at this retreat and no responsibilities, I enjoyed the chance to stand with my husband in worship. We held hands while we sang. (I felt kinda cute…)

The worship pastor had chosen a new song for the occasion: God With Us, by Jesus Culture, and it took me a few repetitions before I could really listen to the words I was singing.

As we returned to the chorus for perhaps the third time, my mind was drawn toward our hands linked between us, and I began to think about the repeated “us” in the chorus. It could apply to my husband and myself just as much as to the greater church community.

Consider this:

God with us
In the beautiful and the difficult places, He is present. Yes, there’s this:

If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  -Psalm 139:8-10

But what about the near-by places? Have you thought about these as well?
·         In the loan office at the bank
·         In the bathroom, puking
·         In the delivery room
·         In the doctor’s office where we again hear, “Not this month”
·         In bed (yes, there too)
·         On that trans-continental Skype call
·         At the quiet little restaurant where we celebrate our anniversary
·         Through our worst fights

And in a thousand other places, God never fails (Lamentations 3:22), never quits on us, never takes away His grace. This applies not only to me as His child, but to us as an example of His love (Ephesians 5:25-31).

God for us
God is for our marriages! When it feels like everything in our culture is trying to tear us apart or convince us to quit, God is still rooting for beautiful, long-term, covenant marriages.
Nothing can come against
Our unity makes us stronger than one standing alone. We pull each other up, support each other, and bear burdens together. We cannot be crushed, cannot be swept away. When one is weak, the other is strong. When one cries, the other shouts (Ecclesiastes 4:12, Galatians 6:2).

No one can stand between us

What God has joined together, let no one separate.  -Matthew 19:6 NIV

As long as we hold tight to Him and each other, no earthly entity can separate us, and certainly no created person. God Himself has made us one.

Trying reading Romans 8:38-39 with your name and your husband’s in place of “us.”

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, or any powers, neither height or depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate [husband’s name] and me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  -Romans 8:38-39 NIV (amended)

If neither of us is separated from the love of God, then neither are we separated from each other. Such strength in His love!

Our marriage retreat weekend was filled with encouragement, fun, and Spirit-led learning, but my biggest take-away revolved around this new song. Our families are the body of Christ just as the larger church community is His body. The New Testament truths about church (e.g. John 17:23, Ephesians 4:1-3, even 1 Corinthians 12, just to name a few) are also true of your family and mine.

Question for Reflection: What Biblical truth about the church would you like to “own” for your marriage?

Has a worship song (or some other seemingly unrelated thing) specifically blessed your marriage? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!


Carole Sparks is a Bible study writer who sees God’s hand in the mundane and the magnificent. (That’s her Twitter bio.) After twenty-one years, she still finds nothing mundane about holding hands with her husband and something magnificent in the way they now have the same ideas without even trying. You can also catch up with her on Facebook or her blog.

05 December

The “Perfect Christmas”

Before we had children, it didn’t matter to me for some reason. I would have celebrated Christmas at a dirt track if that’s where we happened to be. But once we had children, I found myself dreaming about a perfect Christmas.

My perfect Christmas didn’t have to have snow on the ground, although that would have helped, but everyone would get up early, though not too early. They would gladly wait to open presents while drinking coffee/hot chocolate. The kids would be quiet while we read the Christmas story (or maybe even acted it out). We would have a time of prayer and thanksgiving around the tree. Everyone in the family would enjoy the food, spontaneously burst into carols, and get along. And most importantly, we would be at home.

Are you laughing yet? Because the perfect Christmas never happens.

Like most girls, Mary, the mother of Jesus, probably imagined starting her own little family. Living in Nazareth, near her mother, sisters, aunts, and cousins, she would have enjoyed plenty of support and know-how for that scary labor-and-delivery…plus the even scarier first days at home with a newborn. But after a low-key marriage with no wedding-night intimacy, she got none of that. Instead, Joseph—a carpenter and a man (in a time when men didn’t know anything about babies)—yes, Joseph helped her deliver her baby in a stranger’s barn in a town miles away from her family. Then, the only people to visit her were a bunch of smelly shepherds (again, all men).

No one would call that a perfect scenario. No one dreams of living like that.

I don’t compare myself to Mary, but I think we still (even after all these years) have much to learn from her. Nothing in her life turned out like she anticipated, but she found contentment anyway. Mary traded a quiet existence for the quite extraordinary Emmanuel.

When I dream of some ideal Christmas, I put stress on myself and my family to live up to my unrealistic expectations. I end up disappointed, and my family ends up frustrated. Plus, I do something God never does with us: anticipate earthly perfection.

We travel every year at Christmas, and it usually rains. We invariably duplicate or royally miss it on someone’s gift. The cousins get in an argument…or three. Some distant relative gets offended. The food gets cold before we can gather everyone to eat. Some years (and I’m just being honest here), no one even mentions Jesus until after the wrapping paper is in the recycling bin and the cookie tray is down to crumbs.

But this year, I’m asking God to help me be okay with that. I’m trying to remember that even the first Christmas wasn’t ideal, and Mary, the first mother to observe Christmas, probably wasn’t too happy about how it went either. I mean, straw and shepherds? Really?

What counts—for Mary and for me—is the result of that first Christmas. Even though our plans may fall by the wayside, the perfect plan of God’s perfect son incarnating imperfect human flesh went exactly as planned.

And that’s enough.
Question for Reflection: What Christmas expectations do you need to reexamine? What can you release so that everyone—especially yourself—has a more peaceful Christmas?


Carole Sparks has celebrated Christmas in three countries and several states since she got married, but she’s still a sucker for Tender Tennessee Christmas. Sorry, but she hopes it doesn’t snow because, as usual, she’ll be travelling between grandparents those days. You might find her on social media (Twitter, Facebook, her blog) this month just because she needs an excuse to get some peace and quiet.

Carole, five days before Christmas last year.

07 November

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.

03 October

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.

13 September

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.

18 July

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 
FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

03 May

Be Who You Are

When I was growing up in the South, there was a stereotype for “pastor’s wife.” She was quiet, long-suffering, always serving but never in charge, always appropriately (and maybe slightly over) dressed, smiling, and just slightly holier than everyone else. My own pastor’s wife once told me she couldn’t tell some parents at our church about their children’s misbehavior because she was the pastor’s wife.

I used to pray, “Oh Lord, I will be and do anything you want, but please don’t make me a pastor’s wife. I can’t live like that!” So of course, I became a pastor’s wife! It’s one of those great ironies of the Christian life, isn’t it?

As I’ve said before, we walked into a first ministerial position with other wives who were diverse and fun. The church body expected us to be involved but in our own ways and in line with our different personalities. The pressures were minimal, except for those I put on myself.

We hadn’t been at this church for long when I went to a certain conference where they offered one class especially for new ministers’ wives. Of course, I signed up. I was so uncomfortable for the entire session! The instructor’s list of “should”s and “shouldn’t”s sucked me back into that mindset from my childhood, where the pastor’s wife could never go to the grocery store in sweatpants or skip a meeting at church. I sat there while my identity in Christ wrestled internally with archaic expectations of tradition. I was too young and inexperienced to say anything, but I escaped as quickly as possible.

I wish I had humbly but firmly spoken up that day, but even more, I wish I could lead a session like that now. Here’s what I would say:

1.      Be authentic. You are a work-in-progress, with areas where God has already given you victory and areas where you’re weak. Don’t celebrate your weaknesses, but don’t hide them either.
2.      Represent well. Whether you like it or not, you represent your husband and your church to the public. Before you walk out the door, take a moment to evaluate what others see. Your local culture will determine what’s acceptable.
3.      Take care of yourself. Spend time in the Word and foster a healthy lifestyle. Your current circumstances will determine what “healthy” means for you, and that’s okay!
4.      Prioritize. Take a look at the different elements of your life. Then prayerfully, intentionally choose where you will invest your energy. Knowing you’re following God’s will gives you confidence to continue down the path He has for you.

We’re not all destined to be demure, soft-spoken paradigms of modesty and humility. We are, however, all being conformed to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29), growing in the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23), and learning how to navigate the world He’s given us. God knew who you were and who you would become before He called you to this role. He wants you—the real you, not the fake, idealized model-pastor’s-wife version of you—to flourish in this calling! So be who you are.

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

11 April

Above All Else, Guard His Heart

I’ve heard it said a husband’s role is to guard the home entrusted to him while a wife’s role is to guard the hearts within that home. While responsibilities and roles in marriage vary widely, I like this image of husband and wife standing at the threshold of their home, arms locked, with him looking outward and her looking inward. Both are fiercely protective of the family God has given them, but they approach it in different ways.

King Solomon recognized the importance of protecting our hearts. He urged, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it” (Proverbs 4:23). While we can’t protect another person’s heart in the same way we protect our own, there are things we can do to make it easier for our husbands to guard their hearts.

The hardest part of a [ministry] career, Mr. Taylor found, is to maintain regular, prayerful Bible study. “Satan will always find you something to do,” he would say, “when you ought to be occupied about that, if it is only arranging a window blind.”[1]

It’s so easy to get distracted. One of the best ways to guard his heart is to make sure he has the mental and emotional—even the physical—space to spend time with the Father. Our husbands need to be “fed” by the Word of God just like everyone else, but it’s easy for vocational ministers to replace their personal quiet times with sermon preparation or other study. It’s also easy for us to think those precious few minutes he spends at home are ours to dictate. After all, curtains need hung, children need disciplined, grass needs mowed, and if he sat down for a cup of coffee with you…well, what could be more important than that?

Ladies, let me just say it: Nothing is more important to your marriage or your ministry than your husband’s intimacy with God.

Prioritize your husband’s personal time with God to see a stronger minister and a better #marriage. #pastorswives @Carole_Sparks (click to tweet)

As you ask God how to prioritize your husband’s quiet time without interfering in his relationship with God (because we don’t want to nag or play the Holy Spirit in their lives), consider a couple of broad applications.

1.      Clear the way for him to grow as God leads him.
For years, I got up first and started the coffee pot at our house. That made it easier for my husband to get up for his quiet time. (These days, it’s the opposite!) Anticipate the obstacles he’ll face tomorrow and do what you can to eliminate them.
2.      Back out of the way of his personal growth.
Be careful your expectations don’t occupy every moment he spends at home. For example, some things on your “honey do” list have been there for months. An extra hour in the morning on his day off isn’t going to make a difference.

If I prioritize my husband’s time alone with God, he will find it easier to continuing growing into the man God has created him to be!

Question for reflection: How can you clear the way or back out of the way so your husband has a greater opportunity for intimacy with God?

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

[1] Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret. Hendrickson: Peabody, Massachusetts. 2008 (pg. 201). The bracketed text was originally “missionary,” but the thought applies to all vocational ministers.

07 February

Hidden Assumptions

Her hair was dyed and styled with copious amounts of hairspray. Her eyeshadow was bold, what you could see behind the thick mascara, that is. She laughed loudly, dressed loudly, sang loudly. She was the opposite of most the women with whom I went to seminary.

As I sat down opposite her in a women-only Sunday School class at our new church, I decided she wasn’t very spiritual. I didn’t realize until later that I was making assumptions about her. Stereotyping, really. You see, I had never stopped to think how homogenous my seminary was. Sure, we had international students and a few students from varied ethnic backgrounds, but they were mostly quiet and studious, like me. After forty-one months on campus there, I had unwittingly internalized a spiritual ‘type’ for women.

Over the next few months, Cathy (not her real name) offered profound insights into our class study. She talked of past hurts and how God had used them to mature her faith. I watched her share generously with everyone around her, and my own family experienced her hospitality. She quoted Scripture and prayed earnestly.

But most importantly, Cathy loved. She loved hard. It was something I had forgotten how to do while my nose was stuck in a systematic theology book.

In other words, Cathy put me in my place, and I (thirteen years later) am still thankful for it. Sure, I had the classroom education, but she had the real-world experience our classmates needed more than they needed my historical facts and theological terminology.

Don’t misunderstand me. I relished seminary, and I am always thankful for it. God stretched and sustained me in new and wonderful ways while we were there. It just took me awhile to realize I inadvertently acquired some ‘notions’ at the same time. Cathy helped me expose them and gave me an example to follow—maybe not in makeup application but definitely in Christlikeness.

It’s easy to forget that God uses all types of people from all kinds of backgrounds. These days, it’s one of the things I love most about Him. (Read more about this in my post, Popcorn Conformity!) By this point, you’re probably thinking of the same Scripture passage that has come to my mind. Let’s read it anyway and think for a minute.

Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  -1 Corinthians 12:14, 18-20
Question for reflection: Is there a sister-in-Christ about whom you have made assumptions because of her appearance or personality? Ask God for a special dose of grace to see her as God sees her, then examine your own experiences for where that type of assumption was planted in your past so you can remove it completely.

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

24 January

Honoring Our Husbands Among Friends

By  Carole Sparks.

It’s a natural thing for married women. We get together. We talk. And often, the talk turns to our husbands. Then the talk of husbands turns downward. We begin to joke or complain about them. How often do you hear a wife praise her husband when she’s with her girlfriends? Not often? Me either. Perhaps it’s humility that stops us; no one wants to brag or be thought prideful, but perhaps—and let’s be brutally honest here—it’s just more fun and makes us feel superior to share their failures.

When you’re hanging out with your church friends and your husband is also their pastor, you simply cannot play this game! In order to fulfill his God-given responsibility as the church’s leader, he must be respected by the membership. In order for your girlfriends to submit to His leadership, they must honor him. Detailing your husband’s faults, however humorous, derails that respect.

  -Proverbs 31:23

This is one of the biggest challenges I faced as a new minister’s wife. I wanted to be accepted in my ladies-only Sunday School class. I wanted my peers to treat me like “one of the girls,” not like a party-pooper pastor’s wife who frowned on their fun. I had already learned, however, that husbands need respect in their marriages more than anything else. Emerson Eggerichs, in Love & Respect, encourages wives to guard their tongues and never tell stories that demean their husbands, neither in his presence nor in his absence.

It was hard, though, because my husband has committed some doozies, and they are fun-ny! I learned to ask his permission before sharing any story that was even slightly negative, and to be sure I included how he resolved the situation as part of the story.

But more importantly, I learned to think about my husband differently, to “take captive every thought” about him in particular (in the spirit of 2 Corinthians 10:5). Honoring my husband had to start in my heart.

Over time, I commandeered Philippians 4:8 for my purposes. While this isn’t exactly what Paul intended when he wrote it, I think this application fits into the purpose of the text. Try it with me. I’ve added blanks to the verse. Put your husband’s name there.

Finally, …self, whatever is true about _____________, whatever is noble about _____________, whatever is right about _____________, whatever is pure about _____________, whatever is lovely about _____________, whatever is admirable about _____________—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy in _____________—think about such things.  -Philippians 4:8, with additions

Can you think of one true thing about your husband? One lovely thing? One praiseworthy thing? By stopping each negative thought and instead willing yourself to “think about such things” as these, you will gradually transform your perspective on your husband and find you don’t even want to tell the embarrassing stories.

The wife must respect her husband. -Ephesians 5:33b

I still have to apologize to my husband sometimes because I’ve spoken without thinking and dishonored him among friends, but this practice of thinking on the positive things has protected his honor and—bonus!—improved our marriage.

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

01 November

When “Home for the Holidays” Isn’t Possible

Ministers work when everyone else is on vacation. Someone has to lead the Wednesday night prayer service just before Thanksgiving. Many churches have a Christmas Eve service or three, and if Christmas is on the weekend, your pastor will be there. When your pastor is also your husband, these situations often indicate you’ll spend the holidays away from your extended family.

I’m not discounting the loneliness that arises because of these situations. It’s real. If, however, you choose to redeem the distance, you may find greater significance and some special memories in your new normal.

Four Ways to Redeem the Distance at Thanksgiving

1.      Evaluate what’s really important about the holiday.
Chances are, your previous Thanksgivings were taken up in the stress of preparing your own home or taking your family to someone else’s home. Either way, you were thankful, but giving thanks probably wasn’t at the top of your to-do list. This year, be thankful for the lack of distractions, then take some time to really think about thanksgiving. Not Pilgrims and Indians (although that’s fun) but gratitude for the previous year. Search the Scriptures (Psalms are a good place to start) for verses that help you generate gratitude; make crafts with your children or decorate a board with one of the verses. (There are probably a thousand ideas on Pinterest to help you do this.) Let your actions become an act of worship.

2.      Establish your own special traditions.
What did you love about Thanksgiving as a child? As you’ve grown as a Believer, what do you realize has been missing from your past observances? Now you have the opportunity to incorporate those things into your family story! Maybe one of your activities from above will become an annual practice.

3.      Bless others.
Most of the time, our holidays are centered on our extended families and those feel-good, kin-folk moments, but many people will be lonely this Thanksgiving. Seek out others in your church or community who also cannot travel and invite them to your home for Thanksgiving. If you want to maintain the eat-until-you’re-stuffed tradition, this is the way to do it! In opening your home (or carrying your hospitality to someone else’s home) you’ll lose your own loneliness without even realizing it.

4.      Schedule time with family outside the holidays.
We don’t want to distance ourselves from our families, so before the holiday arrives, make sure everyone knows why you won’t be there. Find a time when you can visit each family and schedule it now so that, when the holiday hits, you and your extended family will have something to look forward to.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to be a dreary, lonely time just because you can’t be “home for the holidays.” Remember God has placed you in this place for a purpose. You can choose to redeem the distance and glorify God in your right-here right-now.

Come back next month, and I’ll tell you about our first sweat-drenched Christmas overseas!

In the meantime, what about you? How have you redeemed the distance when you couldn’t travel for the holidays?

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 FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

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