Wednesday, October 15, 2008

My One True Desire

I have made a commitment to God, my husband, my family and myself that I wasn't going to go through this study quickly. I am going to take it slow, chew on it, meditate on it, apply it. I want to be real about it. I don't want to say I am going to do something about it and then just stuff in the back corner of my mind for "someday". I want it to be my heart beat that I am to first submit my heart to Christ and die daily, and secondly submit willingly to my husband and serve my family.

Because of that, I am still stuck on the introduction. I'll probably be there for a month! But I have to tell myself that is okay. I am one of those types of people who loves to make lists. And I love even more to mark things off of my list. I guess it gives me a some sense of control and accomplishment. But I don't want to add this study to my to-do list. I want it to BE my to-do list. I want my life to be about this one thing. I know that may sound extreme, but really I am a control freak who needs to let go.

One thing Sunny said in the introduction was to pray for the Holy Spirit's pruning in your life. But you know, I am like just about every other American Christian I know. I like to be comfortable. It doesn't feel good to go deeper because most of the time I don't like what is there and it hurts. I mean, really, really hurts.

My childhood was not the happiest of childhoods and I had huge resentment issues with my parents. I ran away from home on several occasions, was kicked out on probably even more occasions, lived with my grandparents for a time and on and on. It was rocky to say the least. But all of that led me to run away for good when I went to college. I just wanted to get away, far away. Little did I know it was that very decision that would bring me back home.

While at college I became a Christian after reading a required reading assignment from one of my classes. The reading assignment was Ephesians. You can read more about it here. But when I became a Christian I made a deal with God. No, actually it was more than that. I told God what I was NOT going to do. I told Him I was not going to forgive my father. Well, I bet you can guess what God thought of me telling Him what I was going to do (there's that control thing again, rearing it's ugly head).

Little by little, God began to work on my heart. He began to show me who my father was, where he had come from, the hurts he had endured. He opened my heart and eyes to the fact that he was just a single dad trying to do right by me the best way he knew how. Yes, those hurts I experienced were very real, but God took the sting away. And after a couple of years, I finally let all of that go. I mean I really let it go. Sometimes I share things with people if it gives them hope, but the hurt is just not there anymore.

I share all of this to tell another story. Even though I had forgiven my dad we still fought like crazy when we were together. It is true, we just don't see eye to eye on a lot of things. I had just come to the conclusion that I would have to keep putting my heart out there and keep forgiving. I really felt that was what God was asking me to do.

A couple of summers ago my dad and I got into this huge fight. He was here in town and I stormed out, (I am good at running away) taking my kids with me. Rick stayed behind to try to talk to my dad. He was defending me. As I stood outside of the door to my grandparent's house listening to them talk my dad had some not very kind words to say about me to my husband. Oh my, did those words sting. My dad said I was using my kids against him by taking them away and that I was being manipulative. He said he feared for my marriage because of the way I acted sometimes. You know why those words were so incredibly hurtful? Because they were true.

It took me all of about five minutes after we left to realize it and to say to Rick, "I can't just let this go." You see, I come from a family of yellers and I am a reformed yeller myself. It was amazing to me when I met Rick and his family that they didn't scream at each other. He helped to see something better. But my family would fight and scream and yell daily, and then act as if nothing ever happened. But I would hold onto these things on the inside and tear myself up. But this time was different. I decided to put a stop to all of that.

In an unprecedented move, I put down my pride, picked up the phone and called my dad. I told him that his words hurt, that I was an adult and I didn't appreciate being screamed at like that. I have always been very sensitive and for the first time I tried to make him understand how the yelling just hurt. Why couldn't we just talk like normal people? I am not an unreasonable person and usually if someone points out something I did wrong in a gentle way I listen and take it to heart. And I was in the wrong for sure. And you know what my dad said? He said, "I'm sorry". Those are two words I have never heard him say before.

He also said other things. We talked about some of the things that had happened in our past. You see, I had never told him I had forgiven him because I didn't think it was necessary. It was just a work that God had done in my heart and I just loved my dad. All of it was water under the bridge to me. It had been 12 years in the past when some of this stuff had happened. But Dad says to me, "But it's still right here for me, Lisa." Wow. That just broke my heart. I finally saw the forgiveness I needed. And you know what I said? I said, "I'm sorry." I had said it before, but it was different for some reason. I meant it before but I guess I never realized how much I had hurt him. I was a different person back then. That is not an excuse but I guess I figured since Jesus forgave me, then it was taken care of.

My dad said one more thing before he hung up. He said "I love you Lisa." Those were words rarely heard as well. And you know what? We have not had one single fight since that day. God has done something truly amazing. He has opened doors that I considered sealed shut. I had lost hope and faith that things could ever be right.

I share all of this because this is the awesome power of God at work in my life. And I know this is what happens when I submit. But it is so hard. There is so much unspoken hurt that comes to the surface when you allow him access to every little corner of your heart. But there is healing on the other side. And oh how beautiful that is. You walk through fire to get there, but you realize that the fire is what brought the healing. That is God's purifying work in the heart of one who lets go.
Deuteronomy 4: 35-36
35 You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God;
besides him there is no other.
36 From heaven he made you hear his voice to discipline you.
On earth he showed you his great fire,
and you heard his words from out of the fire.
Here is a quote Sunny shares with us in the introduction:
Fran Sciacca:
"A major distinction exists between the ancient marble-crafters and the God of eternity, however. They worked with lifeless stone, and what emerged was the product of their own skill and choice. But God depends upon us to hold His chisel and welcome the blows of His tools. A necessary cooperation exists between the Master and His work. We must submit to become what He so faithfully wills to form. Becoming like Jesus Christ must be at the center of our understanding of what it means to be a child of God on this side of eternity. And like the artisans of old, God's methods necessitate pain, the removal of what we might rely upon, and great amounts of time and patience....There's much within each of us that would implore the Master to quit the work, to let us be content as an unfinished piece. We are frail people living in formidable times. Pain, difficulty, suffering, loss, and rejection are regarded as enemies in our postmodern world. But in the hands of a loving Father, afflictions and difficulties are meant to be the agents of glorious change for those who submit to the work of the Master's hand."

I am not saying that I have mastered this by any means. This is just one example in my life. Too often I am way too prideful and caught up in myself and my own selfish desires to see what I really need. And that is for Him to prune me. So here is my prayer today:

Holy Spirit, prune me, refine me, shape me. Help me to be transformed by the renewing of my mind more and more into the likeness of my Savior. Allow me to submit my heart to your discipline, so I may share in your holiness and righteousness. May my life bear the fruit of your work in my heart. Make this my one true desire. Amen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Coincidence?...I think not

Wow, two times in as many days. I know you are all amazed!

Well, I jumped in, with both feet, to that new Bible Study today. You know the one. The "S" word, remember?

Anyway, today's homework from the introduction to the study has to do with writing some thoughts on a couple of verses Sunny posted, but before I do that I have to back up to yesterday.

One of the things I have committed to doing in order to fully commit to this study is to get up earlier. I did not want the time I spent studying to interfere with my pre-designated family time. While, I realize that ultimately, what I am doing here, has the potential to have an eternal impact on my family and hopefully many generations after me, I know my family needs me fully present at certain times of the day-so earlier rising seemed the best option.

I have to say that 6 am rolls around awfully early for me. But I have made a commitment to an hour a day and I need to be up before Rick and the kids in order to accomplish that. So anyway, I get up yesterday, fairly awake, ready to go. I was seriously pumped. And so I started journaling.

Journaling is something I LOVE to do. Yes, even at 6 am. I wrote out this prayer to God: "Lord, be with me. Search my heart and see me. See if there is anything undesirable there. Make my desire for you. Help me to fight and defeat the schemes of the enemy, who seeks to keep me in the pit. But even there you are. Help me to bring honor and glory to you in my role as wife and mother. You are my King. Amen"

I realized, starting this study, that in order to biblically submit to my dear husband, I had to submit to my dear Lord. I shared in my last post about how incredibly difficult this is for me. Look up "strong-willed" in the dictionary and there you will see my picture. So, that was my prayer to start this journey. Nothing fancy or deeply theological about it. Just an admittance of my great need for help.

From that prayer this thought has been stuck in my head since yesterday morning. "Search my heart Lord." Sometimes I like to memorize little portions of Scripture and keep repeating them to myself throughout the day when my thoughts get off track. For example, when I was overwhelmed with the busyness that is the life of a homeschooler, and I FINALLY recognized that I had lost my focus, I would repeat this to myself. When I got impatient with the kids, there it was again. When I was tempted to argue with my husband...yep, you guessed it, there again. Now don't get the wrong impression. I am not this super-spiritual person who knows all this Scripture and goes around quoting it all day long. No, it is TOTALLY and COMPLETELY the power of the Holy Spirit. God's Word says that it will not return void. What a beautiful truth that is.

I just love it when that happens-when God brings to mind a certain Scripture throughout the day. I will say, that I have learned the hard way, that I should probably listen. (Yeah, my picture is next to hard-headed too). I think that is probably why God feels the need to repeat Himself. And honestly, I never cease to be amazed.

Have you ever read a Scripture during morning devotions and then had the opportunity to speak about it with a friend later? Have you ever thought of a song and then find it playing on the radio as soon as you turn it on? Have you ever had a sermon on a particular passage of Scripture and then you go home and you have en e-mail that talks about it as well? That happens to me ALL the time.

Coincidence?...I think not! (Not that I believe in them anyway).

We have been studying the life of Joseph in our Bible lessons at home. And lo and behold, what do you think the pre-schoolers did for a craft and story a couple of weeks ago. Joseph! Our pastor talked about a "ziggurat" during a service where Madison was with us and that very week one of our assignments was to make one. Talk about experiencing the Word!

Coincidences?...well, you know what I am going to say.

Anyway, imagine my surprise this morning as one of the Scriptures Sunny wanted us to comment on was this:

Psalm 139:23-24
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.

The exact same Scripture that had been going over and over in my mind yesterday! How cool is that?

Coincidence?...oh no, it's a God-thing!

I am not sure exactly how to answer Sunny's question about how these verses have impacted me and my family. But I can't wait to find out! So these verses have become my prayer for the week and for this study. I know that without some serious self-confrontation that I will not willingly submit my heart to my Lord and to my husband. Instead, I will continue to do what I have always done-look out for my own good, fight to get my way. (Stubborn-that's my picture too.) I want God to expose my sin and discipline me in His righteousness. I want to be God's girl.

Incidentally, here is the second passage we were asked to comment on:

Psalm 19:14
14 May the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

I am adding that to my prayer. I love this verse because it is basically saying, I want to glorify you in all I do. When you say the "words of my mouth" (the things you speak) and "meditations of my heart" (the things you think)-that pretty much covers it all. In all I do, I want to please my Lord-even if that means not being pleased myself. I want to put aside myself-strong-will, hard-headedness, stubborness-all of it. I choose to lay it all down for my Lord. After all, look what He laid down for me.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Biblical Submission

Now there's a title that will grab your attention!

You know what I am talking about, right ladies? That one word in the Scriptures, that many of us, if we were truly honest with ourselves, would rather it not be there. BUT, you know what? It is, so we have to deal with it. We can try to explain it away. We can pretend it only applied in a certain time. It certainly isn't for us "liberated" women is it?

Sorry, sistas! WRONG-O! Life will not get easier if you just ignore this one little word. So I have decided not to.

(By the way, for all of you guys who read the blog, don't stop reading, remember you are to be submissive as well.)

I used to teach a ladies' Bible Study at my church. In just about every study I did, this word would come up. I always wondered why it was such a stumbling block. Part of it has to do with our culture I think, and the lies Satan would have us believe about who we are supposed to be as women. We don't have to take nothin' from nobody, right? Don't tell me you haven't thought it. I have actually had a strong Christian woman tell me that Paul was a chauvinist for what he wrote about women. Part of it has to do with our own sin nature, whose roots we can trace all the way back to the Garden. We just don't wanna!

I can't tell you how much this perspective breaks my heart. And let me tell you, if there was once a woman with more of a rebellious, independent spirit than me I would be amazed. So I am not speaking as one who does not understand. I do. I know. I have bucked every authority God has placed in my life. My father, my pastor, my government, my husband and my God. I have been there and I am here to say it isn't pretty.

The purpose of this first post on this topic, however, is to guide you to the study I am doing. There is a link on the left side of our blog or you can find it here. The study is being led by a sweet sister in Christ with a passion for directing people, women in particular, to the Word of God and to living lives in passionate devotion and service to Him (at least that is my impression).

But she also tends to be a bit of a slave-driver. Just kidding Sunny! Actually there is homework that goes along with every lesson and one of the assignments is posting an entry on our personal blog about what we are learning and how we are growing as we are journeying (is that a word?) to become biblically submissive women.

So my first assignment is to write a little about myself, how I came to find the blog and why I want to do the study. Is this not the coolest? This is Bible Study the 21st century way (but the message is the same), connected with women around the globe. I mean, is that just not so neat? Who gets opportunities like that on a daily basis, to join hearts and prayers with sisters on the other side of the world, and right next door? Very powerful stuff, but I digress. (Shocking I know).

My name is Lisa. I am an almost 31 year old woman (Yikes!). My wonderful husband is Rick, God's gift to me. We have been married for nearly 8 years and together for about 11. This, in itself, is a miracle. Just ask my dad. I was raised by a single dad and he will tell you that I am an extremely difficult person to live with. You might call me high maintenance. While motherhood has mellowed some of that out of me, my husband does not have it easy. A sad truth? Rumor has it that people were placing bets at our reception on how long our marriage would last. An even sadder reality? I think we have beaten them all! Praise the Lord for His grace and mercy and for a most patient, loyal, faithful and loving husband. Love you sweetie! It's been a wild ride but there is no one I would rather share it with.

I am also a mother of three. We have a 6 year old daughter, a 3 year old son and our second son will be one in less than a month (yikes!). And just to answer the question everyone always asks, yes there will be more little Epsteens. I am a stay-at-home, home-schooling mom. So that pretty much sums up my life.

I am a former Director of Women's Ministries for my church. (Be patient with the website, it's under construction). I share this part of my life not to toot my own horn, but to show how God has been working in my life recently. I LOVE women's ministries. My background is in biblical counseling and I love speaking to, encouraging and teaching women. It is one of my greatest passions. However, as the demands on my schedule have increased with homeschooling and other responsibilities I started to realize that my family was getting my leftovers. Don't get me wrong, I loved my ministry and my church. But after much prayer and seeking the guidance of my husband I realized I had to step down. This was such a hard decision to make, but I have recently come to realize that my primary biblical responsibility and ministry is to my family. Even more important is maybe the realization that that is okay. We stay-at-home moms often struggle to find significance in what we do. But I cannot sacrifice my family for my church. And I know my church does not expect me to. I was very nervous as I turned in my resignation but the outpouring of love and support I received from my church body was overwhelming to say the least.

So my family is my ministry. Husband first, kids second. I cannot really remember how I came to find the study but when I did I knew I wanted to do it, that I needed to do it. I ask that you, our faithful blog-readers, and you, the ladies participating in the study, join me in prayer as I seek to remain faithful to my commitment to complete this study. My deepest hope, sincerest desire and most lofty prayer is that I can become more and more like the One who saved me from my desperate life of sin and bring glory to Him in all that I do. Dirty laundry, poopy diapers and all.

And if you feel so led, won't you consider joining me on this study? If you do, leave me a comment so I can encourage you and be in prayer for you.