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Money Matters

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There was a time in my life when I was scared of money. I remember it vividly. It was only four years ago (and all the years prior to 2016). I did not realize it was fear that was operating in my life. I just thought I was living out the premise of Philippians 4 where Paul told us that he has learned to be abased and to abound and he (and us) can do all things (like living with little or with much) through the strength of Christ. I encourage you to go read that chapter and verse in the proper context. Despite what we believers have decided to make the verse mean, it is not a verse about our ability to do EVERYTHING. Apostle Paul was literally talking about the fact that as believers who carry the grace of God, we can be content with life in whatever state we happen to find ourselves.

Anyway, back to the subject at hand. I thought I had learned to be content with little. Wasn’t that the goal of every believer’s life? I took a spiritual gifts test during that time and my highest scoring goal was poverty.

Yes. Poverty.

The cycle of struggle in my household had become so repetitive that I was convinced that God was keeping me poor to keep me holy. Yup. Money was nothing but trouble and God wanted to make sure that I had just enough to almost cover my expenses but nothing more. So, I embraced the cycle of lack. We did our best with my husband’s wages and I did not attempt to make any more money from my fledgling business. I just focused my attention on our young children and comforted myself with the thought that if I could not be a income earner, I was at least a good wife and mother. That had to be enough.  I never fully admitted how much my fear of failure, fear of success and fear of money were driving all of my decision making during that time. I really thought I was doing what God wanted of me. God told us not to love money right? So if I did not do anything to get any more money, that had to be proof that I was not money hungry, right?

But do you know you can be poor and still have an inordinate amount of affection for money? I sure didn’t. I thought that as long as I was living paycheck to paycheck and not looking for more than covering my basic necessities, I was safe from the love of money – the root of all evil.

But I would come to find out that the LACK of money was fully capable of ruling my life just as much as having several fistfuls of cash, and the outcome was just as destructive. My fear of money built an obstacle against my faith in God. I did not trust God for more – if He wanted me to be poor what was the point of me applying for new jobs or trying to create new opportunities for myself – they were not going to work anyway. So, I spent years running away from new risks and challenges because my fear of money had morphed into a fear of failure and success.

Changing my mindset about money took several interventions. I had dozens of conversations with my parents that did not quite do the trick. I had ongoing conversations with my husband that finally helped me breakthrough my fear of failing at new things. And I had a session with a money mindset coach that absolutely transformed my thinking (shoutout to Toyin Crandell; if you don’t know that name, Google her!). Changing my mind about money and getting God’s perspective was a work of deliverance that God had to do in my life. I am so deeply grateful that the Lord opened my eyes to the ways I was shooting myself in the foot all while crying out for Him to rescue me, bless me or provide for me.

Money is a terrible master but a wonderful servant. Money is supposed to serve us believers as we endeavor to bring the Kingdom of heaven to earth. Heaven lacks nothing good, so why should the life of a believer who God has blessed with the power to make wealth and fund kingdom projects be a life wasted in worry about the basic necessities of life? God will provide for us – just as He feeds the birds, and clothes the lilies. But God has also given us an extraordinary amount of gifts, talents and wealth-generating ideas for us to sinfully sit and do nothing about them while the world languishes in lack, waiting for the manifestation of the sons and daughters of God (Romans 8:19). Children of God (creative, educated, intelligent, with an extraordinary amount of privilege in a world where the vast majority lives on less than a dollar a day) whose means are able to answer the needs created by poverty, disease, famine and many more world crises. We are created in the image of God to be problem-solvers on this earth. If the only problem we ever solve is how to feed and clothe ourselves and our own household, then I honestly believe we have not even scratched the surface of the abundant life that God intends for us.

Money answereth all things (Ecclesiastes 10:19, KJV). That does not mean money is the only thing you need in the world. Because as believers, we know that without Christ, all the money in the world is meaningless. But does it not make the most sense for children of God, who operate with God’s wisdom to be the one with the means to solve the problem in such a way that brings the Kingdom of God to earth? It does to me.

This post is a very #FirstWorldProblems centered post. Obviously, if you are in the same boat as a majority of the world that has no guarantee of their next meal or a roof over their head, you are not the one being charged with funding the solutions that I truly believe already lie in the hearts, minds or hands of children of God. But if you happen to live in the Western Hemisphere of the world and you know you are privileged in some ways (educated, housed – meaning not homeless, able-bodied, etc.), you have a duty to spend your privilege wisely. And one of the best ways to do that is to make the most of your opportunity rather than discounting them (and spending your entire life only consumed with you and your household).

There is more for you to do in the world than work, pay bills and die. Money matters. Find out what yours is supposed to do in this world for the sake of the Gospel.

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Stewarding the Vision

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In 2009 shortly after giving my life to Christ, I had a deep desire to mentor and minister to teenage girls – so I started a bible study and titled it “Daughters of Destiny.” I gathered a handful of girls between the ages of thirteen and sixteen at the time and mentored them weekly for over two years. When most of them dispersed for college and adulthood, it felt like my work was done. But the desire to continue to get in the trenches with young people and offer them this level of intensive one-on-one discipleship never went away. As I grew, my desire to minister to young people began to focus more on college aged and post-graduate women between the ages of 18 and 25. And as I have grown in the place of marriage, that desire to “do life” with other women has grown once again to include young wives, newlyweds and engaged women.

Over the last eleven years of my life, the unrelenting desire that I am supposed to be partnering with women in a way that eases the pain points in their life has never left me. I did not always understand that this was what people meant by a “calling.” I just knew that I enjoyed this work, I was good at it, and having hours long exchanges with younger women where I literally pour out everything God gives me to share with them did not leave me drained, they left me energized and ready to do it again as soon as my body was physically able.

I always thought it would take money to do this kind of work on a regular basis. If I wanted to meet with women, I needed money to travel to them or gather them together in some sort of meeting, right? I did not immediately realized that I was already doing the work that I felt called to do – by speaking one on one with young women around me, making myself available for phone calls that sometimes stretch into the night as I try my best to get them to understand how God sees them and their situation.

I was already hosting sleepovers for college-aged women in my home. I was already spending hours on college campuses in dorm rooms teaching and fellowshipping with other women. I was already joined in sisterhood with women younger than me whom I have taken into my heart as little sisters. I was already sharing whatever felt pertinent and necessary about my journey with women who connected with me on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. I was already living the vision I had in my heart of ministering to, encouraging and mentoring other women.

But because it did not look like big stages, conference invitations, and perfectly branded flyers and headshots, I thought I was being left behind while other women – those whose platforms were visible and identifiable – did the real work. I know better now. God did not call me to have the most amount of engagement on social media (although, I am still doing my best to do better with those numbers lol). God never asked me to get the best and most updated headshots. He certainly did not tell me that I needed a certain amount of money in the bank to qualify to minister to others. Those were restrictions I placed on myself because I was too afraid to call myself a minister of the gospel without all the trappings that often comes with public ministry.

My life is ministry. My obedience to God is ministry. My authenticity in Christ is ministry. And it is well past time to embrace it as such. I do not need to “do ministry” by having a following, a tour calendar and assistants galore. I needed to minister by recognizing those around me who are in need of what God has graced me to carry.

I get joy out of holding another wife’s hands and declaring her worth in her home and in the marketplace and letting her know that her paycheck or lack thereof do not determine her worth in her marriage or to God.

I get joy out of speaking words of life over a young person who is at a crossroads in their growth towards adulthood and letting them know that God is literally interested in the details of their life and their obedience to Him is the only determining factor by which they should measure their success.

There are things that come naturally to me, that give me joy and glorify God that I have minimized in their importance because I was not being paid or asked to do them. But that way of thinking is insulting to the God we serve. Is God only required to answer prayers when honorariums are given? Or does He hold back breakthrough and deliverance if there’s nobody there to introduce the guest preacher?

Many of the things I counted as “doing ministry” are just the practical necessities and sometimes the outer trappings of someone who operates on a worldwide stage. The size of the platform is not what qualifies a minister before God. Clean hands and pure hearts are what God looks for in those who call His name. Regardless of how I earn my bread and butter (currently as a consultant), I do not need to be paid for anything I do as a follower of Christ before I should call myself a minister of the Gospel. Jesus Himself called me to spread the gospel. I have no greater allegiance than to answer His call and steward the vision He placed of my heart – that every daughter of God who calls the name of Christ will live a full and authentic life, free of the bondage of the enemy and brimming over with the promises of God.

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Raising Myself

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I always assumed that motherhood itself would teach me what I needed to know once I started having children. I did not come in with any preconceived notions about who my children were going to be. I knew I would have to discover and nurture their individuality for myself. What I did not anticipate was how often I would be parenting my children the way that I was parented, even when I see that it is not working.

My parents did an amazing job; I honestly believed they did their very best for me as parents. But even their best efforts left me lacking in fundamentals that I believe are vital to development into whole, functional adulthood. As an adult, I have been faithfully filling in the gaps by the grace of God to ensure that I am not experiencing the world from a place of wounding, but rather a place of wholeness.

I see a lot of myself in my oldest son and it is disconcerting. We are both highly sensitive to harsh words, failures and punishment. We both have a deep desire to be seen, acknowledged and loved in overt ways. But even with that knowledge, I find myself raising him the way that I was raised even though many of my childhood experiences that are tied to the techniques I am repeating were not pleasant. Being punished (to inflict pain and humiliation) rather than disciplined (to correct and impart a lesson) had me convinced that my family hated me when I was much younger.

I see the same inclinations in my son. Yet I find myself defaulting to the mindset that demands unquestioned obedience from my children and brings the hammer down on any semblance of defiance, no matter how small. Because a disobedient child is the shame of any parent. Even if it’s just a developmental phase. Even if he’s only a toddler. I was programmed a long time ago that your children are yours to command and control and if they do not fall in line, you must break their will and build them back up.

But is that really what God has called me to do as a mother in the lives of my children? Break them down to build them back up? And in whose image? Because if I am more committed to raising “good kids” than helping them become who God called them to be then I am surely raising them into idolatry – creating them to look more like my own ideas so I can show the world that I am a good mother.

As I continue in this journey as a mom, I find myself not only raising my kids, but raising myself. Reparenting myself away from my own traumas and wounded inner-child and doing my very best to model wholeness to my offsprings rather than looking to them to heal me. It is not my children’s job to complete me. I need to do that work outside of them so that they can reap the benefit of a whole mother who loves securely.

Who knew at the age of thirty-six that I would be raising myself?

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I See You

There have been specific times in my life when I did not feel seen. It has happened at various times while I was growing up and even after I became an adult. The results were always devastating. Before I found a semblance of healing, my natural response was to get more and more outrageous in behavior until someone acknowledged me. I have since learned healthier ways to navigate my need to be seen, especially by those that I love.

So, in the spirit of camaraderie with anyone who is walking an exceptionally challenging valley right now, I am just here to say I see you.

To anyone who is still reeling from the impacts of childhood (and adult) trauma, I see you. I see you doing your best to heal from what wounded you. Even when you do not necessarily have all the tools. Jesus mourns with you in your mourning and He died to redeem you from its impact. Therapy, counseling and professional help is not shameful. It is a God-given tool in your deliverance and wholeness. Use them as often as the need arises and God will complete the work, in this life and the next.

To anyone who is waiting and waiting for God to fulfill the promise He made to you what seemed like many lifetimes ago. I see you. I see you being faithful even when others have long since abandoned the higher calling. I see you holding on to the flicker of hope left in your heart, willing the flame to live. And I see you mourning your empty hands that have failed to grasp what your heart so deeply desires. And I want you to know that you have every right to your pain. Your feelings are valid and you are not a bad Christian for mourning so deeply. Jesus knows our sorrows; He is with you and He loves you. You are not being punished. If God has promised, He will fulfill. Remain obedient, remain faithful and remain steadfast. He will uphold you in the waiting and your joy WILL be full.

To anyone grieving a loss that the world may not necessarily know about. I see you. And I know that you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. But fear not. Even in this seemingly desolate place, you are not forgotten. I see you carrying the sackcloth and ashes of your despair. I see you heavy under the weight of your loss. And God sees you. He will be with you. He will lead you beside still waters. He will restore your soul. You have gone out mourning but you will come back rejoicing. Cling ever closer to Calvary. Cry, weep, lay it all before Him. Yell, scream, give voice to the silent anger in your heart about the unfairness of what you are being tasked to carry. It is okay. God is not offended by your emotions. He created them and He is best capable of managing them. He will still love you in your anger. He will still love you in your pain. He is still with you in your mourning. He sees you and I see you.

To anyone whose marriage is in crisis or has drifted irrevocably towards divorce. I see you. And I am so sorry. This was not the future you imagined when you said your vows. This was not what we expected when you wore your dress and walked that aisle. This was not the outcome you planned for when you joined your lives or started your family. It has been said that divorce/separation is akin to the death of a loved one. You have every right to mourn this tragedy. I see you and I am praying for you. I am praying that the God of reconciliation and resurrection works in your heart as only He can do. That what man has called dead will hear the word of God and come back to life, better than before. I pray that the glory of your latter days will be greater than the former. You are not broken because your marriage failed. God can still make beautiful things out of these ashes. He can reconcile hearts to Himself and one another. He can rebuild what men have broken. He can do the impossible. Cling to the hope of resurrection and life. He will sustain you.

When you feel forgotten in your circumstance, know that you are fully known and fully loved by your Heavenly Father. He loves you and He sees you.

And so do I.

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When Marriage Is No Longer A Dream

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I am only six years and nine months into marriage. By most definitions I am still a newlywed, and thus I do not have all the answers. But I have some (this is the year of walking in God-given truth rather than false humility). I have walked through a few valleys in my short time as a wife, and I have been privileged to walk with other couples as they journeyed towards one flesh. I paid attention to how conflict, life-changes and even sin impacts marriages. I take special note when marriages come back from the brink of despair and divorce versus when they fall over the edge. There are lessons to learn in good times and in bad. And applying my heart to wisdom has saved me from some critical missteps.

When marriage is no longer a dream because the joy is gone – pray for and apply the grace to make yourself joyful. There are many times when I am convincing myself that areas of my marriage will get better when my husband starts or stops doing certain things. If he would only do xyz, then I could be happy. I have realized that being joyful is a heart position. If I wait on my husband to make me happy before I decide to choose happiness, I would be waiting a long time and building up resentment in the meantime. Joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit so before we go on with all the self-care suggestions, get before the Lord and pray for His joy to flood your heart. And begin to choose joy in every moment. If all you have to be grateful for in a day (because there are some really crappy days) is the fact that you are alive, then rejoice for the grace to see another day. And commit to trying for more joy tomorrow. If what infuses you with joy is a good book, some silence, quality time with your spouse/friends, music or even a good meal – go for it! Whatever you joy “hack” is, plan it for yourself and indulge to your heart’s content. Do not wait on your husband to make you happy. Infuse the joy you want to see into your union. Your joy will rub off on your spouse and hopefully begin to infuse new joy into your union.

When marriage is no longer a dream because your spouse has morphed into a less lovable, caring, thoughtful, or functional version of who you thought you married – look in before you look out. A lot of times, the way people treat us as less to do with us than it does with what is going on with them internally. Before you decide that your spouse is just a terrible person and you can’t do anything more for them, are there any life-changes that could have prompted the behavior your spouse is exhibiting? Any changes to either of your schedules, lifestyles, careers, family (expanding or shifting) or sense of self that could be at the root of this unhappy version of your spouse? Do you know if you spouse’s needs for love, security, respect, affirmation, touch and emotional connection are being met? Don’t guess. Ask. Start there and do the deep digging to find out how satisfied your spouse is with the quality of their life. If you do not have the tools to ask the right type of questions or your spouse seems closed up to your prodding, get professional help through a trusted counselor, advisor or therapist. In a lot of the cases that I have observed, this is usually where the problem lies. Because “life changes” can cover everything from a change in work schedule to the frequency of sex in your marriage. Anything can affect the dynamics in a marriage. A marriage is a function of two different personalities and when one of those personalities shifts even a little bit, the dynamics in the relationship will shift too, oftentimes drastically. Most of the time, when a good marriage goes sour, it is because a need is no longer being met. Either what worked yesterday no longer works today because each individual has grown or changed. Or a new need arises that the couple does not realize is not being met. Most of the marriages that thrive in my own circle of influence are unions where husband and wife are forever recalibrating to each other’s changing needs. It takes intentionality and work but the payoff is worth it.

Most of us want the path of least resistance. If you liked flowers three years ago, I want to give you flowers forever and ever and assume that’s the best way to make you feel better. When your affinity for flowers disappears and is replaced by a longing for deep conversation and quality time, if I am not paying attention, I will miss the shift and begin to be resentful when I do not get the same positive reactions to flowers that I have begin to expect.

When marriage is no longer a dream because one of us (either me or my spouse) is in crisis, then it is time to put the work behind my vows. “Through thick and thin/rich and poor/sickness and health” are not just words. They are my soul’s pledge to do the right thing when everything else says otherwise. When I am in crisis, it is easy to focus on the object of my disdain and lose even the desire to invest in my spouse. But God knew that the crisis would arise before He called me to the ministry of marriage and when I give an account for what I did in my home, He will not excuse my neglect or sin against my spouse because life got hard – even impossibly hard. Even if the best I can manage in my crisis, is not to push my spouse away, and to accept their love when they give it – I believe grace will cover the rest. When my spouse is the one in crisis, unable to function as my partner and covering like I need them to be, I have to believe that God can cover what is missing for me. God did not create me to languish in the union He told me to enter into. If there is a need that is beyond my spouse at the moment, it is not beyond God. He has to fill me up, so I am not running on empty while trying to single-handedly keep my marriage alive (because my spouse is unwilling or unable). The good news is that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more. Whatever challenges are bombarding my marriage because of the fallen and sinful world in which we live, Christ has already made provision for me to overcome. The God who can bring back life after the grave can resurrect my marriage even at the point where it seems irrevocably broken.

When marriage is no longer a dream because little foxes (third parties/affairs, unsupportive family/loved ones, exes and prior relationships) are coming in to spoil the vines, it is time to set some trap and catch the critters. How do you set the trap? By praying specifically against the wiles of the enemy and being watchful about which entryways they are using to infiltrate your marriage. If certain conversations are poisoning your heart towards each other, it is time to cut off those communications. You may or may not have to cut off the parties involve all together. Let wisdom lead you. But if it is people that you must stay in community with out of necessity, but they want to know what is going on in your marriage so they can discourage you, perfect the art of the one-word answer, and pivot.

“How are things between you and [your spouse]? – someone digging for dirt.

“Great! [the one-word answer]. Did you see that video with [insert something unrelated]? [the pivot] – you, blocking entryways for the little foxes.

If family members, exes, or previous relationships are the ones tripping you up, it is time to set some hard-lined boundaries. Be prepared for the pushback when the people who are used to having free access to you begin to meet road blocks. The guards you set in place to protect yourself and your union will be treated like a declaration of war. And for the sake of your marriage, you may have to make peace with being misunderstood. Everyone is not under the same obligation to protect your marriage at all costs like you are. They will give an account for their own behavior but God is not gonna ask them about what went wrong in your union. That responsibility is squarely on your shoulders. Be unapologetic about championing the health of your marriage before any other relationship (yes, even relationships with your parents or your children; if God wanted those relationships to be more important than your marriage, He would not have called you to leave them and cleave to your spouse).

If someone has interjected themselves into your marriage to steal the love, affection, emotional connection or physical intimacy that rightfully belongs to you or your spouse, I am of the “righteous indignation” persuasion. God appointed you to your position in your spouse’s life, any other “rival” is an illegitimate adversary. Stand firm in your position and do not give an inch to the enemy or his devices. Seek guidance and counseling to give you the proper tools to overcome this assault on your union but do not lay down your weapons and surrender just because the enemy mounted an attack. Even if you lose ONE battle, win the war.

Marriage is a HOLY covenant. It is not a man-made institution. The devil hates marriages and he will use all manners of devices, people and institutions to undermine something so near and dear to the heart of God. If you are enduring challenges and agony in your marriage, please send me a private message. I would love to pray with you and send you some resources. God made us to thrive in our unions and He alone can give us what we need to not only endure the hard times but flourish through them.

 

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So…I Wasn’t Crazy

B222BA2C-741F-4E24-B135-0F184D6BA3D7This post can also be titled “Through The Fire Part 3” because the journey continues. If you have not read Part 1 and 2, get them here! Through The Fire and From Breakdown to Breakthrough -Through The Fire Part 2

It has been exactly one year since the panic attack that exposed my deep-seethed battle against fear and anxiety. Before that incident, I did not recognize that I had a problem with fear. I thought I was just a person that was prone to worry.  I started therapy three months after that attack and have been able to identify the root of my fear and anxiety. When I reflect back, I recognize that the fear in my heart was amplified in law school. Every day for three years, I lived daily with the fear of failing out of school and facing the humiliation of public failure. Everyone knew I was in law school. If I did not pass or graduate, they would know why. It never occurred to me that my sensitivities and law school were a bad match. I just did my best to power through.

My professors and fellow classmates did much to reiterate the fear I had regarding failure. There was constant talk about who failed and why. We analyzed and reanalyzed all the ways to answer a question wrong and thus fail a final exam or bar essay. All of those discussions made it abundantly clear to me that failing as a law student or a lawyer would be the worst thing in the world. I bought the narrative – hook, line and sinker. I do not know if law school graduation or passing the bar was supposed to magically heal the fear that had been instilled in my heart for over three years but, they did not. I graduated with a paralyzing fear of failure and a conviction that being a lawyer was more important than being human. To fail as a lawyer was to fail as a human being.

I practiced law for eleven years driven by the fear that was instilled in me in law school. I thought it was normal. But when my anxiety attack showed me that this was not a sustainable way of life, I ultimately decided that there was something wrong with me.

Maybe I was just crazy. Everyone else that practiced law seemed to be perfectly fine carrying the load of other people’s personal, legal and life-altering issues. Maybe I was just doing this legal career thing wrong. I am surrounded by colleagues, including family members, who are thriving in the practice of law. The fact that I buckled under the pressure felt to me like a personal failure on my own part.

This Friday, February 7th, 2020 – for the first time in over a year, I found out that I was not crazy. I was sitting in a CLE (continuing legal education for lawyers) and for the first time in over sixteen years, another lawyer confirmed what I was feeling. Her summation of what law school did to us was right on the money. (Paraphrasing her points) Law school broke me down without building me up and then released me into a career filled with people who are also broken and are conditioned to medicate their brokenness through substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) which usually worsens conditions such as anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation. The speaker spoke of lawyers who felt like they were “phonies” who would eventually be exposed as terrible lawyers. Their thoughts were so consuming that most of the lawyers in her stories died by suicide.

A light bulb went off in my head. I have spent years being overwhelmed by the unrelenting imposter syndrome that has plagued me since my first C grade in law school. In my own eyes, I was a terrible lawyer and it was only a matter of time before everyone would find out. Had I continued down the path my thoughts wanted to lead me, there is no telling if I could have ended up becoming one of those “who would rather be a dead lawyer than a living human,” (quote from the speaker).  I had an immediate flashback to the first moment of my panic attack; the prevailing thought was “I rather just die than feel like this.” Thankfully, I had enough emotional stability to recognize that thought as wholly illogical and unworthy of further investment. I had too much to live for. I could not let one moment of terror steal my life from me.

But sitting in the CLE, having a stranger recount my own thoughts to me was jaw-dropping and deeply affirming. I was not crazy for feeling the weight of this profession for the twelve years I practiced. I was not crazy for deciding that getting away from private practice was the best thing for my emotional, physical and even financial health. I was not crazy for recognizing that had I continued to practice law in the same way, I would have ended up on a dangerous path towards a complete mental and emotional breakdown. I was not crazy.

It is possible to enter into the career you have always dreamed about only to realize that you do not want it. It is possible to have a title that other people respected but it did not bring any significance or joy to you. It is possible to be surrounded by people who were doing the same work as you but seem to enjoy it in a way that you have never experienced. And there is nothing wrong with that. It does not make you a failure or an anomaly or a crazy person. I am not crazy for finding my purpose, my joy and my peace outside of the practice of law. And I am done beating myself up from stepping away from it. God has more for me to do than to wake up every day with dread in my belly at having to take on the mental load of clients whose lives hang in the balance of my representation. I wholeheartedly relinquish the burden to be the savior of others. Jesus already died for them. I choose to rest.

I am thankful for the new path in my career that allows me to work, consult, earn and not take on any stress of anybody’s livelihood. I am grateful for the gift of writing, teaching and speaking to women. I am grateful for the family that I still have time to love and cherish and nurture because I did not allow the enemy to kill me with fear or stress. I am thankful for my new beginning. And I am not crazy for starting over.

(The CLE I referred to was hosted by the High Point Bar and Nixon Law Offices. When I get the speaker’s name, I will include her details. She did a phenomenal job on the mental health portion of the day).

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A Church Girl’s Idolatry Of Marriage

“My husband is going to be a real man of God. We are going to pray together, worship together and have the most amazing sex life. We are going to do ministry together and show the world how amazing it is to be married in Christ. I am going to serve him and submit to him without question and he is going to love me like Christ loves the church. My husband will always put our family before his needs. He will never disrespect me or make me feel like less than the daughter of God I know myself to be. We are going to raise our children to be disciples of Christ. We are going to preach the gospel together and live Christ for all the world to see. I can’t wait!”

If you had asked me eight years ago to describe what my future marriage would look like, the above statement would just about capture it. As beautiful as these words may be to some people, for me they were highly problematic. Because these words were not based on my desire to please God in marriage more than they were rooted in the need to “win” in the game of marriage. Marriage had been painted as the pinnacle of a Christian woman’s life for my entire adult life and as a new believer I just assumed that I would be married. But I did not want a marriage that others would look down on – I wanted a marriage that would impress others as well as pleased God. If God would have asked me to marry someone that did not fit my idea of “the perfect Christian husband,” I would have likely refused and missed God’s will for my life.

The man I wanted to marry was going to be the suit and tie type, someone who was comfortable in the pulpit, as well as one-on-one with others. Someone who was versed in the bible and in business. Someone who everyone could see was a catch. When my husband showed up looking more like a regular guy and less like a pastor (one of the cool, young ones with a nice haircut, facial hair, and designer sneakers), and being more comfortable in the back of the church than center-stage, I was temporarily confused. Every Christian circle I operated in made it acceptable to desire and marry only one type of Christian. Anything less than what I described in my opening paragraph meant that you “settled.” And there was a point when I was more afraid of being viewed as a woman who settled than actually missing the will of God for my life.

My idolatry of marriage was deeply based in my identity as a church girl before I was a true believer. Among Christians who are raised in the church, doing ministry and well-versed in church culture, marriage had been treated like the pinnacle of our Christian walk. It was not enough to be like Christ, you had to be married as well. One without the other made you incomplete. For me, marriage was a given. I was going to get married, by any means. But once I came to Christ, I knew I had to marry a fellow believer. It never occurred to me that marriage was not a given. I did not even consider it. I had to be married. If I wasn’t, everyone would assume there was something wrong with me. I would assume there was something wrong with me.

The residue of past hurts and rejection had me approaching marriage as if it was my “big chance” to get everyone (fellow believers) to see my worth. Those who previously did not want to be in community with me would be impressed by how well I married and how well I performed as someone’s wife. My pastors and leaders would finally see me as worthy of ordination. My church would legitimize me as a good example to others and even other believers would see something in my life worth emulating. But the kind of affirmation I was looking for regarding my marriage would not be forth coming unless I married the prototype of the ideal Christian man and presented the picture perfect image of the “godly couple.”

Whenever my intended-husband or I showed signs of being flawed human beings, I panicked. Maybe I “settled” after all. Because if we were both truly saved we should not be dealing with all these struggles (physical, spiritual, financial). The idolatry in my heart was unspoken but persistent, even as a woman who genuinely loves Christ. The hope that should have been squarely placed in Christ was placed in a “Christian marriage.” Marriage to a fellow believer was supposed to save me from struggle and the various trials that were not particularly appealing to my flesh. If I marry in Christ then I should never have to deal with a spouse who sins against me, or lacks wisdom or is prone to any kind of personal failings.

Thanks to a steady diet of ‘Christian media’ that elevated relationships to the same level  as salvation in Christ, I was trusting in my marriage to save me from the tribulations that Christ himself promised that we will have in this world. The first time we experienced our first significant hardship in marriage, I was convinced it was because we were not good Christians. True Christian marriages did not endure these types of heartbreak, did they?

The unfortunate reality about idolatry is that not only is the object of our worship unworthy of our adulation, it is also inadequate to extend to us the amazing grace of a merciful God. Had I made Christ the object of adulation from the jump rather than equating Him with my marriage, I would have quickly discovered the grace that I did not previously extend to myself or my husband.

I thank God for His course correction in our lives. It did not take long for me to see the difference between placing my hope in Christ versus placing it in my marital status or my union to a believer. The weight of my idolatry would have crushed us both into dust but for the intervention of the Holy Spirit who opened my eyes to the truth. The disappointment I was dealing with in my marriage was because I had placed my hope in the wrong thing. I thought being married to a believer, praying, speaking in tongues, preaching the gospel and even raising godly children would insulate me from the challenges that faced other marriages. But I was trying to bypass the growth in my character that can only be worked while I am in an imperfect union with an imperfect husband, yet fully committed to serving the God of all perfection.

There is nothing wrong with desiring a marriage that looks like Christ from all points, and even checks the boxes of your personal preferences – but I am a big proponent in examining one’s motives at every point. Why do we want what we want? Are we more committed to our preferences than we are committed to trusting the God who knows us better than we know ourselves? If we are not careful, even our once-godly desires can begin to unseat Christ at the throne of our hearts. And that is the very definition of idolatry. Take it from someone with firsthand experience – a church girl.

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God Alone

I have always thought that being a believer in Christ meant that no matter what happened on this side of eternity, I would eventually prevail and have a testimony of how I overcame. I believed that trials and tribulations would come but by God’s grace, I would conquer them and be able to testify of God’s goodness in allowing me to come through on the other side. I still largely believe this. There is a level of victory reserved for those whose steps are being ordered by the God of Heaven. Nobody can convince me otherwise. Lately, however, my theology has gotten more refined. I am being persuaded now more than ever than the testimonies of God’s goodness can come even in the midst of the storms, even if my ship wrecks on a deserted island, and even if the rescue helicopter never comes. I hate to paint such a morbid picture but just bear with me.

In the middle of the most intense warfare I have faced in recent memory, I recognize that my testimony is not on the other side of this mountain. My testimony is right here. The fact that God allowed the panic attack I suffered in February to lead me to a licensed therapist and counselor is a miracle. By all measures, the first strike of this ordeal could have been the killing blow. For a woman who thrives on routine and normalcy, this level of shaking in my  life should have been my undoing. But surprisingly, it drove me deeper into my quest for deliverance. The fact that God is allowing me to uncover, uproot and vanquish the paralyzing fear I had carried for almost 36 years is nothing short of a deep expression of His mercy towards me. Had my life not been shaken in this way, I very well could have lived with this kind of fear for the rest of my life, allowing it to lay dormant as long as it is not triggered. Being delivered for real and forever is a testimony in itself and I cannot wait until I can finally say that fear does not have me, in any way shape or form.

Furthermore, the timing of this particular shaking is running side by side with my efforts to fully embrace my passions and gifts. My desire to write and publish is a passion that I had relegated to “hobby” status for so long that deciding to make this my full-time work  is a radical step of faith. Having my sense of normalcy uprooted by virtue of this attack seems particularly ironic when you consider the fact that I was already looking for a new normal. I was closing my decade-old practice to pursue outside employment. And I was determined to use my prospective salary to fund my dreams. Eleven months after I revamped my blog, nine months into my new line of work, and two weeks after a new door was opened for me, fear came knocking with the force of a thousand winds. It seemed even if I wanted things to remain exactly as they had been, the option was no longer on the table.

Again for someone who hates change of any kind (moving, employment changes, major purchases, you name it), having the doors shut so firmly behind me before I knew where to walk next filled me with a different kind of dread. But for the first time in a long time, the fear of change was nothing compared to the fear of staying the same and hating my life for another second more.

So, in the middle of what I will call the worst moments of my life so far, I am still experiencing an exuberant amount of breakthrough. The comfort-seeker in me would love for the battle to be over and the victory won already. The trigger would be over and my fearful response would be a moot point. I can’t be afraid if there is no longer anything to be afraid of. But as a woman of faith, I know that this is not always how life works. So, in confronting my fears I have had to face the question “what would happen if the worst were to happen?” And I realize that the answer, terrifying as it may be for my mind to comprehend, is also strangely comforting.

If my life loses all sense of what it was just a year before.

If everything I am desperately fighting for blows up in my face.

If I have to eat the consequences of not just my behavior but the wrongdoing of others…God will still be God.

He will still hold all power in His hands. He will still have absolute control over my life and the direction it takes. He will still be the Alpha and Omega – the beginning and the end – of all my life, situations and circumstances. He will still be the God who makes a way where there seems to be no way. He will still be the God who vindicates. He will still be the God who only does wondrous things. He will still be the God who gives beauty for ashes. He will still be the God who turns mourning into dancing. He will still be the God who causes those who sow in tears to reap in joy. He will still be the God who sees in secret and rewards openly. In short, even if my life blows up right now – God will still be God. Even if the victory I long to see is only reserved for the other side of eternity, my present suffering take absolutely nothing away from the character of God. And that alone is more comfort to me than simply having God remove the challenges I am presently facing.

He is God alone and He alone is God. And that is enough.

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Where Nothing Grows

A preacher said something this week that stuck with me (link to the sermon will be on the bottom of the page). She said, there were areas of our lives where we have removed our expectation (faith) for God to do anything. These are the barren lands we do not even pray about because we have resigned ourselves to a future that looks no different from the present and the past. This is the place where nothing grows – not faith, not hope, not joy, not miracles, signs or wonders.

Nothing.

For me, it would the areas of my life where I would say things such as “it is what it is.” And resign myself to the fact that nothing can ever change about it. It is easier for me to embrace a reality that looks bleak, and make peace with the fact that this is what my life is going to look like, than to continue to hope for more and be disappointed over and over again. I can handle the sameness of never having more. I do not do well with raised expectations only to have them repeatedly shattered.

A decade into dating, my relationships were the “footpaths” in my life – the place that was once fertile ground but had been trampled so often by others than nothing could grow anymore. My outlook on relationships was damaged. I no longer prayed about them. I was convinced that God was not interested in my relationships anyway. He had bigger fish to fry. So, if I wanted to get married, it was left up to me to figure out the best option and just go from there. After God healed my understanding of relationships and I did eventually marry, the footpath changed.

It was no longer relationships;  it was my career. I had prayed and fasted about my career for many years without seeing a change. After almost ten years of believing for more, only to end up with less than I had in the years before, I once again concluded that God did not care about my career. He cared if I was a good wife, mother, friend and disciple, but my career was mine to figure out. He had bigger fish to fry than whether or not I could get a job. So, I stopped praying about it.  I removed my expectation that I could ever have the professional success that I saw my colleagues enjoy. It was not in the cards for me. Years of applying, and being rejected, feeling overlooked, and inadequate had me convinced that “this is just what it is.” I was destined to be one of those women who did not work because she could not find a good job. God used my husband to heal that fear of failure and success for me. Before long, seeds began to germinate and grow in that area as well.

Then the footpath changed again.

The most recent footpath I have discovered in my life is anxiety or worry. For as long as I can remember, I have always been the “worrier.” I plan things to worry about for the future. My mind is never not working and thinking and calculating and making readjustments. Caring for two toddlers with ongoing appointments for school, doctors, dentists, extra-curricular activities and so forth means there is always something to “not forget.” Managing our household schedule, budget, finances, vacations, doctors appointments, after-school care plans and such means that my wheels are always turning. If I do not keep the machine that is the Odedere Household moving along, it could all come crashing down in disaster. There is always something to think (or worry) about. Because of the mental load of thinking for myself, my sons and my husband a majority of the time, worry and anxiety became the norm. As I solved one thing, my mind would move on to the next concern. On and on like that until everything had a solution. If there was no solution in sight, then concern became worry, worry grew to anxiety and the anxiety became a paralyzing fear that made each of my limbs feel like they weighed a ton. When that fear becomes a behemoth (larger than life), I would run to prayer. I would cry out to God for relief since all of my own efforts had failed me. Even as I prayed about it, I would worry. Would God really take care of it? What if this was one of those times where He wanted something awful to happen to me so I could grow from it? (This is bad theology by the way.)

I have operated with this kind of fear and anxiety for all of my walk with Christ. I figured “this is just my personality/I am just a worrier.” I have never expected anything to change about how I operated in the world. I am just naturally anxious. God made me that way, did He not? I did not recognize this paralyzing fear as a footpath until the panic attack that happened in February.

Since then, God has been challenging my default settings as a worrier. It turns out that my fear is not just “how things are.” It was an area I had allowed the enemy to infiltrate and take over because I had never thought to pray against fear (fear of failure, fear of success, fear of the unknown). I thought fear was a human response and there was nothing  to be done about it other than just to ride the waves and hope the feeling passes sooner rather than later. I was fully prepared to live the entirety of my life being afraid (or worried) about one thing or another.

It is what it is, right? This is just how I operated.

Until God started showing me that this is a footpath. Fear had me in a stronghold for so many decades, it has taken me this long to realize that I was not always afraid. Up until a certain point in my life, I was actually pretty bold and fearless. And even in my faith in Christ, I am bold in so many other ways especially when it comes to the situations of others. But when I am the one that is under attack, instead of faith rising as it does on behalf of others, fear is my first response.

But God is changing my life in real time. As we speak, seeds of faith that have been sown on this particular “footpath” are beginning to germinate. This is no longer barren land where the enemy can introduce any thought or situation and cause me to fly off the handle. My faith is growing by leaps and bounds, and for the first time in my thirty-six years, I am fully convinced that fear does not have to be my default response to the arrows of the enemy.

When attacks are mounted, more and more, I see myself rising up filled with righteous indignation, inspired by the Holy Spirit and fighting-mad at the enemy of my soul that he would dare raise up such an underhanded “sneak attack” against a child of God. What an insult to the Heavenly Father who goes before me and girds me all around!

Literally, satan how dare you?

As I continue my walk with God, I know He will continue to show me the “footpaths” or  patches of wilderness in and around my life, the places where I have wrongly concluded that God cannot touch or change. I look forward to the day when my entire life is the lush garden that my Creator has in mind, each flowering field yielding fruit by the tens, fifties and hundred.

I look forward to the day when there would be no such place in my life where nothing grows.

(Sermon Series: Crazy Faith Part 5- Daily Faith – Brie Davis – Transformation Church) – Get it here!

 

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From Breakdown to Breakthrough -Through The Fire Part 2

Disclaimer: Before you read Part Two of this journey, it might be helpful to go back and read Part One. Read Part 1 Here

In February, I was faced with a setback so fierce it felt like it would actually consume the life I have come to know for the last twelve years. The fear of the unknown was paralyzing as I imagined the worst outcome – shame, professional loss, lack and poverty. I imagined everyone who had known me for the last two decades shaking their heads at my misery, wondering how I descended to such a shameful low point. I had completely expected the situation to swallow me whole. The panic attack that ensued was the catalyst I needed to seek professional counseling.

I took myself to a therapist to begin to unpack the unnatural terror I had about the unknown future. Four months after my first session, I am here to report that I am currently in one of the best seasons of my life. The situation and circumstance that I thought would be my undoing has actually been used by God to allow me to win my battle against fear. Fear has dominated my life in one way or the other for as long as I could remember. Fears of failure and success made it hard for me to see the kind of progress I have always desired. But the most pressing fear in this situation was the fear of the unknown. I do not like surprises. Even good things, when they are unplanned, rock me to my center. Knowing that I could not predict the outcome of what was a threat against my very livelihood and future shook the foundations under my feet.

But thanks be to God that he did not leave me the quivering mass of anxiety that first walked into my therapist’s office in May. Over the last several months, God has shown me that my fear was based on a lie. The lie told me that my life would only be “okay” if this situation went away. If the threat manifested into my new reality, then there was no way for the plans of God over my life to prosper.

But what an insult to the power and might of God!

I had wrongly concluded that not even God could undo the damage to my life if the circumstances that were still a threat, became a fact. I had let fear swallow up my faith and it resulted in a woman who looked nothing like the warrior princess I have been growing into over the last decade.  The process to breakthrough was not in God changing the situation that frightened me, but in Him growing my faith and changing my mind. Through this particular trial, I have been able to see that God is not dependent on human beings if He is determined to bless me. In the midst of what should have been the hardest season of my life, I find myself thriving like I have never done before. I found the pace of grace in my work and it is being rewarded by my bosses. I leaned into the grace of God which allows me to work in excellence for someone besides myself, without letting my children or household suffer. I am the healthiest I have ever been, emotionally and spiritually, because this situation spurred me into getting the help I needed for things that have been a struggle for as long as I have been an adult, some even longer. It seems that God is causing ALL things to work together for my good by using the very storm that  I thought was going to drown me, to move me ever closer to His promised future.

And isn’t that just like God? To use the very thing that the enemy meant for evil, something that has caused others to end their lives or retreat from living all together, to promote His own children to their next level. By no means do I believe that this attack came from God. It was sent as a strategic weapon of the enemy to take me out – to make me doubt my abilities and give up on every long held desire of my heart. The enemy definitely meant to destroy me. If the enemy had his way, I would be living in the eye of depression as we speak. I would have retreated from life, quit my job, abandoned my relationships and spent my days buried under my covers in tears. I did it for a few days earlier this year. It would have been very easy to just stay down. You cannot get knocked over if you do not stand up again.  But God had better plans for me than that. He has declared that I would live and not die, but rather declare the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. So here I am, thriving. Because I am finally learning to rest in the promises of God. Because I finally understand that when God has determined to do us good, He will not ask permission from our circumstances before his desires for us are accomplished. The situation that spurred my first panic attack in over a decade is still ongoing. But in the midst of it, I have had the deepest kind of joy I have ever experienced in my adult life. I am experiencing a new level of authenticity in my marriage and friendships. I am more sure of my abilities in my career. And I have a greater understanding of who I am and why I move through life this particular way.

Because of that richer understanding, I have more to say when it comes to speaking intelligently about my journey. I am able to write about my journey in an authentic way that is brimming over with God-given joy. Life is still not perfect but at this point, I have more testimonies of God’s goodness over my life than I have ever had at any point before.

Without the threat of failure and the fear of unknown danger that presented itself in my life in February, I would probably be coasting along, the same version of me that I was when the year started. There would have been no motivation to examine why this fear almost paralyzed me and subsequently, I likely would have lived with this unknown fear for the next several years never realizing that it was unnatural and destructive to the plans of God for my life.

So, I am finally at a point in my life where I can say, I am incredibly grateful for the storm. I am thankful for the fiery furnace. The storm did not drown me and the fire did not consume me. The waters washed away more than just the unnecessary material things that I thought I needed; it also cleansed my vision to see clearly. The fire did not just burn away the security of a life where nothing changes so nothing grows; it also purified the gold that was within me; melting away impurities such as fear and self-reliance until all that is left is a faith that has been tried by fire.

Exactly seven months and five days after the enemy’s attack, I am happy to report that I am walking in breakthrough. Fear no longer has me.

I, Omowunmi, have escaped like a bird out of the hunter’s trap of fear and failure. The trap has been broken forever and ever, and I am free! (Psalm 124:7)