How to Memorize Whole Books of the Bible in One to Two Months

Back in 2010, my husband Bobby and his friend Jordan decided they would start memorizing scripture together. They began with the book of James. Bobby would often ask me if I would check to see if he was right when reciting the verses, therefore I inadvertently memorized several verses too since I was listening to him quote them again and again.

Memorizing James changed both Bobby and Jordan’s lives, as both Heather (Jordan’s wife) and I can attest to this. They both became even more passionate for the word of God and for Jesus himself through this spiritual discipline. Since then Bobby and Jordan have both continued to memorize scripture, and in one season they worked together at the same company, allowing them to memorize scripture nearly twenty hours of the week.

To date Bobby has memorized James, parts of Romans, 1 and 2 Timothy, Philippians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, Titus, Hebrews, and he’s currently memorizing Ephesians. I also have memorized chunks of scripture in Colossians, James, Romans, Ephesians, 1 Thessalonians, and 1 John.

Through several years of practicing this, Bobby has also passed on the passion of memorizing scripture to those he has discipled, encouraging the word to transform their lives. He teaches them a simple method of learning big chunks of scripture in a short amount of time. He’s dubbed it the “five by five method.”

 

Let’s memorize a passage of scripture together so you can see how easy it really is.

First, read 1 John 1:1-5.

Second, read 1 John 1:1 five times.

Now try to say 1 John 1:1 five times without looking.

Next, read 1 John 1:2 five times.

Then try to say 1 John 1:2 five times without looking.

Now say 1 John 1:1-2 together five times without looking. That part was hard wasn’t it? That’s because you’re linking them together, but it’ll get easier with each verse you tack on to this chunk.

Repeat reading, reciting without looking, and attaching to the other verses until you’ve memorized verses 1-5.

This takes only ten to twenty minutes, depending upon how frequently you memorize information, but anyone can easily do this. It just takes time and practice.

At the rate of 5 verses a day, you can memorize 1 John in 90 days. You don’t have to stop at 5 verses a day though, as sometimes people Bobby has taught will take time to memorize a whole chapter in one day. When Bobby was working with Jordan, he could memorize shorter books, like Titus, in a week.

If you’d like to read about memorization from Bobby himself, this little freebie is for you:

Share this post to get Bobby's pdf free. Come back to this post to see the document link unlocked.

Please feel free to share this document with others for personal use, but also remember to give Bobby credit. In the document, he shares how to link things altogether and also how to upkeep the verses you’ve memorized.

Memorizing scripture is one of the best ways to get the word in your heart and mind. The Holy Spirit will use the word and bring it to the forefront of your mind in the midst of trial or temptation.

During the process of my heart wrenching miscarriage of my twin boys, I would call out to God with verses I had recently memorized. As Bobby and I cried together during my contractions and labor in the delivery room, we recited what we had learned of Romans together.

When I struggle through temptations of sexual impurity, I remember in 1 Thessalonians that believers are called to live a life of purity and self-control, not like the Gentiles who do not know God. When I’m angry or struggling with sin, I remember that man’s anger does not bring about righteousness, and that sin brings death (both verses from James).

Scripture is described as a sword, piercing through the body and soul. If you are having trials or temptations (if you’re human right?), you’ll want to incorporate memorizing scripture into your daily devotion.

Along with having scripture ready for you in your mind instead of having to reach for your Bible in the moment of temptation, you’ll also find that you’ll understand books of the Bible with more depth. When you memorize a book of the Bible, you become much more familiar with it than when you read through it or have a surface-level study. Also, when you read through other passages of scripture, you can cross-reference to scripture you’ve already memorized, helping you to better embrace the fullness of scripture.

I really hope this helps you in your fight to love God more!

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Date Night! 30 Manly Would You Rather Questions

This blog has focused so much on running from sin, sexual immorality, and adultery that I realized I’m not encouraging some other important aspects of a Christ-exalting, Gospel-centered marriage.

In the future, I’m going to be sharing more about building accountability within your marriage, being vulnerable with your spouse, and also simply delighting in your spouse.

That means time to have some fun!

Bobby and I are pranksters, and we tease each other frequently. One of our first bonding moments was playing a prank on a group of university peers walking off campus to grab a bite to eat in the dark. Bobby and I “distracted” them by walking fifty feet behind them as our friend snuck up in front of them with a Burger King mask. They bounced away like beads falling from a broken necklace.

Clean, harmless laughter like this is good for the heart and friendship.

Out of that need to help foster love and community and friendship within the second most important relationship in our lives (Jesus being the first, of course), I created this fun little printable for you to spark some silly conversation.

Download it here:

Pay with a Like to get the download link. Once you like, refresh the page for access.

 

Now, this printable has a backstory.

One area where Bobby and I can’t agree that has produced a running joke is his beard. Try as he might, it does not grow in thick, luscious fringe like so many of his man friends.

Unfortunately for him, I don’t like the patches or the feel, and though I don’t purposely avoid kissing him when he grows a beard, it just somehow happens that they decrease in number and frequency.

But that doesn’t mean a lack of a beard makes him any less of my manly man! He can win in an arm wrestle with the other dude getting a disabled start. And when he does this in Beijing, it draws a crowd!

Discover the man in your husband with these 30 fun questions.

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Pursuing Purity by Gouging Out Your Eyes

Regardless of what you believe about Jesus, we can all agree he was shocking.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

So many quote Matthew 5:27-28 to point to how looking at another with lust is the same as adultery, but when read within context, verses 29 and 30 make such a strong statement.

If you’re dealing with sexual immorality, it’s better that you actually dismember yourself than to continue to walk in this and straight into hell.

I think because many Christians have heard this quoted so much, the verses lose their shock value. But put yourself in the shoes of the first century listeners. They’ve grown up reading about David, who is so often triumphed as a great man while covering over his very real sins in being an apathetic father and committing adultery himself.

Then Jesus drops this word bomb on them.

No, it would have been better for David to cut out his own eyes than for him to have committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband.

The implications are crazy. There is nothing that is more valuable than your soul. There is nothing more valuable than protecting the purity of that soul.

Let’s play an exercise and see if we can regain the shock value.

“It’s better to cut off your arm than to stretch the truth.”

“It’s better to gauge out your eye than to roll through a stop sign.”

“It’s better to cut out your tongue than talk about someone else.”

“It’s better to cut out your ear drums than accept gossip.”

These sound ridiculous and exaggerated don’t they?

That’s really how shocking Jesus’ words are!

Unfortunately they fall on our ears and we are so unaffected by them. We struggle with sexual immorality but we’re not willing to cut off what we stumble over. What in your life is stirring up unholy passions in you that you could cut off?

Movies, television, Facebook, Instagram, romance novels, unfiltered Google searches, magazines.

Whatever it is, it’s worth it to cut it off.

If you stumble in church because of dress, move to the front of the church so all you see is the pastor. If you’re a woman who seeks sexual or self-glory from dress, purge your wardrobe.

This is just a first step and it won’t change your heart, which is the true issue, but it will help you on a trajectory toward being changed.

Trust the wisdom of Jesus’ words. Don’t accuse him of being a Pharisee. It’s not a rule to bind you; it’s a command to free you from the shackles of your sexual sin.

Further Resources
If you want to read more into this topic and with practical ways to run from and cut out these stumbling blocks, I highly recommend The Purity Principle: God’s Safeguards for Life’s Dangerous Trails (LifeChange Books) (an affiliate link, which will not add cost to you if you choose to buy the book, but does help support me to continue to write).

This book helped me to see how much of my life was filled with stumbling blocks, from the external to the internal.

If you’re serious about being freed from sexual sin, I also encourage a tech program like X3 Watch or Covenant Eyes and for you to get an accountability partner to be real with.

Delight in Your Spouse and Have Fun: Forgive without Bitterness

I suppose because we’ve been through so much, assumptions could be made about how Bobby and I feel toward one another. Neither one of us have been perfect, and I have deeply betrayed him.

Interestingly, someone recently said to us that we look as though nothing bad has ever happened in our lives or our marriage. I can see why this man over forty with a seminary degree thought this: Bobby and I are loving toward one another, and we’re joyful. He hugs me; he holds my hand. He dotes on me. He sends me silly love messages in the middle of the day, and I call him for no reason, just to hear his voice. I surprise him with sweet graces, like showing up at his work with a slice of cheesecake on bad days or folding his laundry for him, (we both hate folding laundry).

Let’s all pray for marriages that are joyful at this ripe old age.

 

A key to restoring our marriage has been forgiveness without bitterness. 

Biblical forgiveness sounds wonderful in theory but is like cutting your heart in real practice if attempted without the power of the gospel. It is so hard to forgive someone who doesn’t deserve forgiveness. But as many times as someone is repentant and asks for forgiveness, we are to forgive. If we don’t forgive when someone asks, we are mocking God’s undeserved grace for our salvation (Matthew 6:14–15,  Matthew 18:21–35, Colossians 3:13)

Genuine forgiveness comes without bitterness. When there is bitterness in a marriage, it is impossible to delight in marriage or to have real fun. In the midst of happy moments, the bitter spouse will be thinking about what happened and be simmering in resentment.

The negative effects of bitterness might be hard to be seen in a marriage where a spouse is good at going through the motions, but think about other relationships that don’t require living together. A friendship that has suffered a conflict might result in never being truly mended if one of the friends retains bitterness. That’s what bitterness does. It destroys.

Married couples do not want bitterness to be apart of marriage otherwise it’ll grow deeper and the chasm between the two spouses will widen. Bitterness is also known as a hardened heart, and one of the most popular posts on TheCourage explains how unrepentant bitterness guarantees to end  marriages.

So, how can you measure if you have bitterness in your marriage?

Answer these questions:

  • Can you name for me concrete reasons to celebrate your spouse?
  • Can you name for me specific, praise-worthy ways your spouse has changed over the last year?
  • When is the last time you had genuine, gut-busting fun with your spouse?
  • How often do you think about things your spouse did that have hurt you?
  • How often do you use “always” or “never” to describe characteristics or actions of your spouse?
  • How often do you thank God for your spouse in private?
  • How often do you pray for your spouse in relation to their needs rather than your own?
  • How often do you ask God to change your heart in relation to your spouse?

If you can’t name concrete reasons why you should celebrate your spouse or anything they’ve done to make real changes in their life, either they really aren’t growing in the Lord, or you’re bitter. If there’s a suspicion that your spouse isn’t growing, you should talk with someone objective, like someone in your small group (not your accountability partner) about ways they have seen your spouse grow over the last year.

If you haven’t had genuine fun with your spouse recently, either you two aren’t making time for investing in one another, which is a huge mistake, or you’re bitter. You and your spouse are one flesh, and in a healthy marriage, there is no one who loves you on this earth as much as your spouse. In a healthy marriage, they have made many sacrifices for you. There is no one who knows you as well as they do (or should). Do you delight in yourself? Most humans would say yes even if they don’t like admitting it. There isn’t any reason that you shouldn’t be delighting in your spouse then.

If you are frequently thinking about how a spouse has hurt you but you haven’t talked with him/her about it, this definitely breeds bitterness. Related to this, if you’re using terminology like “always” and “never” you are expecting your spouse to fail or sin in certain situations that you have allowed to grow bitterness. You need to have a serious, calm talk about these things and explain that this has been building bitterness in your heart. You can’t ignore these issues because they’ll just grow bitterness. Be prepared to forgive and let go or get biblical marriage counseling if reconciliation isn’t totally reached.

If you don’t have a practice giving thanks for your spouse, praying for your spouse in relation to their needs, and asking God to change your heart in relation to your spouse, you more than likely have bitterness.  Other possibilities are that you believe that you’re not a sinner or that you aren’t grateful for God’s blessings in your life. And whether you can see this or not, your spouse is a blessing, even if he/she is bringing great joy or pain, as even pain and sufferings are be to received with great joy in a Christian perspective. Regardless of how you feel about your spouse, s/he is an image bearer of God and should be respected and a fellow heir of grace.

 

Looking at Pornography is Adultery

Adultery begins in the heart, where desires are lurking (James 1:15). Adultery, in its simplest terms, is having sexual relations with someone outside of marriage. God forbids adultery (Exodus 20:14).

Consuming pornography is having emotional sexual relations with someone else outside of marriage. It doesn’t matter that the “someone else” isn’t physically present in the room. In the moment of pornography consumption, that someone else is the object of desire. The object of desire is imagined and used in the consumers’ minds in ways that would make us blush to read on this screen.

The consumer is communing with the object of desire through self-pursued pleasure. In that moment of consumption, without a doubt, the one who is partaking in the illicit acts of the heart and hands greatly desires that the object of desire would be with them present in the room. Would marriage hold the consumer back from physically partaking in the same acts imagined if the one desired suddenly appeared in the room? No, it would be too late. The consumer already committed adultery in the mind and a promise that they’ve already profaned will not keep back the passions that have been stoked and flamed by the consumer.

Consuming pornography has become a socially acceptable form of adultery, but that doesn’t change what it really is. Many who are worldly would argue that it is a natural outlet for sexual desire, and I suppose their opinions are a lost cause. They will always pursue what they greatly desire, no matter the cost to their own souls.

But Christians are rebuked to refrain from doing this. There should never even be sexual immorality named among Christians, and at least we can agree that consuming pornography is sexual immorality (Matthew 5:27-28, Proverbs 5, 1 Corinthians 6:10-20)

Recognizing this as a form of adultery is important because it can be just as disastrous to a marriage as actual physical adultery.

Unrepentant adultery will cause God’s discipline to reign down on a believer’s life, and so will unrepentant use of pornography (Hebrews 12:3-17). Continuing to walk in either of these lifestyles of sin is making the statement that this person is not even actually a believer (1 John 2:15-17). It is mocking God and what He upholds as holy.

Did you know God calls believers to keep the marriage bed undefiled and holy (Hebrews 13:4)? Sex is an awesome part of marriage that should be enjoyed, but biblical, Christ exalting sex leaves no room for pornography.

Looking at pornography pollutes the marriage bed, causing the consumer to want something more than what is available in the marriage bed (the other spouse). The object of desire in pornography is never the other spouse!

God has called the believer to a life of purity and holiness, being able to control one’s passions. Pornography does not aide a believer in doing this but only creates an unnatural ravenous desire for more and more illicit sexual acts.

Pornography causes the other spouse to ask questions like, “Am I not good enough? What’s wrong with how I look? Does my spouse love me?” These questions would not be springing up in the heart of the spouse if the consumer of pornography was acting in love. When someone acts in selfless love, the responses are generally vastly different, like, “Woah, I’m loved!” Pornography doesn’t ever stir up this response.

Is there any situation where pornography might not be the consumer’s fault but actually the other spouse’s fault? No, and to suggest that is absolutely sick. No matter what happens in a marriage, each person is responsible for how they will respond, whether in sin or in grace.

Do not be deceived; God will hold all of us accountable for the works we build while on earth. Do not sow in adultery. It is a black pit of despair to be feared. Run away now. You need help if you are consuming pornography and also claiming to be a Christian. Confess your sins; surround yourself with other believers. They will help you fight.

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10 Questions Single Christian Women Should Ask Men Before Dating

Oh singleness.

It’s a beautiful gift and at the same time a hard gift. I don’t want to pretend to understand it except by proxy because my time of singleness was short-lived.

One of my favorite types of conversations though is talking to single men and women about how to wade past the emotions to examine the heart and character of a potential spouse. My husband and I also love to sit with dating and engaged couples and talk about the reality of marriage. It is our honor to encourage them through their fight to honor Christ with their bodies before the pleasures of the marriage bed.

The Single “Best Foot Forward”
I’ve noticed though, one of the tough parts about dating is that the significant other puts their best foot forward.

I certainly did!

I looked like a pretty good bride when we got married. There were flaws and red flags he didn’t notice, but I wanted to change the world for Christ with him. That was a huge plus. I was seemingly submissive to spiritual leadership. I could talk the talk about the Bible and faith when I needed to.

But Bobby and I both agree we would not recommend someone marrying or dating a woman like who I was due to not being ready to minister and serve others soon after we got married.

My journey of discipleship has been fraught with sin, and Bobby has taken a heavy load in living out Christ for me day in and day out. Marriage will reveal sin even in the godliest of newlywed couples, but because of the shallowness of my faith, marriage started and stalled out as particularly rough for us.

Pause and Consider the Seriousness of Marriage
For women particularly, the challenge is real if they are waiting and praying for a godly man to pursue her. How can you determine in a relatively short amount of time if this man is going to lead you toward pursuing Christ? As a single woman, you’re submitting to your pastor as of spiritual importance and probably your father out of honor.

When you’re committing to marriage for the rest of your life, you’re committing to joyfully submit to the loving leadership of your husband because you agree with his vision for the rest of your lives. You trust that if his vision for your lives were to change, fervent prayers in seeking the Lord’s will would be apart of that change along with your voice and concerns. You are committing to helping your husband in that vision.

That’s a weighty commitment!

So with a strong dose of seriousness in view of marriage, I suggest to single women not to waste time in dating by going the route of “getting to know” a brother in Christ on an emotional level. What I mean by that is avoiding spending so much time flirting and getting to know a brother that the point of the courting/dating relationship is skewed.

When a brother in Christ approaches a sister for dating, he is supposed to be doing so in order to find a wife, not fool around. After all, this is his sister, not his wife. Until she is his wife, she is primarily his sister and should be treated as such.

Instead of spending a large amount of time in a “let’s get to know one another” limbo where hearts and emotions and desires can flare up, asking gospel-centered and penetrating questions can help both parties see if continuing to court or date is appropriate. This dating limbo can really cause unnecessary pangs to females who are swept up in the genuinely sweet and fun joys of a budding relationship.

 

When you’re able, ask:

  1. What do you think the role of the husband is in marriage?
  2. What do you think the role of the wife is in marriage?
  3. What does it mean in your eyes for a woman to be a helper?
  4. What is biblical submission?
  5. How do you see God leading you in your life in the future?
  6. Tell me about your normal, every day life, from sun up to sun down. (The point here is to find out if he’s digging into the word every day.)
  7. When was the last time you shared the gospel with another?
  8. When was the last time you discipled another in the faith?
  9. What is the role of a father in a Christ-centered home?
  10. What is the role of the mother in a Christ-centered home?

The questions and his answers should address if he has thought deeply about the responsibilities of being a husband and eventually a father. They also begin to examine his current spiritual state. Ideally a man who is ready to be a husband is ready to teach another in the faith, as he is becoming a spiritual leader in your life and your future children’s lives through marriage.

Trusting that you’ll both just figure it out is signing up for the type of marriage Bobby and I have had in the past in the best case scenario. In the absolute worst-case scenario, you could find yourself marrying a man who looks like a believer on the outside but is actually emptier than a tin of chocolate chip cookies at a Sunday potluck.

Are there questions you are sure to ask your brother in Christ before dating?

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Do You Desire Sexual Immorality or Adultery In Your Heart?

It’s time to put the faults of your spouse aside and take a good, hard look into the well of your heart. Would you be willing to honestly answer the question, “Do you desire adultery in your heart?”

To make this clearer, let’s put biblical parameters around adultery. Jesus radically challenged the Pharisees when he said that adultery is the same as “looking at a woman with lust” in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28).

Adultery and sexual immorality are often paired together in passages, from Proverbs to 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 to Ephesians 4, with Paul instructing that those who are adulterous and sexually immoral (along with idolaters and drunkards) will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Do you desire to be sexually immoral?

If I’m painfully honest, yes, I desire both. I shamefully want to take what God has made as good, both sex and marriage, and twist it into something totally perverted. My flesh is so wicked that even after all of the pain I have been through from my past adulteries, it still cries out to be satisfied in this sinful way.

I know this is the truth because when I am walking down the street and a man glances at me, I enjoy that glory. I dress a certain way because I want attention, even if I know it’s within the confines of cultural modesty. I’m beautiful and I like the attention from being beautiful.

I struggle to keep a pure heart when a handsome man is around. When being intimate, I have to pray to keep my heart from wandering into areas of mind that are not pure. Thinking of someone else sexually is adultery. If I play around in those areas, I will surely fall.

My flesh cries out that it’s worth it, but my spiritual heart knows its not. It’s been there done that.

So once I realize I am being lured and enticed by my own desires (James 1:14-15), I cry out to God for help.

I pray.
I run.

I don’t dress up if I know I’m not strong spiritually.
I share with my accountability partners even if I’m just being tempted, not even if I’ve actually sinned.

I ask for prayer immediately if it’s really a strong hold on me.
I surround myself with the voices of godly women, of the present and of the past.

I remember that Jesus is a treasure, and that an eternity with him is totally, totally worth waging a war against my own flesh.

Seriously, Jesus was totally right that it would be worth it to cut off my own hands or gouge out my eyes if I had to.

I want eternal life not eternal condemnation.
That’s serious. The sexually immoral and adulterous will not inherit the kingdom of God.

Is that fleeting pleasure worth my eternity?
NO!

I hate that sexual sin corrupts every relationship it touches, from my relationship with God to my relationship with my spouse.

It’s just not worth it.

So though I desire these sinful things, I also need to know, what do I desire more?

Jesus or adultery?

Jesus or sexual sin?

I can’t have Jesus and them.

What will you pick?

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Wifely Submission Can Be A Joy

Isn’t it a bit scandalous in this day and culture to say that?

Submission is a joy.

It’s not a yoke, it’s not an act that makes me feel subservient, but submitting to my husband in marriage is an absolute joy.

I haven’t always felt that way. I think I held a negative view of submission because of what had been taught to me about it from movies, songs, professors, and older women who really had a warped view of submission.

Submission does not equate to drudgery, servitude, or slavery anymore than erotic love is the same as sibling love or friendship love. We can all recognize that these types of loves are classified in the same group – love – but there are huge nuisances between the love siblings have for each other and the love found in a passionate new marriage.

Sure, they have similarities. Erotic love and sibling love might both produce loyalty and feelings of affection, but they don’t have the same source nor do they have the same look in practice.

Submission has the same issue of nuisances yet is greatly misunderstood.

Those who have never been submissive in a healthy relationship really don’t understand how this could be joyful, honoring, or respectful of self. Honestly, I was surprised myself to find that I enjoy being submissive; I’m as shocked to write this as you are to read this if you’ve typically cringed about submission.

Submission is a quality that’s easier taught than just naturally learnt, and I would encourage women to continue to press into this topic. Not all teachings on submission highlight biblical submission, but Piper’s article on “Six Things Submission Is Not” paved the way for me to understand this mandate in a broader light. One main point is that submission as explained from Piper’s article looks very different than what culture claims.

If we’re going to draw comparisons to examples of submission outside of marriage, an athletic team is the closest situation where I’ve seen submission in action. A captain of a soccer team is chosen among all other teammates to lead the team. She is meant to help the whole team pursue the goal they’ve all agreed upon, whether that’s nailing a state championship or placing first in their league.

That’s the beauty of a husband too. When I married my husband, I was agreeing to him being my leader because I agreed with where he was going to lead me and the way he was planning on doing that. I didn’t have to marry him, I could have picked someone else to marry and be submissive to, or remain single. But by marring him, in a way, I joined his team.

The soccer captain has the authority to rule by force, but as my old school Southern grandmother always said, “You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” (Best read in a Southern accent.)

The captain is going to get so much more done by leading the team with understanding, camaraderie, and fun than by laying down the law. My husband has to have the same view. Sure, he can technically force me to do something based on his function as leader in our marriage, but I will resent him and there won’t be any love in my following him.

When we’re pursuing the same goal we agreed upon from the start of our marriage, there isn’t a need for him to use force anyway, as I want to go where we’ve always been headed.

Does that mean the captain and the teammates always agree? No. Does that mean the captain always does a good job in leading? Nope. Does that mean that the goal always stays the same? Sometimes not.

That also doesn’t mean the teammates are mindless players who have no voice and have no opinions. Actually, a good captain will listen to the feedback of her teammates in order to lead better. See, in function, a leader needs followers just as much as followers need leaders. The job of the leader is to see the big picture and make a long term plan toward a larger goal. The job of the followers is to support the leader with their unique gifts.

The Foolishness of Authority and Submission Abused
And it’s the same for the husband and wife and their blessings in children. The husband who doesn’t listen to his wife, makes it hard for her to be the unique member of his team, and lords over her in selfishness – that man is an absolute fool. He is shooting himself in the foot and preventing himself from going forward. He will need to focus on healing his relationship with his wife before making any progress in the goal they decided on together before marriage.

And perhaps this force will appear to make progress for a short amount of time, but it will be joyless and eventually a marriage or wife under this type of stress will snap. This is not biblical authority by the way. Jesus is man’s perfect picture of leadership, and what we see in the Bible is Jesus laying down his life for those who follow him, not making demands. He is a lamb. He is gentle. He will be crowned with glory and honor and will roar like a lion at judgment, but he didn’t act that way on earth.

This type of authority and submission abuse is what those who don’t understand submission point to as an example as to why women shouldn’t be submissive. Makes sense right? So to understand submission, that’s why I want to change focus to good examples.

Practically, in my marriage, I greatly respect my husband’s spiritual strength and leading. I’ve seen God work in the lives of many people because of his service and teachings. I’ve been blessed by the way he lays down his life to love me and love our children. He loves me as his own body and I have no worry that he will continue to provide for me as long as it is up to him.

Since he has led in sacrificial love, I absolutely want to love him back and support him with my gifts to pursue our goals. Sometimes when I disagree with his approach, but he’s sure that it’s the right way, we’ll just try it. If it works out in the way he expected, that’s awesome! We can rejoice together. If it doesn’t work out as expected, we’ll try something else.

And that’s the way teamwork should be. Trying again until we succeed in our goal.

Our goal, if you’re curious, is pursuing Christ and making his name great in all we do. We have a special heart for internationals, which is why we worked with refugees and now live abroad. Sometimes we don’t know where the Spirit will lead us, but I’m so thankful to have my husband at the lead. He pursues Christ with all of his heart and mind, and he never tires in pointing me to Christ, too.

 

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The Most Godly Woman I Know Has A Messy Home

Silly, silly me.

I braced myself for culture shock when we moved abroad, but I wasn’t expecting the most shock to come to my faith. I didn’t realize God was moving be abroad to change me instead of me being the one to change others.

Cleanliness is NOT synonymous with godliness

One of the first lessons he taught me was that godliness in a woman is not measured by the cleanliness of her home. But oh, did I struggle with this. Part of that struggle relates to how I wrongly was taught and interpreted Proverbs 31.

You can read more about the epiphany on Proverbs 31 I had while overseas, but this is essentially the gist from an article I wrote for TheCourage:

Fast-forward a few years and again in my kitchen as I cooked, I began to listen to a sermon by David Platt on the Cross and Biblical Womanhood. He too was preaching on Proverbs 31, for Mother’s Day of all days.

He laughed at the irony because through his exegesis of the text, he discovered that Proverbs 31’s main audience is not actually married women.

It’s single men.

Yup. You read that right.  I cringe a bit every time I now hear a teaching on Proverbs 31 that doesn’t start at verse 1, “The words of King Lemuel. An oracle that his mother taught him.”

So with this frame of mind in misreading Proverbs 31, imagine how judgmental my heart was of a pastor’s wife when I walked into their small, disheveled, and dirty apartment. Yet, this woman was known for prayer vigils late into the night, waking up in the early hours to serve others, avoiding authorities who wanted to force her to have an abortion, and saying, “I’m not worthy of persecution.”

She wasn’t an anomaly among Christian women in other cultures. I visited a stay at home mom who was known to serve other moms through free childcare. She has a messy home even when children aren’t there.

I visited a woman who became a believer because of the desperation she experienced when she gave birth to her Autistic son. She gave up her profession to care for her son full time. She loves on women in her community who also have special needs children. She started a kindergarten for them. She led her sister and her parents to Christ before her father died of cancer.

She was the light of Jesus they needed. She’s giving her home to her sister’s family when she moves abroad, though right now her sister’s family lives with her. This is a really expensive home that she could make thousands of dollars in rent just because of its location, but it’s not as important to her as caring for her sister’s family. She also continues to live out honor and submission before her husband, who is not a Christian, so that she might win him with her life.

Her house is just as messy and dirty as the pastor’s wife I mentioned earlier, despite incomes that are vastly different. Though the pastor’s wife doesn’t have the means to have house help, the rich woman I’ve mentioned does, yet she doesn’t see a biblical requirement to have a clean home.

It’s not poor doctrine or lack of discipleship with any of these women. The rich woman is a reformed Baptist and hosts regular, intense Bible studies. The pastor’s wife has translated English sermons with robust theological perspectives. If you’ve never translated something, translators really learn a topic when because of processing in two languages.

God was showing me that his people are concerned with people, not maintaining stuff. God was showing me that these women had much more spiritual fruit than I did, even with my clean home that really only served to make me feel legalistically righteous.

I believe a clean and orderly home is clearly a cultural and generational requirement or idol at worst and at best simply meant as a blessing for others. But I’m concerned for the women who feel yoked by this and who believe their godliness is tied with cleanliness.

It’s just not true.

When we look at the people of God wandering in the desert, the Tabernacle, though orderly with clear instructions of build, would have been one of the most non-clean looking places among the people. Ceremonially-clean, of course, but it wouldn’t have been squeaky clean to American standards.

First of all, the Tabernacle was erected in a desert. That means dry, dusty land acting as a floor for the court and meeting tent. Secondly, the priests’ clothes, the tent, and the utensils were sprinkled everywhere and eventually had dried blood all over it (Exodus 29:15-16, 21, Hebrews 9:18-22), and these sacrifices were offered regularly. I can only imagine the odor of that tent, not to mention the odor from the actual people of God who were sweating sans deodorant in the desert on the Sinai Peninsula.

I’m sure the Israelite women were excited to keep a tidy and clean tent here on the Sinai Peninsula!

Lastly this was a place for animal sacrifices and this is a faith that uses oil as anointing. Have you ever seen an animal sacrifice? I have seen a festival where blood ran through the streets. It was gross. Absolutely gross. Have you ever had oil poured all over your head like King David? It’s not going to wash out for a few days, just to warn you.

This leaves me to suggest an oderly home has less to do with how the house looks and a lot more to do with the discipleship and spiritual state of the people living in that home.

This faith is messy.

It doesn’t put on fronts, though it does seek to bless others. When I want a clean home rather than to talk with my kids about Jesus or I don’t want people to come over because my home is messy, I need to consider if the clean house is serving God or myself. Because God wants me to love him and other people because of my love for him, not stuff. A refuge need not be squeaky clean.

And what I conclude when I ponder the reasons for my clean house makes a big difference. God has not laid upon me any salvation requirement that my home is clean, and no human has the right to lay this extra-biblical requirement on women.

I hope this helps you break free of any spiritual yoke weighing you down. Your worth is not in your house. If you wonder if a clean home is what God has specifically called for you in your own season of life, ponder:

  • To keep a clean home do I need to sacrifice time in the word to maintain it?
  • To keep a clean home do I need to sacrifice time with my husband or children to maintain it?
  • To keep a clean home do I need to sacrifice my physical health to maintain it?
  • To keep a clean home do I need to sacrifice time serving my neighbors or my church to maintain it?

If you answer yes to any of the above, it is more than likely not something God is leading you to do at this moment in your life. You can talk this over more with those in your life who know you better than me, like your husband, accountability partners, mentors, and pastor.

Lastly if this is something that’s very important to your family, consider if you can financially afford house help. Having homes cleaned professionally can save women a ton of time to instead focus on people.

Cleanliness that is Godly

But there is a type of cleanliness that is godly, and that’s the righteousness you receive when you put your faith in Jesus. It has nothing to do with your physical appearance or the trash status of you home, and everything to do with the inner room of your heart (Mark 7:1-13). Pharisees were concerned with appearances and rules, yet Jesus called them white-washed tombstones. If you have a heart for Jesus you will be passionate for his word, this faith, his people, and the broken.

You can read more about the hope I have in Christ here.

That passion should naturally lead you through sanctification, which is a fierce hate of sin and an ongoing process to see you made more and more into the image of Christ. This cleaning out of your heart should never be sacrificed at the alter of a clean home. A clean home is a cheap replacement in view of the treasures we experience in sanctification.

 

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Photo of Sinai Peninsula Desert via Wikimedia Commons

8 Ways To Love the Immigrant or Refugee Living Next to You

For about 3 years while Bobby attended seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, we partnered up with a handful of peers to live among refugees in our city.

At that time, they were placed in the worst apartment complex in town, since it was the only housing the refugee stipend could afford before they needed to fully support themselves.

Cockroaches infested most apartments, and crime was rampant. A deaf refugee woman was gang raped while we lived there, and gunshots echoed off of the bricks. Police cars couldn’t freely roam through the “private” community, but when their lights cast eerie flickers against our windows, we felt scared.

Several refugee resettlement organizations’ complained about the apartment management’s gross lack of security, so the apartment administration sent out a letter explaining they were not responsible for any tenant’s safety.

In response, some refugees planned ways to protect themselves. Some moved to safer cities with stronger culturally similar communities. Others were crippled by culture shock, asking to be sent back to their camps.

After I moved overseas, when I didn’t experience culture shock in my new country, I reflected how that could be possible. I realized I had significantly more culture shock in my own country in that neighborhood surrounded by so much crime and poverty. The refugees had their issues, but they weren’t the cause of my culture shock.

I have a sick feeling in my stomach understanding some refugees are going from war-torn countries to another dangerous home. One refugee family from Cote d’Ivoire saw their father and uncle murdered with machetes. The son was forced to walk across burning coals. He was made fun of at his high school because of his limp and accent. Without a “man of the house” they did fear living in our neighborhood and were among the most vulnerable. A haven country is supposed to be a haven. At least, that’s where logic would leave me to believe.

 

The Church’s Responsibility to God for Loving Foreign People

Though many refugee resettlement programs are more comprehensive outside of the US, for the most part in the US, refugee resettlement agencies need the support of compassionate churches to make sure that these sojourners make a successful transition. It’s a wonderful opportunity for service and outreach, as refugees, and even legal immigrants, need a huge helping hand.

The nations have come to your doorstep, and kindness goes a long way in changing hearts. Even if hearts don’t change, we are commanded to be kind to the foreigner in our midst. It is an express purpose God clearly commands of his people.

I want to be clear that this isn’t something that believers should do if “called.” No, social justice is a command. Believers are to love the vulnerable and triumph their causes.

And, they definitely need the church’s help. My resettlement experience as an educated, well-to-do expat living in China was a breeze compared to what refugees face. I am grieved by how hard it is for refugees and legal immigrants to survive in the US. Somewhere along the line of UN status as refugee to resettlement, refugees are told that everything will be better when they reach the US. When they arrive and try to adjust, a sharp needle of reality pops the elusive, misconstrued version of the American dream.

There’s a reason Americans have the common cultural phrase, “pull yourself up by your own bootstraps.” That’s what refugees have to do to survive in the US if they’re not given support outside of the US’s minimal refugee resettlement program.

 

Walls to Practical Love

First, proximity is an issue the church must overcome.

I have a suspicion that because of US refugee resettlement programs’ tendency to just place refugees in cheap housing regardless of security, refugees are alienated from neighborhoods where most American churches do the bulk of their outreach. Let’s be honest here. Most churches don’t pick the most dangerous neighborhoods they can to plant and build.

Secondly, lack of education in how to actually minister to a foreign culture is a huge, understandable issue.

It’s true that helping can hurt. Entitlement is a real problem for a tiny fraction of handicapped refugees. Entitlement is created by handouts. Entitlement is busted by proper instruction.

Whether due to apathy or fear, not doing anything is the worst thing a church could do in response to refugees resettled in their cities. Refugee resettlement programs have courses for businesses, organizations, and churches interested in figuring out how they can help. For example, refugees make awesome employees once they get over the hurdle of initial shock and resettlement, and providing a job to hard workers is a great first step.

Maybe your church can’t commit full ministries, but I bet they could commit to “sending” a bivocational minister to oversee a church’s ministry to refugees and figure out how the church can best get involved.

 

What You Can Do To Love Your International Neighbor

Aside from your church collectively taking part, there are many, many practical ways to love refugees. Several of these tips can be used to help legal immigrants, too. The list goes from easy to hard.

  1. Stop by and say hello. Unlike many Americans who don’t like uninvited door-knockers, most internationals come from warm, communal cultures where neighbors talk to each other. Saying hello and letting them know you’re there is a great first step. If you’re short on time, don’t accept the invitation to enter their home. If you enter, don’t be surprised if they give you a drink. Feel free to leave any time you have to go, and before they start to cook a meal for you if you don’t plan to stay for hours.
  2. Take a small gift from their part of the world. You might not be able to get something truly authentic but even a small spice jar from their part of the world would speak volumes. Most cities have import stores, but Amazon is also a wonderful resource. Not sure what to get? The internet is your friend.
  3. Forgive their cultural ignorance. In Nepali culture, walking through the unlocked front door of a friend’s home is totally normal. In Iraqi culture, women breastfeeding exposed in front of other female strangers isn’t a big deal. In Sudanese culture, slaughtering a goat with a machete in the middle of the apartment complex shouldn’t frighten neighbors. In Bhutanese culture, women going days with a type of herbal drug in their teeth is normal. Some of this might offend you, but if you were in another culture, you’d offend your host culture too if you acted as an American. So forgive and explain. Refugees should be taught about US culture, but they need time and patient teachers.
  4. Share a meal in their home and your home. You will probably not like their food, and to be honest, they probably won’t like yours. I loved Iranian, Syrian, and Nepali food, tolerated Iraqi and Cuban food, but hated dishes from Somalia, Sudan, Eretria, Myanmar, and Cote d’Ivoire. Just trying the food made my friends so happy though. Only one family we invited to our home liked my food. Maybe I’m just a bad cook.
  5. Learn their language. I always loved the shock on refugees’ faces when heard me speak a few phrases in their language. Even something as simple as, “Hello, my name is Vanessa,” made them laugh and give me a hug. Google translate is awesome for helping to get access to refugee languages, and there are plenty of other sites that have simple phrases.
  6. Take a small survival basket. I’ve had to teach some refugees how to use the toilet and turn on the stove. Some have never cleaned a home as they lived in grass huts prior to the US. A completely visual guide would be helpful (think IKEA furniture assembly instructions that don’t use language). The guide could include instructions for the toilet, stove, oven, garbage disposer, washing machine, dryer, city buses, and garbage pickup. Emergency numbers also necessary. This would be a gift most appropriate for a second or third visit if you’re able to assess their level of education or familiarity with modern, Western style apartments. Not all refugees and immigrants are uneducated or lived in camps. I knew PhD level engineers, principals, and professors.
  7. Teach. Refugees and immigrants have so much to learn. They need to learn English, the culture, the work culture, how to grocery shop, how to pay their bills, how to travel without a car, how to drive a car, how to communicate with their children’s teachers, how to use the internet, how to become a citizen, and more. You could teach whatever course you feel comfortable with in your home or in a community center.
  8. Sponsor a family. If you’re committed to loving the foreigners in your midst, this is the most sacrificial choice you could make. This would entail committing to help one family, not with handouts, but with instruction every step of the way. I will not downplay how hard this would be. But trust me when I say doing this will make lifelong friends, if not eventually disciples in the faith.


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Steps Leading to Adultery: Impure Thoughts in the Marriage Bed

Just to get it out there, yes, this post is about sex, thoughts, and the marriage bed. This should be a safe post for anyone who struggles with sexual immorality though, regardless of gender.

Anyone at all who is not following Jesus will most likely tell you there is nothing wrong with checking someone out, and some might even go as far as to say it’s healthy to think about other people while you have sex with your spouse.

They’re wrong. That’s adultery.

“But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:28 (ESV)

God does not simply judge us to his law based on what we do in our actions, but also in our heart. Even those who do not know God have the law written on their hearts through their creation as it explains in Romans 2:15-16.

“They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

So, that’s why Jesus doesn’t qualify if you’re looking at another while they’re physically present or if you’re desiring in your mind’s eye. God will judge based on the secrets of all.

It’s totally dangerous to think about another while in the marriage bed because you’re setting your appetite to crave someone other than your spouse. If you think about another in this way, what happens when that doesn’t satisfy? Will you chase after pornography next? Will you then chase after a relationship? How do you know when your appetite has had enough?

“Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
and his feet not be scorched?
So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
none who touches her will go unpunished.” (Proverbs 6:27-29)

Instead, stop your appetite for things that are unholy before it grows into an untamable beast.

If you struggle with impure thoughts when it’s a moment of intimacy with your spouse, here are a few things you can do to battle:

  1. Stay in the Word every day and pray for purity. Without taking a full meal of the word, it’s going to be hard to fight on spiritual fumes.
  2. Confess your sins to the Lord, your spouse, and your accountability partner.  Yes, I said to your spouse. Here’s how, “I’m struggling with being pure in my heart and mind. I want to cherish you as you should be cherished, as God has joined us together for our delight. I want to delight in you in purity, but my heart is shamefully evil. Please pray for me. I need help in this area and I want you to know that.”
  3. Right before being intimate, pray together with your spouse. “Lord, please guard both of our minds so that we are pure and will delight in one another. May we enjoy this time as a gift for our marriage.”
  4. Focus on your spouse in the moment instead of letting your mind wander. Don’t let your mind think even about what’s gone on in your day. Focus on eyes, lips, hair, smell, and other physically present things. Keep the light on if you have to.
  5. If it’s uncontrollable, stop, pray, try again.
  6. Have regular times of intimacy. Don’t wait until your body’s passions are attacking your mind. Also let your spouse know your needs.

I hope these help! If you’re a lady, you’re always welcome to reach out to me for further advice. If you’re a dude, you’ll be redirected to my man.

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When the Mundane Prepares for Ministry after Hurricanes

Today I want to encourage you with a look into the life of Abbie Oehrig Sawyer, wife of Luke Sawyer. Their family has been working in the Dominican Republic via the Fellowship of Christian Athletes well before the terrible hurricanes this season.

Due to the hurricanes, this interview is slightly incomplete, as some clarifying questions were left unanswered. I felt there was urgency in completing this article though, as Abbie and Luke are working with others right now to bring hope and supplies to people in Nagua, on the northern side of the DR. Scroll to the bottom for more information in how to support them.

Ministry in the Mundane
What you have to learn from Abbie is that no one is born a leader, a servant, or a cross-cultural worker. No one is perfect either. No matter how “glamorous” the full time work, everyone struggles with sin and adjustments. And sometimes, it’s in the mundane of the every day where God prepares us for work that is coming.

Abbie is what you would call an MK or a TCK (third culture kid), as she was oldest of five children to parents who served on the field cross-culturally in Latin America for twenty-one years. She was born in Guatemala and raised in Ecuador, later moving to the US when she was 15. High school would be a dark time for her and she doesn’t believe she was truly a Christian before then. She said the “sinner’s prayer” when she was young, but due to fear and anxiety she would re-pray just to be sure. At 18 while attending a Bible college in Colorado, she fully committed her life to what the Lord desired of her.

When she met her husband Luke in college at Anderson University, they set their sights on overseas work.

“Our love for people coming to know the Gospel, working alongside the poor, baseball, our love of culture and Latin America, all make up to what led us to pursue overseas ministry,” Abbie explained.

“The DR has been a wonderful place for Luke to use his gifts in discipleship, leadership development, and community development. We have always said that we aren’t called to one specific place; we are called to make Jesus famous wherever we are.”

Though Luke’s role is obviously hands-on, Abbie is a full-time stay at home mom. She serves by hosting and gathering people around her table for food and conversation.

Perhaps you might believe because she grew up on the field that it’s easy for her to slip back into life in a similar context. She thought that too. But she soon discovered it was harder than she expected.

“The last two years have been full of growing pains and growth for sure. I came to the mission field, feeling like I had a grasp on this life and language having lived it for much of my childhood. I assumed my children would adapt quickly and I would find my place in ministry easily and move mountains!”

Instead, she was taken aback to find that she felt and feels like a “fish out of water.”

What’s been hardest for her is witnessing her oldest son struggle with the changes, from the heat to the culture. Even though he is so little, he even remembers many details about his friends and home in the US.

“It broke my heart,” Abbie stated sadly.

“Luke and I still struggle with how to help him adapt and feel at home and safe. This brought me to my knees in a way I never would have experience living stateside.”

Full time moms everywhere can relate to her struggles.

“I’ve wrestled with feelings of inadequacy and anger, I’ve looked to heaven and ask the Lord what I am doing here?! I am not working with the locals like I expected!”

With her expectations literally thrown to the side, she had to step out of her own views on life overseas and reconsider what the Lord had for her to do in the DR.

“Moving overseas has made me really sit and contemplate the purpose of motherhood, teaching and discipleship. I’m learning that at least in this season, my ministry is more inward, homeschooling my boys, inviting families, friends and strangers to share meals in my home, opening my door to house anyone who needs a place to sleep,” she explained.

“Instead of moving mountains I am learning so much about daily scooping dirt, planting little seeds and daily sharing the gospel with two little boys who don’t know Jesus. I am learning that bringing a friend, family or a stranger in for dinner and coffee, offering clean sheets and a place to rest is my act of worship. No, I don’t have Joanna Gaines eye for design, sometimes it rains for days and I can hardly offer a dry towel, and sometimes dinner is simple because the power goes out half way through. But I trust the Lord is using me in these little, sometimes mundane ways to bring glory to His name and share His heart with others,” she explained.

Even in this she’s stretched though.

“Sometimes I’m tired or feel peopled out. Sometimes I get concerned about the bank account and how we will afford the food. But I really desire to love others in this way and be a restful place for all to come!”

Luke will come in and tell her he has invited someone over to dinner. Instead of throwing a fit or making a rule that there must be advance notice, she serves, even when she thinks they have nothing to eat.

“It adds more excitement and planning in our grocery budget and sometimes, when an unexpected group of six come, I have to run out and we go over the budget! I remind myself, ‘Ok, Lord you brought them to us you will provide!'” She explained.

“People come with different stories, sometimes good, sometimes hard, sometimes with the gift of encouragement; the visits leave me feeling refreshed and thankful as I wash dishes once they’ve left.”

Hurricanes, Parenting, and the Church

And her heart of worship in hospitality has definitely prepared their family for this time of crisis after both Irma and Maria, as she is ministering to her boys while also helping buy supplies. As they deliver supplies, Luke has said the Word is being preached. Praise his name!

No doubt their home will experience several waves of visitors as the DR heals from the destruction, as one team is there right now helping work on a house for one of the FCA staff.

This morning she wrote to me, “I fed 25 people yesterday and will do it again today! So thankful for help from a friend and a sweet woman who works for us acouple days a week!”

Concerning the hurricane, this is such great news for them to have this opportunity to be the physical hands of Jesus because Abbie explained, “The saying, ‘the church is the answer for a broken and dying world”, has become so much more of a reality to me over my two years here.”

“Here in the Dominican, churches lack theological education and doctrinally sound teaching. It infiltrates every part of the culture. The skewed ideas and lack of intentionality are wreaking havoc on the family. Without a solid base these “churches” just become platforms for leaders to control their congregations by taking the word of God out of context,” she said.

One area she sees this poignantly is in parenting, as it is full of abuse and thoughtlessness in the DR.

“I find it crucial that my actions and words are grace-filled, patient and kind. I am more aware of people watching how I handle different situations.”

She was quick to say that she isn’t perfect all of the time in this, and so she practices forgiveness and acknowledging her own sin, as she points to the one who is so much bigger than her own representation of the high-calling of parenting.

“As I look around and see this cycle of fatherlessness and broken hurting men trying to raise these little boys, it pushes me to walk around with urgency! God has given me two sons and with that the responsibility to raise real men who can impact the next generation,” Abbie added.

“We are in desperate needs of strong godly leaders worldwide! Who can step in and speak truth in love, who can lead families, who can love their wives and children, and who can stay committed to that one family!”

Praying against Anxiety

Along with praying that Abbie and Luke and those working alongside of them can get the needed supplies and preach the word, one special area of prayer for Abbie is in anxiety.

In our interview she mentioned that this is a current struggle for her, and with the destruction of the hurricanes and the uncertainty the future might hold, this is a very practical prayer for her specifically.

She has been working on really casting her fears and thoughts to the Lord. “It’s so easy for me to start diving into an anxiety cycle and before I know it, I’ve been up for nights on end. I’m exhausted stressing more, complaining about everything, yelling at my husband and kids, trying to control everything and everyone… Yikes… It opens a huge can of worms.”

She has been practicing to stop and pray in the moment, asking him to take whatever worry and have him care for it because she can’t. At times she has to go back to that prayer many, many times throughout a few hours, but she recognizes her need to experience freedom.

“I’m learning to differentiate between things inside my control, and things outside of my control. So many times I find myself worried and up at 3 AM over something that I can’t do ANYTHING about, especially at 3 AM right? And other times I am worrying or weepy over something I CAN change but I instead of working towards a resolution or action plan to change things I just stress and complain about it.”

Please keep Abbie and her family in your prayers as they minister and love. If you would like to help this imperfect lady love other imperfect people in the DR, please contact her husband Luke at lsawyer@fca.org. or go to their ministry donation page.

You can keep up to date about what they’re doing in the DR by checking out their blog here.

 

If you’d like to let them know you’re praying for them, feel free to scroll down past related posts to comment below.

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Photos: All rights remain with Abbie and Luke Sawyer. 

In Him I Hope: He Will Bring an End to All Injustice

Near and far, young and old, recognized as Americans or not, connected by screens, hurricanes, football, protests, and a painful history, we are all groaning inwardly.

We all are looking at the news and are so bewildered by what we see, though we’re all shocked for different reasons.

Some of us are offended by this, some of us are offended by that.

But the truth that remains for all, is that Christ is coming back. (Matthew 24)

He will come back and when he does he will bring truth and judgment for all. (Matthew 25:31-46)

You and I, dear one, we see in part. We are fallible. (1 Corinthians 13:12)

He is not.

He sees the thoughts and intentions of the heart and knows what is truly in the heart of the people crying out. He sees in the hearts of those who don’t understand. And he knows what is true. Not based on our perspectives, our feelings, our culture, but what is true according to his holy and just law. (Romans 1:18-32)

And according to that law, he will judge each one of us. (Romans 2) (Hebrews 10:30)

We should tremble at the very thought of that. (Hebrews 10:26-31)

A just, omnipresent, and omniscient God will look into the heart of each one of us and declare that we did not measure up. (Job 12:22)

We failed our neighbor. We hurt our friends. We said things we shouldn’t have. We did not minister to the afflicted. We did not stand for the marginalized. We cussed when we should have blessed. We lusted. We coveted. We murdered. (James 1:19-27)

We all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)

We ignore the cause of the orphan and the widow and the slave and the sick and the lame and the wronged. We sit in riches as millions around the world starve. We are complacent. We are silent. We are destitute in our lazy comfort. (Micah 6:8)

And He, God above all, will right it all. For now we see in part but then we will see fully. We will see our God and the holy law of love and the new and better covenant in action that is above the broken and unjust laws all around this globe. (Luke 1:1-18, Hebrews 8:7-12)

And many, many will rightly perish as they cannot pay up the eternally lasting punishment for breaking his holy and just law. Even earthly laws sometimes require death. How much more will an eternal law require?

We all deserve to perish. (Isaiah 6:22-24, Daniel 12:1-2, Mt 18:6-9, etc)

A glimmer of hope though is that God loves all people. He loves the Greek, the Jew, the Samaritan, the Egyptian, the Roman, the Arab and countless other peoples on the face of this planet. (Psalm 86:9)

He will establish a new earth and a new heaven and a new city to dwell where he will be our light. And in this new city he will pack it full of a multitude of beautiful, beautiful nations and peoples. Every tongue imaginable, whether active now or long past, will be present there. (Revelation 21)

This holy God as a grace gave over his son, Jesus, to suffer the punishment of wrath for those who will dwell with him in this new city. No matter race, education, background, current criminal convictions, addictions, or pain will separate Jesus from his people. His people will call on his name in faith and be saved from this expectation of doom. They know his voice and will listen to him. Nothing can separate Him from them. (John 10:24-30)

These people will no longer be given in marriage, no longer separated by tribes, no longer suffer from persecution, injustice, sickness, or pain. Instead he will wipe every tear from our eyes.

No matter our disposition today toward current events, if we call on Jesus in faith, we can hope in this future. We can bank on it.

And in faith and in hope we love those in weaker faith. We love those without hope. We love those who feel wronged in our great expectation that our own wrongs will receive justice. We go outside of the camp with him, on to the hills of Calvary, outside of a worldly-blessed city to suffer with those wrongly treated. (Hebrews 13:13)

He suffered on our behalf. He was cursed, mocked, flogged, beaten, and hung on a cross. 

He is our King and He is who we hope in.

Through him we can love like him. 

We can hope like him.

We can resist sin like him.

We can receive offense like him. (1 Peter 2:21)

We can protect those who are weaker like him.

We can declare what is true and what is just like him.

And we can forgive seventy times seven times like him. 

He is our great high priest and high king after the order of Melchizedek. (Hebrews 7)

No matter what the future on this earth will bring me, my children, or my grandchildren, whether war, famine, persecution, or worse, ein Him I can truly trust.

 

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5 Types of Female Friends Every Christian Woman Should Have

I doubt I’m the first person to exhort you to this, but I do want to put this out there as a reminder for you and for myself:

All of us have specific relationships we’re required to have according to scripture.

 

Not About Your Salvation
Laying down the foundation for this discussion, having or not having these relationships is not a matter of salvation. Faith in the gospel by the regeneration of the Holy Spirit can alone be pointed to as the basis of salvation.

Instead, having these relationships shows living out faith through actions and a fruit of the Spirit, if it is indeed fruit based on trusting that God has given these relationships as parameters for our good. Having these relationships could actually be rooted in sin if you believe you must have them in order to be righteous. Again, that is false. Christ alone gives believers righteousness.

We can look at the desire to have these relationships as an outpouring of the love he has filled in our hearts through the Holy Spirit. Outpour not legalism.

Use Discretion
With that being said, a second note is that Christ gives us grace upon grace. Each one of us has different seasons of life, and sometimes those seasons make investing in relationships nearly impossible, like imprisonment. I’m not joking but serious. Within the pages of In The Presence of My Enemies, Gracia Burnham writes with Dean Merrill about her experience of capture by a terrorist group. She could obviously not fulfill all of her scriptural duties during this season.

So, use discretion when reading this post but also don’t write this off because you’re busy. What are you busy about?

Looking back on my time as a mother to really young children, I wasted a lot of time because I was bored and undisciplined. I also hadn’t seen a pattern of communal, relational type of living until I moved abroad, so I thought I was living in a way that was normal and acceptable. But scripture, not culture, called me to a higher type of living out my faith. In reflection, by His grace and strength, I could have definitely done what I was being called to do.

So, based on my understanding and studies of scripture, (which I totally am willing to be challenged on should you exegete a different way), I believe all believing women, under most circumstances, are called to five main types of relationships with other women throughout their life on earth (this does not include your relationships with your biological family).

  1. Evangelistic discipleship – This means you’re regularly meeting with a woman who is not a believer or a new believer to disciple her in the faith. Cultural Christians who believe that they’re saved because they’ve said a prayer and that’s it are due to the grave error that all there is to salvation and the gospel is the ‘sinner’s prayer.’ Matthew 28:18-20 actually commands us to “teach them to observe all that I commanded you.” That’s what it means to make disciples – teaching someone all they need to know to be healthy in the faith. This can’t be done within a day or even a week. A great and easy goal is to disciple at least one woman every year. If you’re 23 now and the Lord blesses you to live until you’re 83, that’s 60 disciples! Blessed would you be indeed if the Lord gave you more women to disciple at a time than that.
  2. Service Friendships – This means there is someone within your church or within your neighborhood who you are serving as commanded by scripture. We are to stir one another up to love and good works (Hebrews 10:23-25), to show familial affection (Romans 12:9-13), and to show our faith by what we do (James 2:14-23). Service is an intricate outpouring of our faith. This relationship could involve the same person for months, or the Lord could give you a different believer or not-believer each week. That does mean there could be overlap from time to time if you’re serving who you’ve been discipeling or if you have the chance to serve your mentor or accountability partner.
  3. Motherly/wifely discipleship – Within the household of faith, you are to be teaching another, younger believing woman how to love her husband and children (Titus 2:3-5). Now, I think it’s important to note that “older women” are who Paul is calling out here, but who qualifies as an older woman? Does he mean only grey-headed women? And is it necessary that the women be married to be able to teach on this matter?To the first question, I believe all mature women in the faith are able to pour into a younger believing woman, just as we’re all called to disciple a non-believer. As a married woman, I am able to help younger single women fight sexual immorality and have sober minds about what to expect from future marriages. Where are they to receive their perspective about marriage and being wives if they are not taught from scripture? Of course a woman could study on her own, but there is great gain in studying scripture with someone older in the faith.I also do not believe it is necessary for a woman to be married with children to be able to teach from scripture the principles of scripture. Two women I highly admire were both childless, one was single, when they taught me very important biblical principles of marriage. After all, is this not Paul, the single apostle, who talks so much about marriage? If you are equipped to apply the gospel to any circumstance, then do not let singleness prevent you from this duty. Instead, tread with grace and seek understanding while keeping a strong anchor in the gospel.
  4. Mutual Accountability – I pray that most of you have at the very least this relationship already in place. If you don’t, I would urge you to establish this relationship first before seeking out the other relationships. In this relationship, you confess sin to one another and you hold one another accountable, fighting the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:12-15, Hebrews 10:23-25). (There could be an aspect of this in all relationships, as even the evangelistic discipleship relationship could be challenging to your faith, thought it’s one way). I would highly recommend you read about what accountability practically looks like in this post and then read about how to seek out vulnerability in challenging environments in this post.
  5. Mentorship –For the majority of us, there will always be someone older and more mature who can pour into us. If you are fulfilling the younger Titus 2 relationship in number 3 above, you also need someone to fulfill the older Titus 2 relationship with you. That will look like you’re being poured out and poured into at the same time.

Practically Maintaining these Relationships
Although it’s not required by scripture that we only seek out relationships 3-5 within our local church, finding them within our local body most definitely will help build community and build up the body.

The easier relationships to seek out are relationships 1-3.

Evangelistic discipleship (1) in American culture starts with just getting to know someone who’s not like you. That relationship might not lead to an evangelistic discipleship relationship, but it’s possible.

A service (2) relationship requires proximity to the women around you in your neighborhood and in your church, as typically Americans are skilled in hiding their needs. There’s a strong strain of “picking yourself up by your own bootstraps” that just won’t shake from American culture even inside the church. Katie Frugè, who received help from many in her church after going through several hardships, has a lot to say about how to serve another through proximity.

The younger Titus relationship (3) might seem like that’s going to be a lot of work, but actually, just invite the younger woman to come and live life with you. If you’re ministering to a single college student, invite her to come be a part of your family life. You could be really radical here and have her move in. That’s not as burdensome as you might think; since this woman is a believer, she is more than likely going to help serve your family, too.

We currently have a single woman living with us. She is far from family and it puts both her father and older sister at ease to know that we are taking care of her by being her family away from family. She has her own life and schedule, but she has learned a whole lot about raising children when she is here with us.

If you’re ministering to a mom with younger children and you have older children, invite her to come to your home or go to her. Your older children will benefit from being around younger children. While they play in view, you can talk to this mom about mothering and being a wife. I yearned for an adult to talk to when I was home all the time, so you might be surprised to find how much this relationship is desire.

The accountability relationship (4) can be hard to find because you need to find someone strong in the gospel who is willing to be vulnerable with you. Often I have experienced that I need to teach my accountability partners about what is expected, but it is totally worth it once we are in the groove of fighting sin together.

The mentor relationship (5) has been the hardest for me to find (and for Bobby though he currently has a mentor). I am not sure if it is because I have lacked a teachable heart or if older women are not active in mentoring because they haven’t seen it modeled either. I have had mentors in seasons, but understandably, these relationships often changed when mentors or I moved away.

An older woman who has never mentored someone based on the requirement from Titus 2 can feel pretty awkward in doing so. I remember the first time I mentored, and I believe I floundered. When the other woman didn’t make a priority to meet, I assumed she didn’t want to be mentored by me. Intentionality needs to come from both sides though, and I should have asked her about her plans with mentorship just like she should have asked me.

The relationships I have had where I’ve been an obvious mentor have been a joy when the woman tells me I am making a difference in her life and that she appreciates it. We should tell our mentors that what they are doing is making a lasting difference; otherwise they can get burned out or discouraged just like we can.

I also would encourage women to be gracious and meek with their mentors. Maybe your mentor says something that is too harsh or she doesn’t push you enough. She’s human, too. Don’t expect her to be Jesus. Just share your heart with her and I believe she will definitely reconcile or change the way she challenges you.

How I Measure Up
Now looking at this list, I too need to readjust the choices I’m making currently to make room for #1 and #5. There are women I can think of right now who I would love to fulfill #1 with, I just need to actually ask them if they’d like to meet. For the mentor relationship, I need to pray. I know of women who could fulfill this role, but we’re separated by my language skills, and that’s no good. The only other woman I can think of us very, very far away.

So, do you have all of these relationships? What has blessed you about having these relationships?

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Seeking Out Vulnerable Relationships in Cold Churches

“I feel alone at church.”

“There aren’t other women at church who understand what I’m going through.”

“We’ve invited every single family at our church to our home, but they have all declined to meet with us, except a few.”

“At one church, another woman refused to shake my hand.”

These are just a few statements I have heard about how women feel about church in the US. These have all been shared with me in the past two months, but I have had my own share of experiences of feeling alone in church.

I am broken for these women, and I am broken for the churches where they attend.

Church doesn’t have to be this way, where women’s ministries seem to feel cold, and where leaders are so perplexed since the men’s ministries in comparison are overflowing. I don’t think this is a “Christian” issue, I believe it’s a cultural and maybe even a cross-generational issue. From my experience and research, women in other cultures around the world are incredibly gracious and help form an important part of the warm community of the church.

Laying aside culture and generation though, without a doubt, it’s most certainly a heart issue for everyone involved, as genuine fellowship is a marker of healthy faith.

Fellowship not Socializing

While doing research about whether my US friends and I were the only ones who had felt this coldness, I received a great deal of responses from women. Many had experiences where they expressed feeling alone at a church. Sometimes this was a reason why some had left attending churches altogether.

During this research, someone mentioned that church is meant for worship and not a social hour. On one hand I agree. Church’s main focus is worship. When I decry coldness, I’m not requesting that the Lord’s house be used for partying and gossip. Paul rebuked the cliquish Corinthians who were using the Lord’s supper to get drunk and indulge while others went hungry. There is definitely a reverence that is characteristic of Gospel-centered churches.

There is also a warmness that is characteristic of Gospel-centered churches. In Acts, the believers shared everything in common with one another. That’s not going to create a stuffy atmosphere. And 1 John 1 makes clear that part of walking with Christ is fellowship with one another.

Genuine fellowship is one of the many tests scripture gives believers to see if they’re walking in the light as He is in the light.

Genuine fellowship definitely includes…

  • being devoted to the apostles’ teachings
  • breaking bread with one another.
  • confessing to one another.
  • exhorting one another.
  • loving one another.
  • bearing one another’s burdens.

You can’t do any of these “one another” commands without actually talking to one another. You can’t do any of these commands if you’re not actively seeking proximity with one another.

So though “social hour” isn’t the idea, worship should involve time to check in with one another and hopefully even time to apply the sermon to one another’s hearts right after the sermon is finished.

 

Getting To It: Seeking Out Those Vulnerable Relationships

 For the woman who is struggling to find meaningful relationships within church, this is what I would advise without knowing much about the situation.

Examine Yourself.
You may believe you are fostering vulnerability in your relationships with other women and continuing to be shut down for no reason, but maybe you are actually the one tripping up these relationships. Perhaps you’re expecting too much but not offering enough grace. Perhaps you’re asking to hang out once, but then never speaking to that person again. Perhaps you’re caught up in your own struggles and not seeing what’s going on in other people’s lives around you. Perhaps you are so shy you’re displaying to others you don’t want to talk.

This is all SO me.

I used to really hate talking to new people first, even in church. I realized once that I had gone half a year without talking to the people I had never met in my church, (it was a medium-sized church and I had young ones, but still). I did a lot of finger-pointing without examining my own expectations to see if they were reasonable. It was all about me and not about the good of the body.

I also had started to idolize relationships of the past that had awesome vulnerability. If I couldn’t have that, it wasn’t a relationship worth pursuing. Ohhh yes. I want to shrink to admit that, but it’s for everyone’s good right? I was a total snob and hypocrite. I bet I was a real joy to be around. Haha… ha… *face-palm*

Ask the Lord for wisdom in this and to examine your own heart. To desire gospel-centered, vulnerable fellowship is beautiful and wonderful, but it’s not OK to demand it. This is something that needs to be cultivated through application of scripture and changed hearts. If you’re not the women’s leader (who can have direct influence in the shape of a women’s community), this will take time, maybe a lot of time.

Be persistent.
Whether you’re seeking accountability or mentorship, continue to pray, ask, and seek until you find. I believe that the church is THE agent God uses to refine believers and to glorify himself among the nations. That means that the church needs each individual member as much as the other. Your church needs you; don’t forget that. Continue to seek to fill needs and seek to be filled. Don’t give up no matter how imperfect the church is.

Be gracious.
Maybe you asked another sister to meet but she said no. Don’t assume why she said no. If you really want to know why, seek understanding by asking gentle questions of genuine concern. For example, ask, “Is it a busy season for you at the moment?” If it’s a busy season, maybe that means this woman actually needs pouring into rather than pouring out. The following Sunday, take her a meal and say you hope it helps relieve some of her stress. Making a meal is very easy, but if you know her even past the surface level, you could offer something more, like helping with childcare or running errands or picking up something and dropping it off while you’re out.

For more ideas on serving through proximity, check out this great interview with Katie Frugè.

Lead out in vulnerability. Don’t worry about what others think.
If you’re being persistent and consistently receiving no’s and walls, don’t be frustrated. Maybe God is using you to be that person to teach vulnerability because the women at your local body don’t actually know how to have gospel-centered vulnerability (as a general rule).

Open up about your own struggles anyway. You will need to lead out in showing how you can share about your sin while still finding your identity firmly rooted in Christ.

One time a pastor’s wife told me she could only share her sin with other pastors’ wives. She genuinely believed everyone thought she needed to be holy all the time and never struggle with sin. She was several decades older than me, but this type of thinking persists in churches today.

There’s an expectation among women that we must be put together, our home must be clean when company comes over, dinner must be ready and served, and our kids must be well-behaved. Culture perfection must be obtained or we’re going to be expecting a whole heap of judgment. If someone is struggling with that type of false gospel, of course they’re going to be exhausted even thinking of hosting someone. Of course they’re going to be scared about sharing their own sin and being vulnerable.

So, lead out in vulnerability and flaws. Show your sisters that perfection is something to be hoped for, not something that’s going to be completely obtained on this side of eternity. Show your sisters that your identity is in Christ, not in a thousand other requirements from our culture.

When you do open up, expect that there’s going to be two main responses. One response will be shock that you would even share that you sin. They might tell you that you don’t need to beat yourself up and that it’s OK, that Jesus loves you. Some might even say, “Well, I don’t struggle with that. Wow.”

Don’t be discouraged. This sister needs to grow in maturity because she doesn’t know everyone sins every day. This is exactly the person encountered by the pastor’s wife I mentioned earlier. But don’t make the mistake and shut yourself off forever. This sister needs your example in grace.

The second response will be deep appreciation from those who are struggling too. They also felt alone. That’s the response you’re looking for in a church where it’s cold but there’s potential. This sister just needs coaxing, and she’ll be an awesome partner in grace.

Start with the gospel, work from there.
And once you do start opening up and seeing that women need vulnerability modeled, start with the gospel. Start with sharing how you fight sin because of the hope you have in the gospel. Show how sweet, genuine, and warm fellowship is possible because of what Christ has done in you and is doing in them too.

Remind the other woman that there’s nothing she could possibly do that would make you think she’s anything other than a redeemed and justified sister in Christ. She is a new creation who is still trapped in the old flesh and you want to help her in that fight to believe in Christ more.

Until her identity is strongly rooted in Christ rather than cultural expectations, she needs to learn to trust you before she is able to be vulnerable. She cannot, without a strong foundation in the gospel, open up easily.

If you need help with how to build accountability, this article and matching infographic is a great resource.

SO…

Sister, I love you dearly. I pray this article helps you and if it doesn’t help with your specific situation, please let me know. I do want to help and maybe that means prayer. I would love to pray for you and about what’s going on in your life. Also, hearing about your story will help me to understand why on earth some US churches are cold among women. The “why’s and how’s” boggle my brain sometimes.

 

This week, I want to challenge you to:

  1. Examine your heart and see where you might be adding to coldness in your church.
  2. Introduce yourself to someone you haven’t met at church.
  3. Re-invite someone you’ve asked before to get together, and if she says no, find out why.
  4. If lady from #3 doesn’t need to be served, find out how you can serve another lady who is struggling. Ask your pastor or a women’s pastor if you really just don’t know anyone at all.

I believe these are manageable steps for a first week in walking in faith toward gospel-centered vulnerability.

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Or let me know your thoughts via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com. It would be my honor and pleasure to pray for you should you have any requests.

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Subscribe to my monthly newsletter here where I share about fighting sin and how the testimonies of the women I interview have impacted me personally.

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Katie Frugé Choosing Joy in Tough Trials

If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Katie and DL Frugé, you will notice that they both have a sweetness of faith wrapped up in a duality of fun-and-truth loving attitudes.

Long ago, I played pickup soccer with DL while he and Bobby attended SWBTS. That was back when I still hadn’t learned the rules, (I thought ankle tackling meant actually tackling the other players’ ankles. I suppose I took that from my oldest brother’s rugby games). DL was always patient with me despite this, and Bobby encouraged me to get to know Katie, who was studying Systematic Theology at SWBTS.

There are few reasons I’m thankful for Facebook, but being able to see a story of grace play out over several years is one of the reasons that I continue to keep my profile active. If it wasn’t for Facebook, I couldn’t have stayed in touch with Katie over these years, even though I was just watching and commenting from the sidelines.

Katie’s story leaves me without words, because I find myself both encouraged and convicted. I pray the same for you, dear reader.

Meet Katie
Because of her attitude, intelligence, and stunning beauty, you might not expect Katie’s life to have had so many trials.

Her first major trial was at 13 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though this year riddled with difficulties and fears would eventually result in victory, her family came together with significant spiritual growth. This was the first time Katie saw how much joy and growth potential suffering offers, though humans naturally avoid trials and consider them as pure misery.

“We don’t like hard things. We tend to try and avoid them; but when it’s a physical issue like cancer, it’s in your face—you cannot avoid it and you have to just lean in and embrace it for what it is,” Katie stated.

Facing the Unexpected
Katie describes life as returning to normal until about a decade later when she was 26 weeks pregnant with their first child, Eve. After experiencing an abnormal ultrasound, the Frugés were told by doctors that Eve had miraculously survived a rupture of the amniotic sac and this had resulted in severe physical deformities of all four limbs. Doctors were unsure of the prognosis of her internal organs.

I personally felt excited when the Frugés announced their pregnancy. You see—Katie and I were both going through our first pregnancies that year.

I remember being in tears to read this news when I was expecting a gender reveal announcement. Pregnancy hormones greatly heighten empathy ability, especially when the other is also pregnant.

Katie had planned to give birth at a midwife facility but due to the complications of the pregnancy, she needed to also change those plans. My heart broke for her in the face of the unknown with so many decisions needing to be made under stress.

“What followed was 10 weeks of an incredibly stressful and high risk pregnancy followed by a healthy birth to a sweet 5 pound little girl who only had one leg and one arm. Her remaining leg was severely clubbed and her arm and hand has multiple scars and she’s missing parts of fingers; daily reminders of her miraculous life and God’s goodness to us,” Katie remembers.

The Frugés found their lives full of doctor’s appointments and therapy sessions as they began to learn to be faithful shepherds of Eve and her special needs.

Just to help give readers a tiny glimpse into their lives, Eve needs physical therapy for each time she outgrows her prosthetic leg. She will most likely not reach her full body maturity until she’s in her teens. That’s around 10 to 14 years of major changes if we assume she doesn’t have any growth spurts and doesn’t count any updating of prosthetic technology in the future after she reaches maturity.

Eve has also had major surgeries to help repair and heal her remaining limbs, which include costs, therapies, and time for healing.

Eve’s story is beautiful and she is a tenacious fighter from birth with unique abilities and gifts that have brought joy to her loving parents, supportive extended family, and admiring friends. (Just one proof, check out this Doritos and Adaptive Training Foundation commercial Eve appeared in – in total it had 60 million views across all social media platforms.)

Experiencing a Different Kind of Grief
When Katie became pregnant the second time with their daughter Felicity, she was still learning to be a confident parent to Eve.

They had taken precautions with the second pregnancy but all had seemed smooth until at 48 hours after birth, doctors rushed Felicity to the NICU. She had contracted an infection in her brain while in utero that needed an MRI to assess brain damage.

“So 72 hours after giving birth to our second child we realized we were facing life, firstly, as parents to two children with moderate to severe special needs and, secondly, parents to a child with both cognitive and physical disabilities,” Katie explained.

Katie vulnerably shared that Felicity’s diagnosis after birth has been one of the hardest trials she has faced.

“When we found out our second daughter, Felicity, had suffered severe brain damage, I grieved at a depth I haven’t since experienced. There truly is groaning too deep for words, and we experienced that when coming to terms with her diagnoses.

I write a lot more about the struggles we went through with Eve—that was certainly an incredibly difficult journey—because I feel like I have the words to express how I felt with her. Nearly three and a half years after her birth I still do not write much about the days and months following Felicity’s birth—there just aren’t words to express it.

When I consider God’s grace, I remember weeping for Felicity in the hospital and very clearly hearing from the Lord that Felicity’s journey and path were going to play a monumental role in shaping Eve. That somehow Felicity was to be a cornerstone in shaping Eve to be who God wants her to be in His kingdom.

My prayer is that Felicity’s life will help shield Eve from bitterness or scorn. That Eve’s heart would be marked by compassion and empathy for others, despite having disabilities herself.

Alongside that, while I grieved the loss of the baby we thought we had, it was a life-giving thought to consider that despite having such difficulties, Felicity would still be able to have a major and positive impact on others. It felt like she had lost so much because of the virus, but even that could not stop her from being used by God for His glory (John 9).”

Whirlwind Trials and Grace

“A little over a year after our second daughter was born we discovered that the cancer my mother had when I was 13 was actually a genetic form of cancer and each of my siblings had a 50% of inheriting the gene,” Katie continued with her story.

All four siblings tested positive for the genetic mutation, which is a double cancer mutation that causes both breast cancer and a rare form of stomach cancer.

“Without going into many details, the only way they can definitively treat this particular type of stomach cancer is to totally remove the stomach. It’s very difficult to detect even with MRI, CT Scan, and endoscopies.”

In April 2016, Katie had her stomach removed while her sister and brother completing the same surgery earlier that year.

“CDH1 mutations also carry a high risk of breast cancer, so until I go forward with a preventative double mastectomy we’ll be checking in every six months with monitoring,” Katie posted on Facebook..

“The pathology report showed I already had cancer in my stomach when they removed it, so within a few months we learned I had a genetic mutation, underwent lots of different tests, had a life changing surgery, and ultimately found out I’m now a cancer survivor.”

Joy in Suffering and Still Fighting Sin
Despite all she has been through, Katie still takes a humble view of her trials and translates that into grace for others experiencing hardships.

“The thing about trials and suffering is that for many people, our trials can be on-going,” she explained.

“I’m never going to have a stomach again and there are daily trials I face as a result of that. I’m a mother to two beautiful children that have special needs. That is a daily trial. We all have things we face daily that someone could say is a trial.”

You might see a tag #choosejoy on her posts when related to her children’s or her own doctors’ visits. And that’s what she strives to do.

“I think we also have freedom in how we choose to view these hardships. We can resent them, but really what’s the point? We can grieve for them—and there certainly is a place for that—but at some point I think there comes a time when we can choose to lean in and choose joy.”

That doesn’t at all mean that these trials have eradicated all of her sin struggles and that she has reached a level of holiness beyond the reach of her sisters in Christ. As any solid believer does, she finds her righteousness in Christ alone, as no amount of suffering can completely perfect her on this side of eternity.

Her biggest battle is guarding her thoughts and minds, which she and I both believe many of us also battle.

“I have to be on guard against comparing my life to others, [and] I have to be on guard against bitterness,” she confessed.

“It is easy to view our struggles as things that have prevented other good things from happening and that’s where the temptation comes in. I think we have to take our cue from Scripture and literally work towards taking every thought captive,” she says, referring to 2 Cor 10:5.

“When I allow myself to indulge in the thoughts of “what ifs” and “what could have been” situations it quickly leads to other sins; anger, bitterness, jealously. So it all starts in the mind. When I don’t let my thought life go there, I’m not nearly as likely to becoming ragingly jealous or bitter,” she explained.

“For the first several years of Eve’s life I found that I just had to avoid public parks unless I was in the right head space to handle it,” she started when going into more detail about her struggle.

Katie isn’t able to sit on a bench and let her children burn energy, as in the case of Eve, she needs to physically help her climb or go down slides.

But where she finds herself tapped out is through the emotional exhaustion.

“Children are relentlessly curious. I love that about them. But when I have to explain why the cute little girl only has one arm and one leg to 25 curious kiddos, I am emotionally run down. I never mind questions, but there does come a point where you just want to go enjoy the park with your children,” she explained.

“I found myself watching the moms on the benches and could feel the anger of the jealously beast rise up within me. I watched the kids running around effortlessly and wondering if anyone had even considered that we have to go to physical therapy hours every weeks to learn a skill that should come naturally. And then self pity follows. It’s a vicious cycle,” she confessed.

Katie made a great decision in her fight against sin in her thought life. She started by removing herself from the circumstance. She did blame the situation for her sin, but she did understand she wasn’t prepared to fight that battle.

“I made the decision to find other fun places to go until I could control my thought life more successfully. I removed myself from the situation temporarily until I was stronger. I still don’t go to the park often, but I can tell you it’s easier today than it was a year ago. And it’s easier a year ago than It was 2 years ago. Mental victories are hard won but every small victory helps and makes you that much stronger for the next big battle,” she shared.

By the way, please read this heartfelt post from a different abled woman who grew up needing to educate her peers about disabilities. Please make the choice to educate your own children about people who are different, encouraging them to show grace and love and friendship.

Frugé family choosing joy together.

Strength Around Her
Now for those who don’t have any knowledge about Katie, I should comment here that her closeness to her family didn’t end when she got married. That spiritual strength that grew after her mother’s battle with cancer has played out over the years through these trials.

Together the family has taken trips to celebrate Eve, Felicity, cousins, siblings, parents, and surviving cancer. They spiritually and joyfully encourage one another in seriousness and in fun. DL and Katie recently gave physical support to her parents in Houston after hurricane Harvey.

Her church also showed love to her by simply being there for her.

“With each trial, I remember specific people just showing up in the moment. They didn’t say profound things, they didn’t try and explain away my sorrow. They were just there, but by being there they helped take a little bit of the load off my shoulders and carried some themselves,” she commented.

“By being there you are also in close proximity to see what is needed. When someone is going through a trial it can be incredibly difficult to know what you need in the moment. So don’t ask, “What do you need?” Instead, tell them what your plan is and let them adjust if needed.”

She explained that this is the same that she would do if she were to minister to others in her situations. In the case when she can’t be there for someone physically, she can always be there spiritually and emotionally.

“Don’t just glance over them and assume someone else will reach out. My husband calls it “irrefusable grace.” Don’t just say, “let me know if you need dinner.” Instead say, “I’m bringing you dinner, will Thursday night work?” Don’t just say, “Let me know what you need.” Instead, take a quick 5-10-minute investigation into what they may need and immediately offer something concrete. When people are going through struggles, we have the opportunity to be the physical hands of Christ,” she instructed.

“When I was pregnant with Eve I was put on bedrest for 10 weeks. Without asking we had friends and family just start bringing dinners, because they knew it was a need they could meet. When I was in the hospital with Felicity a friend brought be healthy smoothies that helped keep my recovering postpartum body nourished while I focused on my baby. Proximity provides a front row seat to a person’s needs, and when you see a need find a way to try and help meet it,” she remembers.

And for me, this is where her story is so convicting. I was living down the road from her when she was pregnant with Eve and learning to be a parent to a special needs child. All I could muster to do was to cry and pray when I saw her posts.

I could have been there for her or any of my other friends who have gone through trials. I am guilty of being that friend who is more keenly aware of my own problems than the need down the road.

“Before my own trials I don’t think I appreciated how difficult it is to ask for help when you need it. I would throw out vague “let me know” offers but since they never requested I think I missed out on many opportunities. Now when I see a [fellow church member] struggling, I pray for the Holy Spirit to lead me and try to seek out a tangible way I can help within 24 hours,” she explained.

Final Thoughts and Action
Katie’s views on trials are totally in line with scripture. The opening chapter of James tells believers to “consider it pure joy my brothers whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know the testing of your faith develops perseverance, and perseverance must finish its work so that you are mature and complete, not lacking anything.”

Not only are believers strongly exhorted to choose joy, but choosing joy in the face of trial is for our ultimate good in reaching spiritual maturity. If you want to run the race with endurance, learning to be content in all circumstances is a great place to prepare for running the faith marathon.

The fight for contentment starts in the mind, and as Katie said, she must take every thought captive to put all of her faith and trust in the God who has allowed these trails for her good. Like every other sister, she has to daily fight with her own flesh to see Christ as supreme and remember that God is good in all things. Many of us probably just think on autopilot, but that’s losing the fight before its begun.

Lastly, if we are content in our circumstances, we will be spiritually and emotionally ready to physically help those who are hurting in the midst of trials. I want to challenge you to think about those in your church and in your neighborhood who are going through a trial.

If you don’t know how to help them, do as Katie suggested and offer help in a specific way, (maybe you don’t like to cook – like me – there’s always laundry and cleaning to be done or a child to be watched or errands to run or a hug to give).

And maybe the reason we don’t know of any need is because of proximity. Maybe if we were there with them in their home, in their school, God would open our eyes to see the need he sees.

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Photos: Youtube.com, and all other photos reserve rights with DL and Katie Frugé

Why I Share My Sexual Sin So Publicly

Last week my husband sat me down to shower me with words of encouragement. He decided to do this to focus on loving me and speaking grace into my life. I sowed heartache and sin into our marriage, and that has reaped so much destruction that has kept us from rejoicing in the mercies we have every day.

One of the struggles that have been born out of my foolish sowing is his bitterness. He has actively fought it, and I’m thankful for his very godly mentor, coach, and accountability partners who have walked with him in pursuing forgiveness. But he can’t help but sometimes focusing on where I continue to fail and where he fails.

When his coach asked him about ways that he has excelled and ways I have excelled in our marriage, he was convicted by how concrete his examples for himself were, but that he only had abstract pictures of what I was doing to make a change.

So that leads me to the two of us sitting in the kitchen with the dishes unwashed, and our needy dog gnawing and nipping at our hands and feet for attention. There in the midst of the normal of life, he spoke grace to me.

Through tears, we both rejoiced in what the Lord is doing in our lives.

During this conversation, he brought up that he appreciated that I was bold for sharing such shameful sin so publicly. He believed that took humility to share so vulnerably.

He gets me. He understands why I want to share, but I want to set the record straight for those who believe I’m sharing what I am to seek attention.

It’s not for Attention
First, I had a successful career as a managing editor for a well-known publication in my current city. My job was often seen as a stepping stone for very secure, comfortable jobs as marketing managers and directors in international schools, hospitals, and hotels, or step-up journalism opportunities in widely-known magazines and media, like ELLE or Jezebel.

I really didn’t need to seek attention from an audience as I already had a captive one. In taking this route with this blog, I’m actually losing attention since the subject matter of my blog is tricky where I live, and I can’t always share openly on my audience’s preferred social media (WeChat). Well, I could, but I might risk unwanted attention with unsure consequences.

It’s not for Praise or Catharsis
Secondly, the purpose for sharing something like adultery and sexual sin is so easily misunderstood, but I did not share to get praise or pursue an odd form of catharsis. I really don’t know what others think about it all, but judging by the thousands of clicks, it’s something that is rattling around in the brains of my readers. I don’t know if that’s because they think it’s gossip, it’s controversial or what… but I really honestly don’t care. In comparison, each month the magazine was printed, thousands of copies went to hundreds of drop locations. I didn’t have the privilege of engaging with each reader in their thoughts about my work, and I don’t have the privilege of doing that now with this blog either.

I am genuinely concerned about the readers who relate to my struggle. I also do care about what those who are living and walking with me every day think. I do care about what my husband thinks. I do care about what my accountability partners say. I do care about what my church says about my walk. They see my faith day in and day out.

It’s easy for someone to stop by this site once and make a judgment about who I am in Christ. That’s hard when it’s said with hurtful words, but I have to remember that there’s a lot of pain dwelling inside of them to react to my story with hate when I don’t have a single influence in their life. I’m just a story on a screen. That’s it.

It’s not to put on Face or be the next Christian Personality
Lastly, I have been hurt by the misconception that after someone becomes a Christian they are now forever holy and righteous. So what I see is that people do a lot of pretending. In China, there’s this concept called ‘face.’ That can be understood by residents of the South as honor or reputation. I myself have been guilty of worrying about my reputation and deciding not to be vulnerable when it’s time to go around in small group and share what I’ve been struggling with that week.

“Life is so good because I’ve been blessed with this amazing spiritual super power!”

Every time after I pretend that, God lets my mask fall off, and I’m humbled. My story isn’t pretty and it’s not glamorous. It’s gritty and real and now. I really pray that I don’t stick my big foot in my big mouth, but knowing my heart and how my thoughts plop out of my mouth before the filter is available, I will more than likely say something stupid, make a bunch of people angry, have some sort of sin processed publicly, or something else like that. I did great on PR when my personal life wasn’t involved, but I sometimes let the hurt of my heart show before I think what it will mean for others.

That pretty much means acceptance as a Christian personality will never happen, unless as a culture Christians begin to honor what is dishonorable and share about what isn’t even polite conversation at a friend’s dinner table.

The Number One Reason I Share
To set it all straight, I share my sin so publicly because I really, really want to see women and men set free from sin, especially sexual sin, by the truth of God’s amazing gospel. I want to see marriages healed. I want to see women’s groups learning to be vulnerable with one another. I want to see women rejoicing in the grace they have from God. I want to glorify God in this, even if I’m only used in a small way.

The conviction of my sin is real and painful.

The grace I have received is beautiful!

The holiness I want is tangible.

And the real relationship I have with the creator of this universe is not just for me.

That’s why I share my sin so vulnerably.

And when I do, I am able to reach into the hearts of others who would otherwise remain closed off.

Even if my impact is small, it is my joy to obey God in this way, to glorify him in my writing in a way that’s unique to me.

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Sowing Grace and Truth with College Students: Meet Professor Charity Yost Reed

I’m sure we’ve all heard a story like this, “Johnny was raised in a Christian home, went to church every Sunday, got baptized when he was 10, was an active member in youth group, graduated from a Christian high school, then went to college, met a liberal professor, and lost his faith.”

Or another common example where professors shine in helping their students learn to respect faith. “I went to college and learned that the Christian faith is a joke and is entirely made up. It’s completely illogical and lacks any supporting evidence. You’ll learn too when you go to college.”

The need for strong gospel-centered voices and godly examples in the collegiate field is understated. When I hear about my peers who are becoming professors, or college ministers, and engaging with students in both private and public sectors, I’m excited.

That brings me to introduce you to Charity Yost Reed, an English professor at Anderson University, who speaks truth, hope, and grace to her students. I was inspired to ask Reed to share about her love for her students when I saw this post on her Facebook.

I met her as Charity Yost nearly ten years ago in Anderson at the off-campus housing where her now-husband Ben Reed lived. I think Ben and his housemates were hosting a fellowship for BCM or another campus ministry. Though it was dark on the porch and people were moving in and out, she and I stood together and chatted about life.

The Journey to Becoming A Professor
Now with a large dose of life experience between the two of us, I was happy to delve into her life once more. Reed explained to me that she always knew she wanted to teach. “While most of the girls I knew growing up loved Barbies, I only liked one— Teacher Barbie,” she joked.

It wasn’t until she started taking college classes that she realized what grade she wanted to teach, as she had loved every grade until she “realized that higher education never stops.” What drew her to teaching was “the fluid learning environment of an intentional classroom” but becoming a professor seemed “distant and unattainable” as she is a first generation college graduate. As she finished her masters, she worked many different jobs that missed the mark of what she hoped to accomplish as a professor. But “now those experiences enrich [her] lectures.”

“What I saw as meandering was a purposeful path to where God wanted to use me most,” Reed explained.

Reed started as an administrative assistant in the Art and Music Departments before moving to teaching in the English department, where she currently holds her position. Now that her goal has become reality, she appreciates the work her previous professors have taken to get the jobs they had due to now having an awareness of the politics that come to play within university systems.

“I remember being in complete awe of my black female professor who was the chair of my department because I knew that as a minority she had overcome more obstacles than many of the other people in similar positions,” she remarked. Then added, “Now, I’m even more in awe of the women in leadership positions in universities.”

Despite viewing the reality of this system, she doesn’t lose hope by keeping her eyes on who really matters. “…The more I learn about it, the more I know it needs freedom that comes only from Jesus. I have no desire to work the educational system or be political, but I do have a great desire to work for His glory exactly where he placed me and to be a balance of professional and personal in that environment.”

School Anxiety Isn’t Just for Students
And working for His glory shines through, from her enthusiasm for her students to her prayers in class. Being a professor hasn’t been without sin struggle, though. Her particular struggles are perfectionism and anxiety.

“I expected teaching to be an outlet for me to use those characteristics for good, but it ended up being just another place to rely on myself instead of Jesus.” She still struggles with these tendencies, and relies on God to give her “grace upon grace to overcome it.”

“Like Philippians 3:12 says, I don’t consider myself perfected, but I’m pressing on. This has made me simplify my life of stressors, and I continue to do so. I’m often asking myself what else I can throw off in this race, what else I can sell and give to the poor so I can follow Jesus better.”

Her struggle has made her more aware of her student’s struggles with anxiety. “I am able to be more understanding, more genuine, and more gracious with them.”

When I asked for her to share with me a specific example of that, her vulnerable answer blessed me.

“Students should know they aren’t the only ones who get first day jitters. One semester, I wound up in the emergency room thinking I was having a heart attack, but really it was a panic attack. My stress over the first week of school had built up so gradually that I didn’t even notice it. Balancing school with family and some other responsibilities we had taken on like renovating a house and some leadership positions with a nonprofit had gotten the best of me. Now I know how destructive anxiety is for my mind and body. Coping mechanisms had become my excuses to rely on myself. The Spirit is still showing me my biggest and tiniest tensions, and replacing my coping with trusting.”

Love Coming from Lectures and Assignments
Though Reed knows this is exactly the work the Lord has given to her at this time, it hasn’t always come without feelings of awkwardness.

“I shied away from praying aloud or incorporating spiritual truths for fear that I would sound preachy,” she admitted.

“I still have no idea whether my fellow professors do this, but it no longer matters to me what is the norm. In the past four years of teaching, I have gained confidence in speaking openly and vulnerably in my classroom about my relationship with Jesus, a confidence that continues to transform my mind and that I cannot wait to use everyday.”

Reed confesses that she is privileged to work at a university where she can openly talk about her faith, as this has become an integral part of how she prepares her students for life after college.

“Preparing these students to discuss everyday topics in the light of truth is another advantage I have in my teaching role. College isn’t always the training ground for the next stage of life as it should be, so I try to present my students with scenarios and assignments that make them think more about how they may minister to others after college.”

Reed knows that she has precious little time to minister to her students, as her class is for their first semester of their college career. “I rarely get to see where my students lives and careers lead beyond my class.”

Her goal for ministry in her role as professor is “to be a reflection of grace and love” in the hours she spends with her freshmen students each week.

“One way I get to minister to my students is to simply care about them. It sounds simple, but it’s what I teach them about writing—care about your audience enough to get to know them.”

As just one example, she is careful to notice if the class is stressed. She’ll pray over them and might even postpone a due date to exemplify grace and love. “Slightly less grading time is a small price to pay for the way little graces open up communication in my class.”

Though she cares and loves for both the traditional and nontraditional college student, she understands the difficult circumstances for the nontraditional college student.

“Most of these students have full-time jobs and families and are coming back to college after years out of school. Their classes are double the speed of my traditional classes, but these students are intrepid,” she commented.

“Many of them are seeking a degree in order to get a raise or a promotion, and I am beyond proud of how well they do in my class because I know how hard they work for it,” she added.

Along with her ministry goal, her professional goal is to make sure that both types of students are well prepared for the work ahead of them, and she is joyful in seeing that accomplished by comparing their beginning writing assignment to their final portfolio work.

And I think that’s important in ministering holistically. Her students have come to her for writing skills; not only does she give them these necessary tools, she’s filling up their hearts and lives with holy truth, grace, and love.

A Growing Burden for College Students and Young Professionals
Reed has grown in this role and didn’t necessarily intend to stay in Anderson city as long as she has, but recently God has been putting a stronger burden on her heart and her church’s heart to reach out to college-aged and young professional adults.

“The Lord is doing big things in that subculture right now… We’ve been going to NewSpring, and they just started a 18-25 year old ministry called Rally that I hope to be involved with.”

She added, “They also have NewSpring Leadership College, where I just led a workshop on writing in ministry. It seems like the Lord really wants me to focus on this age group lately.”

Professors certainly have a captive audience, but what Reed is doing in the college classroom and through her chruch is just a few ways adults can get involved in the largely unreached group of college students and young professionals.

Just this year, dear friends of mine left China to continue college ministry in the US, and I am also learning about the work of college administration in sowing hope among college youth. There are also unlikely ways to minister to college youth and young professionals, like CARES ministries in apartment complexes near college campuses, or job preparation ministries churches could start.

If you’d like to follow along with Reed through her journey of ministering to her students, you can find her at The Country Professor, where she writes and shares some of her DIY home decoration projects.

Do you have any ideas about reaching out to college students or young professionals? 

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No Matter What has Happened to You, in Christ, You are New

I don’t know what your specific story is. I don’t know if you’ve been raped, sexually abused, or trafficked. I don’t know if you indulged in sexual immorality or if you were forced into doing something you didn’t want. I don’t know if you know who hurt you or if the person’s hands grazed over you anonymously in a crowd. I don’t know if you were a child or an adult. I don’t know if it’s been a public scandal or if you’ve kept this secret for years.

That doesn’t matter.

You can be made new. 

But you can’t be made new by the world.

World cultures abound in placing both victim and indulger both in a category of shame. Most certainly for the victim, this is a wrong and perverted sense of justice. I wish I could change the hearts of evil men and women who are embarrassed by or degrade the value of sex victims, but I’m incapable of changing hearts. No one ever should shame a victim with, “It’s your fault for going to this place or doing that.” Or, “Why didn’t you tell someone sooner?” when speaking to a child victim. The justice system is so perverse in many places as either there is a hitch for getting out of sex crimes or the penalties are so pathetically pointless. In some countries the penalty is even born by the victim, not the wrong-doer. There is no hope for the victim in society for redemption or change.

For the indulger or even perpetrator, shame will follow him or her everywhere. The scarlet “A” that Puritans used to shame the wanton ways of immoral women is just one cultural example of that shame. In modern times, people may not force a physical scarlet letter, but the thoughts of blame and judgment remain. And one of my least favorite strain of thoughts from modern day is that “people never really change.” That’s a sentence of judgment for people who indulge in sexual immorality. There is no hope in society for redemption or change.

Still, you can be made new.

But you can’t be made new by yourself.

I have been both victim and indulger. As a victim, I look inside myself and see confusion. Love based on my heart is twisted. Sex hurts. It’s not something that’s awesome to be shared with my husband as an expression of love, because it’s been used as a tool to hurt me. Someone else’s selfish desires were placed above my own need to be protected. And born out of that I have trouble fighting back against sexual injustice committed against me. Hands and bodies rubbed across me for years after the first initial abuse. I found value in how much I was wanted sexually. Other victims of sex crime are incapable of enjoying intimate relationships because of trauma. Their own bodies and minds betray them as touches bring back memories of the crimes committed against them. There is no hope for the victim from within.

For me as an indulger, sex became a tool to seek revenge and to triumph myself over others. I continued to find value in how I was desired by others. I sought out that attention. Unchecked, my appetite for this type of attention and indulgence is voracious. I cannot hide within myself. All I see within as an indulger is hunger, terrible, terrible hunger. There is no hope for the indulger from within.

But there is hope for the victim and the indulger, whether man or women, that in Christ, a new creation can be made (2 Corinthians 5:16-21). 

You can be made new by him who has the power over everything, even death (Mark 5:21-43).

He too has felt shame and can identify with you. He will take your shame like he despised his own shame (Hebrews 12:2)

He will take the punishment of your sin (1 Peter 2:21-25).

He will give you a new heart and new Spirit, which has pure desires and thoughts and intentions (Ezekiel 36:22-38).

He changes your identity (video from TGC).

When fears or desires from your past plague you, he can change your thoughts. He will give hope.

The good news is that though the world, societies, and even your own heart fail you, Christ will not. In the beginning, God, the Father, Son and Holy spirit, made the world, he made man and woman in his (their) image. God told man and woman to obey him, to love him with all their heart. They didn’t want to. They sought themselves as their own god, and so disobeyed him. Due to their disobedience, all humanity is cursed with sin and should expect a fearful judgment at death. Through them, we all fall short of the glory of God, both victims and indulgers.

In God’s perfect love, he sent Jesus to die for sinners so that they might have life. He loved God perfectly, something all humanity could not do. He healed people of all their ailments and broken hearts. He brought them hope that death would not bring judgment if they put their hope and trust in him. Though he didn’t deserve it as a sinless man, he died. He died and God’s wrath was poured out on him. That wrath is for sin.

Three days later he rose again, appeared to 500 people and taught them all that the scriptures said about him. At Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to renew the hearts of the believers, giving them a new heart and a new spirit. They loved one another with pure hearts, sharing everything in common, and having sweet fellowship with other believers. They had a new appetite for God’s word and a heart to always sing of his mercies despite the terrible circumstances they found themselves in.

They went out and proclaimed these truths, the life and hope of Jesus, and many would suffer death at the hands of persecutors. But they trusted in the hope that Jesus had given to them – at death, they could look forward to a new heaven and new earth where Jesus would be with them instead of the judgment that awaits those who continue to disobey and to live lives as their own gods. In this new heaven and earth, they would be given new bodies that had no curse and would never be sick or in pain again. They would always be with God, he who has always truly loved them.

If you believe in these truths and put your hope in Jesus, you too can have a new and changed heart. You too can be a new creation in Christ. 

And for the victim and indulger, that means no more fear of shame. No more inability to fight your own desires. No more lingering bitterness. In Christ, the victim has the ability to forgive. In Christ, the indulger can be changed. In Christ, relationships can be pure and whole and sweet in a way that can never be apart from Christ. No shadow of sexual shame waits at the door to spoil the fellowship we have with others in Christ.

That’s why I’ve said it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter what your story is.

In Christ, you are new. 

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The Purpose of Marriage is NOT to meet All of Your Personal Needs

When we take a look at God’s design for marriage in Genesis and in Ephesians, we find a picture that is very different from what culture teaches about marriage.

Everything from Disney movies to romance novels show a picture of marriage that is largely dependent on self or society. The marriage relationship is displayed as finding an ultimate purpose, as helping people to become better versions of themselves, or simply to produce children for a society that would otherwise sputter out and die.

When we take our desires and try to find out joy in our spouse, we are often met with heaps of dissatisfaction since our spouses were never meant to fulfill every single need we have. Only Christ can fulfill our godly needs and desires and bring us lasting contentment.

God’s purpose for marriage has multiple reasons, but one primary reason is to help us all find our ultimate joy in Christ, as a Christian marriage points both the husband and wife and the onlooking world to the picture of Jesus loving the church.

Listen to us share below. We’re looking forward to the upcoming Take 10 series looking at the purpose of marriage.

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Or let me know your thoughts via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com.

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Steps Leading to Adultery: Forsaking All Boundaries

In their inherent intended usage, rules are pretty useless at helping prevent adultery. I think that’s because we all love breaking rules. A lot of us are rebels at heart. Or we’re so good at following rules that we ignore what’s slinking around in the darkness of our hearts. The rest of us are Pharisees, (religious rule-followers who look like awesome goody-two-shoes but whose hearts are far from purity and righteousness).

Hey, you’re in good company with Christians. We fail but our Savior reigns. We know we’re terrible at following the law and unable to obtain holiness. So we submit to Him who was able to follow every rule with gladness and gentleness and not an ounce of self-righteous hypocrisy.

The law was never meant to give life. Only Jesus’ death on the cross was meant to give grace, offer a transformative heart, and deliver from the deadly cost of sin.

What rules do help us to see, though, are safe boundaries that we should in principle follow; the boundaries that we should rejoice in placing as a grace for our own good, not what we must follow out of drudgery and self-righteousness. Rules also help us to see what we really want.

It would be ridiculous of me to put a rule to never eat chocolate because I really, really want to eat chocolate. I love chocolate. I would be setting up the don’t-eat-chocolate rule to fail. That reveals my heart, though. I can’t place that rule because I can’t follow it. If I start to want chocolate more than I want to follow God, that’s a problem. I suppose I have some chocolate idolatry pondering to do after I finish writing this post.

But in relation to adultery and setting healthy boundaries, are you willing to give it all up to fight those wandering feet? Mark your own response to some of these boundaries and rules:

  • What if you placed a rule that you could never ride alone in a car with a member of your attraction pool (whether members of the opposite sex or those of same-sex attraction)?
  • What if you happened to have to do something with a member of your attraction pool at work, and you and your spouse agreed to call one another before this type of co-working?
  • What if you placed a rule that your spouse could check your phone at any moment of the day or night?
  • What if you placed a rule that you weren’t going to discuss topics surrounding your marriage with others, especially not “complaining” about your spouse?
  • What if you promised to tell your spouse when you were struggling with any sorts of feelings at all toward a specific person?
  • What if you promised not to flirt with members of your attraction pool (or not to flirt with anyone except your spouse)?

If your heart flares up in response to any of these “rules” as, “Hey! That’s stealing my freedom! I’m an independent person!” this thought is revealing some of your heart issues.

If you really wanted to ensure that you never commit adultery, you wouldn’t care about the cost of setting boundaries. If you’re not setting that healthy boundary, you’re giving yourself an out. You’re giving yourself the opportunity to “fall in love” with someone else. Or simply to fall out of love and commitment with your spouse.

If I was really committed to a healthy lifestyle at all cost, I would gladly give up all sugary versions of chocolate, but seriously they’re calling my name. Not setting that rule helps me to not feel that ounce of guilt that most certainly would come if I were to break that rule (like a thousand times). I’m not giving up any of my freedom to indulge either. So when I bite into that piece of sugary chocolate, I’m really not doing anything wrong. No rules broken here.

Now, we all know where my heart is.

C-H-O-C-O-L-A-T-E

I would communicate the same if I were not willing to set healthy boundaries for preventing adultery.

Let’s Be Clear Caveat
Now. This is not a manifesto on how to convince your spouse to submit to a list of rules to keep him/her under your surveillance. If you’re worried your spouse will commit adultery (or commit a second time) but your spouse doesn’t WANT to set these boundaries, the boundaries are useless.

When I set boundaries with my husband after the last and, by the grace of God, final adultery, they were set in order to talk through ways in which my life had been allowing these creeping opportunities.

I wanted boundaries.

I know my heart is prone to wander, and so I wanted his help in coming up with boundaries that would produce safety for me and trust for him. He wasn’t the only one who helped me set healthy boundaries either, my counselor, our church, and my accountability partners all helped and currently help, too.

Throughout Psalms and in Hymns, the writers call out to God to bind their hearts so that they will not wander from the truth. They know the depth of their own hearts and they know if they’re given the choice, they will walk off into all sorts of snares of sin. They plead with God for him to lead them away from their own flesh-driven temptation and to continue to set their eyes on his face.

That’s my heart for myself and for you if you’re struggling with thoughts of adultery!

Don’t do it. Pleading with you not to give in.

It’s not worth it.

Have a talk with trusted friends and your spouse about ways you can set up healthy boundaries today.

What are your healthy boundaries? Scroll down past related posts to comment below! 

Or let me know via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com. Encouraging emails always help me to continue to write.

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Could You Have Godly Love for Strippers? Forever Loved SC Does

In May of 2016, Morgan D’Avanzo began to hear the Lord speaking to her, telling her to start a strip club ministry.

She remembered thinking, “That’s an interesting calling,” and continued to pray for several months. She called clubs to find out if she could deliver gifts, but all said no.

After searching online, Morgan said, “I stumbled upon an organization called Strip Church, which provides training, one-on-one coaching, and resources for groups all across the US that want to do outreach in strip clubs.” After her application and references were checked, she began training as a Network Partner, which acted as the foundation and umbrella for Forever Loved SC, the ministry she founded in January 2017.

Morgan shied away from being called “founder” of Forever Loved SC, as she considers it a technicality. “We all serve, pray, and make decisions together.” Their first launch meeting was in February, then the first outreach was in March.

Forever Loved SC is fulfilling a unique space in ministry for obvious reasons. Morgan explained that many have not even heard of strip club ministry. “We have a unique opportunity to literally meet these women where they are by going into their places of work to deliver dinner, snacks, and gifts,” she added.

“Our goal is simply to encourage and remind these women that they are beautiful and loved. All of the gifts we deliver have our business card with contact information so they can reach out if they ever need a friend.”

 

A Radical Change in Perspective
Morgan recalled being terrified to step into a strip club before starting this ministry. “I thought of strip clubs only as dangerous places where bad people hang out.”

Her perspective of women in this industry has radically changed since then. Before Forever Loved SC was started, she had the opportunity to go on an outreach night with a group in another city that had been pouring out their love for 5 years. After that night Morgan “cried because [she] saw these women as daughters of God rather than just ‘strippers.’”

Reaching out to the hearts behind the faces she sees at each outreach night has humanized the women working in clubs.

“They have children, they have boyfriends; they have goals and dreams. Several of them are in college or have other jobs during the day. When we serve in the clubs, we talk about everything from their career goals to what they are studying in school to parenting. The reality is that we are all daughters, sisters, mothers, girlfriends, wives, and friends who have chosen different paths in life.”

Morgan has also felt a leveling effect due to Forever Loved SC.

“God has taught me that my sins are no different than the sins of anyone else. It can be easy to think of gossip, pride, and impatience as “not as bad” as stripping, but the reality is that sin is sin and it just looks different for different people,” Morgan insisted.

Morgan’s values and view of sin are in sync with one of the foundational purposes of this website, to help all women fight sin at its very core, at the heart.

Morgan explained that she also saw how God provides for the callings and ministries he is leading believers to carry out. “He will take care of the fear, anxiety, and struggles that come along with that calling… God has allowed us to form great relationships with 3 strip clubs and 4 massage parlors, [showing] that God will fulfill the calling He places in our hearts.”

And indeed, Forever Loved SC has been incredibly blessed with support. “I was not sure at first how my church would react to it, but I have been so encouraged to see friends, family, and church members step up and volunteer to drive, bake goodies, and provide items for gift bags,” she explained.

Trust Built with Hugs, Prayers, and Goodie Bags
At each night of outreach, the team will send in 3 women into a club and a male volunteer acts as driver to wait in the car for them to return.

In just a short five months since its inception, the outreach ministry has started to bear fruit. “I love to talk about how the Lord is growing these relationships with the club managers, bouncers, and dancers,” Morgan beamed.

“We have had so many girls say that they love nights when we come visit. Two months ago we had one woman chase us out into the street to hug us as we were walking back to the car. Two weeks ago, one woman left the customer she was sitting with when we were walking toward the door to share her heart with us and ask us to pray for her.”

Morgan is incredibly thankful for the friendships she and the team have made over the past months. “Every single woman we have met is special to me and has impacted me far beyond words can express. Praise Jesus for His abounding love and unending grace.”

 

Love Despite Danger
Though the ministry has been incredibly blessed, there are still precautions to take for both physical and spiritual safety.

“We were in one club recently waiting to speak with the bouncer when a fight broke out right in front of us. It was scary because it was just 3 girls from our team surrounded by 8 or 10 guys. One customer started screaming at the bouncer, then the bouncer got up and started running toward him. We left right away and on the way out, a customer stopped us and asked if I was a prostitute.”

Morgan has also become sensitive to spiritual warfare. Though she already accepted it as a reality based on the truthfulness of scripture, she has just recently started to experience it at a greater magnitude.

“One thing that I have noticed is that when I am praying daily, fasting, and seeking God’s guidance for Forever Loved SC, I struggle more with being overtired and sometimes lacking interest in things I normally love to do. I often battle bouts of depression, major fatigue, and physical illness before, during, and immediately after outreach nights. If I do not get enough sleep the night before or after outreach nights, these symptoms are worse.”

She discovered this very real battle one night immediately after outreach night. She was so physically exhausted for three days that she didn’t want to get out of bed. She felt depressed, but she didn’t understand why. Everything was going perfectly with the ministry and she was taking care of her body; there was absolutely no other reason to explain why she was feeling as she was.

Now that she is aware of the spiritual attacks, she has pinpointed that after outreach nights Satan attacks the most.

Morgan draws on Ephesians 6:10-20 to know how to battle against spiritual warfare. “Verse 11 (NIV) says “Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.” Satan is constantly attempting to deceive, distract, and confuse us. I have found that Satan attacks me the hardest before, during, and after outreach nights,” she explained. That’s when the love of Jesus for these beautiful women created in his image is shining the brightest.

Morgan’s advice to others who are interested in starting such a ministry is first to pray for several months. If the Lord is truly calling to this ministry, the desire will grow. She also suggests researching to see if Strip Church is already operating in an area or city near those interested. Under the Strip Church umbrella, training, support, and scholarships are available to groups partnering with them. The benefit of continuing to partner with an already operating group is experience and already established relationships and connections.

“If there is not club ministry in your area, I recommend reaching out to the leaders at Strip Church about beginning ministry,” she said.

If you’re in South Carolina and interested in joining by supporting Forever Loved SC, that doesn’t necessarily require visiting a club on an outreach night. There is gift preparation and prayer.

“If your church or small group would like to sponsor a month of outreach gifts (such as bags of candy, make up samples, hand lotion), or prepare a snack for the dancers, you would be covering a vital area of the ministry.” Morgan explained.

The team actually considers prayer to be the most important part of the ministry and hope to begin a prayer team that would pray from home on outreach nights.

“The reality is that God can do His work without us. We could serve a thousand brownies and give out a thousand business cards with contact information, but it does not matter if the Lord isn’t preparing hearts beforehand.”

To volunteer prayer, time or gifts, contact Forever Loved SC at ForeverLovedSC@yahoo.com or liking their Facebook page.

To learn more about Strip Church, visit their website.

So, what are your thoughts? Could you have a godly, Christ-centered love for women in this industry? I certainly hope this post has challenged you to do so. You can comment below or let me know via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here. Find me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

 

What Leads To Adultery? You’d Be Surprised

After our first anniversary, I remember getting in a big argument with Bobby right before we were leaving for small group. I hatefully told him if he ever cheated on me I would divorce him.

I’ve clearly eaten those words because I have pleaded for his mercy and grace to fight for our marriage and through my craziness and confusion. Our marriage has been a thorn in his flesh and a smiting tool God uses to refine Bobby. Bobby has discipled me through very rough eight years of marriage. Of course there have been joys and graces, but on the whole, we would not recommend to single men to marry a woman like who I used to be.

Because of his commitment to Christ and willingness to genuinely lay down his life for me, in order to present me as spotless before Christ, I owe him my life. He has demonstrated to me day in and day out the barebones of faith in Christ. My life without faith in Christ would be desolate, and Bobby’s example of living Christ never burns out.

Could this be a picture of adultery? On the outside, nope. But we can’t see either heart, so we can’t know. God knows though.

 

My Foolishness In Thinking I Was Safe
Back to that second year though. I suppose I thought that because I couldn’t see myself committing adultery, I was safe. Most people assume that men are the ones more likely to commit adultery. I think a lot of wives commit adultery in their emotions, in their lack of vulnerability, and in their discontentment. Jesus says after all, that lust in the heart is equivalent to committing adultery. He’s not exaggerating there. God is concerned with the heart seemingly more than actions.

This applies to women who might not be committing sexual immorality, but who are totally emotionally unfaithful. Out of boredom, one friend spent her free time at home in glorified chat rooms. She soon got close with one specific user and started to spend more and more time chatting and getting to know him. She began to compare her husband to the user. She then started wondering what life would be like if she were with this user. Soon, there were things she would tell the user rather than her husband. Thoughts, dreams, desires, wishes. She was convicted that this was essentially adultery, confessed, and stopped talking with this man.

Before the first adultery and while I was still new to marriage, I had carried over a habit from singleness of checking out men, seeing if they were checking me out, checking to see if they had a wedding ring, and assessing other aspects of their physical character all in under ten seconds. I bet you can only guess what that did to my heart. Often I was already committing adultery and I didn’t even realize what I was doing with my thoughts.

Strength in Christ does not mean you are safe either. Surprise, surprise, Bobby fights against temptations to commit sexual immorality (adultery). He had these struggles even before I committed adultery, but understandably revenge adultery was a strong temptation in response to the third adultery. We both agree that pornography is adultery. We even see desires to be with someone else in any way that is meant to be exclusively held for marriage as adultery. It’s a slippery slope to “full blown” adultery!

If Bobby were not to fight every single day, confessing his sin to me and to others, taking every thought captive, he would be swept away. Though Bobby is strong in the Lord, he is totally weak without him, and should never, ever believe he is safe from adultery.

So, read this list with an open mind and consider, are you leaving room in your heart to lead toward adultery? It’s not glamorous at all, and if you need a strong slap, read how my choice to commit adultery nearly destroyed me.

Obvious and Overt Paths to Adultery

  1. Desiring adultery in your heart
  2. No accountability
  3. Not attending worship regularly and not being an active member of the body of Christ
  4. Not reading the word daily
  5. Not fighting sin
  6. Breaking agreed upon boundaries
  7. Not having boundaries with the opposite sex/ attraction sex
  8. Not using discretion with “red flag” members of the opposite/attraction sex
  9. Flirting
  10. Having a practice of keeping secrets from your spouse (keeping part of your life private or off limits)
  11. Deleting any message, picture, or record to prevent your spouse from seeing
  12. Seeking attention from others through dress, attitude, or speech
  13. Blaming your spouse for marital problems
  14. Engaging in any form of pornography (already adultery)
  15. Checking other people out and imagining what it would be like with them sexually or in marriage (also adultery, but of the heart; this was the main issue of my second adultery)
  16. Thinking up ways to commit adultery and how you could get away with it
  17. Not having a healthy view of the marriage bed (sex)

Subtle and Slippery Paths to Adultery

  1. Lack of gratitude, grace, mercy, or forgiveness in marriage
  2. Always assuming the worst of your spouse
  3. Refusing to lay down your life for your wife
  4. Being purposely, un-biblically in-submissive
  5. Lingering, general discontentment in marriage
  6. Apathy toward marriage (it’s not broken, don’t fix it)
  7. Seeking a Disney-style, happy-ending marriage (the main reason for my first adultery)
  8. Expecting your spouse to fulfill every desire of your heart (only Christ never disappoints)
  9. Any lack of self-control sin like gluttony, financial foolishness, slothfulness, anger, etc. (if someone lacks self-control in one area, s/he often lacks control in another, and the self-control failures grow if not trained in righteousness)
  10. Pride in self and in possessions or assets
  11. Seeking my own glory or believing in lies that sin is glamours or satisfying, even in a moment (this is totally the main crux of my third adultery)
  12. Not knowing God’s purpose for marriage and pursuing your own version

I’m not going to put a number on this because the list could easily grow, but these are ways I can see right now that would lead to adultery if not confronted and abandoned at the cross of Christ. I suppose some of these seem ridiculous, but then I’m the one sitting on the other side of adulteries. It is serious, not ridiculous.

I also don’t want to throw out this list and say there isn’t any hope, you’re just bound to commit adultery. If you don’t fight, yes. You will commit adultery. But if you’re willing to lay aside selfish sin and desire and wholly seek Christ, his resurrection power in you, believer, will succeed. Fight!

What are your thoughts? You can comment below or let me know via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com so I can pray for you.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here. Find me on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, or Twitter.

Labor, Love, Jesus, and Doulas: Meet Cate Wiggins

During my first labor, with the oversight of the on-call doctor, my husband preciously delivered my daughter. Our hearts burst in this sweet moment.

We were devastated when we made the same request at the same hospital just a year later, but the on-call doctor just said no. No reason, just no, firmly.

My son’s name, Hezekiah, means “strength of the Lord.” As I cried alone with my husband in the hospital room with bitter tears, I needed to draw on His strength to push through, still working with the same doctor who was denying me a moment I couldn’t get back.

We were there alone, without words of comfort from Christ-centered friends. We chose that because to me, it’s awkward to be surrounded by friends or family I’m not close to like that. Like, seeing parts-of-my-body-you’ll-never-forget close.

But that doesn’t mean that the birth process has to be spent alone without someone who gives you the support to be able to advocate for yourself.* There are other options, regardless of whether you choose birthing at home, at a birthing center, or at the hospital.

So it’s my joy to share about the precious ministry and work of doulas, and one special doula who I met in Fort Worth.

First, What Does a Doula DO?
As a trained non-medical professional, a doula supports a pregnant woman and her family in multiple ways. Before birth, she asks questions and informs about birth and labor pain to help prepare the expecting mother and birth partner. During labor and birth, a doula will provide emotional and pain management support.

The concept of the doula, and the midwife, has been around for centuries in many cultures. In China where I live now, the month after birth is a “sitting period” for women and their babies. It’s common here for an assistant, like a postpartum doula, to provide round-the-clock care to the mom for help with breastfeeding, newborn care, cooking, and cleaning.

From my conversations with Cate and my research, I learned that the role of a doula is confused with just being a “pat on the back” until a potential client sees the cost. I love Cate’s blog post, “You Charge What?” Breaking Down the “Why” of Doula Fees which does a great job explaining the sacrifice doulas make. “When a doula opens up space on her calendar to accept clients, she is also accepting that she will likely miss important events, such as holidays, birthdays, and family vacations,” Cate writes. There’s more valid explanation, but I’ll let her post stand for itself.

Meet Cate Wiggins
Before she became a doula, Cate and I met in Fort Worth at a mutual friend’s apartment. When I learned she had become a doula, I was excited to find out about how her love for Jesus mixed with her unique profession.

It all started with a bit of disappointment with her first labor in 2012. Cate explained, “When I had my son, I envisioned a much more hands-on nursing staff than we received. I labored for 16.5 hours with my son and most of that was done alone with just my husband and me.”

She decided to make a change with her second labor in 2015 and hired a doula. At that delivery, she “saw, first hand, how continuous presence and support of a doula can really transform a labor.”

Now as a doula, she understands that nurses aren’t able to offer continuous support since they have a huge list of duties and typically care for multiple women at once.

She “jumped in full force” to become a doula when she saw how accessible the certification was. Her responses to my questions show clearly the passion she has for loving these women through the process of labor.

She’s there as a presence throughout the labor and has deep understanding about the process of birth. She’s able to provide comfort measures and what she calls “Jedi mind tricks” to “literally change the course and interpretation of a woman’s labor.”

She molds her support for each of her clients according to their own personality and situation. For example, she offers more facts and information to the ones who prefer to wing-it but listens carefully to the desires of the go-getters. Cate is there for both mom and the birth partner, offering emotional, physical, and educational support every step of the way.

She also strives to “bust the myths that commonly circulate about birth, without giving women false hopes or expectations.” This is especially helpful for first time moms who Cate explained often have traumatizing fear based on Hollywood depictions. Other new moms assume important decisions can be made in the moment, but there are a whole host of surprises or choices that need to made for labor and delivery to run smoothly.

“For second time and beyond moms, the most common fear is transitioning to their new normal. There’s a fear that they won’t be able to give their older child(ren) the love or attention they have been giving,” Cate explained.

“I find great joy in reminding these moms that God was not surprised by this pregnancy. He knew exactly what He was doing when He gave them this new baby and He will walk through them in the postpartum transition.”

Cate reminds them that children are resilient, which is a fact I have revisited several times in my research as former managing editor of an education and parenting magazine in China.

Jesus In It All
Though not all of her clients are walking as Christ-followers, Cate certainly bathes their meetings, conversations, labors, and deliveries in prayer and the love of Christ.

Cate explained, “I pray for the health and safety of mom, dad, and baby. I pray for love and respect to shine through my words and instructions, and I pray for heavenly discernment for the medical staff, laboring mother, and myself.”

She’s incredibly blessed by the special connections with clients who do want a Christ-centered doula. Once a client asked if her desire for such a doula was silly. “I personally chose my (second) birth team based on their strong faith because it gave me more comfort knowing they weren’t just focused on their medical training, but were also in tune with the urges of the Holy Spirit,” Cate responded to her.

She understands and respects that not all of her clients are concerned about faith though, so she is “constantly thinking and praying through how to show them Jesus without putting the relationship in jeopardy.”

And her trust in the Holy Spirit certainly reaps wisdom.

Cate related to me this situation:

“While I’m not making medical decisions for my clients, there have been moments when I felt the Spirit leading me to do or say certain things. For example, I recently had a client who wanted to labor at home for a while. After laboring with them for several hours, I felt, for no good reason, that it was time to head to the hospital. For several hours, she labored while her baby experienced regular heart decelerations. That evening, she was sent back to the OR for a Cesarean birth. During the Cesarean the midwife noticed she’d had a small placental abruption. Had we stayed home until transition (which is usually when I encourage clients to go to their respective birth place), she could have lost her baby. This client wasn’t having exponentially more pain than normal, and she was handling things well. Looking back she’d shown mild signs of abruption, but nothing super alarming. I just had a sense that we needed to be where she could be monitored by her midwives.” 

May the Glory Be to Him
Of course Cate has been a blessing to many, as her testimonial page is filled with gushing reviews. But she admits that despite flourishing in this role, she also struggles with sin.

Her main struggle is arrogance. “With anything that comes naturally, it’s easy to let the focus become on how great we are when, in fact, God gave us the talents and gifts that we have.” She nails it for so many of us, right?

“He is the one who set us on the path we are on and He alone deserves the glory and praise,” she added.

When Cate was in the midst of her struggles with arrogance, God gave her grace to reveal to her the depth of her sin. “The best, and hardest, way God showed me my sin was giving me a string of disappointing births. There was about a month and a half where I missed three births in a row, for varying reasons. I was sick, her labor was lightening fast, or the family unexpectedly changed their mind about my services.”

Ouch. Of course not only were these disappointments, but it was understandably hard for her to not take these all as personal failures. But God’s purposes for her trials shone through the pain and through the exhortation of friends.

“Through the loving discipleship of some close friends, I was reminded that this work is not about me, my successes, or my failures. It is about serving women how and when they needed me. All three women had wonderful deliveries without me.”

Resolved to glorify him in everything and love her clients through anything, Cate stated, “I am a helper, not the deciding factor.”

The Church Helping with Birth
I have a bit of a bias now that I’ve seen so many Asian cultures taking care of new moms, so I asked Cate for her opinion about American moms and support after birth.

Cate explained, “It can take 4 or more weeks to stabilize milk supply, more to get fully comfortable and flexible with nursing, at least 6 weeks to physically heal from vaginal delivery, more for a cesarean, and up to a year for postpartum hormones to level out. While the baby blues tend to appear within a few days of delivery, Postpartum Depression can take 3 months or more to show up.”

That’s crazy isn’t it? Imagine going through that and trying to care for the baby, and for many American moms, older children too!

“By that time, meal trains have long ended, fathers and some mothers have gone back to work, and the life hustle has returned in full force.”

Whew. It’s past time to give mommas a break.  Why are we wondering why moms struggle so much?

“There is this expectation in our country that women should have motherhood figured out and be back to normal weeks after the monumental life-change of labor and delivery.”

Honestly, as Cate told me this, I was thinking, preach it, girl! I also slow clapped in my head.

Cate finished with a punch, “Without a doubt, American women need more and longer support during postpartum healing.”

Her advice to other believers in caring for pregnant and postpartum women is to step up the service, be a presence, stop sharing scary birth stories when no one asked, and just listen to what these moms say they need. “We need to allow women to voice their desires, their fears, and their needs. We shouldn’t assume we know how to best support a woman after she gives birth,” Cate stated.

She elaborates, “Maybe she needs her laundry folded instead of a seventh lasagna. Maybe she needs someone else to change that poopy diaper or let her dominate the conversation. Jesus said if we ask, we will receive, but how can a new mom ask if no one is listening?”

Get In Contact With Cate
Visit her website for more information. You can also follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

 

I don’t know about you, but even with my knowledge of how hard it is during labor, delivery, and postpartum in the US, Cate’s words are a challenge to me to love women more fully during the hardest moments of child rearing.

What are your thoughts? You can comment below or let me know via email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com so I can pray for you.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here. Find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

 

*An earlier version of this blog post used the word “advocate.” A common misconception is that a doula is an advocate, but Cate explained that she supports her clients so they are able to advocate for themselves. She is not able to act as an advocate between medical staff and their patients.

Photos: Bree Linne PhotographyLife in Design Photography

Confession: My Heart Is Not Right After Charlottesville

My heart has been so heavy over the events at and since Charlottesville. I’ve been anxious and worried about the immediate future of my loved ones in the US. Is the country moving toward increasingly intense civil unrest? What would that mean for them and for us?

Continue reading “Confession: My Heart Is Not Right After Charlottesville”

How Believers Can Stand Next to People of Color After Charlottesville

I believe the events at Charlottesville is a modern American tragedy. As believers, this should not have happened for us to all wake up and finally agree, “Ok, white supremacy and the oppression of people of color are both real and active.”

We should have long before been listening to the voices of our brothers and sisters in Christ who have been shouting out that they were experiencing this oppression.

The reality is that God hates oppression. Take a look at these passages for your own research and wrestle with these questions:

Am I ignoring oppression happening in my own community?

Am I turning a blind eye to racist overtones in conversations and actions around me?

Does my church take seriously that white supremacy is paganism and deserves loving church discipline following the pattern found in Matthew 18?

Do I personally treat everyone as people made in God’s image?

Am I seeking to bring justice to those who are hurt by this world?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lamented the way Christians stood on the sidelines and professing that civil rights are social issues that do not deserve the church’s involvement. We are seeing now how this lack of action within our church and society has created conflicts similar to those from 50 years before.

Racism is wrong. Discrimination is illegal. Why are these still issues being protested? It’s because of apathy in our own hearts and inaction from those who went before us.

Let that inaction and apathy not be charged against our generation of believers at judgment day.

What are other ways you see as an opportunity to stand with people of color? Comment below

 

If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com

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Are You An Awesome Accountability Partner? Here’s How You Can Be

Maybe this is a uniquely Millennial situation, but I remember that everyone and their duck got accountability partners in college. If someone was struck down suddenly by a sin struggle, usually sexual, the sure fix was to get an accountability partner.

I was frustrated with my accountability experience while in college. I was the one primarily in sin, and my accountability partner was disappointed when I would sin. I became incredibly ashamed to talk to her about my struggles, and we both ended up avoiding one another. My shame fueled more repeat sin.

Neither one of us were good accountability partners, though.

We were concerned with fixing behavior rather than dealing with the heart. We wanted change without prayer and biblical confession. We didn’t encourage one another, and we certainly didn’t point one another to Christ. We were doing too little, too late.

When To Find Accountability
No one should be waiting to find accountability once a bonfire of sin starts. Accountability should be happening regularly, through all seasons of life. An ideal situation would be that you meet with your accountability partner(s) once a week face to face for an intentional time of confession and encouragement.

That ideal would include being able to see them casually throughout the week, and feeling freedom to send them messages when you’re struggling, need prayer, and to also check on them and care for them. This ensures that you’re actually living life together and seeking to “encourage one another every day, as long as it is called today” (from Hebrews 3:13).

Who Is Ideal for Accountability
A good accountability partner isn’t some random Christian friend you decide to confess your sin to, or someone you want to help fix. There are different types of relationships within the Christian community, including discipleship and mentorship, but accountability partners should be mutually encouraging.

You want your accountability partner to have a firm understanding of the Gospel and be able to understand that you are a redeemed sinner, being sanctified every day, but also failing everyday. (No one is capable of loving the Lord with the whole heart every single second of the day. We all fall short of the glory of God. Nor do any of us abide in Christ every second of every day).

I prefer accountability partners I fellowship with corporately every Sunday, and love it when my accountability partners are in my small group. At one church where I was a member in the US, all the women in my small group acted as accountability to one another. It was a sweet, refreshing, sin-killing group.

Currently I have five accountability partners. My husband, one woman at my church and in my small group I’m teaching how to have accountability, one woman who lives in my neighborhood who was in a non-church based small group, one woman who lives in my neighborhood who I’m teaching how to have accountability, and one woman who is older than me who matches my husband and I in purpose of life, but loving elsewhere in a different capacity.

 

How To Have Accountability
So you’ve got an accountability partner, but how are times of intentional accountability used?

The structure of my accountability times typically look like this:

  1. We ask one another about life, especially things that might have been shared about from the previous time we met. It’s a lighthearted, natural way to start. When appropriate, rejoice with them in victories.
  2. After two or three minutes, if we haven’t already gotten into confessing sin, we’ll ask one another, “How have you been doing?”One of us will share our sin, temptations, struggles, and any insight we already have about why we might be struggling with that sin.
  3. The listening partner encourages the confessing partner, “Thank you for sharing with me. I can see how that’s hard. I’m thankful God gave you the grace to reveal that sin to you.”
  4. The listening partner then asks questions based on biblical principles and to seek understanding. Accountability partners should try to avoid assumptions about specific struggles. Even if the partner has dealt with a similar sin or struggle, it does not mean the sin has the same root.For example, two people could be gluttonous. One person may be gluttonous because she is in absolute rebellion and doesn’t care that she’s not caring for her body. The other person who is gluttonous may do it in cycles. She uses the time of gluttony for comfort instead of turning to Christ for comfort. Same sinful actions, different root causes.It’s important to help your accountability partner figure out what the root of a sin is in order to repent from that sin. Without understanding the root of sin, it’s hard to battle the sin. Again, just dealing with the behavior of sin only changes behavior, not the heart.
  5. If understanding of the battle is reached, the partner who has listened and asked questions has any wisdom or verses to share that would help battle, this is the time to share.If understanding of the battle is NOT reached due to gaps or confusion from the confessing partner, the listening partner should point to the Gospel for hope, that the Holy Spirit can and will reveal sin and its root.
  6. Pray together, and go back through step 2-5 for the other partner.
  7. End in prayer and a hug. In most situations, with the exception of newer believers learning how to be an accountability partner or after an appropriate rebuke, you should leave feeling encouraged rather than condemned.

NEVER say things like:

  • “I would never do that, how could you?”
  • “I didn’t realize someone could struggle with that.”
  • “Why don’t you just stop doing that?!”
  • “I’m just really frustrated with you.”
  • “I’m good. I didn’t sin this week.”
  • “This verse points to that God’s wrath will be poured out on sinners if they do not repent.” (The whole point of someone confessing is that they want to repent and run.)

 

DO:

  • Challenge or rebuke one another to look more closely at a sin struggle if there has been lack of any progress or victory over the course of two to three weeks. Use discernment and pray before rebuking.
  • Remember that everyone falls short of the glory of God, and no one will be without sin on this side of eternity, including you.
  • Confess your sin in full and in detail. Keeping secrets and hiding information builds false vulnerability.
  • Grieve in a godly way over your sin and over your partner’s sin.

 

Follow Up
Throughout the week, message your accountability partner. Ask them how they are doing with one of the sins they confessed. Tell them you are praying for them. Confess or ask for prayer if you have had any struggles that week, too.

When my accountability times changed to being focused on the Gospel and loving one another through Christ, I actually wanted to see my accountability partners. Confessing sin wasn’t burdensome, though we still grieve with one another over our sin.

I also started to see genuine change in my walk with Christ and in fighting sin when accountability looked like this. I also saw change in my partners’ lives, which is incredibly encouraging.

If you’d like to investigate in detail what it looks like to care for another sinner while remaining Gospel-centered, Bobby recommends Instrument In The Reedemer’s Hands by Paul David Tripp.

If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here. Find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Photo: Anna Levinzon (Flickr)

My Flesh Wants My Own Glory, My Heart Wants to Love God

If there’s anything that having been the managing editor of a magazine has revealed about myself, it’s that my flesh really does want glory. As a managing editor, I was required to keep track of the numbers of followers and engagement my brand magazine and website generated.

I became obsessed with social media, and I would catch myself on social platforms past my work hours. I wasn’t trying to be a good steward of my work responsibilities. I was craving attention, connection, and success. It was more than unhealthy; it was seeking glory.

When I seek my own glory, I’m loving myself primarily and exalting myself over God.

The consequences are numerous for seeking my own glory. First my relationship with God suffers. I don’t focus during devotion because I’m thinking about how I can do this or that better. I forget about the responsibilities I have at home or for my own health because seeking my own glory is more important.

It’s really ugly.

Proverbs 25:27 says, “It is not good to eat much honey, nor is it glorious to seek one’s own glory.” This connects to the earlier verse at 25:16, “If you have found honey, eat only enough for you, lest you have your fill of it and vomit it.”

If I draw on those two verses, when I take in too much of my own glory, my heart and soul and actions are like vomiting this profuse waste because I have no self-control to limit my eating of my own glory.

I am already struggling with wanting to seek after my own glory with this blog, and I’ve only been writing here again for a week or so. I’m thankful for the focus of this blog though: fighting sin, glorifying God, loving God, encouraging other women, and pursuing Christ in everything that matters. If my blog were its own breathing person, seeking its own glory would be its personal anathema.

There’s a temptation inside of me to be hypocritical and pursue glory, but more than anything I want to transform the community of Christian women in the US to love one another and love God the most. I can’t be used by God to do that, if it is his will, if I’m focused on numbers instead of his glory.

I know this is going to continue to be a thorn in my flesh, and so honestly, this article is for me more than it is for anyone else. I need to remind myself that Christ is more satisfying than any success, any accomplishment, any change. I also need you, reader, to help encourage me to follow after Christ not after myself. I welcome rebuke anytime you even get a whiff of self-exaltation.

Without Christ being at the center of this blog, all of this is totally meaningless.

Now, I would love to just be ascetic (abstaining with severe discipline) here and cut off my blog, leave all social media platforms, and call it a day. But that would just ignore my problem of loving my own glory.

It doesn’t matter what I do, I can seek my glory in anything.

I’ve sought my own glory in house cleaning, being a mom, being a wife, exercising, cook and eating, being Vanessa, being a teacher, and being a Christian. I can’t stop eating. I can’t decide I’m not going to be myself anymore. Asceticism changes behavior and substitutes it with another. It doesn’t deal with the heart.

Alright, how?
How can you deal with the sin of the heart when you can’t give something up?

1 – Love God, Worship Him
If there’s no love in my heart for God, loving myself will come naturally. I can’t love someone I don’t know, and I can’t know someone if I’m not spending time with someone.

If you told me you loved me, I wouldn’t believe you. You don’t know me! You’ve never spent any time with me; you’ve never done anything for me. And if I compared your “love” to my husband’s profession of love, we both know who would win in that battle of loves.

Well, if I say I’m in love with God but I don’t think about him, read his letters to everyone (the Bible), talk to him (pray), sing praises to him (worship him), give him thanks for his specific gifts to me (the Cross and an abundance more) or have a humble heart toward him, my love for him is not a believable love. Just like your love for me.

As my love for God grows, my love for myself diminishes. The more I love God, the more I want his glory and am disgusted by my own infatuation with myself.

2 – Know the Word, Self-Preach the Gospel
John Piper has said to preach the Gospel to yourself each morning so your heart is singing and new, rejoicing at the mercy of each day. That’s a great way to help your heart readjust to focus on what matters in this momentary life. The Gospel can be succinctly explained by many preachers and believers, but knowing the verses that support those succinct summaries of the Gospel is important for having a Biblical-foundation of trust in the Gospel.

Knowing and mediating on the word is helpful in loving God more and fighting sin. I love that 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

By knowing scripture, I am training myself in righteousness. True righteousness is totally opposed to seeking my own glory and any other sinfulness.

What’s cool is that scripture is like a sword against sin. Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

Whew. Ready for a stab to the heart? Let’s open our Bibles and turn to Hebrews 2, 4, 6, 12, 13 and 1 Peter  and 2 Peter. Enjoy your grace-filled conviction and tears.

In all seriousness, knowing what is sinful will help you to battle sin. If you’re oblivious to sin, it will fester and grow faster than cancer. In case you need a reminder of my own devastation with sin, here are links to my painful lessons through adultery and my husband’s struggle with forgiveness.

3 – Take Thoughts and Actions Captive
For some things, we know we’re in sin, but maybe we haven’t quite trained ourselves enough in righteousness to be able to completely resist the temptation when it comes. Therefore, we must be aware of how that temptation starts.

Paying attention to what I do with my time and what I’m thinking about is helpful. I struggle with thoughts of what happened during the adultery. Thinking about what happened is not profitable. It doesn’t point me to Christ, and often points me toward a mess of feelings including condemnation, retaliation, self-loathing, sexual temptation, and shame. I have to be conscious to take captive those thoughts and pray for grace, forgiveness, purity, and self-control.

Philippians 4:8 commands that believers think about what is profitable and holy, and anything attached to memories of the adultery is far from that.

For my struggle with social media, I do need to check it for my blog, but I don’t need to check it ten times a day. Paying attention to how many times I check or how many times I want to check can help me to assess how much I really need to fight my desire for glory.

4 – Confess Sin, Be Accountable
Confessing my sin to God is first, but I can’t just do that. First of all, my sin affects my whole family, not just me.

If I continue to engage on social media when my daughter asks me to read her a book, though I haven’t spent much time with her that day, that’s sinful. I’m putting a higher value on social media than her.

That’s so twisted!

Social media is fleeting, but my daughter is precious. My motherly responsibilities include to love, teach, and guide her through life, not waste time on social media.

So I’ve apologized to my kids, to my husband, and to my friends for misplaced attention. I’ve also confessed this struggle of seeking my own glory to my accountability partners, so they can ask about how I’m doing with this. I lean on the promise that if we confess our sins, He is faithful to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

5 – Learn From Other Believers and Teachers
Lastly, it’s a grace to have the introspection of God-honoring men and women written down in books and in blogs. We live in a world with a wealth of access to people like John Piper, John MacArthur, Tim Keller, Paul Washer, Jonathon Edwards, Dietrich Bonheoffer, and many, many, many more.

I also personally find that the more I’m fellowshipping with other believers, the more I rejoice in the work of God. We encourage one another by testifying to what God is doing in each of our lives. As believers, we are not meant to live out our faith apart from one another. When we try to do this, we become like a spark that’s been spit out of the campfire. It quickly burns out when not connected to the source of the flame.

*All verses are from the English Standard Version (ESV)

I’m curious if you also struggle with seeking your own glory. How have you battled this?

Please comment below

 

If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here. Find me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter.

Why Bother Fighting Sin When It Brings Shame?

 

Shownotes

Hey and welcome to Take 10 with Vanessa Jencks, where I share encouragement, exhortation, or rebuke in under ten minutes.

Today I want to talk about why confess sin, why battle sin, why deal with it. I think a lot of people believe if you’re confessing your sin, if you’re saying you have sin, it’s a shameful thing. It admits that you’re not perfect. Even as a Christian, it can be something that brings about way more shame than what I think is actually intended from confession.

So I think a really great passage in talking about this is 1 John, especially looking at 1 John 1:5-10 and the first part of Chapter 2. Now just a little bit of background about 1 John, John was writing to a church to exhort them that and show them that they were actually true believers. There was a group of people that left from them, and they were concerned about what these people had been saying, if they were following the way, if they were truly seeking after Christ.

So John writes these letters to them, so that they know for sure they are believers. Although we’re not looking at this text for that purpose, exegetically, I can point out practical applications from the text.

What is so awesome about these verses is that it can show you clearly what it looks like to walk with Christ and what it looks like not to walk with Christ. Some implications from that text are that God is light and there is no darkness in him.

If we are saying we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we’re lying and we’re not practicing the truth. If we’re walking in the light with him though, we’re having fellowship with other believers, so that his blood cleanses us from all sin.

But on the flip side of that, if we say we have no sin, we’re deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. And then if we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sin, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. And man, look at verse 10, if we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

Then if you go back down to chapter 2, he says, “My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you do not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”

So, this is such a convicting passage because, essentially it’s saying, “If you’re saying that you’re a perfect person, if today you have not sinned, if in this past week you haven’t sinned, you’re a liar. You’re not practicing the truth. You’re not actually walking with Christ.”

That’s a huge slap in the face to people who think they’re believers, but they’re really not. It’s also a check, like a heart check for believers to stop and look and say, “Am I walking with Christ right now? Or am I pursuing after my own flesh in this moment? Am I truly seeking what is glorying to the Lord? Am I confessing my sin?”

Because if you’re confessing your sin, you’re being made more and more into his image and likeness. If you’re confessing your sin daily, if you’re saying, “Lord, I don’t live up to your commandment to love the Lord my God with all my heart and soul and mind, just as a default, where else am I sinning?”

David asked God to look into his heart and to show him his sin. And this man was a man after God’s own heart. God specifically chose him because of the faithfulness of his heart toward the Lord. And yet David himself says he’s not sure if he’s got sin in his heart. “Please show me if I do, I know I’m a sinner.” He humbled himself before the Lord.

See, confessing your sin doesn’t have to be shameful. If we’re looking at it from a right perspective, if we’re looking at it in the perspective that sin hinders us, it hinders us from rejoicing and loving God more, then we’re going to want to get as much of it out of us as possible. The best way to do that is to confess our sins to other believers and to our Lord, so they can hold us accountable.

There’s this moment right before the third adultery, which was the most earth-shattering for our marriage, right before it happened, I was laying awake in my bed. For context, my husband and I had just been through this sweet period, where we had been memorizing through Romans, and we were really strong spiritually. But then we got busy. I was neglecting my spiritual disciplines. We were neglecting a time of confession with each other.

I remember laying there awake, realizing I was struggling, but too afraid to share with my husband. Who knows what would have happened if I had just told him that I was struggling before I did anything? That was before I pursued after it whole-heartedly. I would have saved myself so much heartache by just confessing my sin to him.

So, I don’t ever want to be that foolish again. I don’t want to ever think I’m so strong that I don’t need to confess my sin daily. So I would exhort you sister to find someone, your husband or someone else, confess your sin to them. Walk with Christ. Walk with other believers.

That’s my prayer for you. I hope this has been exhorting and encouraging to you.

That’s my Take 10.

If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com

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My Husband Committed Adultery and I Forgave Him, But I Still Doubt (Bobby Answers)

Last week after my husband and I shared about my unfaithfulness in marriage, we began to receive hundreds of messages and comments from readers. They found my page or commented on the article through the social media pages of both Kirk Cameron and TheCourage.

One particular question from a woman needed a full answer, so Bobby responded. See the question and response below.

adultery-forgiveness

Sarah writes: 

I read your post about committing adultery and appreciate you being willing to share your story to help others pursue Christ. I wanted to reach out to ask your husband a few questions. Two years ago, I found out my husband had committed adultery several times. I was so broken and hurt, but God was with me through it all. I came to a point where I truly felt like I could forgive my husband, and I told him that I did, but so often it all replays in my mind. I question if he’s cheating again, or worry that he is, but I try to ignore my thoughts. I feel like it’s Satan trying to attack and knock me down, but then there are times when I feel like maybe it’s a legitimate concern.

Has your husband gone through similar feelings? Perhaps I’m just not fully trusting in the Lord to take care of this. Or maybe I must forgive and let go daily? I would love to move on from these nagging doubts, but the insecurities seem overwhelming at times. Thanks for taking the time to listen. God bless!

Bobby Responds: 

First, I just want to thank you for sharing your heart with us because it is very brave to entrust your heart and feelings to strangers. I am also very appreciative that you were specific about certain struggles such as anger, trust, and ongoing forgiveness. All of these details certainly help me to understand more clearly what you are going through. I am grateful that I have this privilege to speak to you about your heart while being on the other side of the world. Thank you for your trust, and thank you for asking me to share my testimony concerning the process of healing that I went through.

First Feelings

When I first heard Vanessa’s confession, I was broken in many ways. I was extremely angry. I was hopeless concerning our relationship. I was filled with unceasing pain that drained my energy and stole my joy.

Vanessa’s first confession was not genuine repentance. I could see that she was still struggling with whether she wanted to be with me. This was evident to me because in her flesh, she was strongly desiring to leave me and be with the other guy. In the beginning, she only told me about the adultery because the guy didn’t want to be with her anymore.

So, you can imagine how I felt. This was her third adultery, and her initial confession was not one of repentance. I felt like this cycle of sin was never going to stop, and my kids and I were the ones who were suffering because of her sinful desires.

The single and most powerful thing that caused me to seek forgiveness is the gospel. I know that sounds like the Sunday school answer, but it is absolutely true. The gospel is the power of God for salvation for everyone who believes. I always need the power of the gospel to sustain me each and every day, and especially during the process of trying to forgive Vanessa.

But how does the gospel specifically help me in these circumstances?

In the gospel, God gives us the model of forgiveness and also the command to forgive. Ephesians 4:32, …”forgive one another as God in Christ Jesus forgave you.”

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The Model of Forgiveness

Romans 5:1-11 (especially 6-9) tells us that we were enemies of God and we deserve God’s just wrath because of our sins. For me this was huge in taking those first steps. I have to believe that I don’t deserve God’s forgiveness. Instead, I actually deserve God’s holy wrath because of my sin. If I receive God’s love, mercy, kindness, and forgiveness, it’s because of God’s grace.

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#1 “I only deserve God’s holy wrath.” This was important because I believed that I was entitled to a good and faithful wife. But in reality, I only deserve eternity in hell because of my sin. Having a good and faithful wife is a great desire. It is not sinful to want a good and faithful wife, but I cannot be in despair because I don’t have a good and faithful wife. In reality, I should be overwhelmed with gratefulness that God has not utterly destroyed me and sent me to hell. The pain of an unfaithful wife is nothing compared to the pains of hell.

#2 “I only deserve God’s holy wrath.” This truth also helps me to understand that I cannot judge her for her infidelity. Her sin is just as evil as any of my sins in the sight of God because we all of have fallen short of his glory. And we all are saved by grace, not by any works of righteousness that we have done. So, I needed to be humbled by this truth in order to see that she is also a broken sinner in need of grace just as I am. She is not my enemy. She is my sinful wife who needs God’s love and compassion.

#3 “It’s because of God’s grace.” I was an enemy of God and there was no worth in me that was great enough to require Jesus to come down from heaven and die for me. Before he stepped down from his throne in heaven, there were myriads and myriads, thousands and thousands of heavenly beings worshipping him. Their songs of praise are so powerful that they cause the ground to shake at the sound of their voices. And yet, Jesus obeyed the command of his Father to humble himself from that exalted place of worship and become a human. He took on flesh because as God, Jesus cannot die, and therefore he must be made like us in every way so that he could provide a sacrifice for sins by dying on the cross. He took my penalty and suffered the pain of God’s wrath on my behalf, and I didn’t deserve it. God extends forgiveness to his enemies by grace through Jesus Christ. So, I should also humble myself and extend forgiveness to others even if they don’t deserve it.

#4 The purpose of forgiving sinners is to reconcile them to God. In Romans 5:1, Paul tells us that we have peace with God because of the sacrifice of Jesus. This is huge! Don’t miss this. Jesus died on the cross for our sins, so that we could have reconciliation with God. Without Jesus’ sacrifice, we would not have peace with God or forgiveness of our sins. Therefore we would be required to endure the wrath of God in hell for all eternity because of our sins. How does this apply to me? I am supposed to forgive Vanessa with the purpose of reconciling our relationship because that is the purpose of God forgiving us through Jesus Christ.

The Command to Forgive

This verse in Ephesians 4:32 is a command to forgive others in the same way that God forgave us in Christ Jesus.

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#1 “in the same way”  If I was going to be faithful to God’s word, I had to forgive Vanessa even though she didn’t deserve it. Actually, in the beginning, she didn’t even want my forgiveness, and that made it all the more difficult to walk in obedience. I just couldn’t do it. I was filled with hatred and pain. And I am not God, so I couldn’t extend that forgiveness to her in the same way.

Within the first couple of weeks, Vanessa lied to me. She said that she needed to leave the house and get away so she could think about what had happened. I thought that she was going to stay in a nearby hotel for the night, but she actually rode her bike to that guy’s house. The next day, she texted me about what had happened, and she said that she was on her way home.

I remember walking into the bedroom filled with anger because of what she did and I began beating the bed with my fists. I was out of control, and my rage was causing me to be consumed with my pain. After a few minutes of pounding my fists into the bed, I realized what I was doing, and I knew that I was out of control. I fell onto the bed weeping because of my pain and anger. I confessed to God that I did not have the strength in me to forgive her or love her again. I just couldn’t do it.

And while I was laying there on the bed, a verse from 2 Corinthians 12 came to my mind, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness,” and “For when I am weak, then I am strong.”   For the first time in my life, I felt like I truly understood those words. There I was laying on the bed, and I was completely incapable of forgiving Vanessa, but God said that when I am incapable, He is glorified through me by manifesting His power in me to accomplish His will. Of course! When I am incapable, and I draw near to God for what I need, only then am I truly strong because He gives me His strength! He gives me His wisdom! He gives me His love!

So that started the process of me actively walking in obedience to God’s command. I said the words, “I forgive you,” and each day I strived to rely on God for the strength to forgive her in my heart and mind.

#2 ”in the same way” There is a passage in Romans 4:7-8 which is a quotation from Psalm 32:1-2. It says, “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered: blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

In these verses, it is clear that the Lord fully forgives. Meaning, He does not hold any record of wrongs against us. Actually in Colossians 2:14, Paul says that our record of sin is nailed to the cross and set aside. In the same way, I was required to set aside Vanessa’s adultery by nailing it to the cross. I could no longer harbor any anger, bitterness, resentment, or mistrust against her.

Again, this was impossible. I struggled for months with thoughts of the adultery. And those thoughts were the fuel for my anger manifesting itself in the form of bitterness, resentment, and strong desires that she would die.

Some people would say that my anger was justified because of the adultery, but I strongly disagree. My anger wasn’t righteous anger. I was angry because Vanessa hurt me, and I wanted justice. I felt like she should feel the same pain that I felt, and experience the grief of betrayal.

But, that isn’t nailing her record to the cross of Christ. That is taking justice into my own hands and requiring more punishment for her sin than the precious sacrifice of Christ Jesus himself. In reality, Jesus has already paid the penalty for that sin and God had extended forgiveness to her through the blood of Christ, and yet in my anger, I was demanding more. I wanted her to suffer with me through the pain that she caused. And I even wanted her to die for it.

Fighting Anger

My anger was not righteous. My heart was not pure. I was still struggling with true forgiveness, the same forgiveness that was extended to me through the cross. I needed help from the gospel to conquer my anger. My struggle with my anger was a long battle, and still I sometimes discover new ways that my heart is trying to hold onto the pain of the adultery and demand retribution for her sin. But there is hope! And that brings me to my next point about the power of the gospel.

I needed the power of the gospel to help me love my wife as Christ loved the church. This is explicitly stated in Ephesians 5:25 in regard to husbands loving their wives in the same way that Christ loves the church. This same requirement of love is extended to others outside of the marriage relationship in Ephesians 5:1-2, 1 John 3:16, and Romans 12:9-21. Therefore, we are commanded to love everyone as Christ loved us. But the marriage relationship is specifically designed by God to demonstrate to the world the particular love that God has for his church. He does this through the intimacy that the husband and wife share in their relationship.

#1 If I hate my brother, I cannot be a follower of Christ. 1 John 3:15 is bold and clear. John says, “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

These words were like a sword piercing into my soul. They revealed the reality of my heart and the true nature of my anger. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus says that being angry with someone is really no different than murder in our hearts. I really needed to hear these words and believe them with all my heart because I was angry. Not only was I angry, but I also felt extremely justified in my anger.

This sin was so devastating to my relationship with Vanessa because it caused me to have a hardened heart towards her and prevented me from having any feelings of affection for her. When I say affection, I am talking about the bible’s clear command for me to be tenderhearted towards others. This means that I should have a natural disposition to show kindness, compassion, and love toward other people. But, I did not have any sort of natural disposition of tenderheartedness. I was struggling with hating her.

This verse really started hammering away at these evil feelings, because I want to be a follower of Christ. Jesus has given me a new identity, and I want to live my life as a new creation. I don’t want to be characterized as a man who is in slavery to his anger. That is not who I am in Christ.

#2 Anger is a misplaced love for an idol. But how did I begin the fight against anger? First, I had to identify what anger is, so that I could fight against it and truly love my wife. I was angry because I want Vanessa to be a good and faithful wife. That is a great desire as I have said before, but I wanted this desire so much, that I was willing to disobey God’s clear commands in order to protect it. This strong desire/ lust caused me to allow this good desire to become an idol that replaced God as my ultimate source of satisfaction.

What do I mean? I want Vanessa to be a good and faithful wife. Why? Because that will make me happy, and that will bring me joy. But if she does not live up to that expectation, then what? Where does my supply of happiness and joy come from? This is where my idolatry becomes so clear. I was angry at her continuously because she was falling short of living up to my expectations to be a good and faithful wife, and I wasn’t happy. I didn’t have joy. So I sought to protect that desire by punishing her through my anger. I was protecting my idol (what I truly loved) by hating her and clearly disobeying God’s command to love her and consider her more important than myself.

In order to love Vanessa, I had to first dismantle my idol and find my joy in Christ alone. Otherwise, Vanessa’s shortcomings would always lead me into further resentment and anger because I am relying on her for my source of joy. The truth is this, she can never supply me with the joy that I need to be satisfied. Only God can do that as Psalm 16:11 says, “You make known to me that path of life. In your presence there is the fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

#3 I must consider others more important than myself. This is one of the most difficult aspects of living out the call to love my wife. This command in Philippians 2:3 is clear and powerful. Paul says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”

In my anger, I want a good and faithful wife, and I was even willing to divorce my wife in order to pursue that desire in another relationship. My desire for a good and faithful wife is not evil, but I was allowing it to become a selfish ambition. The fulfillment of that desire only satisfies and serves me. It doesn’t consider the damaging eternal effects of allowing Vanessa to pursue her sinful desires to be with the other man.

In order for me to truly consider Vanessa more significant than myself, I had to put aside my desire for her to be a good and faithful wife and accept her for who she is. She is a broken sinner who needs the transforming power of the gospel to be ministered into her life. As her husband, I was the best qualified to minister the gospel to her and display the love of Christ to her in spite of her sin.

Jesus also displayed this love for us! In Philippians 2:5-8, we see that Jesus did not fight for his right to be continually praised by the heavenly hosts. He did not fight for his right to sit on his glorious throne and receive unceasing songs of worship. Instead, he humbled himself and became a human. While he was on earth, he was ridiculed, beaten, slandered, and put to death on a cross. He did this because he considered our needs as more significant than his own entitlements. He did not seek selfish ambition. He gave up everything to save us from death.

Likewise, I had to lay aside all of my “rights” in order to pursue what was best for Vanessa. I had to give up the desire for her to be a good and faithful wife in order to bear with her sinfulness and walk with her in gentleness towards a Savior who can change her. If I would have pursued my desires, that would have inevitably led to divorce. But, I chose to continue to bear with her so that her life would be changed. I wanted her to see the love of God clearly displayed through my devotion to her joy in Christ.

By God’s grace, God used my obedience to the commands of scripture to help transform Vanessa’s heart and lead her on a road of true repentance. But for some, this might not be the case. God may allow you to continue going through hardships in order to refine your faith and display his glory through your weaknesses. If that is the case, I pray that you would abide in Christ so that you may receive from him every ounce of strength, power, wisdom, patience, kindness, love, mercy, gentleness, and self-control that you need to live a godly life in Christ Jesus.

We cannot change anyone’s heart, but God can. And we need to trust in His timing to change the hearts of people. But, we can offer our lives as a sacrifice before his throne, and he is faithful to refine our faith and supply all our needs in Jesus. I have been married to Vanessa for almost 9 years, and it hasn’t been until this last year, the year following the adultery that I have seen a zealousness for Christ. If you ask her, she will tell you that I have been the one who has discipled her over the last eight years, and what she knows about the Bible and the faith is due to my consistent devotion to her joy in Christ. I didn’t change her heart through my devotion to her. God changed her heart by the power of the Holy Spirit, and my devotion to her was a tool in God’s hands for manifesting the truths of the gospel in her life.

Strive for Righteousness

I would like to say one last thing concerning my fight against anger. You must train yourself in the ways of righteousness. In 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Paul says, “All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”

In order to have victory over my anger and find freedom from my pain, I had to train myself in righteousness so that I may be complete. During the process of fighting my anger, I noticed that I would continually fight thoughts about the adultery. The adultery took place in my town at places that I regularly go with my family, so when I went to those places, they would trigger thoughts about the adultery. This would also happen during conversations that I had with friends and coworkers whenever they would bring up something remotely related to the events of the adultery.

In the beginning stages of dealing with the adultery, I had developed habits of unrighteousness by meditating on those horrible events and allowing them to foster pain and anger in my heart. I didn’t realize that I was doing this, and I even thought that it was a good thing to think through the events in order to “deal” with them.

But in Philippians 4:8, Paul commands us to think about “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is anything excellent or worthy of praise.” If we do that, then the God of peace will be with us. That is a promise of God’s word.

The adultery is obviously not something worthy of praise, and it isn’t honorable or excellent in any way. Therefore, I should not dwell or meditate on the events of the adultery. Because if I allow myself to fall into this habit, I am not pursuing God’s presence in my life. Instead, I am pursuing the retribution of my pain by seeking fault with my wife through her actions. This is not something that produces peace.

In order to train yourself in righteousness or develop habits of righteousness, you need actively pursue the truths that I have already explained in this document. You can do that in this way. Whenever you have a thought come in to your mind, immediately take that thought captive. Don’t dwell on it. Stop thinking about that event. Then, you should pray and ask God to help you to love your spouse. Express to God that you are deeply hurt by the events that have taken place, but you don’t want to hold those things against your spouse anymore. You want to fully forgive your spouse and develop a disposition of kindness, love, and compassion towards him.

Repentance

Admit to God that you cannot change your own heart in order to display the kind of love that God commands you to have. Ask God to enable you to love as He has commanded you to love. Then dwell on the ways that you can actively be serving your spouse in order to be that tool in God’s hands for changing his life.

If you consistently do this every time a thought comes into your mind about the adultery, you will begin to have strong victory over your pain and anger. This has been one of the most powerful tools in fighting my sin, but it is built on the foundation of all the others truths that I have mentioned. If you in any way feel justified in your anger or you have little or no desire to follow through with obeying God’s commandment to lover your spouse, it will be very difficult to find freedom from your pain.

But there is hope in the gospel. Hold fast to these truths and strive towards Christ!

If you have any questions you would like to ask Bobby or Vanessa, please send a message to us via social media, comment below, or send an email to vanessa.jencks at gmail.com

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Angry? 5 Real Ways I Fought my Explosive Anger and Child Abuse

Last week when I confessed about committing adultery, I mentioned about one other post with a secret I would share. Again, the reason I’m baring my soul is so that when I talk about the effects sin has on a believer’s life, you’re not going to give me an eye roll. I won’t need to glaze over realness and be afraid to step on anyone’s toes. Love, I have the scar marks from sin, and they’re not pretty.

Sharing this is honestly much more scary than admitting to committing adultery three times. The fact is that this sin is socially unacceptable, and there is never a face put with this that isn’t demonized. What is it? I physically abused my daughter when she was still really, really young.

How It Happened
Before I go on any further, I’m going to stop here and explain that I do not abuse her now, and at the time of when I confessed to get help, a state CPS report was filed. So, no need for you to fill out another one, though they would tell you since I don’t live in the US, I’m out of their state jurisdiction anyway. Since I confessed, I went to counseling and got help for my anger.

[A sidenote from a practicing US clinician based in Beijing, “I wanted to make sure your readers understand that US citizens are NOT outside of US Federal jurisdiction when they are outside of the US, particularly when it comes to cases involving children. For example, Federal legislation does allow for prosecution of US citizens for crimes against children abroad.  As a clinician, I’m still a mandated reporter as mandated by my licensing body AND federal law.  When I’m in China, I must report to the US Embassy in Beijing.]

It’s not important, or helpful I think, to share with you how I abused her, other than to say that it was more than yelling and spanking. This abuse went undetected for about a year because I never left a mark. It was also NOT sexual abuse (though even those who have sexually abused others can be changed).

When a close friend of mine found out she responded, “I’m so sorry, Vanessa. I remember you saying that you were struggling. I know it’s not like you woke up and thought ‘I’m going to hurt my daughter.’” She was right. My anger built. My circumstances around me got harder and harder, while parenting got harder, and I dealt with all the stress in an extremely inappropriate, inexcusable way.

I look at my sweet little girl now and I feel so much shame and pain for having hurt her so much. She was so little she probably doesn’t even remember, and now she adores and loves me so deeply.

Reality Check: Faces of Those Who Abuse
I’m sharing with you today about this secret because I know most likely there are parents sitting in front of their screen who might also physically abuse their children.  I might be the first American person who has ever publicly admitted to physically hurting their child since CPS has scared everyone, but I know well that I am not the only one who has done this.

Several moms, from all over the world and from all sorts of socio-economic backgrounds, have confided in me that they struggle with anger and/or abuse toward their child.

When I was explaining to my daughter’s homeroom teacher (not in the US) how I had hurt her in the past, her response was, “That’s not as bad as what some people have done.” Heartbreaking.

One mom told me, “I don’t spank because I am the kind of mom who, once started, wouldn’t be able to stop.”

In the US, in an attempt to root out all possible abuse, CPS has made it virtually impossible to get help from qualified professionals and pastors without being reported. There are those who physically abuse their child and want to stop but are very, very scared about what to do.

They’ve heard horror stories about CPS, and it’s overreaching arm. And, largely this is the truth. What will happen to a family depends upon the case worker and supervisor more than it depends upon local and federal laws. Though this is changing, there’s not a lot of standardization from one CPS district branch to the other, which leads to a lot of unknown.

Even though statistically there are many parents who physically harm their child, the prevention measure is to punish rather than educate parents on how to deal with the ups and downs of childrearing. And that leads to a lot of hiding.

Children Are Hurting From Parental Anger
It’s estimated three million children in the US are victims of child abuse, meaning that 1 out of every 25 children you see is probably a victim of abuse. Statistically speaking, at least one peer in every child’s classroom is a victim of categorical child abuse.

Many more parents deal with explosive anger, when they suddenly snap at their children when under circumstantial stress. But it’s not the circumstances that cause sin during a flash of anger. Sin is at the very heart; it’s indwelling in everyone’s flesh.

I would venture to say that even yelling is abusive. I know that sounds extreme, but stay with me for a moment.

As adults, we don’t want to be yelled at by other adults, our boss, our spouse, or strangers. Why would it be OK to yell at a small child who depends on us for everything? What can a child do to escape the yelling and shouts of a parent?

All they can do is cower in fear and cry, or hide and wait for us to calm down. This isn’t what a loving relationship should look like, yet in reality this is what many of us faced as children or what our children now face from us.

child abuse

Pursue Christ, Pursue Change
There are many things that I want to teach and share with those parents who abuse their children or who deal with anger and yelling, but I’m going to narrow down what I can share to what helped me immediately.

  1. Confessing My Sin
    There came a point when I realized my anger was uncontrollable, and if I did not get help, I was going to continue to do what I was doing on increasingly dangerous levels. That moment was sobering because I had tried to stop myself from getting angry, but I became “blind angry.”My body was so caught up in the moment of my anger that all I could see was the cause of my anger and everything else was physically blacked out. I sheepishly told my husband what I was doing, and that started a cascade of decisions toward professional and pastoral help.Yes, I was reported to CPS, but how big of an issue is this really? My daughter’s safety and my true healing were both worth going through this fear.It’s a lie, love, that if you keep secret what’s in secret there, it’ll go away or eventually fix itself. Bring what is sinful out into the light so that it may be exposed and destroyed. Confess your sins so that you may be healed (James 5:16, 1 John 1:9)
  1. Getting Accountability
    Once I confessed the first time to my husband, a top priority was finding a no-nonsense accountability partner to walk through this battle with me. I would suggest an accountability partner who would have no problems asking you straightforwardly about your anger, but someone who also will encourage you to look to the gospel and Christ for strength to fight this sin. There’s no need to put on a face for your accountability partner because s/he knows you are a sinner. Not to mention, they’re called to exhort you in gentleness. (Galatians 6:1)A better fit for an accountability partner in this situation would be someone who can just walk in on your life with your child at any time. And if you’re ready for a challenge to your self-control of your anger, record yourself via audio or video the whole day. Give that to your accountability partner. If even the thought of that makes you uncomfortable because of what someone would see about your day to day, that’s a solid reason to get help to change.
  1. Seeing Anger for What It Is
    The feeling of anger is not sinful, per say, but stay far away from believing that all anger is not sinful. Here’s an example. It’s good for you to want to keep your children safe, but getting angry with them for doing something dangerous is not going to keep them safe or teach them about danger. If they’ve disobeyed you, that still doesn’t justify sinful anger. Their disobedience doesn’t justify your disobedience to God (Bobby’s mentor said this, I can’t take credit for it’s simple brilliance). You’re called not to sin in your anger (Ephesians 4:26).Speaking of awesome mentors, one of my previous mentors pointed out that anger is when you’re upset that you’re not getting something that you want. It’s normal to feel anger, but how we act is the difference between being Christ-like in our anger and throwing an adult-sized temper tantrum.
  1. Seeing My Child as Owned by God
    Who has given this child to me and who does this child ultimately belong to? Have I made the earth or my own womb? Was I able to give this child life? If then I did not make this child, nor pick her to be mine, how can I treat her as though she belongs to me and not to her maker?If I see my child as fearfully and wonderfully made by God, that I am a steward over her, to minister Christ and the gospel to her, my attitudes and actions will greatly change. If I look at the way I treat her as a daily testimony to the gospel, that she is my most important disciple, I should surely be aware that mishandled, inappropriate anger points her toward my sin rather than toward the goodness of the gospel.As a non-perfect parent, I ask my child for forgiveness when I sin against her, whether through anger or through unkindness or something else. I remind her that I too need Jesus to give me a changed and renewed heart and to teach me to walk in his ways. Otherwise, how can I fulfill the command of Christ to raise her up in the ways of the Lord? (Ephesians 6:4)
  1. Reducing Stress
    Lastly, anger can often arise in times of stress, even low stress. Though this is not the root of the problem of sinful anger, creating an environment of less stress can help parents focus on dealing with the heart problems of sinful anger instead of focusing on dealing with stressors.Many of the circumstances of abuse of my daughter happened out of fear for her safety or to prevent her from hurting my son. I would have been wise to ask for help from friends, to create safe places in my home for them both, to buy a hand tether for my daughter (she was a street-runner), and to throw out cultural, extra-biblical expectations on children and moms to have “well-behaved angels” (she was a public screamer).Remember, I am the adult; she is the child. I am responsible to care for her and make the least stressful environment for us both.

I hope this quick burst of information was momentarily helpful, though I want to encourage you to seek out help and run. Run fast and far away from the sin that seeks to tear you apart. Let’s join together to fight!

If you are a believer, Christ saved you from eternal death. Is anger a larger hurdle than God’s wrath poured out during an unearned and shameful death on the cross? Uh, no. If the power of Christ can overcome death, can not his spirit of power break you away from your flesh dwelling in its sinful anger? Yes! Run to him!

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Photo: Runar Pedersen Holkestad (Flickr)

Failing at Meaningful Relationships

Just this past month, my husband, Bobby, our children, and I took a trip back to the US to visit both family and friends. We decided we would cut down on travel time to visit others while in the States, as we had experienced in the past how so much time is swallowed up by commuting. We rented a huge lake house instead!

Daughter and me
Grandparents especially loved seeing their grandchildren, this cute little one included.

Largely the trip was meant to honor my family, as our local friends would often ask us when we had last seen my mother. “Oh, it’s been about three or four years.” None of our local friends remained unmoved by that comment, as some couldn’t go a year without seeing their family back home. I realized that this was a cultural reflection of my care for my family. Though saying my kids were young or tickets were expensive was acceptable, they were just excuses. [In reality I had a deep-rooted fear of American life and culture, but that’s another topic altogether.]

Reflecting on Types of Visitors
Even though our main purpose was for family, we didn’t cut out visiting friends altogether though. Since we rented the lake house, our friends and family could stay with us instead. The place was packed the entire time we were there. We held a friends’ barbecue and a family barbecue, and though the family barbecue was just as it should have been in my opinion, I was convicted by the friends who were coming to visit us.

I don’t want to sound ungrateful. I’m not. Those who came blessed me to my core. It’s just that I had asked many to come visit, and I was perplexed by who was choosing not to come for many different reasons.

I noticed many of our friends who were making long distance, out-of-state treks to see us were actually people my husband had significantly impacted. Two families with three or more kids were taking off time from work and traveling hundreds of miles to see our family. I was having difficulty getting my friends who lived in the area to come and see us, not even jumping to examine my out of town friends.

That really caused me to pause. I know that friendships can fall out with distance and time, but did I want to be the type of friend who repaid friendships that I believed as meaningful with silence? In comparison, Bobby had made a real effort toward upkeep in these relationships that mattered so much to him. But I had isolated myself from relationships I had considered meaningful once upon a time.

But what was the cause of my seeking isolation and apathy? Was it out of complacency and foolish busy-bodying? Was it out of fear of forming relationships that had caused pain in the past? Was it a general devaluing of relationships for the good of others, elevating myself and my needs above others and their needs?

Upon reflection, though my American friendships are understandable as the main social media they use is blocked in my current home, my friend upkeep among locals isn’t all that great either.

I decided in my mind to make a visit to a particular friend at the beginning of the month prior to our trip, and by the end of the month, I had still not seen her, at my own fault.

Another example of how I treated relationships played out at work. While in the office with an education industry connection, he teased me, “In normal conversations, people respond ‘I’m fine, thanks. How are you?’”

Still another example, when I reviewed chat messages with an accountability friend, she consistently asked how I was doing, how I was walking and what I was struggling with, but it took me near a month to respond with asking how she was.

I felt my consideration of others, even in the moment, to be linked to my heart orientation toward people and relationships.

With this type of backdrop, who wouldn't reflect on deeper matters, such as the meaning of life?
With this type of backdrop, who wouldn’t reflect on deeper matters, such as the meaning of life, who is God, and substance of relationships?

Truth of the Good of Relationships
But I can’t simply just change actions and hope it makes a change in my heart. I need to see that people matter, relationships matter, and that they are good for mutual growth.

Here are a handful of verses about relationships, particularly convicting to me:

Hebrews 10:24-25
“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Galations 6:10
“So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.”

Galations 6:1-2
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

Hebrews 3:12-13
“ Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.”

These verses seek relationships that are mutually encouraging, deep relationships, pointing one another away from sin. A type of relationship in which you know the other’s sin is bound to get messy, where much grace is needed. Conversations within these relationships aren’t going to be rife with, “How are you?” and “Did you see the weather today?”

Repentance from Selfishness
They also point to doing good for others, especially those in the household of faith. When I am focused on myself, I’m not thinking about how I could be a blessing to others. I’m thinking about what pleases me and fixes my own problems. I’m really just selfish. A life of selfishness is not the type of life that these verses are calling me to.

I know that if I kept a written log of my thought life, so much of it would focus on my wants and needs, and I’d truthfully be ashamed by what I would have to write down. If I’m really honest with myself, I see this type of selfishness play out not just in friendships, but also in my relationship with my husband and my children. Yet I say these are the people I love the most in all the world.

In view of what the Bible calls me to, I can turn to Christ, who loved perfectly and laid down his life for his friends, so that he could make them co-heirs. He washed their feet. He bore their sins on the cross. He loved them even after they doubted him and rejected him. He sought to fulfill their most foundational need, salvation, but he fulfilled their physical and emotional needs, too. He has loved me in this same way, too, dying for me when I was an enemy of the cross. I can take hope in knowing that it is his plan and pleasure to change my heart to love others in the same way he loved them. In the same way he loved me.

God, I know I am not able to love as you have loved, and my heart is so selfish. I would much rather seek out satisfaction to my own needs rather than seek to alleviate the pangs of others. I pray that you would help me to love selflessly, with or without knowing that the help will make an eternal impact and last a lifetime. Help me to take hope in your promise that you will change my heart if I come to you humbly.

 

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Photos: Vanessa Jencks 2017 (All Rights Reserved) 

I Committed Adultery: It’s Not Worth It

Along with how I became a believer and one other article I’ll be posting next week, the other bit of information I feel like needs to be known about me is that I’ve committed adultery.

I committed adultery three times, in three different ways. This is important for you to understand, as a reader and partner with me in fighting sin, because when I talk about the effects sin has on a believer’s life, I want you to understand that I have personally felt the pain of death sin brings (James 1:12-15).

adultery

In a nutshell, in the second year of our marriage, I kissed a man who had gotten too close to us as a couple. In the middle of our marriage, I created the opportunity to go through with adultery, but didn’t have follow through from the man. The third time I committed adultery, I had sex several times with a man in my community. My husband has forgiven me (along with forgiving the men involved) all three times, but it hasn’t been without cost and pain.

No Need to Be So Open
I’ve been told before to be careful about these stories, that I don’t need to share with everyone this because, in the world’s eyes, I’m all sorts of terrible words. I’m a slut, a whore, and an adulterer. I’m unclean. These types of traits aren’t to be associated with one who bares the name of believer (1 Corinthians 5:1-13, 6:9-20). I can’t represent Jesus when I act like this.

And regarding representing Jesus, they’re right. I cannot actively walk in sexual sin and represent my God well. In the midst of committing adultery the third time, the man who had sex with me asked if I was just a Christian because of social pressure. I wanted to throw up.

No. That is not the reason why I am a Christian.

Bluntly stated, I was blaspheming the name of God in front of this man because of what I was doing. How could I testify to him the goodness of God? I couldn’t.

But I choose to share these stories now because I didn’t just fall into adultery by accident. Day by day I was walking closer and closer to adultery because of my complacency in fighting sin. And dear sister, I don’t want that for you.

Together with prayer and conversations with my husband, I have come to accept that my honor is not as important as helping you to pursue a rich and meaningful relationship with Jesus. There are specific people that I chose to start this blog for – dear sisters spread around the globe who I know battle sin but feel defeated. Even if this blog just helps these ladies, I will have accomplished the purpose of this blog.

Effects of Sin from Adultery
Now, yes Jesus paid for my sins, both past and future (Romans 5:12-21, 1 John 1:5-2:6). But I experienced painful earthly effects of sin when I committed adultery these three times.

  1. Death of trust in my relationship with my husband
    Of course this would happen in any relationship where adultery happens, and it is by grace alone that my husband actively works to forgive me in his heart and mind.
  1. Weight of my sin in my relationship with God
    Most notably after I committed adultery the third time, I wrestled with whether I was really even a believer, (I thought to myself, “Really, what Christian woman does this?!”). I felt so distant from God and this distance was painful.
  1. Confusion
    Because I had given into the desires of my flesh that wages war against me, I found great difficulty in fleeing and fighting these desires after I confessed to committing adultery. There were times during my husband’s and my healing that I wanted to just give up and pursue my own crazy passions, but when thinking clearly, that’s not what I wanted. I didn’t want to destroy my marriage and my children. It was an ongoing battle to fight these flaring desires.
  1. Shame and grief of my sin/ shame in my testimony of marriage
    There is so much joy in counseling younger women to pursue purity before and after marriage, but I don’t have that testimony. My testimony is, “See how I messed up and learn from my terrible examples.” I deeply regret the sinful choices I made.
  1. Death of all relationships with all these men
    Maybe, my husband and I could have shared the good news with these men, but there’s absolutely no hope of this now. Not unless God has in his plan to work a miracle. We both pray for these men, that my actions would not be a stumbling block, and that my husband’s forgiveness would point them to the one who is able to forgive eternally. But at this point, my actions represented that my God is a joke.
  2. Pain in reading certain scripture
    The Word is good for believers to consume everyday so we can joyfully worship our God. Can you imagine, though, how it feels for me to read Proverbs 5-9, the warnings against adultery and the adulterous woman (also includes a comparison between wisdom and folly)? There are so many passages that are painful to read because I was that woman, tearing down her house with her own hands.

Popular culture romanticizes adulteries. If it’s “love” it’s OK. If the husband is a jerk, it’s OK. But that’s not the truth of the gospel. God gave marriage to be a picture of Jesus’s love for the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). Is there anything the church could do for Jesus to abandon her? No, the book of Hosea teaches us that.

This short list of main ways the sin of adultery affected my life hopefully shatters any romantic ideas about adultery. If I had gone through with my flesh and decided to end my marriage, my husband and my children would have both experienced a lifetime of pain from my choices to selfishly reject my vows and pursue pleasure. Adultery is not worth it, and it’s one hundred percent selfish regardless of the reasons.

Ladies, I encourage you to fight with me. Fight with endurance the race that is set before us. There is no sin that our God cannot overcome, and there is no sin that is worth giving into. Let us rejoice together in the new creations God has made, and live in his light daily.

 

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Photo: Hans van den berg (Flickr)

My Testimony: God Reconciling Sexual Abuse Victim and Abuser

Click on the video to listen to me talk about how I became a believer in Jesus Christ, or scroll below to read my testimony instead.

I wish I could share the whole story in depth of how I started to follow Jesus in writing, but unfortunately I do want to protect those who have been changed from old, sin-loving creatures into new regenerated ones. Some details have been changed, but you’ll get the gist of the picture.

My Cultural Context
When I was about 14 years old, my parents moved me to this town in the middle of nowhere called Pickens. That year at the start of my high school career, I was in the middle of one of my social chameleon changes when a classmate asked me an important question. The classmate, a beautiful Southern blonde who was very loved in that community, asked me a simple question, “Do you know who Jesus is?”

Well, I had lived in the South my whole entire life, and the obvious answer was yes. Everyone knows who Jesus is. When I responded affirmatively, the beautiful blonde didn’t push the issue further, though she did confess to me later she was scared of me.

Pickens South Carolina

She was scared because I was swaying between rocker and goth identities and couldn’t make up my mind. I really couldn’t live out my identity as a mixed Native American child so I would jump back and forth between identities, never really settling fully on one. The longest chameleon period I had was when I acculturated into African American culture five years prior. I had made a transition from that stage honestly because of some very strong racial tensions in Pickens which I didn’t have the guts to stand up against.

But her question started me on a journey of deep thinking, though. Why was she asking me if I knew who Jesus was if I look like I knew who Jesus was? Does that mean I don’t look like I know who he is? Am I a Christian?

Painful Memories of Sexual Abuse
During this process of thinking, I was also struggling with painful memories from my past. I was coming to an age when I could think about the sexual abuse I had received as a small child and hate the person who caused the pain. This person who had sexually molested me for four years from the age of four to eight frequently became the target of my angry thoughts. I remember looking at a child around the same age, “I could never do something like that to a child. Disgusting.” I wanted this person to die. I wanted humiliation, retribution. I remember I wrote down in several school papers about this happening to me, but it wasn’t until much later that a school counselor was ever notified. I was in so much pain.

So when my mom gave me the Bible I had asked for, she encouraged me to start with the Gospel of Matthew rather than straight through. I then read about a holy God who proved that everyone was sinful but that he called all of these sinners to be holy. He explained that anger was the same as murder, that lust was the same as adultery. He revealed that the hearts of men are wicked and that they cannot ever obtain to the perfection of God to receive eternal rest and renewal. This God even came to save his own people but they were so rebellious they rejected him. They didn’t even want him or his salvation, even though they were following the very religion meant to lead them to this God. What on earth was he going to do?

And he loved them. He poured out his life on these people who hated him. He died for their sins and loved them while they hated him. He poured out his grace and they were changed. I remembered all the things I had done as a preteen. I remembered the sexual immorality I had experienced through the urban culture where I had lived prior to Pickens – the songs, the clothes, the self-pursued sexual encounters that began when I was 11 years old, and the way I used my body to seduce my male peers to get more of what I wanted. I had chased a 19-year-old man when I was 12. I knew what I was doing and yet I really didn’t understand the consequences of what the sexual exaltation did to my heart.

I wanted this God. I knew he was God. And so when I read Matthew 18, knowing full well how deeply I needed grace, I wasn’t expecting the cost. In Matthew 18, a servant in huge debt is about to be thrown into jail by his master because he cannot pay the debt. Servant (me) begs the master (Jesus) to be relieved of this debt because it’s so big and so wide it can never be paid for by the servant’s own means. The master forgives the servant. Well this same servant happens to be asked by someone else for forgiveness for their debt. That second debt is so much smaller, but the forgiven servant (me) takes the other servant by the neck and harasses him to pay. Then the forgiven servant (me) throws that other servant into jail. The master hears about this and rebukes the unforgiving servant (me) and then throws him into jail, too.

I saw myself as that servant clearly, and I saw the person who molested me as the second servant. I wanted to be forgiven of all that lust, of all the sexual immorality I had committed against my own body, which falls short of the perfect standard and glory of God. But I wanted to murder my abuser instead, not forgive. And so that night in the darkness of the room, I begged for forgiveness and for a heart that would be able to forgive.

My story with being a terrible servant doesn’t end here, but it needs to side step to say that eventually the one who abused me was changed too. Eventually it was God’s plan to make this person a new creation in Jesus too. Salvation belongs to us both now! The person had a chance to seek reconciliation with me due to a changed, regenerate heart and indwelling Spirit. I don’t believe that people cannot change and that once offenders always offenders. I believe that only by an absolute miracle can an abuser and the one abused be reconciled. And because of my testimony I will always say, my God is mighty to save.

 

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Photo: The Kitty Girl  (Flickr). That is actual downtown Pickens, South Carolina

Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival Presentation: My Foreign Miscarriage

I love China, really, I do.  I love Chinese people.

Then there was that one time I had a miscarriage.

my foreign miscarriage
This is a fake smile. I took this photo simply because I wanted to remember how big I had gotten. My heart is breaking on the inside. Taken at the hospital.

I cried many tears over the lost chance to play with the toes and fingers of my sweet twins.  I noticed I stopped daydreaming, since all of those dreams now acted as grievances with my body.  I also had culture shock with a vengeance.

Sometimes I need to get all of my thoughts out of my head so I don’t mull over them for hours.  I do this most easily with writing, not talking. This is how the below essay came into being.  I didn’t write it for this presentation or any other purposes other than to grieve and process my feelings about a people I love treating me so horribly, but with “good” intentions.

Ember Swift was looking for writers willing to present alongside her at the Beijing Bookworm Literary Festival.  If I hadn’t already processed this grief in this essay, I probably would have said no considering the circumstances. I appreciated that she acknowledged that when she asked me to consider presenting.

If you weren’t able to come to the Bookworm Literary Festival, don’t worry.  An extended version of my short story will appear in Knocked Up Abroad 2, an anthology detailing expat child birthing and rearing experiences.  Ember’s piece appears in the first volume pulled together by Lisa Ferland.

In the anthology, I’ll be answering questions about their gender, names, reasons for my shock among others Lisa so aptly pointed out readers might have.  Below is an edited version of what I presented last night.

My Foreign Miscarriage

“诶!他们死了!” Oh! They’re dead!

For the first time in my life in China, I wish I could truthfully respond, “我听不懂.” I don’t understand.

In disbelief and a faint hope that I misunderstood, I ask the translating nurse,

“Did she say they were both dead?”

“Yes, they don’t have heartbeats.”

As soon as she notices tears under the arm covering my face, she brings me tissues, “Don’t be so sad.” A procession of people suddenly appears in the ultrasound room.

I hear my prenatal doctor commenting. “ 是的. 他们都死了.” Yes. Theyre both dead.

The nurse probes her, “她年轻, 是吗?” Shes young, right?

“是的。很年轻, 她已经有两个孩子.” Yes. Shes young and she already has two kids.

Angry from the chatter, I interject, “他们是男性还是女性?” Are they boys or girls?

The technician answers, “我看不见.” I cant see.

The nurse states, “They’re in a bad position.”

The doctor questions, “她觉得他们什么时动?” When did she last feel them move?

I respond in English, “I felt them yesterday.” The nurse translates.

“不可能,” The doctor adds, “他们已经死了两个星期.” Impossible. Theyve been dead at least two weeks.

That sinks my heart desperately low. Two weeks ago? Could I really have missed that they stopped moving?

Later in the dark and silence of my hospital room, I jolt suddenly from a slow drift of weary sleep, frantically touching my stomach to see if I feel them. I put steady pressure on my womb with my hands. I shake my bulge gently. Nothing. I realize what I’ve been feeling has been their bodies shifting and trading places. I reach back to the only distinct memory of their kicks before that night. Several weeks ago, my daughter wanted me to hold her at church while I stood: her legs and my hands straddled the top of my bump. Even though I kept most of the pressure off of my belly, they kicked her, and the force almost knocked me back into my seat.

 

The doctor inquires, “她朋友来了吗?” Did her friend come?

The nurse whispers, “她自己来的.” She came on her own.

Sharon, the nicer translating nurse is by my side now, holding my hand. She searches my face. In return, I search her face gelled with worry. My tears pool and burn behind the dam of my eyes, preparing to leak, but I fight them. My face sours in battle. “Don’t worry,” she says. I only stare in response. Both nurses help me up. I wipe my belly and follow Sharon outside, averting my eyes from the pregnant women waiting for their turn in the ultrasound room; women who have nothing better to do than wait and study the bellies of other patients. I feel shame since my tears publicly disclose my secret.

Sharon walks and talks in imperfect English about what to do next. Thrice, she encourages me to contact family members before I decide to have the “surgery” at their hospital.

 

Sharon tells me to sit down in the waiting area and to call my family. She sits next to me with her face still gelled with worry.

“Don’t be so sad. You’re still young, you can have another,” she tells me.

I gently respond as I hold her hand, “I understand you are trying to make me feel better, but you shouldn’t say things like that to mothers. That doesn’t make me feel better, that makes me hurt more.”

Her face reflects horror and shock, but also reveals her genuine intentions.

 

I call my husband, then my supervisor, then my friend, then my husband again, then my husband’s boss. With each call, I cry, dry up and calm down; cry, dry up and calm down. Sharon interrupts me to tell me I need to call my insurance for preauthorization. I call and then hand her the phone once I realize explaining so soon to a stranger is too difficult in either language. I’ve already cried and dried up so many times now.

 

Approval is granted, so Sharon asks me to sign, agreeing to my own torment. She takes me to my sleeping room. Our first 24 hours of the 96 we spend trapped inside the hospital are filled to the brim with sober meetings with Chinese doctors; pestering, mixed-English questions from busy nurses; and phone calls from eager friends and acquaintances, wanting to express their condolences or to visit.

Our first group of visitors is a throng of student nurses, who have come to “study me.” My normally patient and ever-bearing husband forcefully says, “This is not the time for that. Please leave.” Friends who arrive need my comfort more than I need theirs, and one steely coworker surprises me with her quivering cry and quick breath. Even a superior forgets his propriety to argue the benefits of Chinese medicine versus Western ways. Without fear, I reprimand him, “Let’s talk about that another time.” In the face of death, the famous Chinese composure melts away.

In the 25th hour of our stay, I’m scared and grief-stricken as they wheel me on a bed toward the operating room, where I’ll be without a translator and without my husband’s hand to hold. I fight back tears as I glance at the nurses’ faces from under my blanket. One is an older woman, who looks at me with knowing, empathetic eyes. The other is a young man with Korean-style glasses and a shaggy haircut.

At the door of the surgical wing, my husband obediently stops, and another busy nurse continues on with me.

She asks, “小床在哪里?” Where is the baby bed?

The others ignore her.

She calls out, “嘿!别忘了小床!” Hey! Dont forget the baby bed!

The old nurse hushes, “他们死了.” Theyre dead.

The loud nurse’s eyes meet my eyes and linger. I wonder if she wonders if I can understand.

Inside the operating room, the older nurse leaves me with two young, fresh nurses and a stocky male nurse. They’re laughing and joking around. I wish that the older nurse had stayed and held my hand, or that I would have had the courage to reach for hers.

As everyone waits for the surgeon to arrive, two of the nurses busy themselves with something to do, while one fresh nurse comes to inspect me.

“你会说普通话吗?” Can you speak standard Chinese?

“一点点.” A little.

“你很漂亮.” You’re very pretty.

“谢谢.” I respond as usual. Thanks.

“你不要了, 是吧?” You don’t want them right?
“他们都死了.” They’re both dead. Tears begin to fall down the sides of my face into my ears.

As she tries to wipe my face, she hurries to say, “啊!别哭了!你很漂亮!” Oh! Don’t cry. You’re so pretty.

I turn away from her, disgusted, and she walks away.

 

I continue to cry, slowly, quietly letting out tears and whispering to my heart that this is goodbye to my twins. I’m telling them goodbye with this procedure; I feel like I’m ejecting them from my body. The older nurse returns to the room and comes back to my side for a second. She sees that I’m crying, but she responds with merciful silence. She is whisked away again to another duty.

The fresh nurse walks back toward me and sees I’m crying.

“别哭了!” Don’t cry!

“你是母亲吗?” Are you a mother? I ask her, hiding my irritation.

不是.” No.

我需要告诉但是我不要告诉,所以我不能哭了.” I have to say goodbye to them, but I don’t want to say goodbye, so I can’t not cry.”

She doesn’t wipe my face, and she walks back to the desk station in the room. She doesn’t return to talk to me.

 

I cry angrily in my heart, “Oh my dear twins, I want you. I want to hold you. Your daddy wants you. We want to name you. Your brother and sister want you, too. We don’t want to say goodbye. We value you and treasure you. You are both unique and special. I cannot have others like you.”

 

The surgeon arrives to end my hospital bright white purgatory. Her ruby earrings and her ornate glasses match. I try to steady my breath and heartbeat when I see the needle. The needle is not small. I want to be able to watch so I can deal with my pain, but my lifted gown obstructs my view even with my neck weakly bobbing my head in the air above my bed.

The ruby studded surgeon looks at me and says, “一点点痛.” A little pain.

I’m breathless from the sting when she inserts the needle. I try to control my body to keep it from moving, as everyone yells “别动! 别动!” Dont move! Dont move! But every muscle tenses from the aching flood spreading across my stomach. I feel heat emitting from my body and sweat tickles my head at my roots in protest. As she moves the needle inside, I cry out in pain. Again they rebuke, “别动!” Dont move! I wonder if Chinese women bear pain better than I do, or if the doctors lie to everyone. The rubies flash as the surgeon fills my womb with liquid. My stomach feels full now, but my heart is emptied.

After the insertion and filling from the second needle is finished, I’m not bothered for a few brief moments as the staff prepares for my move back to my room. I whisper, “Goodbye. I love you, both.”

 

After I am home again, I ask a Chinese mother and friend what she thinks about what was said during my hospital stay.

I tell her how others have said, “At least you have your body.”

“Do you know, your husband is great? He is a great man.”

“At least you have two children. Be thankful for them.”

I tell her how others scolded me about taking care of my body in the process of my grief.

She tells me she wouldn’t like their words either. She tells me that these doctors and nurses, and others, they don’t know what to say to comfort me. Especially for the elder Chinese, they have experienced famine, drought, and revolutions. They just want me to focus on what I have, focus on the good still in my life.

Birth and death are the most powerful, uncontrollable events we all experience in life. Birth and death humble us all. Birth and death connect us all. What can a baby say to birth or anyone say to death?

And for the second time in China, I wish I could truthfully say, “我不明白.” I don’t understand.

At the panel there were some issues that were brought up, like Chinese women being shamed for having “caused” the miscarriage by doing something wrong.  If you have experienced a miscarriage, you did the best you could with what you knew to do, what more could you have done?  I treated this pregnancy the same as my first two healthy “successful” pregnancies – what could I have done differently?

If you haven’t dealt with grief of your own – this post might be informative.

 

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To my Friends Grieving for my Miscarriage – Or Your Own

In the last three years, I’ve experienced several different instances of death concerning children.

The first was witnessing up close the third miscarriage of a friend in the States.

The second was my first miscarriage in the States.

The third was seeing Daviana’s experience with Tiana after moving here to China.

The fourth and fifth was witnessing from the outside the extreme grief of an acquaintance.

The sixth has been our own experience with our identical boy twins, Perez and Zerah, who died prematurely.

 

With the first experience, my husband and I wanted to be there for our friends who were grieving. They had been trying for so long, and this was their third miscarriage. I couldn’t easily relate to my friend’s scientific curiosity in the death of her child. We accidentally outstayed our welcome when we were there to grieve with them, but they graciously and gently asked us to leave so they could mourn alone.

With the second experience, I was only 8 weeks pregnant, and since I did not want to be pregnant, I felt guilty in being a bit relieved the life of this child was simply not meant to be. My body and my emotional state was taxed from having had my daughter in 2011, my son in 2012, and then expecting this child in 2013. This expectation was too much for me. The miscarriage felt like a mercy.

Feeling guilt was what made me grieve for a long time for the loss of this child. My friend from the first experience was able to comfort me that she had too felt this way at one point about one of her three miscarriages. And my feelings went back and forth. If we had been under different circumstances, I still would have to have born this child. His/her name is Zadok (just/righteous) or Azariah (Yahweh’s help). One day, I look forward to holding and loving this child, too.

 

I definitely learned the most about grief in the third experience. Standing on the sidelines of Davi’s grief and having the opportunity to write an article about her experience has helped me in my current situation. She taught me that people can grieve about many things, not just death. She also explained that a death can conjure up grief for others, especially friends and acquaintances, who might end up not knowing how to deal with grief from previous experiences that wasn’t dealt with in the first place.

What was hardest for her was losing friends because of their grief. She also told me people in general don’t know how to respond to the person most affected by a death, (the spouse, the parents or the siblings of the deceased). People can be afraid to ask how someone else is doing, afraid to say the wrong things, or afraid that the one mourning will break down and cry. She also told me about in some instances people would break down and cry, and the mourner would be the one comforting that acquaintance!

In the fourth and fifth time, I experienced what grief felt like to a stranger – the very awkward outside party. When I witnessed the pain of someone who I didn’t know well, I was at a loss about what to do or what to say. I felt grief for her. I hurt for her. But I didn’t know her well enough to feel comfortable in expressing my pain for her to her. I felt it was just best to pray for her.

 

And the sixth time has been the strangest, but most encouraging of deaths. All I can say is that I feel weird in having joy out of this grief, but I can’t help but be honest. That’s how I feel. Of course, I didn’t start with feeling joy.

A nightmare came true in finding out they had no heartbeats. I was in pain to know I would never hold them. I had been surprised to find out I was pregnant, but I eventually grew to having extreme joy and expectation in awaiting the arrival of twins! While I waited for others to come care for me on that first day at the hospital, I sat in the waiting room with uncontrollable streams running down my face. I hid my shame by looking out of the windows and avoided eye contact with curious strangers. While I sat there, I had daydreams about the dreams that had been smashed. I daydreamed about the hugs I would never have, the cries I would never hear, and the fingers I would never hold.

At first, I was straightforward with those who said things I didn’t like. “You’re young.” “You’re pretty, don’t cry.” “You already have two.” “You should follow this traditional Chinese regimen, or you’ll feel it 20 years later. There is scientific proof.” Really, these are awful things to say to someone who miscarried in the midst of the moment, and this only brings more grief and pain because the person saying them doesn’t understand what I’m going through. I explained to them that although I understood that they were trying to be helpful and make me feel better, what they said just hurt me. “Please don’t say this to someone else,” I gently told them all.

Then the visitors I had varied in their responses to their own grief. Some were very emotional; some reflected our attitudes of joy. We comforted many in their pain, too.

We cried the most on Monday; we recited scripture to one another, and we listened to worship songs. I cried many times that night and that next morning. Our changes in attitude of great grief toward great peace and hope came slowly over Tuesday and Wednesday. When I had the first dose of injections to induce my labor on Tuesday, I felt like that was saying goodbye to them. In a way I felt like I was giving up on hope but also accepting that they had died. We continued to pray and worship with our translator. We had many times of Bible study. We updated our friends and family, all around the world, and we felt their love and support. I got the chance to take pictures with my belly; I had only gotten one pregnancy picture, and I didn’t want that to be the only one. I knew I would regret that.

17 weeks twins

We continued to point our eyes toward Jesus, and to point other’s eyes toward Jesus, too. Labor on Thursday was hopeful because I was going to get to see the twins and see their genders. We would finally get to name them. Our prayers were answered in Bobby being there with me, and he was pivotal in helping me keep my mind off of the pain as I pushed and bore through the contractions. Finishing labor also meant being on the final stretch toward home.

 

During my time of trouble over this week, I was encouraged by these verses:

Psalm 16:11 “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world, you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.”

1 Corinthians 15:55 “‘Death is swallowed up in victoy.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”

2 Corinthians 16-18 “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are unseen are eternal.”

Genesis 3:16a “To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children…”

These songs helped us grieve and worship throughout the week.

 

And writing this is cathartic.  To some, this might be weird that I want to do something when everyone else suggests I rest, but I’ve been resting and waiting and processing since Monday.  My body just needs to catch up with my heart and soul.

I want this post to express my love and understanding to my friends but also be a voice for women feeling the same as me in any of those six scenarios I wrote about above. The first half of Genesis 3:16 was so encouraging because I saw that we are all linked in grief through childrearing. There is pain in childrearing, not just in labor and delivery; that’s mentioned secondly in the verse, but not necessarily the primary mention of pain related to children. Childrearing brings grief to us through deaths, parenting struggles, heartache, and infertility, even if we are not the women directly experiencing the main mechanism of grief at the time. Even as bystanders we experience the grief of others.

To my friends grieving for my miscarriage - or your own

The pattern in all of this is that everyone experiences and deals with grief differently. With how at peace we feel, we can only imagine others do not feel that same peace at this moment. Maybe they haven’t been able to process how they feel about our twins’ deaths. Maybe this conjures up feelings for them they have buried before. That’s all okay. Please grieve. Please feel like you can talk to us about your pain, (if you even want to do that).

Let’s do one another a favor and leave judgment behind, realize we’re going to process differently, and humbly ask one another, “How are you doing with this death? Do you want to talk about it?”

So, much love and grace to you, dear ones.

Losing Tiana: How Daviana’s Story of Child Loss Changed Me

I’m not a fan of copyediting and copywriting. I really don’t like marketing gigs either. I just don’t have passion for helping people sell products I think are overpriced in the first place. But, I’ve had to pull my weight as a writer, just like everyone else. Once upon a time, I listed my own copyediting and copywriting Elance profile. I accepted dirt-cheap pay for jobs I loathed.

 

Moving on from that, one of my favorite parts about being a writer is giving a voice to the voiceless and vulnerable. The more I write, the stronger my platform, and the louder I can make my written voice. I felt empowered to make true change after I wrote Inclusive Education: What does this mean for children with special needs? in last year’s December 11th issue of City Weekend Beijing Parents & Kids magazine. Immediately after the article was published, one of the contacts I interviewed attested to the support he was able to garner from his school administration.

 

After I wrote that piece, I became much more knowledgeable about differentiated and inclusive instruction. The research and the interviews I conducted changed the way I viewed the Chinese education system and how I treated children in my classroom.

 

And that leads me to my second favorite perk of being a writer. I’m changed through writing. Real stories and real people reach out to me and cling to my conscious in a way that fabricated movies, television shows and RP games just can’t. I forget movies almost as soon as I see them, (a blessing with movie blunders).

Daviana Winger personal loss grief and friendship

But last month, I got to share part of my own story when I wrote about Daviana and Luke’s loss. Even though I wrote the story in an “as told to” viewpoint, I already knew huge chunks of the story before I sat down for my first recording with her.

My kids and I arrived second (after the Chinese neighbor), when the accident happened.  I saw the bag.  My kids and I experienced, along with her two boys, many of the in and out waves of friends, coworkers, BICF attenders and strangers who came to extend their care, toys and food.  I attended one of the hospital prayer meetings with an out of town friend when Bobby was able to stay home with our own littles.  Bobby and I met Daviana’s mother and aunt for the first time, and Luke’s mother for the second time.  We prayed alongside our Chinese speaking neighbors at Luke and Davi’s home, and then later alongside our English speaking neighbors at another teaching couple’s home.  We attended the memorial service to say our goodbyes to Tiana and show our support to Luke and Davi, but I still hold on to regrets of not having been a better friend to Daviana before the loss.  While Tiana lived, I had held her once or twice.  Such a beautiful, short life had sifted like sand between my fingers.

Tiana losing a child grief loss and friendship

What feels like much later, but in reality was only a week after her mother’s month stay was over, Davi invited me to go rollerblading.  I love rollerblading, and I gladly accepted the invitation, (when she has asked me to run or go to Zumba with her, I’ve refused all but one invitation to date).  After briefly catching up on “normal” life details and once we were puffing through our masks, I casually asked her how she was doing, despite how uneasy I felt to even broach the subject.  Although I learned a lot about trauma and loss during the hectic time before this rollerblading session, I learned the most about being a friend while I witnessed Daviana grieve so openly.

 

She processed her thoughts with me.  She was patient with my questions.  We both started to understand sometimes we just needed a sympathetic ear, whether to process grief or any of the many troubles life brings.  Although I can’t say we are best friends, I can say we are able to comfort one another during times of hardship.  I wish I could say that hasn’t technically been tested, but Bobby and I had our own share of personal hardships since living in this community.  Not the kind that makes us want to pack up and leave for the States, but the life hardships that bring humiliation, remorse, anguish and/or sorrow.

 

There’s a great deal of bravery and strength that Davi has in her vulnerability and honesty about her shortcomings.  I know that she is aware others judge her for what happened, since she still experiences shunning from a few in our little small-town-like community in the millions-and-millions-of-residents-city of Beijing.  And, the girl is so humble; she won’t attribute her honesty to bravery or strength, but almost a shame if she doesn’t share the gift Jesus has given her through the grief and loss of her precious baby.

Tiana, Davi, Luke and their boys have genuinely changed the lives of many, (I’ve heard the stories of how, remember?). I hope you are blessed and changed by the testimony of Tiana, even an ounce of how much her story has changed me.

 

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