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.

Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here for a monthly digest of blog posts and more date night freebies.

Find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to never miss a post.

Pin for later!

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.

Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here for a monthly digest of blog posts and to hear about how I’m doing in my most vulnerable perspective. You become one of my encouragers this way. Thanks for holding my hand, friend!

Find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to never miss a post.

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?

Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

Subscribe to my fighting sin newsletter here for a monthly digest of blog posts and to hear about how I’m doing in my most vulnerable perspective. You become one of my encouragers this way. Thanks for holding my hand, friend!

Find me on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter to never miss a post.

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.

 

Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

Don’t miss another encouraging Christ-centered testimony from women like you by subscribing to my social media feeds. Find me on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter (or WP subscribe).

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.

If you just want to follow me along with life in China rather than stay up to date on my blog, follow me on Instagram or download WeChat and add vanessajencks.

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.


Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

Don’t miss another encouraging Christ-centered testimony from women like you by subscribing to my social media feeds. Find me on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter (or WP subscribe).

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.

If you just want to follow me along with life in China rather than stay up to date on my blog, follow me on Instagram or download WeChat and add vanessajencks.

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.

Don’t miss another encouraging Christ-centered testimonies from women like you by subscribing to my social media feeds. Find me on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter (or WP subscribe).

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.

If you just want to follow me along with life in China rather than stay up to date on my blog, follow me on Instagram or download WeChat and add vanessajencks.

Photos: All rights remain with Abbie and Luke Sawyer. 

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?

Scroll down past related posts to comment below.

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.

Don’t miss another encouraging Christ-centered testimony from women like you by subscribing to my social media feeds. Find me on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter (or WP subscribe).

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.

If you just want to follow me along with life in China rather than stay up to date on my blog, follow me on Instagram or download WeChat and add vanessajencks.

 

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.

Scroll down past related posts to “Leave a reply.”

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.

Don’t miss another encouraging Christ-centered testimony from women like you by subscribing to my social media feeds. Find me on FacebookLinkedIn, or Twitter (or WP subscribe).

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.

If you just want to follow me along with life in China rather than stay up to date on my blog, follow me on Instagram or download WeChat and add vanessajencks.

 

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.

Scroll down past related posts to comment below. 

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.

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

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? 

Scroll down past related posts to comment below. 

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

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

 

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.

Scroll down past related posts to comment below! 

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

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

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.

 

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

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

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

Photo: Free for Commercial Use (Flickr)

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 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.”

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 10.50.40 AM

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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 10.51.05 AM

#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.

Screen Shot 2017-08-02 at 10.50.40 AM

#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

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

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.

 

Was this examination helpful? Comment below.

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

 

Photos: Vanessa Jencks 2017 (All Rights Reserved)