Romans 5:6

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Ministry in Miscarriage

Cohutta Springs - where I spent 3 days in our room alone with the Lord overlooking this view

Before you begin to read about the Lord’s faithfulness to us through this journey, please know that my aim in this is not to gain pity.  Your prayers weigh more important to us than pity.  God is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28).

Over the past several weeks Joseph and I have often referred to everything as “surreal”.

After waiting to become expecting parents for eleven months, the Lord’s faithfulness reigned over us and we confirmed that we would be holding our long anticipated blessing in February 2015.

The joy we felt was unlike anything we’ve experienced.  After so many prayers… after waiting… after so many tears… finally!  It was surreal that what we had hoped to be for so long was now a reality.

In September 2013 the Lord promised me Hebrews 6:14b-15 – “Surely I will bless you and multiply you.  And thus Abraham, having patiently waited, obtained the promise.”

Abraham received the promise and blessing of a child after he PATIENTLY waited.  I asked that the Lord teach both Joseph and me to completely trust Him, to wait for His timing and to rejoice through the journey.  Though this was much easier said than done, I clung to this promise.

In March 2014 I was told that it would be “difficult” to ever become pregnant.  In April 2014 I had to have a sonogram to measure cysts my doctor said we needed to evaluate for surgery.

Rather than finding cysts, they found nothing.  NOTHING.  God’s faithfulness over us has proved true over and over.  Imagine that:  God healed me COMPLETELY prior to ever seeing my doctor the second time.

Joseph and I know that this was nothing short of a miracle.  God chose to heal.  He chose to remind us of His goodness, though He didn’t have to.  He chose to love on us and remind us of His promise to us.

My “banner verse” for my life (Romans 5:6) reminds me of the Lord’s perfect timing in every single situation.  Infertility was simply an area we had to surrender to the Lord.  We had to learn how to be content as a family of two.  We had to remain teachable as God continues to mold us.

Infertility taught us much more than we anticipated, but the wait was still difficult.
In June 2014, after several positive pregnancy tests, Joseph and I were elated that our wait was over!  God’s promise was being fulfilled! (I constantly reminded myself of this as I dealt with the bout with nausea and bizarre cravings.) 

The first week of July 2014, just weeks after we found out about our pregnancy, Joseph and I were to be on a trip with the student ministry I am privileged to work with.

After just two days in north Georgia, I knew something wasn’t right.  After I spoke with my nurse about my symptoms I was put on bed rest.

I was so frustrated.  I was looking forward to camp with our students for months.  But the Lord had other plans.

He had me in our hotel-style room at camp for three days by myself through out the day in order for Him to speak.

All of my symptoms were pointing to miscarriage, but He was teaching me to love Him and trust Him regardless of the outcome.

The Lord loved on me in such a strong way over those three days.  His love over Joseph and me is not conditional.  Nor can our love for Him be conditional.  I had about ten minutes of screaming to the Lord asking why He would bless us with a baby after waiting all those months just to take them back.  He spoke so clearly, “My promise remains.” 

His love for me had not only been shown in my pregnancy.  His love over me is constant.  He reminded me of this through Joseph.  The way that Joseph chose to minister to me and love on me through those days showed Christ’s love.  Being so selfless and so attentive, Joseph’s actions caused me to gain a better understanding of the Lord through it all.  Regardless of the outcome, God had promised us to be with us.  His attentiveness to our need for comfort was not dependent on my wavering levels of trust in those moments.

In our hearts Joseph and I were still hopeful that everything would be fine.  We continued to seek to learn all that Lord desired for us to, striving to never allow the spirit of unbelief to settle in our hearts.

My sweet mom drove almost seven hours to pick us up from camp early.  Then, turned right around to drive us home. On our drive home through the night into the morning I was trying to simply process all that the Lord had been teaching me.

While I was in the room over those few days alone, God continually reminded me of the hope we have in Him.  Hebrews 6:19 – “We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.”  Our hope in Him simply does not disappoint, regardless of our circumstances.

After the second day, I knew deep down that we had lost our baby.

I had lots of questions.  I know the Lord didn’t mind my asking, because with each one He lovingly directed me to His Word.

Deuteronomy 15:6 – “For the Lord your God will bless you, as He promised.”  He is for us!  His gift of a child had been given to us and He was declaring over us that we would once again know the joy of pregnancy, but to also know the joy of having a child here with us.

Psalm 27: 13-14 –“I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord
 in the land of the living.  Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.”  The Lord so sweetly comforted me through these verses.  Joseph and I have been given the gift of “the land of the living” in our salvation in Christ Jesus.  But here, He was nudging me to pay attention to the necessity of waiting.  Through our circumstances we have been called to be strong and to take heart -- to wait for Him to act on our behalf.

The strength that He has called us to requires that Joseph and I depend on Him.  In difficult circumstances our first inclination is not to want to surrender our emotions in order for the Lord’s strength to carry us.

I have learned that the act of waiting is active.

I have seen how our waiting for answers requires active faith.  Waiting bids us to pray fervently.  Waiting causes us to depend on Who He is.

Infertility was never a road either of us thought we would walk.  It was “surreal”.  The Lord’s healing caused us to trust more deeply.

Pregnancy felt “surreal” because our wait had been so difficult.  Our excitement was almost uncontainable!

Then, this past Monday (7/7/14), after our miscarriage had been confirmed, it all felt “surreal”.

Rather than seeing our baby on the monitor, we saw the words “empty uterus”.

Despite how I thought I would react regardless of the outcome of Monday’s appointment, the “surreal” was that Joseph and I felt the peace of God sit so heavily in the room with us as we were told the news.

For us, there is ministry in miscarriage for many reasons.
To know that despite what medical professionals told me, I am able to get pregnant is a huge sign of God’s faithfulness over us.

To recall the moment when I was told, “Mrs. Charlton, all of the cysts are gone! You will not need surgery” revealed God had chosen to preform a miracle just for us.

God’s faithfulness doesn’t waiver!  Our hope in Him is secure.
Our circumstances do not determine our faithfulness to Him. 

Though going through a miscarriage was painful and difficult – physically, emotionally and spiritually – we know that the Lord has called us to share our story.

When we were told at our appointment Monday that 25%+ of all pregnancies end in miscarriage, I immediately thought of all of the women who have walked through this silently.

Our culture has somehow made women believe that miscarriage is a taboo topic.  I believe this is nothing short of a scheme of the Enemy to cause couples to believe that they must carry the burden of losing a child alone.

Galatians 6:2 tells Christ followers to “bear one another’s burdens” for a reason.  God is reminding us to see past our own needs and selfish desires in order to minister to those He has allowed us to be in fellowship with. 

When we become serious about actually “being the Body of Christ” it becomes far more difficult for us to become discouraged when we walk through a loss or other unexpected circumstance.  When we love on one another as Christ commands His followers to do so our faith is strengthened and God is glorified.

There have been and will continue to be difficult moments for Joseph and I to walk through after this loss.  However, the peace that the Lord has given us far outweighs our grief (Philippians 4:7). 

Our encouragement to others is to find strength in the joy the Lord gives you.  Our joy is not based on our circumstances; rather it is rooted in Who He is.  It’s okay to admit that there are difficult situations.  Through those moments, we must recognize how the Lord is cultivating more faith within us.

Psalm 28:7 – “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.”

He sees the big picture.  He knows how He desires to use our current heartache to minister to others as we simply go about our lives. Do not remain silent about all He is teaching you.

We are honored that the Lord allowed us the privilege of knowing a child, even though only for a few weeks.

We are grateful to belong to the God who holds all things together. (Colossians 1:17)

We are privileged to share our story of His faithfulness with others.  He is worthy of our praise!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Teacher's Wife

When I was in High School I was certain that I would marry someone in ministry.  I just knew that we would be a couple that would strive to influence many others for the Kingdom.

All of that became a reality.

I married a teacher.

I often think about how my perspective would differ had I not married a teacher.

What would daily conversations concerning our workday consist of? 
How would things at home shift if we were both in a “regular” 8 to 5 work place?

Neither of these questions matters because I did marry a teacher.

I married a teacher knowing that we would end up grading papers together after some of our date nights.

I married a teacher believing with everything in me that the Lord is constantly using him in influential ways that the organized church hasn’t even begun to function in yet.

I married a teacher knowing that he makes a difference.

As many of the surrounding school districts are celebrating “Teacher Appreciation Week” at their respective schools, I cannot help but to ponder what all I appreciate about the teacher that I am blessed to be married to.

Since teachers have different hours than the typical 8 to 5 workforce and they have summers off, many believe that this profession comes easier than others.

Please note, simply because a teacher is not in a classroom it does not mean that they have “clocked out” for the day.

When my sweet husband leaves the school building each day there are still some papers that need to be graded, phone calls from parents to take and emails to reply to.

People don’t become teachers because it’s easy.

People become teachers because compassion compels them.

When Christ followers become teachers it’s certainly for the purpose of Kingdom advancement.

Our government can regulate many things about our public school systems, but they cannot hinder the prayers that my sweet husband and I pray over his students and their families.

I married a teacher knowing that our dinner conversations and the “routine” how was your day convo would often revolve around difficultly with student.

Those conversations usually circle around the fact that the difficult student has and even more difficult home life.  This prompts me to even more prayer over his students. 

Have you ever thought of the possibility that as a teacher and a spouse of a teacher that you two may in fact be the only people praying over that child?

I married a teacher knowing that I would become attached to the lives of the students my husband is entrusted with each school year.  I knew that I would be ecstatic with every successful math grade and even more hopeful with every bad one. 

I married a teacher knowing that when in public, people would want to stop us to chat with him about curriculum, their child’s grade on the math test and what they can bring to the class party.

Being married to a teacher has revealed to me more profound levels of compassion and empathy that I thought possible.

For some students the only consistency that they experience is from their teacher. 

I wasn’t expecting that in marrying a teacher that I’d have conversations about how to just love on a child after their parent has committed suicide.

I wasn’t expecting that in marrying a teacher that I’d ever be faced with helping come up with words to address a class after something tragic has happened in our nation.

My sweet husband is there on Monday to talk to students who have witnessed a major fight between mom and dad over the weekend.  When they ask, “Do you think they are getting a divorce, Mr. Charlton?” I know he is relying on our sweet Savior to give him the words.

He is there to help them find the method to problem solving that works best for them, but more importantly he is there for students day in and day out who simply depend on him.

Today, I found out that my sweet man has been deemed teacher of the month.
When he told me he laughingly said, “You’re more excited than I am.”  I am so thrilled simply because I know how much he cares for the 50+ 4th grade boys he teaches each day.  I see how hard he works in order to help them become successful students. I see his heart behind his choice to become a teacher.

Teachers, as the school year comes to an end, know that you are making a difference!  State testing is around the corner.  You’ve done a great job…. Don’t sweat it!

You have been chosen to invest in the lives of students who desperately need to know that someone cares about them and to encourage family units to function as the Lord designed.

You have been chosen to cultivate within each student a sense of believing in himself or herself.

You have been chosen to make a difference.

I married a teacher and I’m so blessed that I did! You will forever be my favorite, Joseph!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gratefulness for Genuine Friendship

"As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." ~Proverbs 27:17

Sadly, our society has cultivated within us a seemingly natural ability to simply take things, circumstances and people for granted.  Our gross sin nature has a hand in that cultivation, too.  So, what are we Christ followers going to do to counter act that tendency in our own lives?

There are certain things that we come to expect.  We expect the vehicle to run once we turn the key in the ignition.  We expect pay increases after completing numerous tasks at the work place.  We expect to receive gifts for holidays, birthdays and other special occasions.  While these things seem like "no brainers" and things that are generally no big deal, the concept can also be applied to friendship.

This is where the Lord has certainly grown my gratefulness for my friends over the past several months.

Our friendships with others often begin with conditions applied.  My memories of being an elementary student on the playground are flooded with specific conditions that I created and presented to a classmate, or vice versa.  I attempted to bribe my sweet mama into allowing me to have my way when I was growing up by sweetly saying, "I'll be your best friend!" To which she always responded to by saying, "Sydney, I have enough friends. I am called to be your mom."  It seemed like harsh words then, but because she parented well, we really are friends now. 

My thought here is that we carry that same mentality of conditional friendship over into adulthood.  The stake of friendship is not dependent upon if the girl sitting beside you at lunch shares her fruit snacks with you.  The stakes are raised as we get older.

We judge the state of our friendship on what they are willing to do for us, how much time they carve out of their busy schedule for us and the amount they have invested in us, both spiritually and financially.

I have a handful of friends that I know would do anything I needed them to.  I don't have to talk to them every day or every week... or even every month, but I know that when we talk again we will pick up right where we left off. 

A few weeks ago after having supper with one of my best friends, Lynsie, I sat and thought about all of this. I left supper that evening thinking about how much Lynsie and I have walked through together and how the Lord has given me FIVE friends "at just the right time" in order to be His light in my life through various seasons.

Though Lyns and I were in college together, we didn't become close friends until we served in an inner city ministry together while working in the same office at our alma mater.  The Lord knew when I needed her spunky sense of humor, spontaneous dance parties and Godly wisdom the most.

Last night another "best", Joy, came over to our house for supper.  I hadn't seen her in over 11 months.  11 months!  The tears started flowing as soon as I saw her pull into the drive way.  Mascara was everywhere!  When she left, after hours of sweet conversation, I just thought, "Lord, what a blessing!" Joy and I also went to college together, but became close when we were placed in a spiritually dark work environment.  She and I saw what Matthew 15:8 looked like in person. ("These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.")  Rather than allowing me to become self righteous and compare myself with those around me, Joy reminded me daily of Romans 8:28.  She constantly pointed me to Christ when we were striving to be Light together. 

I believe that the Lord strategically places people in our lives for specific purposes "at just the right time".  Honestly, many of us miss this.  Rather than focusing on how the Lord has blessed us with likeminded, God fearing friends, we allow the Enemy to lie to us.  Satan has a predictable way of telling us that we need to "give up" on certain people because they haven't shown us how important we are to them and that we have invested more into the friendship than they've ever thought of.

I have witnessed the destruction of friendship that can take place when we give in to the spirit of comparison.

Rather than distance yourself from the friend who gets her dream job before you, gets married before you, has a baby before you, etc. surrender jealously to the Lord and rejoice!

I believe that the Lord's design for friendship has many aspects, but heavily revolves around Romans 12:15, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn."

Lydia and I have been best friends since junior high.  She was hands down my first friend to exemplify Romans 12:15.  Her excitement for me when the Lord answers a prayer is uncontainable, and her compassion and sympathy for me as I've walked through difficulty brings her to tears for me.

When the Lord grants us the blessing of friendship, we cannot miss the honor that comes in being willing to rejoice and mourn with them depending on the circumstance.  There is absolutely no place for the mentality of "why her and not me, Lord?" in the life of anyone striving to be Kingdom minded.  Get over yourself and be the friend He's called you to be.

The words of John 15:13 can be difficult to hear, but are so necessary when determining the level of friendship you have with another. "Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends."

Laying your life down for a friend far exceeds the world's standard for friendship.  It's not based on how many times a month you meet up for coffee, how many pictures you have together or how many gifts have been exchanged between the two of you.

Laying your life down for a friend, to me, is not only the willingness to give up your actual life on their behalf if you two are in a life threatening situation.

I wholeheartedly believe that "laying down your life" in day to day terms is simply wanting what is best for your friend above wanting what is best for yourself.

Let that sink in.

That completely defies the "all about me" attitude of the world.

Jessica's commitment to be one of my bridesmaids was maintained despite her having her gallbladder removed just days before.  Her love for me isn't just portrayed through her words "I love you to pieces" but is seen in her actions.  That day, among other instances as well, she "laid down her life", her personal interest to fulfill a commitment that she made in support of me marrying Joseph.  That seems somewhat simple.  But how often are we really willing to endure pain in order to fulfill a commitment to a friend?  Especially when we have a valid reason to cop-out.

I have found that just as marriage must center around Christ, so should a friendship.  Otherwise, that spirit of jealousy I mentioned earlier will take over.  Rather than basing friendship on what someone can "bring to the table" on your behalf, why don't we begin thinking the opposite?

Carissa is certainly my "best" with the sense of wild adventure.  She thrives thinking outside of the box and in situations that would cause me to freak out.  To me, camping in a tent is super adventurous (this hair cannot reach the teasing capacity I know it is capable of in a tent!) but to Carissa, that's mild.  After all, she is my friend that came to college with a machete in her vehicle "just in case".  Carissa and I have had countless conversations sharing our dreams and our goals... and our fears.

Honesty with my friends comes naturally. We tend to keep feelings and fears to ourselves, thinking that once verbalize them we will quickly be judged.  Thankfully my 5 "bests" know me well enough to allow me to be real with them and know how to support me.

Just as friendship cannot thrive when jealousy is involved, it will surly suffer once judgment of one another becomes a factor.

There is a healthy, Godly manner in which we are to approach any issue of sin in the life of another Christ following friend, but judgment is never involved. (Romans 3:23)

To be a friend means to want God's best for their lives, even if they receive a blessing from Him before you.

To be a friend means to put comparison aside, and to appreciate them and all that the Lord has done and is doing on their behalf.

To be a friend means to be willing to spur one another towards righteousness, especially when we don't understand what certain circumstances happen as they do.

To my 5 "bests", Lynsie, Joy, Lydia, Jessica and Carissa: Thank you for being "iron in my life", for genuinely wanting my dreams and goals to be obtained and being 5 of my biggest supporters as I seek to fulfill the Lord's will for my life. I am grateful for your honesty with me, for laughing with me, crying with me and believing in me.

 You are loved much!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Choosing to Remember His Faithfulness

For the Lord is good and His love endures forever; His faithfulness continues through all generations. ~Psalm 100:5

     As Joseph and I rang in the new year, I reflected on all that the Lord had provided for us in 2013.  There were so many things that it'd be easy to forget about in our busyness.  He provided us with 2 different vehicles, money to have a french drain installed, a new roof and repairs after the March '13 hail storm (homeownership joys) and even funds to take several trips, including our trip to Florida to see family I hadn't seen in 4 1/2 years.  Not to mention that He saw me through finishing Seminary and leaving a very difficult work situation at my alma mater last summer.
     When the Lord explains that we will have trouble in this world, He also promises that He will give us peace (John16:33).  Because He has already overcome the world, our menial hardships should not come as an offense.  He told us this would happen.  Why, then, are we so astounded when all of this stuff happens?  
     With a couple of difficult circumstances occurring presently in the lives of some of our family members and unexpected expenses last week with our hot water heater and vehicle repair, it would be so easy (and so worldly) to hear difficult news and immediately react in angered manner.   Before I even had a chance to enter my budget freak out mode or get overly defensive on my family's behalf the Lord so sweetly reminded me that He knows what I need.
     Our sweet Savior does not work on our behalf or watch us from a distance, as Bette Midler suggests.  He is near to us and sees all that is going on.  After all, He knew about the things we would walk through before we did.  In choosing to remember His faithfulness I found myself so humbled as I wept in my car before Him.  He is bigger than anything we face! 
     Rather than become upset by circumstances, wrongdoings of others, and unexpected expenses,  He asks me to continue to trust Him as I walk in obedience.  His faithfulness is unwavering because He never changes (Hebrews 13:8).
     He is the one Who has provided for my family for every single thing.  He has always taken care of us.  I had to choose to remember this over the past few weeks as I have received phone calls from family members who have been let down by Christians choosing not to act Christ-like.  He is the same God Who parted the Red Sea.  He is more than able to provide for our needs.
    He is the one Who gave me a "transition job" last summer in order for me to leave my job at my alma mater.  I then became content with having a job that my degrees didn't help qualify me for, because I saw His faithfulness at work.  However, so unexpectedly the Lord gave me a position in church ministry.  The Lord has taught me much regarding being faithful in the small things in order to be trusted with more (Luke 16:10).  He has given you influence where you are for a reason.  Your purpose is to live in a manner that promotes His Kingdom coming to where He has placed you.
    Rather than become distraught by our worldly circumstances, what do you think it would look like if Christ followers actually took on the attitude presented in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18?  If we were truly joyful in all circumstances, prayed about everything and thankful in all things don't you think that the world around us would notice a difference?
   Be encouraged knowing that the Lord is using whatever difficulty you may be walking through to make you more like Himself, to encourage more faithfulness to Him, and to remind you that He is for you (Rom. 8:28)!  
   Choose to remember how faithful He has been to you.  Be faithful to Him where you are.  Despite the difficulty of your situation, having  to figure out how to pay for unexpected expenses, or being surrounded by people who claim Christ and don't seek to live according to His Word, He has called you to be faithful and to recall His goodness upon your life.
   He takes care of details such as french drains, new vehicles, and paying all of the bills, but remember that He does so because He cares for His kids more than we could ever imagine. 1 Peter 5:7 -- "Cast all of your cares upon Him because He cares for you."

Choose to remember His faithfulness to you from the past and believe in His promise to remain faithful to you now.