Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fear Not!

Do not fear, for I am with you;
do not be afraid, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you; I will help you;
I will hold on to you with My righteous right hand.

--Isaiah 41:10 HCSB

Okay, sweet friends, I have one more thought to share before I finally get to tell you about the special thing I'm doing for my kids this weekend. I'm really excited about it, so stay tuned!

But something else has been heavy on my heart this week. I've tried to avoid writing about it, telling myself I need to focus on editing in stead of blogging, but I simply can't get it out of my head until I get it on paper. (Or computer screen...whatever. Y'all know what I mean!) So let me take a quick break and tell you...

This week I've come face-to-face with fear.

Early this week a violent crime was committed in our neighborhood. The local news reported that similar violent crimes had occurred in nearby residential areas as well.

And the neighborhood erupted in fear.

The streets were eerily quiet as parents locked their doors and kept their children inside. Our neighborhood Facebook page exploded with residents urging one another to protect ourselves with guns and self-defense classes. Many neighbors commented that they were terrified to leave their house alone, especially at night.

And you know what? I completely understand why so many residents reacted in fear. (N.B.: I think self-defense and gun protection is a great idea. Please don't misunderstand.)

But it was the level of fear that struck me.

Overnight, we went from a typical suburban community to high alert, terrified for our safety and our children.

And it got me thinking...

Why are we so afraid?

Now, before you mistakenly think I'm approaching this subject as a "what's wrong with those people" post, let me assure you that I know fear firsthand. I've been suffocated by it, ambushed by it, paralyzed by it. Fear so physically painful that it sent me to the doctor, convinced I was having a heart attack. Fear that consumed me with the crippling worry of endless "what-ifs."

Just to give you an idea...
  • When my dad died at a young age, I was very afraid of dying.

  • When I miscarried my first child, I was afraid I would never be able to have kids.

  • When my daughter was diagnosed with glaucoma, I was afraid she'd become blind.

  • When my marriage started falling apart, I was afraid my husband would leave.

  • When our church plant started struggling, I was afraid the church wouldn't survive.

  • When my husband abruptly moved out, I was afraid of being alone.

I was controlled by fear.


I am a Christian, so my fear doesn't make any sense. In my head, I know that fear has no place in the life of a child of God. 

After all, "Fear not!" is the most repeated command in all of Scripture. The pages of our Bibles are replete with God's assurances that He is with us and will never forsake us. Reminders that He will protect us and is our refuge and strength. Commands to trust Him and to cast our cares on Him and to be anxious for nothing.

Why, then, did I react in fear? Why do any of us feel afraid?

Regarding my list above, some of my fears came true. Some didn't. Either way, I couldn't alter the outcome. All my fear and anxiety didn't change the fact that I am helpless to control my life.

Ah... there's the rub.

I can't control my life!

(Yes, I just heard you say, "Well, duh.")

I know, I know. Of course I can't control my life. God is in charge of the whole world. Those of us who cut our teeth on church pews learned this foundational truth as preschoolers. We sang, "He's got the whole world in His hands!"

Over and over in our churches, we read and teach and sing this fundamental reality:

God is in control.

Ironic, isn't it? The truth that troubles me the most is the same truth that gives me the most comfort.

I am not in control. God is.

That is both alarming and assuring.

Alarming, because I can't plan my life the way I want it to turn out.

Assuring, because I know that the God who gave me life loves me and has a plan infinitely greater than anything I could ever concoct.

Obviously, if I was writing the story of my life, I would NOT have included the plot twist of my former-pastor-husband leaving me. Or of my miscarriage. Or of my daughter developing glaucoma at age three. Or of two church plants failing. Or...

You get the picture.

But you see, God Himself is writing my story. In fact, He finished the entire story and wrote "The End" before I was even born. All of my days were written in God's book and planned before a single one of them began (Psalm 139:16).

As much as I'd like to whip out my editor's pen for a substantive rewrite of my life, all the red ink in the world can't change the story God wrote.

And all the wishing in the world won't bring my husband back or give me back the child I miscarried or reestablish the church that failed.

And all the worry in the world won't add one moment to my life's span or alter any of the circumstances God allows.

And all the fear in the world won't change the future that the Author of Life has already planned and penned for me--and for my children.

So day by day, I choose to obey the command to "Fear not!" I've filled a spiral notebook with scriptures that remind me of God's sovereign care and protection. And over the past few months, I've learned to respond to unexpected and even tragic events with faith, not fear.

That's why when I heard of the devastating event that struck our neighborhood this week, I can honestly say that I didn't react in fear. Maybe after all these years, I'm finally learning to rest in this whole "God is in control" thing! :)


It is a grand thing to be able to say, "Wherever I go, and whatever happens to me, I belong to God; and I can say that God will prepare my way as well when I am old and grey-headed as he did when I was a boy. He shall guide me all the way to my everlasting mansion in glory; he was the guide of my youth, he shall be the guide of my old age. I will leave everything to him, all the way from earth to heaven; and I will be content to live only a day at a time."

--Charles Spurgeon, "God's Will About the Future," written only a few days before he died, 1892

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

What I've Gained from Divorce

  I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.

--Hosea 2:14-15 NLT


For those of you who regularly read my blog, thanks for putting up with my tangled thoughts about my recent divorce. I know my past few posts have sounded like same song, second verse; but I promise I'll be moving on to other subjects! For example, I'm eager to share something significant I'm doing for my kids... and I'll get to that soon.

But for now, one more thought about the wilderness I've been in the past year.

In my DivorceCare group meeting this week, the leader urged us to write out a list of our losses. Making this list, he said, would help us realize the magnitude of what has been taken from us as a result of divorce so that we can understand the depth of our grief.

I've been putting off this assignment because I didn't want to have to face the reality of how much my life and dreams have changed. But this morning, I sat down with a notebook and made The List.

Most of the list is too personal to share publicly, so here are just a few things on my long list of What I've Lost from Divorce:

1. My husband (obviously).

2. My identity as a wife. I'm no longer a "Mrs." I have to get used to calling myself "Miss Stair." (I still get a little pang of grief every time I say "Miss.")

3. My identity as a pastor's wife. For fourteen years I've been a pastor's wife, and I've loved that role. I really miss it. Now I'm learning how to function as a "regular" member of a church.

4. My church home. The church Brett pastored didn't survive the shock of his sudden leaving. They closed their doors in January. I truly loved that church and poured my life into the people there for five years. But I can't go back to my church home, because it no longer exists.

5. My vision of a life together. When I married Brett, I married for life. I envisioned growing old together, watching our children grow up together, having the kids and their spouses and the grandkids come over for fun family gatherings, like I do with my own mom and sisters. That dream has now been snatched away.

I could go on, but you get the picture.

Anyone who's gone through a significant loss--whether from divorce or death or illness or any unexpected change in life circumstances--could make a simliar list of losses: a lost sense of identity, security, hopes, dreams, financial status, future plans, family life, etc.

My list of losses ended up being pretty long. And to be honest, I was overwhelmed to see them in writing. Somehow writing down all those losses made them seem very REAL.

Then I sensed a strong leading....

Make another list. Make a list of what you've gained.

Gained?! That's crazy, I thought. Who GAINS from divorce? Then I thought, why not give it a try? It couldn't hurt.

And you know what? It's a lot more than I expected.


So here's my second list. The list of What I've Gained from Divorce.

1. A (faithful) heavenly husband. In Hosea 2:14-16, God calls His beloved into the wilderness to speak tenderly to her and to restore her vineyards. There, God promises to "turn Heartbreak Valley into Acres of Hope" (v. 15 MSG).

In this desert, she will no longer call God her master, but she will call Him her husband (v. 16 NLT).

As much as I never, ever wanted to be in this postition, the desert of divorce has deepened my relationship with God. I ran to Him because I had nowhere else to go! And during this past year, I have no longer merely known Him as my Lord, but I have known Him as my heavenly husband--the One who loves me with an everlasting love and makes a covenant with me that will never be broken.

"I’ll marry you for good—forever! I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness. Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go. You’ll know me, God, for who I really am" (Hosea 2:20 MSG).

2. My identity as a child of God. Being a child of God isn't a new identity for me--I gave my heart to the Lord when I was seven years old. But when my life fell apart last year, I was shaken to my core. In those first few days when I was in such shock that I could barely breathe, when I wasn't even sure who I was anymore... I knew this truth: I am a child of God. 

He is not only my heavenly husband, but He is my heavenly Father.

My father died many years ago. I miss him all the time, but there are certain situations when his absence is achingly palpable. When my husband left, I desperately wanted to run to my dad, for him to wrap his strong arms around me and take care of me and tell me that everything is going to be okay. But I couldn't do that. I don't have a dad anymore.

Instead, in those lonely, grief-stricken days, I found God Himself to be the Father I longed for. I can't fully explain it, and I know this sounds really "girly" (which is SO not me!), but I have felt God's strong, fatherly presence around me during the difficult times when I'm tired of all the responsibilities of being a grown-up and I just want to be a child crawling up in my Daddy's lap so He can hold me and take care of me and tell me that everything is going to be okay.

"God in His holy house is a father to those who have no father" (Psalm 68:5 NLT).

3. My identity as God's servant. On Sunday, November 6, 2011, Brett stood in the pulpit at The Church at Sendera Ranch, told the congregation he was no longer eligible to be pastor, walked out of the church, came home to pack his things, and moved out. In a single day--just a few hours, really--my identity as pastor's wife was stripped away.

This was a much harder blow than I had anticipated. I didn't realize how much I had treasured the role of pastor's wife. Yes, full-time ministry is hard. It's life-consuming, to be sure. But I enjoyed the opportunities that came with being the pastor's wife. And, well, let me be honest here: I loved the status of being a pastor's wife. It made me feel significant, as if I was doing something really important for God.

Oops. Um, there's a word for that.


It would have been nice if I could have learned this lesson an easier way, but through the divorce God reminded me that I am His servant. The Christian life is NOT about my identity as a pastor's wife or Bible study teacher or anything of that sort. In fact, it's not about me at all. It's all about God. I'm just His humble servant.

And in the upside-down economy of God's kingdom, where the last become first, I've found that being God's servant is the most important thing I could ever do.

"Remember, our Message is not about ourselves; we’re proclaiming Jesus Christ, the Master. All we are is messengers, errand runners from Jesus for you" (2 Corinthians 4:5 MSG).

4. A new church home. Finding a new church home after the divorce was challenging for me. For all of my married life I had gone to the churches where Brett was on staff. The kids and I continued to go to The Church at Sendera Ranch after Brett quit, because we loved the people there and they poured out God's love and compassion on us. 

But when the church closed its doors, I was on my own for the first time in fourteen years.

Through friends and God's leading, the kids and I started going to a local, nondenominational church. After our divorce was finalized on July 23, and after the 30-day appeal period had passed (to give Brett every opportunity to change his mind), the kids and I met with the pastor and became official members of the church. It's a much larger congregation than the kids have ever been part of, but they love it there. And every Sunday, as we worship with the community of believers at Hillside, I feel a strong sense of peace and belonging.

I am confident that this place--this congregation--is the church body God has prepared for us. So as a result of the divorce, I have gained a new church home. 

"But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired" (1 Corinthians 12:18 NASB).

5. A new vision of a life together in community with loved ones. Journalist Walter Winchell once said, "A real friend is one who walks in when the rest of the world walks out." And since November, I have found this to be true! At the moment of my deepest pain, when I felt isolated and abandoned, God sent a deluge of friends to care for us. I've written about my friends elsewhere, but suffice it to say that my home has been filled with the happy chaos of kids and friends and loved ones, just as I had envisioned it.

In fact, this year has been filled with more fun and love and joy than I could ever have imagined prior to the divorce.

While my losses nowhere compare in scope to those of the Old Testament Job, I am finding this to be true: "The Lord blessed the last part of Job's life even more than the first part" (Job 42:12 NLT).

So for as many years as God gives me in this life, I will celebrate His love with the new family of friends and loved ones that God has so bountifully provided for the kids and me.

"God sets the lonely in families" (Psalm 68:6 NIV).


I guess what I'm trying to say in this long post can be wrapped up in this:

Though my cup may be stained and marred and cracked... my cup runneth over (Psalm 23:4 KJV).