Seeing grace

My church girlfriends and I often exhort each other with the reminder that “there’s _________ grace,” grace for fill-in-the-blank with whatever challenge or insufficiency the other is facing. There is dirty-dishes-piled-in-the-sink grace and there is moms-of-teenagers grace and there is I-cannot-do-this-one-more-day-grace. We sometimes laugh in our exhortation but deep down we know it is sometimes hard to see the provision of grace that is ours.

I wonder why I am so blind to the graces in my life. It is true we are all busy, life is hard, our struggles blind us, and we need the gentle reminder of friends to slow down and see grace. Grace also demands I own my insufficiency and my inadequacy as well as my outright desperation and depravity. I must acknowledge the end of me before I begin to see grace in all its beauty.

Same for receiving grace. It is humiliating to freely receive a kindness, a kindness wholly undeserved and with no quid pro quo attached. For some of us, it’s even a little embarrassing. But that is grace, is it not? Free, humbling, even humiliating, openhanded goodness we could never repay.

Recently I read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace: Expecting Grace in the Midst of Life’s Hard. It was not exactly the funnest book to read because it’s about cancer and death and because of the nearness of Kara’s story to that of my friend who also lost her life to cancer last year. But it is a hopeful book and a beautiful book, hopeful and beautiful in that it is an unwavering testimony to the goodness and sufficiency of the grace of God even in the worst of circumstances.

Kara talks of receiving graces from friends and church members, gifts she could only receive and could never repay. She writes:

Seeking grace has been a theme since I met Jesus, but it wasn’t the very air I breathed to get through each moment—each scary, hard moment. The looking has now become my practice. The names of the graces, the gifts I don’t deserve, is new to me. But I do not believe you need to face cancer to see the value of looking for and naming the graces in your own moments, days, weeks, lifetime. To capture this beauty in this weariness, even if your story doesn’t look like mine, will enrich your moments, give you a new perspective, and help you lift your head in the impossibility and pain in living. Hard is hard.

What gave Kara the clarity of vision to see these graces? Cancer.

Cancer has given me the freedom to see my story with me utterly not in it. Sans Kara. I saw the grace of care and community when I could not reciprocate my love to the givers. Cancer showed me the beautiful community that could be built into a church that didn’t have me doing anything. Cancer showed me the gift and strength of weakness, that in the place of utter inability, Jesus was able. The beauty of the broken was the gift cancer gave to our family. Suffering taught us a new song of what ministry could be. How do I communicate that gift and help you see the love in the lack of the expectation without you facing such devastation in your own life? How do I communicate the gift of weakness, neediness, and utter dependence for each moment and the beauty it brought to our community? How do I encourage grace and the freedom to exhale from the endless expectations you place on yourself?

I can spot myself in so many mamas I come in contact with daily. I see so much going, doing, and wearing out in the effort to find grace. My heart is so full of love for the overachieving mom, and I long to share the heart of slowing and hearing. I see my former self in the mama who is doing every activity, seeking acceptance in her ability, and striving to capture goodness in her going. I recognize the tired eyes and the efforts at speaking with an energy she cannot feel. I want to encourage her to slow down, to rest, to stop—but I know I would not have listened to me. I would have politely smiled and kept moving to the next thing—the endlessness of the next thing.

May I slow down and look for and name the multitudes of blessings, of graces, the Lord grants me each day, each moment. I want to see grace, the beauty of the Lord’s mercy and provision in Christ no matter my circumstance. We value those testimonies of problem -> grace -> presto! no more problem. But, as Kara and others have testified, sometimes there is only the beauty of grace and glory of sharing the suffering of Christ and knowing His sufficiency in weakness. Life is hard and may not get easier yet there is always, abundantly _______ grace. Yes and amen.

Thank you, Elisabeth

The first Elisabeth Elliot book I read was Passion and Purity. I was in college, no doubt brokenhearted over some boy, and I grabbed my roommate’s copy not knowing who Elisabeth was nor anything of her story. I think perhaps I was hoping to find the secret to finding love, true love, and the kind of happily ever after that had thus far eluded me in my twenty years of life.

I read the book in one sitting. Yes, Elisabeth spoke, and quite directly I might add, of relationships but it was her passion for Christ that captivated me. She and Jim so young, so in love, their story so tragic, their abandon to the cause of Christ so complete–I saw in their testimony the beauty of a surrendered life and I wanted it.

I’ve since read several of Elisabeth’s books. As a matter of fact, I’m fairly certain I’ve bought–and lent out–Through Gates of Splendor twice. The pictures and images of that particular book stay with me: those young men full of zeal for the Lord and love for all the peoples of the world, the widows and their babies waiting for news, any news, Elisabeth returning to that same people group who had murdered her husband. Here’s Elisabeth describing how they viewed the possibility of danger:

God gave us peace of heart, and confidence that whatever might happen, His Word would hold…God’s leading was unmistakable up to this point. Each of us knew when we married our husbands that there would never be any question about who came first–God and His work held first place in each life. It was the condition of true discipleship; it became devastatingly meaningful now.

It was a time for soul-searching, a time for counting the possible cost. Was it the thrill of adventure that drew our husbands on? No…their compulsion was from a different source. Each had made a personal transaction with God, recognizing that he belonged to God, first of all by creation, and secondly by redemption through the death of His Son, Jesus Christ. This double claim on his life settled once and for all the question of allegiance. It was not a matter of striving to follow the example of a great Teacher. To conform to the perfect life of Jesus was impossible for a human being. To these men, Jesus Christ was God, and had actually taken upon Himself human form, in order that He might die, and, by His death, provide not only escape from the punishment which their sin merited, but also a new kind of life, eternal both in length and in quality. This meant simply that Christ was to be obeyed, and more than that, that He would provide the power to obey. The point of decision had been reached. God’s command “Go ye, and preach the gospel to every creature” was the categorical imperative. The question of personal safety was wholly irrelevant.

I pulled Passion and Purity from my friend’s shelf because I desperately desired true love and the happily ever after of a fairy tale story. Yes, Elisabeth taught me the love of a godly man was worth waiting for, and she was right. She also taught me that true love, sustaining love, the love that will never fail, is found only in Christ. Happily ever after is no fairy tale and its reality is costly. In fact, it will cost my life. “Take up your cross and die” is Jesus’ call to any true disciple. For Jim Elliot it meant martyrdom. For Elisabeth it meant a long obedience in the same direction until, finally, yesterday, the gates of splendor and the glory of her Savior’s presence.

I am indebted to Elisabeth Elliot and her unwavering testimony of the power and sufficiency of the gospel. I am thankful for her life and that she has now received her reward.

Well done, good and faithful servant. Thank you.


This nobody life

In my last post I mentioned teaching a women’s conference at my friend’s church in Louisiana. A few days prior to the conference, my friend texted me and told me a friend of hers had seen the flyers and asked her, “Who is Lisa Spence?”

Aside from me freaking out JUST A LITTLE over flyers posted around town presumably promoting me alongside the conference—I couldn’t even think about the possibility of there being a picture too—I told my friend that I hoped she had responded that Lisa Spence was “just a nobody.”

“That’s exactly what I said,” my friend texted back. “She’s a NOBODY! I yelled it with passion!”

You may not know my friend but I think you can detect her note of sarcasm even in a text.

I was talking to another friend of mine this week as she recounted the Lord’s faithfulness to her through the years. By the Lord’s mercy, she was saved as a young girl but endured many years of darkness and difficulty before returning to church as a young woman and finally, completely, wholeheartedly embracing the gospel of grace at the age of 40. She spoke of the Lord’s grace in saving her at an early age and how now she can see His hand in greater clarity even in the yucky and hard circumstances.

As I was driving home after our conversation I was thinking of my own testimony of the Lord’s grace and providence to me through the years. I thought of that text conversation with my friend from a couple of weeks ago and how in all honesty, as well as I can know my own heart, I embrace the nobody designation. I welcome it. I am grateful for it.

It hasn’t always been the case. I cannot reflect on my spiritual journey without considering those years of frustration in which I wanted so desperately to be a somebody. I wanted validation, I craved meaning and purpose beyond what I was currently receiving, I despised the perceived smallness of my life and ministry. “I want that,” I would cry out to the Lord, pointing to a specific ministry model, “not this!”

I wanted Beth Moore’s job. That’s what I confessed to my girlfriend ages ago when she and I were attending a retreat and we were instructed to share our most heartfelt dreams and ambitions. I wanted to write and to teach, and the adoration and adulation of thousands looked like a pretty good gig too, though I never would have admitted that last part. At least not out loud.

But I didn’t realize I had Beth Moore’s job and I have it still. It is my privilege to teach, not from the platform of the perfectly coiffed and expertly edited, but to a group of ordinary women I know and love and who know and love me in my ordinariness. I got to go to Louisiana, to my friend’s church, and share with a precious group of Jesus-loving women, most of whom, if not all, have never attended a women’s conference in any form or fashion, Beth Moore or Lisa Spence aside. That same week of the conference I was invited to share with a young mom’s group and we sat in chairs in a circle and I talked about weariness and the gospel and one mom cried and we boasted in the Lord’s faithfulness together.

In all this I am a nobody, at least how I would have defined it all those years ago, and I am glad. Theology and the deep things of the Lord are for ordinary women living ordinary lives, ordinary women striving to do their best as moms, ordinary women living on the bayou in south Louisiana, ordinary women serving as humble Bible teachers grateful for any and every opportunity to speak of the glories of the gospel in Christ Jesus.

The gospel is for nobodies too, maybe even especially so.

So as I think over my journey to this point, I am humbled. Like my friend I see the Lord’s hand at work and I am overwhelmed. I am thankful the Lord denied my presumptuous petitions for the nebulous “more” I thought I lacked and instead taught me contentment here in this nobody life.

Monday morning worries

For many years I taught ladies’ Bible study on Sunday nights during the Discipleship Training hour at my church. This meant I learned to dread Monday mornings when all that I should have said and didn’t and all that I did say and shouldn’t came back to haunt me. I know now it was a lack of faith and no small amount of self-consciousness that drove most of my Monday fretting, not to mention the very real need for evaluation and improvement.

I no longer teach on Sunday evenings but, hello, Wednesday mornings following Tuesday Bible study have the same capacity for despair. However, I learned through the years to stifle my insecurities, at least for the most part, as I realized that the Lord is sovereign even over my little class and my simple lessons and it is He who works to accomplish His will for His good pleasure. What freedom! What confidence! What grace!

I taught a women’s conference this past weekend. The conference was hosted by my dear friend’s church in Louisiana and I loved being with my friend and hanging out with her and the friend who made the drive with me, seeing my friend’s people, and meeting her lovely church family. I basically taught a crash course in Biblical theology, three sessions on Saturday and one on Sunday in place of the usual ladies’ Sunday school class.

I drove home Sunday evening and I awoke Monday morning with the same old Monday insecurities eating me alive and they continue even today as I type this on Wednesday. Maybe because I taught topically which is something I never do. Maybe because I am accustomed to being able to amend and improve my point with next week’s lesson in my usual Bible study setting. Maybe because I am self-conscious and self-absorbed. Maybe because it’s true that I really didn’t give my best showing.

I know that most of you are not Bible teachers but I imagine you well understand the plague of insecurity and doubt. It’s no fun and I do not want to wallow in it. I doubt you do either. Here’s what I’m telling myself today:

  1. Remember the gospel. You knew this was coming, right? Because of Jesus I am fully forgiven, completely accepted, wholly and perfectly loved. No matter what. My identity, my worth, my vocation, all are found in Christ, not in how well I taught a lesson or how much I am liked or esteemed. Jesus is my treasure and my life. My life is hidden in Him.
  2. Rest in the Lord’s sovereignty. He is at work and He will accomplish His will and it will prove to be good, acceptable and perfect. Though I am the Lord’s servant, it’s not up to me. I can trust Him to will and to work for His good pleasure.
  3. Humbly accept honest critique. I’ve no doubt I could do better and that there are areas I need improvement. These realizations are gifts of grace if I will accept them in humility and a teachable spirit.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still stewing and worrying. But as I do so, I’m preaching to myself these truths. What about you? What do you do with your insecurities and doubts?

Hello there.

Well. Hello there. Yes, despite all evidence to the contrary, the blog really isn’t dead. Not yet, anyway.

I met someone recently who said to me “I heard you like to write.” I paused and stammered out some semblance of a reply, all the while wondering, do I? Like to write? I think I do. Or maybe I used to.

Anyway, that exchange prompted me to at least attempt to revive the blog, however short-lived said revival may be. And y’all know as well as I do that if past experience is any indicator…

Though I haven’t been blogging, I have been busy with real life and all its joys and responsibilities and laundry. Here’s a small peek into what I’ve been up to.

I finished up our year of Bible study a couple of weeks ago and y’all know how sappy that makes me. This year, this group, this study, it is no different. I love those ladies; I love studying God’s Word with them; I miss our Tuesdays together terribly. We usually break until September and I gotta tell you, that’s a long time! I told my husband it’s a pitiful thing for a Bible teacher to be without a class.

But I have been busy cramming preparing to teach a conference at my dear friend’s church in south Louisiana. Four sessions! I am so excited. And just a little overwhelmed. And humbled. And thrilled. And nervous. The last time I taught a multi-session event was at a retreat and I got the stomach virus. It was horrible. Here’s hoping for a better experience this time! Oh, and if any of you dear readers are in the area, shoot me an email and I’ll give you the details.

And…I’ve been invited to speak at a local moms’ group which is awesome. I love encouraging young moms, mainly because I needed it so much as a young(er) mom myself. :)

I do write, sometimes anyway. I wrote a post at Out of the Ordinary a week or so ago that I forgot to link here. It’s my second contribution in our series on the church. You can find it by clicking here.

To file in the surreal—as in I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening—category: we took my number three son on a college tour. I’m not sure how this is possible as I’m fairly certain that last time I checked he was a mere 8 years old. It’s not right, I tell you.

I am loving spring and sunshine and warm weather. Winter really did a number on me this year and as a result I cannot get enough of the sun. As I am writing this I am looking out to our back yard and the blue skies and bright sun and it makes me happy.

So there’s a brief snapshot of life as I know it. Since you can’t depend on the blog (obviously) you can occasionally find me on other social media as well. I’m on Twitter and Instagram, both with the user name @lisa_writes. You can click through the links to follow over there on the right sidebar.

If you’re reading this I want to say thank you! I’ve been plugging away at the blog for almost nine years, more or less. Okay, less. One thing that hasn’t changed is my bewilderment that anyone would actually care to read my rambling thoughts. So thanks, readers, and here’s hoping future posts find their way to the blog soon. Maybe. We’ll see…

A word to the doubting

I recently finished reading Jared C. Wilson’s excellent book The Wonder-Working God: Seeing the Glory of Jesus in His Miracles. Tucked into this encouraging and thought provoking look at Jesus’ miracles is a word to the doubting, specifically five ways to battle the unbelief of doubt.

I’ve had periods of my life when I’ve doubted and I imagine you have as well. Like the father of Mark 9:24 I’ve cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” Wilson exhorts me and you to battle our unbelief in the following ways…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary here.

Vulnerability and self-worth

I am (finally) reading Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly. I say “finally” because astute readers of the blog will know that it has appeared on my “to read” list many times over the past year or two and I am only now getting around to it. It’s not my typical reading material but it has been suggested to me by readers and thinkers I respect so here I am. Finally.

I’m only a third of the way in and, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it. Maybe because it’s not my typical reading fare but I have a hard time figuring out what the author means. Or maybe I’m just dense. It occurs to me maybe that’s why it’s not my typical reading fare: I’m not astute enough to figure out what the heck the author is talking about.

Anyway, while this post is not a review nor an endorsement (nor a critique), I’d like to share a point or two from the book about vulnerability that keep echoing in my mind. Actually, it’s more like an extended quote using creativity as an example but I think the application can obviously be extended…

You’ve designed a product or written an article or created a piece of art that you want to share with a group of friends. Sharing something that you’ve created is a vulnerable but essential part of [engaged] living. It’s the epitome of daring greatly. But because of how you were raised or how you approach the world, you’ve knowingly or unknowingly attached to your self-worth to how your product or art is received. In simple terms, if they love it, you’re worthy; if they don’t, you’re worthless.

One of two things happens at this point in the process:

1. Once you realize that your self-worth is hitched to what you’ve produced or created, it’s unlikely that you’ll share it, or if you do, you’ll strip away a layer or two of the juiciest creativity and innovation to make the revealing less risky. There’s too much on the line to just put your wildest creations out there.

2. If you do share it in its most creative form and the reception doesn’t meet your expectations, you’re crushed. Your offering is no good and you’re no good. The chances of soliciting feedback, reengaging, and going back to the drawing board are slim. You shut down. Shame tells you that you shouldn’t have even tried. Shame tells you that you’re not good enough and you should have known better.

…Everything shame needs to hijack and control your life is in place. You’ve handed over your self-worth to what people think…You’re officially a prisoner of “pleasing, performing, and perfecting.”

I understand this process. It’s happened to me a million times. Blogging is an obvious example but there are countless others. From teaching to the most mundane of conversations, I well know the thread that ties my self-worth to my sense of vulnerability and shame.

Brown will also make the rather astute observation that we consider vulnerability courageous in others but an embarrassing weakness in ourselves.

Interesting stuff. You might think there would be some of the self-help rah rah of “if you believe it you can do it”–and there may yet be–as I said, I’m only a third of the way in. But instead of asserting that failure will not be option, Brown does nearly the opposite. Failure comes, shame will descend; what then? Are you shame resilient? She will, I think, give her conclusions about combating shame as well as make the case for embracing the vulnerability to dare greatly. She asks early in the book: what is worth the risk of doing even in failure?

Have any of you read it? What are your thoughts?

Let’s be real

The blog posts and the Twitter feed and the Facebook timeline, while I strive to be as authentic as possible, they are not the sum of who I am. Neither are yours. The virtual life is the virtual life, important, perhaps, edifying, to be sure, fun, of course.

But it is not real life.

My real life has real people in it…

Read the rest of my post at Out of the Ordinary.