If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine.
Slipping through cold, dark streets, threatened by the ominous shadows, my friend and I searched in the darkness for an apartment number we had memorized when we crossed the border from free Austria into communist regions where Christianity was forbidden.
Finally, we found the right building and climbed dark stairs, walking one step at a time from the tiny flashlight that shown on our feet, and found the door we had been seeking.
"Knock softly three times and they will know they can trust you." was our assignment.
Just as we finished knocking, the door slowly opened.
"He has risen," a small, thin woman said to us as she barely opened the door, just wide enough for us to see her dark eyes.
"He has risen, indeed," we answered as instructed.
A smile, lit from within herself, filled our space and she embraced us warmly and said, "Welcome."
As we tiptoed into the room, we could barely move.
Women filled every inch of space of the tiny apartment. On the floor, in the corners, stuffed on an old couch. And all of the sweet ones in the room also smiled and waved silently and bowed their heads in respect towards us.
This was an evening I will never forget.
As we opened the Bible and shared the messages we had prepared, the women sat spell bound for 3 straight hours, tears coming down their faces. They were so happy to be together and have the opportunity to hear the word of God being read, the joy and happiness spilled over.
Many had husbands in prison for their faith or because they taught children the Bible on Sundays. And yet, the humble reception and gratitude with which they welcomed us, will always stay in my heart.
Very little food, no heating in the frigid winters and scant books was the norm for all who called themselves Christ followers. Yet, I have rarely been in a place where the faith was so vibrant and the people so joyful.
As a young missionary, living behind the iron curtain, I was often taken aback by the difficulties of living in a country where Christianity was against the law. And yet, these women and their daughters considered it a privilege to suffer for their faith, where Christians were persecuted by losing jobs, having education refused, and having husbands put in jail.
Because I was young in my faith, I had to go through a process of growth from being weak and inexperienced, though sincere in my faith, to becoming wise, experienced and long suffering through the trials of my life. Spiritual strength does not come all at once.
However, because I was taught early in my Christian life, as a college student that Jesus wanted me to pick up my own cross and follow him. Then, thrown into Eastern Europe at an impressionable age, I saw carrying a cross with joy as a way of life in Missions.
(“If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you refuse to take up your cross and follow me, you are not worthy of being mine. If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.)
As we enter holy week, the week when we ponder Jesus' death and resurrection, it is a time to remember that we are called us to a life of sacrifice, to take up our crosses, to follow Him, to die to self--to overcome obstacles, to purpose to be steadfast in the life we have been given, to learn not to complain, to glorify God and to bring His life to our circumstances as an act of faith.
The Christian life is an exchanged life.
We no longer live for ourselves, but for the glory of Jesus, who bought us with a price, that we might live for him every moment, every day.
Yet, often, I see that cultural voices give us an excuse to fall victim to our difficult circumstances, to excuse complaining attitudes when life is hard or children are difficult or marriage is not what we expected to be, or or or.
"I cannot build a home that brings life and beauty because my children are too hard or my husband does not cooperate."
"I do not want to read one more article that calls me to ideals because I am limited and failing anyway."
This week, after having a couple of weeks or reprieve from the cold and snow, with buds beginning to show on the trees, we had unexpected frigid weather and 6 inches of snow.
Just like life!
Seems I never know when a storm will come into my life interrupting my plans, my days, my expectations. I had a reasonably planned expectations of what I would do for my Friday, and all sorts of challenges small and big, have interrupted my plans today!
Even as I have been writing chapters of my new book with Nathan, we are both remembering some of the heart-breaking times of his growing up years, the battles, the struggles he had on a daily basis, and the ways it influenced all of us.
Yet, if I am a true disciple of Jesus, as a young mama, I had to accept his exceeding difficulties as a part of the life in which I needed to bow to Jesus, accept my cross and glorify God right where I was.
I learned to accept every twist and turn in the road as a part of God's allowed circumstance.
And this hardship, difficulty that sometimes seems too challenging to mount of over, becomes my place of worship as well as an opportunity to see his resurrection power to help me overcome the darkness that comes my way.
I am "the mama," the one who helps right the wrongs, listens to hearts, prays, laughs, gives all of myself, even on a "stormy day" or "stormy season" because it is part of my learned role--to care for those in my charge as Jesus did--even in the midst of an unexpected storms of life.
Sometimes we resist ideals because we do not want them to make us feel as though we are not doing enough. Or we might avoid a book or a person that we think will cause us to feel we need to give more, try harder.
And I meet women all the time who would rather live as victim in their own lives, because of difficulties and children who are difficult or a husband who is a challenge or financial stresses that are a burden, than to become heroes in their own stories by God grace and provision.
Yet, I have learned that it is exactly when life is difficult that our faith and hard work mean the most--when we could have given excuses about why we do not have to try hard or work more or pursue righteousness when it just feel impossible to do so.
As we enter Easter season, we must consider the words of Christ.
"Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: "Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me."
Jesus made a point of this in his own life.
Right in the smack dab middle of Jesus loving, teaching, encouraging, and training his disciples, they simply embark on crossing the familiar lake where they have lived all of their lives, and suddenly a life-threatening storm overtakes them.
What could Jesus possibly be thinking? Does he want to lose all of his disciples at once? Is he trying to discourage them? Afterall, they had given up their whole lives to follow Him. Their hearts were dedicated to worshipping Him. They were busy serving other people---really, now this? Is this any way to treat those who are following you?
And so sometimes the "whaps" on our lives feel personal, invasive, too much.
Have you ever felt that way? I have cooked. I have washed dishes. I have lost years of sleep. I have loved and served and given--does anyone notice? Does it matter? --and now this? Another storm? Another problem? The relentlessness of life is about to drown me, Lord. "Do you not care that we are perishing, Lord?"
That is the question that we, like the disciples, have on our hearts.
Just when we have the ideals of our lives in place, and we have defined what the Kingdom of home is, and we determine to commit to creating our homes as a place where the life of Christ will flourish, storms and battles begin to overtake us, and we feel that we may be overcome.
If you are experiencing weariness of discouragement, it just means you are engaged in the battle. The battle and its raging are not a measure of your success or failure--but how you respond in the battle will determine the outcome. Often, people have said, "Well, I am glad Sally has ideals, but that is not what my life looks like and I don't even know how to get there."
My life was a constant swirl of ideals and reality, grace and storm, walking in faith, and railing against heaven--this is the picture of fighting amidst storms to bring light into a dark world, and the home is no different.
I know I am mixing metaphors and have moved from storms of life to the battles, but hopefully you know what I mean.
But, when we determine to make our homes a place of life, Satan is determined to thwart us.
Satan knows that the most precious treasure in God's economy are His children, his handmade creations--those who have souls that will last for eternity. And so the battleground for our future is at the soul level of life.
We are living in homes where the laws of thermo dynamics take place every day--that energy is depleting at a constant rate and everything is moving toward disorder. Knowing this--understanding that it will never change--and give yourself grace. Do not expect perfection. Do not condemn yourself or become angry at your children because they are not perfect.
.Walk in grace and celebrate life.
Look for joy in the corners of your life. Always find a friend to pray with, to share life with, who holds your ideals and values. Know that all moms have the same issues--just different puzzles to put together.
Our children are sometimes selfish and sinful, our husbands (and even we) are fallible and imperfect; things fall apart, get broken, cost money, people are unloving, we are unsupported by the culture around us, and we lack support systems to support the ideals we believe.
In order to know how to raise godly children, we must have a refined picture of the ideals we are aiming for, but the second part of being productive in this venture of motherhood is understanding the battle.
All of our homes are broken, our children are broken, marriages hard, financial situations sometimes impossible and without the grace of God, we will not be able to make it. But, I believe, and have seen, that with God on our side, and with faith, our labor is not in vain, and becomes a story of His power and goodness throughout eternity.
This is the Easter story--That Jesus saw us and felt compassion. He knows we are inundated with the darkness of a fallen world in every area of our lives.
And so He came to put things right for eternity. He came to redeem the lost, to fight our battles, to bring light to our darkness. This is the resurrection message.
We are his servants, his warriors to fight evil in this world out of our deep love for Him and what He has done for us. Warfare gives us such great examples. A seasoned general becomes astute in battle because he has been successful in weathering many years of battles, and has learned to fight valiantly and enduringly. An officer at war will also not be able to advance in experience and victory if he does not understand and know how to fight against his enemy.
And so, the kingdom of our home is a battlefield, where life who would steal our dominion over our family, threaten spiritual life, destroy relationships.
Feeling weary or discouraged or inadequate or guilty from failing is a normal part of the process. You are in training.
Engaging in the discipleship of my children became my personal training grounds where little by little I learned what it meant to become a more mature Christian--to take up my cross for the sake of my love for Jesus.
But remember this---it is not the people who start the race who win, but those who finish the race.
So, if God calls you to ideals, and you begin running, don't give up--don't quit.
Keep building a picture of your ideals, fan the flame of your vision.
Plant seeds of faith and cultivate faithfulness and you will find a garden of beauty growing in your life over time as you wait on His faithfulness.
Love and prayers going your way today!
Build a Home as a Legacy of Faith!
Own Your Home by Owning Your Life!