Following Makes the Follower

I’ve just read another article defending school teachers. It’s the millionth  (probably zillionth) published, rapidly going viral, well deserved justification of my profession. Really, there’s so much written which credits teachers as heroes that I’m having trouble figuring out who the villains are. Exactly who is panning American educators, laying the blame squarely out our feet for the very downfall of Western Civilization? Admittedly my research on this topic is grossly limited because no one is liking and sharing the blog posts which bemoan teachers for being lazy freeloaders.

Teaching wears me out. It’s hard work. And ladies and gentlemen, I am not lazy. Here’s a little known fact that I always want to scream from a rooftop when I hear teachers criticized—the skills, people. It takes an unbelievable amount skill to deliver a lesson well. Communication, intuition, classroom  management, on your feet decision making, maintaining discipline—SKILLS. And that’s just the delivery of a lesson.  That’s not to mention the interpersonal skills it takes to develop relationships with  your students and create a welcoming atmosphere for each class, even though at times you’re met with fierce resistance.

Now, how about planning? When I first switched from teaching English to history, I sat at my desk and cried because I had no idea where to start. I’m not sure about other teachers, but I do a fair amount of research for history presentations. It’s very time consuming. Then, you have to be creative, even a little artistic at times. Technology? Heck, yeah. You better be on top of that.  Time management? Indispensable. Planning is just a fraction of what a teacher does in the mislabeled “planning period”. Teachers act as their own personal assistants. We type, copy, distribute, and file every document ourselves.  In 45 minutes, I may have a stack of papers to grade, a couple of tests to run through the copier, an assignment to type, and five or so emails to answer in addition to all the research and lesson planning. Then there’s the matter of personal business. More than once, I’ve spent the bulk of a planning period playing phone tag with my doctor’s office.

But here’s the kicker, folks. You can’t simply have nominal familiarity with each skill. To be the teacher that apparently we are all expected to be, you have to master all these skills.  What’s a perfectionist like Mrs. Beasley to do? Well, let me tell ya. I feel a lot of pressure. All the time. At least once every school year, I have something like a nervous breakdown. The kids know I’m a basket case and discuss it when I’m not around. It’s embarrassing. I thought it would get better when I left public schools for Christian education, but I have a unique gift for not letting things go.

All this pressure has given me mixed feelings about my career as a teacher. I love planning (the creative part, not all the clerical stuff) and presenting. I truly do. I enjoy my students. But my heart’s desire was always to be a stay at home mom.  As a young adult, I never envisioned my children in daycare, or in full-time pre-K classes, all so that I could put in my time teaching other people’s children during the day and have nothing left over for my own in the evenings. I thought it would get easier when my children got a little older. They’re in the first and fifth grades now, and I chase my tail now more than ever. I’d love to quit my job, run my household, be more available to my husband and children, and write.

I’m sure that sounds cynical, but I promise this post has a happy ending. I’ve returned to teaching several times because of circumstances. It took a lot of years for us to finally have a family of our own. Every year that I returned to school in August felt like a slap in the face. I simply wouldn’t be there if I hadn’t miscarried. Those years were long and bore the ever present specters of brokenhearted loss and freaking out over test scores. Public school, I don’t miss you.

For a few years after we first adopted, I quit teaching and worked part-time. This I could manage. But, Todd’s call to plant a church is my call to plant a church. It’s that one flesh thing, I think. The first time that he suggested I go back to teaching school full-time so that he work on a church plant, I lit into him. It was not my finest hour as a wife, I confess. Amazingly, the Lord went to work on me, and I’ll never regret the decision to move, go back to work, and plant Renew Church. I might choose an easier schedule, but I love my school and I love my students.

Unfortunately, my spiritual gift is wearing my feelings on my sleeve and blabbing my thoughts and opinions to anyone with ears, so it’s no secret how hard teaching full-time is for me.

Luckily, my principal and I have a good working relationship, one characterized by my frank admissions that teaching wears me out and I’m pretty much always overwhelmed. He knew the day he interviewed me that I’d hoped to move on from teaching eventually. That he still hired me is better than any trust building exercise. Over time, I’ve conveyed my deepest concerns about my employment without holding much back. I’m a better wife and mother when I am not obligated to a full-time job. It plays on my conscience to be deprived of the time and energy that I’m sure should go to my family. Recently, he waved me into his office to ask me how I’m doing. I had a miscarriage a couple of weeks before school started. It’s been a hard year.

We had an honest conversation. We always do. He knows that I would like to be at home more and have time to write. He knows that I have to work to support us while we plant the church. He knows that more than anything, I wanted my baby. I assured him that, as worn out as I get, I’m all in. “I know,” he said. “You’re committed to these students.” Thank you for that, Mr. G. I’d like to think that each and every nervous breakdown has been for the greater progress of the gospel.

Then he said something that I wasn’t sure I could accept.

“You’re going to have to be OK with the fact that God called you to teach. I know it’s true because He’s using you here.”

See, this is a problem because that was a really nice thing to say, and I can see that you’re my biggest fan, but that’s not what I wanted to hear.

Also, that’s the second principal who told me that I’m called to Christian education. It’s the second time that I doubted (and resented) this assessment of God’s will. That conversation has hovered over my thoughts since that day. Honestly, it depressed me a little. And irked me a lot. I’d like to determine what God’s telling me to do, thank you very much.

A few weeks ago, I was writing a bible study lesson for my small group when God placed a startlingly simple truth under my nose. What makes a follower of Christ? It’s the following.

In order to disciple, we teach all these different facets of the Christian walk—pray, study, worship, serve. Don’t conform. Be transformed. We flesh out all those simple truths into a litany of specific obligations. Attend church—be there. Join a small group—get real.  Sing in the band—serve in the way that gives you joy. Teach Sunday school—volunteer when no one else will. Go on a mission trip—stretch yourself. Surrender to the ministry—make church your job. Plant a church—even if it’s crazy. Surrender to missions—go where no one else will.

So much stuff. Am I simply picking what works for me and my situation? Why do some women get to stay home but I have to work? And, how do I know I’m not called to something even bigger, like foreign missions? And, if I have a passion to write and it is really fulfilling to me, can that be my call?

A week or so later, I was teaching European imperialism to my 9th grade history students. The presentation includes details of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion between 1899-1901. As we discussed the massacres of foreign missionaries and Chinese Christians, I told the students that one question plagues me every time I teach this unit.

Why does God call some to all that hardship—in this case to be the victims of unthinkable atrocities– but He called me to Baptist Prep?

Funny. Those words—called me to Baptist Prep—that actually came from my mouth. OK, it’s true. If I felt that God had some other plan, that’s what I would do. Also, in comparison to martyrdom, teaching seems so easy. Even funnier, the next thing to tumble from my lips was that startlingly simple answer. What makes a Christ follower is the following. He leads. You follow. Period.

I have a friend who might have made an awesome school teacher, but she is now a missionary in Ecuador. She’s single. Her heart’s desire is to take God’s Word to women in the jungle. He led her there. She followed. It never crossed my mind that God might ask me to follow Him, as a single woman with no children in my future, into missions.

I have a another friend who would much rather be a missionary in Africa than teach school. She owns a salon, her day job, if you will. But she’s also  fundraising for African Christian Outreach for no pay at all. Someday, she’ll be in Africa full-time. She can’t wait for the day that Jesus leads her to Kenya for good. I’ve always been kind of relieved that He never led me to Kenya.

I have another friend who works in a nursing home and I can tell that those patients are richly blessed to have her there. She is amazing, so compassionate and genuine.  Me? I’d rather teach school, or go to Africa, or to a jungle, or teach school in an African jungle, than work in a nursing home. I kind of have a phobia of nursing homes. Please God, don’t lead me there!

What those women do seems so difficult to me. Yet, I’ve heard from my friends again and again, “I don’t know how you do it. I couldn’t work with kids every day.” They might be really relieved that God didn’t call them to teach writing to eighth graders (which is hard, I can tell you).

The strongest spiritual influence in my life, my mom, was a teacher for a short time. I’m sure she believed when she was in college that she would teach for a lot of years. But God led her to Bible Study Fellowship International, and she followed—first as a class member, then in leadership in the children’s program, and finally she became a teaching leader. I’ve always been astounded at the influence she had because of BSF.  When I was a kid, I just thought she gabbed on the phone with her leadership circle a lot. Years later, I realized  that it was her ministry which she conducted over the phone, in leaders’ meeting, and giving her lectures. She taught hundreds of women over the years, but also personally mentored many of her leaders. She also mentored me. Things would have turned out very differently for a lot of people if my mom had gone a different route.

Jesus led my husband to plant a church. Todd followed—and brought his family along! Jesus led me back to teaching. I followed. I’m going to trust Him that our choice to make our lives here will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel—that a lot of lives would turn out differently if we weren’t following where He leads.

In His authority, God carries out His plan. Maybe where He leads you is where you will have the most influence—where your presence will turn out for the greater progress of the gospel. And guess what? That’s hard work, no matter what it is. Going to China or the jungle, teaching or a nursing home—if you’re there to proclaim the gospel, it will never be easy. What is it that Jesus said to do before you follow? Oh, yeah. Deny yourself. Take up your cross.

 

 

 

 

 

Katie Revisits Pain and Purpose–or, She’s Back in Black

I shocked myself a little bit this week when I realized I hadn’t published anything on this blog since February. FEBRUARY. Dang. Where’ve I been?

It’s not that I haven’t written at all. I’m working on a bible study that I hope to have published. My biggest obstacle is deciding when I’m done with research and can actually write. I’d like to have it done by the first of the year. Don’t hold your breath, though. I sure won’t.

We launched Sunday morning services for Renew Church in February. It was awesome. Euphoric. What a joy to see it all come together! After all those years of wrestling with God’s call to move and plant a church, we now see a long inspired vision spring to life. My insight into this rather lengthy test of faith was that God indeed has a plan, that the plan is most often challenging if not downright painful, and that the pain of the plan puts me on my knees. I get to be a part of what God’s doing, and it draws me to Him like a gravitational pull. The more challenging the test, the stronger the pull.

The church launch was the last time I wrote for this blog. Since then? More of the same. Husband, kids, teaching, church plant.

Oh yeah, and then I got pregnant.

You’ll find these two principles sprinkled throughout my blog: God has a plan, and God gives me more than I can handle. Then there’s a third principle—that the first two are for my benefit (among many other things). What follows here is more of more than I can handle.

When I found out I was pregnant, I almost didn’t react. Back in the day, when getting pregnant made sense, I would stand over the little pee stick and wring my hands in anticipation. A positive test would be met with squeals and then a high five to the good Rev. But this?

Unplanned. Unplanned for a 45 year old. Unplanned for a full-time working momma and wife to a bi-vocational pastor. Unplanned after many miscarriages had gone before.

One time in all our pregnancies we heard a heartbeat, but it was still so early that there was nothing to see on the scan. All we knew is that the baby’s heart was beating. Back then, I thought a heartbeat meant that everything would be okay. But four weeks later I was bleeding.

Last summer, we allowed ourselves to get excited when we saw our 8 week ultrasound. With this scan there was more to see. Peanut had a head and body. There was a picture of a little person there.  I knew that we weren’t out of the woods.

Two weeks later, I went in for another scan. There’s a horrible moment when the tech doesn’t say anything. Just tick, tick, tick on the keyboard, and you know that it’s bad news.

Loss is not uncharted territory to me. I’ve done this many times. But it’s doing a fine job of wrecking me.

My husband took my girls on a trip this weekend, so I’ve been alone. It’s actually been really good for me to have a couple of days to reflect. People have a great capacity to sweep grief aside in order to perform. The only way for me to function was to put this loss on the proverbial backburner. Day in and day out, I had this peculiar feeling that there’s some loose end that needed attention, but I couldn’t bring myself to face it.

Since Friday night, I’ve been facing it. What I’ve found out is that when I can assign a purpose to my pain—when I see how it figures into God’s plan—I go straight to Him with that pain. But when I can’t figure any way that He can use it? When it seems purposeless? I bolt.

All my planned pregnancies, and subsequent miscarriages, led me to something. They led me to adopt. They taught me about His authority. They strengthened my marriage. They deepened my empathy and provided me with an avenue to minister to others. I see their purpose.

But not this time. I got nothin’.

As I took all this to the Lord this weekend—finally—I realized that my obscured view of His purpose is the purpose.

If “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see”, then certainly I must apply faith to this situation. I can’t see his plan. I don’t know His purpose, and yet it is my deep hope that He has one. It’s the lack of understanding—or perhaps the lack of accepting—His purpose that is the opportunity to build my faith.

Before I found out I was pregnant, I read a blog which asserted that everything doesn’t happen for a reason. It bothered me. Maybe we’re splitting hairs here. Maybe you say God doesn’t have His reasons yet still believe that He will “cause all things to work together for the good of those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” The writer who published that blog contended that Romans 8:28 does not mean that everything has a purpose, but that I can choose a response to my circumstances that benefit me. The obvious question here is, what if my response is wrong? What if I make the wrong choice? And I definitely chose wrong in the past. In the beginning of our miscarriage journey, I chose anger, and it got me absolutely nowhere.

I say that interpretation of Romans 8:28 makes too much of me and my ability to respond and not enough of God. He is bigger than my ability to make the right choice. His Word declares that God Himself makes all things work together for my good. I believe it, and yes, believing it is a choice.

Picture this. You take your last breath. Your spirit departs your body. You hear ethereal singing and the Holy, Holy, Holy of the creatures around the throne. You see Him—complete with the holes in His hands that are now reaching to embrace you. When you pull back from the most heavenly of hugs, He offers to answer your most disturbing question.

Why did I suffer? Why did I have so many miscarriages that I lost count?

“Oh,” says the Word, who has been with God since the beginning, “no reason.”

No. That can’t be right.

I choose faith—the assurance that though I can’t see or understand His purpose, He has one. When I ask Him why I suffered, I believe He will point to my participation in the work of the kingdom, to others who were moved by my testimony, and to how my suffering was the gravitational pull that put me before Him and kept the cross before me.

For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’

Isaiah 46:9-10

Before a launch, you gotta yield . . .

Tomorrow we will open Renew Church’s doors for our first ever Sunday morning worship service. Actually Renew Church’s doors are really the doors of the Boys and Girls Club of Saline County, AR. After 18 months of bible study in a living room, it’s time to launch.

Church plant!

Church plant!

The vision for this ministry prompted us to leave comfort and security in Texas and trust God to provide all our needs in coming to Arkansas—when Todd told the church staff in Texas that he was resigning, neither of us had jobs. When we rolled up to our rent house for the first time in Benton, Arkansas, we had one part-time job between us. I can’t claim that I had faith through all of this; I was simply too afraid to not take that leap.

God began working in Todd years ago, first with this little whisper plant a church, plant a church, plant a church which gradually increased in volume and intensity. Then finally in 2012, we catapulted into this wild free fall of faith—if God is saying go, I’m afraid to say no.

So, here we are.

It is glaringly obvious that the Lord went ahead of us and put each piece in place. In the beginning, I was concerned about basic needs and where the money would come from so that we could survive. Looking back, what is most impressive to me is not really about money, but more about comfort and sustenance. It’s about how he drew us into relationships with godly friends who also have visions for ministry that seem impossible. But God builds the ministry and nothing is impossible for Him.

With all this awe and gratitude bubbling over in my heart, I am especially aware of the years God has spent preparing me for this.

Me. The one who said rather pointedly, “I will not go back to teaching school so that you can plant a church.”

Me. The one who scoffed at the idea of leaving Texas for Arkansas. Plant a church? In Arkansas? Psssh. Try that one on your second wife.

Evidence of changes that would come are found in the notes I jotted down in my bible over the years. There are many, many references to God’s authority scribbled in the margins. Even this morning as I read about Jesus’ baptism and the descent of the Holy Spirit, I wrote, “Jesus—God and sent by God—demonstrates submission to God’s authority. Does this demonstration of submission and willingness open the door for the power of the Holy Spirit?” Looking back, I see that pattern played out in me. At each milestone as I yielded more to God’s authority, I experienced His power to change me.

This morning I also ran across an old note on the first page of I Thessalonians. Sometime in the last few years I wrote this–

            Faith–>Work

Love–>Labor

Hope–>Endurance

Serve the living God and wait for His Son.

Then on the opposite page, I added later—

            Share the gospel and your life. The fruit of the ministry is your joy and crown.

Faith compels us to work. Love for the Savior inspires us to labor for His purpose. Hope of seeing Him face to face creates an indomitable endurance. And all this happens by the power of His Spirit as we yield to His authority.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that I’m teaching school in Arkansas to provide for our family so Todd can co-pastor a church plant.

The woman who wrote all that down is so drastically different from the 26 year old who naively vowed to be joined for life to a minister. Want to know something funny? For the first few years I toyed with the temptation to walk away from this marriage. What a dumb kid! I would have missed out on all this JOY.

A healthy fear—or reverence, if you prefer–of God’s authority has made all the difference. It prevented us from ending our marriage. It guided us through miscarriages to adoption. It prompted us in the very decision that brought us to Arkansas. It instigated all the changes that make us want to fulfill our purpose. I’ve seen something good born out of every instance where we yielded to His authority.

Church, we must stop dodging God’s authority and looking for loopholes in the things He expects from us. It is a gigantic obstacle to fulfilling our purpose in this world. Don’t hesitate to yield. By the power of His Spirit, good things will come.

I’m pretty excited to see what’s next.

The Plan and the Prize

The surest way to doubt God is to take a leap of faith and then enter into that time of waiting, waiting, waiting. When, oh when, is the Lord going to see my truly desperate situation, swoop in, sprinkle some magic fairy dust and make my life a cake walk?

So it was when we moved to Arkansas. We made a decision to leap. It did feel a little like a free fall—exhilarating one moment, excruciating the next. Part of my problem with the wait was a misplaced faith in the input/output principle. I figured if I input faith and obedience, making dramatic decisions as evidence of such, that the output would be. . .well, it should be awesome beyond reckoning. Right? If I make a big, thorny, dangerous play, then doesn’t God owe it to me to show up in a big way? This faith stuff is so hard, but I’ve got a big blessing coming!

I wanted that. I wanted something miraculous that I could point to and say, “Just look. He confounds us with His power! Look at how He blessed me for my act of faith!”

Funny. Now that I’ve been through the whole rigmarole, I think it a bigger demonstration of His power that He changed me rather than my situation. Circumstances? Sure, He can calm the storm. He can even call me out on the waves and we can do a little jig together, but change my mind?

That’s the miracle, I’m telling you. God be praised! Nothing is impossible with Him! I am not the person I was. He removed the, “Lord, I did. . . and now You must do. . .” from my lips and stuck in its place, “You’re God if You do and God if You don’t. I worship the Living God.”

It was late into our first year in Arkansas. Our church planting efforts were on hold because we were teetering on the edge of financial ruin. I worked part-time at a Christian school. Todd worked full-time answering phones at a car dealership. Neither of us could insure our families through our jobs. Our combined incomes could not cover our expenses—rent and a mortgage for the house in Texas that didn’t sell, bills for both addresses, basic necessities, the fortune we pumped into the gas tank getting the kids and me back and forth to Little Rock five days a week. Something had to give and fast.

For that entire year, I had felt certain that God would solve our problems by moving me from part-time to full-time at the school. If we can just hold on until contracts come out, I thought. And I prayed and I prayed and I prayed—for God to show up and bless me with the fulfillment of my plan.

When I received my contract in the mail, and realized how many classes I had been assigned for the following year, I deflated entirely. I’d placed my faith—not in the Lord who went to the cross for me—but in the plan, the one I’d devised in my fleshy, short-sighted brain.

But I was one class short of full-time. Without that one extra class, there was no insurance. And my salary, though a little higher than before, was not nearly enough to pay for insurance out of pocket in addition to all our other expenses. The day was fast approaching when our insurance through the church in Texas would run out. We were losing ground fast.

As hard as I tried, I could not take this setback in stride. Maybe this was a mistake, after all. Maybe we should never have left Texas. Maybe God had a different plan entirely and we just missed the boat.

I was alone in my car a week or so later, coming home one evening without my children, which almost never happens. Doing my best to check my attitude before God, I prayed for provision. You promised, I reminded Him. I’m seeking Ye first. Haven’t you noticed??? Where’s my blessing??? It was no use. I was crushed. Whatever faith I had that God would do this or do that had evaporated without a trace.

It is the only day in all that year that I was tempted to turn the car anywhere but home and just drive and drive and drive. Go somewhere—anywhere—just get away.

Have you ever noticed that when your circumstances change for the better, it’s easy to miss that it was God’s doing? If someone gives you a new job, you may realize that God provided the job but others are also involved. It’s easy to divide up your gratitude between God, the person who gave you the referral, the new employer, and your prayer partner.

But when you are all alone, sobbing in your car, and you unmistakably hear the Lord’s voice speaking to you, God gets the glory and the gratitude and no one else.

“Katie, don’t you know that I have already blessed you with everything—everything—at the cross? Whatever happens to you—whatever you have or don’t have—is just part of belonging to Me and living My plan?”

It’s no fluke, not my imagination—I heard it. He spoke just as clearly as if He were in the passenger seat next to me.

For a moment I sobbed even harder. If it’s God’s plan for me to be here, seeking Him, watching and waiting for the answers, then I am blessed because God has a plan and I’M IN IT. That plan began with the cross where He took the punishment for my sin. He died so that I could live.

I am crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Christ. Lives. In. Me. In me! Is there a greater blessing than that? None! If He’s in me, and I feel like things aren’t going my way—as if I’m not being blessed enough, does that mean He’s withholding blessings from Himself? Of course not!

The problem is me and that fleshy, short-sighted brain of mine–it’s the problem of my warped perspective when I take my eyes off the prize. It’s the problem of Christians in every church everywhere who don’t really know what the prize is—who the prize is, and the value of that prize– and so, are always looking for something else to come along and make us feel blessed.

Every blessing came to me when I decided to follow Christ. When I have everything, I am blessed. When I have nothing, I am blessed.

Blessed

Rich? Blessed.

Poor? Still blessed.

Employed? Jobless? Healthy? Sick? Full of joy? Deeply grieved? In any circumstance, am I ever without Christ?

I am always–

Richly blessed with every spiritual blessing. Chosen before the foundation of the world. Lavished with grace. United with Christ. Forgiven, redeemed, and adopted by His blood. Looking forward to the riches of His inheritance—which I obtain as part of HIS plan, guaranteed by the seal of the Holy Spirit. Strengthened in my inner being by the power of His Spirit—the same power that raised Christ death. I was dead in my sins and now I live in Christ.

God has in no way shortchanged me.

This difficult season bore its fruit in faith. Todd and I both agree that we would do it again and again to know Him the way we do now. But, if you’re interested in how God worked things out, take a look at a former post, The State of the Beasley Union. God had it all in hand—but not because the Beasleys took a leap of faith—because He’s God and He has a plan. And a prize that is awesome beyond reckoning.

Addendum 10/10/2014–After I first posted this, I heard Josh Wilson sing “What I See Now” in concert. The song is beautiful and so true. These lyrics spoke to me:

I see a perfect plan, I see God’s guiding hand.
I see a better man, you’ll be a better man.
Sometimes it takes a while, sometimes it takes the trials
To open up your eyes.

I lost my mind. I don’t much miss it.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.   Matthew 16:24

Like any Christian, I struggle with how much is enough. “I gave this up, God. Isn’t that enough? What??? You want more??? C’mon!!!!”

As a young adult, I thought the ultimate sacrifice was allowing God to make my decisions—where to attend school, what career, who to date, how to date, to marry or not to marry, and on and on. It’s convenient that I often found God leaving room for my preferences back then. Disciplining myself in the world of dating was possibly the most difficult, but aren’t I lucky that He chose Todd Beasley for my husband and that I was like-wild-attracted to him?

If I were to be completely honest, most of the decisions of my young adulthood were simply my preferences submitted to God for His approval. When He didn’t give His approval, I waited for something else I strongly preferred and gave Him a chance to say yes. It took a little trial and error until I happened upon the things I most desired, but I could soothe myself with the promise that good things come to those who wait.

I left very little room for God to say, “Nope. Absolutely not. You’re not getting married. You won’t so much have a career as a ministry, and I’m thinking maybe in Africa. Pick up that cross and let’s roll.” It’s as if I convinced myself that not hearing God ask me to make a sacrifice meant that He didn’t require one. And yet, in those days, I would have told you that abstaining from sex as a discipline in dating was the pinnacle of taking up the cross. That, ladies and gents, is denying yourself. Amirite?

As I get older, God makes it ever clearer that taking up my cross is an abandonment of me. It’s not just giving up a worldly behavior or waiting for God to say yes to something better. What I think I need, what I think is best, whatever rationale I use for my prioritizing is rubbish in light of the cross. I need the mind of Christ. So I’d better get busy losing mine!

One day as I was reading Matthew 16:24, I envisioned the effort it would take to shoulder the cross. Jesus had nothing else with Him. Just a cross, a crown, and blood. Philippians says that He “emptied Himself. . . and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” To follow Jesus’ example, I also have to set everything aside. If I am to pick up that cross and walk with it, anything else in my hands has to be left behind. It is physically impossible for me to continue on with all my stuff, my junk, my baggage, while carrying that cross behind the Lord.

Carry the cross

Now that I see the meaning of the verse more clearly, the question becomes so obvious. What are you carrying that must be dropped so that you can manage the cross of Christ? In moving to Arkansas to plant a church, Todd and I have had to set aside the traditional notion of the American Dream. If I choose Christ, there is no promise that I will achieve prosperity equivalent to or in excess of the Joneses. It’s a lesson I continue to learn. I felt entitled—that my age and effort should naturally graduate me to a higher tax bracket. Entitlement competes with my devotion to Christ. And Christ is better.

What competes with your devotion to Christ? Is it your children? Is your number one desire for them to be successful? Or for them to be spiritually transformed into the likeness of the Lord Jesus? Leave it–the ridiculously overcrowded schedule, attending every sporting event even at the rather pricey cost of neglecting church, giving in to their every whim, breaking the bank to give them the best of material things. Lay it down, and lose your mind for the mind of Christ. Jesus loves our children infinitely more than we do. We give them the very best by teaching them how to follow the Lord by carrying the cross.

What prevents you from committing to Him completely? Your job? Are you shouldering your career with ease but dragging the cross along behind? Have you convinced yourself that you need the money to live, when really you just don’t want to live on less? If you feel secure in your job, then your faith is dangerously misplaced. The Lord Jesus, who is the very Word of God, promised that He provides when we seek Him first. Set it down and take up the cross. You might find it is easier to bear than your worries over money.

What chip sits on your shoulder in place of the cross? Is it pride? Bitterness? Has someone or some circumstance so injured you that your love for the Lord has long since been choked out? His love for you is boundless, matchless, nothing in your past or future alters it, and no power can break it. He is priceless and died for you. He died for you because you needed him to. Of what, then, do you have to be prideful? What wrong have you suffered that His cross can’t right? Don’t take another bungling step —struggling to manage the cross and your baggage.

Is it a decision? Has God brought you to a crossroads and now you must choose which way to go? Every atom in your being screams, “Do what’s best for you!” But obedience is costly. It always requires yielding to God the “right” we feel we have to make our own decisions. Whatever the choice is, you must ask Jesus which way He is going. He will give you an answer and invite you along. But don’t be surprised if He says, “But we aren’t going any further until you lay all that stuff down. Not another step. Grab that cross and let’s go!”

Lay it down, leave it, and lose your mind. You may find that you don’t miss it much.

 

 

 

Fear. Fostering. Faith.

It’s been too long since I’ve posted. The truth is–I’ve been in a bit of a hole since Easter. We had the flu for two weeks at the Beasley abode. In fact, we went to the closing for our new house with at least one of us running a fever. Then, of course, we had to actually move our lives from one address to another, which is a gargantuan task. All of that extra drama at home sets you back at work, so you spend a week or two digging your way out. But now, I’m sitting in my new living room, my dog is running gleefully through his new back yard, my children are with the grandparents for a week, and this school teacher is off for the summer. Hallelu-yer, I’m back.

Zacchaeus, my wee little man...and a wee little man is he...

Zacchaeus, my wee little man…and a wee little man is he…

The next post in my Matthew walk would put us in the Sermon on the Mount. One of the reasons I haven’t written in a while is that I couldn’t decide how much of the Sermon I wanted to tackle. God gave me some insight on performance and perfectionism—and how miserable I make myself with those things—and I’m eager to write that piece. But something happened last night that turned me back to the Beatitudes.

 “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.”      Matthew 5:4

In the last year I’ve made a new friend through Bible study. She and her husband have two children and they also are foster parents. Since I’ve known them, they’ve loved and nurtured a brother and sister who have moved on to other families, and currently they are caring for a baby girl they hope to adopt.

Let me push the pause button on their story for a moment to say this. I deliberately avoided foster care. Through the whole ordeal of our many miscarriages, one thing that I simply would not consider is fostering. Todd and I never even discussed it. After experiencing so much loss, I could not imagine making myself vulnerable to loving a child that might not be forever mine. The thought of loving a baby, who I might have to surrender to another family, terrified me. Honestly, it still scares me even today.

Another problem was that I worried I might be a miserable failure at fostering. Through my friends, I’ve met children who have endured more violence in three years than I have in a lifetime. Their need for healing is so dire. What if I’m not capable of meeting those needs? What if I’m too sheltered or too selfish or just plain inadequate for the depth of love that these babies require?

Yet my friends eagerly meet that challenge in spite of the very real risk of a broken heart.

Last night I got a text message. They may not be able to adopt the sweet baby girl they have loved and cared for these last few months. She has siblings in the care of another family, so she may be moved in order to be reunited with her brothers and sisters.

Sounds good, right? To keep the sibling group together. It’s difficult to argue with that—except that my friends love her so much. They opened themselves up to this loss—and have tried to prepare themselves for this possibility. I am deeply saddened that they are faced with something so painful.

And deeply ashamed that I am such a coward.

In the context of church planting, we talk a lot about how to love our community—and how to genuinely put that love into action. That same fear that kept me from fostering babies has kept me from a lot of opportunities to love the world as Christ loves. I’m afraid that I’m not capable. I’m afraid that no one really wants what I have to offer. I’m afraid that it will expose my selfishness for others to see.

I am afraid that I’ll get my heart broken.

Last night as I read that text message, I knew that I had no response that would suffice. There will be a period of uncertainty while those in authority decide what course is in the best interest of the child. My friend asked for us to pray for what’s best for this little girl. They are putting her needs first. Now that’s love. Truly.

So I turned back to the Beatitudes and saw them so rich with rewards for these friends of mine who have loved so sacrificially.

They have given themselves over to complete, humble dependence on the Lord. They have been merciful and sought to bring peace into each child’s life. They have loved the Lord so deeply that they hoped to pass on a hunger and thirst for righteousness to their children—even if they are only together for a season. They have told their story again and again as a proclamation of who their Savior is and why this is the manner in which they choose to serve Him.

They will see God. They will inherit the earth. For them, the blessing of righteousness overflows. They will be shown mercy. They will be called children of God. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

And when they mourn, they will be comforted. The Father in Heaven—not one who is inadequate, selfish or fearful—holds them with a supernatural, miraculous embrace. He will bind their wounds and ease their weariness.

Someday, you will be able to see with absolute clarity that your legacy is not just in the children you’ve raised, but in the way you influence others because of your faith. His Word moves with power because of your faithfulness and testimony. My sweet friends, I’m grateful for your obedience to our Lord. You inspire and challenge me to love with courage.

Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.       I Corinthians 15:58

State of the Beasley Union

When I first started this blog in May 2012, I had a HUGE secret. The good Rev and I were about to leave our home of ten years, move to a new state, find jobs, and start a church. Keeping all that (mostly)to myself—with the prospect of joblessness/homelessness—I just about cracked into pieces.

As a result, sporadic posts of miscellany ensued on this here little blog. I couldn’t write about what was really on my mind, so I sort of talked around it. Then I was too busy to write except once every three months. It’s a little all over the place, I admit.

I haven’t done a very good job as a writer connecting the dots between moving, marriage, ministry, and motherhood. So we’re about overdue for an update, a state of the Beasley Union, as it were. On a micro level, it’s spring break, and I have spent most of the week stuck in the house with my children. When I’m not putting out fires between my darling heirs, I’m attempting to write, watching Frozen again (I’ve lost count), and avoiding like the DEATH OF PLAGUE any lesson plans or school work of any kind. I pay for this daytime procrastination in the form of stress dreams at night. I have precious few hours to study up and PowerPoint all of World War II. The clock is ticking, and, lookee here, I’m doing this not that, so tonight’s dream should be a humdinger. For further reading on teaching, procrastination, and stress dreams, I refer you to the last August’s post Little Big Momma Gets Her Freak Show On.

It hasn’t been a restful week. But a far, far ear drum shredding cry from where we were during spring break last year. Before I give you the macro level update, I should probably review the back-story. Forgive if you’ve read previous snippets about our move. But just to bring everybody up to speed—the good Rev, my husband Todd, wanted to plant a church. He was on staff at First Baptist in Orange, Texas, for ten years. We had a blessed connection with friends—family, really—through that congregation. All that time I kept the plan to move a secret, I was grieving. We lost my dad the year before we moved. Then, the closer we crept to the day when Todd would actually resign, the deeper my heart ached over leaving my Orange family to start over in Little Rock.

I cried a lot of tears leading up to this day.

I cried a lot of tears leading up to this day.

Once we put our departure date on the calendar, the business of finding employment and housing became all-consuming. We trusted God to provide. But you know how God does…He provided very, very slowly…in excruciating and miniscule increments. At the same time, Todd had some difficulty on the church planting front. We had hoped for a racially integrated church in which Todd would partner with a black co-pastor. A number of men were referred to Todd with a view to filling that role—but then none of them wanted to. When my prayer requests were the same week after week, one friend said to me, “Are you sure this is God’s will?”

I tried to ignore those words, but they haunted me. What if this isn’t God’s will?

At spring break a year ago, I was teaching part-time at a Christian school. Figure the income accordingly—it covered our rent and that’s about it. We still had our mortgage in Texas to cover. Todd was still unemployed, we had just about run out of money (except for retirement investments, which we hoped desperately not to disturb), and we were paying for our health insurance out of pocket. If you’ve never had the total cost of your health insurance quoted to you, do so. Just for grins. I feel strongly that it’s a shock we should all experience at least once. It’s better than a defibrillator.

You get the idea. Things were pretty bleak. Are you sure this is God’s will?

Well, maybe not, I reasoned. I mean, things were definitely NOT coming together. I found myself making lots of apologies to God and I assured Him that it was a mistake made in good faith.

Then, I did what any wife would do under these circumstances—pick, prod and manipulate. That’s our game, right ladies?

With little or no subtlety, I undercut the foundation of faith that God had laid for my husband. No one seemed interested in interviewing him, ostensibly because his degrees and experience are pretty specific to the ministry. Ergo, I insisted suggested that Todd get his resume together and find a church in the Little Rock area that might need a pastor. Ya know. Just throw the fleece out there and see. In good faith…

No such church existed, or at least not one that would be a good fit. Sigh. Why do you suppose my little plan to fix things—by way of manipulating my husband in “good faith”—just didn’t work?

What He did is better. It is more exciting. It was completely unexpected. It confirmed that He led Todd to plant a church. It met our needs for connecting with other believers in a community. And letting God work out His plan in His way gave us so much unanticipated JOY.

Somewhere in the middle of all this mess, I got this little reassurance from a non-scriptural source. Thanks, Pei Wei.

Somewhere in the middle of all this mess, I got this little reassurance from a non-scriptural source. Thanks, Pei Wei.

In April of last year, Todd landed a job. Not THE job, but at least it was something. He called me at work to give me the news. The conversation went something like this:

Todd: “I got the job.”

Me: “Great.”

Big sigh. Todd: “I thought I’d be more excited, I guess. This isn’t it. This can’t be it.” It was a little underwhelming.

Our Sunday school teacher, Susie, and her husband own a car dealership. They needed someone to run the front desk and answer the phone. Usually they hire students—usually girls. Naturally Susie had reservations about hiring a man with a master’s degree. She knew that Todd needed a career position. He assured her that he didn’t have any expectations, but he needed something to get through a rough patch. They were very sweet to offer him the job when they knew he would flee at the first real career opportunity. The pay was much lower than what we needed. In fact, my part-time teaching job paid more than his full-time job answering phones. We still weren’t “making it.” Todd, at least, could be insured. We would have to pay for the rest of the family, but we hoped (and prayed and begged) that my teaching assignment for the coming year would bump me up to full-time, providing more income and insurance for all of us.

Not long after he started at the dealership, the manager asked him to consider moving to a sales position. Y’all. I don’t even know what came over me. I guess I saw dollar signs. Honestly, I should know better than to pressure Todd. Inwardly, I knew that he would work so many hours that he wouldn’t have time to plant a church. Whatever vision God had given me for ministry in moving to Arkansas had just evaporated.

When I asked Todd in “good faith” to consider the job, even if it was just for the time being, he said, “Katie, I would NEVER see you.” AARRRGHH. What is marriage if I don’t get to manipulate you from time to time????

Are you sure this is God’s will? I was so confused. It seemed like this opportunity fell into Todd’s lap. Weren’t we wrong to turn it down? One nice thing about working at a Christian school is there’s no shortage of godly advice in the building. One of my favorites is right across the hall. I went to my sweet friend Lisa for advice. Her husband works at the dealership. I wanted to hear, Yep the hours are awful but it’s do-able. What I got was a verbal slap across the face.

“Katie, that is NOT why you came here.” No hesitation. She didn’t pause to give it a little thought. Just shuwapp! and it sent me reeling. Message sent. Message received.

Then, within a few weeks, I found out that the full-time job I had been praying for all year was not to be. My workload would increase from two classes to five, but I needed six to be full-time.

If there was an all-time low, that was it for me. Todd’s job search screeched to a halt. I knew that my work load would feel like it was full time even if I didn’t get the pay and benefits for it. Now I would be teaching not just one subject but two, and more than double the number of students. Todd had written a prospectus on what would be our church plant. He had secured the partnership of a large church in town. But he had no co-pastor, and we talked about it less and less. Every where we turned, huge obstacles loomed. How did we even get here? I teetered clumsily on the edge of a breakdown—kind of like a drunk failing a sobriety test.

Not one, but two...

Not one, but two…

One of the salesmen at the dealership, Davy, took an interest in Todd. He routinely would ask, “How long are you going to do this?” As if Todd deliberately avoided finding a real job to answer phones. One day he gave Todd a job lead, but he didn’t have much more information—just a name with no phone number or email–not even the name of the company.

Over the next couple of days, Todd researched the enigmatic inside sales job but was having a hard time figuring out who to contact to send a resume. It felt like another dead end. Then, he was asked to fill in at the dealership phone desk that Saturday. Get this—the weekend girl had to get ready for prom. For prom, y’all. Poor Todd.

It ended up being one of those coincidences that can’t be a coincidence because God’s fingerprints are all over it. On that Saturday—when Todd normally wouldn’t be at the dealership—in strolled a man named Josh. Todd recognized him from church. As Josh disappeared into an office, Davy approached Todd to say, “That’s the guy who owns the company with the job I was telling you about.”

When Josh came out of the office, Davy took him outside and told him all about Todd. Later Todd found out that Josh had stuck around and observed for awhile. Then he gave Dave the contact information, which led to the interview, which led to the job offer, which led to an increase in pay and INSURANCE FOR THE WHOLE FAM. GIDDY. UP.

Big ol' smile on my face when I took this.

Big ol’ smile on my face when I took this.

Now. Are you sure that was God’s will??? But wait, there’s more! Remember that little church plant thingamabob?

Nine months before these blessed events, Susie—yes, Sunday school teacher Susie–had put us in touch with a woman named Katie Clifton. She thought we should meet Katie and her husband Jared. They were making a start in the ministry and had also adopted a black baby. This is funny to me now. People tend to associate adoptive families with each other—but all the more so when adoption makes a family colorful like ours.

Todd called Katie one day in September from the car. I listened to the conversation. He explained who we were, how we got her name, and the gist of what we were hoping to do. Katie said that they were getting pretty involved in youth ministry at their own church and didn’t see that she and her husband could be of much help. It was a very short conversation that didn’t seem to yield much. But she did suggest that we connect on Facebook. So, for nine months, Katie was kind of a dormant friend on both Todd’s friend list and mine. Before Todd quit his job at the dealership the following May, Katie came in with her daughter one day. He recognized her from her Facebook page and introduced himself. They had a good conversation, but this was the extent of our connection with the Cliftons.

Of course, Todd had no idea what God had cooking behind the scenes. A few weeks later, about a week after he started his new job, I got a call from Todd. He had one of those you’re not gonna believe stories for me. Todd was breezing down the hall at his new job when a guy stopped him and asked, “Are you Todd Beasley?” Then he continued, “I’m Jared Clifton.”

As it turns out, Josh owns two companies which are housed in the same building. Todd works for one; Jared works for the other.

A few days before they met in the hallway, the Cliftons had a conversation about ministry. I gathered from Katie that they were stuck in a holding pattern like Todd and I had been for a number of years. It seemed like we would have the same conversation over and over about planting a church. I guess they, too, covered the same ground again and again until Katie finally said, “Why don’t you get in touch with that Todd Beasley guy? He works at Everett.” She started flipping through Facebook to find him on her phone. “Oh, wait. He’s changed jobs. He’s working at some place called Orbit.”

Are you sure this is God’s will? Well, what do you think? Jared said that he had thought about church planting every day since Katie told him about that September phone call months before. And now, all Jared had to do was walk across the hall to meet Todd.

From that meeting in the hallway, one thing led to another, and another, and another. We have a core group that has been meeting every week since last September. Besides a passion for Jesus, there is a common interest in missions, service, adoption, and foster care. But, Katie, I thought Todd was looking for a black co-pastor? Are you sure this is God’s will? No worries, Jared knows a guy. I’ll have to save that story for another post.

Petit Jean

Arkansas has a lot of great places to hike, which the good Rev and Mrs. Beasley LOVE. This is Petit Jean. And I have to credit my friend Euger for taking the picture. Nice work, brother.

Also in another post, I’ll have to address how I knew this must be God’s will because I love it here so much. It’s been a shock to me, really, because for a long time I did not think giving up Texas for Arkansas was an even trade. I confess, I heard a lot of trash talk about rednecks and cousins marrying cousins. Clearly, a lot of people run their mouths but have never been to Little Rock. So I think I should write a piece and defend Arkansas’ honor. I’ve been toying with the title Really, Southeast Texas, Really? You Got No Room to Talk.