My rant for the day…

I’ve had trouble writing lately. Not really sure why. But I think it has something to do with this…

America, the country I love, just doesn’t seem the same as the America I grew up in. The America I grew up in WAS a Christian nation. We operated under Christian values, we respected each other, and there wasn’t this fear that if you prayed with someone or shared the love of God that you might get in trouble. Certainly there were many who didn’t believe, but it was different then than it is now.

I look around and my heart truly aches. Suicide and depression are on the rise. Child abuse. Multiple and late term abortions. Sickening acts of murder and human destruction. Life seems to have lost it’s sacred value somewhere along the way. Animal rights are often held dearer than the rights of human beings. And I can’t help but be grieving over it all.

Now I don’t want to be all gloom and doom, because there is a lot of good in our world too. And if we focused on the negative events all the time and truly felt the burden of them all, we wouldn’t be able to function. But what I find surprising and appalling is the fact that many Christians are choosing to say absolutely nothing. We go about our daily lives as if the world is not in turmoil and as if Christians aren’t being persecuted and literally beheaded right before our eyes. I wonder what it will take before we stand up and say enough already?

And I’m certainly not one to talk because if I were to stand up and say “enough” I don’t even know what that would look like. Maybe the first step is writing this blog post because I’m just having a hard time writing about how Christians can handle stress better, or feel happier, or sail through their days with more confidence. I know this stuff needs to be written about to encourage, empower, and even grow the Kingdom, but I just can’t put my focus into writing anything other than an outcry for us to do whatever we can to help ease the suffering of Christians and Jews all around us! It’s truly heartbreaking!

So there you have it. My rant. And it doesn’t do any good to rant unless you follow it up with taking action. Without action things can and will never change. So what are your thoughts? What actions are you taking as you see the world suffering around you? Maybe we can come up with some good ideas.

Maybe we should lead a marriage group…

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Kevin and I are looking to serve at Trinity Fellowship Church. Our new church home. And that means going through a few classes to help identify our spiritual gifts and personality types.

As we looked through the areas of service available, it was obvious both of our strengths and gifts pointed to leading a group.

“Maybe we should lead a marriage group”, I said. Kevin agreed. And we checked the interest box.

The whole thing sounds rather uneventful unless you know the backstory.

The backstory is that 6-ish years ago we couldn’t even go a day without using the word divorce. We couldn’t stand each other. I was hateful, mean, cold, and detached. Kevin was angry, frustrated, confused, and distraught. If I could use one word to describe the whole situation it would be this: hopeless.

And here we sit, years later, pondering the thought of leading a marriage group.

So what happened between now and then? A lot. But what worked for us may not work for you. So I’m not going to waste your time with a miracle marriage makeover formula. Because I don’t have one. But what I do have is this:

Because of the Lord ’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. (Lamentations 3:22, 23 NIV)

New mercies. New compassions. Every morning. From The Lord.

It’s not that marriages have a magic wand fix. They don’t. There’s a lot of things you can and should do to heal your marriage. Things like counseling, education about communicating, praying, forgiving, etc. But regardless of what you do or do not do you have to trust Gods mercies to get you through another day. Not another week, another month, or another year. Just stick with another day.

Because anything more than another day makes things seem impossible. The mercy has not arrived yet. Nor will it arrive until the correct day. Pondering the next week in a marriage at rock bottom can be gruesome. Stifling at best.

Think of it this way, if your counselor asks you to work on serving your spouse, and you are pondering what that will look like a week from now when you imagine yourself run ragged and your spouse still doing nothing…well you won’t be willing to put in the effort. But when you choose to serve your spouse today with no thoughts of tomorrow, that seems do-able.

And that’s what daily mercies do. They make life in a difficult marriage do-able.

Because things won’t change overnight. But day after day with concerted effort and prayer…you will look back and see change.

Your marriage is on the brink? That’s ok. Because all you have to do is focus on another day. Ask God what to do, what to pray, what to say, how to act, and to grant you favor for one more day. Just one more day. And before you know it years pass by, and you may find yourself saying, “Maybe we should lead a marriage group.” Just one more day…

If you are struggling in your marriage I would love to pray for you and your spouse. You don’t have to leave a long drawn out comment or description…a simple “pray for us” in the comment section will do just fine. I look forward to praying for you.

Love and Blessings,

Stephanie

Why I’m tired of pointing the finger at others in ministry…

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Matthew 5:14-17

I read a lot of social media. We land blast one preacher for misinterpreting the Gospel. We praise others for their seemingly humble approach. We pick and choose what we like and don’t like about this or that and exploit it to the max.

Because of things I read, I have ebbed and flowed in my desires to write, blog, or really do anything related to ministry. I have wondered, tested, and questioned my motives. Do I write for His glory or mine? Are my intentions pure? Should I lock my thoughts up in a journal and be content? Or is it okay to get excited when stephanieclayton.org is at the top of the google search list?

I swing back and forth. I love well known speakers and writers. I get excited about God when I hear their messages. Then I see them blasted for having “selfish” intentions, and my heart grows weary.

But what I’m learning is that life isn’t simple. Humans are messy. Ministry gets messy. We make mistakes. We are humble at times, and other times our sin-nature gets the best of us. Sometimes we interpret scripture correctly. Other times we might mess it up. And that’s scary. But is it scary enough for us to keep our relationship with God locked up in our bedrooms? I certainly hope not.

I’ve backed away from ministry for a season, some out of calling, and some out of fear. What I am realizing is not to put other people in a box, and not to be bothered when they put me in a box. Because if I dare to share the Gospel, I am also going to make mistakes. Even public mistakes. And that is okay. It’s okay for me. And it’s okay for others. Because we are all just fallen sinners, living in a fallen world, doing the very best we can to share the one thing that sets us free…Jesus Christ.

So are my motives spotless? Probably not. But I will do my best to stay in the center of His will. Will I ever misinterpret scripture? I’ll try not to, but I’m human, and it could happen.

But one thing I choose not to do a second longer is stay paralyzed by mere humanity. Why? Because God knows I’m human. He knows I mess up. And He lets me share His truth anyways. And even if one person, just one time, sees His unobstructed light shining in me, even if for a second…it’s worth it. To spread the love of Jesus to one hurting soul, it’s worth it.

And maybe you are feeling the same way. Maybe you held back the dreams God placed on your heart out of a misinterpreted view on humility. That it’s mandatory to be small and hidden.

Yes it’s essential to have a personal relationship with God that is intimate and quiet…but there is nothing wrong with sharing in other ways He has called you to share. You don’t put a lamp under a bowl! You let the light shine!

There’s nothing wrong with sharing from a gigantic stadium platform. And there’s nothing wrong with leading a backyard small group. It doesn’t matter as long as you are sharing what He has called you to share in the manner He has called you to share it.

So I challenge you, maybe let’s stop mentally or socially pointing the finger and instead be thankful our sin prone bodies can be a little bit more when we let them be the hands and feet of Jesus.

To you friend, going about your day, feeling unseen…

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Hear my prayer, O lord ! Listen to my cries for help! Don’t ignore my tears. For I am your guest— a traveler passing through, as my ancestors were before me. (Psalms 39:12 NLT)

Driving in your car. Taking the kids to school. Going to and from work. Doing the business of the day. You sweet friend, daughter of the King, blindly singing worship songs to your Savior. You! God hears you. He sees you.

Burdens seem to drown out glimmers of hope. It seems it’s been too long since a song of praise departed from your lips. But I assure you there is no gap too wide or stream to far for you to get a drink. The water of His loving salvation, grace, and forgiveness runs deep. Endlessly deep.

So you sitting in your car contemplating if life is really worth living any more…it’s time to move forward. Into a life based on grace and eternity rather than temporary trials and suffering. It’s time to go. To get up and go. To your family. To your friends. To those who support you in everything you do. It’s time to fully surrender your burdens to Him. Because life is worth living. There is purpose in your pain. And passion beyond what you could ever know or see.

It’s time to move on. From the sin. From the shame. To take steps towards life, and life abundantly. So you sitting in the car singing worship songs, feeling lonely and unseen. He sees you. He cares. And He loves. And it’s time to move forward.

True freedom from depression minus the lies…

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It’s easy to judge those who have contemplated suicide from a pious standpoint. But I’ll be the first to admit, there were times in my past that I no longer wanted to live. Now please hear me when I say that was long ago and God has brought me far…far from that place. But anytime I hear of a suicide I am reminded of the suffocating emotional bondage depression brings. It knows no boundaries. No limits. And no one is immune.

Maybe that’s why the “Genie you are free” tweet after Robin Williams death bothered me so. Because I know what freedom from depression looks like, and it does not look like death. In reality, there is only one death that ever brought freedom to anyone and that was the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.

And maybe you struggle with depression too. And maybe you are a Christian too. And maybe you believe as I do that when you die you will go to heaven and spend eternity with your Savior. So maybe you are wondering if the way out of this depression, these rotten lies in your mind, is to rush the process and head home eternally. Oh but sister, the process is not and never will be our process to rush.

The gift of depression is not the choice to end your life. The gift of depression is to choose life through the worst of it all knowing that there will be freedom on the other side: not just in heaven, but on earth.

Had I not experienced the lowest of lows I could not see the depths from which I have been pulled. Pulled back into life not by escaping my pain but rather being pushed through it by forces I cannot describe. He can give us a new reality where we see the lies of depression for what they really are and the joy of salvation for what it really is, all surpassing truth.

So what I’m not doing is condemning those who have pondered death. I myself would have done nearly anything to escape past mental bondage. But freedom from depression was not mine to give by taking my life or trying to escape in countless other ways. It was and remains the Lord’s job to set me free. It didn’t happen on my timeline. And may not happen on yours. But please do not rob yourself of His freedom promise in life for what you think will be freedom in death. The Lord gives and He takes and despite our desperate attempts to control it all, we must submit to the truth that He knows better, cares better, and loves better…and you will live better…He promises…when you wait on and in Him.

If you are struggling with depression or suicide please ask for help…from someone…anyone…you do not have to struggle alone. And if you know someone who you think is suicidal, ask them about it and offer to help them find help. Most people who have survived suicide admit they would not have gone through with their attempt if someone would have just asked them about it or even took the time to talk to them. You may not know what to say, but it doesn’t matter, just speaking to someone and showing you care instills hope and life.

Can a child with cognitive disabilities ever really “get” The Gospel?

I’ve done research on the topic. Can kids with cognitive disabilities ever really grasp the truth of The Gospel. Can a child who struggles with abstract thinking or understanding a passage of text really understand and process the truth and freedom offered in God’s Word? Can scripture speak to a heart and a mind that might not fully receive anything else? Does God make a way to perceive His truth?

I’ve read and heard thoughts on this topic, but nothing has spoken clearer to me than God’s Word in Matthew 13:16-17…

“But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear. I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see, but they didn’t see it. And they longed to hear what you hear, but they didn’t hear it. ”

The truth is, even the smartest people can completely miss the message of the Gospel. They may hear the message and roll it around in their heads, they may see it, but never really see. Why? Because until God and God alone opens our ears, eyes, and minds to His truth – it’s not really going to sink in.

He’s sovereign over everything. He knows who will accept His truth before it’s ever offered to them. He softens hearts and hardens them. He makes the confused to understand and those who understand confused. He’s the giver of life and stands over all understanding.

I may not get the theology behind it. I didn’t go to seminary and don’t pretend I did, but I do know a few things.

If God is sovereign…there’s no power in hell that can prevent my child or any other person from “getting” The Gospel. So really, the most productive thing for me to do is make sure I am readily scattering “seed” for my child’s soil and praying to The Lord that He opens my child’s heart to receive the only One who can water it and make it grow.

Ultimately it’s all up to Him. And because He hears my prayers and loves my child even more than I do, I choose to trust his eyes and ears have already been opened. And no cognitive delay or damage in his genetic makeup could ever trump God’s sovereignty.

Matthew 13:12 says, “To those who listen to my teaching, more understanding will be given, and they will have an abundance of knowledge. But for those who are not listening, even what little understanding they have will be taken away from them.”

Teaching our children to listen and giving them someone good to listen to becomes key. I cannot control if they will hear or not but I can certainly offer opportunities for them to hear.

So if I were to wrap this all up with a bow, I guess I would say don’t limit God by thinking your child has limits on his or her understanding. Because He can blow the limits off of our expectations. In His timing, He’s got it all taken care of. So keep offering those opportunities. And keep praying for open eyes, and ears, and hearts. Because God has ways beyond our understanding and He specializes in working with a troubled mind.

Visiting from SDG?!?!

blog picHi friends visiting from Soli Deo Gloria! I am so excited to meet you! The post I wrote for Jen’s blog today was a tough one, no doubt. And maybe you are visiting today because you experienced something similar…

If that’s you, I have a few things to share…

1. I am so sorry. If no one has ever told you that, they have now. What happened to you was awful.

2. It doesn’t define you. What happened to you is one life experience of many. It is not, does not, and need not confine or define who you are or what you will become.

3. Guilt and shame can take a while to go away. And you may not believe that God loves you, forgives you, and cares about you. Keep praying for Him to remove false guilt and shame and for him to help you overcome your unbelief (Mark 9:24) UNTIL it happens!!! Do not give up!

4. Make everything you do for the Glory of God. It’s all about Him. Move out of the pain of your past – why? – for His glory. He will be glorified in you, and yes, eventually even glorified in the story of what happened to you. His glory in your life is far more powerful than any person or sin – and no one can take that away.

Love and Hugs!!!! Stephanie

Can’t I set her free too?

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I know the feeling too well. Social struggles. She had a hard time walking into the party. I know enough to push her through the anxiety. But it’s difficult to watch. Girls she knows and loves. Girls that love her. But it doesn’t stop the internal garbage.

What if they don’t like me? Do they think I’m weird? Do my clothes look funny?

She would do anything to fit in and I would do anything to rip that garbage right out of her brain and put it where it belongs.

But I can’t.

Jesus, haven’t we fought this battle? Isn’t my freedom enough for her? Can’t the arms that set me free reach down and pull the chains from her as well? Can’t I fight this battle for her?

I’ve hashed through my feelings this weekend.

What did I do wrong? How can I help her grasp freedom?

It frustrates me that I may be doing all I can do. Taking her to church. Teaching her God’s Word and the power of scripture. I’m tempted to put her in every activity I can get my hands on. Maybe they will boost her confidence – give her a sense of belonging – and yet I know any sense of belonging or worth outside of Jesus will fail her, eventually.

And I wonder if Jesus doesn’t feel the same when He looks at me.

Haven’t I fought this battle for her? Victory over sin – It is finished. It is enough! Why can’t she choose to trust me? I tell her not to worry, but she does anyway…

And He could rip the garbage out of my mind in a second but He chooses not to. Instead He lets me learn and choose the Truth so it might be my own. Truth given specifically to me by a Savior who cares enough to let the working out of my salvation be a personal experience – a growth process – a relationship.

And so it will be with Lauren. Her battles must be fought within. I can be here, support, and guide, but ultimately she will choose that freedom for herself. And when she does it will be deeply personal for her. And although everything in me wishes I could just rush in and wrap it up in a bow for her, I know Jesus has a better way in mind. A way that will grow her relationship with Him.

And so I wait. And I pray. And I understand a tiny bit more about the way Jesus loves us than I did yesterday…

When He unearths a dream and brings you back to life…

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I want to be a writer and start a Christian counseling private practice. There, I said it. I keep waiting on God to blow the top off that dream, but it hasn’t happened yet. And I bet you have one too. A pet dream you keep waiting for God to bring into the light. You haven’t given up, but waiting gets awful at times.

But today, I was reminded of something. It seems while my eyes were focused on one dream, God has been busy blowing the top off of another.

It was a dream I held low and slow because I wasn’t certain it could happen. I have wondered, is He powerful enough, is He good enough to make this happen?

We have these dreams too. The ones we hesitate to ask God about. Maybe because they seem impossible.

Pipe dreams.

I had to look up the definition of pipe dream. I’ve heard it used, but didn’t know what it meant. The definition I found was that of a dream induced while smoking opium. Now I assure I haven’t been smoking anything, but I have had “pipe dreams”. Dreams that are such fantasy I seldom even pray about them. Dreams I am certain God could never be about fulfilling. One of such dreams is healing my son.

Now in so many ways I know he doesn’t need healing. He is who he is, awesome, because of the way his mind works. But most parents of a special needs child admit they would do anything for their child not to endure the hardships they face. There is beauty in trials, but if I could take them away from him, I would in a heartbeat. But the dreams I have for my son are pipe dreams at best…right?

Today I’m not so certain. It seems while I was busy focusing on other dreams, God has been busy blowing this buried dream out from under the dirt. Did He heal Ryan’s mind in a way that he thinks like any other child would think? No. And I wouldn’t want him to. Will Ryan continue to struggle? Yes. But today by showing me that Ryan can succeed at things I never thought were possible, like passing a state administered exam, well that’s enough to spark a fire under me. A spark to pray for more. To ask for more. To forget the term pipe dream and replace it with prayers and expectations for miracles from my miraculous God. The One who makes something’s out of nothing’s. The One who blows the top off dreams I forgot I had and teaches me to place others to the side until the timing is right.

And what about you? Have you looked around? Or are you busy focusing on a dream you want fulfilled so bad that you miss the dream He is fulfilling right in front of you? He blows the top off our dreams in ways we never expected. In timing we never expected. And in all dreams where He is glorified above all, He will far exceed our highest expectations.

The biggest idol you never knew you had ….

I stood in church asking God to examine my heart. What did I idolize? Money, power, fame, riches, fortune, stature? Nothing struck a cord. Surely I idolized something? But I walked away confused. I guess I wasn’t struggling with idolatry? But I felt an itchy spot between me and God. I just couldn’t figure out what it was. Until now….

You know how you go to the refrigerator or bathroom cabinet looking for something, you can’t find it, but then you do you realize it was right in front of you? Almost too close to see?

The biggest idol I struggle with is me, I was just too close to see it.

I don’t get on my knees and worship myself every morning. I doubt any of us do. But let me ask you a tough question….do you go to the Bible each day to learn about God? Or do you go to looking for answers about you?

It may seem obvious to others, but to me this question was kind of a shock to my system. I mean I know the Bible wasn’t written about me. I know am not the Good News. But I treat it that way. So often I go to the Bible to find the answers I want for me, with no intention or even thought about learning what I can about God. The One who the whole dang book IS about! He didn’t write it about me so that I could become the best me I could be.

Now this gets a little hairy – because learning about God does help me become a better me – but that cannot be my purpose in reading the Bible or living my life unless I desire to see myself as the center of the universe. My purpose for Bible study and for living in general must be this and only this – to glorify God and worship Him. Will I become a better me in the process? Certainly! But only as a byproduct of His glory. Certainly and never by my own rights and muddy, fault filled efforts.

So my Bible study is changing a bit. I go to His Word seeking what I can learn about Him. Not to twist and bend scriptures to fit what I want to apply to me. Because the Bible was not written about me. It’s about God. It’s about His glory. And learning this – shifting my perspective from a self centered to a God centered view of the gospel is slowly tearing down the biggest idol I never knew I had – myself.