Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Ugly

In my blog description I mention that I will reveal some of the “ugly” stuff I’m going through in this season of my life. A few Sundays ago, I reluctantly shared this with my congregation. Here’s the big news: I’m battling anxiety and it sucks.

You’re probably not too surprised if you’ve ever read my “About me” description. Being a church planter, a full-time producer on a live TV show, a master’s student, and a mother of 3—you’re probably saying, “Well, duh! Didn’t you ever hear of burn out?!”

You might be wondering what anxiety looks like. I’d never experienced anxiety until I started working on a live TV show, and it took about 6 months to overcome my symptoms. I noticed I started having trouble taking a deep breath. That led to an endless feeling that I needed to yawn, so I would constantly yawn. I would come home from work on Friday and by Monday I could breathe normally again and I felt ready to face the week.

About the same time I overcame my anxiety from working on a live show, we started the church. I no longer had the weekends to wind down; instead, we get amped up for Sunday services! Sunday mornings begin with a 7:00am set up at the theatre and Sunday nights include leadership team meetings. During the summer we even added a 2-week missions trip to Israel to our schedule. By the time my kids were back to school in September and we were getting ready for our one-year church anniversary, I began experiencing shallow breathing again. On top of that, I began my last class necessary to complete my master’s degree. A few weekends ago, we went to Houston for a minister’s conference—and that’s when the dam broke.

The following week at work I was a frazzled mess. I left work that Friday and told my husband that while speaking to our show's guest that morning in the makeup room, I had a panic attack(Nobody knew, I managed to hide it well). It came out of nowhere and it scared me because I felt completely out of control. That entire weekend I couldn’t function—we skipped our date night and the next day my husband took the kids to an amusement park (a yearly event that I normally look forward to) because I knew I couldn’t go. I sat on the couch all day and tried not to move. My nerves needed an extended break. I needed to sit with Jesus and just hide in the shadow of his wings. And that’s what I did all day.

I got out of bed the next morning determined to go to church. I usually wrap up the worship time of the service with a thought or scripture the Lord has given me. That morning the Lord said, “Tell the church what you’re going through.” I argued with Him. I didn’t see the wisdom in telling the church about a problem I was having that I hadn’t overcome yet. I soon realized arguing with the Holy Spirit was pointless, so I went ahead and revealed my secret. Newsflash everyone! Your pastor’s wife is not perfect! In fact, she’s currently a nervous wreck!

Something unexpected happened--many people thanked me after the service for sharing my struggle. For some reason, I thought people would reject me when I admitted weakness, but the opposite was true. I felt my healing begin the day I shared my secret, but that’s not all God did that day. 10/10/10 will be remembered as a phenomenal day of new beginnings. 5 people accepted Christ. That night we baptized 7 people in our backyard hot tub, and that was followed with a new members meeting. After listening to my husband share his vision, 14 people joined our church.

Now back to reality. I am experiencing what happens to people when they do not have a “Sabbath” rest. For you working pastor’s wives, this will be your greatest challenge. I don’t have all the answers yet. I just know God will help me to complete this difficult season, and He will help me come back into balance. Meanwhile, I cling to two scriptures:

“As thy day, so shall thy strength be. . ., ” Deut. 33:25. This was a promise to one of the 12 tribes of Israel and I claim it as a promise to me.

“in quietness and in confidence shall be your strength” Isaiah 30:15. I must get still in God’s presence and allow Him to refresh me. (This is SO important that I would add 1,000 exclamation points to it, but you get the point!)

That’s where I’m at now, and I’m looking forward to the day that Jesus helps me to overcome the ugly beast of anxiety once and for all!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Leaving the "Population Me" Kingdom

I'm about to admit something I'm not proud of, but I have a feeling I'm not alone in this struggle. It all began after I heard some words in a Matthew West song, “My Own Little World”:

In my own little world it hardly ever rains

I’ve never gone hungry, always felt safe

I got some money in my pocket shoes on my feet

In my own little world--Population me

As a pastor’s wife, I am blessed to know many people and to be part of their life’s journey--the ups, downs, victories, and challenges. To me, serving and encouraging the body of Christ is both a privilege and a reward. But lately I’ve been so consumed with “my own little world” that my purpose is getting lost in the realities of life.

Am I working hard, brick by brick, stone by stone, building an altar to myself? Am I building a kingdom w/ a population of one—ME?

When I think about how much time I spend thinking about myself, guarding what’s mine, adding to what’s mine, adding to my resume, adding to my life experiences, setting higher goals, dreaming new dreams . . . I stop and ask myself, “How much of this is God-directed and how much of this is leaving a Lori legacy?”

Is there no end to distractions that compel me to keep my mind on myself and not others? Case in point#1- Torn ligament in my right arm—RESULT—I constantly think about MY pain. #2 Lots of things breaking down around the house lately—RESULT—I think about MY money and how I need more. #3 Anxiety from work and school building up—RESULT—I think about how I can guard my ME time.

So sick of ME!

The Lord stepped in last night and gently reminded me through Paul’s words that I need to stop focusing on my problems and start focusing on Him.

“May you be filled with joy, ALWAYS thanking the Father. He has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to His people.” Colossians 1:11, 12

It’s so simple and I’ve learned it a hundred times. Immediately I began to praise Him for who He is and thank Him for what He has enabled me to do. Tears came as I began to write in my journal:

“He has enabled me to—think, reason, go to school, enjoy my kids, feed and clothe them, share my life with my husband, get out of bed, breathe, rest, sleep, see, feel, hear, . . . !!”

I must quit focusing on my lack, my need, my pain, my circumstances, my plans, etc. and get my mind on HIM! His promises, His protection, His provision, and His very person—I must praise Him. As I do, Jesus empowers me with strength to serve and fills me with compassion to love others.

The last words of the song sum it up:

Start breaking my heart for what breaks Yours

Give me open hands and open doors

Put Your light in my eyes and let me see

That my own little world is not about me

Friday, October 1, 2010

An Early Lesson in Vision

Early in our marriage, God opened the door for my husband to be the youth pastor at his grandfather’s church. His father also happened to be the associate pastor. Three generations of Stewarts pastoring together—what a unique church we were!

However, I was against the idea from day one. I won’t go into all the reasons why I thought this was a bad idea, but the list was long! Nevertheless, I played the part of the submissive wife and pretended to care about the youth in the church.

About 6 months into our youth ministry there, I was sitting in the back of the room during a Wednesday night youth service. Matt was preaching while I was telling God, in my mind, all the reasons why we should not be working there. I began to tell him all the problems with the youth group and why we were the wrong people to lead this group of students. I counted around 25 youth there that night and that depressed me too. I missed the large youth group we pastored when we lived in San Diego. “Why are we so small, Lord?” He was listening.

Right at that moment the Lord spoke to me and said, “This youth group is small because of YOU.” Immediately I knew what he meant—my lack of faith, my negativity, my complaining spirit—I was the problem!!

That night I repented and asked the Lord to give me a heart for these students. Soon after that, we took almost 40 young people to Magic Mountain, an amusement park in Southern California. One night in the hotel conference room, we experienced an unexpected, supernatural move of God. Students began to weep, confess sins, prophecy—that night would launch a consistent move of God. Our youth group began to grow and grow. Many of those young people are in full time ministry today.

Is your lack of vision harming your ministry? Is your negativity and complaining spirit putting a wet blanket on the Holy Spirit’s plans for your church? Repent and allow the Lord to fill you with a supernatural love for the people the Lord has assigned you to serve. He can do it!