Category Archives: Ministry

Doing hard things

The funny thing about hard stuff is that we didn’t believe it would be this hard.

Ministry.

Adoption.

Marriage.

Parenting.

Walking by faith.

Those of us living in a first world country are especially confused by hard. We watch commercials promising the easy life, sure that if we buy or do the right things, we’ll be able to avoid hard.

But aren’t all our best memories connected to the hard stuff?

A race won.

A baby born.

A degree earned.

What’s your hard thing?

About eleven years ago, mine was moving to a fourth-world country and becoming an instant mom to three… eventually mom to five.

Around three years ago, it was fighting panic and adrenal fatigue — pushing through life even though I wanted to hide in a safe little corner.

Today it’s being faithful at home, while also letting my light shine a little further. It’s putting myself on my blog, in a book, and even on a speaking platform.

Each hard thing has been scary. Today is scary. And exhausting. Did I mention hard stuff is exhausting?!

BUT

Every single time I want to go live in those life-made-easy commercials, God gets involved.

He elbows me in the ribs and just won’t let up until I’ve gotten the point:

  • blogs…
  • verses…
  • songs…
  • homeschool curriculum…
  • sermons…

They all say the same thing:

Hebrews1038

I don’t know what the future holds; God might take me from hard to easier, or maybe from hard to harder. But even in my fear and wimpiness, I’m motivated to press on by a couple huge things:

1) I know there will eventually be a permanent end to all that is hard. Hallelujah!

And at that end we will be rewarded for our perseverance.

“In just a little while, he who is coming will come and will not delay.” Hebrews 10:37

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

2) I don’t have to do a single thing in my own strength!

God promises to empower and equip me for each challenge.

“I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:13

Isaiah 4113

Here’s the deal: God has specific tasks in mind for each of us. We’ve been uniquely designed for our own hard stuff.

Jesus saved us — completing the ultimate overwhelming job. And He sustains us. He empowers us.

Our time here is limited. Will we do what He’s created us and saved us to do?

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:8-10

Alright, now it’s your turn to share. What hard thing is God asking you to do?

It’s all loss compared to this

Philippians3-8

The comparison game is so easy to play… whether we’re trying to feel better OR worse about ourselves.

We make a mental list of “their” church involvement, “their” schooling choices, “their” accomplishments, “their” parenting skills, “their” volunteer work, “their” talents and measure them against our own.

If our list glows in comparison, we relax a little. We must be doing something right.

Of course if “theirs” outshines ours, we feel we’d better step it up a bit.

Wanting to be used for God’s glory is great, but is our spirituality defined by what we do or by our list of credentials?

Join me at The Better Mom today where my list falls apart.

I count all things to be loss…

My new ebook (free PDF this week!) — Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear

Take-CourageLR

Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear is a concise, two-part ebook offering hope to those, who like me, have found themselves in the grip of anxiety, adrenal fatigue, and trauma-related issues.

In the first section I share glimpses of eight drama-filled years in Haiti preceding my own personal crisis and in the second I offer insights for making spiritual, mental, and physical choices of courage.

If you are a jenniferebenhack.com blog subscriber, you’ve heard bits and pieces of my story. Download the ebook for the bigger picture!

Find Take Courage: Choosing faith on my journey of fear for your Kindle at amazon.com for $2.99

Or

Sign up for my newsletter and receive the PDF version of Take Courage for free this week!

Send an email to subscribetojenniferebenhack@gmail.com and you will receive the link to download your PDF copy of the ebook!

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(…But, remember to send me an email at subscribetojenniferebenhack@gmail.com to receive your free PDF!)

A dare to leave your comfort zone

In Your Beautiful Purpose, Susie Larson writes:

“If we live in the comfort zone and make accommodations for self-preservation, that zone begins to shrink. Even what we know begins to diminish” (126).

A couple years ago, as I battled intense panic attacks, most of the world was outside my comfort zone.

  • Driving a car was out of the question.
  • Shopping prompted feelings of derealization.
  • Going to church produced anxiety and claustrophobia.
  • Sitting in a restaurant with my husband made me uneasy.
  • Venturing anywhere completely new stirred even greater panic.

I really just wanted to stay at home.

At home, I was safe. I could distract myself with kids and responsibilities, or I could escape everything with a nap or a book.

But as I sought help for the anxiety surrounding my yet-to-be-diagnosed adrenal fatigue, I learned about the dangers of living within my comfort zone. It would only make things worse. My world would grow smaller, and I would grow increasingly fearful. Just as Susie Larson says, when we “make accommodations for self-preservation, that zone begins to shrink. Even what we know begins to diminish” (126).

So I reluctantly forced myself to keep going out, to push past the discomfort and face all that was unsettling. By God’s grace I didn’t go crazy, I avoided developing more phobias, and I grew from the lessons and interactions God had for me “out there.”

This concept applies in so many areas of our lives, but most importantly, on a spiritual level:
ForHisGlory

“Consider carefully what you hear,” Jesus continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you — and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them.” (Mark 4:24-25)

We are made for growth, for transformation, and for others. If we make life about us and about our comforts, we will tragically miss our whole purpose for living on the earth today. (Larson 127)

Jesus said:

You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

You are the light of the world. A city 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 men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)

Have you become unsalty? Are you living for comfort rather than God’s passions?

There is a world out there in need of salt and light.

We tend to hide ourselves away from it or else blend into it.

But, we’re called to leave those comfort zones and be salty and luminous again.

Is God calling you to do something today?

Speak up?

Share your testimony?

Push past panic?

Make a commitment?

Make a confession?

Go where He’s leading you?

There is a lot of disturbing stuff going on in our broken world. And as Kay Warren says in Dangerous Surrender, “If we’re not disturbed by the world in which we live, we will be consumed with the trivial, the insignificant, and the temporary. We will spend our days pursuing all the wrong goals, living by the wrong measurement of success, evaluating our legacy by the wrong standard” (21).

If you’re reading this, I’m guessing you’ve been “disturbed” on some level.

But don’t just shake your head.

Take that step out of your comfort zone.

Do the next thing God is calling you to do.

Maybe it’s:

  • memorizing Scripture with your kids.
  • standing up for the abused and persecuted.
  • becoming a prayer warrior.

You probably already know what it is. If not, ask God; He knows.

I was challenged to pray this prayer this week. Will you dare to pray it too?

I want every minute of my life to count for You. Awaken me with fresh passion, fiery faith, and a renewed resolve to follow hard after You… May Your power be evident in and all around me. May Your love flow freely through me. Keep me from evil and from harm, and help me to live a life full of faith, rich in holiness. Increase my capacity to live and walk by the Spirit. Awaken Your passions within me that I might be quick to obey You. My life is in Your hands. I trust You and will follow You, Lord. Change the world through me. Amen. (Your Beautiful Purpose 133)

**How is God stretching you today?

Reaching out of our inner circle: 4 things we can do to comfort the hurting in our extended community

allsuffertogether

As I write this, we are all grieving the loss of life brought about by recent tornadoes.

In only a few days or weeks, there will likely be yet another heart-wrenching headline.

Our broken world, our temporary home, is full of tragedy.

We need only glance up from our busy lives for a second to spot someone who is hurting profoundly.

When we are relationally close to the one hurting, we most often find ourselves plunged into the valley along with them.

We may not know exactly what to do or say, but we are forced to face the pain head-on — acknowledge the situation and fumble our way along, trying to be the best friend we possibly can.

But what about the times we’re peripheral to the sorrow?

When we’re acquainted with the hurting individual,

but are unsure how involved they want us to be in their pain?

Or when their sad story is all we know of them so far?

Do we speak of it?

Or do we allow the “white elephant in the room” to swallow any words of encouragement… any words at all?

broken window

I’ve asked six friends to share more of their thoughts with us (as a sequel to “Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know).

Their journeys through pain allowed them to experience both the awkwardness and the blessings of suffering in their respective communities.

From them we’ve already gained insights for our inner-circle.

So, what would they say to us as we relate to the hurting in our extended community?

1. Acknowledge the issue.

Even in our pain, we know how uncomfortable the situation is. If we were in your position, we’d be at a loss for words as well.

But even more awkward than saying something is saying nothing.

“I’m so sorry” is music to our ears.

You don’t have to address the issue every time you see us, but the use of this simple phrase in one of our early interactions will put us at ease in your presence in the days ahead.

We don’t expect eloquence or profundity… just a sincere word of kindness.

2. Reach out in some small way.

Practical help will almost never fail to bless us: food, a gift card, or free childcare go a long way.

Notes of encouragement, the words “I’m praying for you,” a hug, or comforting Scriptures impact us more than you can imagine.

We see that you care when you offer to help, take us to coffee, or listen.

    Even if we do not take you up on your offer,

we will always value your gesture.

3. Think carefully before you speak to us or about us.

Be gentle, patient, kind, considerate.

Put yourself in our shoes.

Consider our privacy as you speak to others or use social media.

Be mindful of what we’ve gone through — don’t ask us to deliver a meal to a new mother if we’ve just lost a baby; don’t invite us to a watch a romantic comedy if we’ve just separated from a spouse.

A few moments of careful thought can spare us all a lot of discomfort.

4. Pray for us.

James516

Prayer extends hope like nothing else.

When you sincerely, fervently intercede on our behalf, our trembling faith grows.

As we suffer, we can’t help but wonder if God still sees and cares; but when we know another is also on their knees, we are strengthened.

We are reminded that “…the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear.” (Isaiah 59:1)

A final thought…

As I spoke with these women, they (and I) were surprised at the details they remembered;

both the agonizing awkwardness of people who never said a word regarding the darkness they were in — who thought it was “none of their business”…

and then in contrast, the life-giving support of those who promised to pray or offered “a word fitly spoken” (Proverbs 25:11).

As ill-equipped or uneasy as we may feel, we are each capable of blessing the hurting person along our path today.

If we will allow the Holy Spirit to move us out of our comfort zone for moment, there’s no telling how He may choose to bless someone through us.

Friendship in the valley: 8 things our hurting friends want us to know

TwoAreBetterThanOne

I’ve experienced both.
There was a season of fear, confusion, hurt, and danger. My friends were out of reach, and I felt parched.

Years later, in the midst of new trials, friends were there, pouring life into my thirsty spirit. They were the hands and feet of Christ, bringing healing and sanity.

The apostle Paul has been there too:
“For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn — fighting without and fear within. But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you…” (2 Corinthians 7:5-7a).

Because our world is so horribly broken, we have all heard pain in a friend’s voice:

“He’s leaving me.”

“It’s cancer.”

“I lost the baby.”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me.”

“It’s an addiction.”

What do we say when our friend’s world is crumbling?

When we can’t fathom their pain?

It’s hard to enter in. We feel inadequate. The awkwardness immobilizes us.

But, we are the Body of Christ. Our friends need us to not only “rejoice with those who rejoice,” but also “weep with those who weep” (Rom. 12:15).

I’ve walked through a few shadowy valleys, but some of my friends have been in places I can only imagine.

As I dialogued with six women about their seasons of darkness,

I gleaned eight insights on “friendship in the valley” from their comments.

Here’s what they want you to know…

1) Your emotional involvement makes all the difference.
We need a good listener more than anything. We know you have many other important things to do, but when you put them on hold to hear us out, we notice and are deeply grateful.

We are touched by the tears you shed with us; the way you feel and live the pain along with us.

We appreciate your sensitivity to what we need at a particular moment — your prayer for wisdom before you open your mouth to speak.

We want to talk about our troubles with you, but we also want you to feel free to talk about other things.

While judgmental and self-righteous words kill our spirits, we do welcome loving biblical counsel.

ComfortOneAnother

2) We will never forget the ways you help us.
Years after our crisis, we will remember that you helped us pack our bags, that you cleaned our house, that you cared for our kids, that you put away the baby clothes, that you helped us get out of bed.

We may resist your efforts to help at first, but we need you to be persistent.

3) Comparisons usually aren’t helpful.
It can be good for us to remember that we are not the only ones in the world suffering, but please be careful of unequal comparisons. A spouse who is perpetually sloppy is not the same thing as a spouse who is morally unfaithful. A child with the stomach flu is not on the same level as a child suffering the effects of chemo. Think twice before saying, “I know how you feel.”

4) We appreciate confidentiality.
We understand that you need the freedom to talk openly with your spouse, but beyond that, we hope you understand that our stories are private. If you want to share details with others, please check with us first. We need to be able to trust you.

5) We desperately need your prayers.
We want to be told that you’re praying for us, and we need that to be true. In our darkest moments, we long to know that someone is lifting us up before Heaven’s throne.

6) We are not “normal” right now.
We are grateful for “no-strings-attached” friendship. We’re not in a position to reciprocate every thoughtful thing you do for us. You may wonder why we forget to return calls, send thank you notes, or ask questions about your life. Sometimes we just can’t think straight and are in dire need of patience and grace.

7) It can be hard to ask for help.
Most of the time, we feel awkward asking you to give even more of yourself. We realize you have your own life and can’t always be there, but we appreciate every offer of help — each time you reach out.

8) We are learning that our hope is in the Lord.
As much as we love and appreciate you, we have to learn that you cannot be God. You have limitations.  At times, we may lean heavily on you, but we both need to learn that you can’t meet our every need. We are in the process of learning that His grace is sufficient.

Comfort

For another fascinating perspective on the healing that community brings, check out Mary DeMuth’s recent blog:
CommunityHealsStress

***Is there anything you would add to this list of insights? What have your friends done that have held you up during your stormy season? Please leave a comment below.

How can we help our hurting friends?

Prov17-17

We all know someone who is going through a hard time.

What are we going to do about it?

The answer probably depends on how well we know the person:

  • Close friends — We consider peering into the darkness with them.
  • Casual friends — We might pray for them, but decide someone else is better equipped to encourage them.
  • Acquaintances — We aren’t sure if they know that we know their troubles, so we try to ignore the “elephant” in the room.

Of course, those are generalizations, but we’ve got to admit we don’t always know how to relate to people who are struggling with serious, heavy issues.

Unfortunately, there really are a few wrong ways to relate to them. Ask Job about his friends.

In my next few blogs, I’ll share comments from my friends who have been in some deep, dark valleys. We’ll look at God’s Word as well as their experiences with friends to gain wisdom in our relationships.

As we talk about those closest to us, our casual friends, and even the people-from-church-that-we’ve-only-ever-said-hello-to, it’s my prayer that we’ll all be better equipped to bless and encourage all three categories of hurting friends.

In what ways have your friends blessed you during hard times? Leave a comment below — I’d love more input for the upcoming blogs!

If you liked this post, you may be interested in Do You Need A Listening Ear?, What You Need to Know About Trauma, and When You’re Hurting.

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