Valley Heights Women’s Tea
The theme for this tea is “Stepping Heavenward” and the verse that goes with it is any easy one to memorize but must also be the desire of our hearts everyday. Psalm 119:133a says, “Establish my footsteps in Your Word.” Another verse that I couldn’t help but think of, and want to start our time of testimony and time in the Word with is Psalms 40:1-3:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; And He inclined to me and heard my cry. He brought me up out of the pit of destruction, out of the miry clay, and He set my feet upon a rock making my footsteps firm. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God; many will see and fear and will trust in the Lord.”
We can only step heavenward with firm footing when we are standing on the Rock of our salvation, right?! And, as I am sure we can all attest to, those steps may be on the rock, but there are trials in each season of life that can bring us to the point of almost despairing, feeling as though our destruction, or that of a loved one, is just around the corner. And then there are those trials that we just feel “stuck” in…as though we were in clay. Trials, big or small, will be a part of our steps because trials are the means through which God is accomplishing His purposes both in us and through us. They bring us to a place of total submission and dependence on our great God and joyful rest in what He has ordained.
My prayer for my own heart and my prayer for all of you this morning is that we will step away from our time together with a heart’s cry to love the Lord, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him. Three truths that come right out of Deuteronomy 11:22, where God is reminding the Israelites of the great blessing that awaited them if they loved the Lord with all their heart, if they walked in all His ways, and held fast to Him.
I want to expound on these truths through sharing bits and pieces of my own testimony and, in larger part, through sharing about a woman who lived in the early 1800’s. A woman who is part of the “great cloud of witnesses” that has gone before us, leaving a legacy of treasuring Christ and loving Him above all else. Her life and testimony have been a sweet blessing and encouragement to my own heart through the trials God has placed in my life and I’m excited to share some of what she has taught me with you!
Her name is Elizabeth Prentiss.
Elizabeth and I had something in common in our growing up years. Both her dad and mine were pastors. Her dear, godly father passed away when she was just 8 1/2 and I am thankful to still have my dad with me…but both dad’s imparted much wisdom and godly truth into their girl’s hearts.
I’m not sure what all her growing up years were like, but I am thankful for the gift of being raised in a Christian home and for all that the Lord kept me from as a result…but it also created a different sort of dilemma in my life. I became so used to “doing what I was supposed to do” that I didn’t really see myself for as sinful as I was. I believe God’s grace reached down and saved me when I was in the 5th grade and He has never stopped showing me my sin and all that I have been saved from and to! I am so thankful for His ongoing sanctification in my life. And part of that sanctification has been weeding out the Pharisee in me, too. Doing the right thing but not always for the right reasons and, even those things meant nothing to the Lord if they were not done in His strength…for “apart from Me you can do nothing” Jesus said in the book of John. As I look back on my childhood, two thoughts come to mind for today:
1)Our children really do need to be reminded often that they are sinners and there is nothing good in them apart from Christ! They do not need self-esteem…they need to be taught to highly esteem Christ! Of course, with lots of love and encouragement, too!
2)They need to recognize that sin is, above all, against God…not you, the mom. I was often so sad about “letting my parents down” but not always sad about the fact that I had sinned against a holy God. And, it is so easy to give our kids that mindset without even meaning to….by the way we respond to their sin. If their sin really bugs us or interferes with our plans, we tend to make a big deal about it and come down hard on them. But, often, if they sin and it doesn’t really affect us or cause us much discomfort, or we just plain don’t feel like dealing with it, we say little or nothing. Our kids begin to see their sin as big sin/little sin and base what they do on the consequences. Big sin is when mom or dad gets upset, little sin is when it doesn’t really get them into trouble. They begin to live within those boundaries (of consequences or not), forgetting that all sin is equal in God’s sight…all of our sin sent His Son to the cross. It’s God’s standard our kids need to be trained to live by…not ours!
Ladies, the Bible says in Psalms 119:91 that all things are God’s servants. I am so thankful that God uses us in spite of us…even our times of sin and unfaithfulness to His Word and His way. He alone saves and He will save our children according to His good plan, not because of us but, often, in spite of us. Having said that, our daily prayer should be to walk in the path of obedience as we know that is the only path He blesses!
Back to Elizabeth Prentiss. The Lord saved her around the age of 21 and I love words she penned to her cousin not long after that:
“Those words “daily nearer to God” have inexpressible charm for me. I long for such nearness to Him that all other objects shall fade into comparative insignificance – so that having a thought, a wish, a pleasure apart from Him shall be impossible.”
This continued to be the cry of her heart and even as she got ready to enter married life she wrote:
“Now having found liberty to love, I am tempted to seek my heaven in so loving. But, my dear cousin, there is nothing worthy to having apart from God; I feel this every day more and more and the fear of satisfying myself with something short of Him – this is my only anxiety. This drives me to the throne of His grace and makes me refuse to be left one moment to myself.
Don’t you love her love for the Lord?! Don’t you want to have a heart like that? Going back to Deuteronomy…to love the Lord…that must be the first cry of our heart. And what does it mean to truly love Him? Elisabeth’s words echo the word’s of the Psalmist, Asaph, when he said in Psalm 73:25-26:
“Whom have I in Heaven but You? And besides You, I desire nothing on earth. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.”
Ladies, do you love the Lord? Are you satisfying yourself with something short of Him or is He enough…is He your portion?!
Elizabeth married George Prentiss and was quickly thrown into ministry as her husband was a new pastor. I don’t have the time to share all the advice she gave and the example she lived out for us fellow pastor’s wives…but I have appreciated it all the same. I can totally relate to marriage, followed by ministry. Six months after we were married, Bryan took his first pastorate, and we have been in full time ministry ever since! Boy was that first year SANCTIFYING!!!
I never realized just how selfish I was until I got married. Your experience may be different but, in complete honesty, the first few years of marriage, especially the first year was not a “honeymoon”…it was hard! There was a lot of sin that needed to be flushed out and repented of in my own heart that I never really knew was there. And, by the way, if you are in your first few years of marriage and it’s been so much harder than you thought it would be…don’t be embarrassed to SAY SO and to ask for godly counsel, wisdom, and encouragement! You are learning what it means to truly consider someone else as more important than yourself…learning to love with God’s love when the rubber hits the road and you’re struggling to like the guy that not that long before made your heart pound at just the sight of him.
And, by the way, I am in no way saying that my dear husband is not a like-able guy…his is wonderful…but, in the end, I am a sinner who married a sinner and that means sin is and will be a part of our marriage. The question is not, will it be there? The question is, when problems arise, do we have the tools from God’s Word to fight that sin God’s way…for His glory and the great good of our marriage!
—-The Husband Store “joke”—-
All that to say, it is so very much worth working hard for the glory of God to be the wife He has called us to be and to have a marriage that honors Him! As the years go by, it keeps getting sweeter and sweeter and I better understand and agree with Elisabeth Elliot’s second husband, Lars, who said:
“A wife if she is very generous may allow that her husband lives up to perhaps eighty percent of her expectations. There is always the other twenty percent that she would like to change, and she may chip away at it for the whole of their married life without reducing it by very much. She may, on the other hand, simply decide to enjoy the other eighty percent and both of them will be happy.”
Okay, back from that wonderful rabbit trail 🙂
First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes???
Babies! Or so we think. Proverbs states often that there may be plans in a man’s heart but the Lord directs his steps. The Lord’s ways will always prevail.
Elizabeth gave birth to a baby girl, Annie, a year and a half into their marriage. Almost two years later she gave birth to a baby boy. Eddy was prone to sickness and when he was just 3 years old, one of his bouts with sickness ended in his death. Soon after, Elizabeth said:
“I used to think I could never endure to lose a child but you see how it is. God does carry us through whatever He pleases.”
Three months later, she delivered their third child, Bessie. Both mother and daughter got an infection, and Bessie died when she was only one month old. Elizabeth had lost two of her three children in the matter of 4 months. Yet, during this time of unbelievable pain she clung to a simple phrase her friend had encouraged her with:
“God never makes a mistake.”
This encouragement reminded me of Proverbs 25:11:
“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.”
When those around us are going through hard trials we must pray like crazy for wisdom in how to encourage them…and then, as God leads, we should speak. It may be just the encouragement they need, as Elizabeth’s friend’s words were to her!
Looking back on the loss of two of their children, Elizabeth and her husband said they would not change a thing. They had been forced into a radical dependence on God which may not have come about in any other way. She penned these precious words:
“I can truly say that I feel myself a favored mother to have been permitted to send two of my children away from my own poor training, my mistakes, and my follies, to the very bosom of the Good Shepherd.”
Though different in many ways, Bryan and I also learned what it truly meant to depend on God and cling to His character and sovereignty in the midst of loss. At 5 months pregnant, our firstborn son was diagnosed with Trisomy 18, a chromosomal abnormality that meant he would most likely be stillborn or would die within days or weeks of being born due to his deformities. I carried Garett for another 3 months and he was stillborn a month and a half before his due date. Throughout those months of knowing, waiting, crying, and praying, God’s sovereignty, His control of all things was, to us, like a lighthouse for a sailor on a stormy sea. He was our constant and our source of hope. He can be trusted completely and He must be trusted completely.
He also taught me something else. He had taken a dream that I had since I was little…to be a mommy…and caused me to realize how easy it was to hope in something other than God. To love His good and precious gifts even more than the Giver, God Himself. He demanded first place in my heart, required submission to His will, even when it wasn’t what I would have chosen, and helped me see the treasure HE is and the joy and peace that come from loving Him above all and resting in His perfect plan! All of His plans are for our good!
As we already talked about, we are to love the Lord (He is to be our portion) and then, secondly, we are to walk in all His ways. Even when His ways are different than the way we thought or wanted. Even when His ways lead us down paths that seem to hard to walk, we can rest in His perfect goodness and plan.
TURN TO: ISAIAH 55:8-12 and COL. 1:9-12
As you can see, God did plan for us to have children…just a few! 🙂 A year and one day after Garret went to be with Jesus, Micah was born and then each year after that, for four years, God graciously added to our fold. And I know well, that God uses all things to sanctify us…both what He takes away and what He gives. I thought I had rid the weed of selfishness from the garden of my heart as God has worked on me through marriage…but it was clearly only dormant and reappeared as the babies started and kept coming. Denying self took on a whole new meaning and it still does to this day as that is the life God has called each and everyone of us to…denying self. And just let me add, don’t ever think that, because being a mom can be really hard, you must be doing something wrong. Being a mom is very hard and requires more than we could ever give…and that’s exactly where God wants us…totally dependent on Him, empowered by His strength as we daily cry out for His mercy and grace! I do love this short story, though, and giggle every time I read it.
——I Didn’t Do It Today Story ——-
We can all laugh…but I pray we can also rejoice at the amazing gift children are!
“Behold, children are a gift from the Lord, the fruit of the womb is a reward.” Psalm 127:3
The Lord saw fit to bless George and Elizabeth with 3 more children, a girl and two boys. She wrote this beautiful words in her book Stepping Heavenward:
“Here is a sweet fragrant mouth to kiss; here are two more feet to make music with their pattering about my nursery. Here is a soul to train for God; and the body in which it dwells is worthy all it will cost, since it is the abode of a kingly tenant. I may see less of friends, but I have gained one dearer than them all, to whom, while I minister in Christ’s name, I make a willing sacrifice of what little leisure for my own recreation my other darlings have left me. Yes, my precious baby, you are welcome to your mother’s heart, welcome to her time, her strength, her health, her tenderest cares, to her lifelong prayers! Oh, how rich I am, how truly, how wondrously blest!”
Being a parent is not the only “hard thing” we may face or do in life. In fact, each one of our lives is marked with it’s own “hard things”…those things that God uses to tear down our prideful attitudes of self-sufficiency and draw us to the throne of grace, humble and joyfully submissive. Maybe your “hard thing” is singleness, or an empty womb, or a difficult co-worker, or a tough subject in school, or an illness that lingers on or will be with you for the rest of your life, or job uncertainty, or an unbelieving husband, or a breakdown of a friendship, or…and you fill in the blank. No matter what it is, I have the same answer for myself and all of you….hold fast to the Lord. Deuteronomy 11:22 says that we are to love Him, to walk in all His ways, and then, lastly, it says we are to hold fast to Him. This idea of holding fast through the storms of life, the hard times, is beautifully illustrated in I Corinthians 15:58:
“Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord.”
I’m so thankful for Elizabeth’s example of what it looks like to hold fast, to walk faithfully in the midst of many different kinds of trials. She spent much of her life ill…several times, almost to the point of death. Sickness was much harder on the body due to a lack of proper medication and often due to improper treatment that often made things worse. At age 39, after one such illness at that almost ended in death, Elizabeth wrote in her journal:
“Now, contrary to my hopes and expectations, I find myself almost well again. At first, having got my heart set toward heaven and after fancying myself almost there, I felt disappointed to find its gates still shut against me. But God was very good to me and taught me to yield, to this point, to His wiser and better will; Heaven did, indeed, look very attractive…I thought I shall soon see Him whom my soul loveth, and see Him as He is; I shall never wound Him or grieve Him again.”
Oh, to have a heart that longs for Heaven as Elizabeth did! And to be a woman who faithfully points others to the joys and delights that await in being with Jesus, as Elizabeth did to her sister-in-law Nelly, who was dying. In a final letter to her, Elizabeth writes:
“I have been so engrossed with sympathy for Edward (Nelly’s husband) and your children, that I have just begun to realize that you are about entering on a state of felicity which ought, for the time, to make me forget them. Dear Nelly, I congratulate you with all my heart! Do not let the thought of what those who love you must suffer in your loss, diminish the peace and joy with which God now calls you to think only of Himself and the home He has prepared for you. Try to leave them to His kind, tender care. He loves them better than you do; He can be to them more than you have been; He will hear your prayers…all your tears will soon be wiped away; you will see the King in His beauty; you will see Christ your Redeemer and realize all He is and all He has done for you; and how many saints whom you have loved on earth will be standing ready to seize you by the hand and welcome you among them! As I think of these things my soul is in haste to be gone; I long to be set free from sin and self…Dear Nelly, I pray that you will have as easy a journey homeward as your Father’s love and compassion can make for you; but these sufferings at the worst, cannot last long, and they are only the messengers sent to loosen your last tie on earth, and conduct you to the sweetest rest…”
And, lest you think Elizabeth might not be human, I love her transparency as she reflected on her busy days:
“What grieves me is that I am constantly forgetting to recognize God’s hand in the little everyday trials of life, and instead of receiving them as from Him, find fault with the instruments by which He sends them. I can give up my child, my only brother, my darling mother without a word; but to receive every tiresome visitor as sent directly and expressly to weary me by the Master Himself…all this I have not fully learned.”
Maybe the things you are facing right now are not matters of life and death…but they are the “everyday trials of life” that bring a weariness to your bones and seem to suck the joy right out of you. How do you hold fast to the Lord in days like these? First, remember that ALL (not some things but ALL things) that comes our way comes from God’s hands for His glory and for good in our own lives and, secondly, take your eyes off of the problem, the person, the mess, the situation…fix them on Jesus and then PRAISE HIM!
-TURN TO: PSALM 103
And maybe some of you are like me…and as I look back on the years that God has blessed me with, so-far, some of my hardest times have been times of just having to wait! Seven years ago this summer, the Lord gave us the gift of being parents all over again…to a 7 year old Ethiopian boy named Samuel and his 4 year old brother, Caleb. There is not time today to share with you the story God wrote entitled, “The Pichura’s Adoption” but, let me just say, it was filled with amazing, merciful, gracious moments mixed in with much uncertainty and lots of waiting.
I know that not all of you can relate to physically adopting kids, but I know that you all can relate to waiting. It seems like we spend much of our lives waiting…waiting on someone to do or not do something, waiting for something to happen or for a situation that we are in to be over. Paul Tripp said something years ago that has stuck with me and changed the way I view waiting:
“Waiting on God isn’t about the suspension of meaning and purpose. It’s PART of the meaning and purpose that God has brought into my life. Waiting on God isn’t to be viewed as an obstruction in the way of the plan. Waiting is an essential part OF the plan. For the child of God, waiting isn’t simply about what I’ll receive at the end of my wait. No, waiting is much more purposeful, efficient, and practical than that. Waiting is fundamentally about what I’ll become as I wait. God is using the wait to do in and through me exactly what He’s promised. Through the wait He’s changing me. By means of the wait, He’s altering the fabric of my thoughts and desires. Through the wait, He’s causing me to see and experience new things about Him and His kingdom. And all of this sharpens me, enabling me to be a more useful tool in his redemptive hands.”
TURN TO: Lamentations 3:19-26
And Psalm 138:8a says, “The Lord will accomplish what concerns me.”
And, speaking of waiting, Elizabeth’s waiting for Heaven finally came to an end in 1878, just short of her 60th birthday. Her life was short, by today’s standards, but it was full of service to her Lord. She was a living example of I Thess. 5:11 as she sought to encourage and build up others through the many books, hymns and articles she wrote and the daily investment in the lives of others through Bible studies, hospitality, and discipleship.
In closing, let me read part of a letter she wrote to one gal…and may it be the very words we would speak as women here at Valley Heights:
“The more I reflect and the more I pray, the more life narrows down to one point – What am I being for Christ, what am I doing for Him? Why do I tell you this? Because the voice of a fellow-traveler always stimulates his brother-pilgrim; what one finds and always speaks of and rejoices over, sets the other upon determining to find, too. God has been very good to you, as well as to me, but we ought to whisper to each other now and then, “Go on, step faster, step surer, lay hold of the Rock of Ages with both hands.”
As we seek to love the Lord, to walk in all His ways, and to hold fast to Him…may we link arms together and whisper these truths and more to each other as we step heavenward!