A Growing Grace…At Home

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“…and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”  Titus 2:4-5

Travis and I made a big decision in the past few months.  After the devastating loss of our  unborn child in December, God has gifted us with another little one due to arrive in November.  For the last year and a half, I was working part-time at our church while our firstborn played happily at Grandma’s house.  However, we believe that God has led us with this new baby to arrange for me to stay at home with the kids.  I have now officially been unpaid, though still happily employed as wife and Mommy, for the last three weeks.  A new season.

Each life season has been significant for me spiritually.  I spent 15+ years in Bible college, seminary and on the mission field as a single woman.  The opportunity to grow in Christ was immense in that context.  As a newlywed, having been married not quite 3 years, I have found a new training ground for godliness, particularly as my goodness (or lack thereof!) is revealed in almost constant light in close quarters with my wonderful husband.  Perhaps the deepest grace growth is taking place in my heart through our four pregnancies- two losses, one very difficult pregnancy and labor that brought us our beautiful baby girl and now,  another pregnancy that has happily left the “I live on bathroom floor” stage and has moved to the sore muscles-constant heartburn stage. My battle with fear, anxiety and neediness through these difficult days has been a wonderful place to learn how much I depend utterly on the Lord’s mercy and how unable I am to control my own sanctification.

Now, I enter the season of stay-at-home-mom.  I anticipate this season, because I feel a kinship with so many women who have gone before me in the centuries.  When the Bible was written, being a stay-at-home-mom wasn’t really a special privilege or choice in a long list of career options.  It was pretty much a given for most people.  I have no issue with women in the workplace- I was one myself until a few days ago!- but I still relish the challenge that comes with taking on this ancient calling.

Some of it scares me.  I have a personality that doesn’t do mundane and routine very well.  While I might be able to be the Mommy that works to make everything “fun”, I also get impatient and dissatisfied when there’s too much of the same thing.  I need God to grow me in that.  I also am afraid that I won’t be intentional enough with my daughter and our new little one.  I worry that I won’t adequately  communicate God’s love and mercy, along with His righteous ways.  I know in these recognitions of my weakness that God wants to reveal His strength through me- the very woman He chose to bless with these lovely, imperfect, image-of-God-bearers.

As I jump into this new adventure (as we ENFPs are so happy to do), I am praying for wisdom, for godly counsel and for a true oneness of heart with my husband in our parenting.  I am already printing out daily schedules, prepping Jesus-centered preschool curriculum,  getting my FlyLady cleaning routines down and planning extra time in the Word to prepare for mentoring relationships and the Bible study God will inevitably prompt me to write.  Yet, in all of the fun newness and anticipation, I desire to leash in my heart toward humility.  I must stay aware of how far in grace I need to grow to fulfill my mission of being a godly “keeper at home”.  I know that our Lord was faithful to bring me to this place and He will be faithful to perform His work in me.  I’m sure there will be days that I cry, and even kick and scream along the path of growth, reminding me more of my toddler than of the dignified, gracious woman I long to be.  But He is the patient, loving Parent I am seeking to model myself after, and I know that my Father will get me there, in His time.

On to the next season!

 

How A Miscarriage Is Different for a Christian (And How it Isn’t Different)

Note: This post contains somewhat graphic medical details.

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I lay in bed on Christmas Day suffering a nasty stomach flu while my dear husband and 18 month old daughter were celebrating Christmas with family.  I was miserable and lonely, but as I waited out the illness, I turned my heart to the Lord.  I was thankful for the immense blessings He had brought to me.  I specifically thanked Him for the new life that was growing in my womb.  As I lay in the dark unable to sleep, I focused my prayers on that little one, praying that he or she would grow like Jesus, in wisdom, stature and favor with God and man.  It was a precious time with my Lord and my little baby.  Little did I know, it would be the last time I sat in stillness and “held” my tiny baby in my heart.

Through the week, my stomach flu seemed no better, and finally, on the Thursday following Christmas, I went and saw my OB. I had been fearful about my baby’s life, as I had miscarried at six weeks with our very first pregnancy.  I was now twelve weeks along, nearing the end of my first trimester.  The nurse at the clinic took a reading of my baby’s heartbeat.  The little one was moving around so much it took a moment to get a good reading.  I heard a steady beat of 160 per minute and breathed a huge sigh of relief.  When the nurse left me alone for a moment, I began to weep and to confess my ongoing fear to the Lord.  I praised Him for preserving my baby’s life and asked Him to give me faith that He was with me and our baby.  My husband joined me in giving thanks and we went home with hope that I would soon recover from the stomach bug and we might enjoy a happy new year with our expectant joy.

I went to bed that night feeling on the mend, and at 2 AM woke up to use the bathroom.  I lay back down and suddenly felt a wetness that I instantly knew was not normal.  In the time it took me to walk from my bedroom back to the bathroom, I had a sudden rush of water and blood and my child seemed to just fall from my womb.  I was completely shocked and began to wail, waking my husband to the terrifying sound.  We saw together the little baby that we already loved and had prayed so much over.  It’s body seemed so perfectly formed, but it’s life was gone.  In a moment, without any warning, our child was dead.  I was not pregnant.  We were grieving.

As anyone who has had a later miscarriage knows, things are not over quickly.  When I miscarried at six weeks, it was devastating, but physically not unlike a bad period.  This miscarriage was much more violent and traumatic.  Though I lost the baby in that one terrifying moment, my body had a lot of work to do to get rid of the remaining placenta and tissue that had housed that tiny life for 12 weeks.  My husband and I spent the night dealing with the physical pain and mess of miscarriage while holding each other and praying and grieving our sudden loss.

As Christians, the Holy Spirit immediately began to minister to our hearts in the midst of this tragedy.  I remember the first thing I thought of when I had cried to my husband that our baby was gone was that this precious one was already with Jesus.  That little body that I longed to restore to life did not define the existence of my child.  The soul of my unborn baby was with my Lord and I would see it again someday.  I was immediately comforted by that thought and it brought me through the moment of saying goodbye to the body that once contained that little life.

The Lord reached out to me in the dark as I suffered through the physical and emotional pain, speaking hope of resurrection.  My spirit longed for God’s restoration and redemption of all things  in a deep sobbing cry.  But we had hope.  Real hope.

As Christians, however, we still are having to walk through the pain of losing a child.  We still have to choose to put each other first and not allow that grief to make us selfish, closed-hearted people.

As a Christian, I still had to endure a procedure to remove remaining placenta, once a source of life for a tiny child.  Now just something to be discarded.  I still endured the agony of a long, empty ultrasound determining that my womb was indeed void of life.  My husband had to experience this right along with me, trying to be a rock to his grieving wife, while enduring the loss himself.

Perhaps the most surprising thing is the fear that I have experienced as a result of this miscarriage.  The loss came very suddenly, without any warning- no spotting, no cramps- and after a positive prenatal exam.  It was a very violent experience and as a result, I have experienced symptoms similar to those who go through trauma.  The night after my miscarriage,  I dreaded putting my 18 month old daughter to bed.  When she finally needed to sleep, I was so anxious.  She slept with a humidifier with lavender essential oil, and I had a completely irrational fear that we had put too much oil in the diffuser and she would be poisoned by it.  We prayed that my fears would be calmed and that I would trust in the Lord.  Yet, I worried.

When we went to bed, as soon as my husband went to sleep,  I had a full blown panic attack.  Although I had not slept at all since I lost the baby, I could not sleep and had trouble breathing and felt that I may be having a heart attack.  I believed firmly that I was going to die without immediate medical attention.  After hours of trying to suppress the panic through crying out to God, I woke my husband and told him I needed to go to the ER.  He rightly realized that I was having a response to the trauma I had just been through, and held me and prayed for me for a long time.

As morning approached, I was able to sleep and as my husband had assured me, my life had been preserved.  I was so ashamed of my fear and I repented of it to the Lord.  However, I felt no condemnation.  Rather, He led me to read how trauma works in our bodies and minds and I realized that even though I am a woman who puts her trust in Christ, I am still a woman.  A human.  I am not exempt from human experiences because of my faith, and sometimes that includes things that effect my emotional and mental health.

I began to think on how the world is cursed since the Fall.  I did not blame the loss of my child on God- death is the result of sin.  God sent His Son to redeem us from the curse.  He is the Giver of Life and He is the Restorer of Life.  He is the Resurrection. I saw then that this applied also to our experience with the death of our child.  Just as I must suffer the ramifications of the curse- the physical pain that came with miscarriage- I must suffer the emotional and mental pain.  I was not sinning when I had a panic attack.  My body and mind were responding to real trauma.  Just as I looked to God to restore my child’s life at the Resurrection, I needed to look to Him to restore my soul, mind and body.  I needed healing, not to just “trust God more”.

This changed my prayer from one of self-condemnation and apology to God to one crying out for His healing touch.  I prayed for Him to heal me and my husband- for physical healing, healed hearts and restored mind.  My husband has prayed for me so diligently and sweetly and we see God answering and bringing restoration day by day.

It has been 4 1/2 days since I lost our sweet baby.  I felt very strongly that I needed to share this story because others may be walking through the same thing.  I wanted to share the honest truth that miscarriage, in many ways, is no different for the Christian. The expectation that it should be- that somehow we should not struggle with these things- is a false one.  It is a lie of the Enemy that if only we had better faith, we would not deal with the mental and emotional pains that come with traumatic loss.

I also wanted to share the wonderful truth that in so many ways, miscarriage is different for the Christian.  We really do have hope of resurrection.  It’s not a platitude.  It’s a real, glorious hope.  We really do have a God who reaches us in love and comfort that can not be explained.  We really do have a heart transformed by His Spirit that can allow us to reach out in the midst of our own pain and love others selflessly.

I pray that you know the immense love and grace of Christ in whatever pain you suffer in this broken world.

When Idols Are Cute

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A Buddha sits on the shelf in my friend’s bathroom.  My friend isn’t a believer in Jesus and to him, it is just a happy, little fat guy that gives his LA apartment some Asian flair.  Harmless.  Cute even.

Most Christians I know wouldn’t have a Buddha adorning their bathroom shelf.  Millions of people bow down to similar statues every day, even feeding the little gods from their own meager food supply. But we Christians don’t bow down to idols. True, we probably wouldn’t be tempted to a lifetime of slavery to a false religion if Buddha sat next to our deodorant and flameless candles, but we just don’t want idols on our bathroom shelves or anywhere else in our homes or lives.  We are committed to flee from idols.  We pray for the natives of Papua New Guinea who live in animistic fear.  We may wonder whether Catholic friends can really be Christians if they have a statue of Mary in their homes. We probably even avoid a fung shui approach to decorating our living rooms- after all, it’s derived from Eastern mysticism.

We might feel pretty good about our commitment to flee from idolatry.  Our homes are decorated with Bible verses, but not images of God or gods.  We know that God is Spirit and we don’t worship him in graven form.  We are Christians, not pagans.  Not idol-worshippers.  Buddha does not have a home on our bathroom shelf.

There are other kinds of idols that we have become aware of.  We know that we must be careful not love money, success, sex, food or other people more than we love God.  We know that we are to strive to love God first.  We all battle this kind of idolatry and most genuine Christ followers are aware of their personal struggle with this kind of heart idolatry.  Hopefully, we are taking those things to the cross every day.  I have my own heart idols.  Fear is a big one.  And I need Christ to work in me to overcome that and bring my heart back to Him every day.

What I want to talk about here though are the idols that we may be completely unaware of.  I want to address those cute, fat, innocent and smiling idols that are sitting on the shelves our hearts.  We didn’t realize that they were idols. They are just, well… cute.  They are idols, nonetheless. They are the things we love so much more than they are worth loving.  Cute, worthless idols.

I am talking about those things in our lives that make us feel good, but don’t draw us to Christ.

-The favorite TV shows that capture our imaginations, our time and too much of our conversation with others.

-The trips to the beach, the local pub or to Disneyland that cost us so much that we aren’t sure we can give time or money to our churches anymore.

-The baseball fan club that eats up every weekend and leads us to hours of worthless Twitter feeding.

-The epic video games that leave us at the end of a long free Saturday with dishes in the sink, laundry still on the floor and absolutely nothing of value at the end of the day.

-The Facebook addiction that keeps us answering name test quizzes, posting our best selfies and comparing our lives to everyone else’s at a rate of approximately 16 checks per hour.

-The beer, coffee, wine or foodie passion that keeps us throwing time and dollars at the next, great experience for our taste buds, all the while growing our ability to sound intelligent and cultured when we snub the choices and offerings of less sophisticated palettes.

-The girls’ nights out that are full of fun, a few drinks, a lot of laughter and very little substance.

I’ve only touched on a few happy, cute idols, but I’m sure I’ve struck a few nerves with some people.  Believe me, I’ve struck some of my own nerves!  I have met very few American Christians, especially in my own generation that don’t have at least one of these cute little guys hanging out on their heart’s idol shelf.   He may look more like Mickey Mouse, Dr. Who, Harry Potter or Buster Posey than Buddha, but it’s there.

A lot of the things that I mentioned are not bad, in and of themselves.  That’s what makes this kind of cute idol so deceitful and destructive.

How do we know if one of these things or something else has become an idol on the shelf of our hearts?

The first clue is probably that we get pretty defensive if anyone comments on our favorite idols.  We should prayerfully check ourselves if we hear ourselves saying things like:

“It’s not an idol!  It’s just something I enjoy and there’s nothing wrong with that!”

“Besides, YOU have this other idol, so who are you to judge me??”

“I could be into something so much worse.  What’s a little Disney addiction compared to alcohol, drugs or cheating on my wife?”

“I work hard!  My time and money are mine and if I choose to spend it on these innocent things, then that’s my own business.”

I know I’ve been guilty of this kind of thinking.  The very fact that I would get defensive of my favorite things is a strong indicator that they have become more precious to me than they are actually worth.

Once, when I was a teenager, I had some of this idolatry pointed out to me by my father and it made me mad.  I was a huge fan of the Beatles as a teen.  I loved the early stuff- the romance without all the sexual charge of the music of my own generation.  It was fun.  It was innocent, I thought.  I collected posters, decorated my room in a 60s theme and sat by the radio at night trying to record songs off of oldies radio on to cassette tapes to listen to later.  My siblings and cousins got into it with me, and we loved to talk about the Beatles.  We were true fans, even if we were about 30 years late!

My dad told me one day that he thought I was way too in to the group for a Christian.  I immediately got defensive.  I thought about how judgmental my dad could be.  About how he never seemed pleased with me.  I wanted to tell him about how all of my friends were lying and sneaking around behind their parent’s backs.  About how other kids listened to Top 40 music that was really worldly. About how he should get off of my case, because I was a good kid listening to innocent music and having completely harmless fun.

As I sat in my self-defensive pout, God spoke to my heart.  He revealed to me that the reason I was so defensive was because I didn’t want to give my love of the Beatles up.  It made me feel happy.  It helped me escape from the mundane of my teenage life into a fantasy of boys, rock music and other-worldliness. I was ashamed when I realized how much love was going toward something that was so worthless.  The posters came down and I cooled on the Beatles for a while.  Later, as a very young adult, I got into their music again, for the same happy feelings that got me into them in the first place.  Yet again, God spoke to my heart.  It’s not that it’s so evil.  It’s just so worthless.  So I stopped listening again.

There have been a number of times in my life that a similar heart cleansing has needed to happen because of happy idols that perched themselves there.  Looking back on some of it, I am embarrassed to even admit I let those worthless things become such loves.  There were idols of books, movies and video games that “took me away” from my heartaches, an idol of baseball that made me feel part of something bigger than myself and even a few “healthy lifestyle” obsession idols that made me feel like I was more worthy of love.  These idols all needed to be cleared off of the shelves of my heart.  Strangely enough, when by God’s grace, I evicted an idol, many of my Christian friends accused me of “not being true to myself”.  It’s sad that “myself” had come to be synonymous with these things of no intrinsic value in the minds of some of my friends and family.

The thing about my heart and yours is that we don’t keep empty shelves.  We are looking for something to fill us up.  If you look at the various idols I mentioned, they are all being used to try to fill a real heart need.  We use happy little idols to try and bring ourselves happiness.  We use them to escape from heartache because we can’t bear the pain of this life.  We use them to make us feel a part of something greater than ourselves.

The Bible says, “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (Jeremiah 2:13)”.  When God spoke these words about His people Israel, He was angry.  He had brought His people out of slavery.  They were His own sons and daughters.  Yet, they kept turning to false gods and worthless things to satisfy them.  How insulting to the God who broke their bonds and gave them every good thing!

The happy little idols on the shelves of our hearts are essentially our own attempts to gather water from empty, broken wells.  We need fresh, life-giving water, yet we go and look for it in all the wrong places.  We have been freed from slavery and made alive in Christ for a glorious life of freedom (See Romans 5 and 6).  The thing that is so heart-wrenching about our idol worship is that, while our happy little idols do no great harm, they completely distract us from being filled with everything that is incredibly good.  We might have lives filled with meaningful loves, days filled with true joys and hearts full of every spiritual blessing.  Instead, we clutter the shelves of our hearts with fat, smiling meaninglessness.

Jesus is offering so much more to us.  He is eagerly desiring to fill us with His resurrected life.  He desires to make something magnificent of us (2 Peter 1:3-4).

The question is, will we have the courage to leave behind the loves that fill us to really experience His fullness of joy? If we will let go of the meaningless fillers in our hearts, we can find true fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

There was a defining moment in my life a few years ago when I became more fully aware of the great tragedy and wickedness of the happy idols in my heart.  I realized that I was hiding my heartache, guilt, shame, feelings and unworthiness and obscurity behind worthless pleasures that acted as Band-Aids on my broken heart.  I chose at that moment to LIVE without self-medicating, no matter the pain.  I wanted the abundant Christ life- in all of its peaks and valleys.  That decision would be the beginning of a transformation that I have experienced and continue to experience.  I still battle my days of temptation to try and find satisfaction in a happy idol or two.  I am sure that there are still some that I am not quite aware of.  However, since I committed this part of my life over to Christ, I am being truly changed on the inside.  My taste for meaningless pleasure has significantly faded.  My ability to embrace the joys and sorrows of life has brought me to the throne of Grace in thanksgiving, tears, desperation and great rejoicing.  Christ has shown me that no place in this world is “the happiest place on earth”, but He has traded my empty idols for something far beyond.  The Psalmist said it best:
Psalm 16:5-11
5The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
6The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

7I bless the LORD who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
8I have set the LORD always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

11You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Prayer Waters, Love Blooms

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“But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.” Matthew 5:44

When I read these words as a young college student, I couldn’t really say that my little brother was my enemy, but it certainly felt like he was trying to persecute me at times!  Our sibling challenges were what you might imagine.  When I read this verse one day while on a break from college courses, I felt that God was calling me to pray for my little brother.  I was specifically led to pray for him as he struggled to catch up in reading and writing after a hard childhood interrupted by cancer.  As I prayed, my annoyance with him was transformed into patient love.  I ended up dedicating my semester off school to help him grow in his reading.  It was the first time I had witnessed prayer transform my heart toward another person, and it stuck with me for the rest of my life.  God was showing me that when a seed of love is watered with prayer, it can really bloom.

I am so thankful that God let me learn this important spiritual principle when I was young.  It was a critical part of how God led me to marry my husband, Travis.  Travis was friends with my brothers, and they all lived in Broken Bow, NE.  He and I met when my brothers invited him on our family vacation in January 2014.  We hit it off right away and had been dating long-distance for a couple of months when he came to visit me in California.  The visit ended on Valentine’s Day, and I thought it had been real, promising and wonderful.  I realized that Travis Wood was exactly the man I had been asking God to send to me for a lot of years.  I knew I was in love and was confident he cared for me.

The trip left a different set of emotions with Travis, however, and after a few days of soul searching, he called me and said that he needed to break up with me, in order to figure out some things in his own heart and mind.  He left me with the hope that, should God sort things out for him, he thought I was the right woman for him, but he couldn’t get things sorted and maintain a relationship with me at the same time.

I was devastated.  My first reaction was to try and shut my heart off to Travis to shut off the pain.  Thankfully, God immediately spoke to my heart through His Word and other trusted people, including my parents. He led me to take all of the hurt, feelings of rejection and fear and leave them at the Cross.  He allowed me to maintain the seed of love he had planted in my heart, and I began to pray.  I prayed whenever I felt pain, whenever I felt joy, whenever I felt tired of waiting, whenever I felt angry, whenever I had free-time.  Sometimes, I prayed for Travis for hours in a day.  I refused to distract myself with entertainment and sleep and, in Christ’s strength, I fought off the desire to hide hurt behind anger or indifference.  I prayed through the Psalms; I prayed for his heart, for my heart and for God’s sovereign will to be done.  I kept my prayers in a journal, sometimes bemoaning the long wait for any answer and sometimes rejoicing greatly at God’s action on our behalf.  During this time, God took that seed of love in my heart and watered it.  In a way that only God could manage, in the separation and time of silence between us, my love for Travis moved far beyond feeling “in love” to becoming something deeper, more selfless and more lasting.

God answered my prayers with power and amazing grace after a “long” wait. (OK, it was nine weeks, but I was in love!)  Travis felt that he could confidently enter back into a relationship with me and because of my prayer life during our time apart, I was able to receive that relationship without hesitation.  I knew it was all in answer to my surrendered, but fervent prayer.  We were engaged only a month later, and since then God has bestowed on us more blessing that I could have imagined, in our marriage and with our beautiful daughter, Eva, born last July.

I share this personal story to encourage you.  If there is a broken relationship in your life, a friendship that’s been wounded, an impossible family situation or any wound related to another person that is making love a difficult thing to find in your heart- pray for that person.  Pray when you feel like it and when you don’t.  Let prayer become the water that Christ uses to makes love bloom in your heart!

 

Resolving to Be More

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So, what should my New Year’s resolution be this year? Lose weight (as usual), a new house cleaning weekly plan, read more, walk more, bake for others more?”

I realized as I was thinking through the multitude of possibilities for a New Year’s resolution that there was a common theme among them–            I resolve to do more.  My seemingly innocuous search for new resolve revealed a core belief of my heart– the belief that I’m not doing enough and that maybe a plan, a new calendar and a healthy dose of self-induced guilt will make me do more and consequently, let me be more.                                                                                        

It’s moments like these where I am so thankful for God’s still small voice letting me know that I’m once again venturing off into my self-praising, self-bettering world of busyness.  There are countless women’s Bible studies, Pinterest boards, Facebook articles and clever devotionals for me to wallow in as I try and build my self-worth and “lovableness” on a foundation of me doing more and being better.

The heartbreaking thing is, that in the middle of all of this ME doing, I am in danger of missing all that God is doing.  I fail to sit with him and enjoy a cup of coffee with Him in the morning.   Or if I do sit with Him,   it feels dry and mechanical– a check on a box to fulfill my resolve to “be in the Word more”.

I get an incoming phone call from a godly friend.  I know she wants to talk about the joys, struggles and challenges of new mommy-hood.  The conversation would be life-giving to both of us.  But good wives have the chores done before their husbands are home from work (right??), and I still haven’t figured out what healthy and tasty meal I am going to get on the table before we run off to an evening of ministry activities.  So, I let the call go to voicemail and skip the opportunity to connect with and encourage a sister.

I hold the sweet, beautiful baby that the Lord gave to me after years of praying for a husband and children and instead of snuggling her closely, delighting in her smiles and praising God for how fearfully and wonderfully made she is, my mind races to the dishes in the sink, the unfinished work in the office, the bathroom that hasn’t been scrubbed in ?? days…  The list goes on.

Now, I understand that life is busy.  For me, busy looks like being a wife and mom, having a part time job, being involved in ministry, keeping a home, having friends and a few personal goals.  That’s just reality for anyone living in this world of toil, and diligence is praised in the Scripture.  What I am talking about is my endless quest to be a better version of me through doing more. The ironic thing is, I never get it all done anyway.  I choose to worry and plot more efficient means to accomplish housework, more ways I can serve in ministry, more ways to earn and save money.  I look in the mirror and resolve to be better dressed, slimmer with better hair and somehow, more acceptable to God, my family and others.

And in the midst of all of my resolutions, I don’t actually have time for people.  I don’t actually feel like I’m doing anything very well.  And more tragically, I don’t have time or an ear to hear God’s voice.  I’m too busy trying to be better to really understand what it means to be in Christ.

If I am going to resolve to do anything in this New Year, it is to embrace the words of John 3:30, “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  The next year, I want to be less about fixing me and more about celebrating the Lord and all that He is doing in and around me. I know this isn’t going to be easy, and you can remind me of my resolution when you hear those “I need to be more” phrases coming out of my mouth.  Maybe I won’t have a decorated house, a healthy meal plan and a dynamic ministry under my belt by January 2017.  But if I have learned any more how to be filled with the presence and Spirit of Christ, I will be light years beyond anything I might have accomplished in my own strength and resolution.

 

 

A Season of Expectation

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Image taken on my trip to Paris in the Christmas season of 2012-2013.

This is short article I wrote for our church’s newsletter this week, and I decided to use it as my blog post during a busy Thanksgiving weekend.  Blessings to you and your loved ones in this joyous season!  

This time last year, I stood in church alongside you all and sang Christmas carols.  In my heart was a secret and joyful expectation.  Travis and I were expecting a child.  It was still very early in the pregnancy, and we hadn’t shared the news yet.  We were waiting to tell our family at Christmas, the perfect time to rejoice in the coming of a precious child.  As I sang of  the silent, holy night when Christ was born and Mary’s honored role in the coming of redemption, I couldn’t help but feel a sense of closeness with Mary in my own expectation of a little one.

Christmas is a wonderful time of expectation.  As children, we grow up giddy with anticipation for stockings, presents, Christmas lights and goodies.  As adults, our joyful expectation often shifts to seeing the delight  on our children’s faces and spending precious time around the tree and table with loved ones.  Ultimately, that feeling of expectation is intended to draw our hearts to the Long Expected One, Jesus Christ.  We prepare for weeks to celebrate His birth and allow the anticipation of the holiday to build up, I imagine, in a microcosm of the expectant joy that burst forth from the angels as they sang “Glory to God!” the night Christ was born.

Expectation is a God-given feeling that is intended to draw us to Him.  Our feelings of expectation, however, are often misplaced.  It’s a sad reality that the season of Christmas can often be one of great depression .  Whether it be sinful envy and greed, the stress and busyness of holidays or fear, grief and loneliness that mar the delight of the season, often our expectations are disappointed.  Not only is this true at Christmas, but  throughout our lives, we put our hope in other people, our dreams, careers, health and even our things, and we are disappointed.  We can become bitter and jaded, unable to rejoice in the gifts of this season.

What Christ offers us at Christmas time (and any time!) is a hope and expectation that will not be disappointed.  With His birth, salvation has come.  His life, and ultimately His death and resurrection, give us a real expectation of forgiveness, reconciliation, freedom from sin and death, the guidance and power of the Spirit and the Word, and eternal joy.  When we put our expectation first firmly in Him, we are able to allow our hearts to fully embrace the joyful anticipation of the season.  We can take our struggle with envy, fear, grief or loneliness to the One who came to bring joy to the world, peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Then the lights, the gifts and the warm family moments can all be used to remind our expectant hearts of His love.

 

Faith Like A Child (Or a Puppy)

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Since we lost our first baby to miscarriage at six weeks in October 2014, I have been struggling with fear.  We were pregnant again fast, in November, and have since welcomed our beautiful Eva Millie who is nearly 4 months old.  She has been wonderfully healthy and happy, yet I was finding myself sometimes paralyzed by the fear that I could lose her.  That fear grew and after the birth of my child, I was often in tears. Instead of enjoying our precious moments together as a young family, I worried.  Every time I got sick, I would wonder if God would take me from my little family.  Every time my husband left the house, I thought I might never see him again.  Every time I put my baby to bed, I was tempted to hover over her to see if God had taken her from me in her sleep.

I didn’t want to feel this way.  I prayed and prayed for peace and my mind would come back to two realities.

  • Any of those things could very well happen.
  • God has not given me a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind.  1 Timothy 1:7

I searched my heart and Scripture looking for relief from my fears.  I listened to music and Psalms that were meant to refocus my heart on God.  I asked God to show me what was my hangup that kept me from peace.  You see, it wasn’t as easy as “Trust God.”  I needed healing and I didn’t even know it.

At our church, our pastor often says that if we are having sin and despair, the problem is that we either do not trust that God is powerful or we do not trust that He is good.  Or both.  I realized that I did trust that He was powerful.  I knew He could and would do whatever He wanted.  But I knew bad things happen.  I had seen it a thousand times in my life and others. And I had felt it most truly in the loss of our honeymoon baby we never had the chance to know.

One night, a few weeks ago, I was riding in the car with my husband and we were discussing my overwhelming fear.  We had both been praying that God would deliver me from it, and Travis had some profound insight.  He mentioned to me that I had never shared with him (or anyone) the actual physical experience of my miscarriage and the feelings I had gone through.  I had cried and grieved the loss of our child, but I had never put to words the traumatic experience of actually having that child leave my body.  I broke down sobbing and  finally shared the details with him of that terrible day.  I lost the baby during our second wedding reception (a month after our wedding).  I was wearing my wedding gown and meeting dozens of new friends and family.  It was a nightmare.

As I opened up this gaping, unhealed wound, I began to see healing come.   I realized that all of my fear for the lives of my family stemmed from this reality- I had lost a child.  God let that happen.

So now what?  How would I grow past my fear into power, love and a sound mind?  I knew I needed to learn again how to trust God’s love for me and for my family.   Since that day, God has slowly been delivering me from my fears and renewing my trust in Him.  Yet, the terrorism experienced globally this week has revived many of them, and I’m sure I’m not alone in that.

Today, the Lord brought to light an illustration from my life that showed me where my heart needs to be.  We have a (nearly) four month old baby daughter, Eva, and a (nearly) seven month old baby English bulldog, Winston. Both of them trust me completely.  They know I love them.  They never doubt it.

Now, sometimes, Eva has to wait to be fed.  She has to go to bed when she wants to dance.  She has to get in her carseat when she’d rather not.  She gets upset with me.  She cries.  She even screams at times. But I know what she needs.  I never forget about her.  I am always looking out for her.  And the beautiful thing is, when I go to her and hold her, feed her or free her from her carseat captivity, she is all smiles.  She is ready to accept my love and provision.  She doesn’t hold it against me that she had to wait or that she didn’t get what she believes she needed.  She doesn’t lie awake at night wondering if I will be there for her in the morning, or if I will take away everything she loves.  She trusts me.  I gave up my body for her.  I’d give up my life for her.  Somehow, she intuitively knows that.

Winston is pretty much the same.  I have to discipline him a lot. He gets squirted with a water bottle when he’s naughty.  He has to go in his crate when I go to work and to sleep at night.  He isn’t allowed to have Eva’s pacifier or Sophie giraffe, even though he wants them so badly.  But he never stops trusting me and even adoring me.  He’d follow me anywhere and delights just to sit with me for a little while.  He lives for it, really.

And all of that faith, from Eva and Winston, is placed in little ole, fallible me.  (Thank God I know He is taking care of them when I fail!)

That’s the kind of faith that I need to relieve me of my fears.  The faith of my child and my puppy dog.  The faith that knows I am loved and that my Father is able.  The faith that believes that even if it doesn’t feel good or even if it takes longer than I’d hoped, He will rush in and save me when I need Him.  He will be there.  He is fully invested in me.  After all, He gave His life for me.

The Lord is my light and my salvation;

whom shall I fear?

The Lord is the stronghold of my life;

of whom shall I be afraid?

–Psalm 27:1–