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Thoughts on Marriage After 15 Years

1 Jul

Do you, Kathy, take Travis to be your husband, your partner in life and your one true love; will you trust him, respect him, laugh with him and cry with him; loving him faithfully through the good times and bad, regardless of the obstacles you may face together? Do you give your hand, your heart, and your love, from this day forward, as long as you both shall live?

On my wedding day, I answered “I do” to that question.

After 15 years, I still do.

But it’s not without sacrifice. On your wedding day, you acknowledge that the future may not be all sunshine and rainbows, but you have no idea what that will entail, and honestly, you are so in love with your new spouse, it’s hard to imagine a time when your marriage vows could be put to the test.

But in the 15 years Travis and I have been married, our vows have been tested. In every conflict and season of bad times, we have been faced with the question: were we serious about the promise we made that day?

The truth is that there are times when you don’t like your spouse. When you feel like there’s no possible way you two could be any different. When their quirks and idiosyncrasies drive you up the wall.

Many in our world hold themselves apart from their spouses, and when things get hard and their love grows cold, they cut bait and move on.

God willing, Travis and I won’t. We will continue to go to battle for our marriage. Whenever we find ourselves fighting against each other, and not for each other, we will regroup. We will humble ourselves, have the vulnerable conversations, and be willing to sacrifice and change for the good of the other.

And it is a battle. There is a spiritual war going on in every Christian household, with Satan and his demons trying to destroy, or at least disarm, the powerful picture of Christ and His church that is marriage. Satan wants the husband to pursue his own interests at the expense of his wife and family. He wants the wife to disrespect and mock her husband behind his back. He wants disunity in parenting decisions. He wants lack of intimacy. He wants two people who pass like ships in the night, orchestrating a chaotic life, with neither love nor friendship between them.

So Travis and I cannot be content with drifting apart. We can’t just focus on other things and let it happen. At the first hint of distance and disunity, we have to take action. We must apologize and admit, when the other confronts us with ways we’ve wounded and harmed. We must swallow our pride and insults. We have to refuse to bring up the past in begrudging ways. We have to choose to believe that the other person is sincere in their love and desire to change. We need to be willing to learn and grow from our mistakes, or to at least try imperfectly to do things differently. We must extend grace to the other person when they fail again.

Those things are not easy to do. In fact, they are the very opposite of easy. They are the hardest work. Fighting for my marriage requires fighting against my natural human instincts of self-righteousness and pride, of feeling justified and without blame. I must be able to admit when I’m wrong, and to see my husband’s side. Even when I think I’m right, I must be willing to allow that I could be wrong…

Because I am a sinner just like my spouse.

And that is really what it all comes down to. Do I really believe that I am a sinner, in need of a Savior? That I am just as much to blame for the problems in my marriage as my husband is? Maybe even more so? Do I believe that I am hopeless and helpless without the intervention of God in my life?

Or do I grumble against my husband, focusing on what he should be doing differently? “If only he had a daily quiet time… If only he worked less… If only he put his tools away… If only his dirty socks were taken off right-side-out… If only he contributed to household chores more… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my husband is the problem.”

I confess that I am often tempted to think that way. But he could say the same about me. “If only she didn’t care so much about the house being clean… If only she didn’t let the kids watch so much screen time… If only she didn’t buy the kids so many treats and toys… If only she gave me more physical affection and intimacy… If only she supported me more in my hobbies and time away… If these things were done my way, we wouldn’t have an issue. Therefore, my wife is the problem.”

This way of thinking will destroy a marriage if left unchecked. Like John Piper illustrated in one of his marriage sermons, when we discover that the landscape of our marriage is littered with cow-pies (all our problems and tensions and disagreements), we must get out our pitchfork and scoop all the cow-pies into a pile. We don’t pitch our tent in the middle of, or even next to, the cow-pie pile. We go find a clean area, no matter how small. That’s where we pitch our tent and live our lives. When we have to revisit the cow-pies, we will. But we will not live there.

Practically speaking, that means that I have to practice gratitude and focus on the positives. What does my spouse do right? How does he communicate love and commitment? He might be showing love and respect in a way I don’t recognize. Even if it’s not my love language, I can affirm what he is doing, while also respectfully reminding him of what does make me feel love and respected.

Finding a clean area free of cow-pies means finding some way to have positive interactions with my spouse. If all we talk about when we’re together are stressful things like work and parenting decisions, or if the only time we see each other is when the chaos of home life is bombarding us, no wonder we’re having a hard time!

Not living next to the cow-pies also means that I lay down my demand that things be the way I want them to be. If I get mad at my husband every time I’m doing laundry and have to flip his socks right-side-out, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I rehearse over and over in my mind a careless word he spoke to me without bringing it up with him, I’m living next to the cow-pies. If I am angry and bitter at him for saying he wants to do something differently, or for making a different parenting decision than I would have made, I am living next to the cow-pies.

So I must believe that I am a sinner just like my spouse, and be willing to admit that just because something is my way doesn’t automatically make it the right way. Humility is willing to admit fault and to change.

On the flip side, do I also believe that because Jesus died for me and I now have the Holy Spirit, I am empowered to change? That I am not captive to my personality or habits? That God is able to grow my spouse and me together, and bridge our chasm of differences (or at least use our differences together in a divine balance).

As Christians, we should never say, “That’s just the way I am” or “I can’t change.” We can recognize that we have unique personalities determined by God, but we must submit even our personalities to God and allow Him to sanctify them. That means we have natural tendencies, but we can fight against them if they are causing sin or strife in our lives.

In my own life, I have long struggled with anger. When I am hurt or sad, I don’t cry or mope; I get mad. When I feel overwhelmed and flustered, I get irritable and impatient. When I am tired and clumsy, I get frustrated. When I am too hot or too hungry or have to pee really bad, I get angry.

But does that mean my anger is ok? “It’s just the way God made me.” No, it does not mean that it’s ok. The way God created me does not give me license to sin. I must be willing to place my whole self on the altar, to allow the Spirit’s sanctifying power to cleanse all of me — my quirks, my interests, my strengths, my weaknesses, my hobbies, my tendencies — ALL of me.

Marriage has revealed so many layers of sinfulness in my heart over the years, and often the process of sanctification seems incredibly slow. Like, so slow that I seriously wonder if anything is even happening. But I cling to the promise in 1 Thessalonians 5:24 regarding sanctification that “He who calls you is faithful; He will surely do it.” He WILL change me!! As I look back on 15 years of marriage, I see how He HAS changed me. I’ve matured and deepened in my faith and in my relationship with Travis. So often it didn’t feel like I was growing. But the Spirit was indeed at work. The key is to keep pressing forward, and keep desiring to change. Like A.W. Tozer says in The Pursuit of God:

“Let us beware of tinkering with our inner life in hope ourselves to rend the veil. God must do everything for us. Our part is to yield and trust. We must confess, forsake, repudiate the self-life, and then reckon it crucified. But we must be careful to distinguish lazy `acceptance’ from the real work of God. We must insist upon the work being done. We dare not rest content with a neat doctrine of self-crucifixion.”

The promise of 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24 is so great that I’ll quote it again to end this post (using the Phillips translation):

“May the God of peace make you holy through and through. May you be kept in soul and mind and body in spotless integrity until the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who calls you is utterly faithful and he will finish what he has set out to do.”

Ask God to be faithful and present in your marriage, and watch Him finish what He has set out to do!

The Raw Struggles of a Homeschool Mom

2 May

I make plans. They look so good on paper. I feel optimistic, like maybe I could actually get all the stuff done that needs to get done. I’m not being unrealistic. Maybe ambitious, but not ridiculous, right?

Then life happens, and I am forced to admit that yes, any ambition in my season of life with my specific kids is ridiculous. If it’s not the baby crying or needing a nap, it’s the toddler/preschooler throwing another tantrum and becoming the wedge pulling me in multiple directions. And if it’s not him, it’s my big girls complaining about school or whining about my making them clean up the messes they’ve made. And if it’s not them, it’s the dog chewing up a poopy diaper or my husband venting frustration that he can’t find the tools that HE moved. NO ONE COOPERATES. NO ONE UNDERSTANDS THE ASSIGNMENT.

I feel good on the days we actually do more for school than just math and reading. Not just because I feel like the girls are learning more, but also because those extras are fun. They’re creative, and not just the “bang it out so you’re done” school.

But those days are few and far between. 

This season of life — baby who won’t nap without being held and wakes up 4-5 times a night (on a good night); preschooler who is intense, loud, and over-dramatic; homeschooling 1st and 3rd grade; husband who could be (and should be) working 60 hours a week — is breaking me. Both Travis and I are being swallowed up by so much stress and chaos that we might go down with the ship, and never recover. 

What does God want? Put aside the voices of other homeschooling moms, and even my own standards, and ask, What does God want from my day? Does He want me to follow the schedule I’ve laid out in my planner, forging the path no matter who I mow down or flatten? Or would He rather me walk in obedience, which looks like trust and patience? No yelling, no forcing, no threatening. Just clear expectations, and appropriate follow through.

I can’t live that way. That’s my first response. Because how would anything get done? And how can I keep my cool when they are so stinking disobedient?!

But what if, just like tithing is an expression of trusting God to materially provide what we need, acting in love and patience was an expression of trusting God to multiply the time? Trusting that what He wants us to get done WILL get done. And whatever does not get done, didn’t need to be done.

But I don’t want to surrender control to my schedule, and my agenda. I have surrendered everything else! I have surrendered my body, my time, my sleep. I have given up my hobbies, my lunch, my sanity. Must I also surrender this?!? 

“I just want to…” The death knell of those words. That’s what I was thinking this morning. “I just want to do school so we can be done!” And “I just want to go on a freaking walk!!” Those words are my discontentment. Those words are me saying to God, “I don’t want this life. You are not enough for me.” 

After studying Jesus’s awe-full sacrifice on the cross, how could I possibly say to my Lord that He’s not enough for me? I am not enough for Him!! He is everything for me, and more. 

Lord, I believe; help my unbelief. I am so overwhelmed by emotions, by frustrations and feeling thwarted by my kids in every aspect of life. Help me see and believe that YOU ARE NEVER THWARTED. Your plans are ALWAYS accomplished. Do I believe that? Do I believe that Your plans for my kids will be accomplished? 

I don’t want to admit that I’ve been wrong. I don’t want to go back to my kids, with my tail between my legs, and say that *I* was the one in the wrong this morning. Because THEY…!!! But I must. I must repent. I must choose God’s way. I must surrender. If I want true freedom, true peace, true contentment, I must do it God’s way.

Give me the strength, Lord. Give me the kind of strength You had during your trial, beating, and crucifixion. Strength borne out of complete trust in the Father’s plan.

Comfort and Deprivation {Lent 2022}

27 Mar

We’re about halfway through the Lenten season. I don’t always give up something for Lent (I don’t believe it’s biblically necessary to do so) but I do like how it increases the anticipation of Easter, much like Advent does for Christmas.

Often when someone gives something up for Lent, they use the time or resources they would’ve spent on said thing and focus on God instead. Instead of scrolling social media, they pray. Instead of buying Starbucks, they donate to a charity. Travis and I gave up grains for Lent, which hasn’t really resulted in either a time or money savings (in fact, it has cost more money and taken more time to prepare foods that don’t contain grains).

So what’s the purpose then? Well, not eating grains has prevented me from eating the usual low-hanging fruit of cereal, bagels, quesadillas, toast, mac & cheese. And those first few days were rough, because it felt like I was hungry all the time, but couldn’t just go grab something. I had to slow down and make something to eat. As I reflected on that, I saw how my soul is constantly thirsty, but I often try to appease it by grabbing the easiest thing — another cup of coffee, a glass of wine, a movie, a book, shopping, social media. My real need is to slow down and nourish my soul with God’s word.

After those first few days, we adapted and it wasn’t as big of a struggle to not eat grains. But as the days went by, I noticed how much comfort I usually derive from my food. Not that I was emotionally overeating before, but I never felt deprived. Now I felt deprived, because certain foods that I enjoyed and wanted to eat were off-limits. The feeling of deprivation is the reason why I don’t do diets, but for the period of Lent, I let that feeling remind me that I’m not supposed to feel comfortable and satisfied here on Earth. This world is not my home. I am a sojourner, an exile.

Because we stopped buying bread, tortillas, mac & cheese, etc. during this time, the kids have also been “deprived” of their normal foods (though they do still eat some grains in the form of crackers and stuff). They have done well overall with the difference, but it gave us an opportunity to talk with the girls about the anticipation of heaven, and how we shouldn’t feel completely at home here, because the world does not love Jesus.

I will confess that I haven’t stuck to no grains 100%. There have been a few times when I was so. hungry. (breastfeeding mom here!) that I caved and ate a bowl of oatmeal. It’s also birthday season in our house (all our kids’ birthdays are March, April, and May), and we had Neola’s dedication. So there’s been some cake. But giving up something for Lent is about the heart, not some legalistic requirement. Since it has caused me to reflect on and examine my desires for creature comforts and the lack of deprivation in any area of my life (except sleep!), I would say that it has accomplished its purpose so far.

It has also shown me that while I don’t plan to continue the no-grains thing indefinitely, I do differentiate between grains that are worth eating, and grains that are not. A grain that is worth it for me is a burger bun. Eating a burger without a bun is just soooo not the same. Another would be pizza — I love me some pizza (though the cauliflower crust kind from Costco is great too!). A grain that is not worth it for me is spaghetti, or really any type of pasta. I don’t ever crave pasta, so I don’t feel deprived not eating it.

Only 3 weeks to go until Easter!

Life in Quarantine, and the Start of Homeschooling

10 Apr

C4D178A9-47D8-4694-94C8-EECB4357C3D1April 12–Easter– marks one month since our family started voluntary quarantine during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It started with cancelling our plan to stay at a local hotel/waterpark for spring break.

Then school was closed.

Then Minnesota’s governor announced the shelter-in-place order, which has now been extended until May 4.

Our school district gave teachers two weeks to figure out distance learning. I stopped going in to the office, instead working from home for a couple hours in the afternoon. My kids and I read books, played board games, practiced counting and writing, measured things, put together puzzles, and colored pictures.

My girls have done a LOT of imaginative play. They first set tents up in the living room and pretended they were camping for a few days. Then they moved into the bedrooms and pretended they were staying in a hotel. For a day, they played surfing with their Lego Friends. Then for a few days, they were moms taking care of their baby dolls outside. The last few days, they have been playing Barbies, playing for 4-5 hours straight.

Sometimes they let Corbin play with them (he colors when they color) but most of the time, they don’t, so he wanders. He looks at books for a while, gets out a few board puzzles, plays with a car or blocks, then grabs his “cakey” (blankie) and lies on the floor, staring into space and sucking his thumb. When he tires of that, he comes looking for me. He loves books and iPad inside, and he loves water and sticks outside. He has his own loop outside–he wanders into the neighbor’s yard on a path through the woods from our front yard, walks through their yard (they only have a garage there as of now) down to the river, walks through the woods along the river to our dock, then throws sticks into the water off our dock.

Then came distance learning. It took us only a few days to realize distance learning was tough. And it took us only a week to give formal notice to our school district that we were going to start homeschooling.

We had actually been planning to homeschool next year already before schools even closed, before I even knew about coronavirus. I had already given my notice at work–I work for a church and knew that 1) they would appreciate a long head’s up and 2) they wouldn’t let me go before they found someone else. I was planning to be done working on May 19–the day before the last (early out) day of school. We told our girls’ teachers. We told our son’s daycare provider.

Even though homeschooling was our plan, it is still hard to have the school year end this way. The only times during this quarantine month that I have either cried or been close to tears (I am not a crier in general) was emailing my girls’ teachers and my son’s daycare to let them know that we were opting to homeschool now instead of continue distance learning. I feel for the teachers. I know their hearts are hurting. My kids loved their teachers. And it just hurts for it to end with no closure.

And then there’s the reality that instead of having all summer to get a plan in place, I am now homeschooling on a wing and a prayer. Fortunately, I had already been listening to podcasts and reading about homeschooling, and knew the general approach I wanted to take. It also helps immensely that my kids are young (my oldest just turned 7) so schooling at this age is more of a bonus than a necessity.

Just like Minnesota has had all the weather these past four weeks, I’ve had all the emotions. Gratitude, discontent, stress, simplicity, less hustle, no time to sit down, panic, overwhelm, savoring, organization, utter chaos, routine, frenzy, grief, joy.

Since this is the start of our homeschooling journey, my life will not go back to what it once was, before COVID-19. It will morph, adapt, change. We will get to see friends and go shopping and attend church again someday, but life as we knew it is gone. Even if I do go back to work one day and my kids go back to school, they’ll be older and I’ll almost certainly have a different job with a different employer.

But God. When I was dragging my feet about homeschooling, wanting to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was what God wanted us to do, instead of answering my pleas for clarity and understanding, God just repeated “Trust Me” over and over for 9 months through books, Bible studies, songs and devotions. “Trust Me.”

And even then, I just couldn’t quite step out in faith. I loved my job, and my co-workers, and I felt so useful in my role. And I didn’t know how to homeschool! And didn’t I get a job in the first place because I was losing my mind being home with my kids full-time? Would homeschooling now be any different?

Again, I didn’t receive answers to those questions. Instead, He reminded me that NO MATTER WHAT (even if homeschooling doesn’t pan out and my kids go back to public school and I feel like I gave up my favorite job for nothing), HE IS FAITHFUL. He has a plan, and His plan is to prosper me, not to harm me.

The bridge from the song Build My Life by Pat Barrett has been my anchor in this decision:

“And I will build my life upon Your love

It is a firm foundation

I will put my trust in You alone

And I will not be shaken.”

And this truth applies to all of us–those with kids or without kids, those doing distance learning or homeschooling, those weathering this storm with jobs and health, and those who aren’t: God’s Love for us is a sure foundation. When we build–nay, stake–our lives on His love for us, proven on the Cross and proclaimed in the Resurrection, we will not be shaken.

What does that mean practically speaking? It means we do not give into fear!

In our communities, we help those who need help. We say hi or at least look or smile at people on the streets and in stores. We talk about something other than the newest confirmed cases, or the latest projections. We do not hoard resources, but share with those who are in need, and leave enough for others.

With our kids, we do not worry about what gaps our kids will have in their education as a result of this, but encourage them to read, play, create, imagine. We do not isolate them from what is happening in the world, but we are intentional with how much we share, and we show them what it looks like to trust God in uncertainty.

And with ourselves, we leave room for all the emotions. We don’t demand that we have everything figured out right this minute. We recognize some days will be good, and some days won’t be. But we don’t let our emotions run wild. Instead, we run them to God. We build our lives on the foundation of His Love for us. And we remember that God has promised to be with us, in this life and in the next.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Freedom in Christ

29 Feb

I wrote back in November that I planned to start going to counseling. Here I am, on the cusp of March, with 5 sessions under my belt. Has it been helpful? Yes. Has it been what I expected? Not really.

I think I expected my therapist to overthink things like I do, and to give me deep, meaningful, existential explanations to my problems. Instead, the way she has been challenging my thinking has been utterly practical and no-nonsense. When I lament about mounds of laundry, kids’ messes, or frozen pizza dinners, her response is, “So what? Is anyone going to die if they wear dirty clothes or eat frozen pizza for dinner?”

Obviously the answer is no, so that begs the question – then why do I care so deeply? Why does it bother me so much when my house is a mess, or the laundry is undone, or I failed again to plan dinner? Even as I’ve been doing the hard work of trying to let go and be more relaxed about things, I find that there’s a tipping point. I can ignore the mess in order to go play outside with my family, but if I come back inside to find that they’ve made another mess, I lose my crap.

I honestly cannot fully explain why I have this neurotic need for everything to be in its place. And frankly, sometimes I feel fully justified in being neurotic, because isn’t this the way God created me?! This is just who I am. But sometimes it feels like my need for control is controlling me, and I can’t stop being controlled even when I try. I was expressing this to God the other day and He brought Galatians 5:1 to mind,

“For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.”

It stopped me in my tracks.

In Christ, I have freedom. Freedom from my own need for control. I do not have to be a slave to my personality that desires organization and tidiness! Armed with that verse, I have the confidence to declare that I AM NOT A SLAVE TO CONTROL. Because of Christ, I can refuse to be dominated by my need for order, and I can instead prioritize relationships.

I have long tried to wage this battle equipped with my own paltry strength. Is it any wonder that I’m still struggling with the same old thing? But this verse has given me something new, infused my soul with gospel confidence. This is my birthright in Christ. This is what He has won for me! I get to live in freedom because of my Savior!

I told my husband about this, and encouraged him, “Please, if you see me going off the rails, remind me of this verse.” I am staking my claim to freedom in Christ, and I will not submit anymore to a yoke of slavery.

Coupled with this promise, I have decided to give up yelling at my kids for Lent. That has, unfortunately, long been the way I deal with the feeling of overwhelm and stress caused by my kids either not listening to me or getting out of control. So, no more yelling. (I am hoping to continue that beyond Lent too.) Instead, I want to pray. Out loud. Instead of screaming at my kids, “We need to go NOW! Get in the car or you will be in big trouble!” I want to say, “Father, we are late. And these kids are not listening to me. Help me maintain my patience and grace, and help motivate them to listen. I trust that we will get to wherever we are going and it will be ok that we are late.”

There’s a quote from Connected Families that I have on my computer desktop – “When kids misbehave, make obedience a secondary goal, and make accessing and walking in the fruit of the Spirit yourself the primary goal.” That is the idea behind “no yelling” – instead of relying on my own power and effort to accomplish, I run to God, confess my inability, and rest in His power to accomplish.

I put this into practice this past Thursday when my oldest daughter was not wanting to go to school, and threw a tantrum. We were 20 minutes late to school, but I walked out of dropoff with a smile on my face. Because I hadn’t yelled, but had instead connected with my daughter and found out that she just plain missed me, which is why she didn’t want to go to school. I am really looking forward to seeing how God works in me over the coming months.

I’ll end with just the amazing feeling that I have of God personally ministering to my soul. I feel so unworthy of even His sideways glance, let alone of His speaking into my struggles. Counseling has been helpful, but the Spirit is the ultimate Counselor.

2020 Focus: Perspective

17 Feb

Can I write a post about my word for 2020 when it’s already the middle of February?

Too bad, I am.

My word for 2019 was Rest, and I’m not going to lie: I pretty much failed at it. Apparently, rest is not something that comes naturally to me (though I am a lover of naps). But since this post is about 2020 and not 2019, we’ll just leave it at that.

My “word for 2020” is Perspective. It’s actually kind of similar to my focus for 2016: Behold Your God, especially this quote from Glennon Melton: “I don’t want a new better life in [2020]. I just want new eyes to see that my life is already staggeringly beautiful.”  (Momastery, Best New Year’s Ever)

New eyes. A fresh perspective. 20/20 vision. (see what I did there?) Hindsight in the present.

November and December of 2019 were rough. ROUGH. I alluded to that here. And going to therapy has been helping. So has re-reading Ann Voskamp’s One Thousand Gifts again. Because what is my problem? What has it always been, and will always be?

The problem of all humanity — ingratitude.

Stomping my foot like a tantruming child, demanding my life be different. No, this isn’t the life I want. I want THAT one. The one I can conjure up in my head. You know, the one that’s only roses and rainbows, and involves none of the crap I have to deal with on a daily basis.

But that life doesn’t exist. I know this. The life I want is the glorified life, the life that only exists in heaven. I am yearning for heaven. And I will experience that one day, all praise to Jesus.

For now, I’m here, stuck in the catch-22. I can’t imagine a life without my kids, a life in which I am no longer a mom, and yet being a mom unhinges me some days. It’s this life of wife and mom that often threatens my sanity, but there is no universe in which I could just walk away.

So my biggest need, the solution to my biggest problem, is PERSPECTIVE. Do I view my family as a burden, a hindrance from my true potential, from the life I could’ve had? Or do I view them as my blessing, God’s chosen purpose for my life? My family are who they are. Parenthood is what it is. How am I choosing to look at it?

It is a choice. Gratitude does NOT just happen. Like Ann Voskamp says, ingratitude is humanity’s natural bent. Left alone, we are miserable messes, always focused on the thing withheld.

Gratitude is not just giving thanks, though that is valuable and necessary. It is above all looking for how God is at work in any and every situation. How God can use all things for good. When we give thanks to God for everything, even the hard things, we are demonstrating trust in Him. If we truly trust God, we will be thanking Him for every thing. “All is grace, because all can transfigure” (Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts).

We’re a month and a half into 2020 already, and I’ve already seen this practice of gratitude, of sleuthing for grace, infuse my life with renewed passion, energy, and yes, joy. Now the key will be: CONTINUE. Don’t stop being intentionally thankful.

So, 20/20 vision. Perspective.

A Still Winter Morning

5 Feb

IMG_5993This past weekend, I went to a Women’s Retreat at a place called Camp Lebanon. There were about 100-150 other women there, 20 from my church. I had an amazing time. The speaker was engaging and taught straight from the Bible, the worship music was powerful, and the weather was fantastic so I got to spend a lot of time outside.

Saturday morning, I went on a walk outside before breakfast. It was a quiet, still winter morning. The only sounds were a gentle breeze lightly touching the tips of evergreens, the crunch-crunch of my winter boots on the snow-covered roads, and an occasional sparrow singing its morning song of glory.

I was new to the camp, so I just set off adventuring, seeing what there was to see. I found the zipline (closed in the winter), the snow-tubing hill, a quintessential outhouse in the woods (complete with half moon on the front door), and a slope heading down to the lake.IMG_5995 I walked down to the edge of the frozen water, but didn’t dare venture further onto the lake without anyone else around. Fortunately, I discovered a trail that followed the shoreline. The snow on the trail was packed down enough that I didn’t need snowshoes.IMG_5994I amused myself by trying to guess which animal had left which footprints. I saw (I think) evidence of a rabbit, a turkey, and a deer. 

I stopped every now and then to look out at the lake and the changing colors of the sky.

The refrain from Frozen 2 was stuck in my head–“Show yourself”–and I realized that God was doing just that. Showing His glory, His power, His majesty.

My heart was so full on that walk. I rejoiced in the play of shadows and light on the trees from the sun just peeking over the horizon.IMG_6001 I stopped and gazed at a tree trunk with bark in a wavy pattern.IMG_5996 I took pictures, trying to capture the feeling I had so I could look back one day and remember. Remember how He met me out there.IMG_6005Later I read Psalm 96:11-13 and my soul said, “Yes! That is what I felt on that winter morning walk.”

“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;
    let the sea roar, and all that fills it;
12     let the field exult, and everything in it!
Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy
13     before the Lord, for he comes,
    for he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness,
    and the peoples in his faithfulness.”

This practice of gratitude, this sleuthing for God’s glory (as Ann Voskamp would say), it transforms a life!

Thankful Even When It’s Hard

24 Nov

“The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” – Psalm 50:23

All your feeds today will be full of messages of thanksgiving–how blessed we are, how much we’ve been given, etc. All of which is true. But a lot of people are also weeping this Thanksgiving, dealing with hard things, and don’t feel like giving thanks. Maybe they’re dealing with something big, like a loved one’s death; with chronic frustrations, like their child’s consistent willful defiance; or their own suffering, emotional or physical. 

That’s me. This is the first Thanksgiving without my mom. And my day today began with Emma unleashing some of her biggest tantrums to date for a good 45 minutes. 

As we drive to my in-laws’ house, I don’t feel thankful. I feel down-trodden, discouraged, and just plain sad. But then Psalm 50:23 came to mind: “Offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” And that reminds me: we don’t offer God thanks simply because we look around at our life and agree that it’s everything we’ve asked for. We don’t primarily give thanks because we’ve been blessed with family or food or a home. Rather, we give thanks to God because HE IS WORTHY of our thanks. And because no matter what we have or don’t have, no matter what we’re going through here on earth, we have a Savior and a guaranteed future in heaven with Jesus. That is why we can give thanks in all circumstances: because wherever we are, we always get God. 

So let’s glorify Him with thanksgiving, today and every day, for the good and the hard. 

Loved in Christ: A Response to Two Bestsellers

22 Nov

wintersceneI’ve  been on reading kick lately. Whether it’s because I’ve watched all the episodes of my favorite shows on Netflix (single tear) or because I’ve serendipitously chosen books that have been absolutely fascinating to me, I’ve been spending almost all my free time during naps and before bed reading.

Two of the books I’ve read are Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton and Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist. I found both books to be well-written and page-turners. I finished Love Warrior in less than a week and Present Over Perfect in just two days.

My reasons for choosing each book were different. Several years ago, I was following Glennon’s blog when her and her husband separated due to issues she was not discussing at the time. There was talk of divorce, so I stopped following her blog because it made me uncomfortable. A year or so later, I heard that they had actually not gotten divorced—they were going to counseling and working through things. Which intrigued me because reconciliation seems to be so rare in our culture. I started reading her blog again, which is where I heard about her forthcoming book Love Warrior. I preordered an autographed edition.

This book has gone on to become a New York Times bestseller and was chosen by Oprah for her book club. To that, I say: Of course it did, both seriously and sarcastically. I’ll explain my sarcastic response in a bit, but I seriously think that Glennon is an awesome writer and I truly LOVED her book. She perceives the world in a completely different way than I do, so I’ve always found her writing and perspective refreshing and challenging.

My biggest takeaway from her book (among many) was that if I want to be truly known, I have to LET MYSELF BE KNOWN.

It seems so simple and DUH that as I read her book, I wondered, “Why is it so hard to just tell the truth about who we are, about what we’re thinking and feeling and needing? Why can’t we just let ourselves be known?”

Because we are complex beings and we live in a fallen world.

Because we’ve been told lies by Satan and our culture.

Because we’ve had experiences of people rejecting and misusing what they know about us.

So we hide. We lie. We misdirect. We pretend.

This insight has shed new light on conflict in my marriage. One Saturday, we were down at my dad’s cabin helping him do some yardwork—meaning I was watching the girls while Travis was helping my dad do yardwork. We had decided to buy my old Ford Focus back from Travis’ brother and Travis said he was thinking about driving down to a town halfway between the cabin and the Cities to meet up with Matthew and get the car. He asked me if that was ok, or if I wanted him to do it later.

Inside, I was screaming, “NOOOOO!!!! IT IS NOT OKAY!!!!! I am with the girls ALL ALONE every single day of the week and now you want to leave me all alone AGAIN to go get a stupid car that I don’t even want to buy? YOU CANNOT LEAVE ME HERE!”

But instead of telling the truth, I said in a disgusted tone, “Whatever, do what you want.”

I started walking away and then remembered the truth that if I want to be known, I have to let myself be known. So I turned back and said, “Actually, could you do it later instead of right now?” Travis was totally fine with that, and it actually ended up being better, because Matthew brought the car up to our house on deer hunting weekend instead.

Another similar instance happened more recently, though in my frazzled mommy brain I cannot for the life of me remember what it was. What I do know is, it reinforced that, similar to how Glennon talks about the expectations and lies women have been fed by culture about how we’re supposed to act and be, I had been believing the lie that I am not supposed to be needy, particular, or demanding. I am supposed to go along with whatever. Don’t cause a stir. Don’t be a b!tch.

But because I wasn’t honest, Travis didn’t know how I really felt. Because he didn’t know how I really felt, I was hurt and bitter. How many times have I lied (badly) about my feelings in a certain situation, Travis goes off to do what he thinks I’ve agreed to (though it was a lie), and I get mad at him because I didn’t really want him to do it? By not being honest, I was actually causing more drama and neediness in my marriage than if I had just told the truth at the outset! So this idea of letting myself be known is truly transforming my marriage.

I LOVE it when a book rocks my world.

That’s why I found Present Over Perfect to be just okay. Shauna is a good writer (though I find her essay-style chapters sometimes confusing) but her book echoed many thoughts I’ve already had about being who God created me to be and pursuing a slower pace of life focused on connecting with people, thoughts like: “The crucial journey, then, for me, has been from dependence on external expectations, down into my own self, deeper still into God’s view of me, his love for me that doesn’t change, that will not change, that defines and grounds everything.”

But then I read this: “It is only when you understand God’s truly unconditional love that you begin to understand the worth of your own soul—not because of anything you’ve done, but because every soul is worthy, every one of us is worthy of love, having been created by and in the image of the God of love.”

Reading that, my jaw dropped.

No. she. didn’t.

As I read the first part of that sentence, I was thinking, “Oh, here it comes—a mention of the gospel, finally. A mention of how God’s unconditional love for us was BOUGHT by Christ’s BLOOD on the CROSS.” And she was leading right into with “not because of anything you’ve done”, a completely perfect place to say “but because of what Jesus has done on your behalf.” But NO, instead she goes into some mumbo jumbo about every soul being worthy. Are you kidding me?!?!

Yes, we have all been created in the image of God, and for that reason, are all equally valuable humans. But without Christ, we’re all also equally going to hell, regardless of how worthy we see our souls. Maybe I had too high of expectations for Shauna’s book, or maybe I expected more out of her since she’s Bill Hybels’ daughter and her book was published by Zondervan. But I’m sorry… just. NO.

I have the same beef with Glennon’s book, but at least with her, I already knew that her beliefs are liberal to the point of maybe not being completely biblical, so I filter everything she says anyway. This was one of my favorite quotes: “Our only hope to be fully human together is to first insist upon our right to be fully human before God. And it will only be the acceptance that I am already loved perfectly by God that will let me forgive Craig and those women for loving so imperfectly.” But even that quote is not without issues.

The problem I have with these sentences, and the ideas they’re communicating, and the books they are from in general, is the same that I have with a lot of Christian thoughts and sermons these days: it’s not they’re wrong or unbiblical per se; it’s that they don’t go far enough. We have to go all the way to the cross, to the historical event that single-handedly procured our acceptance by God and intimate relationship with Him. Without the cross, we are cut off from God. Without the cross, it is not a good thing to be fully human before God. Because our fallen humanity is JUDGED by God, and our sin demands payment—an eternity in hell. Ephesians 2:1-9 says that before we were believers in Christ, we were by nature children of wrath. Whose wrath? GOD’S WRATH.

And THAT, ladies and gentleman, is why these books are so appealing to people across the board, Christians and non-Christians alike. We’d prefer to not hear about hell, sin, blood, crucifixion. We want God’s unconditional love, because we were created to want it, thrive in it, be transformed by it. But we want it without the messiness of Jesus, without the implications of our sinfulness that come from Jesus’ hands and feet being pierced with nails. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way.

God’s unconditional love is not good news because it allows us to look at ourselves and say, “I’m worthy. I’m lovable.” It’s good news because it allows us to honestly look at ourselves and say, “I’m not worthy of God’s love. I’m not lovable a lot of the time. BUT GOD LOVES ME ANYWAY. And He proved it, and procured it, through Jesus’ death and resurrection.”

Which love is greater: loving someone who is lovable and always lovely to you, or loving someone who is unlovely and shuns you? God’s love is greater. He loves the UNLOVABLE. He loves the UNWORTHY. The Unlovable and the Unworthy are YOU and ME. This is the GOOD NEWS! He takes the NOTHING we have to offer and turns it into ENOUGH in His infinite measure of sufficiency.

First Corinthians 1:18 says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” The power of God is the word of the cross. Strip Christianity of the cross of Christ and the power of God goes with it. True Christianity is not moralism. It is not just a better way to live life on this earth. It is not just loving those around us. It is “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Christianity begins and ends at the Cross. God’s unconditional love for us is true ONLY BECAUSE Jesus died on the cross and rose again. Not because our souls are worthy, but because HE is worthy.

And that is why we can let ourselves be known, even in this harsh and cruel world: because we are already fully known by God and fully approved by Him. But let us not forget that that approval is only the result of our being clothed in Christ’s righteousness. He gets the glory; we get the joy.

Why I’m Living My Book, Instead of Writing It

7 Sep

At the beginning of the year, I wrote about how I felt God was calling me to BEHOLD Him this year. “I need new eyes and new ears to see and hear God’s glory and power in my life. The glory of His presence already surrounds me; I just need help recognizing it.”

IMG_20160105_153553It has been AWESOME seeing God answer that prayer all year long, and I have plans to share all the different facets here on the blog. But today, I want to share about how God just recently answered this prayer of beholding Him, and of having new eyes and ears to see His glory in the life I already have.

I won’t mince words—this summer has been hard. Yes, full of fun things too, but mostly hard. See my meltdown post. See my posts on grief over my mom dying. Then one day, I was praying. I don’t even remember about what—maybe my desire to write a book? Feeling like I don’t have the time or energy for doing the things I’d like to do? Anyway, God spoke to me. He challenged me by asking, “Is this about My glory or is it about your glory?”

And I realized…

All this time I have been praying for the opportunity to write and publish a book because I feel so passionate about what I’ve been learning, and think that a lot of other Christians would benefit from these ideas. But truth be told, it has also been a lot about my glory. I spent years trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life, and finally a year ago, I had the courage to declare that I wanted to be a published author more than anything else. And the book I want to write is about how joy is found in embracing the life circumstances God allows.

I didn’t need my book to be a bestseller, or to make money, or be a household name, and I surely didn’t want to end up being a speaker to big audiences. I just wanted to hold a tangible book in my hand, containing my unique words with my name on the cover. Of course, I hoped that at least a few people would read my book, but I really just wanted to be faithful to God’s calling on my life. Whatever He chose to accomplish with it was up to Him. A noble, worthwhile purpose, right?

A few weeks ago, though, God showed me that even that noble, worthwhile purpose had to be surrendered to something bigger: His will. It may be His will that I am a published author someday, but the reality of my life is that I already have two daughters. I am already a mom. And in this stage of life, my girls demand it all. I have tried for a year to write a book in my free time, and I have discovered that for me, right now, it’s not possible. Trying to write a book only made me bitter, and made me feel like I spent all my time doing crap I didn’t want to do, with no time or energy left over for doing what I did want to do.

Because I have two kids, God has called to be a mom. And I feel strongly that He has called me personally to be a full-time, stay-at-home (and possibly homeschooling?) mom. Instead of viewing my two precious blessings as preventing me from what I am called to do, I need to see them as being what I am called to do.

It is the most humbling, soul-aweing challenge for God to show me:

If I truly desire to live for His glory, if I truly believe that God is most glorified in me when I am most satisfied in Him, if I truly believe that God is the one orchestrating my life circumstances, then I will be okay with whatever God has for me.

Being satisfied in God means wanting Him above everything. Even above my dream of being a published author.

God’s challenge revealed to me:

Is my life goal truly about getting more of God? Or is my goal being an author?

Nothing less than God Himself will satisfy.

So if my goal of being an author is causing me to be discontent in my current life, being bitter about the circumstances God has lovingly handpicked for me, I must lay even this good desire of telling about God’s glories in a book down at my Savior’s feet.

I must truly surrender all to get more of God. That’s the amazing truth in all of this: I can experience and enjoy God in any and every season of life, even amidst the challenges and mundanity of motherhood. The experience of God is not limited to doing big things. In fact, it might even be easier to experience God in the small things, because big things have a way of distracting. Even as “just” a stay-at-home mom, I can have as much of God as I want, because the curtain has been torn in two with Christ’s death and resurrection.

I was surprised to discover that surrendering this lifelong dream of mine into God’s hands was not discouraging or depressing, but freeing. I didn’t realize how heavy a weight I had been carrying around, feeling like every free moment I had needed to be productive because of all I was trying to accomplish. I felt jealous of other moms who seemingly had lower ambitions. Why couldn’t I be like them?

With the laying down of this dream came the freedom to just focus on mothering well. And as I focused on that, I realized it was what I had desired all along. Of course, I would still love to write a book, or ten. If it happens later in life, in a different season, great. And if not, that’s ok.

I have often found great comfort in the story of King David’s desire to build a temple for God’s presence and the Ark of the Covenant. In 1 Kings 8:17-19, King Solomon says, “Now it was in the heart of David my father to build a house for the name of the LORD, the God of Israel. But the LORD said to David my father, ‘Whereas it was in your heart to build a house for my name, you did well that it was in your heart. Nevertheless, you shall not build the house, but your son who shall be born to you shall build the house for my name.’”

David had a desire to do something noble, selfless, BIG for God. But God told him no. David’s desire was good, but it wasn’t God’s will for him. The American Dream is still alive and well in our country, even in Christian circles. Somehow, the notion is that if we’re passionate about something and good at it, it must be God’s calling on our lives. And if we’re not doing something with those gifts, if we’re not using them for growing God’s kingdom, we’re not fully living out our faith. We’re taking our light and hiding it under a bush.

But even the desire to serve God doing good things must be subordinate to our love for and enjoyment of Him. Because often, God’s chosen circumstances for our lives don’t align with what we would choose, or what we envision. Am I serving God less by being a mom instead of an author? Am I serving Him more? No, I am just serving in a different way. I am serving God in the way He has chosen for me to serve Him.

The Christian life is not one size fits all. It is not rules across the board, applicable to every and all circumstances. We want it to be! We want the Christian life to be so cut and dry that we can take the rules and run off to accomplish the Christian life on our own without God. God knew that. So He made it necessary for the Christian life to be walked out in faith by depending on the Holy Spirit. The New Testament contains only general principles built on the solid foundation of the gospel; we need to walk with God daily to uncover what those principles look like specifically in our own unique lives.

God has called me to lay down my dream of being an author to truly embrace my calling as a mother. But He might be calling other mothers to take up their dreams and pursue them wholeheartedly. It is not about WHAT we do, it is about WHY and HOW we do it. Are we surrendering our lives to God?  Are we offering up everything we are, every dream, ambition and longing, to God and allowing Him to be the answer? Are we glorifying God by being satisfied in Him? The fleshed-out specifics will look different for everyone. There is a time for everything under the sun, and we are all in slightly different seasons and stages of life and sanctification. But we will united under the banner of:

SATISFIED IN GOD ALONE

The ironic thing in God asking me to lay down my dream of being an author is that He is calling me to put into practice the very ideas that I want to write my book about.

So for now, I’m living my book, instead of writing it.

 

“No good things does He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84:11)

“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

“The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.” (Psalm 138:8)