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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)

A Perspective for the Messiness of Motherhood

18 Jul

I am hemorrhaging sanity.

And it’s not just that I can’t remember to do things, or recall basic facts. Or that I can’t think a coherent thought or accomplish anything requiring adult mental capacities.

I’m talking complete psychosis. A full mental breakdown. Like I’m one horrible day away from pulling a stunt like Vivi Abbott Walker did in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood: just up and leaving one day, telling no one where I’m going, or for how long. Except I’d probably escape to Canada instead of Mexico, simply due to proximity.

Motherhood is relentless. And truth be told, it’s full of a lot things that are just plain boring, and other things that are actually odious. Stay-at-home moms like myself work all day doing things that immediately get undone. There is no actual task that is ever completed once and for all. My job is to simply keep the chaos at bay. If my house looks exactly the same at the end of the day as it did at the beginning, I have been productive.

In my finer moments, I actually don’t mind doing dishes or laundry. I don’t mind grocery shopping or meal planning. (I do hate cleaning, and it shows.) But after a while, doing the same thing over and over to simply maintain the status quo starts to wear on you.

And that doesn’t even touch the tip of the parenting iceberg. Take the never-ending loop of household chores, add in a screaming toddler and whiny preschooler, subtract any time for yourself—that’s the recipe for total mental meltdown.

I can’t help but compare myself to the women out there who seem to be unruffled by anything, who seem completely confident and competent in their parenting decisions, who have tuned their family routines to be a finely humming orchestra, and who still have time to get ready each day, make elaborate and fun meals, blog, write books, pursue hobbies, exercise, and take amazing Instagram pictures of it all. I mean, who are these women?!?!

That’s not me. I’m just throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. My life is a total crapshoot. I don’t have the confidence or insight to know what routine or rhythm would work well for our family, and even when I do have the slightest hint, I lack the discipline to carry it out.

It’s right about here that the voices in my head start piping up. One says that I should just extend grace to myself because I have two young kids, one of which has not slept well for the past 9 months of her life, and the other is a very high-energy, high-need child. The other voice says that making changes to our family routine isn’t about increasing productivity or trying to run a business on the side. It’s about survival. Because I am literally losing my mind, and that is not working for me.

I haven’t even figured out how to accomplish the basics on a regular basis. I frequently find myself completely over grocery shopping and meal planning, so I just don’t do it. Travis asks what’s for dinner, and I shrug. What I want to say is “I don’t effing care, you figure it out.” Instead, I stumble to the kitchen on the fumes of willpower and hodge-podge something together using frozen vegetables and a box of pasta.

I clean bathrooms about once a month. I change sheets about every two. I can’t remember the last time I vacuumed downstairs and we have never washed windowsills in our current house (even though they are disgustingly filthy).  The girls can sense whenever I’m mustering up motivation to accomplish something out of the ordinary because without fail, that’s when they unleash their most unruly tantrums.

All my fantasies lately are about relaxation. It’s me, a good book, and a bed. I check out of my life by reading some brain candy. Reading transitions into naptime. After naptime comes leisure time. Remember leisure time, time to do the things you enjoy? Does that still exist somewhere in the world?

Instead, I find myself trapped in a life that requires me to spend all of my time and energy on things I don’t want to do, like change poopy diapers, fix 10 snacks a day, clean up messes and spills every five minutes, schlep four armloads of stuff to and from the beach for an hour of play, and my favorite, deal with two screaming, tantrum-y kids simultaneously while my husband is out fishing.

The cherry on top of the crap sundae is the nitpicky bickering in marriage over NOTHING and EVERYTHING caused by both spouses being overextended and stressed out. Somedays I’m *this close* from going to bed for the rest of the year.

Don’t get me wrong, I have a wonderful husband and my marriage is actually in a pretty good place. Even so, it often echoes the theme of my life right now: EVERYTHING IS A BATTLE. It’s a battle to be a loving spouse. To let things go in the name of unity and love instead of demanding that things be done or said how I want them to. To find time and mental energy for doing thoughtful, kind things for my husband.  To view him as more than just the replacement babysitter or the impediment to doing what I want.

It’s a battle to parent. To control my own emotions and use wisdom instead of anger and heavy-handedness. To balance spending time with the girls and getting things done. To just get enough freakin’ sleep.

It’s a battle to manage my household. To maintain the necessary energy and level of giving a crap to keep up on all the monotonous chores. To not compare my house organization and decorating style to other women’s, or to at least not feel like mine’s a bag of lumpy cheese compared to theirs.

It’s a battle to be a Christian. To find time for Bible study, prayer, evangelism, serving, and all the things I think I “should” be doing.

It’s a battle to have personal time. Actually, let’s be honest, the battle is to be ok with not having personal time, with having a long list of things I’d like to do but don’t have the time or energy to do after having spent all of my time and energy herding toddlers, completing the basic tasks of survival, and preventing our house from being condemned.

But in the midst of all this “NESS” (as my old boss Carol Ann Kelly used to say), you want to know what’s awesome?

Jesus came for messes like me.

We Christians often say to unbelievers that you don’t have to clean yourself up in order to come to Jesus. In fact, “if you tarry until you’re better, you will never come at all.”

What we don’t often say is that this is a message for us too. Because even when you put your faith and trust in Jesus, you don’t stop being a mess. You don’t stop being a sinner in need of a Savior. In fact, sanctification–the process of becoming more like Jesus in your character and spirit—almost always involves seeing more of your sin, admitting your mess, and humbling yourself through repentance and apologies. Sanctification is sacred work, yes, but it is borne of blood, sweat, and tears. “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Hebrews 12:11).

I usually think of discipline as “the practice of training people to obey rules or a code of behavior, using punishment to correct disobedience,” but it can also be defined as “the practice of training oneself to do something in a controlled and habitual way.” Learning to repent and apologize for my own sin is discipline, but so is spending my days doing things I don’t want to do. It is painful in the moment to persevere in the cycle of clean, wash, organize, tidy—especially when my flesh is screaming “I don’t want to!”—but this verse in Hebrews reassures me that IT IS ALL WORTH IT. In my unbelief cloaked by twilight, all I can see is despair, discouragement, and the lie that It Will Always Be Like This. But at the faintest hint of dawn, when tendrils of sunlight touch dewy grass, my languid soul is revived and I am reminded that God is using even this to accomplish His purposes, “…that he who began a good work in [me] will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6).

So then, the truth of God’s love and redemption remains the same. It is just as true on the days when the refrigerator is bare, I’ve lost my temper three times before noon, and I never change out of my pajamas, as it is on the days when I sneak in a run and Bible study before breakfast, the girls are getting along, and I am caught up on chores.

And that’s the challenge—are we willing to come to Jesus at all times, in our competence or in our mess? Are we willing to surrender our life, whether it’s going well or it’s hitting the fan, to God and His purposes? Or will we stand far off, demanding control and wishing life were different, unwilling to let ourselves rest or be healed because of our pride and stubbornness?

The messiness of motherhood reminds me of a beloved quote from Joel Warne’s book Soul Craving:

There are times, though, when transformation simply doesn’t come, times when our hunger for a new way to be remains unfed. At those times… simply rest with God in your problem. Simply be with him in your sin, your emptiness, your failure. Rest quietly with him in your confusion, your paralysis. Sit next to him in the wound that won’t heal, the pain that won’t subside, the desert that never ends… Here the still center of your love affair with Jesus Christ rests steady, unmoved, unquenched, unconquered by your unresolved messes. Here your love for God really does take precedence. It is no longer a means to an end, a kind of convenient tool to work your own liberation…

Sometimes, our very desire to be transformed into the new creation God wants us to be must be considered rubbish in comparison with simply knowing Christ. Is it enough for you to simply love him? To draw close to him, to offer him your affection? If intimately abiding with Jesus produced no change at all within you, could you be satisfied to simply remain with him in all your painful, unresolved stuff? (199-201).

Even in the messiness of motherhood, we must come to Jesus. We must keep our eyes fixed on Him, and Him alone. Not on Pinterest or Facebook. Not on “other moms” or “other bloggers.” Not on what we “should be able to handle” or what life was like before kids. ON CHRIST ALONE. On His provision of mercy and grace for this moment, right now. He wants us to live in continual dependence on Him and His Spirit, and He will use the circumstances of our lives to get us down on our knees in humble submission.

How does one reclaim sanity amid the never-ending demand and crisis that is parenting?

I don’t know.

But I do know that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1) and “the LORD will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever” (Psalm 138:8).

And with promises like that, who needs sanity?

Make Time for Yourself by Trusting in God

21 Jun

IMG_20160621_105344An idea that seems rather ubiquitous right now in the online and book world for women, moms in particular, is “Prioritize yourself.” What they mean by that is to intentionally carve out time for yourself to pursue your own interests, to do things because you want to and not because you have to, and to get sufficient rest instead of running yourself ragged.

That this common theme is being touted by many sources in a variety of contexts shows that this is a message moms need to hear. If my experience proves anything, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking you always need to “be on”—that if you don’t do something, it won’t get done; and if it doesn’t get done, all hell will break loose.

Just the other weekend, Travis and I took the girls to a nearby waterpark. Usually I’m the one who packs the suits, towels, change of clothes, sunscreen, etc. But that day, Travis remarked that he was packing a bag with our clothes. So despite the weird feeling of not being in control, I let go and let Travis pack. When we arrived at the waterpark, however, I discovered that he had meant he was packing our changes of clothes, and we had brought nothing for the girls—no clothes, no regular or swim diapers, and no swimsuit bottom for Annabelle (we had put sunscreen on before leaving the house). My initial reaction was anger and “See! If I don’t do things, they don’t get done!” After 5 minutes and with diapers loaned from our friends, I settled down and could admit that it really was just a breakdown in communication—Travis had thought I was packing the stuff for the girls.

It’s incidences like that that make us moms feel justified in our “Woe is me, I never get a break” attitude. I often feel bitter at Travis for his asking to do stuff on his own or for himself (like running errands alone, going fishing alone, etc.) but the truth is, I could ask to do things for myself too, but I don’t. Why is that? It’s because of this idea that I need to continually manage things, or they won’t get done.

The bigger and more truthful truth is that they most likely will get done… they just won’t get done the way I do them, or when I would do them. There are those times they really don’t get done, but you know what? The world keeps spinning. All hell doesn’t break loose. And I hate to admit it, but there are even times when I realize that… certain things aren’t even necessary. (Shocker, right?)

That means it’s ok for me to use a naptime for writing, even if it means the dirty dishes and Mount Laundry remain untouched. It’s ok for me to leave the girls with daddy on a Saturday to go on a run instead of run to the store, even if it means we scrounge through the fridge for a hodge podge dinner that night. It’s ok for me to head to Bible study even if Annabelle isn’t down for the night, and it means Travis will have to handle putting both girls to bed on his own (like I have done many times).

The more I’ve analyzed my reluctance to take a break from being the mom and adult, the more I realize that that reluctance comes from pride. It comes from me thinking that I’m indispensable. That no one can do what I do, or more accurately, no one can do what I do exactly the way I do it. And My Way is the Right Way.

Last week, Travis and I had a dinner date to talk through some challenges and communication issues in our marriage, and we realized that all this time, we’ve been thinking that to be on the same team as parents, we needed to handle situations exactly the same way. What a ludicrous thought! We don’t need to be the same parent to be on the same team—we just need to agree on overarching principles and have one another’s back on in-the-moment decisions.

This is why it’s good to remind moms—especially Type A, OCD, control freaks like me—that it’s ok to take a break, and that the world won’t fall apart in their absence.

BUT…

We are humans, which means we are sinners. And there is an aspect to this idea of “Prioritize yourself” that could prove to be unhelpful. Satan knows that we are, by nature, selfish. In his sermon “Splitness” using Romans 7:1-9 and 18-25, and the classic book “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson, Pastor Tim Keller agrees with Stevenson that all the evil in the world is caused by self-centeredness: “Every thought centering on the self.”

What I’m trying to say is: our sinful, selfish selves could take this bait of prioritizing ourselves and use it to our detriment. We can fall into the mindset that we “deserve” to have time to ourselves, that we “need” to pursue hobbies for our own mental sanity, and that we’re “losing our true identities” in the throes of motherhood. Some of the most dangerous, discontentment-breeding words for a mother are “All I want is…” “All I want is some peace and quiet.” “All I want is to drink my cup of coffee before it gets cold.” “All I want is to read a single paragraph without being interrupted.” “All I want is for the kids to go the eff to sleep already!” Let’s be honest, we really don’t need anything tempting us to be more selfish. Because we do a fine job on our own, thankyouverymuch.

But, you might say, moms are being reminded to rest and pursue their own hobbies because they are pouring out every single drop of energy and focus on their families! That’s not selfish.

Or is it?

As I’ve already pointed out, my own reluctance to taking a break comes from pride, from a self-concerned need to control everything. In those instances, I’m refusing to do what I really need to do for my own mental health and energy levels because I’m more concerned about the laundry getting done, or Travis not feeling abandoned, or the girls not being a handful. I have a puffed-up estimation of my own importance.

Those are the two extremes. On one hand, there is the extreme of playing the martyr and running on fumes to serve your family. On the other hand, there is the extreme of thinking that we are entitled to our own time and need it at all costs.

But there is a third way. It is a delicate balance between the two, and only possible by depending on God’s guidance through the Holy Spirit.

We humbly come before God and relinquish our indispensable mother role. We admit that He’s got our family in His hands, and we can rest and sleep because He never does. We can see the reality that we have been doing too much, and trying too hard, because we were depending on ourselves to get it all done. We receive the gift of rest, and of pursuing hobbies, and of doing things that simply delight us, and we appreciate the people who enable it to happen.

But we also hold those gifts with open hands, so that on the days that naptimes don’t overlap, or daddy feels sick when he’s supposed to watch the kids, or kids don’t sleep well so our morning routines aren’t possible, we have grace. We don’t mumble or grow frustrated that we were robbed of the time that we needed for ourselves. We believe that God will provide for us exactly what we need. Some days His grace comes in the form of time to rest or pursue hobbies. Some days it comes in the form of sustained energy and patience in the face of kids throwing tantrums and babies who won’t sleep.

Yes, it is good for moms to rest. Yes, it is good for moms to pursue their hobbies, or simply get time away. But let us pursue these things in faith, trusting in the God who “richly provides us with everything to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17) and who “[supplies] every need of [ours] according to his riches in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:19).


“Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16:24)

“‘Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.’” (Matthew 6:34)

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:3-11)

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:4-7)

Letting God Manage My To-Do List

2 Feb

IMG_20160126_124010You may have noticed that my blog posts lately have just been updates on my girls. That’s not because I haven’t had thoughts I wanted to write about. I do have thoughts, and I do want to write – it’s just that when I sit down to write, sludge comes out. A few words emerge from the muck of my brain, but they’re incoherent and incomplete. Even writing this paragraph has been sludge-like, letters forming into words at the speed of molasses.

My problem is that I have too many thoughts. There are too many things going on in my head. This actually happens a lot. I’m struggling with things, so I go to God in prayer but I can’t even get words out about my emotions because there’s just too much all at once. It’s like there’s this giant bottleneck at the point of my thoughts merging into external expression. (At those times, I’m incredibly thankful that God knows my thoughts without my needing to actually say them!)

This also happens when I’m talking to Travis. Poor guy. I often start telling him about an idea I had but while I’m talking, a voice in my head counters it or offers a different idea, and I swerve mid-sentence to disagree with my idea before I have even finished telling Travis about the original.

Just as I am a chronic over-thinker, I am also a chronic over-planner. I suffer from the condition known as “Too much to do and too little time.” I frequently find myself stressed out over my own imposed to-do list – things that I alone have decided must be done.  During this past Christmas season, when I was just beginning to see this tendency of mine, I found myself thinking, “Well, when the holidays are over, things won’t be so crazy.” Before I had finished that thought, the dang voice in my head interrupted and said, “No they won’t.” And I realized, that voice was right.

I have been stressed out over my imposed to-do list since even before I had kids. There’s this blog post from my life pre-kid, lamenting my ability to turn even a day off into a stressful situation.

The truth is that I’m not stressed out because of the time of the year, or because I have two young kids, or even because one of those kids is a toddler tornado. The “too much to do” does not come from the laundry, dishes, cleaning, grocery shopping, diaper changing, mess cleaning reality of being a wife and mom.

I’m stressed out because of me. I’M THE PROBLEM.

My stress comes from wanting to do extra things like update baby books, create scrapbooks, write blog posts and books, plan elaborate birthday parties, repurpose furniture, decorate the house, go thrift store shopping, get my craft on.

In short: THINGS THAT AREN’T NECESSARY.

It’s the unnecessary things (that I like to think are necessary) stressing me out.

But here’s the tricky thing: it’s also the unnecessary things that bring me joy.

For several years, I fell into the trap of feeling like I “should” do certain things because they were either expected of me, or because I was trying to “keep up with the Joneses” as it were. But that’s not the case here. If I didn’t want to scrapbook, craft, decorate or update baby books, I wouldn’t. But I DO want to do all of those things – because I ENJOY THEM. (Case in point, back in high school, I planned a formal New Years Eve party in high school FOR FUN. Formal as in, we sold tickets, wore formal dresses and suits, and held it in a hotel ballroom. Kudos to my mom for indulging my whim and helping me with the process!)

So it’s not that I’m doing things I don’t want to do. I have whittled my list of All the Things down to those that I personally want to prioritize, but I still don’t have enough time in a day to fit it all in. It works on paper, and I have contemplated implementing a more rigid, set schedule for the purpose of using my time wisely and intentionally. But then the girls have several days when for some unknown reason, they don’t follow their usual routines and the whole idea of having a set schedule seems laughable and completely unrealistic.

Obviously I don’t have the answer to the question, “How do you do it all?” (Not that anyone’s asking me that anyway, ha!) I’m caught between wanting to be intentional with my time and wanting to be flexible for whatever the day holds. I don’t want to be completely rigid, but I also don’t want to fritter away minutes here and there on “who knows what.” Minutes add up to hours, and hours to days, and think of the things that can be accomplished with that kind of time!

The only thing that has brought me peace in the midst of this swirling whirlwind of emotions and plans is trusting God. Several years ago, God used a particularly stressful time of my life to teach me that while I love me a to-do list, it cannot serve as the agenda for my day. Peace comes from holding my plans with open hands, doing the One Thing in front of me, and entrusting the rest to God.

I like to picture God sitting at a big table, tall enough that I can’t see the top, with all of the items of my to-do list sitting before Him in 3-D form. He hands me the first item, saying, “Do this first.” And I do it. When I’m done, I go back to Him. He hands me another. “Now do this one.” My job is to complete the tasks He gives to me; His job is to show me which tasks to do.

Every Tuesday when Emma goes to daycare, the list of what I want to accomplish that day is 15 items long, all of which take at least an hour. There’s absolutely no chance under heaven that I’m going to even make a dent. So I lift the list to God in prayer and ask Him to help me spend my time wisely, and to trust Him to provide me with the time and energy for the things that He intends for me to get done.

In addition to prayer and the Spirit’s leading, part of what helps me determine what the One Thing to do is priorities. What’s the higher priority? Spending time with God should be #1, so that is often what I do first. I also give priority to things that are timely, like making a meal to bring to a family who has a new baby; scheduled, like doctor appointments; or necessary, like eating lunch.

Beyond that, I often experience the Spirit’s leading by feeling energized to do the task. There have been many times when I look at my to-do list and two things seem to be equally important, but I feel excited about doing one and drag my feet about the other. So I do the one I feel like doing. That doesn’t mean I never do the things that I drag my feet about – otherwise, I would never clean bathrooms! (As it is, I clean them much less often than I should.) But on the whole, it is much more enjoyable and efficient to tackle tasks when I feel up to them, instead of forcing myself to do them on a timeline I’ve arbitrarily determined on my own. Almost always, if I postpone a task that isn’t timely and I don’t feel energized for, I end up feeling energized for it a different day.

Obviously, though, I’m not in charge of everything, and many days involve unforeseen, annoying or undesirable circumstances. This way of approaching each day is still valid in those moments — because it’s God adding a few items of His own to my to-do list. Like I’ve said before, if I truly want joy, I must embrace the circumstances God allows.

Walking through my to-do list each day with God in prayer and faith that He will provide for what needs to get done, and take care of what doesn’t, has brought me immense peace and joy. And freedom! Before I learned this, I couldn’t sit and read a book without feeling guilty about not being productive. Now, I believe that if I want to sit down and enjoy a book, and have the opportunity to, I can do so without feeling guilty.

My desires are not something to be “overridden” by what I think I should be accomplishing. Jesus is not a taskmaster. He does not demand that I accomplish x and y each day. Rather, Jesus invites me to take His yoke upon me, and promises that when I do so, I will find rest for my soul. What is His yoke? “…having accomplished the work you gave me to do.” His yoke and burden were determined by God. He let the Holy Spirit guide Him through each moment of each day, and didn’t worry about how everything would be accomplished, or how He was being perceived, or what He should teach next, or where.  “For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment—what to say and what to speak.” (John 12:49)

Unfortunately, I still let my to-do list act as my taskmaster and slave-driver too often. I still get stressed out and overwhelmed by having too many things I want to do and too little time. But I’m making progress. I’m growing. I’m learning to walk by faith, and not by the sight of seeing my to-do list checked off. 😉 I do believe that God cares more about character and connecting with others, than He does about productivity and efficiency.

As for finding time to do everything I want to do, I don’t have an answer. Instead, I bring myself back again and again to this quote from Elisabeth Elliot: “When there is a deep restlessness for which we can find no explanation, it may be due to the greed of being — what our loving Father never meant us to be. Peace lies in the trusting acceptance of His design, His gifts, His appointment of place, position, capacity. It was thus that the Son of Man came to earth — embracing all that the Father willed Him to be, usurping nothing — no work, not even a word — that the Father had not given Him.”

If God intends for me to do something, whether it’s as important as spend time with Him or as trivial as making a scrapbook, He will provide the time and energy for it. I can trust that God will fulfill His purpose for me. My #1 job is walking in daily dependence on Him.

“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:16)

Behold Your God {2016 Focus}

5 Jan

IMG_20160105_153553

“How we behold determines if we hold joy. Behold glory and be held by God.

“I know what I want: to see deeply, to thank deeply, to feel joy deeply.

“Don’t I give God most glory when I am fully alive? And I am most fully alive beholding God!”  (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts, pages 113 & 118)

……………

“I don’t want a new better life in 2016. I just want new eyes to see that my life is already staggeringly beautiful.”  (Glennon Melton, Momastery, Best New Year’s Ever)

……………

“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Psalm 119:18)

“They shall see the glory of the LORD, the majesty of our God. Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who have an anxious heart, ‘Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.'” (Isaiah 35:2c-4)

“Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’ Behold, the LORD God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” (Isaiah 40:9-10)

……………

Over the past few days, God has spoken to me. Through the Tim Keller sermon we listened to on our drive home from Grand Rapids. Through a song we sang in church on Sunday. Through a blog. Through Ann Voskamp’s book that I can still quote verbatim though I haven’t read it in several years. Through Bible verses.

And He’s saying: This year, BEHOLD ME. Behold My Power and My Glory.

Because honestly, as I stare down another year, I am fearful. I am scared about what this year has in store for me and my family. Usually, a new year brings excitement and freshness, a renewed commitment to priorities, a chance to start again. And while I do feel that, I also feel SCARED.

It’s not a mystery as to why I feel this way. My mom’s battle against cancer has been sobering and shown me how not-in-control of our lives we really are — making the idea of New Years resolutions seem rather petty and laughable. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.'” (James 4:13-15)

“Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand.” (Proverbs 19:21)

I think these passages in James and Proverbs show that it’s not wrong to make plans. It’s just wrong to trust our plans more than God, and to live like we know what’s best for us. We may have ideas about what good things we want to happen in 2016, but we don’t know what’s best — because often, God giving us what’s best looks nothing like we expect it to, and truthfully, it’s not what we, in our limited insight and vantage point, would choose. Yet, the truth remains that “no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Psalm 84:11).

So I feel God prompting me to hold this year — and all it will contain, whether good or bad — with open hands, to wait and watch expectantly for Him to prove Himself faithful, and to behold His power and glory. I believe, in the depth of my being, that God’s way is the best way. It has to be, if He is the God the Bible says He is, and the God I believe He is.

But it takes FAITH, oodles and oodles of faith, to believe this day in and day out, in the mundane mediocrity of the everyday and the heart-wrenching trials of the hardest times. 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.

So that’s what I’m praying and hoping for in 2016 — new eyes to see how staggeringly beautiful my life already is, because no matter what happens this year, my greatest need is already met: I have a Savior.

When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,
It is well, it is well with my soul.

Though Satan should buffet, though trials should come,
Let this blest assurance control,
That Christ hath regarded my helpless estate,
And hath shed His own blood for my soul.

My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!