Tag Archives: Christ

Relearning the Same Old Things

17 Nov

Do you ever feel like you keep learning the same lessons over and over again? Like you have a certain struggle, pray about it, journal about it, and finally have an “aha” moment, only to discover some time later than you had actually learned that same lesson six months earlier?

Just me?

It happens to me all the time. Just tonight, I was going through old files in my Dropbox account, and read a gem from 2014. Here’s the context:

“The first 3 months of the year were spent getting our house [in Denver] ready to sell, selling it, and moving 1,000 miles. The next 3 months were spent living with Travis’ parents while Travis worked, studied for an engineering exam and we found a house. For the next 3 months, Travis worked long hours and traveled a ton, while Emma and I unpacked, visited family and friends, and got settled into a routine. These last 3 months have continued the trend of Travis working a lot (50-60 hours/week at home; 60-70 when traveling), which means he’s often unavailable on weeknights and weekends. He feels spread too thin in every area of life and I feel like we never see him. He feels hounded and I feel bitter. Additionally, we’re still feelings the effects of moving to a new place, and the time it takes to settle in and feel ‘at home’.”

Emma (1.5 years old at the time) was also dealing with tantrums, refusing to nap without being held, and fighting going to bed at night. We had to bring our two dogs outside on leashes because we didn’t have an in-ground fence installed yet. And my mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and given 2-3 years to live (she died in February 2016, about 14 months after I first wrote these words).

This is what I want to make sure has a spot on the blog, (because I do come back and re-read blog posts often, to remind myself of all the truths I’ve learned, and need to relearn!):

{originally written November 2014, some minor edits made November 2022}

I was just reminded of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 11, where he lists all the trials he has endured as a servant of Christ. At the end of them, he says, “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

It takes faith to believe that Christ’s grace is sufficient. Because in the face of my current trials, it honestly does not feel sufficient. My trials feel a lot bigger. My endurance and hope feel small, growing weaker by the day, and I find myself wallowing in self-pity.

But that’s because I’m focused on my own ability, my own sufficiency. “How can I handle this? How can I make it through this?” Paul welcomed the opportunity to realize his complete and utter lack. He knew that his need, fully and frankly acknowledged, would open the door for
Christ’s glory and sufficiency to be displayed.

Notice how Paul doesn’t deny his weaknesses, or the difficulty of his situation. He’s not living in LaLaLand or completely immune to his suffering. But he also doesn’t go to the place of self-pity. He retains his hope and determination because of Christ’s power in him.

So instead of self-pity, my response to trials can be one of realism and humility. I can still acknowledge that the situation is hard, but instead of my joy hinging on the need to feel capable in and of myself, or having the circumstances change for the better, I can sit in the feeling of need, and the hard situation, and humble myself at Christ’s feet.

Hard things happen in life. Hard things are made even harder when I refuse to look for and see the good. When I refuse to offer God the sacrifice of thanksgiving, I destroy my own joy with my selfishness, greed, discontentment and impatience. It is not circumstances that bring happiness – it is my reaction to those
circumstances.

And that’s where the supernatural, transforming power of the Spirit comes in. I am incapable of making the sacrifice of thanksgiving without God
enabling me. Like Ann Voskamp says, “Ingratitude was the fall — humanity’s discontent with all that God freely gives.” My natural bent is ingratitude. In my natural state, I only tell God that “It’s not enough” and “This isn’t what I
want.”

I have to admit, some days, in my sinfulness I’d rather have my own plans realized than find joy in accepting what God allows. But it is a losing battle to fight against the circumstances of life. If I truly want joy, I must instead fight against my ego, my pride, my selfishness, my impatience, my expectations, my demands, and my standards. I must even fight my dreams and desires, because all I am must be surrendered at the foot of the Cross. And regardless of when or how I am made weak, I can trust God to meet me with His strength.

“O my Strength, I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on
my enemies.”
Psalm 59:9-10

“Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.” Psalm 34:10b

“Steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.” Psalm 32:10b

“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

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.

Hope: Don’t Give Up {2022 Focus}

23 Mar

My word for 2022 is HOPE. The subtitle for that word is Don’t Give Up. The Scripture God gave me for the word HOPE is Lamentations 3:21-23 —

“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

An alternate translation of verse 22 is:

“It is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.”

It is God’s mercy to me that I am not consumed by this season of life (parenting four young kids and homeschooling). It is because of His compassion to me that I haven’t given up and curled into the fetal position indefinitely. There are so many moments, even whole days when I am tempted to. Because it all feels like too much. From my viewpoint, I am falling short in every area — parenting, homeschooling, homemaking, personal goals.

When one is trying so hard to do something right and well, but still meeting with failure, it would be understandable to just give up, right?

But God’s steadfast love prevents me from giving up. He sustains me by giving new mercies every morning, mainly in the form of HOPE.

The way I’m viewing HOPE is this: Hope doesn’t give up. Hope doesn’t look at the challenges before it and grow discouraged. Hope isn’t cynical or pessimistic. Instead, Hope continues to believe that things can change. Hope keeps showing up, pressing forward, living faithfully into God’s calling for that day. Hope accepts what God allows, even if it is not what was wanted.

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to “call to mind” God’s mercies for HOPE so far this year.

When I want to work out in the morning, and be productive after the kids go to bed, but sleep deprivation from baby Neola makes extra sleep the greater priority, I have to remind myself of hope.

When I feel incapable and daunted by the thought of and need for potty training Corbin and sleep training Neola, I remind myself of hope.

When the girls are showing troublesome attitudes and Corbin is throwing yet another tantrum, and I am tempted to feel like I’ve failed them as a mother because of what I’ve allowed them to do, or acted like myself, I remind myself of hope.

My natural human reaction to these discouraging and overwhelming situations is self-pity. Like Oswald Chambers writes,

“Most of us collapse at the first grip of pain. We sit down at the door of God’s purpose and enter a slow death through self-pity.”

(Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest)

But HOPE reminds me that I don’t have to give up, or collapse in the face of these challenges. God gives new mercies. I can trust Him to keep providing, day by day, what I need. I can trust Him even if I don’t meet my goals, if I lose my temper again, if my house is a mess, if I can’t figure out how to get Neola to sleep better. My purposes may remain unfulfilled, but HIS purposes will be accomplished.

God’s provision of new mercies every day won’t mean that I wake up in the morning or enter different situations feeling competent or on top of things. I hardly ever feel that way, and I actually think that is intentional on God’s part. Jesus fed 5,000-plus people with just five loaves of bread and two fish. He didn’t produce a banquet table laden with food. He just stretched the existing food farther. He takes the little that we have, and He makes it enough, as we need it.

As I’ve been digging into Lamentations 2:21-25, I read in a John Piper sermon transcript (from almost exactly 28 years ago),

“Our task today is not to have the strength needed for tomorrow’s burdens. Our task today is to live by the mercies given for today, and to believe that there will be new mercies for tomorrow. Today’s mercies do not include strength for tomorrow; they include faith that tomorrow’s unseen mercies will be sufficient for tomorrow.”

(John Piper, “Today’s Mercies for Today’s Troubles,” March 13, 1994)

I love that. Like the manna given to the Israelites in the wilderness, God gives just enough for each day. I must live in moment by moment dependence on Him. And because His provision of mercy for this day, this moment is always sufficient (and abundantly so!) for my need, I can always have HOPE.

Here’s to a hope-filled year.

Tuning My Heart to God’s Grace

24 Jun

20150617_181941More often than not lately, I have felt completely overwhelmed. This whole taking care of a newborn and a toddler requires more than a little creativity and patience. I thank God that Annabelle is such an easy baby! Otherwise, I would surely be losing my mind. As it is, I feel more than a little frazzled and brain dead.

Why is it that when I feel overwhelmed and underequipped that I would rather stew in my unpleasantness and misery than run to God? Like Ann Voskamp says,

“For all my yearning for joy, longing for joy, begging for joy–is the bald truth that I prefer the empty dark? Prefer drama? Why do I lunge for control instead of joy? Is it somehow more perversely satisfying to flex control’s muscle? Ah–power–like Satan. Do I think Jesus-grace too impotent to give me the full life? … If I am rejecting the joy that is hidden somewhere deep in this moment–am I not ultimately rejecting God? Whenever I am blind to joy’s well, isn’t it because I don’t believe in God’s care?” (One Thousand Gifts, 130).

In these moments, I need something to pull me out of the depths of my depravity and remind me of truth. The Bible is one way, but I find that worship music makes my heart sing God’s glories far deeper and faster than reading. The two songs that I have been playing on repeat for the past couple of months are Lord, I Need You by Matt Maher and You Make Me Brave by Amanda Cook and Bethel Music. (Click on the links to listen to the songs.)

I wouldn’t say that I’m a lover of poetry necessarily, but there are certain songs that just word things in a way that GET ME. These songs are two of them.

Lord, I Need You

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
And where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
And when I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

You Make Me Brave

I stand before You now
The greatness of your renown
I have heard of the majesty and wonder of you
King of Heaven, in humility, I bow

As Your love, in wave after wave
Crashes over me, crashes over me
For You are for us
You are not against us
Champion of Heaven
You made a way for all to enter in

I have heard You calling my name
I have heard the song of love that You sing
So I will let You draw me out beyond the shore
Into Your grace
Your grace

You make me brave
You make me brave
You call me out beyond the shore into the waves
You make me brave
You make me brave
No fear can hinder now the love that made a way

…………………..

I praise God for songwriters, singers and musicians. I’m not any one of those things, but I’m so happy they exist!

Only Jesus is Pinterest-Worthy

5 Jun

cross pinterestUnless you live under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard more than one person bemoan Pinterest as a guilt-producing, confidence-shattering machine of impossible expectations. Perhaps that person has even been you.

For myself personally, I have to be very intentional about how much I use Pinterest. Or Facebook, or blogs, or TV, or magazines. It’s just so. easy. to fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else has it more together than I do. Their houses are decorated better and don’t look like a tornado touched down by 10 am. Their kids are doing crafts everyday that are both fun and educational. They not only get dressed every morning, they put on a cute outfit and do BOTH their hair and makeup. Then they enjoy a hot cup of coffee in silence while taking in a beautiful view.

Pinterest produces guilt and feelings of inferiority in us because it embodies perfection. Anyone who has ever taken family pictures, especially those involving young children, know that the picture-perfect moment only needs to last a split second to be caught on film. You just need one nano-second where everyone is looking at the camera with a smile for a good picture. Who cares that before that briefest of moments one kid was crying, another was trying to pull her hair out and the parents were clenching their teeth in frustration? The winning picture belies all of that, and thus dupes the onlooker into thinking that that family’s life is all roses and rainbows. That’s what Pinterest is. It’s the nano-second snapshot of unrealistic perfection.

Ok, so what? If we know that, why does it still bother us so much? Because every picture of perfection reminds us of the thing that so many people spend their lives trying to ignore — we know that deep down inside, there’s something wrong with us. Tim Keller says it much more eloquently in his sermon “Splitness” (an amazing sermon that I highly recommend), but we all recognize, in some form or another, that we aren’t all we were meant to be. If you’re tempted to disagree with me, I say look around at the self-help industry, blogs, magazines, TV shows, commercials. They are all selling improvements — ways to better yourself, your life, your relationships. Deep down, we know that we’re all missing the mark somewhere.

So are the people posting those snapshots of perfection on Pinterest. Sure, their 2-year-old’s birthday party had a cake that looked like an actual pirate ship, they all dressed in costume (no toddlers threw tantrums about wearing the eye patch?), and they even found pirate-themed wrapping paper for the 15 different presents they bought. But how many hours of sleep did they sacrifice with those efforts? How many hours of TV did their child watch while they prepared all of the necessary party decorations? We’ll never know, because the party pictures don’t tell us that.

That’s one reason why I’m committed to being an authentic blogger. When people portray their lives as perfect, we aren’t encouraged. We feel inferior, condemned, pathetic. But when we see someone who does some things well and other things… not so well, we see a real human being. And a real human being is someone who we can learn a thing or two from, who recognizes that life is both ups and downs, who understands what it’s like to have a cup of coffee get cold before you even take a sip, or have a toddler running around with a dirty diaper while you’re confined to a nursing chair, or losing your cool for the 100th time that day over something little because you’re operating *just that close* to your breaking point. We encourage authentic living by being authentic ourselves — and that means we share the ugly realities of life in addition to the Pinterest-worthy moments.

Jesus is the one exception. His whole life — every action, reaction, word, emotion — was Pinterest-worthy. But the amazing thing is, His model of perfection doesn’t overwhelm us with the guilt and shame of our shoddy attempts. That’s because His model of perfection was crowned with the ultimate sacrifice: His death on the cross. Jesus was perfect for us, on our behalf so that we don’t have to be perfect. The only way perfection can be an inspiration and not a downer is to find our example of perfection in Jesus Christ Himself, and to find our value and worth in being His. When we trust Christ for salvation, not only are we declared righteous (perfect!) in Him, God also gives us His Spirit to transform us into the people we were meant to be. And that’s way better than a how-to tutorial.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. (Hebrews 12:1-2)

8 Years.

22 May

This past Tuesday, Travis and I celebrated 8 years of marriage. Since we dated a little over 2 years before tying the knot, we’ve been together for 10 years. A full decade. Besides making me feel old, that length of time makes me feel grateful. Grateful most of all for our God who doesn’t give up on us, but keeps blessing us abundantly and transforming us into His Son. Grateful for Travis, who bears with all my flaws, failures and annoying habits with patience, thoughtfulness and humor. Grateful for our two amazing daughters, who are both blessings and opportunities for growth.

Ten years ago, Travis and I were baby believers. We had both trusted in Christ as our Lord and Savior just a year before. We were diving headfirst into the community of Campus Outreach (CO), a campus ministry we got involved with through the friends who led us to Christ, soaking up truth and fellowship like sponges. Even though we both grew up going to church — me, Lutheran and him, Catholic — we knew practically nothing about the Bible, salvation and what it meant to be a Christian. God surrounded us with passionate Christians who were gung-ho about Jesus. Besides going to class and studying, we spent most of our waking hours going to Wednesday night meetings (which, by a vote, were named both “Ministry Training Time”, and “Travis”), Sunday school, Sunday services, Sunday night prayer meetings, weekend Nerts competitions, study breaks during finals with banana chocolate chip pancakes, and get-togethers organized by CO.

Halloween 2006 088

Some may look at that lifestyle and think “Whoa, CULT!?!?!?” But for us, it was life-giving. Campus Outreach is a very unique atmosphere — like a greenhouse for spiritual growth. Ten years later, I can say that I have not seen such intentionality and vulnerability anywhere else. It was especially good for me and Travis, who had both had previous romantic relationships that weren’t healthy or glorifying to God. We both lost our virginity in high school and did our fair share of partying. In Campus Outreach, we had strong Christians to mentor us, not only in our budding faiths but also in our relationship with one another.

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In my case specifically, I went from making out with random guys at parties and sleeping around (before I was a Christian) to not even holding Travis’ hand for the first 4 months we were dating. We were both in Myrtle Beach at the CO Beach Project soon after we started dating and when we hung out together alone, we took long walks on the beach and got ice cream. Afterward, when we were back at home base (an old hotel that our whole group of 75 students was staying in), Travis would say goodbye by playfully punching my arm, “Well, see ya later.” When he did finally hold my hand in the back of my parents’ conversion van on the way home from a canoe trip with my whole family that August, my heart leaped with butterflies. Two months later, after much consultation and advice-seeking from his mentors, Travis told me he loved me and we kissed for the first time on a hundred-foot-high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River in Winona, Minnesota.

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It was not easy to date for two years and not have anything go past kissing. We had a couple minor incidences of “crossing the line”, both of which happened when we had had a little bit too much to drink (old habits die hard). Afterward, we talked about what had happened, and in one case, we stopped kissing for about a month to give us time to “cool down” and reflect.

The summer of 2006, when we had been dating for a little over a year, I went back to Myrtle Beach with Campus Outreach and Travis stayed in the Cities. Three and a half months later, Travis and I sat together on the banks of the Mississippi once more, this time on the U of M campus in Minneapolis, and he told me that he knew he wanted to marry me.

That same night, we told each other the complete, ugly stories of our lives before Christ. I won’t lie — it was VERY hard to hear, and to tell. But by God’s grace, we worked through it and can truly say now that our marriage is a story of redemption. Jesus is so much bigger than our baggage and sin.Halloween 2006 063

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On our wedding day almost 9 months after that night, I clutched my dad’s arm and walked down the aisle to a man who was a new creation. It is that same hope of transformation, that same Spirit in us giving us love and compassion that holds our marriage together today. By the grace of God, our marriage is what it is. It’s not perfect — far from it. But with each year that passes, Travis and I understand each other better. We learn what to avoid. How to phrase things. When the best time is to talk. When the other person just needs us to listen. We still forget these things. We’re still selfish and sinful. But we forgive. Move on. Try to bite our tongue next time, or listen better, or let go of our personal desires to fulfill the other’s. We compromise and sacrifice. We encourage and correct. We share and give. We apologize and admit.

I used to beat myself up over not being where I want us to be in our marriage, or not being the kind of wife I want to be. But as Tim Keller says in one of his marriage sermons, marriage is about seeing the potential in the other person. They’re not perfect. They have flaws, sins, failures, annoying habits. But because of the hope we have in Christ and the transforming power of the Spirit, we can look past the rough exterior and see the pearl on the inside. We see what they’re becoming.

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Embrace Your Life {Or, Why I’m Writing a Book on Joy}

3 Feb

Just the other day, I was driving from Rochester to pick Travis up at the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport and had found a Christian radio station to listen to. I’m not a huge fan of radio in general, but I usually choose to listen to Christian radio over Country or The Hits because 1) There are fewer commercials, 2) I don’t have to worry about the song lyrics, 3) I like at least 60% of the songs, and 4) Christian songs can serve as good reminders of Truth.

But every once in a while, I hear something in a song or some musician says something that I think is not entirely helpful. On Sunday, it was this statement:

“The only thing we have to fear is living an insignificant life.”

I disagree with this statement on so many levels, it gets me riled up. It’s statements like that that are the reason I’m writing a book on how joy in life is found in accepting the circumstances God allows, and embracing your current place as God’s will for you.

You see, I struggled for years believing statements like the one above. I thought that God’s will for me must be Something Other than what I was doing, Something Out There that I hadn’t yet discovered, and I went crazy running in circles trying to discover what God’s purpose for me was, and what I should be doing in order to be doing His will.

All the while, the Enemy (Satan) was laughing hysterically, thrilled to the core that he had gotten me to focus on Me and My Life and How I’m Living Out My Faith, instead of focusing on Christ and His Cause and His Power to change me from the inside out.

Here’s what I discovered: God’s will is that we focus on Him and let the rest go. We lay down our expectations and standards and ideas about what makes life significant, and we spend time at our Savior’s feet. As we grow in our relationship with God, we are inspired to pray more. Our eyes are opened to the way the Spirit works, and we start watching for His direction and guidance throughout the day, instead of living out our own agenda. The most amazing thing about living this way is that it brings us the most joy, and God the most glory. Because He gets to be all-sufficient, and we get to be all-dependent.

If you’re like me, you might be thinking “But if stop striving for things in my life and self to change and make a difference, how will anything get done?!?!” To that, I would answer: Make God your focus and it will happen. It is impossible to truly fix your eyes on God and stay the same. Like A.W. Tozer so eloquently put it in The Pursuit of God, “The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do.”

Another question you might have is “What do you mean by ‘look to God’ or ‘fix your eyes on God’?” What I mean is: Study the Bible. Read commentaries and wise Christian authors. Pray about everything, even the menial stuff. Meditate on verses. Sing and listen to worship songs. Practice forms of fasting. Research what God says in the Bible about cultural issues. And I say all that with a caveat: The purpose of doing those things is connecting with God, not building up your spiritual resume or checking off things on a to-do list. If you feel guilty about not doing something, examine why. Maybe you’re just not there yet. If your desire is lacking, bring that very thing to God in prayer, and ask Him to change your heart.

Fixing your eyes on God also means turning away from your expectations and standards about life. You stop trying to determine your life’s worth. To borrow the words of Tim Keller, if you have been declared righteous by the blood of Jesus, accept that the verdict is in and get out of the courtroom. Then move forward in faith that if something in your life needs changing, or if God wants you to go in a different direction, He will tell you. Jesus says in John 10:27, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” If the message is truly from God, He will keep repeating it until you get it.

What is the result of living this way? Freedom. Rest. Joy. Peace. No more do you have to worry that you might not be doing everything God intended for you to do. No more do you have to agonize over the fact that you fall so short of who you want to be. God knows that you can’t do anything without Him — and He doesn’t expect you to. What He wants is YOU. He wants a relationship. He wants your honesty and humility that comes to Him and urges for Him to accomplish in your life through the Spirit what you want to have happen, but cannot do yourself.

He doesn’t want your failed attempts at living what you think is a significant life. He wants YOU, fully surrendered, willing to accept whatever He has for you — even if, especially if it’s nothing like you pictured it would be. Even if it’s nothing glamorous or monumental or earth-shattering. Even if it involves a dead-end job, or mounds of laundry, or tasks that no one appreciates or even notices.

Or maybe you’re one of those rare people who is called to something big (and you know specifically what it is), and it scares the poop out of you. Maybe you wish you could just stay in the shadows and not take a risk. Being faithful to God’s calling for you is taking that leap and trusting Him to be everything He has promised to be.

So instead of saying “The only thing we have to fear is living an insignificant life,” I would say:

The only thing that brings us true joy is living the life that God has for us, in dependence on the Spirit, for God’s glory and favor.

Keep your eyes on the Savior, and rest in the good that He has planned for you.

Repost: The Passion of Christmas

6 Dec

I’ve been listening to Christmas songs on KOSI 101.1 and discovered that I absolutely LOVE Josh Groban. Normally, I hate vibrato in singing (like opera) but he has an amazing voice. I can’t get over it. Anyway, a song they play a lot is his version of O Holy Night. And every time it comes on, I turn it up and just soak in the lyrics. In my opinion, it is one of the best songs ever written – because it captures the meaning of Christmas so succinctly AND has an amazing chorus. I included the lyrics below.

While I was writing about Christmas song lyrics, I thought I’d repost my thoughts about Christmas from last year. Enjoy.

First posted December 24, 2011

I love listening to Christmas music – not just because it puts me in the Christmas mood, but also because it floods my heart with the meaning of Christmas. This year, I am captivated by the passion behind historical Christmas hymns. The authors of these songs exhort us to adore Christ, fall on our knees before Him, and praise His name forever. They write of a world, weary under the burden of sin and guilt, that sees a new day, filled with hope, dawn with the birth of a simple babe. The Savior has come, the catalyst of God’s plan of redemption.

I like to imagine what it would have been like the night Jesus was born. Four hundred years had passed since God has spoken to His people. But God had promised a Messiah, a Redeemer. All of Israel was waiting for the Christ. And on that night in a little town of Bethlehem, a town “too little to be among the clans of Judah,” the long-awaited Messiah was born. Humble shepherds were at work in the field, watching their flocks in the moonlight, straining to stay awake. All of a sudden, they were blinded by “the glory of the Lord” and an angel told them,

“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord…”

So what did they do? They went “with haste” to where the angel had indicated – to Bethlehem to find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. This is what I find interesting: the Bible doesn’t say anything about them locking their sheep up first, or arranging for their care, or one of them staying behind. It seems that they just leave their flocks in the open field because they are so amazed and excited about what they were just told.

Does that go against common sense? Do I doubt that’s what actually happened?

Yes, because it seems so impractical, so irresponsible. I am challenged – what would I have done in that situation? Would I have been so consumed with responsibilities and practical concerns that I would think it foolish to abandon all and sit at my Savior’s feet? Would I be so captivated by Christ’s coming that I’d be willing to drop everything – abandon even my livelihood – and seek Him?

It’s easy to rest when there’s nothing pressing, nothing urgent. It’s easy to take a moment to breath when life’s tight grip on your schedule relaxes for an hour. But what about resting and breathing in the midst of the chaos? That’s what Christ came to bring us – His rest, a deep soul rest that can’t be touched by circumstances. What does it mean to have a deep soul rest in Christ?

Embracing the messiness of being human. Jesus Himself was born in a stinky stable surrounded by loud animals (not the serene night of perfect harmony pictured above). He slept on itchy, pokey hay and grew up as a pretty normal kid. Christ didn’t just experience what it meant to be human during His ministry. He lived his whole life as a human. He grew up with brothers and sisters as a human. He learned to walk, to talk, to laugh. He loved, he cried, he gave. “In every way he was tempted just as we are, yet without sin.” I love how Jesus embraced humanity – not just by becoming a baby (though that was big enough) but by also engaging in life. He wasn’t just alive – He lived. He didn’t view the basics of human existence as beneath Him – rather, He embraced those constraints. Instead of them getting in His way, He turned them into a source of blessing.

And all this, when He was the Son of God, the Most High, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, Author of Creation.

Pondering these truths, how can your heart not fill to bursting with the truth of Christmas?

O Holy Night (sung by Josh Groban)

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night
Of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt His worth
A thrill of hope
The weary world rejoices
For yonder breaks
A new and glorious morn!
Fall on your knees
Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine
Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, oh night, oh night divine

Chains shall He break
For the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy
In grateful chorus raise we
Let all within us praise His holy name
Christ is the Lord, let ever ever praise Thee
Noël, Noël
Oh night, Oh night divine
Noël, Noël
Oh night, Oh night divine
Noël, Noël
Oh, oh night, oh night divine

Surrender + Reality

7 Nov

I’ve been reading “When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box” by John Ortberg and I really liked this:

Surrender is not passivity or abdication. It is saying yes to God and life each day. It is accepting the gifts he has given me — my body, my mind, my biorhythms, my energy. It is letting go of my envy or desire for what he has given someone else. It is letting go of outcomes that in reality I cannot accept anyway. I surrender my ambitions, my dreams, my money, my relationships, my marital status, my time, and my desires to God.

Surrender means I accept reality…

Surrender means giving up ultimate mastery of my life…

“Only if one experiences that God is good is it possible to surrender to him unconditionally one’s whole heart, soul, and being.”

I’ve been thinking lately how the gospel enables us to fully acknowledge reality. Instead of trying to convince myself that I’m a good person by turning a blind eye to all the bad things I’ve done, I can face them head-on and accept that I’m not a good person on my own. I can acknowledge that I’m not everything I want to be — and rest there. I can be content in who I am and not strive to be someone I’m not. I can trust that God has ordained this moment, this day, this life for me — that I didn’t somehow miss the memo that He had planned for me to be a missionary in Zimbabwe instead of a marketing copywriter in Denver. When we truly believe that everything we have and are is from God, we can stop questioning, worrying and comparing.

Tim Keller has an amazing (free!) sermon (and now, a short book based on it) called Blessed Self-Forgetfulness. I found a CD of old sermons that I’ve been listening to in the car during my commute and that sermon was on it. Keller talks about how everyday, as humans with fragile egos, we’re in the courtroom. All of our actions are either stamping evidence for the prosecutor or the defense. The case being decided is: Am I a good person? Am I valuable? Am I important? Am I loved?

Because Christ went to trial for me, and was unjustly accused and put to death in my place, I can leave the courtroom. Court is adjourned. The verdict is in. And that verdict is:

Righteous.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

What does that mean? It means God finds no fault with me. That I am perfect, holy and eternally valuable in His eyes. It means the Father loves me with the same love He has for Jesus Himself.

Keller uses the Apostle Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 4 to make the point, it doesn’t matter what other people think about me. It doesn’t even matter what I think about me. Only God’s opinion matters. And He says I’m righteous in Christ.

That is why I can accept the full reality of my life. Because in Christ, the reality is I am holy and I am loved.