Tag Archives: God

Thoughts on Marriage After 15 Years

1 Jul

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

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

After 15 years, I still do.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because I am a sinner just like my spouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Raw Struggles of a Homeschool Mom

2 May

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

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

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

But those days are few and far between. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comfort and Deprivation {Lent 2022}

27 Mar

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Only 3 weeks to go until Easter!

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.

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.

A Response to the 2016 Election

9 Nov

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the LORD; he turns it wherever he will.” (Proverbs 21:1)

“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)

“Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.” (Proverbs 31:25)

These are the verses that come to mind this post-election morning. God is BIG–BIGGER than this and He can use Trump to bless our country if He sees fit. So let’s pray hard that He would do just that. That Trump would rise to the occasion, put behind his childish and selfish ways, and that his presidency would be a surprise in a good way. 

If you say “HA, there’s no way he will!” I say “Well then what’s the alternative response? To seethe with anger and bitterness for the next 4 years? To wait hopefully for each blunder Trump will make in order to gloat ‘See, this is why I didn’t vote for him!'”

No, regardless of who you voted for, the way to respond to this election result is the same way we respond to anything that happens in life: we accept it from God’s hand. We humbly submit our lives, and in this case our country, to Him, with the knowledge that “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” (2 Chronicles 20:12)

And then we pray. We pray hard. We plead, beg God to help this nation change for the better, even perhaps despite who’s in charge. We CAN make America great again but it will be by being people sold out for God in Jesus’ name, full of love, compassion, and a willingness to work alongside those who do not share our beliefs or lifestyles. It will be by being bold in our proclamation of the gospel of salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. It will be by laying down our own agendas, conveniences, and desires, and taking up Christ’s. What does that practically mean? It’ll look different for everyone, but like I’ve said before, we will be all united under the banner of

SATISFIED IN GOD ALONE.

We cannot change reality, we can only respond to it. Let’s make our response one that shows how BIG God is and how much we are ultimately trusting in Him to guide and protect our nation. 

2 Ways to Take Back Your Day Without a Schedule

17 Oct

takebackyourdayA year ago, I went to a conference for moms in Rochester called Hearts at Home. It was awesome, and I took away a lot of thoughts, but one of the biggest was the idea that I needed to get our family life on a schedule. Staying home full-time with a 2.5-year-old and a 6-month-old meant that our days were big on crazy and low on sanity. I thought getting on a schedule would help some at least some of my woes.

The only problem was that I’m a spontaneous person. I can’t commit to the same schedule day after day, week after week. I like change! I like doing things differently! I like lazy mornings some days, and a fresh shower and dressier clothes other mornings. I like having the girls take a bath at night some days, and during the day other days.

Emma (now 3.5) is a wild card like this too. I tried and tried to get her to be more predictable and routined as a baby, but she wasn’t having it. It wasn’t until she was over 2 years that her naps finally became a consistent 2.5-3 hours long. Before that, she’d nap anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours. Drove me crazy! To cope, I stopped having any plans of what I would accomplish during naptime because then I didn’t get frustrated if her nap was too short.

Annabelle (now 18 months) was a lot more predictable as a baby than Emma was. She actually put herself on a schedule! Some babies are just like that. We were so thankful that it seemed we had gotten a mellow baby to balance out our first-born spitfire. Then Annabelle learned to walk and WOW, she has even more energy and chutzpah than her sister did at this age. She’s a climber, and doesn’t take No for an answer without a fight.

My desire to take a crack at homeschool preschool this year with Emma inspired another attempt at implementing a daily schedule/routine. An attempt that also failed almost before it began. Which got me thinking… do I really NEED a schedule?

I had several things that I wanted to change about the way things ran in my house as a full-time, stay-at-home mom, that I thought having a schedule or routine would address. I wanted to be more intentional with how I spent my time–my time with the girls and my alone time. I wanted to stay caught on cleaning, laundry, meal planning, grocery shopping better, instead of waiting for bathrooms to reach an unprecedented ICK factor and the refrigerator to contain nothing but olives and maple syrup. I also thought that being on a schedule is what successful, got-it-together moms do.

But you know what? There’s more than one “right” way to do things. The real question is, is the way we’re doing things right now working for our family? The answer to that is Yes. Things aren’t as tidy or clean or straightforward as they would be if I were more disciplined in the Art of Structure, but I’d be constantly fighting an uphill battle against my spontaneous personality–and for what? Part of the benefit of being at home full-time is the flexibility and relaxed pace of life!

That said, I have noticed that there are two things that I not only enjoy doing, but that truly promote the goals I had with a schedule. Those are:

1. Get up before the kids.

When Annabelle regressed to waking up 1-2 times a night around 6 months (and ever since), I stopped feeling like a morning person. I was a zombie until at least 10 am and two cups of coffee. But for the past couple of months, I have been forcing myself to get up around 6 am anyway because I know that it is SO worth it. My day goes so much better when I’ve had time to drink some coffee and think some thoughts before kids start screaming, whining, and demanding cereal.

I also have more energy for Bible study, blog posts, and pretty much everything in the morning. By naptime, my energy is at about half-power (and I often take a nap with the kids if it works out), and after putting the kids to bed, I only have the energy for zoning out with Netflix, or talking to Travis. So the morning is my time to “get er done.”

2. Don’t get distracted by projects or technology.

I am notorious for thinking, “Oh the girls are playing so well together right now. I’ll just spend a few minutes tidying/organizing/sorting/assembling this thing over here.” ::45 minutes later:: “Mommy’s almost done! Then we’ll go outside!” I say as both kids are crying because they’ve started hitting one another out of boredom and their need for attention.

I’m also notorious for picking my phone up to text someone about something timely or important. ::45 minutes later, emerging from the Facebook and Instagram vortex:: “Mommy just has to text my friend about getting together tomorrow. Then we’ll go outside!”

I’m learning that even though organizing and tidying are good and necessary, and Facebook and Instagram are fine when used wisely, there’s a time and a place. Trying to do those things while the girls are awake almost always spells disaster…or at least a house that’s a disaster because the girls tore it apart while I was distracted.

What this one really comes down to is discipline and trusting God: discipline to wrangle my spontaneous and time-sucking habits into spending my time intentionally and wisely; and trusting God that when I prioritize what He prioritizes, I get joy and He gets glory. Even if that means I get nothing done but spending time with my girls because they were clingy. Even if that means I forego dishes and laundry to spend time reading the Bible. Even if that means I hardly ever blog anymore because I’m reading books about parenting instead (this is true).

Doing these two things gives me the foundation for the day that I need to manage the chaos and challenges of being home full-time with two young kids… without being on a schedule!

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?