Tag Archives: grace

All Grace Abounding

27 Oct

IMG_20151013_151122On my way to the grocery store while Travis was in Colorado for eight days elk hunting, I realized that sadly, his being gone actually didn’t feel that much different than his being home (in terms of how much I do taking care of the house and girls). He’s been working so much that it feels somewhat odd when he’s not working; when weekends are spent doing non-work things, like hanging out, running errands, chipping away at projects; when I actually see my husband for more than an hour or two at a time.

His work schedule has been so crazy for the last I-can’t-even-remember-how-long that instead of waiting for Travis to go do fun stuff like the zoo, corn maze, and pumpkin patch, I’ve just started doing those things without him. I’ve stopped expecting him to get off work at a certain time. I’ve (mostly) stopped hoping he’ll spend time with us in the evening. I’m still disappointed when Travis mentions that he has to work for a few hours, especially on weekends, but overall, I’ve adjusted my expectations to be that Travis won’t be hanging out with us.

Do I think that that’s the ideal way to handle this situation? No. I believe strongly in the importance of a husband and father spending quality time with his wife and kids, so I will fight against Travis’ absence being a long-term normal thing. But let me tell you, adjusting my expectations in this way has been a heck of a lot easier – on both me and my marriage – than feeling constant disappointment and unrealized hopes. Doing fun things with my girls and staying busy helps me cope with the ache of a heart that craves more time with my husband.

Travis doesn’t like working this much. He would cut his hours back to a simple 40 in a heartbeat if he could. He’d take more vacation days if he could. He’d be thrilled to spend his evenings and weekends with me and the girls instead of clocking hours in his office (which we’ve nicknamed the Chateau D’if) if he could. “Things are crazy right now, but they should get better soon” has been the echoing refrain of this past year.

But I’m starting to think through the possibility of things not getting better soon, the possibility of this being the reality of our lives for the foreseeable future. (Because that is a very real possibility.) It would be easy to let this situation drift indeterminably while optimistically thinking it’s temporary and have it end up altering what we consider to be our “normal” – that we’d get used to doing things without daddy and it’d no longer feel strange for him to not be there. Indifference to his absence would replace our hope for things to change.

Often, it takes the possibility of a situation not being temporary to make us realize how challenging the circumstance actually is. It’s like, as long as the spark of hope remains that you’re almost to the other side of the trial, you can stay strong and keep trucking. But once you realize that “the other side” might be a long way away, that spark of hope dies and you give up.

It reminds me of Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel both ways. In 1952, she attempted to swim from Catalina Island to mainland California. She had been swimming 15 hours, was physically and emotionally exhausted, and ended up quitting only 800 meters (1/2 mile) from shore (which to any seasoned swimmer is practically nothing!). “All I could see was the fog. I think if I could have seen the shore, I would have made it,” she said the next day at a news conference. {source}

Like Florence, I often stop swimming because I can’t see the end. I’m stubborn and determined so I survive for a while by hunkering down and gritting my teeth through trials, willing myself to stay strong until it’s over. “Just get through this. It’ll get better.” But rarely do I make it to the finish line before my resolve gives out. The tipping point is almost always caused by something that, on its own, is small and inconsequential – but added to the heap of stress, fear and pain that has been brimming underneath the surface of my life, it’s the last straw. The dam breaks. A flood of pent-up emotions comes rushing out.

But just like the rainbow that appeared when the waters receded after the great flood of Noah’s time, each flood of my own emotions brings with it with the blessed awareness that once again, I’ve been trying to survive life on my own strength. As seeing the shoreline would’ve most likely given Florence the influx of strength and motivation she needed to persevere, so also seeing the big picture will also strengthen and motivate me.

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What is the big picture? Surely it is not that this trial of Travis’ working so much will come to an end sometime – because that is not certain. Rather, the big picture that gives me hope is that God is sufficient in all things. His sufficiency in being, and providing, everything I need is the way through this trial, and any trial for that matter. For those who work multiple jobs, make minimum wage and still scrape by, this stress of working is a constant reality. But we all find joy in trying circumstances the same way: by looking to God.

Jesus says:

“The thief [of this world] comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10)

“I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation, but take heart; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.” (John 14:1)

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:9-11)

Joy in God amidst earthly strife is possible – Jesus says it is. He tells us to trust Him, abide in His love for us, and focus on the end – He has already overcome the world. We cannot see the end ourselves; we are stuck swimming in the fog. But God sees the end. And it is by banking on His future promises and His current provision of grace and strength that we can persevere and not give up.

“And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.” (Galatians 6:8)

The apostle Paul knew what it was like to persevere in the face of trials. In 2 Corinthians 6:3-10, he writes, “We put no obstacles in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.”

In chapter 11, he continues, “Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.” (v. 24-28)

“For we do not want you to ignorant, brothers, of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.” (2 Cor. 1:8-9)

“But [the Lord] 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.” (2 Cor. 12: 9-10

Paul welcomed his trials and hardships as opportunities for him to learn and live out dependence on Christ. As anyone who has been pushed past their capacity or strength knows, that’s often what it takes to break our attempts at self-sufficiency and get us down on our knees before God. In that spirit, I am trying to fight against my natural tendency to grit my teeth through this and instead, embrace this as another opportunity for learning how to live fully in a trying circumstance, trusting God to use it in our lives for our good and His glory.

So Travis and I have been discussing, “If this is our reality for the foreseeable future, what changes do we need to make to live well right now?” Not surprisingly, the changes we are trying to make address the issues that have caused the most problems between us:

1. Communicate in a helpful way.

When Travis has to work in the evening and I am disappointed, I have often expressed that disappointment as anger – because frankly, I’m mad he has to work. But not mad at him, just at the situation. However, he perceives my anger as being directed at him because he is, after all, the one who has to work. The helpful way to communicate my disappointment (according to the man himself) would be to say, “I understand you have to work, but I’m disappointed we can’t hang out.” Duly noted.

To Travis’ credit, he has done a pretty good job (after learning the hard way) of letting me know about his additional work demands a day or two in advance. It helps me to know what to expect. When I have time to process, I can respond better than I can when the situation is sprung upon me at the last minute.

2. Have family time free from the 3 P’s: phones, projects and the paper.

This one is mostly for me, because one of my love languages is quality time. Since we don’t have as much time together as a family as we want, we need to maximize the time we do have. And in my opinion, it just isn’t quality time when the whole family is doing their own thing. Our biggest distractions are our phones, the newspaper and “small, quick” house projects. So, from the time that Travis gets off work to the time that Annabelle goes to bed (which is usually 1-2 hours), those distractions are off-limits.

3. Prioritize date nights.

This is something we’ve (I’ve) been lax about because it’s my job to find a babysitter and I just haven’t put the time or effort into it. But now that Annabelle is 7 months old and can eat some solid food, we wouldn’t have to bring her along, so it would be a true date night! That would be awesome. I need to get my butt in gear and work on this. Our goal is one date night every month.

4. Be generous, but realistic.

There have been numerous good or fun things that we’ve had to say no to because they would have just stretched us too thin. It’s definitely a balancing act to know how much to serve and help out, or when to enjoy time with friends, and when you need to pull back and focus on your own family – but it’s a balance worth striving for. My natural tendency in hardship is to focus all my resources on myself and my family – because in my selfishness, my problems seem the biggest – but that kind of self-preservation usually just ends up magnifying the problem. It nurtures my soul to serve and love others, even when I’m experiencing a hard situation.

This also applies to my marriage. Hunting is an annual sore subject for us, just because it takes so much time – there’s packing, setting up stands, sighting in guns, target practice, traveling, then the actual hunting, and if they’re successful, meat butchering. The selfish part of me thinks that it’s just more time spent away from me and the girls for a “stupid hobby.” But the loving part of me knows that my husband loves hunting and since he spends the majority of his time providing for his family, he could use some time to relax and recharge doing something that je really enjoys (and almost his whole family hunts so it’s also time spent with them).

More and more, I am learning that the balance I need in life is only achievable through the power of the Holy Spirit. As a mere human, I am only capable of swinging from one extreme to another. In this case, from staking my heart on my expectations and demanding my own way to leaving expectations behind in a wake of indifference and cold-heartedness. But with the Spirit’s power and presence, I can continue desiring more time with my husband without that hope smothering our marriage, and I can be content with the time we do have together without losing hope that that time will increase. That balance is possible only when I am staking my heart first and foremost on God. God alone is sufficient in all things.

“And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency [or contentment] in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8)

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)

Worth Repeating {6/2/15}

2 Jun

Often when I find that I’m learning the same old thing yet again, I pull up old blog posts that I’ve written. I’ve been thinking lately about my propensity to prioritize “getting things done” over serving people. What I realized is that the whole point of getting things done (in my case, laundry, dishes, house cleaning, dinner, etc) is serving my family! How often I lose sight of the purpose of those tasks, and just focus on checking them off my to-do list. I pulled up the following blog post and it was so exactly what I needed to remember that I thought I’d share it today. Enjoy!worth_repeating

{First posted on 12/13/11 as “Life is a Glorious Mess”} 

I woke up yesterday morning wanting at least 4 more hours in bed. Instead, I got up to make coffee – an hour after my alarm went off the first time. The kitchen counters overflowed with dirty dishes; the table drowned in Christmas presents, mail, and other things used over the weekend but not put away. The cupboards were conspicuously bare from my lack of grocery shopping. The fridge held potatoes from our garden and spinach from the store, wilting and rotting before I could use them. The dogs wagged their tails in hope of a walk. A temperature of 63 degrees revealed that the furnace wasn’t working again.

I was frustrated. Mad. Why is life so hard?

I do better when life is organized. When things are in their place. When I’m on top of what I need to be on top of.

I could have been there this morning – except I chose to relax and watch Christmas movies last night instead of doing chores.

And I’ve realized that my affinity for order and perfection has a price tag – it costs me Life. Joy. Peace. Patience.

When I admire people in movies (like J. Lo in The Wedding Planner) who have every piece of their life in place with predictable schedules and unvaried routines, I fail to realize that they’re paying for that perfection – with human relationships. I mean, how often do those same perfect people have an intimate marriage, loving kids, and open their homes to others?

To truly embrace the presence of others in my life, I have to let go of perfection. Because a life filled with relationships is messy. As Emily Walker wrote in her post The Messy Table:

My table is not perfect, but it has done the job it was meant to do very well. Life has been lived at it. Lessons have been learned at it. Memories have been made for decades, right there at that table. It tells the story of lives being lived, not life missed out on in the name of perfection.

That. Exactly.

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be someday, do I want my kids to remember how well-kept our house was, elaborate our dinners were, and how we were always running around doing stuff?  Or do I want them to remember how I played with them in our backyard, dropped whatever I was doing to listen or laugh, and didn’t get mad when they trampled little dirty footprints all over the carpet? Obviously, I want to be the latter.

And here’s what I’m learning: I don’t become the peaceful, patient, loving woman I want to be by being perfect and on top of things. Rather, I grow to be that woman as I learn to let things go. If I expect the house to always be orderly, I get frustrated when something is out of place. If I map out my schedule for the day and a wrench gets thrown in, I’m mad.

People who exhibit the fruit of the Spirit aren’t isolated from problems and frustrations. They have just learned to embrace the messiness of life. Be content in chaos. See each moment for what it’s really worth – not a time for getting things done, but a time to connect with and serve others, and to be filled with the joy of knowing Christ. Instead of running around checking off my own to-do list, I need to walk through each day with God, trusting that His grace is sufficient – He will provide the energy and wisdom to work when I need to, and to rest when I need to.

A comforting idea I’ve had in my head for several weeks now is that God is more realistic about my abilities than I am. Like QuatroMama writes in this post, I tend to set up my own (perfectionist) standards and then beat myself up when I fall short.

But God is realistic. “For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”He doesn’t ask me to be Mega Woman. He understands that I only have so many minutes in a day and if I spend time doing this thing, I don’t have time for that thing. If I’m exhausted and want to veg instead of clean, He doesn’t accuse me of laziness and not being productive, like I do to myself. Unlike me, He is full of grace, understanding, and patience.

This is where the Gospel makes all the difference. The Gospel allows us to admit that we fall short of what we wish we were, but reassures us that we’re loved anyway. And God’s love for us isn’t despite how we’ve disappointed Him, or failed to live up to His standard. Because when He sees us in Christ, He sees perfect beings. We are completely and utterly righteous in His eyes. “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgression from us.”

He doesn’t mutter “I love you” through gritted teeth while trying to not be mad over all the things we’ve done wrong. God’s love abounds for us. He lavishly pours out grace upon grace into our lives with delight.

In the words of John Piper, remind yourself, “I am holy and I am loved.” Even when life is messy.

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.

Halloween 2006 050

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

Halloween 2006 064

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.

wedding_party

wedding

God’s Grace in the Hard

12 May

20150508_160159I mentioned in my last blog post that I recently read Kara Tippett’s book The Hardest Peace. You might not have heard of her, but she just recently passed away after a lengthy battle against breast cancer. She was only 38 and left behind a husband and 4 young kids.

I read the book hoping to gain some insights into how to find peace in the hard circumstances of life. I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet but my mom is waging her own battle against ovarian cancer. Labor Day this year will mark 2 years since she was diagnosed. Without going into the details here, I’ll just say that the continual appointments, surgeries, chemo treatments, nausea, pain, loss of appetite and weight, complications, needle pokes, hospital stays and other challenges have tested not only her and my dad’s faith, but mine as well.

Meanwhile, I hear stories like Kara’s. Or that of the couple that lives on our street and recently lost their 3-year-old daughter to leukemia. Or a friend from church whose son died from brain trauma at birth. Or an acquaintance from Colorado whose daughter’s heart stopped beating the day before she was supposed to be born via c-section. Or strangers I’ve never even met — a young married couple and their 6-month-old child — who were driving when a bridge collapsed on them and killed them.

And I wonder… WHY????

Why does God allow these things to happen? Why does God leave prayers for healing and wholeness unanswered? Why does God take people when they’re young? Why does God leave their loved ones behind to pick up the pieces of a broken life?

I also wonder… HOW???

How do we trust that God is good in circumstances that seem to scream otherwise? How do we hide ourselves under His wing like a baby chick with its mother when He doesn’t seem to be protecting us from the hurt and hardship of disease and death? When it feels like He’s leaving us exposed and bearing the full brunt of this world’s fallenness and depravity?

My mom’s cancer returned in October of last year. The prognosis was not good. We are praying — begging — for a miracle. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about God’s grace in the hard since then, and have come to the conclusion that…

We trust God is good because He says He is. (Nahum 1:7)

We trust God’s purposes in hardship and disease because He says that His plan is perfect. (Psalm 18:30; Romans 8:28)

We trust God’s promises because He has proven His commitment to and love for us in Christ’s death and resurrection. (2 Corinthians 1:20; Romans 8:32)

We trust God’s love for us because He says nothing can separate us from it in Christ (Romans 8:37-39) and He has demonstrated it tangibly in Christ’s payment for our sins. (Ephesians 2:4-9)

I’ve come to realize that we don’t have to understand WHY or HOW in order to trust God. We trust Him based on His character. We trust Him based on the fact that His ways are higher than ours and if we had a God that we could fully understand, He wouldn’t be big enough.

I’ve also seen the necessity of living with our eyes focused on eternity and the Big Picture that extends beyond this life. Because usually when people talk about the value and importance of suffering and going through hard things, they focus on the growth that results. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” right? Except what if it does kill you or your loved one? What if there is no “after” from which you can look back on the suffering you went through and see the growth or value?

” ‘We want suffering to be like pregnancy–we have a season, and it’s over, and there is a tidy moral to the story.’ I’ve come to sense that isn’t what faith is at all. What if there is never an end? What if the story never improves and the tests continue to break our hearts? Is God still good? … How do you live realistically when you feel like your moments are fading, fleeting, too momentary? How do you fight for normal in the midst of crushing daily news of more hard? How do you seek hope without forgetting reality?” (Kara Tippetts, The Hardest Peace)

We have to believe that the suffering we endure on this earth is being used for our eternal good. That the battle against cancer, disease or persecution is reaping us growth and rewards that we carry into the next life with Christ. Nothing here is wasted, even if (or when) the battle kills us.

We also have to see the immeasurable good of God’s grace in being concerned first and foremost with our souls. Since my mom’s diagnosis, my parents have started to read the Bible daily, pray earnestly and trust God in a practical way that they hadn’t before, for which I am incredibly thankful to God. Being pushed beyond your limits has a way of getting you down on your knees in humility and dependence. Regardless of whether God causes these hard things or just allows them (that’s an argument for another time), He uses the hard things to accomplish His purposes — even if we can’t see what they are right now.

“God’s purposes in present grief may not be fully known in a week, in a year, or even in this lifetime. Indeed, some of God’s purposes will not even be known when believers die and go to be with the Lord. Some will only be discovered at the day of final judgment when the Lord reveals the secrets of all hearts and commends with special honor those who trusted him in hardship even though they could not see the reason for it: they trusted him simply because he was their God and they knew him to be worthy of trust. It is in times when the reason for hardship cannot be seen that trust in God alone seems to be most pure and precious in his sight. Such faith he will not forget, but will store up as a jewel of great value and beauty to be displayed and delighted in on the day of judgment (Wayne Grudem, The First Epistle of Peter).”

It’s hard to trust God in this way, but it’s the only way we’ll have true hope in these kinds of circumstances. I often feel the co-existence of faith and doubt like the father in Mark 9:24 — “I believe; help my unbelief!” God’s grace in the hard is that He meets us where we’re at — in the pain, anger, fear, sadness — and reassures us that He sees and He cares. “The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.” (Psalm 34:18) Even when our faith is as tiny as a mustard seed, He loves us. And no matter what the outcome is, He will be there for us with grace, compassion, love and goodness. “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.” (Psalm 25:10)

Loving Who I Am

17 May

The past month has been on the rougher side emotionally for me. Last Thursday morning, I was reminded why.

Ingratitude. Rejecting God’s grace to me.

Man. It’s a hard fight to live in truth. The slide back down into lies is easy and short.

But once again, God has reminded me of the truth.

And so far, I’m still living in the glorious freedom of truth:

I. AM. LOVED. BY. GOD. IN. CHRIST.

That truth, and that truth alone, is life-changing.

My flesh wants to add qualifiers and exceptions and clauses and caveats.

There are none.

My flesh wants to make it more complicated, more needing of explanation, more detailed.

It isn’t.

It’s so simple, and yet so difficult, to live there.

But this truth… this is worth fighting for. Worth spending my life ruminating on. Worth clinging to at the expense of other noble thoughts.

“The true Love Dare. To move into His presence and listen to His love unending and know the grace uncontainable. This is the vault of the miracles. The only thing that can change us, the world, is this — all His love.” (Ann Voskamp, One Thousand Gifts)

Today, love who God created you to be  because He loves you.