Sunday, February 22, 2015

Advice to Moms in the Trenches

I have a soft spot for mothers who are in the trenches. Mothers who want to do selfish things like wash their dishes, catch up on laundry or partake in full body hygiene, without wondering if the house will be pulled down around them while they do so.

I'm no longer there but those years aren't so far behind me that I don't well remember the moment by moment battle with the flesh not to grumble. Peace seemed out of my reach because I had so much to do and not enough hours to do it and I felt constant pressure that tempted me to despair. 

Children are a blessing from God. Blessings often require work.  And though all of life is filled with work (other seasons of life may come when you work just as hard as you do now), I do believe that for most of us, motherhood is really the first time we've been tested to any real degree.  Our spiritual muscles are weak. They have hardly been used up until now, and we come face to face with that reality and we're blind-sided by it.

Mothers in this position can sink deeper and deeper into a pit of guilt and self-pity. It goes like this:

"I'm a terrible mother."

"I can't possibly give them all what they need."

"They would be better off with someone else caring for them."

"My house is a wreck. I have no idea how I will ever have the time to clean it because I can't even keep the basics done."

Here is the truth about our guilt. It is self-condemnation.  And it is rooted in pride. 

We long to be able to approve of ourselves. We can sometimes master not seeking the approval of all the other moms we know, but approving of ourselves is another matter. 

I am telling you, I have to remind myself of this constantly.  That the way my heart harasses me is more a function of my pride and self-sufficiency than it is a sincere desire for godliness. Because if faithfulness before God is really what I was all about, then one look at the cross and empty tomb would be all it took. There my imperfect faithfulness is counted as perfect. But no. To my shame I am often more concerned about the approval I have of myself, than His approval of the work I am doing here at home.

There is crushing guilt behind the desire to simply be a good mother (or wife or homemaker) if our hearts get off-course, which is so easy to do.

How to get back on course? We must continually remind ourselves who we are in Christ.  And beg God for understanding of the truth of that. 

And right now you're thinking, "What does that even mean? How does knowing 'Who I am in Christ' help me with the dishes? With potty training? This is too vague to be any practical help."

I think part of the reason we see this as vague is because we don't really understand it.  It takes effort to understand it and about the time we begin to internalize it, the next day we have to remind ourselves of it again. But it is worth the effort.  And here is why: because even on the best of days, when by some miracle the laundry is caught up, the kids are well-behaved, the marriage has seen no conflict in weeks....we will still have no lasting comfort from those accomplishments because they don't satisfy our souls.  Only Christ does.

Knowing who we are in Christ satisfies our idolatrous, prideful hearts so that when the work is overwhelming we can still have peace in the midst of crazy-over-the-top-busy seasons of life. Because even if I could offer you a solution for time management or 15 minute healthy dinners or the best child training tip that guaranteed more well-behaved kids, the truth is this challenging season hits us at ground zero.  Heart level. And there is only one heart level solution and that is to get more Jesus.

And so my one piece of advice to moms in the trenches is this: read your Bible.  Read it even if you don't feel like it (been there).  If there is no desire to read it, confess that to God and read it anyway for it is the sick and malnourished who have no appetite.  You do lots of things you don't feel like doing, so why would this, which is far more important, be any different?  Turn off Facebook and open your Bible and be reminded of the riches of your inheritance. God has promised himself to you. He is the fountain of all joy and will never, ever leave you. If you are his, he has given you the ability to say no to sin and yes to righteousness.  Glory!

Mothers, when your heart accuses you and tells you that you are worthless and that you have failed again and that the children God has given you are too much for you to handle, you can confidently answer, "I know I am worthless on my own.  I know it is too much for me to handle on my own.  I know that on my own, I am nothing but a failure.  But God has made me righteous in Christ. He loves me no more today than He did the day He opened my eyes to His gospel. He is faithful when I am faithless. So I am going to get up out of this bed. I am going to silence the self-pity and self-condemnation. And I am going to serve these kids and husband even if it is two steps forward and one step back on the housework, meals and child training.  Because I know he is here with me, sustaining me, granting me grace and approving of my sincere though imperfect efforts, even when I don't approve of them myself."

Our failures are not greater than his grace.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Love That Lasts

We are a culture of many loves.  I throw the word around, using it flippantly.  I love my Lord and in the same breath I say I love Twix candy bars.

We may even begin the marriage relationship with a wrong definition of love.  Often when we say, "I love you," we actually mean, "I love me.  And I want you."

After 20 years of marriage, there are days that I feel I am only just now beginning to understand love. I loved Kevin very much the day I married him.  But it was a love not yet tested.  It was beautifully fresh and full of emotion, but lacked sturdiness and depth.  It was a love that still said, "I love me and I want you" more often than not. 

This isn't the makings of love that lasts.  Love that lasts must move past the "in love" beginning that most of us start out with...toward a love that keeps going when feelings aren't there. Love that is a commitment to do right, even when you don't feel right. "Being in love" with Kevin was what stirred me to pledge my life and faithfulness to him.  But this quiet and sturdy love is what enables me to keep that promise.

So, how to get it? This is what I am learning (because, ya'll, marriage is work.  We have to be deliberate in working on it, no matter how long we've been married):

A married love that lasts must seek Christ first.  Our love for Jesus is the steam behind the engine of love.  If we don't have love for Christ, it is impossible to have it for other people. Especially my husband, the one whose faults I am so well-acquainted with.  Jesus modeled it perfectly and if we are his, he indwells us, by his Spirit, to carry it out. We don't have to manufacture the love, we only share the love we've been given.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant  or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 1 Cor. 13:4-7

The 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians has been called the hymn of love. It is astoundingly beautiful.  No doubt it will be quoted often this month.  I have some of the verses written in calligraphy and framed.  But I don't think 1 Corinthians 13 can be fully treasured when it is taken out of context. The full impact and depths of the truths it contains are missed if you isolate it from the rest of the book.

The Corinthian Christians were not walking in the Spirit.  They were selfish, self-seeking, self-promoting and self-motivated.  Pretty much just doing all they could to further their own interests.  They had little regard for others, but much for themselves.  They didn't lack any gift but were terribly deficient in spiritual fruit and their greatest lack was love. The thirteenth chapter is like a breath of fresh air in the midst of almost continual reproofs and corrections as Paul points out all their errors due to selfishness.

This can so often be me. Self-seeking and looking out for my own interests.

The love of 1 Corinthians that Christians are called to give to others is a self-giving love.  It is love that costs us something.  It is more concerned with "What can I give?'  rather than "What can I get from this relationship?"

It is completely unnatural to my human nature.

The only supreme, perfect example we have of this love, is God's love because love is, above all, sacrificial.  God so loved us that he gave us his son.  And Jesus loved to the fullest degree.  He loved us to the very limits of love.

Love is not a feeling.  It's an act of the will that will always result in a giving action. Feelings, emotions and physical attractions are wonderful gifts.  They can accompany love but they are not love. The agape love of 1 Corinthians 13 has nothing to do with physical attraction, desire or even affection.

Sacrificial love is a blessed manifestation of God.  God is love.

This is the only way to a love that lasts.  By identifying with the character of God because you are born of God, you love like God, sharing with undeserving people, what you undeservingly received yourself:

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God."

and verse 16b:

"God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him."

Lately, I have heard of  brides and grooms washing one another's feet at their wedding ceremony.  I think that is a beautiful picture. 

At the last supper, Jesus' disciples sat around arguing about which of them were the greatest.  They weren't very lovely or deserving in that moment. As he was anticipating the agony of the cross, they were selfish and insensitive. 

His response was to wash their feet. To demonstrate that love is an act of the will for the benefit of someone else, from one who has nothing to gain but simply...loves.

Why a Blue-Eyed Preacher Still Has My Heart
Prayers for a Bride
The Path of Servanthood

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Monday, February 2, 2015

Soul Capture

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life,
and whoever captures souls is wise.
 --Proverbs 11:30

I've been meditating on that one for several days. 

What does it mean to "capture souls"?  And how does one go about doing it?

In this verse, to capture souls means to strongly influence others to goodness. Win them. And the how is found in the first part of the verse: the fruit of the righteous.

It is a tree of life.

It can capture souls.

I want the fruit of righteousness in my life.  The kind that captures or wins the souls of those around me.  For me that is my husband and children, my church, my community.

I want love and gentleness, mercy and forgiveness, peace and joy, to be overflowing in my life, to the glory and honor of God.  And I want it to spill over, capturing their souls.

But I have a wicked heart that constantly makes it difficult. The old man is always at war with the new man.  I know I'm never going to leave the old man behind, until I leave this earth. But it is my daily burden and grief (though I confess, not as much as it should be), that my sin touches the ones I love most.

Far too often, my response to my kids, whether it be their childish interruptions and silliness, their needing to go potty at the (seemingly) worst moment, or at other times, their sin, is impatience, unkindness and yes, even anger.

It isn't always like that, thankfully.  Some days I wake up and receive such grace and mercy that nurturing them with loving words and gentle admonitions, seems to come almost natural.  Our home has peace and joy.  I love those days.

But sometimes, our day begins with a sleep-deprived mama and I've blown it well before breakfast.  The law of kindness is nowhere to be found, especially not on my tongue.  I know if someone were to record my voice they would find no grace.

I know this is not a unique experience to me alone. I think it's typical. But even if it is common to all moms, it matters that we identify this sin pattern.  We fail in our duty to love our children with kindness, love and gentleness...time and again. 

When they reach adulthood we want to have shaped their lives by our love, not our sin.

We want to direct their hearts to Christ, winning their souls, with humility and understanding.

We want to keep before our eyes constantly, that the window of our time with them will pass quickly, that the years won't last forever the way it sometimes feels like they will.

And so this heavy burden is on our backs. For we know that we sin against our children and may even have let terrible habits of careless speech rather than intentional words be the rule... rather than the exception.

We wish we could re-do the day we just spent.  Or the last week.  Or the last year. 

But do-overs are impossible.

Where does that leave us? Knowing that do-overs are impossible and most likely I will sin again in the same way.  Oh, it's ugly and it can feel so hopeless!

Maybe you feel like this sin is too big, deep, wide, far-reaching and you have no idea where to start cleaning it up. Is there any hope?

Yes, because where sin abounds, grace does therefore more abound.  Heavy-duty grace.  Bottomless grace.  Grace found at the foot of the cross where Jesus our sinless Savior died.  He already bore the punishment for this.  And here is our hope:

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.   2 Corinthians 5:21

We are made right through Christ.

We are made right. 

We need not stay cast down. We can take our guilt to Christ because he has took the curse of it already.  He will restore peace to our hearts.

He forgives.  And thankfully, families forgive too.

I go to my children.  Sometimes individually, to the big ones, with tears standing out in my eyes..."I'm so sorry, honey. I was not slow to speak and quick to listen. Will you forgive me?" 

Or to the little ones:  "Mama wasn't patient with you when you needed me to come help you. I sinned against you. I need Jesus very badly and he has forgiven Mama's sin. Will you forgive me too?"

To my husband: "I overreacted. Again. Will you forgive me?"

Something hopeful and lovely emerges from the ugliness and it's called forgiveness. 

Maybe my soft and loving words won't capture their souls today (but I will keep trying). Maybe the kids won't grow up and remember a Mama that was always gentle and patient when time deadlines were upon us or the baby was fussy or she hadn't had sleep in three days.

But by the grace of God they will know their Mama desperately needed Jesus.  She needed the gospel, day in and day out.  She kept trying, yes.  And when she messed it all up she knew where to go to clean it up.

Mary Winslow said

The old man, which God could in a moment destroy, is allowed to remain for wise purposes, even to increase the believer's diligence and quicken his activity and thus bring out every good grace to perfection, especially the grace of faith, by which he overcomes the world, the flesh, and the devil.

Our redemption through Christ is reflected in many beautiful fruits of righteousness. But forgiveness is the most beautiful. We have forgiveness through the gospel. Because we've been forgiven, we can extend it to others, even when it's hard.  We can teach our families to do the same, by confessing sin, admitting our need and utter helplessness to do good apart from Christ Jesus.

When You Need Grace to Make a Chicken Salad
Ovarian Guilt
When You Stink at Being a Titus 2 Woman

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Friday, January 23, 2015

Weekend Links

Lots of great reading around the web lately that has spurred me on, challenged me, and kicked me in the pants from time to time :)

  • "Bitterness isn't one of those big, flashy sins that you can see growing above the surface of our hearts. It may not show off like anger or produce big ol' hunks of rotten fruit like disobedience. Bitterness is a sleeper sin. It grows beneath the surface, down deep in the soil of our hearts."
Commenting on Hebrews 12:15, read 4 Ways to Spot a Bitter Root

  • And along the same lines, because we all know that hurtful words do wound us...what should we do?  Read: When Another's Words Sting

  • "Our formal living room housed two hospital beds. As a child I never realized that this might be unusual (and a bit like the opening scene of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory). I never heard my parents utter a word of complaint about the care they gave or the way their home was rearranged to lovingly provide for these men. By their example, they taught me the beauty of true hospitality."
Beautiful post about the ministry of hospitality: Open Roof Hospitality
  • We don't have to guess or wonder what spiritual qualities God wants our children to develop, and for us to help them develop.  I loved the simplicity and truth of this post: Developing Godly Qualities in Our Children 

  • I'm really excited about this one!  Free unlimited access to Ligonier Connect for 30 days when you use the coupon code TRYCONNECT.  You can take theology courses (dozens to choose from), studying at your own pace. This would also be a great tool to use for high school students' theology classes.  Also available are worldview, philosophy, apologetics, church history, etc....and...did I mention I was excited? It's like being in a candy store. Join me in the Old Testament Bible Survey class if you wish.

A few posts on marriage that have touched a nerve:

  • A simple yet poignant correlation about the growth of our marriages and the growth of our faith in Christ:  On the Day I Married Her

  • I'm putting this one with the marriage posts because, most of you know, I am married to a pastor. But if you aren't married to one, you probably at least have a pastor and this would be very much worth the read. I have learned that right before he preaches, is not the best time to ask Kevin to change a diaper. In fact, I have learned that right before he preaches is not the time to ask him what color stop signs are. Read: Before He Preaches.

  • Change For Struggling Marriages Excellent advice. Written by a couple who were Christians when they married but still had significant relationship struggles.

  • Came across this older post on being a helper and have been chewing on it a few days. Fantastic.  "God’s example reveals a high and worthy calling for women as helpers suitable to their husbands. We are not glorified maids, butlers, or cooks waiting on an order to perform from a master. This is not God’s example of help at all! We are called to show compassion, support, defend, and protect those in our care. We are called to deliver from distress and to comfort. We are called to be conduits of God’s grace in our homes. We are called to be like Christ."   Single, married, divorced, widowed, this seasoned word touches women in all realities of life: Keep Calm and Carry On--Being a Strong Helper After God's Own Heart

On Motherhood:

  • Identifying how joy as a mom is killed in us and then cultivating the joy, the real ground zero kind, that God created us to have in Christ.  Don't miss this one: A Mother's Joy

Have a wonderful weekend!

1/22/14: Weekend Links
6/20/14: Weekend Links

Monday, January 12, 2015

When You're Dwelling in the Desert of Discontent

My word for 2015: Contentment.

I don't think there are times of my life that I look back on with more shame and regret, than times of discontent. Short and sometimes long seasons that I complained, murmured, and like the Israelites wandering in the desert, unbelief and doubt overtook me.

I look back on those seasons with shame and a growing sorrow.

Not that I am now one thousandth as thankful as I should me. And at times I am still tempted. I pray the Lord would give me more and more hatred for this sin.  

During those seasons of discontent I paid a dear price.  How that spirit of discontent and unthankfulness plundered me! I was being robbed.

Robbed of my faith, my hope, my peace, my confidence, my blessings too great to count, all the beautiful opportunities and gifts in my path. They were being stolen from my sight.  Obscuring my vision was all that I perceived I lacked.  All that I perceived God had taken or was withholding from me.

Precious days were wasted.  Of the few days that are allotted to me in this short time on earth, I squandered many, dwelling in the desert of discontent.  That dry, barren and unfruitful place that God never intends his people to be.

And God was being robbed of glory.  All the privileges and blessings he poured out, turned into poison.  It grieves me that I grieved Him.

I didn't have the faith to believe that all He gives and takes away is for my eternal good and His glory.

That he loves me enough to bring me to the understanding that my satisfaction is in Him and who He is, rather than my comforts and sources of temporary happiness.

As a young mother, working full time outside my home, I had a wonderful sitter for my two little girls.  She was a faithful Christian lady who had already raised her family, and had a great love for all children.  Her ministry to our family is still bearing fruit.

Each day I would drive to her home, leave my little girls with her for the whole day and pick them up, bedraggled, right before supper.  The next day we did it all again. 

And the girls came to love their sitter very deeply. So much so that they began turning to her for comfort instead of me.  They asked for her when she wasn't near.  They felt lost when she wasn't there to meet their needs. One day my toddler called her "Mama."

Our sitter was a gift.  But I removed her from the daily life of my girls.  I took a job working third shift, and my husband and I figured out a way to make ends meet, in order to put distance between her and them. It was hard on the girls for a time. But as a baby and toddler, they had no choice but to submit to our decision.

And I wonder how often God acts in such a way.  His children become dependent on the gifts he gives and so he withholds or removes them, sometimes for a season, sometimes forever, so that they will understand that His temporary gifts aren't where we must look for satisfaction. That He alone is faithful.  That He won't share that place in our hearts because He loves us too much to let us trade the lesser for what is infinitely greater.

"To be content because of some external thing is like warming a man's clothes by the fire.  But to be content through an inward disposition of the soul is like warmth that a man's clothes have from the natural heat of his body." --Jeremiah Burroughs

All I have was given by God.  He can remove it when he knows it is best to do so.  His ways are unsearchable and his judgments are past finding out.  Therefore, I may often not have understanding in the matter.

Our good is in God more than in our comforts, relationships, money and earthly treasures.

And so as we live in light of the gospel, in any condition we find ourselves... we can be content.

Knowing Your Flock

Sunday, January 4, 2015

5 Favorite Books From 2014

Here are my top 5 picks from 2014:

  • 5th place goes to Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin.  I wish all women could read this book.  It will inspire you to dig deeper into your Bible and move beyond devotional reading.  I am still in a season where hours of study just isn't possible, but I know I can't be the only one who, because of that, gives up trying at times.  The problem with giving up is it isn't an option for Christian people. We need the Word of God...and a real understanding of it...the way we need air to breathe.  This book has re-lit the fire in me to get serious again about doing what I can with the time God has given me.

  • 4th place honors go to Ordinary by Michael Horton.  Ok, wait...I haven't actually read this book.  But my husband has read it, bought copies for the kids and so many quotes have been read to me I feel like I have read it.  Full of fresh and wise insights on living an ordinary Christian life and is particularly edifying to wives and daughters.

  • Discipline by Elisabeth Elliot wins 3rd place. Discipline is not a popular thing to ponder in our instant gratification generation.  But this book hits the nail on the head.  It's worth a yearly re-read.

  • 2nd place goes to Your Home, a Place of Grace by Susan Hunt. It is one of those books you are sorry to see the last page of, and you want to turn right around and start it again.  It's that good.  I bought a few as gifts this year for loved ones.  It isn't a how-to book.  It is much more about who God is than who we are and what we do.  Wish I had read it years ago.

  • And 1st place goes to....The Hole in Our Holiness by Kevin De Young.  From my review on Goodreads:  This book should be required reading for every young adult. DeYoung has a message to share that, I hope, is a wake up call to Christians. God is holy and expects us to be holy. With no hint of legalism or superiority, he thoughtfully shares a balanced view of law and grace. In a day where cheap grace abounds and Christians are reluctant to speak truth for fear they will be labeled intolerant or irrelevant, Kevin Deyoung communicates clearly that we are to pursue holiness as the fruit of our union in Christ.

What were some of your favorites from the past year?  What is on your list for the coming year?

Friday, January 2, 2015

On Losing Weight In the New Year

I have some weight to lose. Its been clinging to me for a good while now.

This weight is unhealthy.
Scratch that.

This weight is deadly.

This weight steals my joy and robs me of peace.  It hinders me in the tasks God has called me to carry out. I begin work with lots of energy and then run out of steam before I get started good.  My endurance is lacking.  And it's all because of the weight I am carrying.

"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,"
Heb. 12:1

This weight of sin destroys faithfulness, especially because I can so easily tolerate it in myself.  I can deceive myself into believing that it is no big deal and underestimate it's effects.  It has the power to make me useless in my service to Christ, it limits my prayers and it brings discipline from the Lord.

  • A nonchalant attitude toward the pursuit of my understanding of the Word produces a woman who eventually gives up from lack of desire and then becomes indistinguishable from women who have never been changed by the gospel. Our homes, churches and communities desperately need the salt and light of women who love deeply the God of the Bible.  Who know what they believe and why they believe it.  Who aren't tossed about by every wind of doctrine.

  • Self-image issues.  Literal weight that is a spiritual weight.  I'm tired of the world's psychotic notions that we can have it all--look thin to the point of malnourishment but still look healthful, "toned" and tanned as if we do some physical labor. I'm tired of the world's obsession with physical appearance and getting sucked in to it myself.  I want to throw off that weight that entangles the feet of women like me all over the world.  I am a 40-year-old mother who has been living life with zest, not to mention the battle scars medals of honor that come from giving life to nine other human beings. Reminders of all God has given, not trials to be overcome.

  • Sins of the tongue, a complaining and discontent spirit, idols that compete for the throne of my heart: Idols that look like comfort, entertainment, social media, money, human applause and admiration and yes...our own families.  All are encumbrances that slow me down in the race of faith.
 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.

I'm running a race here.  A long distance one, most likely. It's a race of faith.

And a  long distance race is hard enough without extra weight entangling my feet, tripping me up.

Purposing with the Lord's help to lose some weight in 2015.