Friday, December 19, 2014

Getting Over Myself

I cannot explain the battle that takes place in my heart at times- sometimes in the early hours of the morning, before the sun has even touched the sky, sometimes in the middle of the day while putting lunch on the table, and sometimes late at night when I am looking forward to crawling under the warm covers and falling fast asleep. It is a battle of flesh and Sprit, of my sinful selfish nature and of my new nature in Christ. It is a battle in which my old nature so badly desires to complain, to "vent" to someone, to mope around so others can see how "tired" I am (which sounds embarrassingly stupid and childlike now, but always seems so satisfactory in the moment!), to cry, or to go about the motions of cooking dinner and doing laundry but with no joy, thankfulness, or kindness. But, thankfully, going against these fleshly desires is the Holy Spirit working in me, reminding me to give completely of myself- with my heart and not just my hands- joyfully, willingly, graciously; to deny myself and follow Jesus; to put the needs of others above my own. Some days, the victory over my sinful desires comes more naturally, but other days, this war inside of my heart can feel so extremely intense!

Recently, I was talking with another mom at church. She and her husband just welcomed their fourth baby into their family. I asked her how the transition was going, and she said it had been really easy. This surprised me at first, but then I thought, Yes, I've heard other moms say it gets easier the more children you have, because you get more relaxed about everything. So I nodded and made some sort of comment along those lines, "Yes, I've heard it gets easier because you're more laid back with each new baby." She smiled. Then, after a short pause, she added, "Yes, and you just get over yourself too!" I didn't know
exactly what she meant by that, but she went on, "When we had our second, I found myself having mini tantrums or pity-parties because I didn't get the sleep I felt like I deserved or was so focused on myself. But then, God helped me to just get over myself, and it's so much more joyful!"

Now, this conversation was so brief, and the other mom might not even remember any of the details of what either of us said, but her words have come to my mind over and over and over the last few weeks... "You just get over yourself." I just keep thinking, Wow, I have a LOT of myself to be getting over! But, I think that exactly how God uses motherhood in the lives of His daughters- to help them get over themselves! He patiently and gently teaches us to put the the interests and needs of others above our own, looking to His example (for He continually gave and gave and gave of His life for others- even to the point of suffering a torturous death on the cross for their (our) salvation). This is a daily lesson- put into practice in the "nitty-gritty" of mommyhood life- with each difficult night of little sleep, each cleaning of the smashed peas on the walls, each tender embrace as we rock our little ones to sleep, each shower-less day, each discouraging trip to the closet because our clothes don't fit quite right anymore. Mommyhood is a call to completely give of yourself to others- to give your body, your time, your sleep, your privacy, your quiet, your love, your heart, your mind, and your strength.

Thankfully, our loving Father gave us the greatest example of all to guide us.
(Phil. 2:3-13)
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature[a] God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature[b] of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death
        even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
    and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.
12 Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, 13 for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
Jesus gave up His life for me! I have not been called to die right now; I have been called to change the diapers of my sweet girl, to hold her in my lap and read to her, to comfort her in the middle of the night when she is teething or sick, to patiently tell her not to pull down the Christmas tree ornaments, to hold her tiny hands as I teach her to clap. My job as a mommy is so precious and special!

And, most days, I have no problem actually doing these things. The temptation comes in how I do them! If I miss some of the sleep I feel I "needed", I want to complain to Matt so he (or anyone really!) sees how "selfless" I am. If I have had to say "no" a hundred times one day, I am sure to tell Matt, again, so he can see how "difficult" my day has been. My heart is craving recognition, appreciation, sympathy... glory for myself, ultimately. But, Jesus is calling me, and all of His children, to not just give of themselves with their actions but also with their hearts!

One verse that He has been reminding me of often is Mark 10:45, which says that even Jesus (Who is God and deserved to be served!) did not come to the world to be served but to give His life for us. This is a challenge to me to be thinking each day, Okay, am I going about my day seeking to be served, recognized, appreciated, thanked, even if I am technically "serving"? Or am I following Jesus' example and looking to truly serve and give of myself to my husband and our little girl? 

I am thankful for the other mother's honesty and the reminder from God to keep looking to Jesus' example and learning how to "get over myself."

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dearest Sister: Consider His Heart

Dearest Sister,

This post is inspired by a journal entry I had written after Matt shared with me about his life before he became a believer.
We had been "getting to know each other" (the confusing and somewhat awkward time when we were in a relationship but not calling it dating yet) for four months. Up until this time, our conversations had been focused on our classes, our beliefs/theology, our personal Bible-reading, our families, and our growing up memories. And it was at this point in our relationship that Matt felt he needed to share with me about his life before he was saved, before our relationship continued any further.

I remember that night so well. We sat in his black Jeep, parked right outside the girls' dorm. He seemed so nervous, and serious- more serious than I had ever seen him before. He breathed heavily and then started, "I know that you know I talked to your dad and there are some things I wanted to talk to you about... I'll give you an overview, and if you have any questions, then just stop me and ask. I will tell you anything that you want to know." He then preceded to share with me about his life from high school through college. When he finished and asked me if I wanted to ask him anything, I didn't know what to say at first. But then I asked, "Why did you want to tell me all of this?" And he replied that it was because he wanted to be completely honest and transparent with me, not hiding anything. He also said he wanted to share all of these things with me at this point in our relationship so that, if I could not see myself pursuing a relationship with someone who had a background like his, we would be able to stop "getting to know each other" now and not begin dating and have to end things when it would be more difficult to do so. He said I could have as long as I needed to think and pray, and we said goodnight.

That night and the following morning, I spent time reading God's Word. The Psalms were a special comfort. As I read, I began to see recurring themes: We sin, but when we repent and turn to God, He forgives.

Psalm 25 was especially meaningful to me. The first verse that caught my eye was (v.7) "Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to Your love remember me, for You are good, O Lord!" The Psalmist was praying to the Lord not to remember the sins of his past.
What I really began to notice in this passage, though, was the Psalmist's heart. He was turning from his sins to God.
His humble, repentant heart was evidenced by:
- His trust in the Lord (v. 1-3) "In You, Lord, I put my trust.... I trust in You."
- His desire to learn God's ways and to follow after Him (v. 4-5) "Show me Your ways, Lord. Teach me Your paths. Guide me in Your Truth, and teach me."
- His humility and complete dependence upon the Lord (v. 11, 16) "for the sake of Your Name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great." "Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lowly and afflicted."
- His integrity (v. 21) "May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my trust, Lord, is in You."

Immediately, my mind began to think of Matt. I had seen each and every one of these descriptions in his life. And his sharing with me about his past was actually one of the sweetest evidences of these graces, for through it, I was able to see his humble heart, his repentance in turning from sin to Christ, and his intense desire to learn God's ways and follow after Him. Knowing about his past enabled me to see the transforming power of the Gospel in his life in a deeper way! God had completely and utterly changed him, taking his old sinful desires and giving him new, godly desires. He had awakened his soul to taste and see that the Lord is good.

I am so thankful that God saved my Matt. And never once have I ever wished something from his past would have been different. And I couldn't respect him more than I do now. His life is a beautiful and precious picture of how God takes a soul that is spiritually dead and makes it alive again. Matt was a sinner with heart seeking only after the world and satisfying his own desires, but God has given him a new heart that seeks after Him and His ways.
To the world, mine and Matt's lives might have looked completely different. But the reality is that my heart was just as sinful, just as spiritually dead. I was seeking after my own desires, seeking only to please myself, and I was in desperate need of a new heart, a heart that would seek after God. And just like God saved Matt, He saved me. We have both been "saved by grace, through faith," not of our own doing, but as a "gift of God, not of works," so that neither of us can boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

So, dear sister, you may have pictured yourself marrying a man with a similar background as yours- a man who grew up in a home where his parents believed the Gospel, who heard about Jesus from a young age, who trusted Him when he was young and reading His Word and going to church. His life would be a beautiful picture of Jesus' saving grace. And you may marry a man like that.
But, if a man pursues you, who has a past that is very different than yours- maybe he did grow up in a believing home but didn't trust Christ himself until he was older, or maybe he didn't even hear the Gospel at all until later in life- (and his sins would only have been a further acting out of what is really in all of our hearts before coming to Christ and being given new hearts from Him)- if this is the kind of past that that man has, consider his heart. Look for evidences of God's grace in his life. Do you see humility? turning from sin? a hunger for God's Word? a desire to follow after God?
If you see these things, these fruits of God's working in his life, then know that you can follow him, love him, and respect him with no regrets. Instead, you will get a front row seat to watch God's transformation in his life. For the One Who began this good work in his life promises to "carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:6)

I'll love you for always,

Your oldest sis

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Encouragement from 1 Tim. 5:10

Recently, I attended a Bible study about true beauty, based on the book True Beauty by Carolyn Maheney and Nicole Whitacre During one of the sessions, we discussed how truly beautiful women of old put their hope in God and confidently trusted Him (1 Pet. 3:3-6) and were known for their good works (1 Tim. 5:3-10). At this point, our women's ministry leader, who was guiding the discussion, noted how moms of small children can become discouraged, believing that they are failing to be involved in "good works," and can sometimes even fall into the trap of viewing their children as hindering them from truly serving as they should be. She warned against believing these lies and explained how "good works" look different at different stages of our lives (single, married, caring for small children, caring for older children, empty nesters, etc.) She then encouraged young moms to realize that the work they were doing in caring for their husbands and children were, in essence, the "good works" specified in this 1 Tim. 5 passage:

"and is well known for good works-that is, if she has brought up children, shown hospitality, washed the saints' feet, helped the afflicted, and devoted herself to every good work."
(1 Tim. 5:10) 

1. Brought up children. Caring for our children, training them in the fear of the Lord, sharing the Gospel with them- all of these are commands of God. We are obeying God and serving Him each day as we "bring up" our children. (Eph. 6:4)

2. Shown hospitality. I smiled as she jokingly noted that we are daily putting a roof over and providing food for our little ones. We are opening our home to them, sharing life with them, loving them, and welcoming them as Jesus has welcomed us into His family. (Rom. 15:7)

3. Washed the saints' feet. Washing feet was one of the lowest jobs, the jobs no one was jumping up to do (except servants and Jesus). And each and ever day, moms wash their little ones' feet- literally (have you ever seen a little boy's feet after a day of playing in the mud?)  but also not so literally... changing diapers, kissing lots of boo-boos, changing bed-wet sheets in the middle of the night, giving cuddles to a sick little one, cleaning up throw-up from clothes and carpet. By God's grace and strength, washing the feet of our little ones in these ways can be joyful and worshipful as we serve them as we ourselves have been served by Jesus, our humble Servant-leader. 

4. Helped the afflicted. Jesus is an ever present help in times of trouble (Ps. 46:1). As we gently cover scrapes and bruises with Mickey Mouse band-aids, give hugs when feelings have been hurt, listen to them share their hurts and struggles, and pray for them and discipline them and share the Gospel with them as they struggle with sin and rebellion as we have- in all these ways, we can be an ever-present help to them. And we can share with them that Jesus is our ultimate Help and can be theirs too. We may fail at helping, but He never will. 

5. Devoted herself to every good work. Doing our work as moms with devotion and a servants' heart. It is a good reminder to me to devote myself to "every good work," whether it is changing a diaper, kissing and cuddling a little one who is learning to walk and has fallen and hit her head for the tenth time that day, praying for my husband, bringing a meal to someone, or sharing the Gospel with our neighbors. Some of these may seem more "godly" than others, but God has ordained every good work that He has me to do (Eph. 2:10). And all things, even the daily events of eating and drinking can be done for His glory (1 Cor. 10:31).

Looking at my day as a mom through this perspective was very encouraging to me. And while I should be seeking to show hospitality and wash the feet of others outside my family, especially those in the church body, it was a good reminder that God has given me a sweet little girl to serve and care for each day- to bring her up in the fear of the Lord, to wash her tiny feet, to help her, and to be devoted to caring for her- all for His glory and praise. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The False Gospel of Organization, Order, & Control

Two weeks ago, our house was a conglomeration of boxes. Big boxes, little boxes, half-opened boxes, boxes anywhere and everywhere. The boxes with things I needed I couldn't find. The boxes stuffed with items we didn't need for a while were the boxes that continually seemed to make their way into my path.
We had just arrived in Louisville earlier that afternoon around one, after two days of traveling, and had plunged into our move only fifteen minutes later when we signed our new lease and picked up the moving truck.
We were so blessed to have so many friends helping us. But the day was still a whirlwind of activity, packing up last minute boxes, entertaining and bouncing Annie in the baby carrier for naps, and ordering and eating dinner, in between trips back and forth between our old and new apartments with the moving truck.
The time we had set for the move was so limited that we did not have time to get all the furniture situated in the correct rooms. Our desks were in the living room, the couches were covered in boxes. We were climbing over boxes to get to the kitchen, slipping between boxes to make our way down the hall. As I sat on the living room floor, staring at the boxes and furniture that surrounded me, I could feel the subtle unrest of anxiousness in my heart. All around me, everything was everywhere. And the loss of control I had over our home at the moment caused my heart to be unsettled.

At this point, let me just say that I. Love. Organization.
I thrive on schedules and order. I like everything to have a designated place, and it makes me feel at peace when everything is clean and where it belongs. I have a meal plan, a cleaning schedule, and a weekly routine that I try to build our days around. And when our days run smoothly according to these plans, I feel satisfied and in control. Sticky notes are my favorite, and I always have a running to-do list. When I accomplish much on my list, it brings me satisfaction and happiness.
Conversely, when our days become "crazy" (I'm sure when we have more children I will remember back to these days and think I never knew what "craziness" was, but, to me now, they can sometimes seem crazy:) ... the baby won't sleep, I haven't been able to do the cleaning task I had scheduled for today , I accidentally started a fire in our oven that I had to put out with two large cups of water, my phone is broken, I haven't slept 4 hours in a row in months, there are toys and blocks all over the floor, Annie is covered in cheerios stuck to her little belly with sticky watermelon juice, I am trying to cook dinner while Annie is screaming and biting my feet and climbing up my legs... in the midst of that craziness, I can struggle with discouragement and dissatisfaction (because I haven't gotten anything "done" today!) and anxiousness and unrest in my heart (because I feel out of control in the moment).

Yet, in those moments, I am living according to a false gospel of control & organization:
- When everything is organized, in order, and running smoothly, I feel at peace, satisfied, at rest, happy, etc.
- When everything is "crazy" and "unaccomplished" and everything is everywhere, I feel anxious, unsatisfied, discontent, discouraged, etc.
I am looking to organization and sense of control and order to find satisfaction, rest, encouragement, peace- rather than looking to Jesus. 

Slowly, God has been revealing to me and teaching me that, in these moments (and in every moment!), I need to remind my heart of the true Gospel:
Jesus died for my sins and rose again to save me from God's wrath. I am united to Him now, and only He can bring me satisfaction, rest, peace, joy. 

The rest that He gives is a true and better rest because His burden is easy and His yoke is light (Mtt. 11:30). And the peace that He gives is unlike the peace of the world and the false sense of peace that my sense of having everything in order can ever bring; His peace transcends all human understanding and can guard my heart and mind against all anxiousness (Phil. 4:7). And the joy that He gives is true joy; it is inexpressible and glorious! (1 Pet. 1:8-9).

The peace and happiness that come when I feel like everything is in order can fade away in a moment of chaos, but Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He remains the same in the "orderly" days and the "crazy" days. And when I look to Him and dwell on His character and pray to Him and fill my mind with His Word, my soul finds rest, no matter what the day holds. And for this, I am thankful.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

"This too shall pass" & True Hope

"This too shall pass." I cannot list the number of times this phrase brought comfort to my weary soul- As I sat on our blue yoga ball, bouncing little Annie at 1 AM while singing "Hush Little Baby" because it was the only thing that would soothe her cries. When I was awoken once more from a deep sleep because she needed to be fed. When I felt like I could not hold my eyelids open because of the sleepless nights yet for some reason was unable to fall asleep for a nap. When I could not get her to sleep in her crib for even twenty minutes of a nap. (Yes, I tried everything from swaddling to not swaddling, from putting my shirt in her crib with her to actually sitting in the crib with her myself, from putting her in asleep to putting her in drowsy to putting her in awake, from nursing her to sleep, to rocking her to sleep, from giving her a binky to not giving her a binky. And all to none avail those first few months of her little life.) Telling myself that this would all soon be over- that she would outgrow the night feedings, that she would be learn to soothe herself back to sleep soon- brought me hope those weary nights and days. Matt and I used to joke that we would not be bouncing her on the ball and holding her to sleep when she was six. The sleepless nights and weary days would soon pass.

But recently, I was convicted by this phrase and the comfort it brought me. In essence, when I told myself, "This too shall pass," I was setting my hope on what I pictured would be "easier" times ahead, or, in other words, in my "difficult" circumstances passing. Yet, I know that this is not true! Though I may be able to convince myself that the potty-training years might be easier than the newborn phase, I am quite certain that I will soon be scrubbing toddler pee from the newly cleaned floor, telling myself, "This too shall pass."

I have been convicted to search my heart and ask Where is my hope? Is it looking to the days when Annie will sleep five hours without waking up? or to when she is done teething? or when she learns to put her binky in her mouth herself so that she can soothe herself more easily? ... If it is in these future circumstances, then I will always be disappointed. I will always have to be looking towards the next thing- to get past the potty-training, past the long homeschooling days, past the emotional middle school phase, past the drama-filled teenage years. I will constantly be telling myself "This too shall pass" but never reaching true and lasting hope and joy.

So, instead of looking to the next and seemingly "better" phase, Jesus is teaching me that I can have hope right now, in the middle of the night-waking and teething phase. I can have hope because of His promises, specifically His promise that He is using everything in my life (from the piles of dirty laundry to the encouragement of our Gospel community group) to sanctify me, making me look more and more like Him.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together hfor good,8 for ithose who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he jforeknew he also kpredestined lto be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be mthe firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also njustified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:28-30)

 And I am sure of this, that he who began ha good work in you iwill bring it to completion atjthe day of Jesus Christ.
(Philippians 1:6)

It is true, and it can bring encouragement that these tough phases as a mom will pass, but I have to be careful that this is not where my hope is set, for it will continually change. But Jesus and His Word are eternal. And only He can be my eternal Hope.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 
Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. 
When Christ, who is your[a] life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
(Col. 3:1-4)

God's Sovereignty Over Airplanes & Babies

Who knew Pringle cans and water bottles could make the most entertaining baby toys? This was just one thing I discovered on my flight to New York to visit my family last week.

Our flight was scheduled to depart at 7 AM, which meant we needed to be at the airport no later than 5:30 AM, which meant we needed to leave the house at 5:15, which further meant that we needed to wake up at 5 AM. Poor little Annie was completely confused when Daddy picked her up from her bassinet and unswaddled her. Usually we were trying everything we could think of to try to get her to sleep. And this time we were waking her up at the time of night when she is in her deepest sleep. Her eyes were wide as we carried her out to the car and strapped her in the carseat. Not even a whimper escaped from her lips. She was all curiosity and alertness. But I dreaded what cries the next few hours might hold. Thankfully, we were scheduled to arrive in NY by 11 AM, and our flights were short with an even shorter layover.

At least, that was how I had pictured the day ahead. But God's plan ended up being quite different than mine. The day I had planned involved boarding our flights on time and getting to NY on time, all while trying to juggle a carry-on, backpack, and soothe a tired and probably screaming baby. But God had ordained for us to miss our second flight, to spend eight hours in the airport, and to board the last plane to Albany that day, all the while catching glimpses of His grace in my life.

To make a long story short, our first flight was delayed by almost an hour, causing us to miss our next flight by about 5 minutes (despite my efforts of running through the airport rolling my carry-on,  lugging a backpack that was leaking baby wipes and toys as I went, and holding tightly to my very tired crying baby.) Staring at the closed terminal, I felt so alone and scared, surrounding by thousands of people in the Philadelphia airport my first time flying alone. And yes, I started to cry.

But I wasn't alone. God was with me, and, in His sovereign plan, I was "stuck" at the Philadelphia airport for eight hours that day. So many flights had been delayed and cancelled, so many people were on "stand-by" for upcoming flights, so many voices I overheard talking about how they had been unable to get to their destination for hours and for some, even two days! Fear gripped my heart as I imagined spending the night in that airport with a tired baby. But God used that day to remind me of His sovereignty and to deepen my trust in Him as my good and loving heavenly Father. Those eight hours were packed full of little reminders of His kindness, protection, and care...

When I was waiting in the customer service line to rearrange my flight, my eyes brimming with tears, feeling very alone, God brought the kindest couple and their baby girl into the line with me. Without even knowing me, the wife gave me a hug, and we talked about how their flights had been cancelled too and about our baby girls and about babies' teething, sleeping, playing, and nursing. I was so thankful for their smiling faces.
When I needed to get in touch with my mom, and my phone was broken, I was able to get internet (the only place in that airport that it worked for me that day!) in the customer service line, and we were able to use FaceTime to connect.
When the Customer Service representative told me all the flights for that day were full or cancelled, and every other person in line was receiving a "stand-by" ticket, I was miraculously able to get a ticket with an assigned seat. I have no idea how this was even possible aside from God's provision.
When I was unable to get internet any where else in the building, so I had no way of getting in contact with anyone, I prayed that my phone would start working again, and it did! (and has been working ever since!)
When Annie and I were waiting those eight hours for the flight we were scheduled to take, we were surrounded by a group of friendly faces- a older man traveling from a casino who offered to watch my pink carry-on while I walked around with Annie (even though it wasn't quite his "color," he said with a smile), a business man who shared with me about his own daughters and encouraged me to enjoy every moment of little Annie's growing up, two middle-aged women who smiled and cooed at Annie, and the list could go on.
When we finally boarded our plane that night (after two hours of delays and the scare of possible cancellation due to mechanical difficulties), and there was confusion because our seat number had been double-booked, by God's grace, there was one extra seat on that plane, so we were still able to stay on that flight.
And, the most miraculous of all, Annie, despite having been woken at 5AM and only able to get about two short naps until we arrived at 10 PM, was as happy and content as could be. She only cried that one time while I was in the Customer Service line. This was God's special grace to us that day, because, usually, after missing even just one nap, she is arching her back, screaming at the top of her lungs, unable to be consoled by anything. I was reminded that God is sovereign over even the cries of my little girl.

He is sovereign over airplanes and flight schedules. Not one flight is cancelled aside from His perfect and good plan. And our time at the airport that day was not for nothing, but was used to show me His grace in a new way. Without the delays and cancellations, I would not have had the opportunities to see the evidences of His provision and care.

And He is sovereign over each little cry that comes from my baby- whether they be in the middle of the Philadelphia airport terminal or whether they come from her bassinet at 2AM. Each one is in His good and perfect plan and is used to mold me more and more into the image of His Son.

He is sovereign not just over salvation and creation and life and death but also over the shining sun and pouring rain, over the content baby and the cries of a fussy baby, over a successful interview and the missed appointment, over missed planes and new boarding passes- and everything that comes into my life is used by His hand to make me more like Christ. This is His precious promise to those who believe in Him:

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:28-32)

Monday, June 2, 2014

Dearest Sister: You cannot love your husband and children

Dearest sister,

You cannot love your husband and children (or sister, or roommate, or best friend), on your own.

When I was growing up, I used to dream about one day meeting the man who would be my husband, getting married, and then one day becoming a mommy. The thought of serving a husband and family was so exciting. I dreamed about it almost every day. I could picture myself planning delicious, healthy meals, wearing my pink ruffled apron while cooking, with my husband coming up behind me to kiss my cheek and tell me the food smelled delicious, happily sweeping the floor and keeping a clean, welcoming home for him to come home to after a long day of work, and one day tenderly kissing the soft cheek of our beautiful sleeping baby as she peacefully drifted off to sleep. I would think about cute, special little things I could do for my husband to surprise him and let him know how much I loved him and was thinking about him- leaving notes in his lunchbox, setting the table for a romantic candlelight dinner, cooking his favorite meals, running to kiss him when he walked in the door from work. I couldn't wait to be married and to have a husband to love and serve.

The problem was, in my dreams of being a wife and mommy, it was all about me loving and serving. It wasn't that I consciously thought to myself that I could do everything on my own; it was more that I didn't realize how much I need Jesus each and every moment of every day. And becoming a wife and mom helped me to see this.

Marriage is wonderful, and it is a very special gift from God. My heart cringes every time I hear marriage jokes that allude to the wife ruling and the husband reluctantly going along with things  or  comments and jokes about the "honeymoon" phase ending soon or implying that we are just in the "newlywed" phase still and will soon start loving and enjoying each other less and begin merely tolerating each other more. Yes, it is true that marriage isn't a "fairytale." There are times of disagreements and times when it is harder to love and serve. But, I have found that those times are when I am focused on myself and when I am dwelling on what I think I "deserve" or am "entitled" to. But love, true Biblical love, is not about us. It is about giving of oneself to serve another. (Eph. 5:1-2) says, "Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." To love as Christ loved (which we are called to do), is to give up oneself as Christ did (He didn't keep any of Himself- but gave up His whole self- even unto death- for us!)
So, I might be able to set the table with candles and cook Matt's favorite chicken casserole when I am in a good mood and focused on him. But I am weak, and in my sinfulness, focused on myself, I don't always want to think about Matt. I don't want to serve; I want to be served. Soon into our marriage, I realized this, in one particular instance which I vividly remember.... We were living in Fuller apartments (which we loved & we have many special memories of our year there), but cooking dinner was sometimes a little challenging with the one small amount of counterspace that the kitchen had. I was making buffalo chicken and had just taken it out of the oven. However, I had forgotten to think about where I would put it to cool, and our little counterspace was full of dishes. The pan was very hot, and my hand began to feel it through the thin towel I had been using to hold it. In a matter of seconds, the buffalo chicken was all over our kitchen floor- bright orange-red splatters all over the white cabinets and a puddle of orange-red right in the middle of our green kitchen carpet. Soon, I too was on the floor, crying as I stared at the mess all around me. Selfish thoughts like, "Here I am cooking dinner, and now it's ruined, and I'm the one who's going to have to clean up this mess too!" or "I shouldn't be the one cleaning this up. I have to cook and do the dishes...." (What had happened to the happy day dreams about cooking and cleaning for my husband?) Now, Matt does help me with the dishes, and he is constantly thanking me for cooking and cleaning for him. He has never once complained about something I have made. I am blessed by such a thankful husband. But, in that moment, I was so focused on myself that I began to feel bitterness rising. That was the moment I realized I could not love my husband on my own.
I could not fold his laundry, pack his lunches, or even kiss him when he comes home from work if it wasn't for Christ working in me. I cannot love Matt on my own. No matter how much love he shows me or how much he serves me or writes me letters or tells me he loves me or thanks me for cooking and cleaning, I would always want more. To love Matt, to really love him (like when dinner spills all over the floor), I have to be dwelling on Christ's love for me. When I am marveling at how He gave up His life for me, my heart is full and thankful, and I do not seek to satisfy myself or look for how I can/need to be served. Then and only then, can I love Matt. By God working in both Matt and I, we are able to enjoy the gift of marriage and of loving and giving oneself for another because of how perfectly we ourselves have been loved by Christ.

Mommyhood was a little more of a wake-up call. Somewhere amidst all of the 2, 4, and 6 AM feedings, I realized that being a mom wasn't all about tender feelings and soft kisses on a sleeping baby's cheek. Being a mommy is like being on a roller-coaster of "This is so precious, I want to remember this moment forever" and "This is SO hard! Please, God, help me get through this!" I remember when Annie was just a few months old, and she smiled up at me. My heart melted, and I told Matt, "We should have eight kids!" Then, after one night of four very interrupted hours of sleep, I informed him that I thought we shouldn't have another baby but just adopt children when they were two or three. Being a mommy is all about giving; you give your body, your sleep, your time, your energy, your kisses, your hugs- all of you- to serve this tiny little person. For me, marriage is easier than mommyhood because I am blessed with a husband who loves and serves me (though God calls me to love him no matter his response), but as a mom, this little person whom I am loving doesn't even know how to say, "I love you, mommy" yet. And to be able to love her in both her moments of precious toothless grins and in the crying, fussy nighttimes, I need Jesus. I have to be dwelling on His love for me and be relying on His strength to love and serve her joyfully and selflessly.

God uses people and circumstances in our lives to continually show us how weak we are and how desperately we need Him. And when we are weak, He is strong. And He gets all of the glory and praise- for answered prayers of strength and patience when you didn't get very much sleep, for giving you a humble heart to do dishes and laundry and scrub the floors, for keeping you full and satisfied with His love so you can show love to those around you- whether they are your husband, children, sisters, roommates, co-workers, etc. We praise Him because we see that we could never have loved on our own.

I'll love you forever and always,
Your oldest sis

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Dearest Sister: Beware of Prideful Purity

As I stood there at the altar with my (very handsome) Groom, my hand in his, Daddy gently lifted my veil, kissed my cheek, and "gave me away" to him as he presented him with the tiny silver ring that had gracefully adorned my left ring finger since that special Valentine's night when I was sixteen.

That small silver ring symbolized my purity. Daddy and Mom had presented it to me to be an ever-present reminder  (a much better alternative to the blue tassel!) of my promise to God that night to remain pure for Him and through Him until my wedding day. 

And, by God's grace and only by His grace, Matt and I shared our first kiss at the altar and did not engage in physical intimacy until we were joined as husband and wife. 

But, leading up to our wedding day, God had convicted me of something that I think there is great danger of today: Prideful purity. Remaining pure, never having been kissed, only holding hands when engaged... all of this can easily feed our sinful flesh and entrap us in an "I'm saving myself" mentality. 

Purity is a beautiful thing, and God has called us to remain pure. But, it is so vital to remember that we don't purify ourselves or keep ourselves pure by adhering to a set of rules about what we will or won't do before marriage. Christ is the one Who has cleansed us from ALL impurity, transforming the deep crimson stains of our sin to the glorious shining whiteness of snow! (Is. 1:18, 1 Cor. 6:11) And He is the One Who promises to keep us and to work in us to follow Him and to will and to do according to His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13) The only way that we can be pure is through Christ. He cleanses us from impurity, and He equips us to live pure lives. 

That being said, in seeking to live pure lives, be careful of...

- Idolizing purity. I recently read this article, which really caused me to think about the way that we speak about purity. The focus should not be on purity itself, or on virginity, or on not kissing (this only leads to pride), but on Christ and living in a way that brings glory to Him. Some friends or girls you may be ministering to may have had their virginity taken from them or they may have engaged in sex outside of marriage before they became believers. This might be true even of your future husband. But this does not mean they cannot be pure. And marrying someone who is a virgin or who has never kissed before or who has only held the hand of one other girl is not the point. Purity of heart is what Jesus desires in His children. 
- Self-righteous purity. As hinted at above, be careful of slipping into an "I'm saving myself" mindset. Thinking that you can keep yourself pure can only cause you to become prideful and boastful of yourself. Always be mindful that Jesus is the One Who cleansed your heart from ALL sin. And He is the One Who has given you even the desire, but also the ability to live a pure life. 
- White-washed purity. Being "pure" is not merely about physical purity. God knows our hearts. And He desires purity of heart. Lust, self-righteousness, pride, covetousness, jealousy- all these can be lurking in the heart of a person who is technically physically "pure." Our hearts are deceitful and wicked and we cannot change them ourselves. But Jesus can! Look to Him to "search your heart and see if there be any wicked way in you and to lead you in the way everlasting" (Ps. 139:23-24)

But how do we live pure lives in His strength and not our own? What does that look like? 

- by renewing our minds according to His Word.  (Psalm 119:9-16)
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
    By living according to your word.
10 I seek you with all my heart;
    do not let me stray from your commands.
11 I have hidden your word in my heart
    that I might not sin against you.
12 Praise be to you, Lord;
    teach me your decrees.
13 With my lips I recount
    all the laws that come from your mouth.
14 I rejoice in following your statutes
    as one rejoices in great riches.
15 I meditate on your precepts
    and consider your ways.
16 I delight in your decrees;
    I will not neglect your word.

- by obeying His commands- putting off impurity and putting on love  (Col. 3) Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality,impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of Godis coming.[b] You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old selfwith its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
- by looking to Christ to search our hearts and lead us in His ways (Psalm 139: 23-24)

In conclusion, living pure lives is not something we can do through our own discipline or rules, but through filling our minds with God's Word, praying, and obeying His commands as He works in us, giving us the desire to obey, and equipping us with the strength to do so. We strive after purity not so that we look good, or so that our parents think highly of us, or so that we will have more "value" for our future husbands, but because He Who called us it pure. He saved us from a life of sin and impurity. How can we then return to it? He cleansed our sinful hearts and freed us from impurity to live purely as He is pure. And all of this is not for our glory, but for His. It's not about us; it's all about Him. 

I am praying that God will keep you walking purely in mind and body so that your life will bring glory to Him. 

I love you forever and always, 
Your oldest sis