Of Children and Angels: A Thought Experiment

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Imagine with me, if you will, that your children are little cherubs instead of mere humans.  (I know, I know, this is an inaccurate view of both children and of angels, but bear with the thought experiment.)

Suppose your little cherubs, instead of being in your care every day and every night, were instead entrusted to your care only during the day, and you were to return them to their heavenly Father every evening.  What would they report to Him?

Would they climb up on His lap, throw their arms around Him and say, “Oh, Father, I had the most wonderful day!  This ‘mother’ you have given me is so kind!  She is so much like You!”

Or would the child perhaps say through a sniffle, “Oh, Father!  She yelled and yelled and yelled!  I wanted her to see my picture, but she was too busy.  I wanted her to play with me, but she had ‘work’ to do.  And when I cried, she yelled and scolded me even more.  Oh, I wish I could just be with You.”

Or perhaps, “Oh, Father, today was rough.  I disobeyed ‘mother’ and she spanked me.  She told me to talk to You about it, too.  I’m sorry.  She said she would talk to You, too, since she yelled when she didn’t want to.  I guess we both need You.  Will You help ‘mother’ and me to be more like You?”

Or perhaps, “Umm… Hi.  Do You really love me?  This woman who You gave me to isn’t very nice.  She says she loves you and that I should, too, but she ignores me, and when she doesn’t ignore me, she hits me.  And I don’t even know what I did wrong.  Are You even there?”

Point being:  If we could imagine the report our children would give to God each day were they to literally go and sit on His lap, how would that change the way we treat them?  And besides a report that could be given, how does our behavior coupled with our claims to follow Christ add up in their little heads?  Do we put a stumbling block in front of them?  Do we upset their faith by our lack of self-control?

Or do we, by both consistent love and consistent training (and confessing humility when it is–so often–needed), demonstrate the heart of the God who gave His own Son so that these precious little ones could someday call Him Father?

Now, the Bible is clear—children are not angels—angels are more like bright, shining, terrifying mighty-men than like the silly little cherub images that humanity has conjured up.  But Jesus does say in Matthew 18:10,

See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven continually see the face of My Father who is in heaven.

Directly preceding this verse is the exhortation to pluck out our eye or cut off our hand if it causes us to sin.  Do we take Jesus’ command to “not despise” our children this seriously?  What gets in the way of loving our children the way we ought?  Are we willing to part with whatever it is?  For their sake?  For the sake of the glory and gospel of Christ?  In the very fear of God?

 

Gone Country: Reflections on the Last Two Years

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I grew up in the booming, bustling suburbs of North Texas. While it wasn’t exactly a concrete jungle, it was a far cry from “small town America”. While most of my time was spent in school or organized sports, I loved to venture off on a trail near our neighborhood—a trail that wound its way through town, along a creek and what little pasture land that was left. This was always my escape, my therapy, if you will. Getting away from everything else and catching glimpses of what God has made—birds in the trees, ducks in the creek, the rare treat of a rabbit popping out of the bushes, an orange sunset beyond an empty field and the line of trees that scaled the horizon—whether I ventured out in a pair of running shoes or on my bike, this was my retreat. My place to think, to pray, to cope.

I know that I more or less grew up as a “city girl”, but I like to think I was a country girl at heart.

Fast forward a decade or two—through my college years and beyond early married life in the sizable city of Tulsa. My husband Nathaniel and I had now moved back to our small college town in Arkansas, eager to find a quiet place in the country; a place we could let our energetic young sons roam free. After two years in an apartment, we found it. A nice little cabin of a house on seven acres. And in our price range thanks to its being on the market for over a year and the owners’ eagerness to get out from under their mortgage.

And probably also because of the three-foot-deep 1980’s Jacuzzi tub that took up an entire small bedroom upstairs—surrounded by pink carpet for good measure.

The Lord answered our prayers for a “good house for cheap”. The day after we closed, a bunch of our friends helped us begin the moving process.

And they helped us rip out the defunct tub, taking it out the six-foot-wide window and lowering it carefully down from the roof with a friend’s tractor, happily opening up another bedroom for us.

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Rub a dub, dub…how many men can fit in a tub?

We spent the next two months sleeping sometimes at our apartment and sometimes at the house while we worked late into the night to remodel the upstairs (all of it having been covered in said pink carpet). It was a tremendous relief to finally move in for good.

Another great relief came when someone paid us $200 for the tub. Seeing as how it sat for a month on our front porch, making us feel a little too hillbilly for my liking, I would have paid someone to haul it away! But this is Arkansas, after all, so it thankfully didn’t take too long to find some real hillbillies to take it off our hands.

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You want one for your front porch, don’t you?  You know you do.

That was two years ago.

I’m now sitting on our front porch just after sunset, enjoying the mild spring temperature and the sound of the water rushing in our creek after last night’s heavy rain. Our creek. This has to be one of the best features of this slice of creation we call home.

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It provides the pleasant sound of rushing water and supports the lush vegetation and wildlife we get to see on a regular basis. Not to mention it’s fun to play in when the water is low.

One of my favorite sensations since moving out here is the smell. The flowing water and cooler temperatures of evening bring wafts of sweet, clean smelling air—and especially this time of year, when the honeysuckle is in bloom.

I’ve found that I am far more aware of the changing seasons now that we live in a home surrounded by grasses and trees. At the very least, I have to notice the first dandelions of spring since my boys love to pick these yellow flowers and surprise me with them on a daily basis as soon as they pop up out of the dead grass. And I don’t think I ever had any idea what time of year honeysuckles began to bloom and share their sweetness with the world—but now I know it very well and look forward to the end of April and all of May, when they are at their peak.

Soon, too, it will be berry picking time. There are wild blackberry bushes by our creek that have already worn their white blooms so beautifully—and I know that the berry farm two miles away must also be showing signs that the rich, juicy fruit will be ready for the picking in just another month. The boys and I read Blueberries for Sal each year before we go and gather several gallons of them, popping them warm from the sun into our mouths, the boys with purple juice running down their chins. It’s not a bad way to mark the beginning of summer.

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I can’t say that I wasn’t aware of the seasons when we lived in town—I was, to be sure, and especially the coming of fall when I have always found sweet relief from the relentless heat of summer in the south. But I don’t think of seasons like I did as a kid (mostly by the arbitrary signposts of school starting or winter and spring breaks) or even as I did a few years ago (seeing summer as something to merely endure and winter as a time for Christmas and trying to avoid the flu). Being out here means I simply can’t help but notice the changes in the grass and trees, the flowers and the wildlife when I step outside our door. I now don’t just lament that we didn’t get any snow to play in this year. I’m wishing we’d had a good solid freeze to kill off more of the ticks and mosquitoes. Despite the fact that I’ve mostly learned to shrug off all kinds of insects and spiders, simply ducking away from wasps and bees and brushing other assailants away when they happen to land on me rather than freaking out about it, I’m still not looking forward to increased numbers of the two aforementioned blood-suckers and the itchy welts they inevitably leave. This year’s bug situation aside, however, I now understand so much more the beauty and unique bounty each season brings—and how much we depend upon them for our food.

The colors, smells, sounds, and other sensations that mark the seasons have been great fun to share with our children. It’s a huge part of their early education, just to notice the world around them, the things that God has made: collecting leaves and bark, flowers and insects, poking with a stick at an ant pile in order to observe the little red soldiers at work, sitting outside at night to watch the moon and the stars, playing “Pooh Sticks” on the bridge over the creek and noticing how sometimes the sticks move quickly and sometimes they don’t move at all depending upon how much rain we’ve had recently.

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Of course, there are some unintended consequences of raising boys in the country—like when my youngest, who was only two when we moved out here and thus is more thoroughly countrified than his older brother, saw a swimming pool at a hotel and exclaimed gleefully, “Look Mama! They built us a pond!”

It was one of those Beverly Hillbilly moments.

And there’s the unavoidable skill that little boys pick up from their father when there aren’t neighbors within view—peeing off the porch. This easily translates, in a three-year-old’s mind, into peeing off of the top of the slide at the playground or out of the side of the van in a parking lot.

Theoretically speaking, of course.

Perhaps this has created some extra work for me in training the boys on how to behave in public, but along with that there have been many good opportunities for us to work together as a family—clearing trails in the woods, piling up tree branches and sticks to make a bonfire, digging up rocks and dirt in our crawl space so that we can encapsulate it, lining the smaller creek that runs by our house and empties into the big creek with stones, watering freshly planted peach trees, and this year preparing the ground and growing seedlings to start our first garden.

I’d like to say we are eagerly anticipating a bountiful harvest, but at this point we will be doing well if any of our crops survive.

Living in the country has certainly brought a heavier work load for me (and a heavier dirt load for our floors—one day, I keep telling myself, we will have a mudroom), but I welcome the opportunity to be outside in a place I love. About four of our acres are covered in trees, but the rest is a mixture of various grasses and ground-covers that needs to be mowed six months out of the year. After mowing just the half-acre right around our house with a used-to-be-self-propelled push mower, I was elated to get a zero-turn riding lawnmower. Cruising across our yard, feeling the warm sun and breeze on my skin and the speed and power of the machinery beneath me, I have almost come to appreciate the annoying few lyrics that I can remember from “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” that used to play over the loud speaker at high school softball games.

…Almost.

Speeding around on the mower has perhaps translated too easily into speeding along down the curvy asphalt roller coaster on our route into town. I used to be so much more careful when we lived in town. I guess there’s something about the fresh air, the usually unpopulated roads, and the general feelings of independence that bring out my inner libertarian. That and it makes driving a minivan much more fun if I can imagine it’s a race car. Oops.

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Yes, we have a beautiful drive into town.

On a much more law-abiding note, living in the country (perhaps, if I’m honest, along with my fascination with The Hunger Games) has led to a growing interest in hunting, what with my recent acquisition of a compound bow and the plentiful supply of deer that grace our land. Of course, to make this paragraph accurate, I’ll have to get a hunting license first. Cue screams from my inner libertarian.

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Too bad this was taken through a screen…

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Accuracy…meh.  Precision…not bad.

It’s clear to me that living in the country is beginning to leave its mark on us. As a matter of fact, my husband insisted on playing “Sweet Home Alabama” on his guitar while I read him this article to get his feedback.

Silly interludes aside, I have to say that since I didn’t grow up in the country, and despite having lived in this place for two years now, all of our activities out here are still so new to me—bird watching, star gazing, gardening, lining a creek with stones, attempting to identify flowers and plants and bugs, cutting trails, pitching tents and hammocks, talking about raising chickens next year—it’s helped me to realize that while I received a good education, and even a degree, I still have so very much to learn about the world God has made. I’m like a child trying to soak up every experience of the natural world around me, just beginning to learn that each object I encounter has a name and a purpose.

Purpose. I’ve wondered at times if we’re not just hiding ourselves away on our land without one. Having never lived on more than a quarter acre before in my life, the thought of “Are we actually making good use of this land?” has crossed my mind.

Of course we want our children to have room to run around and explore. And we enjoy the quiet and privacy, as well as the potential for food production. But it wasn’t until last fall that I had a moment of confirmation that, yes, this is why we have this place.

We held a shindig with somewhere near forty friends, old and new. Our small living room was easily crowded with only a fraction of the people who had come over. Cars lined the long driveway from the big creek up past the house. I had been so busy with serving food that I missed a good portion of the activities. But right around dusk, when I finally stepped out on the front porch to see how things were going outside, I had to stop and smile. I could see shadows of our friends circled around a bonfire a stone’s throw away on the other side of the yard creek. Someone was playing a guitar. Most were singing praises.

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Yes. This. This is why we’re out here. Not just for our family to enjoy, but to be able to share this place with others.

I can only hope that our guests (and the members of my family) will find this place half as beautiful and comforting as I do. I’ve always needed to get outside to get away. Getting out of the four walls of our house is a metaphor for getting out of the four walls of my own mind. I need to be able to see beyond myself—beyond the duties and messes and failures that can so frustrate me, the thoughts that seek to entrap me—to see the expanse of the sky, the bigness of the world outside of my concerns, and to know that my God has made it all and holds it all together. His faithfulness to His creation and His transcendence keep me grounded when I am tempted to give into the waves of turmoil spilling over within my soul.

Living in the country doesn’t make anyone more godly or more spiritual, but I have found it a balm to my soul to be able to walk outside and see what God has made—to catch a glimpse of His nature revealed in creation.

So I’m thankful to be right here where we are.

The Lord knows I need it.

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Purity Isn’t for Me

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Purity isn’t for me. No, really—it isn’t.

There seems to exist some disillusionment for those who have reached what we could call “the other side of purity”. I’ve seen an article or two from people in my own generation bemoaning the fact that saving one’s virginity for the wedding night just wasn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. The reality that came after saying “I do” just hasn’t seemed to measure up to the ideal they were promised by their parents and youth pastors. Somehow these people who once made a commitment to purity now regret following through with it.

But why?

Maybe they were given all of the practical considerations and potential blessings of purity as though they were promises: avoiding STDs and unwanted pregnancy, having the potential for a very special physical relationship in marriage free from comparison with and the baggage of past “experience”, having a sense of self-respect, keeping your parents and church leaders happy (because the Bible says so!), making sure you don’t waste your gift on someone who doesn’t really love you, and, let’s not forget “married sex is the best sex”. In the minds of all too many teens and young adults, this boils down to: you will be healthier and happier if you wait. None of those are necessarily bad considerations or potential outcomes, mind you, but perhaps, neither are they proper motivation for a lifetime of purity.

I would offer that those who are disillusioned with the results of waiting didn’t understand what purity is for in the first place. Their complaints seem to be along the lines of “It didn’t work out for me like I thought. It didn’t make me as happy as I thought it would.” But, as the title of this article suggests, purity—in the Christian sense—isn’t for me.

My husband and I were recently asked to speak to a local youth group about how the Lord worked to bring us together (especially since our story is quite different from the way many people go about finding a spouse), so the issue of purity has been fresh on my mind for the past several weeks.

One of the discussion questions my husband tossed out that night for the teens to consider is, I believe, a very fitting one for any godly discussion of purity: What is the most important thing in the world to you?

I’d be interested to hear answers to that question from those who regret their past purity.

Hopefully those who know the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior would at least know that the answer ought to be God Himself, or some variation including loving, serving, or glorifying Him. After all, the Bible says “Whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” The Westminster Shorter Catechism suggests that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Once you know that is the correct answer, it’s pretty easy to come up with—but a whole lot harder to say honestly, isn’t it?

Riding that train of thought a little further, the greatest commandment, according to Jesus, is this:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.

Here’s something to consider: If this is the greatest commandment, perhaps we should understand God’s call to sexual purity in light of it. Could it be that the goal of those “lesser” commands is in fact to obey that first one? Let’s review a few passages and see:

 

Now flee youthful lusts and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. 2 Timothy 2:22

 

“Youthful lusts” stand in opposition to the pursuit of “righteousness, faith, love and peace”, and this is to be done with others who “call on the Lord”—the Lord and His goals for us seem to be the focus.

 

Finally, then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God…that you excel still more…For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality…For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

 

We are exhorted to walk in a way that pleases God, here and also in Colossians 1:10. The strong message of this passage to the Thessalonians is that our sanctification, or being “set apart” unto God, is not only pleasing to God but is also somewhat synonymous with sexual purity. In other words, good luck being set apart for God’s purposes while clinging to sexual sin. Sexual purity is so important because sexual sin is so at odds with our greatest goal: loving and glorifying God.

And perhaps the strongest statement yet:

 

…the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:17-20

 

This passage sets up a two-fold view of our bodies:

1 – There is a sense in which our bodies have dignity and we can disgrace them by acts of sexual sin (“the immoral man sins against his own body”), so arguments for purity that involve a sense of self-respect and dignity are actually, in my opinion, rather appropriate according to this verse. But…

2 – The strongest point to be made in this passage, however, is not that we sin against ourselves, but, if we are Christians, that we sin against the very purpose for which we have been rescued by Christ—to be a set-apart vessel, a temple for the Holy Spirit. Sexual sin is clearly at odds with glorifying God in our bodies, because our bodies are not ultimately ours, but the Lord’s, for Him to fill and abide. What could be more dignifying than that?!?

In my study of these passages, among others, I don’t see God holding out any carrots in order to twist our arms into sexual purity. There isn’t any bait-and-switch, as if God were to say, “Do this and you will be happy, healthy, whatever you want—but eventually I’ll tell you that I really I just want you to glorify Me.” God’s word is actually quite straightforward. If these passages tell us anything, they tell us that purity isn’t about us, it’s about God.

So to those who are young and wondering if sticking it out for the long haul is worth it: yes, it is. Not because it will ensure “your best life”—now or later—but because it is God’s good will for you and it pleases and honors Him. The commitment to set apart your body for God’s service will be a testimony to a world that His ways are better than theirs and that you are willing to wait for God’s good gifts in His good time.

To those who are not so young anymore and wondering if marriage and family will ever happen for them or if they will have lived a life of purity “for nothing”: take heart, it is not for nothing. It is for God and for your eternal delight in Him far above anything else. This will speak volumes of the value of your God above anything this world can offer. It may be a hard and lonely road, and it may be that you don’t see a reward for it in this lifetime, but “God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown to His name” (Hebrews 6:10).

To those who have not lived a life of purity and wonder if they can somehow make up for their sins: no, you can’t. But Jesus already did. He died for sin—for all kinds of sin, including the most perverse and unfaithful. Look to the cross, cast your cares on Jesus, believing He died for your sin and rose from the dead. He lives now to intercede for all who trust Him. So trust Him. And dig into what God’s word says about how to live with a goal of pleasing Him—and walk now in purity because the death of Jesus has made you clean and His Holy Spirit gives you new life.

To those who are married and think that the pursuit of purity is behind them: it’s not. Purity is just as important in marriage as it is when single. The goal is still the same—to glorify God with our bodies—only, in marriage, this includes both nurturing our relationship with our spouse and guarding our minds and bodies from temptation to sin. The fight isn’t over; it just looks a little different.

And finally, to those who think that their commitment to purity before marriage has let them down: it was never meant to be the key to temporal happiness anyway, though it certainly can contribute to it. If you’re a Christian, purity wasn’t ultimately about you at all, but about God. Try not to be resentful towards those who may have misled you into believing the whole point was to be healthy and happy—they probably meant the best for you. Instead of looking back in resentment, open up God’s word to see more of what He has to say about it. If your attitude has been sinful, selfish, or self-righteous, repent. Jesus died for those things, too. And don’t let go of purity—just recognize it isn’t an end in itself or a means to merely temporal ends. It is a part of living life to the glory and enjoyment of God.

I have, of course, only barely scratched the surface when it comes to what the Bible says about sexual purity, nor have I even really shared my own experience in the matter, but I hope that I have at least demonstrated the central purpose for the Christian’s call to purity, which is the very purpose for life itself: to love and glorify our Creator God. If I have as my greatest aim something other than that, my lifelong commitment to purity will quite likely be fraught with disappointment. Because, after all, purity isn’t for me.

 

Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father. Colossians 3:17

 

Amen.

Lauren’s Bible Reading Plan for Busy Moms

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I have done several kinds of Bible reading plans since I became a believer in my early teens. The first few times around it was difficult to find the discipline to read the Bible every day all year long, so I usually left off somewhere between February and September.

As I grew up, I became a bit more disciplined. In recent years, I have followed the reading plan I found in my day planner and Justin Taylor’s Plan for Shirkers and Slackers. Both are wonderful plans.

In the past year, however, that discipline has largely fallen apart in favor of working through some much-needed topical bible studies—when I could find the time. But when I finished the last study, it left a vacuum of sorts, both in my schedule and in my plan. As a result I turned to My Utmost for His Highest in the mornings.

Bless you, Oswald Chambers, for your brevity.

This devotional only takes about five minutes, and it has been a wonderful tool to spark prayer, meditation on scripture, and worship. Occasionally I also pull out The Valley of Vision as a further aid to prayer and worship. I plan on continuing with this, but at the same time it’s not the Bible, and I find myself hungering for more of God’s word in my daily fare.

But who has time for a devotional and several chapters of Bible reading before the kids get up and it’s time to make breakfast? I know some of you do—good for you! Keep it up! But others of us can’t afford to chip away at our sleep (whether in the morning or at night) due to our current season of life or health issues. Can I get an Amen?

One of the most difficult aspects of sticking to a Bible reading plan for us busy (and sleep-dependent) moms is the question of when we will do it and do it consistently. When it comes to developing habits we can stick with, it helps to attach our new habit to a habit that we already practice each day, like praying as a family before sending the kids to bed, drinking a glass of water as soon as we wake up, or taking medicine before a certain meal. With this principle in mind, I’ve created this Eight-Step process for establishing a Consistent Bible Reading Time. Here we go:

Lauren’s Bible Reading Plan for Busy Moms

Step One: Locate a Bible (a compacted size may be preferable) and a Bookmark

Step Two: Place Bookmark in Bible

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It’s handy if the bookmark comes already attached!

Step Three: Locate the Toilet

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Step Four: Locate a Drawer or Basket near the Toilet and put the Bible in it

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You know, a place where you already keep necessary items.

Warning! Shelves or Baskets above the Toilet are not a Good Idea if you do not own a Water Proof Microban Bible. No, I don’t know this from Experience, but I do have a rather Vivid Imagination.

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Step Five: When nature calls, or when the kids have driven you crazy and you need to Relieve Yourself of Burdens and Refuel Your Soul, go do your thing in the bathroom (locking the door behind you). But be sure to leave your Phone in your pocket and read your Bible instead.

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Step Six: When you are Done, be sure to mark your place with the Bookmark and put the Bible back in its special Drawer or Basket BEFORE you do anything to soil your hands. Just because we’re in a Common Place doesn’t mean we have to treat the Bible as Common—Keep. It. Holy.

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Step Seven: Flush and wash hands. (Of course.)

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Step Eight: Step back into the Domestic Mayhem with a Smile.

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That’s it. Just read the Bible from front to back and use a book mark to keep your place. Or if you get bogged down in the Old Testament, read one book in the Old and then the next in the New Testament, using two book marks, and just go back and forth after each book until you’ve read the Old Testament once and the New Testament…more than once. You could even just start with a goal reading through the New Testament, or just the Gospels on repeat. Whatever your preference, my plan is all about finding the time to actually do it by anchoring it to something you find time for every day anyway.

My personal goal is to actually make it through the Bible in a year by reading it while I’m on the can, so I aim to read three chapters every time I sit down and I’m not-in-a-hurry. You can read different amounts each time or set a goal like I did. Either way, you’re redeeming that alone time and saturating your mind with truth. I’m pretty well convinced that it will work since I’ve read through several books simply by keeping them in the bathroom. In fact, when you’re done with this pass through the Bible, check out Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic—my all-time favorite mommy bathroom book (short chapters, anyone?).

Now, I know this may not work for everyone…for those of you who are very regular you may never spend more than two minutes on the toilet. Take that minuscule period of time to count your blessings, favored ones. For the rest of us, we know we’ll be spending some considerable time in the bathroom—and especially on days when we just need a few more minutes of solitude while the kids are silently destroying something in another room (at least it won’t involve toilet paper this time, right?).

And just think! When you finally get up from reading the scriptures, and hopefully praying for God to give you grace to love your children as you should, you will be so much better prepared to not rip their precious little heads off when you find them painting the windows with peanut butter. Or flooding the kitchen and living room by emptying the water filter reservoir. (True story.) Imagine if you’d spent that time on your phone heathenishly playing meaningless games, scrolling endlessly through your news feed, or watching late night TV excerpts and the latest movie trailers on YouTube. You’d surely feel guilty and make the kids pay for it. But instead you were reading the bible. No guilt. No guilt at all.

…And hopefully no reactions you’ll later regret.

And who knows, perhaps sanctifying potty time will motivate you to consecrate the space more often (read: keep that porcelain throne spotless and shining—and maybe even light a candle. What could be more inviting?).

At any rate, I’m highly optimistic that this new Bible reading plan will go quite smoothly for me this year.

My Calling (and the Problem with the World)

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Sometimes we struggle to know what our calling is in life. Lately, God has been making it abundantly clear to me, first by showing me what it’s not.

God is not calling me to be a Facebook Crusader, as tempting as it may be sometimes when that politically-charged status or glaringly-wrong article pops up in my newsfeed and everything within me at that very moment is screaming “This! This is important! This is urgent! I must respond! I must set the record straight!” It’s hard to pry my anxious fingers away from the keyboard, but I must. God isn’t calling me to be a debater. He’s called me to be His. A servant and an encourager. A wife and a mother. So it naturally follows that the people that need my service and encouragement the most are the people who live with me—not the people sharing pixels with me on my computer screen.

Many times I have finally walked away from the screen at the end of a day in which I’ve wasted so much time and mental energy on things that aren’t any of my business, only to find that I have greater anxiety and insecurity (What if they misunderstood me? Did I say that in just the right way?), guilt and shame (Oh boy, look at those dishes piled up—I forgot about those.), and utter emptiness because I’ve been investing in ideas rather than in people (or at times I’ve confused the two). Lately, this emptiness has led me to see that I want Jesus more than I want more information, and to be pleasing Him more than to be understood by others. The story of Mary and Martha comes to mind. In all of Martha’s distraction, she had missed the most important part—sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to Him, enjoying His presence. I’m thankful for the changes God is making in my heart, but still that sudden urge comes up sometimes as quickly as my newsfeed refreshes. With another post. Another article.

I love the free exchange of information. I love to share things I have found thought-provoking and interesting. And I’m not afraid of controversial subjects. But these things are not what I live for, they are not my calling, and the longer I live the more I realize that my time here is short, my opportunities to do what really matters are limited by my indulgence in the things that don’t.

At times these thoughts have led me to take a Facebook hiatus. I’m a bit of an all-or-nothing girl, so radical amputation has often been my modus operandi. But Facebook isn’t the problem. My “friends” on Facebook and their posts or the articles that come across the web aren’t the problem. My heart is.

On my most recent episode of “Someone is wrong on the internet”, I found myself at last pried away from the computer and finally unloading the dishwasher while grumbling, “There’s just so much wrong with the world!” Within a few minutes a song came to mind. It’s a good reminder that the problem I must pay the most attention to is…me.

My Cross to Bear

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“So you want me to use this turkey meat, but what seasonings do I add to it to make it into sausage?” my sweet husband called up to me as I was closing my Bible and about to make the bed.

“Uh…” I said out loud with wide eyes, thinking, I never measure the herbs and spices, if I try to tell him a guess as to how much to put in, it’ll be more than my brain can handle this early in the morning and he won’t know where to find half of the spices anyway… “How about I come do that for you?”

A few minutes later I was dressed and downstairs, and he had the ground turkey already beginning to sizzle in the pan.

It was Sunday morning and we were getting ready for church. My disposition was remarkably cheerful this week. Sunday mornings can be the most stressful time of the week when you’ve got two small children to get ready, a meal to prepare, toys to pack, Bibles to load—and if you’re homeschoolers, it’s also the only day of the week that you actually have to be out the door by a specific time. Having a history of emotional Sunday mornings is part of what inspired my husband to take over the breakfast prep for me several years ago. Usually it involves pancakes or waffles, but this week it was sausage. Either way, having such a servant-hearted man is an incredible blessing.

But on this Sunday I may have been particularly happy because instead of having to make lunch to bring along with us, I had bought a frozen lasagna the day before and all I had to do was pull it out of the freezer and take it along to our friends’ house. (Who says you can’t ever buy peace of mind?)

Anyway, I’d just pop it in the oven at our friends’ house. Yes, that’s where we were headed. For church.

You see, we are a part of a small fellowship that meets in homes. This week church happened to be at a house only ten minutes down the road from us (perhaps another reason for the minimal stress of our morning). Other than the three year old coming downstairs in a white polo shirt and having to be instructed to wear something different (because I could do the math in my head: White Shirt + Lasagna = Disaster), getting ready and out the door was pretty smooth sailing.

The boys hopped in the van, I buckled up the three-year-old, my husband grabbed his guitar, threw it in the back, and we were set. We got in our seats, closed the doors, looked at the clock, looked at each other, and thought, “We’re early!”

Yes, indeed. It wasn’t yet 9:45 and we only had a ten minute drive to make. Sure, we’d like to have left sooner (maybe one day we’ll get there), and 9:55 is hardly early when the meeting is supposed to start at 10am, but this was progress, and progress is worth celebrating.

To our surprise, as we pulled into the rocky driveway ten minutes later, we found the parking area in the back of the house already full of vehicles. Apparently we were not so very early after all. Oh, well. At least all I had to do when we got inside was turn on the oven and sit down on the couch.

Nathaniel found a chair and set up his guitar while the boys and I found a place on a couch next to my sister-in-law. After singing praises and scripture songs, my father-in-law taught from Mark chapter 8. I was quite tired and admittedly had a hard time paying attention to the first section of verses he covered, but then I woke up a bit when he got to Jesus’ call of discipleship at the end of the chapter.

“Many Christians like to borrow this metaphor of taking up our cross and apply it to trials, saying ‘This trial—whether it be cancer or loss of a loved one—is my cross to bear.’ But that isn’t what Jesus is talking about. Those trials are involuntary—they happen to you. Jesus is making a call to His followers to do something voluntary—to deny themselves and take up their cross and follow Him. Even those who don’t follow Jesus experience trials like illness and loss. Those things are common to life, and certainly there are instructions for us in scripture about those things, but here Jesus calls us to deny ourselves for His sake—to be willing to endure whatever loss comes, not as a result of being human, but as a result of following Christ.”

I mulled over these words, trying to mesh this understanding with my own physical trials—a pregnancy related autoimmune disease and issues that accompany both it and its treatment—even as we moved on to another teaching, and then prayer and singing. After the meeting ended, we enjoyed some good discussion on the subject during lunch, fleshing out what “taking up our cross” might look like—living in obedience to Jesus even when it brings persecution or ridicule, loving Jesus more than this life even though our neighbors might think we’re lunatics, loving the lowly like Jesus did, spending time with them rather than seeking self-promotion and pridefully distancing ourselves from the needy. Our time of fellowship lingered into the evening before we all went home to prepare for the work week ahead.

That night I couldn’t sleep. As often happens when I so desperately need some shut-eye, my mind kept wandering to lesson plans and books and other nerdy and exciting things. Then I began to think again about Jesus’ words in Mark 8. “If anyone will deny himself and take up his cross and follow me…” And then I thought about my father-in-law’s comment that taking up our cross is not an involuntary thing, but a voluntary thing. Despite the practical application we had hashed out over lunch, I still wondered about its application to my trials. So if it’s not the disease and pain that’s my cross to bear, I thought, What is it?

I nudged Nathaniel, who was not quite asleep yet. “You know how your dad said that taking up our cross isn’t an involuntary thing like cancer?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, I was just thinking about it some more, and I still have a lot of questions. But I was thinking: Okay, so maybe my disease and whatever pain or other symptoms it causes aren’t my cross to bear, but maybe my choosing to joyfully serve others, to serve the Lord, in the face of that pain would be.”

“That sounds about right. I think that’d be a pretty good application of it.”

“I guess I’d be denying myself the ‘privilege’ of feeling sorry for myself or grumbling, choosing to be joyful instead. And not just for my sake. But for others.”

Nathaniel agreed.

After a pause I lamented, “That’s pretty convicting. That’s not what I usually do.”

We said our goodnights and my sweet, sleepy sounding-board husband drifted off as I lay contemplating this concept in light of the countless believers whose lives I have admired, and in light of Christ’s example. The people I have most looked up to for their faith and strength are those who have joyfully served others despite great physical pain, setbacks, and trials. The Lord Himself laid down His privileges, just in becoming a man! But even more so when He took upon Himself the wrath of God and the pain of public scorn and crucifixion, all the while praying, “Father, forgive them.” The cross wasn’t a hindrance to God’s plan, but the vehicle through which He would bring blessing to the whole world.

From what I can tell, my physical limitations and pains, should the Lord continue to choose not remove them, will be with me in this life whether I embrace them or not. So the ball is in my court: Will I shirk responsibility to respond joyfully and choose to grumble instead? Or will I take up the cross of humble surrender to the Lord’s will, seeking to rejoice in every circumstance and persevere in service to God and to others? On one side is a life of pain and inner turmoil with it. On the other is a life of pain overcome by the grace of God. One choice leads to bitterness and condemnation, the other to eternal joy and glory.

I let out a deep sigh, a kind of physical surrender to the supernatural peace of God that comes when at last we say, “Ok, I trust You.” And finally, too, a few moments later, I surrendered myself to restful sleep.

Here is what I read that evening from Elisabeth Elliot’s devotional, “Keep a Quiet Heart”, that prompted my late-night thoughts on this subject of taking up my cross. God is very kind to ordain even my reading schedule for His purposes and my benefit.

“The worst pains we experience are not those of the suffering itself but of our stubborn resistance to it, our resolute insistence on our independence. To be ‘crucified with Christ’ means what Oswald Chambers calls ‘breaking the husk’ of that independence. ‘Has that break come?’ he asks. ‘All the rest is pious fraud.’ And you and I know, in our heart of hearts, that the sword-thrust (so typical of Chambers!) is the straight truth.

If we reject this cross, we will not find it in this world again. Here is the opportunity offered. Be patient. Wait on the Lord for whatever He appoints, wait quietly, wait trustingly. He holds every minute of every hour of every day of every week of every month of every year in His hands. Thank Him in advance for what the future holds, for He is already there. ‘Lord, you have assigned me my portion and my cup’ (Psalm 16:5, NIV). Shall we not gladly say, ‘I’ll take it, Lord! YES! I’ll trust you for everything. Bless the Lord, O my soul!’”

~In the essay entitled Maybe this Year, page 51

I’ve many a cross to take up now,

And many left behind;

But present troubles move me not,

Nor shake my quiet mind.

And what may be to-morrow’s cross

I never seek to find;

My Father says, “Leave that to me,

And keep a quiet mind.”

~Poem by an anonymous author, page 52

“For those of us who are not at the moment in pain, may we not let slip any cross Jesus may present to us, any little way of letting go of ourselves, any smallest task to do with gladness and humility, any disappointment accepted with grace and silence. These are His appointments. If we miss them here, we’ll not find them again in this world or in any other.”

~ In the essay entitled Love’s Sacrifice Leads to Joy, page 68

Books Read from July 2014 to July 2015

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It’s my goal each year to read at least twelve books. I’ve met this goal for the past several years, logging twenty this go-round, and I want to track and briefly review the books I’ve read for each year. Some books are great, some are not so great, but still were worth a read for me personally. I hope you’ll benefit from these micro-reviews.
Choosing Gratitude by Nancy Leigh DeMoss Many friends of mine had read One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp over the past couple years. I can’t speak for or against that book, as I have not read it for myself, but it seemed to me that Choosing Gratitude was an attempt to produce a “more solid” alternative to Voskamp’s book on thankfulness. Nancy Leigh DeMoss’s book was encouraging and scripture-based to be sure, but I did not find it to be mind-blowingly challenging. There’s nothing wrong with that, and if you’re looking for an easy-to-read study on thankfulness this is a great book for you. However, having just read Knowing God by JI Packer before picking this book up, I might have had my taste buds trained for more meat.
The Abolition of Man by C S Lewis This was an incredible read (or listen, rather—we have the audiobook). Lewis examines a concept of universal morality and then reasons from it to the existence of God, while also examining the effect on humanity when we reject these things and analyze and deconstruct everything in our view. Highly, highly recommended.
The Great Divorce by C S Lewis Packaged together in the same audiobook was this work of allegory. It’s a bit strange, and its setting is not intended to be taken as theological truth, though by use of its setting it certainly dabbles in it. This is an imaginative examination of people’s rejection of Christ and all that heaven offers. As with The Screwtape Letters, this book is a gem more for its insight into human nature than for its apparent theology—much license is taken in that regard.
Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner by A. A. Milne These two books come together in our Complete Collection of Winnie the Pooh, along with the collections of poems: When We Were Young and Now We Are Six. I’ve read these stories and poems to my children three times already, and we’ve actually just started through it all once more. Milne captures the wonder, imagination, and reasoning of a child beautifully on every page. Our family pretty much adores these stories.
Jesus Calling by Sarah Young Some will be surprised to see this on my list, but it was recommended to me by a friend during a very low point of struggle with chronic illness and depression. So at the time, it provided some needed encouragement, and I can see how many claim to have benefited from it. We need loving, encouraging words, and exhortations to trust in the Lord through our trials, but there is, sadly, great danger in the format. Putting words in Jesus’ mouth is nothing new, of course—even hymns have done this, even the Jesus Storybook Bible does this to some extent. But this is an entire book penned in Divine First Person. It may indeed provide some level of encouragement, but as far as being recommendable, I’d say no. You’d do much better with Keep a Quiet Heart by Elizabeth Elliott. (For a more thorough review of Jesus Calling, check out this one at Challies.com.)
The Paleo Approach by Sarah Ballentyne And here I must now admit to my little paleo food detour. Having an autoimmune disease, I was excited to read this tome (seriously, all 400-or-so textbook-sized pages of it), because it dealt directly with the problem of autoimmunity, providing both understanding and suggestions for improving the condition with diet and lifestyle changes (The Autoimmune Protocol, or AIP). The elimination diet it proposes is extremely strict and limiting, and I know this by experience…
The Paleo Approach Cookbook by Sarah Ballentyne This is the cookbook that accompanies the more science-y text listed above. I’ve found it interesting, and I’ve certainly gained some new recipes from this book, but I would recommend steering clear of the “Hidden Liver Meatloaf”—yeah, the liver isn’t so hidden after all.
The Autoimmune Paleo Cookbook by Mickey Trescott This is another recipe book that falls in line with the Autoimmune Protocol (AIP) outlined in The Paleo Approach. I think I actually use this cookbook more than the other. Each of them provide decent recipes with the very limited selection of foods that are on plan. I still use a handful of these recipes despite having thrown the AIP to the roadside because they are, indeed, very healthy, whole food recipes.
*Just a quick summary of my experience: The AIP didn’t reveal anything for me that a Whole30 hadn’t previously. I lost weight, some skin issues cleared up. But this time my bowels were in pain, far worse than before I did the AIP. I found things got way better after I reintroduced things like beans, and even grains. Being that my disease is in remission, it was difficult to say that the diet had any real effect on it specifically, so if you’re not currently facing the onslaught of your autoimmune disease, this may not be for you. If you do deal with daily debilitating pain or other continuous complications due to your autoimmune disease, it may be much more worth your while (maybe). My takeaway is that variety is a good thing. I may have some sensitivities, and I’ll watch for those as I move forward, but for now I’m enjoying all the food God has given me without major issues. I’d say the lifestyle factors of the AIP are more important for me than the dietary guidelines (though junk food is still clearly not helpful!).
Don’t Make Me Count to Three by Ginger Hubbard This is a wonderful book that makes a biblical case for both discipline and instruction. I love that it encourages using scriptural language as we correct our children, helping them to think biblically about their sin. Great read for Christian parents.
Diet Recovery by Matt Stone This was me rebounding from The Paleo Approach. This was a free e-book, and an interesting read. The main function in view here is restoring your metabolism after wrecking it on restrictive diets (especially calorie- and carb-restricted ones). I don’t think I wrecked my metabolism on the AIP, but I was looking for ammo against it as it had made my life pretty miserable (restricting a foodie is like taunting a pack of lions with fresh, raw meat—you will make them angry–strike that–hangry). The basic premise: EAT THE FOOD! Oh, and get LOTS of sleep.
A Faith to Grow On by John MacArthur I read this with my boys. It’s a good overview of the faith for youngsters, organized by theological topics. There are activity suggestions, but we didn’t do those as my kiddos are quite young. This is probably aimed more at kids from age seven to about twelve, so I will likely have my boys go through it independently when they are more established independent readers.
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien Can I just bask for a moment in the thought of this book? I remember my dad reading The Hobbit to me as a child of probably eight years. Riddles in the Dark was my favorite chapter then, as I loved the clever riddles exchanged between Bilbo and Gollum. I can’t believe I had never read this classic tale for myself until this year!
Shopping for Time (How to Do It All and Not be Overwhelmed) by Carolyn Mahaney, Nicole Whitacre, Kristin Chesemore, and Janelle Bradshaw This was a decent book on time management. The title still makes me laugh, though—in part because I am not a “shopper” and in part because the promise of not being overwhelmed is a bit audacious! All in all, this was a good, short read, though I found that it didn’t have much new content in it for me, just a reminder to do what I already know to do (that is the hardest part, now isn’t it?).
Hope in God: A Bible Study on Depression by Kristie Gant If you struggle with depression or anxiety, or someone you love does, ignore everything else on this list and get this study!!! It is formatted to be used independently, or in counseling or a group setting, with options for a “quick study” through each section’s content or going deep and hitting all of the material in each lesson, whichever you are currently capable of doing. Each section covers what the scripture has to say on a particular topic, such as depression, anxiety, bitterness, and suffering loss, as well as one of the names of God, highlighting who He is and how we can hope in Him despite our circumstances. There is also plenty of soul-searching, in which God’s word was made to apply to the particular wrestlings of my heart. In my own struggle with depression, this has been one of the best tools for helping me to think biblically and rest my hope in the right place.
The Enemy Within by Kris Lundgaard This book was recommended to me along with the Hope in God study. It is an adaptation of two of John Owen’s works, Indwelling Sin and The Mortification of Sin. Indeed, thinking rightly about the sin in our own hearts is important to aligning our hearts with God’s word and finding the peace we long for in Christ our Savior. I found this a very helpful book, though most of its examples applied more readily to men than to me as a stay-at-home mom. I don’t fault the author for writing what he knows, and I still found it an incredibly useful book, making me want to read Owen for myself, but it has also sparked an idea in me of someday writing something in the same vein that applies more directly to the sins women struggle with most.
Educating the WholeHearted Child by Clay and Sally Clarkson This homeschooling resource has been around for something like 25 years. I have the updated version and have found it to be a huge help in fleshing out what homeschooling will look like in our home. I have read it through for myself and have been reading it through with my husband so that we can discuss it. Since Nathaniel was homeschooled with a very similar philosophy as what is presented in this book (discipleship focused, living books, etc), most of it gets a “Yeah, of course” response out of him, as if to say, “Why do we even need this book?” He probably doesn’t need it! But I do. And he sees that. Since I am coming at homeschooling without any experience with it, this book has been an invaluable inspiration and guide, and a great tool for discussing with my husband the holes in my understanding that I didn’t know existed!
The Happy Housewife’s Guide to Dealing with Picky Eaters by Toni Anderson I came across this ebook in one of those big bundles I purchased a while back. I found it a short, helpful read given our own experience with picky eaters.
Expert Lifemanship by Warren Wiersbe This was given to me by a friend who has struggled with disease and depression much like I have. She found it to be encouraging, and so have I. A lot of scriptural imagery is used both in the written encouragement and in the beautiful, full-page photographs. It seems a bit like a professional inspirational or self-help book of some sort, or at least like it is being sold as such, and then, surprise! It’s actually full of Bible.
The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo This was a much-needed book on parenting. The primary focus is on biblically dealing with anger in children, but it of course rightly identifies common parenting mistakes that can lead to anger in children, and this is where I found its application so personally applicable. Praise God I have pretty normal little sinners, and nothing too out-of-control as of yet, but I can see my own sins and shortcomings could cause problems in the future. Thus, The Heart of Anger is good whether you’re in the thick of it with an angry child, or as a preemptive consideration for young parents like me. I imagine this is one I will be revisiting for its clear application of biblical truth to the hearts of parents and children alike.
Loving the Little Years by Rachel Jankovic This has to be the most frequently revisited parenting book I own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read it! The chapters are short, so it makes for a great bathroom book (you know, for when mommy needs to escape for just a few minutes). And each chapter, while humorous and encouraging, also works like a scalpel on my heart, helping me make sure I am doing rightly, loving fully, and seeing my children for who they are. LOVE this book!

How about you?  Have you read any of these titles?  What books have you found interesting in the past year?  Any that you’d like to recommend to me?

“The Stronghold of Obstinacy”

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“I want to turn the internets off, so it won’t take so long,” my four-year-old said one afternoon as we walked back to the house from checking the mail.  I chuckled, knowing exactly what he was getting at.

“I will turn the internets off,” he continued.  “That will make me happy!  Ha, ha, ha, ha!  I really can turn them off.  That will be good.  You won’t spend time on them. Ah-ha, ha, ha, ha!”

This adorable diabolical scheming is a pretty precious view into the heart of my child–helping me to see what he sees when mama checks out of the living room and into cyberspace.

With that scenario playing in my mind, the reading in My Utmost for His Highest this morning was quite convicting.  Here is an excerpt:

Do you have anything to hide from God?  If you do, then let God search you with His light.  If there is any sin in your life, don’t just admit it, confess it.  Are you willing to obey your Lord and Master, whatever the humiliation to your right to yourself may be?

Never disregard a conviction that the Holy Spirit brings to you.  If it is important enough for the Spirit of God to bring it to your mind, it is the very thing He is detecting in you.  You were looking for something big to give up, while God is telling you of some tiny thing that must go.  But behind that tiny thing lies the stronghold of obstinacy, and you say, “I will not give up my right to myself”–the very thing God intends you to give up if you are to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Lately my greatest claim to myself has been my own self-determination.  I get very frustrated when my plans are foiled, and I spend my time according to my whims and pleasures–rather than according to my responsibilities and divinely-appointed interruptions, which are the clear will of God for my days.  Instead of serving my husband and children, or producing something useful or edifying for others, I flit time away online or just twiddling my thumbs, being nothing but a busybody–finding some skewed sense of urgency, importance, and needfulness in what I am doing when I am really accomplishing nothing but my own entertainment and self-indulgence.

Thinking that my time is my own is part and parcel to thinking my life is my own, only I deceive myself into thinking otherwise.

O God, please help me to number my days, that I may present to You a heart of wisdom, to be careful how to walk, not as unwise, but as wise, making the most of my time, which You have allotted to me, because the days are evil.  And may I do all of this knowing that I am not my own, I have been bought with a price–with the precious blood of Christ–set apart to live every moment for Your glory, accomplishing the works You have prepared for me.

As I was writing all of this down in my journal, the boys were listening to the Jesus Storybook Bible.  As it told the story of Jesus’ and His disciples’ last evening together in the upper room, there is a supposed conversation going on about the fact that no one had washed their feet:

…Someone had to wash away the dirt, but it was a dreadful job.  Who on earth would ever dream of volunteering to do it?  Only the lowliest servant.

‘I’m not the servant!’ Peter said.

‘Nor and I!’ said Matthew.

Quietly, Jesus got up from the table, took off his robe, picked up a basin of water, knelt down, and started to wash his friends’ feet…

Hearing voiced the loud and proud objections so common to my own heart, “I’m not the servant!” and then imagining the quiet humility of Jesus in contrast about brought me to tears.

My life is not my own.  My time is not my own.

May God break down that “stronghold of obstinacy” within me.

May I learn to be a servant.  May I learn to be like Jesus.

A Poem for My Man

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I think this is the first acrostic poem I’ve ever done.  I wanted to write something for Nathaniel for our anniversary, so I did.

Nathaniel,

Now looking back on eight years past0586_ln

Amidst life’s joys and tears we’ve cast

Together our cares on Him;

Here we stand despite the storms we’ve seen

Aware of one indisputable thing:

Nothing we are in ourselves.

Intertwining of souls, sharing life’s greatest treasures

Every joy a picture of that Delight beyond measure

Let us continually seek Him together,

Nathaniel.

Called to Unlikely Service

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Most of the time we think God must call us to serve Him in ways that are consistent with the gifts and interests He’s given us. Take for example, say, a church bulletin board on which are posted numerous opportunities for service within the local body. If I were perusing the options listed, I’d probably consider signing up for teaching a ladies’ bible study, or washing the linens after church events, or making meals for those who are sick or who have just had babies. Those are right up my alley. I can outline a passage of scripture in order to teach it. I do laundry all the time, so what’s another load or two? And sharing good food with others brings me joy. You could call it my love language.

They all seem like reasonable options.

But sometimes we don’t get the luxury of a sign-up sheet. Sometimes the “call” to service isn’t a check-off list in which we get to choose our most preferred ministry style. Sometimes it’s chosen for us. Sometimes it’s just dumped into our laps. Sometimes what we feel called to do is not the same as what God is indeed calling us to right this very moment.

Such has been the case the past few weeks and months.

Confession: Neither my husband nor I are dog people. We like animals alright, and see the need for them to be sweetly cared for—but not by us. We aren’t so much into pets.

But about four months ago, our neighbor Carolyn found out that her husband George had cancer. Brain and lung cancer. And these neighbors, these friends of ours, have two little dogs that mean the world to them.

When I think of friends dealing with cancer, the first things I’m willing to sign up for are to pray for them, bring them meals, and offer to clean for them. While those things are certainly appreciated, what was the first thing we were actually asked to do?

Train their dogs to stay in their yard. Help bury the wire for the invisible-fence-and-collar system to keep the little pooches from getting out again.

Our neighbors were too busy with doctor’s visits, cancer-induced vomiting and headaches, brain surgery, radiation, and dealing with the myriad physical and emotional effects of being in the throes of an ongoing battle against cancer to do it themselves. So, Nathaniel and I, who had no experience training dogs, found ourselves being made useful to the Lord in an area in which we felt woefully under-prepared. To be sure, it was a good experience for us and for our boys to learn about caring for and training dogs. The boys loved it! But it was awkward feeling so under-qualified and knowing that surely there are other people out there who could do a much better job…

Eventually the situation with the dogs was solved, and our less-than-competent services were no longer needed. Praise the Lord He made good of it despite us.

Then there was good news. George’s cancer had all but disappeared! The treatments seemed to be working! He was going for walks around the neighborhood with Carolyn, and even mowing the lawn on his riding lawnmower. We praised the Lord!

But then there was a heart attack. And then pneumonia, which seemed to take him down harder than the cancer had.

And about three weeks ago, the vomiting and severe headaches returned. Something was wrong.

For about a week there was quiet suffering at home as George didn’t want to eat anything because of all the nausea and pain. On a Friday two weeks ago, they went in for a routine check-up with the oncologist at a hospital about an hour away. They haven’t been home since.

George’s cancer had spread to his neck. He had become so weak that he needed to be admitted to the hospital immediately. I got a call that day. It was Carolyn asking me if I could take care of the dogs for a few days. I’d go over to their house a couple times a day to feed and care for the dogs. It was a pleasant enough task, aside from the reminder of George’s failing health every time I entered their empty house.

That week things were very up and down for our friends in the hospital. I suppose you could say they were very up and down in our home, as well. Nathaniel had just arrived home on Sunday from a long business trip, and while we were thrilled to have him home, we had no choice but to welcome him into a gastrointestinal house of horrors. So for several days, I was wiping up puke and diarrhea off of the floor at home and then going over to another house to wipe pee off the floor when the dogs had an accident (which thankfully was only twice). Nathaniel and I didn’t get much sleep at night because the boys were having their issues two or three times a night.

It was at this moment that I had to laugh. I had just been reading a book called Embracing Obscurity, which examines the call of Christ to be lowly servants for His glory rather than seeking to build our own kingdoms of “ministry” for our own glory. It’s been a great read, quite challenging, and here I was seeing the “practical application” of what I was learning. Thanks for the object lesson, Lord! You washed the dirty feet of sinners. This is totally fitting work for one of Your followers. I get it.

The stomach virus finally left us alone and we had a beautiful Saturday working together as a family around the house, taking care of the dogs over at their house, and celebrating our oldest son’s birthday at the lake. But that night we received a distressing text from Carolyn. She wanted us to take the dogs into our home—she didn’t think they were safe at her house.

This was a bit confusing, and the next morning we called her to clarify. There was indeed a situation, so after deliberating (which included me listing all the reasons why it would be a bad idea, and then recognizing those reasons were rather selfish), we said we’d do it.

I mentioned before that we are not “dog people”. What I didn’t mention is that we had both long decided that if we ever were to have a dog, it would most definitely be an outside dog. Our neighbors’ dogs were very decidedly inside dogs. The irony here couldn’t be missed. God was taking one of the few things on our “never” list and asking us to move it to our “whatever you need” list. This was more than just “Come over and help with the dogs and then go back to the relative peace of your own home.” This was invading our space.

I remember when we were deliberating, Nathaniel said something quite insightful: “If we do this, it clearly won’t be for us. It will be out of service to them.” We’ve often talked with our children about the fact that merely helping others when you want to isn’t so helpful. It’s far greater to meet a real need when it arises. Here was our opportunity to practice what we preached. Yet again, we were being called to something that was a rather unlikely service for us. It didn’t fit. There were surely other people who could more easily have taken these dogs into their homes. But here we were—evidence that God doesn’t call the wise or powerful, or even the qualified. He stretches us beyond ourselves and qualifies us for the task by His grace.

So what was our first order of business as doggy foster parents? Well, it was a Sunday morning, so we took them to church! Being a part of a home church has its perks.😉 And starting out with the dogs in someone else’s home (another dog-owner’s home, to be precise) seemed to ease the transition for us. The dogs were very well behaved, and our church family loved on them and prayed for our neighbors.

The past week has been challenging as I wake up to little ankle-biters that demand my attention more loudly and persistently than do my preschooler and kindergartener. The invasion of my space, and particularly when that space would normally be quiet, has been a kind of static interference in my days. While our sleep was interrupted last week with sick children, it has been interrupted this week by sad puppies who miss their people. Still, I’ve kind of gotten used to it. And we couldn’t have asked for sweeter, cuter, or better behaved dogs. Really, all things considered, caring for them in our home has been quite easy. It’s the caring about our neighbors that has been the hardest.

I finally heard this morning that George has only days to live at this point. We hope to visit him in the hospital before he dies.

There is indeed a time for everything. A time for rejoicing and a time for mourning. A time for serving with our strengths and a time for serving despite our lack of the same. A time for fighting for your life and a time for saying goodbye when your Heavenly Father calls you home.

God is good.

Please pray with us for our friends.

Many Christians estimate difficulties in the light of their own resources, and thus attempt little and often fail in the little they attempt. All God’s giants have been weak men who did great things for God because they reckoned on His power and presence with them.

~Hudson Taylor

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