Why the Eclipse was Worth It

I hate hype.

I really do. If something is trendy or hyped, there is a strong chance I will purposefully avoid it. If a product is popular, I will [maybe] buy it long after everyone else is over it and onto the next thing. That’s just me.

Hence, I avoided jumping on the eclipse bandwagon for a long time. The thought of battling crowds and traffic did not appeal to me because, I was told, being in the 99.9% partial eclipse is still nothing like being in total eclipse zone, and we are a few miles short. We had no glasses, no plans, and I was content to let the hype pass me right over.

But a part of me felt that as a homeschooling mom, it’s my duty to at least talk with my kids about it, and maybe possibly if I kind of sorta felt like it attempt to watch it. Travis found glasses, just in case. I started researching it. Reading poetically riveting descriptions of what it’s like. Watching videos with the kids about it. Learning that there are many specific factors that must line up perfectly in order for this to happen. Understanding that it really is a once in a lifetime opportunity.

My little anti-hype self started to get a little excited inside. Through a half-joking Facebook comment inviting myself over, a friend in Liberty offered for us to come to her apartment in the path of totality. We agreed. She had a family emergency yesterday and suggested an alternate location at a library in Liberty. Another friend didn’t have plans so we invited her to come along.

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On our way

Even this morning, after a very exhausting weekend, the thought of packing lunches and making the kids eclipse glass box heads and driving and wrangling 3 kids…it all sounded too much for this mama, who happened to have a MASSIVE headache (still there). As the rain poured and the thunder rolled, I seriously considered staying home. Who knew if we would have clear skies, anyway?

But, as my husband said, it’s a once in a lifetime chance. Why not give it a shot? I packed the lunches, made the box heads, and we packed into the van to head north. We hit minimal traffic on 71 and took a backroad route to the library. I expected it to be packed, but it wasn’t. We sat in the almost-empty coffee shop and ate our lunches, taking turns to step outside with our glasses and check the moon’s progress moving across the sun. A handful of other people were there, but overall the library was wonderfully quiet.

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Watching the beginning stages

Ideal for these introverts. No crowds. Just a few people who happened upon this perfect location.

The partial eclipse was cool. But I don’t know that it would have felt like that big of a deal had it stopped at 99.99%.

The proverbial “they” were right. That .01% makes a huge difference.

During the eclipse, a haze of clouds moved across the sun and moon, partially obscuring our view at times. It actually added a really cool effect to see the clouds passing over the partially eclipsed sun.

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Waiting in anticipation

As the moon closed over the sun in, the clouds parted and we had a completely clear view of the sun. The partially darkened sky took on an eerie, twilight feel. We saw the orange and yellow Bailey’s Bead’s sparkling like a diamond fire. We saw the diamond ring take form around the sun when the moon moved into totality. The sky darkened (although where we were, it was not pitch black, probably due to still being in a populated city area). The temperature dropped. Stars appeared.

We took off our glasses to see the corona shining like a ring of fire (oh wait, it is) in a breathtaking sight. The two minutes of totality were far too short; I could have watched that sight all afternoon. There were cheers. There were fireworks (really?). There was a shared sense of excitement among the dozen strangers standing on the patio. We had just witnessed something incredible, and none of us wanted it to end.20170821_130817

Why? What makes it so incredible? Some people weren’t impressed. Some say it was nothing. Some say just watch it on TV.

Here’s why I say watching the total eclipse in person, was worth it: it’s a taste of the glory and majesty and holiness of God, and you’re not seeing it through someone else’s eyes. You are seeing it with your own.

It’s one thing to see a photograph. Or watch a video. But why do people go climb mountains when they could see a picture? Why spend money and travel to see the Seven Wonders when they could see a video? Why dive deep into the depths of the sea when you can go to an aquarium?

Because to see it with one’s own eyes is to believe that it is real. It is possible. It is other-worldly.20170821_130823

And that, ultimately, is why we’re drawn to these sights. It’s why we send people to the moon. It’s why we want to get to Mars. It’s why we wonder if aliens exist. It’s why we study astronomy.

It’s why we point church steeples to the sky. It’s why we love mountains. It’s why sunsets and sunrises are some of the most sought after sights.

Deep down we know that we are tiny, infinitesimally small. We know that this life won’t satisfy. We are desperately aware that if this world, this life, is all there is, we have nothing.

We long to know that there is more than just this life out there. The human soul thirsts for the glory of God. The human mind begs to break out of its finite box. The human heart aches for something bigger itself. It’s the same reason the people built the Towel of Babel.

They longed to get back to Eden. They wanted a taste of the glory of God. Actually, more than a taste. They wanted to achieve it.

So do we.

I can’t help but awe at the majesty of God today. He created all of it. An earth, that though large to us, is a pinprick (or smaller) in the universe. A sun that is 400 times larger and 400 times farther away than the moon.

And yet.

And yet He loves us. Us. Little human twerps that we are. Through Jesus, He made a way for us to be brought back to heaven, to stand forever in the presence of His glory, where finally we can take the eclipse glasses of our sin off (thank you, Peter Assad, for that illustration) and see His majesty in all of its beauty, completely unobscured.

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Ambrielle, afraid of the onsetting dark. Or perhaps having an Isaiah moment.

Isaiah saw the glory of God. In response he fell to his knees saying “Woe is me! I am nothing but a sinner!”

In return God said, “This has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.” Isaiah rose to his feet and said “Send me, Lord. I’ll go anywhere. Send me!”

An encounter with the glory of God left him acutely aware of his unworthiness. The forgiveness of God transformed his life to worship.

This eclipse was a glimpse, a tiny taste, of the glory and majesty of God. I am astounded that He created it all. I am in awe that He loves me. I am keenly aware of my unworthiness of His forgiveness. And I am moved to worship at His arms, outstretched on the cross, saying “I’ve made a way. A way for you to come back to Eden.”

I, like Isaiah, would sell my possessions in a heartbeat and move my family to the ends of the earth if He asked me to. Because if that was a taste, what greater glory awaits?

Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is filled with His glory (Isaiah 6:3)

The heavens declare the glory of God; and the sky above proclaims His handiwork (Psalm 19:1)

The heavens declare his righteousness; for God Himself is judge! (Psalm 50:6)

 

 

 

 

 

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What I’ve Learned in 8 Years of Marriage

Today is our anniversary. Eight years of marriage – that’s almost a decade! As I reflect on our eight years, I am exceedingly thankful that God allowed me to marry the godly, humble man who is my husband, and that our marriage is the blessing that it is.

As I reflect on God’s faithfulness to us in this time, here are eight lessons I’ve learned in our eight years of marriage. We are far from perfect, and we have a lot more to learn. Yet His mercies are new every morning, and every good thing in our marriage is a gift from our Father. I am thankful that He continue to crucify our flesh so that we can live in Christ and love each other with His love.

So please, as you read, learn what you may, be encouraged or challenged, but ultimately, all glory be to Him.

Nostalgia is the best medicine

Most of marriage – like most of life – happens in the ordinary mundane, not the extraordinary mountaintop. Life happens, things get busy, conflict arises, and the flame of love, desire, appreciation, and joy in your relationship can easily get snuffed out.

Nostalgia is a simple way to keep feeding that flame. We’ve made a habit of pondering the early days of our relationship. Recalling the special memories we treasure. Reflecting on why we chose one another to begin with, or what we’ve learned about each other since. We read old letters, look at old pictures, visit old places, and let our minds carry us back in time – to last week, last year, or  years ago.

Those little doses of nostalgia keep the flame alive, intersecting the special with the ordinary. As we’ve made a habit of doing this, we’ve consistently been reminded of God’s faithfulness and motivated to keep the romance alive and make new memories together. I encourage you to make habits of these things as well. When the flame seems dull, appreciation wanes, or resentment creeps in, grab a cup of coffee, curl up on the couch, and take a big dose of nostalgia.

We’re not geniuses…it’s biblical. Read the Old Testament and you’ll notice how often the songs and psalms and speeches had a healthy dose of nostalgia – recounting the work of God in the past to remind them of His love and faithfulness now and in the future.

Marriage must be waterproof

Despite the previous owner’s claims, our basement was not dry when we moved in. Every heavy rain brought trickles of water that meandered from the four corners to the drains in the floor.

Thankfully, when KC had a literal flood of rain last week, we only got one tiny trickle of water from one corner. Why? Because in recent months we – and others who care about us – have put some grunt work into repairing downspouts, burying French drains in the yard, digging a trench, and fixing the grade around the foundation. We’ll have to continue making sure these things function well over the years, and we’ll need to get a dehumidifier to control the humidity level. But our water issues are significantly better, and it didn’t cost thousands of dollars.

I’ve been told by waterproofing/foundation experts that over 90% of basement water issues are solved by these simple fixes – downspouts, gutters, and grading. Stone foundations are notoriously prone to water – they simply weren’t engineered to be dry. But there is a lot one can do to minimize the amount of water that gets inside.

There were two alternatives. One, we could spend $7-10k installing a total waterproofing system, which has its own potential drawbacks aside from the money. Two, we could ignore it, and water would continue seeping in every time it rains, gradually compromising the structural integrity of our foundation in unseen ways and allowing mold to grow.

Life brings rain – circumstances beyond our control. The rain will come. Marriage is like the house built on that foundation. Inevitably water will want to seep into the foundation and affect the whole house. Our first year of marriage we were hit with some heavy and hard family circumstances that had the potential to deeply affect our new marriage for the worse. By God’s grace, we joined together as a team and supported each other through that time. Though there were some difficult conversations along the way, we are stronger for it.

I’d say a good percentage of our conflict has arisen from external circumstances that seep in and begin to affect us. Ministry. Church experiences. Familial struggles. Friendships. For the most part we’ve directed the negative impact of those things away from our marriage.

In your own relationship, watch out for this “water.” Put in place habits that allow you and your spouse to work through the external circumstances while simultaneously directing their  negative impact away from your marriage.

The best foundation is Jesus Christ, and the more you strengthen your relationships with him both individually and together, the more “waterproof” your marriage will be.

Elephants don’t belong

I wasn’t super close to my grandparents on either side. But I’ll never forget shortly before I got married talking to my step-grandmother, who had been married to my grandpa for over 30 years. She told me that she and Grandpa had never gone to bed angry. They always fell asleep holding hands. If they had a conflict, one or the other would reach over and grab the other’s hand. It was a way of saying, “We still love each other, and we’re still in this.”

Elephants don’t belong in your marriage. When there’s an issue, work it out; don’t let it sit in the bed, or the house, or the car, or wherever.

We’ve had plenty of conflict over the years. Yet I can think of very few conflicts that haven’t been resolved in the same day (resolved meaning we reconcile to one another, talk about the issues, repent and forgive – that doesn’t necessarily mean that issue never arises again and is magically fixed). Those that haven’t were resolved the next day. We don’t let conflict linger.

One of the beautiful aspects of God’s design in marriage is that He uses spouses to be sanctifying agents in one another’s lives. Sometimes that conflict is exactly what needs to take place so that God can do the work He needs to do in our hearts. We don’t have to be afraid to press into conflict and deal with it, because we can trust He is at work in us and our spouse.

No doubt it’s hard. Those conversations stink, and I don’t know anyone who enjoys them. When you’re willing to dig in deep, work through the issue, and hoist that elephant out of the room, you come out stronger (and holier) on the other side.

I love my grandma’s advice, because it’s a visual picture of what God has done. He didn’t wait for us; He literally reached His hand down from heaven to grab ours and restore us to Him. No matter what the elephant is, we can be agents of reconciliation in our marriages and be quick to reach out a hand that says, “I love you, and I forgive you, and we’ll work through this, because God has so graciously forgiven me.”

Give the benefit of the doubt

I have no science to back this up, but I’d wager you could interpret 99% of what other people say negatively. You can discern a tone that wasn’t there, assume intentions that weren’t reality, understand meaning that wasn’t there, and hear words that weren’t spoken.

Theoretically, your spouse is the person (or one of the people) you interact with most. That means there is a LOT of opportunity for misinterpretation. Another large percent of our conflict is caused by misinterpreting words, tones, or intentions. These instances could have been averted or minimized had we simply considered what we know to be true of one another and given the benefit of the doubt.

Know your spouse. Know their heart. And trust that. When they say or do something hurtful, stop to think, “Does this line up with what I know to be true of them? Do I believe they are out to get me? Is it possible something else is going on here – they’re tired, hurt, discouraged, or merely oblivious?”

Having a conversation about “Hey, you did/said this, and it bothers me” looks really different when you go in assuming the best rather than going in, guns pointed, already assuming the worst. And sometimes you realize, the conversation doesn’t need to happen at all.

We are ONE flesh

In our first year of marriage we traveled to Dubai and spent a month with church planter Dave Furman, his wife, Gloria, and their children assisting them in whatever ways were needed. We got to glean from their ministry experience – and their marriage experience.

We went on a double date one night, and we’ll never forget Dave saying, “Why would you not tell your one flesh anything?” That was in reference to some specific advice he received early on in his marriage, and it stuck with us.

The idea of being one flesh is both terrifying and incredible, and it goes way deeper than our human brains can comprehend. That’s why God ordained sex to belong within the bounds of marriage, because we can’t even begin to understand the full spiritual  implications of being one flesh. There’s a reason God says to leave and cleave, and there’s a reason He says what He has put together no man can take apart.

Being one flesh means we are on each other’s team, always. It means we are open and honest with each other, always, even when it’s painful. It means we are for each other and not against one another, always. It means we lift each other up, not tear one another down, especially in front of others. It means no matter what comes, we are in it together, because we are one.

That doesn’t mean we are incomplete without each other in the Hollywood kind of sense. But it does mean God takes the individual wholes that is each of us and weaves them inextricably into a new whole, bound together by threads of His mercy and grace.

Parenting doesn’t have to be the end of the couple

Our culture seems to have an expectation that once you have kids, your relationship is over. You become co-parents who are weary and exhausted all the time with no time for yourselves or each other. When you do get time, you spend it on yourself (take care of yo’self first, goes the logic), not each other.

Is that really all there is? What if marriage could be a refuge in the midst of the trying years of parenting young children? What if we could still enjoy spending time together despite the demands of caring for little people all the time? What if we could fall more in love, not less in love, while partnering together in the mission of raising godly children? What if we could still intimately know each other and what is going on in life, not blitz through the years coexisting as strangers? What if we didn’t have to lose ourselves or our couple identity but actually uncovered more of it?

It’s possible. I know because we’re 6 years into parenting with 3 small kids. And all of those things are true.

It takes work and sacrifice. It means we often don’t go to bed when we should because we’d rather spend time together after kids are in bed and housework is done (and college students have left our house) than get a full night’s sleep. It means we keep money in our budget for date nights even though we could pay off student loans faster if we didn’t. It means we teach our children that there are times when Mommy and Daddy are having a conversation, and their nonessential needs at that moment can wait.

But you know what? I’ll take it. I’ll shave 5 years off my life for not sleeping much – and happily – if that helps keep my marriage strong (and I’ll thank God that He made coffee beans). I’ll pay off student loans 6 months later if that helps keep me connected to my spouse. I’ll deal with my kids whining and stick to my guns if that means they see that Mommy and Daddy value each other. It is so, so worth it.

My fulfillment of my vows does not depend on my spouse’s fulfillment of his.

I don’t remember if this statement was said to us in premarital counseling or if we’ve said it to others in premarital counseling, or both. Either way, it’s true.

A godly marriage is a covenant, not a contract. A covenant modeled after the relationship God has with his people. Guess what? We break our side of the covenant all. The. Time. But He never gives up. Never stops pursuing us. His love never fails.

That’s the precedent for marriage. Your spouse WILL break their vows. In small ways or big, hopefully small. You will be tempted to say to yourself, “hah! I’ll forgive when he says he’s sorry,” or “she didn’t do her part, so I’m not doing mine.”

But that’s anti-gospel. Through the power of God’s grace, you can uphold your vows even if your spouse is failing miserably at theirs. If you do, God will be sufficient for your needs. He will comfort your hurting heart. He will use it to work on your spouse’s heart.

Some of the richest times in our marriage have come when I’ve proactively lived out the verse The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve. Flipping selfishness and expectation on its head, I’ve found great joy in loving and serving Travis freely.

Sandwiched between instructions to servants to obey their masters and wives to submit to their husbands is this beautiful section in 1 Peter 2 where Peter shows us where the power to do this comes from: Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father. That is how He endured the mocking and persecution. That is how He endured the cross. That is how He loved us.

We, too, can entrust our hearts to the Father, allowing Him to meet our deepest needs, so that we are free to love our spouses, regardless of how well they are loving us.

The best is yet to come

We’re 8 years in and I can honestly say: it just keeps getting better, and I believe the best is yet to come.

I realize not everyone has the same situation, and my heart breaks for those of you who are in hard, painful marriages that seem hopeless. I have very dear friends who are walking through that valley right now. My hope and prayer is that regardless of whether your marriage is currently wonderful or awful, you will be filled with a hopeful anticipation of what God is capable of doing in your marriage. Because He is the God who created marriage, who loves marriage, and who is making a new thing (Isaiah 43). May the best be yet to come!

 

If you read to the end, you deserve a gold star.

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Physical Suffering and the Hope of Eternity: Do Not Lose Heart!

Last week I ran out of my anti-inflammatory medicine . I didn’t think much of it and took my sweet time getting it refilled, because I din’t honestly think it was helping significantly and I don’t like taking drugs on a regular basis.

Boy, was that a mistake. By the fourth day every symptom of “it” returned with a heightened intensity. I quickly realized that nothing had really gotten better; we’ve just found a somewhat effective way to mask the symptoms of whatever the deeper problem is (that’s another can of spiritual analogy worms right there…).

As I lay on the couch at one point catching my breath for a few minutes, Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 4 came to my mind.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken;struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you. […]

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[d] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

I particularly identified with the statement: “our outer self is wasting away.” My  body quite literally felt like it was wasting away. In actuality, our outer bodies are wasting away. Physical death does await all of us. The Second Law of Thermodynamics is true: the entire earth, left to itself, tends toward disorder and decay. I was just experiencing in my body a glimpse of those realities.

But even the Second Law of Thermodynamics states that there is a way to reverse the inevitable process: the intervention of a different energy creating order and renewal out of chaos. The good news is this: God HAS intervened. He has expelled immeasurable energy to set forth the initiation of a full reversal of the death and destruction that awaits. This brings us back to Paul’s words above: “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” The wasting away that physical suffering indicates is not the end of the story. There is hope, there is a future, there is a promise of total healing and even resurrection from the dead in Jesus.

When we are deep in the throngs of suffering, we have two options: despair and hope. For those of us who have been adopted as God’s children and hold the deposit of our inheritance in our hearts, we have Paul’s words:

“we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed…”

No matter how afflicted we are, we can cling to the hope that we are not crushed; we are being renewed day by day. No matter how perplexed we are, we can cling to the hope that we are not driven to despair; there is an eternal weight of glory beyond comparison awaiting us. No matter how persecuted we are, we can cling to the hope that we are not forsaken; we will be raised with Jesus and brought into His presence. No matter how struck down we are, we can cling to the hope that we are not destroyed; the surpassing power belongs to the God of the universe.

For much of last week and into this week, I wrestled with these truths. At times I felt crushed…despairing…forsaken…destroyed. The things I know to be true were at war with the things that seemed true in my body and in my heart. But as I have wrestled this week, and come to low points, the gracious Father has lifted me up once again and brought me to the conclusion once more that I am not crushed; I must not despair; He has not forsaken me; I am not destroyed.

That reality gives me hope. It is as Paul says, “we do not lose heart.” When our bodies experience suffering, we are given a stark reminder that this life is not all there is. That things are not as they are meant to be. That the universe is headed toward disorder, but there is a gracious God whose Kingdom has already broken in.

All of this brings me to 3 conclusions:

1) This suffering gives me a greater longing for eternity. There are many wonderful things about this life, and so many areas where I see His Kingdom breaking into the brokenness. But the “momentary affliction” I experience makes me long for the day when all brokenness will be brought to an end. I long for the day when we will have new bodies that don’t waste away. I long for the day when God’s presence alone will light up the whole world. Paul says in Romans 8 that all creation is groaning for the full and complete redemption and restoration of the Kingdom. I groan for that, too.

2) This suffering increases my desire to be an agent of God’s Kingdom. If His Kingdom is breaking in, and if there will be a day when His Kingdom will be fully realized, why would I not want to be a part of it? This life, apart from Jesus, is but a vapor. It is, as Solomon says, meaningless. I don’t want to live for that which is meaningless; I want to live for that which has eternal value. This suffering gives me a deeper desire to be an instrument of God’s grace to others.  Paul’s suffering has led him to continually realize there is only one thing that makes his suffering worth it: to know that through death being at work in him, the life of Christ is at work in others.

3) This suffering makes clear that  I need His energy to powerfully work in me. We weren’t meant to live the rest of our Christian lives relying on our strength and power. There are times that as I pray for His Spirit to fill me,  I can almost feel Him rushing through me as if there is another life living in my body (oh wait, there is!). His energy has the power to reverse the entropy at play in my life, my body, and my heart. My energy does not. This is true of all of us at all times, physical suffering makes it more apparently true because we are brought face-to-face with our weakness and need.

I think I am beginning to understand why suffering is such a part of the Christian life, why God doesn’t just exempt His children from experiencing the effects of a broken world. I think I’m beginning to understand what it means to be buried with Christ in his suffering and raised with him in his resurrection. I think I’m beginning to understand what it means for death to be at work in us while simultaneously the life of Christ lives in us. For suffering gives us a real taste of that which Christ saved us from. It  deepens our longing for the day when our bodies will be raised anew and this whole earth restored. It instills in us a sense of purpose to live for His Kingdom now. It brings us to an awareness of our need and teaches us to lean on His power.

Friends, all of us experience suffering. Mine is mine, yours is yours. We each experience a different measure of suffering – some insurmountable, some but a taste. Whatever suffering you are experiencing in your life right now, let me encourage you with the same truths God has encouraged me in this week: do not lose heart. This is not all there is. Eternal glory awaits you. The outer wasting away is paired with inner renewal. Each day of suffering is one day closer to the hope of eternity. If you belong to Jesus, then you are not crushed. You are not driven to despair. You are not forsaken. You are not destroyed.

You are, in fact, being healed. Filled with hope. Loved deeply and abundantly. Filled with new life.

So do not lose heart.

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Affliction: A Purpose Beyond Ourselves

One thing our family has been facing this past year is some health issues I am experiencing. I won’t go into detail because that isn’t the point, but the bottom line is that this undiagnosed stream of problems is a daily battle that has affected our lives in many ways.

Recently I was meeting with a client I do some part-time work for who is a believer. He shared with me something he had been reading in 2 Corinthians 1:

For we do not want you to be unaware, brothers,[a] of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on Godwho raises the dead. 10 He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. 11 You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us through the prayers of many.

This passage resonates so deeply with me. Many days I am physically burdened beyond my strength. This passage is teaching me 5 things about affliction – be it physical struggle, daily challenges of raising kids, hurts and disappointments, financial instability, or persecution for the faith.

Affliction reminds us that our strength is not sufficient.

We were never meant to be sufficient. Our culture worships independence and self-sufficiency, but God’s very design before the Fall was for us to be dependent creatures – on Him and on one another.

Affliction reminds us of this reality. Our deluded selves applaud our strength and independence. But really, we have nothing to claim for ourselves. We are frail and weak creatures. Affliction reminds us that our strength will never be sufficient, no matter how strong, healthy, successful, organized, or uninhibited we are.

Therefore, affliction produces in us humility.

Affliction points us to rely on the God who raises the dead.

It is so key here that Paul doesn’t just say “on God”. There’s a key descriptor there,  “who raises the dead.” When we are confronted with our insufficiency, we are also confronted with the immeasurable power of the God who raised Christ from the dead, raises our sinful selves from the dead as new creations, and will one day raise our bodies from the dead for eternity.

What greater courage could we ever be given than to know that the same God who raises the dead is working for the good of those who love Him, even when it doesn’t feel like it? That the same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead dwells within His children, ready to strengthen us for whatever God has called us to do?

This knowledge doesn’t make my struggles any easier. But it gives me courage to fight through them with His power and strength.

Therefore, affliction produces in us courage

Affliction increases our hope in God’s deliverance.

The difference between affliction leading to despair and affliction leading to joy is this: on what have we set our hope?

Paul says that though they had come to the point of despairing in life, the reminder of God’s prior deliverance gave them greater hope of God’s future and continued deliverance. In his moment of despair, his response was to set his hope on God, and despair did not prevail.

Often, in the face of affliction, we allow Satan to convince us that God has abandoned us and hope is gone. The truth is, hope exists in the space between what reality is now and what we believe God is able to do. The greater that chasm, the greater the hope.

Think about it. Which storyline produces a greater sense of hope in you: the one in which the St. Louis Cardinals, who have been to the World Series countless times, get to the World Series again? Or the one in which the Kansas City Royals, who haven’t been to the World Series in 29 years, get to it again?

The more times we see God demonstrate what He is able to do, the quicker our response will be hope instead of despair. We can always call to mind what God has already done on the Cross: defeat our sin and rise from the dead to give us new life.

Therefore, affliction produces in us hope.

Affliction calls the faith community to pray and come together.

Paul goes on to ask the Corinthians to help them by praying. Not because God wouldn’t work without their prayer, but because prayer is a means by which we express our dependence on God and come together as the body of Christ.

The natural response of seeing our insufficiency and turning to rely on God is prayer. And the right response of a Christian community when one of theirs is in need is to unite together to pray, support those in need, and meet needs if it is within their ability.

Therefore, affliction produces in us unity.

Affliction displays God’s glory.

Perhaps the most beautiful part of affliction is that God’s glory gets put on full display, not just to the afflicted one but to Christian community and the unbelieving world.

When a person experiencing deep struggle does not give way to despair but hopes in God, God’s goodness is the only explanation, and gratitude is the only response.

When a community rallies together to support someone in need, devoting themselves to prayer with a unity that spans geography, race, and culture, God’s grace is the only explanation, and humility is the only response.

When God’s blessing is experienced even in the midst of that affliction, God’s greatness is the only explanation, and praise is the only response.

It is mystifying to the world when people who have no earthly reason for hope and joy are filled with those things, when they take the time to pray for and care for others’ needs above their own, and when people experience blessing through or in the midst of affliction. That’s because God’s glory is on full display, and it is incomprehensible.

Therefore, affliction produces in us worship.

A Purpose Beyond Ourselves

I wrote in the margin of my Bible “affliction always serves a purpose beyond ourselves.” All the things listed above do not just happen in the life of the one experiencing the affliction. They happen in the lives of the Body and the surrounding world, too.

As long as I think my affliction, whatever it is, is about me, the despair pit will be much easier to jump into.

But when I remember that affliction serves the glory of God, the good of the sanctification not only of me but of the Body, and the exaltation of His name to the world, then I can lift my eyes to the hope of the God who raises the dead.

Whatever burdens you today beyond your strength, set your hope on Him who raises the dead. Call out to the Body for prayer and support. Praise Him for His blessings. And do not despair…He is with you!

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See Them Through My Eyes: Perspective for a Weary Mom

Ambrielle sleeping

Today was exhausting.

The past month has been filled with weddings. Last weekend we traveled to Springfield, to St. Louis, and back in the course of 4 days. Then Ambrielle got strep. Last night we had only a few hours of interrupted sleep last night due to Ambrielle waking up, waking Elias, and him being up for a couple hours. Oh, and did I mention we’re in the process of buying a house?

Needless to say, we are incredibly worn out. On top of the physical exhaustion, the past two days have been especially trying with Ambrielle. Since she has been feeling better she has been a bundle of overtired, rebellious, fit-throwing energy. Meanwhile Elias is learning to walk, which is crazy cute but adds a whole new level of intricacy to our daily life.

To be honest, on weeks like this week, I get to the end of the day and, in my exhausted, vulnerable-to-Satan-and-my-flesh state, I think to myself, “why? What’s the point? I don’t feel cut out for this. I feel like the wrong mom for this daughter. Did I do anything right today? Is her rebellion a reflection of my parenting? Is there more to motherhood than exhaustion, boredom, and stress, or is this it? Today felt like 5 days…and I get to wake up after another possibly sleepless night and do it all over again.”

Some days, I want nothing more than to book a flight to Jamaica for a week (at least). I love my children more intensely than I ever imagined, and yet sometimes I don’t think I can handle any more crying, whining, messes, spit, bugars, laundry, questions, play requests, backtalking, or anything in between. I don’t feel adequate for any of it. I know raising my children is an amazing job, but when I’m knee-deep in the daily, hard, messy mundane of it all, it doesn’t feel amazing – or like I’m making any progress.

It might sound like I am complaining (if I ended there, I would be and this would be a terrible post). I admit, I can have a rather yucky heart – even toward children and a job I wouldn’t trade for the world.

But don’t worry; we’re just getting to the good part.

When we put the kids to bed tonight, I sat next to Ambrielle for a few minutes in the dark stroking her hair while she tried to fall asleep and Elias rolled around in his crib jabbering. With the image of my beautiful, long-lashed, curly haired little girl peacefully sleeping in her bed before my eyes, and the joyful sounds of my precious, cheeky, bright-eyed little boy sounding in my ears, my heart melted. All the frustration, exhaustion, discouragement, questions of purpose, melted away for those few minutes. The Lord brought to my mind simple joys and precious moments from the day that I overshadowed with the negative.

This is what the voice, the Holy Spirit, whispered into the heart of this disgruntled mama,

This is why. Because children are blessings.  I made them blessings. I gave them to you as blessings.

Your lap may not be big enough for both of them fighting for dibs on it. But my lap is big enough for your children. And it’s big enough for you to crawl onto, too.

You’re right – you don’t have enough patience to answer the same 3 year old questions over and over. But I do.

You don’t have the strength to play pretend and fold that last load of laundry on 3 hours of sleep. But I do.

You don’t have the wisdom to discipline Ambrielle rightly, with love and sensitivity and without squelching who I made her. But I do.

You don’t have the selflessness to love these children with every fiber of your being even when it comes at great personal sacrifice. But I do. And I already did. 

Britney, you think you need a change of circumstances. You think your kids, or your role, or your personality, is the problem.

But you don’t need different kids. You don’t need better behaved ones, or ones that will fall asleep at night without getting out of bed 10 times. You don’t NEED a break, though that might be nice. You don’t need a different personality to do what I’ve called you to do. 

What you need is me. You need a change of perspective and a heart like mine. A heart that welcomes children as blessings, as a reward from God.  A heart that sees, despite their demands and their sinfulness, their preciousness. A heart that sees them as representations of how I want you to be – totally dependent on me, clamboring onto my lap, delighting in the simple things, with a childlike faith. 

Stop for a second, dear child. Stop asking how you can do this. Stop fretting about where the strength and patience will come from. Stop assuming your children’s hearts are yours to change. 

Look at them. Look at Elias gleefully tossing around in his crib as if he has no worries in the world. Do you know why he does that? Because he trusts that his mama is taking care of everything else so he doesn’t have to. He’s a blessing. He reminds you that you, too, can be filled with carefree joy. Not because you don’t care, but because you can give me all your cares. My yoke is easy and my burden is light, remember?

And look at Ambrielle. Look at her laying so peacefully on her pillow, breathing deeply as your hand rests on her head. Do you know why she does that? Because she believes that when you’re nearby, nothing can harm her. She feels secure. She can rest. She reminds you that you, too, can rest and be filled with peace. I’ve already met your deepest needs, haven’t I? I’ve called you by name, and you’re mine, and nothing–from your salvation to raising your children–is ultimately up to you, is it?

Repent, dear child, of your attempts to do this on your own and letting your limited earthly perspective trump mine. Repent of giving way to your flesh. Crawl on my lap, dear child, and let me fill you with strength and patience and love that only I can. Let me give you eyes to see your children as I see them – and as I see you.

In those few minutes, I realized what a change of perspective I need. When people brought children to Jesus, he didn’t turn them away. His disciples saw them as nuisances. Distractions. Obstacles. Much like I am tempted to see my children at times, as much as I hate to admit it. That’s not what Jesus saw. He saw precious blessings. Little souls. Representations of how one enters the kingdom of God–by becoming a child again through adoption by the Abba.

Psalm 127 calls children a heritage, a reward, and a blessing. Oh how I need that perspective. But to have that perspective, I need to stop thinking about my own needs and the worries of the day long enough to simply look at the precious gifts that my kids are. And I need to become childlike myself, crawling on my Abba’s lap, drawing from His love the kind of joy and rest I need to see my kids as the blessings that they are.

 

 

 

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How My Child’s Need for Jesus Points to My Own Need

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Have you ever noticed how unabashedly children display their sin? Kids under 5 are particularly honest in their sin. They haven’t quite learned the “appropriate” ways of dealing with their emotions and cravings, so their sin can often be rather obvious. For example,

When they want something, they grab it.

When they don’t like the answer Mommy gives, they throw a tantrum.

When they covet something a friend has, they steal it or have a meltdown because whatever toy they have isn’t enough.

When they believe something is theirs, they make it known to the world by shouting “mine!” and keeping it away from little brothers or friends.

When they love themselves more than others, they hit or push or say something mean.

Let’s be clear-I’m not being negative toward children. I love children. I have two and plan to have at least a couple more. I think their honesty is one of the most precious things about them. As honest as they are in their sin nature, they are equally honest in expressing their love and their thoughts. And if the most important part of my job as a mom (aside from keeping them alive and well!) is to point my children to their need for Jesus, then their honesty makes it all the easier. I don’t have to dig very far to help them see their sin. My daughter hands me plenty of opportunities throughout the day to gently talk to her about that yucky heart that keeps manifesting itself, and the hope of a new heart full of love she can have through Jesus.

The candidness of their sin serves another purpose, however, aside from providing opportunities to point them to their need for Jesus.

It points me to my need for Jesus. 

Children will do and say things that we adults (at least most of us) would never do or say. But the same thoughts and motivations that lead children to do and say them exist in our hearts when we are not walking in the Spirit.

We may not grab what we want, but we discontentedly chase after it, grumbling about our lack of it.

We may not throw visible tantrums complete with tears, kicking, and screaming, but we throw inner tantrums, ranting and venting, entertaining self-centered and frustrated thoughts when we don’t get our way.

We may not steal what we covet, but we enviously gaze upon it and wish the demise of those who do have it, because if we don’t get to have it, they shouldn’t either.

We may not run around shouting “mine, mine!” with everything we own, but we are reluctant to share, hoarding what we have for ourselves, feeling indignant when God or others ask us to share it.

We may not hit or push or say something mean (out loud), but we think mean thoughts and use manipulation to get our needs met instead of loving selflessly.

Every time I discipline my daughter for some display of sin, I am reminded of my own sin. As soon as I start to get frustrated or self-righteous, God flashes before me a picture of my own sin.

Remember that tantrum you threw yesterday? When you got home from the grocery store and ranted and vented about how the world didn’t stop for you? When you seethed in anger toward all the people who were obstacles to your perfectly peaceful grocery trip? When you coveted the beautifully put together outfit of the fellow shopper, inwardly judging and critiquing her simply because you were jealous? 

Ouch. I am forced to see the ridiculousness of my sin. As I look at my daughter’s tantrum and think, “how ridiculous. This is so unproductive. It accomplishes nothing. She knows it won’t bring her what she wants,” I am simultaneously reminded of how ridiculous my sin is. How unproductive it is. How it accomplishes nothing godly or positive. How it fails to bring me the satisfaction I desire every time.

The truth is, I am a covetous, tantrum-throwing, judgmental, “mine” exclaiming, friend-pushing sinner. I’ve just found more “acceptable” ways to express those things. Where my daughter’s sin is so obvious, mine can be so subtle.

But the same heart condition is there. The same motivations drive my flesh. Just as my daughter needs to be told of the hope she can have if she believes in Jesus, so I need to be reminded of the hope I have already been given in Christ. Just as she needs to hear that Jesus can take her yucky heart away and give her a heart like His, I need to be reminded that He has already taken my yucky heart away and given me a heart that is daily becoming more like His-even when it doesn’t seem like it. Just as she needs to be made aware that she can never be righteous and selfless and loving on her own, so I need to be reminded that I can’t grow in godliness on my own, but have the Holy Spirit inside me, on whom I must lean constantly.

The more I see the depth of my propensity to sin, the more precious His great love and mercy are to me. As I am transformed each day into His likeness, He uses my children to remind me what I am apart from Him, and how much I need His help every moment.

The honesty of children and the candidness of their sin is a measure of God’s grace for us as adults. When we are around them, we can be reminded by their need for Jesus of our very own. We can be filled with gratitude for the love He has shown us and the new heart He gives.

How has God used children–yours or others–to point you to the gospel?

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The Chocolate v. The Grapefruit: Cravings & Jesus

Grapefruit

Today was one of those days. I awoke with a cloud of discouragement hanging over my head, a body reminding me that it is wasting away with every muscle group, and a sense of overwhelm as I looked at the piles of laundry built up over the weekend and the two children (one of whom was very clingy, ahem, Elias…) vying for attention I felt too weary to give.

It was a rough day. A battle of a day. Battling myself, my sinful flesh, my physical body, my discouragement.

By the afternoon, the old chocolate craving hit. Thoughts started running through my head…

it’s just one of those days. It’s a chocolate fix day.

I ate a Russell Stover chocolate while attempting to throw soup in the crock pot (I never was good at basketball) while the kids fought over tupperware containers to play with.

Yum. This is just what my day needs…

I puzzled over what chocolate stash I might have somewhere. Over on the counter sat the other half of Ambrielle’s grapefruit (my daughter requested yogurt and a grapefruit for lunch. Seriously? Score!) I had been intending to eat. It glared at me.

You really should eat ME you know. That chocolate won’t satisfy me like you will.

Ignore creepy talking grapefruit…

…it’s been a long time since I’ve kept chocolate candies or anything in the house since I was dairy-free for so long…oh but there are those chocolate egg thingys in the cabinet!

Then it hit me. Do I hear myself? I’m craving chocolate because I’m having a bad, fleshly day? Something is wrong with this picture.

Said grapefruit was right (ok, so the grapefruit didn’t actually talk. Thank goodness. I think the correct owner of the small voice was the Holy Spirit). Chocolate won’t satisfy my cravings. My chocolate craving is actually a craving for Jesus.

Like the alcoholic longing for a drink on a rough day, I longed to divert the dark cloud hanging over me with chocolate. I longed for a treat that would bring small pleasure on a day that felt downright yucky.

My thoughts changed, now submitted to that still small voice. It won’t satisfy. You’ve been down this path before. You’ll snack on chocolate. You’ll ignore the real problem. Said grapefruit will end up in the trash. Your sweet tooth won’t be satisfied. And neither will your soul.

In that moment, I faced a choice: satisfy my cravings with chocolate, or see my chocolate cravings as a pointer to my deeper craving and satisfy those cravings with the one thing that will satisfy my soul.

By God’s grace, I chose the latter. Instead of consuming chocolate and sitting in my sorry state, I began to pray. And recite Scripture in my head. I turned on gospel-focused music. I played hymns on the piano.

I won’t lie and say my spirits immediately lifted and the afternoon was perfect. Honestly, the whole day was a battle. I was not a very godly mommy today. I wasn’t a very motivated wife. I didn’t respond well to lots of situations. I wasn’t filled with joy.

But the good news is, I battled. I almost went over to the chocolate team, dulling the deeper cravings by momentarily satisfying a shallow one. But I didn’t. The Spirit spoke into a moment of temptation, gently beckoning my soul, reminding me of exactly what I needed to hear, and urging me to choose the One thing that will satisfy.

That, in light of many other failures throughout the day, was a small victory. Jesus is infinitely more satisfying than chocolate (not that chocolate isn’t a nice accompaniment sometimes ;D). He is infinitely more satisfying than all the other things I try to placate my cravings with. He whispers peace into my soul. He brushes me with his fingertips of mercy and grace when I mess up over and over again. He comforts the discouraged places of my heart. He sings promises of a new and whole physical body I will someday have over me. He offers hope in every moment of despair. He is the perfect Father to my children when I fail to be a good mommy. He gives me a grand purpose for His kingdom and glory even on days when I feel meandering and purposeless.

The day may not have been a great one. I’m glad it’s over. Glad tomorrow is a new day. But perhaps it took a rough day to remind me yet again that He alone can satisfy. Just a chocolate only leaves my sweet tooth longing for more, never giving the refreshing satisfaction my body is looking for, so anything aside from Jesus only leaves my soul longing for more, missing the refreshing burst of light and water that flows from my Savior.

By the way, I ate the grapefruit. MMMM delicious (Travis is cringing right now. He has yet to have a grapefruit epiphany. Give him grace. We all are sanctified in different ways in different times…=P). Not only was Jesus more satisfying to my soul, but the grapefruit was deliciously more satisfying to my sweet tooth and a refreshing burst of energy instead of a sugar crash.

I might go hunt down some chocolate now, though…for godlier reasons than before, I promise.  😉

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