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The One Thing

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I haven’t written much lately, and it’s not because of a lack of desire. It’s not because of a lack of time (most days). It’s not even an issue of writing material.

I think it’s because I am a Martha

I approach life with a sense of duty, purpose, and a to-do list. I struggle to rest if tasks are left incomplete. I work with pride both in my giftings and in the fact that I’m sure others don’t have nearly as much on their plates as I do. My haughty heart can get pretty ugly.

The thing is – writing is a work of rest. It may not be the same for all writers, but I need a quiet mind and a still soul to process my words before they ever arrive on the computer screen. This is hard for a Martha like me. The dishes that need to be washed and dried, the dog that needs a bath, and the bread that needs to be baked for the church dinner two days from now, demand all my brainpower. This afternoon, my husband literally took the sponge out of my hand and forced me out the door reminding me that every extra chore I completed was eating into my writing time.

I desperately want to be a Mary.

I want to approach life with a sense of reverence and awe at the hand of God. I want to take respite in His sufficiency even if the to-do list is missing some checks. I want to humbly listen to the voice of the Master, soaking in His wisdom and the hope of His sacrifice for me.

Hard work and faithful service is a good thing. Jesus’ followers ought to be marked by a desire to be diligent in the roles to which we are assigned. We are called to be living sacrifices. Our churches and homes would not function without the hands-on effort of the Marthas.  Those who tend to be laid-back or shy can even learn valuable lessons from the bold and assertive members of the body.

A Martha may simply have her priorities mixed up which leads to inevitable burnout and bitterness. Let me explain from an example in the Old Testament.

After the rebuilding of the wall in Jerusalem, Nehemiah and the Levites spent time reading and teaching the law to the Jews who had returned from exile. After hearing and understanding their grave sin, they mourned, ripping their clothes and covering themselves in dust. After their confession, the leaders encouraged them to “Stand up and bless the Lord your God from everlasting to everlasting.” What follows in Nehemiah 9, is a beautiful song, tracing God’s faithfulness to his people in spite of their failures over and over again. The next chapter, outlines the continued response of gratefulness from these rescued Jews. They committed their lives, finances, and resources to the care of their refocused, God-centered culture and the recently rebuilt Temple.

Isn’t it interesting that Nehemiah didn’t return to Jerusalem and immediately set up a Temple-serving schedule. He didn’t pass the offering plate or lecture those whose children had married pagan spouses. The people’s work and sacrificial living was fueled by repentance and worship after spending time with God’s Word.

Marthas (like me) have the tendency to rush to the final step. We serve and give from an empty well because duty trumps worship. The beauty of Mary’s heart though is her desire to know Jesus first. She was hearing the Word from the Word himself. Who would pass that up? The service of Martha was tiring and frustrating because she didn’t have the humility of Mary first.

This is more important than ever as I close out our homeschool year and take on some more duties at church again. I must prioritize God’s Word. I must allow the Holy Spirit to convict my soul leading me to repentance and then worship. The effort I put into all the obligations must be fueled by these heart attitudes first. It is only then that I can experience true rest even in a busy schedule.

Furniture will gather more dust. More church emails will need to be sent. One more meal will need to be prepared. But only one thing will last. Only one Person will empower me, satisfy me, and love me. May my Martha heart learn from Mary and choose the One thing that will never be taken away.

Remembering the God of “New” in the New Year {a guest post}

The online world can be a beautiful place. Over the years, I have encountered women with a deep passion for the gospel, a desire for growth in scriptural understanding, and an embrace of the high calling of motherhood. Emily Jensen is one of those women. Her online ministry, both in writing and her podcast, have often encouraged and challenged my heart. That’s why I was thrilled when she agreed to write a special post for the new year here at Dishes & Doctrine. I know you will be blessed with her thoughts for 2018…..
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On my bookshelf sits a deep-emerald green textural prayer journal, waiting to be filled with my hopes for 2018. Next to it, you’ll find a growing pile of books I plan to read, which will hopefully incite life-changes that actually last. And although I haven’t gotten around to it yet, the white walls of our mudroom are empty and ready for some printables with goals for every member of the family so we can track the great things we’ll do in the new year. With the turning of a simple calendar day, it feels like the white snow in our yard lets out a big breath and fills the air with the magical aroma of change. Like Lucy walking through the wardrobe into Narnia, greeting a new world that feels more exciting than scary, we tentatively explore the possibilities and hope again for the promise of new.

 

Particularly, I like to think that new means I’m suddenly going to be good at all the things. Instead of picking a very small-sampling of life areas to consider changing, I imagine this year will make me a new and better wife, mom, cook, gym member, church member and neighbor. But the thing about newness is that it’s not magic, it’s not produced by flipping a calendar page, and it’s not a direct result of our own savvy efforts. Newness ultimately belongs to God, and we get a chance to image him as we enter into the new good things he is doing. So as we consider the fresh feeling of 2018, let’s remember these truths about newness.

Only God can Truly Do Something New

God was the first and the only one to truly do something brand-spanking-new. Because he has existed for all of time, he is the only source of all new and created things (Psalm 90:2). When we think of our goals and our fresh ideas, it’s important to remember that there is really nothing new under the sun as far as God is concerned (Ecclesiastes 1:9). Our goals and ideas might be different from last year, and we might have added some Pinterest-sourced tips and tricks, but no one is really doing something completely new. We struggle with the same sins, setbacks, and limitations as every other human since the fall (Romans 3:23). In fact, humans are only attributed with inventing new ways to do evil (Romans 1:30). So we don’t exactly have an awesome track record when it comes to doing new things. The only new good works we do come from the God who is in the process of making all things new (Revelation 21:5).

 

Only God can Produce New Good Fruit

So if true “newness” belongs to God alone, can we be hopeful for new things in our own lives this year? Yes! As long as we remember that the new, good works we walk in and the new good fruit we produce isn’t really a direct result of our own SMART goals. Sure, we can do some behavior modification here and there (actually, I’m embarrassingly bad at that), and we can occasionally keep some rules for a while, but only God can write his law on our hearts, giving us a heart of flesh where it was once stone (Jeremiah 31:33, Ezekiel 36:26). Only his power within us can cause us to will and to work according to his good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). He is the God of new, and he renews us as we fix our minds on his word, standing in awe of the work he’s done on our behalf (Romans 12:2).

 

The Good News:

We don’t have to have it all figured out this year when it comes to starting something new, because we trust a God who does.

Remember, this is the God who made the heavens and the earth, the animals, the people on the earth, and who created the science that orders it all together.

This is the God who gave a New Covenant when the old one was a hovering cloud of death.

This is the God who promises to renew and restore all things at the return of Christ.

He can certainly handle our sanctification in the new year!

 

So as we crack open our prayer journals, our stacks of books, our crisp notepads, and our organizational apps, let’s rest knowing that it’s not up to us to make ourselves new. We’ve already been washed as white as snow in Christ, and the best “new” we will ever experience is still yet to come (Isaiah 1:18, Revelation 21:5). Eternity, 2018’s got nothing on you.

 

About the author: 

Emily Jensen is the Co-Founder of Risen Motherhood, and the Co-Host of the weekly podcast. Risen Motherhood is a ministry which encourages and equips moms to apply the gospel in their everyday moments. She lives with her husband and five young children amidst the cornfields of central Iowa. You can find her microblogging @risenmotherhood on Instagram and all podcast archives at RisenMotherhood.com.

 

How Long?

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When will it snow, Mommy? Can we watch a Christmas movie and drink hot chocolate tonight? Is that package for me? How many days left until we open presents?

The Christmas season is packed with expectancy. From the moment the first scent of leftover holiday cheer is release from the storage box, everyone in the home looks forward to the culmination of these joyful few weeks. Christmas is coming!

As theologically-minded parents, we have the opportunity to use that feeling of anticipation to teach our children one of the most major themes of Scripture which is the presence of God with man.

In the beginning, the Creator designed a perfect garden, with perfect foliage, perfect animals, and perfect food in which He walked in perfect relationship with Adam and Eve. That communion was tragically broken with their sinful rebellion, but the story didn’t end there. Genesis 3:15 says, I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” Something was coming to resolve this curse, but it wouldn’t be as immediate as this first family may have suspected. 

The entire Old Testament traces the suspense surrounding the wait for a permanent resolution to this sin problem. God instructs his people to build the tabernacle and later the temple as dwelling places for His Presence. God’s relationship with his chosen people came at the price of sacrifice after sacrifice, year after year.

A small child may feel like the days leading up to Christmas are endless. Each seems to drag as she waits patiently for the hope promised to her. In a similar and even more significant way, Israel longed for the arrival of their Rescuer. How long would God wait to fulfill his long-standing promises?

“And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.”

In His perfect, never early, never late timing, the Father set into motion the answer to His covenant with mankind.

“And the Word [Jesus] became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only son from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

God himself would now tabernacle with his Creation. Jesus would be both the High Priest and the Sacrifice necessary to complete the plan set in motion in Genesis. When He returned to Heaven, he would send the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of the redeemed. The Church is now a living temple for the presence of God.

But, we’re still waiting. There’s more to come.

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

What a breaktaking description of the end of the story! We live in anticipation for all to be made new. We look around at our broken world and ask, “How long?” but we can wait with hope. Just as a small child confidently knows that there will be gifts under the tree on December 25, we as believers cling to the fulfillment and resolution that is surely coming with Jesus’ return.

The celebration of Jesus’ birth is a chance for our families to wonder at the greatest Gift ever given and prepare for the final chapter of God’s story yet to come!

Immanuel, God is with us!

 

 

 

The Work of Rest

“Turn off your phone tomorrow. Spend time with your family. It’s your day off, take advantage of the chance to rest,” she said.

My dear friend seemed to look right through my “I’m fine” mask as she diagnosed my exhausted state. It’s been this way for months now. The racing schedule, the too-short nights, the never-ending needs leave me craving rest. I thought I was hiding it well, until that conversation a few nights ago. My throat tightened as the suppressed emotions made a hasty appearance.

“I am tired,” I admitted and her hug caused the tears to come. She had noticed for a while, and firmly reminded me again to unplug – to rest. As I drove home, I thought about the other sweet friend who has sent me several encouraging cards and texts lately, the anonymous gift that was left at the church for me, and the letter of gratefulness from a church member to our whole family for the time we invest in them. Maybe our burnout isn’t so invisible.

We did turn off our phones and tablets that Monday. We enjoyed a day free from texts and email notifications. We sang kids’ songs in the van as we headed to pick up church supplies and stuffed ourselves at our favorite Chinese buffet. It was a tiny step forward in the refueling process.

As I put away the groceries that evening though, I was frustrated. Why did I still feel so tired? I had taken my friend’s advice. We had unplugged for at least twelve hours! Why was my heart still heavy with the burdens of the upcoming week? Why did I dread the next homeschooling day looming on the horizon? Wasn’t I supposed to feel light and refreshed after our family day?

I think I’m learning a difficult truth.

Rest is work. 

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

More specifically, rest is a gospel work.

Yes, my weekly calendar is packed with both expected and unexpected duties. Children alone can turn my well-laid plans on their heads in a moment. I desire to serve my husband well. I want to meet the needs of my church family in a timely manner. I want to be a productive member of my community.

I fear, though, that even if all of those responsibilities were miraculously fulfilled, I would still suffer from a unsettled heart. My lack of rest doesn’t ultimately stem from a busy life, but from a misplaced hope.

I have forgotten my neediness. I have been deceived by pride. I have convinced myself of my own strength when I have none.

So, how do I come to Jesus with my unrest? How do I burden myself with His easy yoke, not my bulky one? John Bunyan describes this passage in Matthew like this:

“This coming to Christ is a running to him, a flying to him from the wrath to come. When all refuge fails, and a man is made to see that there is nothing left in him but sin, death, and damnation, unless he flies to Christ for life; then he flies, and not until then. There is a sense of absolute need of Jesus Christ:……….He who truly comes, must forsake all, cast all behind his back and cling to Christ alone.”

I haven’t been flying to Christ. I have been trudging to the cross, all the while convincing myself that I don’t really need to be there. I have forgotten that that good news of Jesus is only good news when I am convinced of the bad news. My uneasy, tired existence ultimately reflects the root of sinful self-dependence incurable by even the longest night’s sleep. No wonder I have been exhausted lately.

Maybe you’re overly tired too. I know a nap and a kid-free day seems like the best solution, but it may only be a short term one. Perhaps we can dig a little deeper together by confessing our tendency for self-reliance and disregard for the work Christ has already finished for us. I am convinced that it is possible to live a life of rest even on the craziest of weeks. It will take work, but not the human effort kind. The more we work to admit our weakness, the more the Spirit will work in our souls offering His incomparable rest.

“It is the grace of the new covenant, the grace of all graces, which comforts the soul when it is disturbed. The same love that brings you everlasting life will also give you daily bread.”

-Richard Sibbes

Rest well, my friends.

 

Why every mom should study Revelation

This past summer, I finished up the first half of a study in the book on Exodus, and while I plan to finish the second half eventually, I felt compelled to skip to the last book of the Bible, Revelation. Because so many controversies and questions surround those final chapters of Scripture, I was hesitant to dig in. What if I didn’t understand the apocalyptic language? Would it be a waste of my time? Maybe I should just stick to more approachable books!

I couldn’t shake the fact that it would be a great time to study the coming judgment with Egypt’s plagues fresh in my mind so I began by listening to the audio version on my phone as I cooked and cleaned around house. I found myself stopping in the middle of my chores, captivated by the descriptive picture John paints about the future of our world. I was thrilled to find that my husband owned a copy of Dr. James Hamilton’s commentary on Revelation.  I could use it to clarify some of the verses that still stumped me.

At the time I am writing this, I am a bit more than half way through the book and have been struck over and over again by beautiful gospel themes that have brought a new purpose to my living. I am convinced that every busy mom needs to study Revelation.

Here’s why:

1. Revelation offers a bigger perspective on mundane concerns.

Meal prep, laundry, kindergarten reading homework – a mom’s day-to-day life is full to the brim with the mundane. Repetitive tasks can make the most resilient of mothers want to lose her mind. Worries about money, educational choices, and car repairs run through our distracted minds all day long. Revelation offers a bigger view. It’s impossible to read about trumpets, seven headed dragons, and eternal rejoicing without seeing that God is coordinating something much greater than my little daily problems.

2. Revelation reminds us that the mundane matters.

God is the master story weaver. Nothing escapes His attention or care. This is true even when we label our lives as “boring” or “unimportant.” Think of it this way. Our call as humans is to be image bearers of our God. This has been true ever since the Garden of Eden. While we fail often at reflecting His glory, goodness, and love, the daily responsibilities we accomplish bring organization to an otherwise chaotic world. In that, we are bearing God’s image just as he created order out of nothing in the beginning.

Our mundane duties also have a future purpose. Courtney Reissig explains it this way in her book, Glory in the Ordinary.

“Our work is preparing us to rule and reign with Christ in a new earth, where the curse is gone, and we will work for God’s glory, always.”

I might scrub the dirty skillet little harder or complain a bit less about the smelly trash when I think about the eternal objective of my work. What I practice now will be used forever!
It’s not just our work that matters, however. He is using the interactions, struggles, and joys I experience each day to further the reach of His kingdom. In other words, my story is combined with your story to complete His story.

3. Revelation gives us a renewed sense of Jesus’ glory and power.

A thousand things demand our attention during a twenty-four hour period. It can be hard to know which task or person should receive the focus of our limited time and energy. I reach the end of most days exhausted and uninspired, and I’m sure you can relate. Before long, our obedience is fueled by guilt and duty, and we find ourselves mindlessly plugging away with no passion or excitement. We turn to our phones or computers for comfort and encouragement, but instead find comparison and conflict.

Revelation begins with a description of Jesus in chapter 1. John says He was clothed in a long robe with a golden sash around his chest. He had white hair and eyes like fire. His feet were like “burnished bronze” and his voice roared like many waters. Can you imagine seeing your Savior like this? John immediately fell at Jesus’ feet at the sight of His glory. His power is overwhelming and His love is immeasurable, yet the next words recorded are, “Fear not!”

Because of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, we do not have to fear the judgment of a holy God. Because Jesus overcame our slavery to sin, we can obey the call to faithful living in these last days. James Hamilton describes this passage,

“The incomparable glory of the risen Christ motivates John’s audience to heed what John has been commissioned to write. The matchless splendor of Heaven’s King attracts the attention and compels the obedience of the churches John addresses. The risen Christ in glory summons forth obedience from his churches.”

The book of Revelation causes us to wake up from the apathy of mindless Christianity. It renews our hope in an ultimate victory against Satan and his followers. It comforts us in the midst of deep suffering, and gives a greater calling to pursue.

We can rejoice and obey on even the most difficult days of motherhood because of the words proclaimed in Revelation 11:15:

“The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever.”

Amen.

Peeling Wallpaper and Vulnerability

It was a whirlwind thirty-six hours.

My friend, Katie, and I drove from the Pennsylvania mountains to the quaint towns of New England to visit a mutual friend for the day. Typical of most close friendships, we never ran out of words the entire time. We ate pizza and salads and smoothies, giggled at the massage chairs during our pedicures, and shared the deeper struggles of our hearts as mamas and wives late into the night.

We couldn’t visit New Hampshire without experiencing some of the history of our country. We spent several hours exploring Strawbery Banke, an outdoor living museum of centuries-old homes and gardens. It was like stepping back into the 1700’s as we peeked into bedrooms and outhouses. We wondered what it would have been like to cook over an open fire in the kitchen. We were shocked to see a co-sleeping bassinet with very little difference to today’s cribs. We imagined the lives of these first citizens of our nation.

Near the end of our visit we entered a home built in the early 18th century. From the outside it looked like the other refurbished homes we had already explored. On the inside, however, it was completely different. The museum had purposely left it almost completely untouched.

Peeling layers of paint, a half a dozen wallpaper patterns, and exposed beams told a fascinating story. The smell of age made it difficult to fully breathe. We gripped the shaky stair rail and spent only a few moments in the creaky upstairs before we slowly made our descent.

The lack of renovations gave an intriguing narrative of this home. Births and deaths. Laughter and tears. Arguments and harmony. Beautiful upgrades and bad design choices. Hope and fear. The walls had seen it all.

I sensed a vulnerability in this home absent in the other renewed structures around it and yet it was my favorite of all that we explored that day.

I haven’t been able to shake the parallel between that old house and my tendency to shine myself up in order to impress. Even my “vulnerability” can be carefully curated to give the impression of openness, while holding back the ugliest parts of my heart.

Can I say something blunt? I think true openness is virtually impossible online. It is too easy to pick and choose the sins we confess. It is too easy to filter our mess. We love to #keepitreal while downplaying the damaging effects of our brokenness.

Is there someone in your life who regularly sees and shares the ugly, peeling parts of your heart? Is there a safe person who has proven her trustworthiness over time? Do you share your shortcomings to a friend who allows you to vent, but will eventually point your heart back to the truest Friend of all?

The Jesus-following life was not designed to be led in isolation or behind shiny masks. Galatians 6 illustrates the tension and balance between personal accountability and community support.

Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load.

We are multifaceted people. We process thousands of emotions each day. We carry dozen of burdens as we navigate this broken world. We are formed by stories and scars. We will each be held accountable for our sins and our response to the gospel of Jesus.
However, community is vital to our growth too! We can truly answer the call to bear each others burdens only when we share the ripped wallpaper and broken beams of our heart. Painting a shiny veneer over our true struggles only looks good for a time.

We fulfill our calling to holiness by returning over and over to the accomplishments of Jesus and pointing our friends in that direction too. Vulnerability for vulnerability’s sake is worthless. Openness without gospel-shaped hope is ineffective and will never bring lasting change.

Transparency allows us to look beyond the ugly and see the beautiful tapestry God is weaving with the thread of His grace and we look forward to the day when His ultimate Restoration is finally complete!

When the Hard Road is the Best Road

The book is closed on another school year. Actually half of the pages are thrown away and the other half is saved carefully in a gigantic notebook to present to our homeschool evaluator. We have to prove that we did indeed complete third grade during the last nine months!

I don’t write about homeschooling often. There are hundreds of articles and entire websites devoted to the art of education and curriculum choices. I don’t have much insight to add to the conversation.

Like most other families, we wrestled with our schooling decision when our oldest was still a toddler. Because we live in a small community, our options are limited. We chose the public school initially as a way to get to know others outside of the church context. My son did well, learned to read quickly, and loved his teachers. During that time, my husband became the only pastor at our church. This brought with it a new complexity with our schedules. Between late-night meetings and hospital visits, he and my son were virtually two ships passing in the night. So we became a homeschooling family.

Homeschooling offers a flexibility to our family calendar that we cherish and it scratches the teaching itch that I have had since leaving the classroom ten years ago. Overall, we have found it to be a good fit for our situation.

So, here I am reflecting on two years of educating my children within the walls of our home (and on family vacations, of course) and I have to say, it is the hardest thing I have ever done. I had visions of my sons sitting with their hands folded, eagerly awaiting the next pearl of wisdom I would offer. I imagined memorizing entire chapters of Scripture to recite as a family. I hoped we would spend our afternoons cuddled on the couch reading the classics.

While there have been some special bonding moments, most of my days are filled with sibling squabbles, a toddler who finds her joy in tearing pages out of library books, and complaints about math worksheets. The laundry pile doesn’t take care of itself and the monotonous cycle of household chores seems to scream at me from every corner of every room! I researched other schooling options at various points throughout the year. Surely there must be an easier road!

It is the hardest, most repetitious, most beautiful, most rewarding thing I have ever done. Homeschooling has knocked me to my knees like nothing else ever has. I have come face to face with my weaknesses and sin on a daily basis. The waves of failure and anger have driven me to my Strong Tower over and over again.

Homeschooling (like motherhood in general) has been both refining and sanctifying in my life. It is more than countries and capitals or multiplication tables. It is an opportunity for the Spirit to reveal areas of self-dependence and pride that I have covered with the illusion of having it all together. Homeschooling makes it obvious that I don’t.

Maybe you have made a different educational choice for your children. Maybe you don’t have any kids yet. Maybe you’re facing waves much higher than third grade spelling lists. Could it be that the hardest thing in your life right now is actually the best thing? The thing that makes you wake up with dread or fills you with fear can leave you weak and vulnerable to depression or can move you closer to the Rock of your salvation.

Someday, I won’t be a homeschooling mom anymore. It could be in the middle of next year or when all of my children are in college. Until then, God has seen fit to conform me to the image of his Son through my own sons. He has proven Himself faithful in my unfaithfulness and offered His power in the most fatiguing of days. As I reflect and rejoice in another completed school year, I give Him all the glory for my survival!
My heart sings with David,

The Lord is my rock,
my fortress, and my deliverer,
my God, my rock where I seek refuge,
my shield and the horn of my salvation,
my stronghold.
I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and I was saved from my enemies…………
God—his way is perfect;
the word of the Lord is pure.
He is a shield to all who take refuge in him.
For who is God besides the Lord?
And who is a rock? Only our God.
God—he clothes me with strength
and makes my way perfect.
He makes my feet like the feet of a deer
and sets me securely on the heights.
He trains my hands for war;
my arms can bend a bow of bronze.
You have given me the shield of your salvation;
your right hand upholds me,
and your humility exalts me.
You make a spacious place beneath me for my steps,
and my ankles do not give way.

Losing My Mind to Save My Body

“If you lost 5 more pounds, you’d look perfect.”

It’s funny how a string of words said in passing, can be remembered so clearly almost twenty years later. I was standing outside with my circle of friends before another day of 11th grade classes began. I had been bemoaning the fact that I still wasn’t at my goal weight after months of dieting when Jack decided to insert himself into the conversation. He actually meant to encourage me, but his comment left me defeated. Obviously, I still wasn’t quite skinny enough. So I determined in my heart that I would lose that weight even if it meant starving myself.

I had become slightly overweight in my early high school years. Dr. Pepper, pizza, and peanut butter cups have that effect on the body. I was definitely healthier after losing thirty-five pounds, but the number on the scale began to consume me. I savored comments about how great I looked, and I was filled with pride when I could easily wear my best friend’s size 4 skirt on our senior trip.

My weight had become my identity.

I find myself struggling with this same identity crisis even now as a 33-year-old mom of three. I obsess over eating plans and cleanses on Pinterest. I have attempted low carb, high fat, and restricted calorie diets. I focus on difficult workout programs promising to change my “problem zones.” I research the benefits of exotic super foods that can still be readily purchased at my local Aldi store, of course. I feel unstoppable when I lose a couple pounds and devastated when the scale creeps back up to where I began.

Ironically, all that energy spent on myself doesn’t do much on the outside. I don’t look extremely fit or grossly overweight. I simply appear average.

The truth is, I’m losing my mind while trying to save my body.

My theology tells me that I’m not alone. In fact, I have all creation on my side. All of us – plants, animals, humans – are groaning together for the day when this unattainable struggle for perfection is over. In fact, each time I look in the mirror or step on the scale, I am reminded of the “already, not yet” tension that exists until Christ’s second coming.

This past week was a hard health week for me. I am battling exhaustion, headaches, and of course, weight gain. At this point my blood work shows no warning signs. While this should be a good thing, I’m left with symptoms with no answers.

During this time, I came across Paul’s words in II Corinthians 5…..

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. For we live by faith, not by sight.

The annoyance and anxiety we have over undiagnosed diseases and stubborn weight are more than symptoms of the curse. They are also a reminder of what is to come.

My body now is currently a product of the dirt. God miraculously formed Adam from the dust of the ground and each of us returns to that ground when our body dies. The cycle of life points to the effects of sin upon us all. But, that’s not the whole story.

Jesus broke sin’s curse when he conquered death. His triumph was the start of a brand new creation. Paul tells us that those who have put their trust in Christ’s rescue share in that new start. The old burden of sin is gone and the new has come. Just like we have received forgiveness and grace for our sins, we have been guaranteed a brand new, perfectly working physical body. The Holy Spirit, who indwells all believers, is a seal of that promise.

I’ve still been wrestling with what to do in the meantime.

It is important to fuel my body with healthy food and strengthen it with regular exercise, but my health isn’t meant to be my god.

It’s nice to fit into my favorite jeans, but can I still effectively fulfill my calling at one size larger?

Fitness and nutrition motivation from others is great, but comparison usually follows close behind.

How can I take care of this temporary dwelling while waiting for my new one?

I know that my identity rests in Jesus not the scale and my acceptance is not in my workout regimen, but in His finished work at the cross.

The tension between what is and what is to come is infuriating at times, but it must point my eyes to the Eternal One who holds all things together (including my imperfect body.) I must cling to the certain hope that this broken tent will be gone very soon.

Until then I live by faith, not sight.

Impossible Joy

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Sing it with me!

“I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart! Where?”

“The joy of the Lord is my strength!!” Clap Clap

“This is the day! This is the day that the Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad in it!”

Can you hear the bouncy tunes in your mind? Do they conjure up memories of Sunday School days gone by? Do they remind you of a simpler, easier, happier time of your life?

It’s hard to hum these songs when your heart is heavy with loss. Singing about joy seems impossible when misery is your closest companion. How do you rejoice in a day that is filled with monotony and stress?

Joy? Cheer? Delight? Surely these proclamations must only be for children or those adults with extremely easy (and wealthy) lives. Yet we can’t escape the extremely straightforward commands in Scripture to rejoice and to do it always! (Phil. 4:4)

Could it be that joy is more than a reaction to the circumstances surrounding us on a given day or season? Could it be that joy might be an act of faith?

A simple online search returns dozens of verses including the seemingly contradictory words: joy and suffering. At first glance, it makes no sense. If my son cuts his finger and runs to me, bleeding, I offer comfort and a bandaid. I don’t encourage him to rejoice in his pain – to realize that something good will come from the slice in his thumb.

We can’t overlook the fact, however, that in this silly illustration, my son ran to me. His faith in my mothering skills gave him the confidence to give me his problem and to let me care for him. His heart found joy in the capability of his mother.

The bridge between suffering and rejoicing has to be faith. Our joy remains constant, not because of what each day holds, but because of our trust in the One who holds our days.

The joy of the Lord is my strength. Faith in His sovereignty, His holiness, His power, His compassion – faith in His character not mine – will result in a joy that testifies to those around me that I trust in something bigger than my circumstances.

True joy without faith in the Giver of everything good is virtually impossible.

I am both convicted and comforted by the words of the Puritan minister, Samuel Ward in Sermons,

Live by faith. Rejoice through faith in the Lord. It is the neglect of this exercise that will allow discouragement to erupt, and Satan to interrupt your happiness and spiritual cheerfulness. It will cast you in to the dumps and into mourning……Keep your faith, and it will keep your joy…..Show me your faith by your joy. Use your faith, and have joy; increase your faith and increase your joy.

 

The Weight of Waiting

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Six days felt like sixty.

He left on a Sunday afternoon for a Greek exegesis class as a part of his D.Min prep and returned on Saturday after lunch. Compared to what military wives and single moms endure it was really nothing. That didn’t stop me from complaining though. I don’t sleep well when he’s gone which made even the nighttime hours crawl. The entire week held plenty of meltdowns and early bedtimes (mine included).

It wasn’t all bad. I attempted some fun activities to pass the time with the kids. We created salt dough safari animals and devoured chocolate chip oatmeal cookies. My kitchen duties were easier with one less adult in the house. On Wednesday, my friend must have noticed the extra bags under my eyes and offered to play with the kids for a couple hours while I worked on a writing project.

Such is the nature of waiting. We bemoan the slow moving hands of time while begging for the delay of the sweet seconds in between.

I started a personal study of Philippians while my husband was away. Paul penned this book as he suffered imprisonment in Rome. Near the beginning of his letter we find a verse so familiar that I almost immediately begin humming along.

….being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus….

(Did the tune pop into your head too?)

We love the idea of God’s working in our waiting. We want to know the purpose in our pain. We can’t wait to see the masterpiece He creates from the rubble of our life. It’s as if our lives are ugly fixer-uppers in need of a fantastic flip. We anticipate the final reveal of the before and after pictures.

It’s true, of course, that He is working in thousands of unseen ways. He is weaving interactions and choices into a breath-taking tapestry of grace. But this time the words, “until the day of Christ Jesus” jumped off the page and settled into my heart.

I am not guaranteed a glimpse of the completed product that is my life until Jesus returns. Unfortunately, I want quick results and easy fixes. I want to be done with waiting.

The chapter continues…

And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.

This is the good work that He is accomplishing in me – a holiness that comes from abiding in the Vine and a purity that comes from resting in His work not mine.

There’s no denying that waiting is hard, but if we inspect the endless moments more closely, we may find growth and maturity sprouting in unexpected places. We discover a harvest of righteous fruit and abounding love that could not have survived in the soil of haste.

So we wait knowing that He is faithful and will not break His promises to us.

We wait while looking for His good work in the monotony and mundane of life.

And we wait confident that He will return in power very soon.

The delay will seem as only a “momentary affliction” compared to the eternal glory that awaits us in His presence.

I can’t wait!