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The Two Sides of Simple

Simplify

When I was in school, this word meant reducing a math problem to its lowest terms. Knowing how to simplify fractions helped me pass seventh grade and kept me on the honor roll for another year.

Many years later that word carries much more weight. In fact it can conjure up a variety of images depending on your personal circumstances. Perhaps you envision a stark white room with minimalist decor, a user-friendly monthly budget, or an organized system for your kids’ socks and shoes (where do they all come from?). A basic definition for simplify is:

to make less complex or complicated; make plainer or easier:

Simplicity and ease are marketed to us on a regular basis. Ever heard of the Staples “Easy” button? Channels like QVC share item after item designed for a more organized life even down to simpler bracelet clasps and robotic vacuums. Our culture runs after easy.

Does a time come for a follower of Jesus, though, when simplifying is not only nice for a more organized home and peaceful schedule, but necessary for the survival and health of a family? Is is vital to strive for simplicity because it’s essential to an abundant spiritual life? 

I have written before about the idol of busyness that so easily creeps into my life. I say “yes” to more responsibility not because I feel called, but because I feel conspicuous if I say “no.” I want to blend into the willing, hard-working Christian culture around me. The past year has revealed to me that all too often, I add more to my plate because I have convinced myself that I am the savior of my family, marriage, and ministry. Thinking that I am more invaluable than Christ himself inevitably spells trouble.

A few weeks ago, I was struggling with anxiety and emotional burnout from all the people and responsibilities that “needed” me. I shared with Adam that I just had to take something off of my plate, but I didn’t know what to address first! He lovingly pointed out that I do regularly take things off my to-do list to compensate for my exhaustion, however those things are often the hidden things of my life – the things that don’t affect my busy, booked-up image. For example, if given the choice between saying “no” to teaching a class at church or cutting back on our homeschool work, I would most likely choose the behind-the-scenes responsibility of school with the kids. It’s much easier for me to put my marriage, children, and ultimately my relationship with Christ on the backburner than to have an awkward conversation to turn down a public responsibility.

Ultimately, this issue stems from a misunderstanding of what God values in his followers.

Does God appreciate hard, faithful work? Yes.

Can a believer reflect the gospel through acts of love to the community around her? Yes!

Do we move higher up the spiritual ladder as the number of tasks on our lists increases? We know the answer is “no,” but Satan deceives us otherwise.

Jesus himself was very active during his years of ministry. He seemed to have a never ending line of those wanting healing, love, and attention. However, Jesus never experienced burnout or meltdown because he realized that the private, unseen areas of His life were essential to his public ministry. His habits of prayer with His Father, physical rest when he was weary, and fellowship with his disciples gave him a proper balance in service.

Those hidden habits are even more crucial for us as broken, sinful, selfish human beings.

There is another side to the simplicity coin, however. Scripture makes it clear that our hearts can make idols out of literally anything – even a simple life.

During His ministry, Jesus warned that life is filled with trouble and trial. Often our best laid plans are destroyed by an unexpected diagnosis or a needy visitor. Life’s circumstances are messy and hard. Because of this, it’s important that I don’t say “no” to potential ministry opportunities just because I want to keep my life simple and stress-free. As a follower of Jesus, I have been called to lay down my life for the gospel and to bring Him glory through the actions of each day. This could potentially mean that my homeschool schedule is interrupted because of a church need. It could also mean that a church need is unmet (by me) and I spend extra time with my children. Each responsibility should be filtered through the Holy Spirit’s calling for that day.

I pray that 2019 will bring more maturity in this area of busyness and over-commitment. I pray that I will not buy into Satan’s lies that I am the rescuer of my circumstances, and instead rest more and more heavily on the ability of my Rescuer to weave a life used for His glory.

Simply put, Jesus is the Savior, not me!

——-

Dear readers, 

In the spirit of simplifying, there will be a few transitions happening with my online spaces over the next few weeks. Many of you realize that I have been writing on a couple of different websites for over nine years now! I have been able to consolidate all of the posts from Dishes & Doctrine and A Steady Rain (minus a few hundred that were edited out) on one site: www.rachelpereira.me 

You will find a “Subscribe” button at the top left of the page above “Home.” In order to receive notifications of new posts, you will need to add your email there. 

As far as social media, I will primarily be using Instagram to share glimpses of our life and gospel centered resources for you and your children. I would love to connect there.

I have closed down my writing Facebook page to simplify my online responsibilities there as well.

I have not made a final decision on the Dishes & Doctrine audio blog. All of those episodes are still available on iTunes for you.

Thank you for your support and understanding over the years. I have been able to step away once again from the part time church work I was doing for about half of the year. This has given me a little mental space to brainstorm about some upcoming posts and projects.

Rest in Him today, friends!

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.

Proof

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It only takes a few moments into any episode of the Great British Baking Show (you have watched it, right?!) to hear the contestants explain the length of time they expect for their dough to “prove.” Some recipes even require a double proof to ensure a proper rise and each baker even has a separate proving drawer to safely place their rising creation. While it may seem like an insignificant part of baking when compared to the ratio of flour and water, the time in the oven, and the creative use of flavors, the time waiting for the dough to rise is absolutely critical. In the most refined way, Paul and Mary often explain that the doughy bite of Victorian Raised Game Pie they just enjoyed was a bit “under proved.”

The wait is an indispensable step to a glorious final product. 

Adam told me shortly after the start of this year that this word kept coming to mind as a description for this upcoming year. Proof. God would need to prove His faithfulness in the situations we would soon face. Our trust in his sovereign control over those situations would be proved as we choose to rely on His character.

He is right.

We are almost 13 years into marriage, 10 years into our current ministry, and 9 years into parenthood. On the timeline of our whole life, we find ourselves directly in the middle. The newness has worn off, but the end isn’t quite near.

He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it.

I have been begging God for steadfastness in this season of ministry and motherhood. The majority of the time, I want to give up. I want to find an shortcut that is less painful and less tiring. I need His strength to press on, to wait, and to flourish in spite of my emptiness.

Each frustrating and difficult issue forces me to lean once again on the One who is faithful and each one is reminding me that waiting is an unavoidable step to the glorious future that awaits us as believers.

He alone is trustworthy and unchangeable even in the most shaky circumstances.

Of his never ending faithfulness, I have proof.

 

Remembering to Stop

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She barely braked as she sped through the stop sign.

I could smell the cigarette smoke wafting out of her slightly opened window as she zoomed down the road.

I was immediately offended as I huffed under my breath, “Way to slow down for a pedestrian, lady!”

It shocked me because most members of our small community would have stopped at the stop sign, waved me across the intersection, and then proceeded on their way.

Her disregard left me insulted.

It didn’t take many steps down the sidewalk, however to feel a conviction in my soul. How many times do I ignore others in my path on a daily basis?

I’m too busy with my to-do list to notice their need for help. I’m too consumed with my own problems and trials that I forget that others are struggling nearby.

So I stopped and prayed for her.

Prayer is probably one of my weakest spiritual disciplines.

I’m not sure why, but I can consistently read and study God’s word and forget to ever talk to Him about it.

I can offer a listening ear and counsel to a friend, but disregard the opportunity to pray with her.

I rattle off gospel facts and theological truths to my children, but often hurry back to my household duties without approaching the throne of grace with them.

This video caused me to pause.

Prayer is a beautiful thing. It is a gift earned through Jesus’ death and resurrection for me. Even as a broken, prideful human being, I can approach my Father freely. How can I take it so flippantly?

I spiritually speed through the stop sign of prayer moving on to the “more important” things of my day. I ask the Lord to forgive me for my disregard for communing with Him and am overwhelmed that unlike my offense at the speeding driver, He offers mercy after my wayward heart once again fails Him.

At the start of a new year, I know that this area of prayer needs my attention. My desire for 2018 is to echo the words of David in Psalm 63….

You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.

I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory. Because your love is better than life, my lips will glorify you.

I will praise you as long as I live, and in your name I will lift up my hands. I will be fully satisfied as with the richest of foods; with singing lips my mouth will praise you.

On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night. Because you are my help, I sing in the shadow of your wings. I cling to you; your right hand upholds me.

Amen.

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.

 

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!

Slow Growing

On the first Saturday of July, our town will host the annual 4th of July celebration. We have a unique advantage because the parade progresses down Main Street – directly in front of our house. Traditionally, we’ll invite our friends and their lawn chairs over to collect candy and clap along with the Rinky-Dink Dancers from the next town over.
Once the parade is finished, we’ll head to the park across the street to sample deep-fried oreos, maple cotton candy, live local music and handmade crafts. The day will finish with fireworks over the Tioga River which we can watch from our front porch.

There is a certain amount of comfort in the repetition of celebratory events. Another year is passed, yet the people, the love, and the home remain the same.

On the other hand, all the years can run together.  Without pictures to see how old the kids were or even how many we currently had, I can’t rehearse specific details of each year.  There was the scorching year that the fire trucks stopped every few feet to spray the kids with their giant hoses. I honestly can’t remember if that was 4 or 5 years ago. Maybe it was even more!

The daily monotony in the home can feel very similar. The days run together with another set of PB&J’s made, more teeth brushed, and one more floor swept. The family photos on the wall mark a moment somewhere between the birth of that child and the present. I’m not always sure how much time has passed since that marker in time.

The cycle feels like a hamster wheel or one maybe one of those really bad slow motion dreams. Each day includes a lot of work, but the progress forward is little to none.

My sister recently saw a picture of my youngest and remarked at how old she looked. Until then, I was blinded to the fact that she has indeed grown taller and is losing her toddler features.

A few weeks ago, a friend commented on the polite response of my son when they interacted before church. It blessed my heart and opened my eyes to the slow, barely visible improvements in his behavior.

The most encouraging thought of all – at this time last year, my baby girl was still in diapers!

My own life reflects the growth that can’t be seen on a daily basis. Sanctification is slow, hard, and monotonous. I feel no significant change when I wake up from one day to the next. I struggle with the same besetting sins and am reminded of the same spots of weakness. My spiritual life is more similar to the unhurried growth of an oak tree than the rapid sprouting of our backyard grass. It’s barely visible most days.

“The growth of trees and plants takes place so slowly that it is not easily seen. Daily we notice little change. But, in course of time, we see that a great change has taken place. So it is with grace. Sanctification is a progressive, lifelong work (Prov 4:18). It is an amazing work of God’s grace and it is a work to be prayed for (Rom 8:27).”
(John Owen – The Holy Spirit, 108-109)

As time gradually passes, the Shepherd of my soul stays the same. It is His work, not mine that will ultimately conform me to His Son. I can take comfort in the repetition of habits (confession, prayer, Bible study, etc….) that change me even when I don’t see it immediately. I can change only because He is constant.

We have a little over a month until school starts up again. I plan to use that less structured time for investing in growth in grace even if I can’t see the results until years later. I will be finishing my study of Exodus, taking some unplanned naps, travelling with my family, and enjoying Fourth of July fireworks, of course.


I will also be working behind the scenes on some writing and speaking projects for the Fall. Things may not be extremely active here until those deadlines have passed. But I’d love to keep in contact via Instagram and the Kitchen Table Newsletter.

 

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.

Rainy Day Reflections

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It was one of those kind of mornings.

Actually, it’s been one of those kinds of months.

All five of us woke up on the wrong side of the bed. The noise level was deafening from the moment the boys’ feet hit the floor. My husband and I argued about something trivial related to the homemade donuts I had attempted for breakfast. Our littlest had so many meltdowns that I had no other option but to put her back to bed for a few hours. I didn’t get any coffee until at least 10 am.

The mood in our house imitated the cloudy day outside our windows.

Lately, our home has felt more like a prison than a haven.

It could be the winter weather that has trapped us inside for the last 5 months.

It could be the middle of the school year blues.

It could be the fact that we spend almost every waking hour with one another.

It could be the germs that won’t leave our health alone.

As I was lying on the hardwood floor next to my daughter’s bed trying to coax her to sleep, it hit me.

The emptiness I felt in our family was because we had once again forgotten the gospel. 

Chaos and stress cause us to default to our natural tendencies. Mine is perfectionism and law (for others, of course). My training lately has turned something similar to that of a military officer. Do this! Clean this! Stop that!
The harder I try, the more our weaknesses as a family are revealed. I demand certain behaviours without reminding them of the Person who can enable those actions.

A friend once told me that she felt she was failing at what our family must be doing perfectly and consistently. The truth is that it has been weeks since we’ve had a family worship time. My instruction to the kids to read the Bible gets almost as many eye rolls as when they’re asked to clear the table after dinner. I could name at least a dozen things off the top of my head that need desperate improvement in our home.

The sun peaked through the low-hanging clouds outside. The bright rays cut through the dimness of the house and pierced my heart with hope. I embraced a rare quiet moment to preach to myself.

My standing before a holy God does not depend on the standard of my living, but on the sacrifice of my Savior.

Gentleness can replace my short fuse because His kindness brings me to repentance.

Grace and forgiveness can be given freely (parent to child, child to parent, and sibling to sibling) because of the great debt that was paid at the cross.

Paul Tripp in his book Parenting offers this necessary reminder,

“No parent gives mercy better than the one who is convinced that he desperately needs it himself.”

I am definitely desperate, and I am choosing to cling to the new mercies He offers me each day. His power is made complete in my many weaknesses. Maybe their mommy’s obvious need for grace will allow my children to grow up trusting in an almighty, unfailing power outside of themselves. Maybe our family shortcomings and the forgiveness we offer through Christ will give them a framework of gospel hope on which to build their lives. I cling to the fact that because of Jesus, God is redeeming and reconciling all things (even temper tantrums and bouts of depression) – everything – to Himself for His ultimate glory.

There is eternal good even in the most cloudy of days.