Family

Doug, My Torch-bearer

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Doug and I’s story is one of us dancing back and forth in and out of each other’s lives until finally reconnecting and getting married. I’m thankful for God’s providence and His knowledge that our story could only start at a specific time and how He allowed various circumstances to help us fade into the background of the other’s story until it was time for us each to start being key players.

One thing, however, has been true the entire time I’ve known Doug: I find him extremely compelling. He’s always pointed me in the right direction and always brought clarity into my life.

When I was in high school, Doug got me my first job. We had gone to church together as young kids and when I waltzed into the bookstore where he worked, he marched back to his manager and said she should hire me. He had no real reason other than he thought I was pretty and hoped he’d get a date (so he says). I naively thought he was the most gallant man ever and did this with no ulterior motive (don’t judge I was in high school and that’s what all high school girls think!). Although we never dated at the time, we did start the beginning of a friendship. And I’m happy to say that I knew him then when he had a huge afro and also equally as happy that I’m married to him now and he doesn’t.

When we worked together, Doug introduced me to C.S. Lewis. He read him voraciously, quoted him endlessly and recommended him wholeheartedly. I, without his knowing, bought five of Lewis’ books that summer. Reading Lewis was like flipping on a light switch. It was easier to see, and make sense of Jesus and how we should live in light of the story of truth. It also showed me that Christian Literature can be beautiful and should be. Doug didn’t know it at the time, but he introduced me to a favorite author.

Years later, on our first date, Doug asked me what I wanted to do with my life. At the time I was conflicted, I wanted to do mission work, have and adopt a bunch of kids and study English and write and at the time date him. With the utmost ulterior motive, but the clearest presentation he explained God’s will to me. He flipped on the light switch. I had been fumbling around in the dark trying to figure out which path was best, terrified that I would choose the wrong one. Then he showed me the freedom that we have in God’s will. We are here to show Christ and make him known and we can do that in many ways. Now, I’m married to Doug, I teach English online, raise two kids with the hope of adopting one down the road and try to share Jesus with our neighbors and friends in Richmond. It’s a synthesis of all of the desires that God has given me and they aren’t at odds. Doug showed me the truth in that dark, transitional time and I am so thankful.

Before our second date I asked him a few questions about how to read the Bible. I always struggled with how to see the bigger narrative and really see how the New Testament and the Old Testament were connected. I expected a quick chat over coffee on our second date about the ideas. Doug brought worksheets and 3 hours of talking points! Ha. At one point I said at the end because my brain was so tired, “I need food now.” While he was definitely overzealous then and we laugh about it now, Doug sat with me and showed me how to find Jesus in the Bible. I’m not talking about a weird Bible code, but SHOWED me story by story how all things point to Him. How Jesus is the culmination of all of the failed Old Testament heroes and the our true and saving hope. Before I had been reading the Bible as a rule book with stories, but he showed me how it all points to Jesus. I can’t explain the light that has shone into the dark places of my heart because the truth of the Scripture has now been illuminated for me. The Holy Spirit, through Doug flipped that light switch for me.

And now daily when I feel bogged down and discouraged or just everyday life and emotionalism get the best of me, Doug encourages me, bears the torch for me to get back on the right path. We are thankful for our church and he pastors many. But I am proud to say that first and foremost, he is my pastor and he shepherds me well. The quality that I’ve always found the most attractive for him is the way he kindly and consistently brings clarity to confusion. Lest you misunderstand me, I’m not saying that Doug is my light or the light of our church, but instead I’m saying that he points me to the light and does so with others. I love him and I’m thankful for that. As a wife, I cannot ask for anything else.

“Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

Ephesians 5:25-27

Christianity, Family

The Marathon

Copyright "Passenger"
Copyright “Passenger”

I was going to write another post but this one seemed more vulnerable—because it is happening right now. I’m trying to be more honest here on the blog: not in a sixth grade confessional kind of way, but in a strong but soft, feminine way. I want to be a woman who isn’t afraid to boast in her weaknesses, not for sympathy but because Christ is strengthening me in the midst of my own selfishness, and He deserves the glory for it.

Recently, I told my husband—they are wearing me down! ‘they’ being our two adorable boys—Athanasius(18 months) and Lukas (3 months).

Motherhood is the hardest thing I’ve had to do. I’m speaking from my limited experience. Many have done harder things than I have, and I’m humbled by their faithfulness, but this is the hardest and most joyful road I have walked thus far.

Before we had Lukas, I remember a night where I sat up in bed telling Doug and that I knew life was going to get hard and that having a new baby would inevitably expose selfishness that had been hiding under the surface for a while. I knew that I was going to be stretched beyond what I thought my limits were and I was scared. I kind of felt like I was standing at the beginning of a new race and I wasn’t sure that I had trained well.

Since having Lukas, those things have been true—I have been stretched and my selfishness has been exposed. My heart has stretched to love another completely. My body stretched beyond what I thought I could handle with a 24 hour active labor. My emotions have been stretched to deal with the extreme exhaustion of no sleep and having a young baby and a toddler. My spirit has been stretched by the realization that I am weak and in need of profound help and forgiveness.

In all of this stretching, I have been sustained by Jesus. Do you know how I know that Jesus sustained me? Because all of that stretching didn’t break me. Before you think this is a crappy, self-praising internet meme, keep reading. I am still here, not because I’m a survivor like the Destiny’s Child song. There are many times that I want to quit. But God has kept me in the race. He has put my feet to the pavement. He has kept me moving.

Sometimes instead of being thankful for being sustained, I just want the race to get easier. I don’t notice that God is carrying me along, instead on bad days I don’t want to be in the race at all. But the race—the work that God has given me is good and great work. My children are a weighty, wonderful joyful blessing and I’m thankful God has chosen this means for my growth.

I was reading a chapter from a favorite motherhood book of mine “Fit to Burst,” and the author, Rachel Jankovick states, “I think it is common to have this mental ideal of what your days as a mother are supposed to be like. We think that if we were doing motherhood right, then it wouldn’t be this hard. Of course there are a lot of ways to improve what we do, to make things easier. But that’s like improving a runner’s form. You still have to run, and it won’t be easy. You can continue training to the point that you are no longer puking in the bushes and all red in the face by the end of the first block, but you aren’t ever going to take the running out of running.”

You can’t take the running out of running and similarly, you can’t take the hard work out of mothering. You’re not doing it wrong if it’s difficult. Sure, like Rachel writes, there are many ways you can improve yourself. Mothers of 4 or five kids are more efficient and capable mothers than I am. They have improved their form; they aren’t puking in the bushes, but they are still running. You can’t take the running out of running.

My selfishness asks for an easier race, because frankly, I loathe running, but thankfully God knows best. He is the one who sustains me throughout the race. In James 1:3 it says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters,whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” Right now, motherhood is my work and my test. I pray to God that it will produce perseverance.

If you feel like you’re at the end of yourself because you feel exhausted from the race (whatever yours is), don’t worry. You’re doing it right. God calls everyone to give all of themselves, their body, hearts, spirits and emotions for His Kingdom.

We can’t point to ourselves for keeping on in the race. We aren’t Destiny’s Child “Survivors.” That kind of thinking robs God of His glory. God sustains me through this race, and He will see it finished. I know because He keeps His promises: “He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Phillipians 1:6)”

Domesticity, Family, Love, Pregnancy

Humble Moments

On Monday, I sat on an uncomfortable exam table with tears welling up in my eyes as I watched a tiny heartbeat pulse on a screen. The ultrasound technician lingered and allowed Doug and I to enjoy a sweet moment watching our newest son’s heart beat steadily. In that moment, I felt so small and out of control. Normally the feeling of being out of control terrifies me, but as I watched my tiny baby’s heart beat away I felt overwhelming gratitude that God was sustaining his life, that God made my body to carry him and that Luke’s heart is happily beating. New life is miraculous and humbling.

Here’s our boy, Lukas Kanon:

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Christianity, Domesticity, Family, Love

Same Girl

13 - Jess and Ash

When I was in college, I used to steal away to a small chapel on our campus and pray. My favorite days were the days when it was empty, leaving the piano and me. I’d go over and play old hymns from the hymnal and sing loudly until someone entered and I sheepishly excused myself. My favorite song to sing then, was “Come thou Fount.” The lyrics are rich and it’s one of my favorite hymns.

Sometimes I look back on that time and think of it as kind of the “Golden Years” of my Christian walk. I had hours to pray and sing to God and I loved the time. As a young wife and mom of one with another large baby on the way, I do not have time to pray or sing for hours in solitude. Some days, I feel tempted to think something is wrong with my Christian walk. If only I could go back to the time in college when in solitude I could sing my praises to God.

One of the biggest complaints that I hear from women is that they are afraid they will no longer be “themselves” after they have children. There is a lie circulating that a woman’s identity will somehow be whisked away once they have a baby. I think this is because once we have a baby the things that we do—our rituals and habits—change. Babies see that routines change, because they are cute but very needy. Normally, in order to feel more like themselves women rush back to familiar routines, trying to remember who “they” are. I can empathize with these women as I gaze with longing back at my years of being able to praise and pray to the Lord in peace without being interrupted.

Taking time away from your family and doing things for yourself would be a wonderful solution if we were all defined by what we do. However, our identity is not comprised of the things that we do on a day-to-day basis. The answer for me and for other moms is not simply to get away to try to find “ourselves” again (although I love alone time and think it is important at times). The answer is realizing that although our routines, lives, and even bodies look very different, we are still the same women.

I’m the same girl who sang those hymns in the small chapel, only now I sing them as lullabies to my one-year-old. I’m the same girl who prayed for faithfulness in college only now I am begging for the strength to be faithful as my back aches from carrying a baby and a one year old for much of the day. I am the same girl who prayed that I would love others as God does only now I’m loving my husband and trying to think of his needs first. I’m the same girl who sang “Here I raise my Ebeneezer, hither by thy help I come” but now I’ve come a lot further in life than that girl, and I pray I will remember God’s faithfulness and with His help I will be faithful. (Ebeneezer, by the way, is a rock that Samuel in the Bible put up as a monument to God, which means “The Lord has brought me thus far.”) I am the same girl.

I love sacred moments with the Lord, but I’m finding that solitude isn’t required for moments to be sacred. God meant us to live in community and I love my small little community very much. One of the great things about being pregnant is that I always carry another with me. He’s with me wherever I go—talk about a redefiniton of community! I can’t ever be alone, but that shouldn’t be my goal. I don’t need to retreat to try to rediscover myself. My routines have changed, the way that I worship and serve God looks different, but I am the same woman.

I’m wiping up carrots that are ground into a high chair and praying for patience. I’m changing diapers that are filthy and praying for strength. I’m singing “Come Thou Fount” to both of my boys praising God for how far he has brought me in life thus far. I’m the same woman, and by God’s grace, I’m still singing.

Here are the lyrics to “Come Thou Fount”:

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing,
Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;
Streams of mercy, never ceasing,
Call for songs of loudest praise.
Teach me some melodious sonnet,
Sung by flaming tongues above.
Praise the mount! I’m fixed upon it,
Mount of Thy redeeming love.

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Here by Thy great help I’ve come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.
Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.

Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family, Love

Week 4–What is Love?

I can’t write this post without this song getting stuck in my head. You’re welcome. Admittedly, these posts are the hardest for me to write. I probably should think more about defining terms, but defining hope, peace, joy and love is very difficult.

Love has become a rather trite word in our culture. I love ice cream. I love my son. I love my new glasses and I love my husband. Of course, the word means different things in its varying usages. However when we talk about a biblical understanding of love it takes on a very different definition than the way we typically hear the word “love” used.

Oftentimes in our culture the word “love” means that a person or object is celebrated and adored. John Piper puts it this way: “It [the world’s definition of love] says: You are loved when you are made much of. In other words, love for someone means mainly making him or her central or important.” On the one hand, this makes perfect sense. When someone is “in love” with another, they are generally orienting their life around that person. However, this definition of love becomes dangerous when a person makes that individual central or important above all else.

This definition of love also can lead to the idea of total acceptance—the idea that no person should try to change an individual and everyone should accept others for exactly who they are. I’ve had the privilege of going to many weddings and many of the vows have sounded a lot like these:

“I promise to give you the best of myself and to ask of you no more than you can give.
I promise to accept you the way you are.
I fell in love with you for the qualities, abilities, and outlook on life that you have, and won’t try to reshape you in a different image.
I promise to respect you as a person with your own interests, desires, and needs, and to realize that those are sometimes different, but no less important than my own.
I promise to keep myself open to you, to let you see through the window of my personal world into my innermost fears and feelings, secrets and dreams.
I promise to grow along with you, to be willing to face change as we both change in order to keep our relationship alive and exciting.
And finally, I promise to love you in good times and in bad, with all I have to give and all I feel inside in the only way I know how…completely and forever.” (read more bad vows here)

Some of these vows are troubling, “I promise to accept you the way you are. I promise to ask you no more than you can give.” Those don’t sound like hopeful vows to me. The only problem with the idea of love being total acceptance is that we know that we are sinful people at heart. The Bible says that we are enemies of God and that our heart is deceitful! There isn’t much hope in total acceptance of a way a person is and behaves. Parts of that person and their personality are flawed and I would hope would change after years of loving friendship. The vows even acknowledge growth. They say “I promise to grow along with you,” however, how can you assume growth if you never demand or hope for it in another person. Total acceptance says, “you should never change” but these vows say “let’s change together.” Love can’t mean both things.

Fortunately, God’s love is very different from these vows and from our cultural definition of it. Instead of God’s love being centered on us, it is centered on Him. Piper says, “God’s love for us is NOT mainly his making much of us, but his giving us the ability to enjoy making much of him forever. In other words, God’s love for us keeps God at the center. God’s love for us exalts his value and our satisfaction in it. If God’s love made us central and focused on our value, it would distract us from what is most precious, namely, himself. Love labors and suffers to enthrall us with what is infinitely and eternally satisfying: God. Therefore God’s love labors and suffers to break our bondage to the idol of self and focus our affections on the treasure of God.” Instead of us being at the center, God’s love places the focus back on God, Himself. I’m excited to talk this week about how God’s love restores us back to our rightful place, in worship of Him.

If you want to read more about John Piper’s article. Check it out here.

Beauty, Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family

Week 3–Ultimate Joy

I’ve always loved C.S. Lewis’ A Great Divorce. It is an allegory about heaven and hell. He is very imaginative about each place, but I especially love his description of heaven. He describes Heaven as a place where every sense is heightened, every small twig and branch are so thoroughly real and its inhabitants are glorious and exuberantly beautiful.

The narrator says: Then some re-adjustment of the mind or some focusing of my eyes took place, and I saw the whole phenomenon the other way round. The men were as they always had been; as all the men I had known had been perhaps. It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison. Moved by a sudden thought, I bent down and tried to pluck a daisy which was growing at my feet. The stalk wouldn’t break. I tried to twist it, but it wouldn’t twist. I tugged till the sweat stood out on my forehead and I had lost most of the skin off my hands. The little flower was hard, not like wood or even like iron, but like diamond. There was a leaf-a young tender beech-leaf, lying in the grass beside it. I tried to pick the leaf up: my heart almost cracked with the effort, and I believe I did just raise it. But I had to let it go at once; it was heavier than a sack of coal. As I stood, recovering my breath with great gasps and looking down at the daisy, I noticed that I could see the grass not only between my feet but through them. I also was a phantom. Who will give me words to express the terror of that discovery? “Golly!” thought I. “I’m in for it this time.”

What does Lewis mean when even the daisies are more solid, more real in the new heavens and the new earth? He is hinting that all of creation is fallen, and chiefly that we are fallen creatures. What we see is just a foretaste of what is to come in the new heavens and the new earth, where all of creation will jostle and babble and shout about the God’s glory.

Likewise, as I mentioned in a previous post, Lewis states that all of the joys that we have presently are but signposts or previews of the joys that await us in heaven. In the new heavens and the new earth all of our joys will be fulfilled. It is hard to even fathom what that will be like, as many of our earthly experiences, although joyful, are still tinged with difficulty and sadness.

The reason though that the new heavens and the new earth will be so wonderful is because God is there and will be dwelling with us, as was intended from the beginning. Of course the new heavens and the new earth will be beautiful, and peaceful, and harmonious, but it will be so because God is king and we are his children. We will be fully satisfied in His presence. Then, we will have ultimate joy.

Christianity, Christmas Dailies, Family

Week 3–Joy in Suffering

I am terribly under qualified to write this post. If God allows me to live until I am eighty, maybe then, I could write this post. Instead of trying to do so, I’ll let a few more seasoned believers do the talking.

Joni Earekson Tada: “Because of my sufferings, I will appreciate (in heaven) the scars of Christ and also the scars of other believers. (In heaven) I will see men and women that in the world were cut in pieces, burnt in flames, tortured and persecuted, eaten by beasts, and drowned in the seas – – all for the love they had for the Lord. What a privilege it will be to stand in their ranks! But what a shame it would be if, in conversing with them, we could only shrug our shoulders and prattle Me? Suffer?…… Perhaps we would bite our complaining tongues more often if we stopped to picture this scene in heaven. The examples of other suffering saints are meant to inspire us upward on our heavenly journey home.” —Heaven Your Real Home

John Calvin: “Christians rejoice even while they truly sorrow – – because their rejoicing is in the hope of heaven….While joy overcomes sorrow, it does not put an end to it.”

Paul: “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that[a] the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God

22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[b] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:18-31).

Jesus:  “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” 17 So some of his disciples said to one another, “What is this that he says to us, ‘A little while, and you will not see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and, ‘because I am going to the Father’?” 18 So they were saying, “What does he mean by ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.” 19 Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? 20 Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. 21 When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. 22 So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. 23 In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. 24 Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.

25 “I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. 26 In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; 27 for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.[a] 28 I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”

29 His disciples said, “Ah, now you are speaking plainly and not using figurative speech! 30 Now we know that you know all things and do not need anyone to question you; this is why we believe that you came from God.” 31 Jesus answered them, “Do you now believe? 32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me. 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” –John 16:16-32

“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[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] 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.”

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.” –Revelation 21:1-7

I pray that each of us in our time of suffering, might yield the fruit of joy.