Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Facing our Fears: Part 2

To read part 1, go here.

I think it’s helpful to start by first explaining why we struggle with fear. As Mrs. Ortlund said in her book, we have been fighting fear since the Garden of Eden. We live in a sinful and cursed world as Genesis tells us—and the entire Bible bears that out. You don’t even have to look very far into the world we are in now to see that things are not right. There are frightening things all around us. Disasters rage. Cancer destroys. Divorce happens. Violence permeates the news and our neighborhoods. The list could go on. Ever since the fall of man, in Genesis 2, we have been plodding through this life as sinners living in a sin-cursed world. This fearful life is not how it was supposed to be. Adam and Eve rebelled against God and sin spiraled out of control. Because of their sin, we too are sinners. And we also are sinned against. But if we are not given a spirit of fear but one of peace, how are we to live when everything around us is screaming terror and fear?

We are not the first group of women who have had to deal with fears. Consider Sarah in Genesis 11:27-12. There are three things to notice about Sarah:
  1. She was barren. Genesis 11:30 tells us that she had no child. We aren’t given a reason for her barrenness, but we do know that for some reason she is unable to have a child. In this time period, being barren meant a far greater curse than it does today. Being barren is a part of the curse, and in that time period anyone who remembered God’s word to Adam and Eve would know that a woman who lacked a child lacked the ability to bring the promised seed into the world. People didn’t adopt or have fertility treatments. If a woman was without a child for her entire life it was considered to be a tremendous suffering. But notice what God says a few verses later. He tells Abraham that he will make him a great nation, and he continually tells him that his offspring will inherit the land. We aren’t given a glimpse into Sarah’s thoughts, or even Abraham’s at this point. But for them it surely must have seemed impossible. Barrenness/infertility seems like an insurmountable mountain to the one going through it. For Sarah, like so many women, being infertile would have brought moments of deep sorrow and anguish. She just wanted a baby. Anyone who has struggled with infertility understands, the absence of a much desired child can cause many fears to arise. You are left without any control, and sometimes no answers of when or if you will ever conceive.
  2. Notice also that she had to move far away from her homeland. This was not a time of email or Skype. You could not send a letter to your family back home. You couldn’t find them on Facebook and look at their pictures. When you left, it was forever. And it was very likely that she never heard from her family again. Imagine traveling to a foreign land where you have never been. In those days you could not look up the city on the internet. There were no Real Estate agents helping them get settled. Yet, she goes. Again, we are not given her thoughts—but a circumstance like this one could again cause many fears to arise.
  3. She was made to stay with a man who was not her husband. Later on in Genesis we see this happening again. But we are told in this passage that Sarah was very beautiful and Abraham feared for his own life because of her beauty. So he asks her to lie to Pharaoh and because of that she is taken into Pharaoh’s house. Her very life and purity were in danger as her husband subjected her to the harem of this king.

Now, Sarah was not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. She was just as much a manipulator and deceiver as her husband. Even though she knew God’s promise that he would provide a son for them, Genesis 16 tells us that Sarah, in her impatience, takes matters into her own hands and uses her servant to bring offspring into their family. Of course, it backfired and conflict characterized their family from that point on. The point is that Sarah had cause to fear, like so many of us do. But her fears did not ultimately control her.

In the next post on fear, I will talk about what the New Testament says about Sarah and her ultimate hope in fearful circumstances.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Interview with Mary Kassian

A little over a week ago I interviewed Mary Kassian for The Gospel Coalition's review site. As always, she had a lot of good stuff to say. We talked about her latest book, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, and how our understanding of manhood and womanhood has everything to do with the Gospel.

Here is a taste of what she said in the interview:

"Manhood and womanhood are important, because men and women living according to Scripture display the Gospel. That is why there has been such an attack against gender, marriage, manhood and womanhood. If the evil one can pull those things apart, then we lose a display of who God is. When we get it right, we put the Gospel on display."

There's more where that came from. You can read the entire interview here.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Why I Am Thankful

Daniel and I talked a lot about what we were thankful for as the days led up to Thanksgiving this past Thursday. Of course, we were thankful for the Gospel, each other, our friends and family, and our time at Southern Seminary. We both talked about how we had seen God work in our lives since last Thanksgiving, and thought about how grateful we were for the experience of pregnancy, though brief and ultimately sorrowful. As the weekend went on I found myself increasingly unable to "feel" thankful. In fact, there were moments where I couldn't even remember what I had been thankful for just the few days before.

I have been reading through D.A. Carson's book Scandalous: The Cross and Resurrection of Jesus, and in the kind providence of God I read this just last night (Carson is talking in reference to the death of Lazarus and how Jesus speaks to Martha before raising Lazarus):

"Jesus butts up against devestating loss and offers comfort - by diverting attention to himself. I am not for a moment suggesting that there is no place in our consoling of those who are bereaved for simply listening, weeping, holding a hand, helping with the gardening, or preparing a meal. But among genuine believers, the greatest consolation of all comes from focusing on Christ. Not even the raw creedal points of faith are sufficient, as important as they are. For example, 'You will see your brother again: there is a general resurrection at the end of the age.' That is true, and Martha believed it; but it didn't help much. What Jesus does is divert attention to himself. Believers will understand that this is spectacularly encouraging and glorious; others will interpret Jesus' approach as scandalously egocentric."

He goes on to say:

"In our deepest loss, we need more than friendship and a listening ear - though they are wonderful. We need more than mere arguments - though in some cases good arguments stabilize us. We need the reality of God himself - God as he has spectacularly and definitively disclosed himself to us in the person of his Son. He will require of us that we focus our attention on him, both for this life and the one to come."

When I read that I was stunned. It's true. No amount of me trying to theologize my feelings will make me feel thankful. I need to know God, through Christ, and ponder and treasure his work on my behalf.

Did it work immediately? No. Am I still as thankful as I should, or want to, be? No. But I do know as I finish up this Thanksgiving weekend and move into the Christmas season that my only hope for thankfulness and joy is in this little baby born in a dirty manger long, long ago. His name is Jesus. He is my only hope in this life, and the glorious one to come.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy Birthday, Daniel!

Happy birthday to the love of my life. There is no one else I would rather live life with, weep with, laugh with, travel with, be crazy with, fight with, watch movies and television with, or minister with. The list could go on. We’ve got a good thing going on here, my love. Every day is brighter with you in it. Thank you for loving me unconditionally and leading our family towards Christ. This past year has been a lot different and a lot harder than we anticipated. But I wouldn’t want to walk through the sorrow, or the happiness, with anyone but you.

I love you more today than yesterday. And I will love you even more tomorrow.

Happy 29th birthday!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Facing our Fears: Part 1

A little over a month ago, I spoke on fear to a small group of women from my own church and the women of First Baptist Church of Fairdale, KY. For those of you who know me, in my flesh I'm a very fearful person, so this talk was a much for me as it was for any of the ladies present. In the next few weeks, I am going to break it up into a series of posts. I have edited for readability and blogging purposes. Hope it is helpful.

In the 1965 movie, A Charlie Brown Christmas, Lucy asks Charlie Brown if he has “pantophobia.” “What’s that?” he asks her confused. “It’s the fear of everything,” she informs him. If you have seen the movie you know that she nails it. And he suddenly realizes that’s what he has—the fear of everything.

Maybe you can relate to Charlie Brown—are maybe your fears are much fewer. Jani Ortlund, a pastor’s wife and author from Nashville, TN, applies the tendency towards fear to women. In her book Fearlessly Feminine she says,

“Fear is a complex emotion. It can fuel us so that we strive harder to succeed. Or it can freeze us, so that we stay home eating cookie dough and reading the latest gossip magazines. Women today struggle with many fears.”

She goes on to say:

“The problem with fear is that it works so well. It motivates and influences us. It coerces us to conform. It drives us to compete. It prods us to perform. Fear has been part of our hearts since the Garden of Eden. When Eve took the fruit and ate it, she was motivated by fear—fear that she would miss out on what was ‘good…and pleasing…and also desirable’ (Gen. 3:6); fear that God didn’t really have her best interests in mind; fear that obedience would exact too high a price. And we have been assaulted by our fears ever since.”

Most of us can relate to these fears. We can probably add to them too. So what are your fears? How do you battle those fears? Do you hope in your own strength? What about your power? Or your ability to control? Or intellect?

God has much to say to us about our fears in his Word. But he also has much to say to us about our hope in the midst of these fears. My aim in these few posts is to expose you to the treasure trove of truth given to us in God’s word. The Bible contains everything we need to face our fears in a godly manner. So my hope for all of us as we embark on this study is that we would leave here with a bigger view of God and a greater appreciation for his word.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Friday is for Fotos

I've been really bad at taking pictures lately, but last weekend Daniel and I took some Christmas card pictures. We are pretty sure which one we will use, but would you, dear readers, mind voting for your favorite? Some of these are "just for fun" pictures, but some are ones we will actually use. Thanks and have a happy Friday!

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Help After Miscarriage: Knowing Your Friend

It is estimated that 1 in 4 pregnancies ends in miscarriage, in other words, as many as 25% of pregnant women will not carry a baby to term because of an early or middle pregnancy loss. This statistic does not include the scores of women who lose children through stillbirth or even early infant death. In some medical circles, these numbers reflect nothing more than an assumed defect or chromosomal abnormality. They are just statistics for research. But to a mom and dad, this number represents a life—shattered dreams for a child never held.

In the last few weeks I have talked a lot about how to help a friend in the weeks and months following a miscarriage. God has been so kind to continually provide people who care about us and the baby we lost. They have been a means of grace in our life. They have helped us see that there is hope. They have loved us through tears. But the glue that kept all of this together is that they knew us. Our friends and family not only wept with us, but entered into our sadness by asking questions and understanding us.

Nothing will substitute for knowing your friend in the days following her miscarriage. A dear friend of mine asks me constantly how I am doing, and even goes so far as to ask how I feel when she talks about certain things. This means the world to me. People don’t always wear their emotions on their sleeve. And it might seem that your friend is okay with something, even if she is weeping on the inside. Knowing her and asking comforting questions will provide a window into her life and protect you from insensitivity.

Knowing your friend will help you also remember her baby. As you walk through her grief with her, you will be able to rightly remember the child that was lost. It is difficult to remember one that you did not know, but this baby’s memory most likely has not escaped your friend’s mind.
All that I have shared about our miscarriage is exactly that—how we have been helped in our own loss. Everyone responds to grief differently. Grief is not cookie cutter and it does not look the same in any one person’s life. Some women are more open than others. Some cry more easily than others. Some are more prone to introspection. The important thing is that you know her and care for her individually, not according to a box or textbook definition. As you get to know your friend, you will be able to minister to her in ways that outsiders will never understand. And it will encourage her greatly.

God will use you in mighty ways to breathe life into your friend. The very fact that you have kept reading this far shows that you want to be a conduit of grace and hope. So thank you for reading, and thank you for caring. By knowing your friend and praying for her you can help bring a voice to the silent sorrow of miscarriage.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Packer on Suffering

Justin Taylor compiled some encouraging quotes from J.I. Packer on how to understand suffering in our lives. Usually I skim through his blog, but today I lingered. Every word from Packer pointed me to the God of all hope and comfort. I needed this today. May you be as encouraged as I was.

He says:
"We may be frankly bewildered at things that happen to us, but God knows
exactly what he is doing, and what he is after, in his handling of our

Always, and in everything, he is wise: we shall see that hereafter,
even where we never saw it here. . . .

Meanwhile, we ought not to hesitate to
trust his wisdom, even when he leaves us in the dark."

Read the rest here.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Friday is for Food: Parmesan Potato Wedges

This is a pretty simple side that we really like in our house. I've learned (in my short amount of cooking experience) that potatoes are very versatile and cheap. And these potatoes are amazing. Or at least I think so. I actually think about them throughout the day when I know I am going to make them! I got this recipe from the Better Homes and Gardens Bridal Edition Cookbook. I have really enjoyed this cookbook and use it often.

6 medium baking potatoes (about 2 pounds)
1/3 cup of butter, melted
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/4 cup of grated Parmesan cheese
1/2 teaspoon of Italian seasoning, crushed (I don't crush it. I just use the seasoning)

Line a baking pan with foil or parchment paper; set aside. Cut each potato lengthwise into 8 wedges. In a large bowl stir remaining ingredients. Add wedges and stir thoroughly to coat. Place wedges on prepared baking pan.

Bake, uncovered, in a 425 degree oven about 30 minutes or until tender.

Enjoy! Seriously, they are so tasty!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Algeria

Algeria is a country that has faced tremendous heartache from colonial exploitation by the French to various wars. This suffering has left an imprint on the lives of many Algerians. Algeria is a predominantly Muslim country (97.29%) located in North Africa, next to Morocco. Eighty percent of Algeria is desert and there are 41 different people groups. Eighty five percent of these groups are unreached.

The Church in Algeria has grown, and some believe that the number of Christians in Algeria exceeds 100,000. If this is true, that would be a tremendous encouragement. This growth is largely due to Algerian Christians commitment to move into unreached areas in order to spread the Gospel.

Ways to pray:
  1. Pray for the unreached. The majority of the unreached peoples in Algeria have yet to hear the name of Christ. Pray that Algerian Christians and foreign missionaries would continue to work to bring the Gospel to those who have never heard.
  2. Pray for Algerian Christians. Persecution of non-Muslims is a reality in Algeria. Pray that they would stay faithful amidst persecution and that Christ would be glorified in their life.
  3. Pray for the government of Algeria. There have been significant human rights abuses at the hands of terrorist groups and state security forces. Pray that they would execute justice rightly and that they would protect the people of Algeria.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Help After Miscarriage: Be Pro-Life

A while back someone I know, in speaking about a friend’s grief after her miscarriage, said “I don’t know why she is so upset. She wasn’t even that far along.” At the time I remember thinking it was insensitive, but I also had no categories for it. I knew it was wrong, but I just couldn’t pinpoint why besides the fact that I thought it was rude.

Thankfully, no one has said anything remotely close to that. But I know people who have had something very similar said to them, so it’s probably not an uncommon statement. For the observer of the woman who miscarried it can seem like she is grieving too long, or too much. Often there are no tangible reminders that she was pregnant. Or maybe you didn’t know that she was pregnant until after the miscarriage.

As believers the loss of life at any stage should make us sad and sorrowful for the one suffering the loss—after all we are “pro-life.”

We grieve and fight for the babies lost at the hands of abortionists, and we should. This zeal for life from conception forward should cause us to grieve and embrace our brothers and sisters experiencing a pregnancy loss at any stage. We have been so blessed by “pro-life" people who have done this with us. They have cried with us. They have talked about our baby like he was a person—an image-bearer of God. There have been moments where I tried to “qualify” my grief, like I shouldn’t be this sad because I wasn’t very far along. But a dear friend of mine said to me, emphatically, “no matter the stage, he was still your baby!” To have a friend acknowledge his life meant the world to me.

It’s really important to not de-legitimize the life that was growing inside of a grieving woman. To her (and to God), this baby was not a blob of tissue, or a fetus—he or she was a life. To be pro-life means not only fighting for the unborn lost through murder, but grieving for the life unwillingly lost regardless of gestation. It means allowing a mother to grieve after miscarriage in the same way that we allow a mother to grieve remorse over an abortion. Life lost is sad, especially when it is a child.

The important thing is that we don’t treat a miscarriage as some fluke accident that proves pregnancy is at least possible. One of the most tangible ways to help after a miscarriage is to practice what we preach about life. Allow your friend to talk about her baby in the same way you would if she were carrying the baby to term. Let her know that you care as much about her little one as you do the ones that make it into the nursery at the local hospital.

Life matters. It begins at conception. For every baby.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Missions Wednesday: Yemen

Yemen has been in the news in recent days over the possibility that recovered packages intended to be used for terrorist plots originated in Yemen. It’s really easy to allow situations such as these to breed hatred and dismay for the people of a particular country. Ignorance only fuels that fire. The less we know about a people, often the easier it is to hate them. They don’t have faces. They are trying to kill our people. But if we put faces, or better yet, souls to this situation then hatred has an opportunity to dissolve. After all, it’s not the people of Yemen who are trying to cause terror. It’s a group of people in Yemen. And they kill because they don’t know Jesus. We do. What have we to lose by loving them and knowing a little bit more about them?

Yemen is the poorest country in the Middle East. Over the last 40 years they have been deeply affected by wars. This has only contributed to their poverty. They are also one of the least evangelized countries in the world. There are over 18 million people in Yemen, and 99.94% of them are followers of Islam. This leaves only .06% as “other” (.05% Christian, .01% Jewish). The official government religion is Islam and the legal system follows Shari’a Law. To become a Christian is illegal, and non-Muslims are prohibited from evangelizing. For a Yemeni believer, persecution is inevitable, and the societal pressures faced upon conversion are often overwhelming.

The primary economic product in rural areas is the drug called qat. This makes up 40% of the national economy and has tremendous impact on the productivity and health of the population. Nearly half of all children in Yemen are malnourished, largely due to the high usage of qat and poverty.

Interesting fact: The literacy rate in Yemen is 43% (and only 23% for women). This is staggering. Only 43% of the people (not including women) can read which has tremendous implications for their ability to read God’s word.

Ways to pray:
  1. Pray for believers in Yemen. It is illegal to witness, and persecution is a given for Yemeni Christians. Pray that they will have courage to endure.
  2. Pray for the least reached. There are many rural areas that have never heard the name of Jesus.
  3. Pray that God would send missionaries to Yemen and would protect them when they go.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Help After Miscarriage: The Role of "Older" Women

In Paul’s letter to Titus, he tells the young pastor (among other things) to have the older women disciple the younger women in his congregation. He then goes on to list the various things that older women are to train younger women in. These commands have become the foundation for countless women’s ministries across the global church. While these imperatives do not cover the variety of practical day to day occurrences in the life of a woman striving for godliness, the general theme of Titus 2 provides a framework for how we are to live.

I have believed the words of Titus 2:3-5 for a while now. And by God’s grace, have worked hard to live accordingly (both as a mentee and mentor). I didn’t realize how much I needed an older woman until after we lost our baby.

God has been so kind to provide countless “older” women in my life, and that sweet blessing has continued in the months since the miscarriage. It hasn’t always been women older than me numerically, but regardless of age, their wisdom from personal experience has been a lifeline for me in recent days. God has ministered to me through women who have walked this road many years prior, or a few months ago. With every conversation (whether a single instance or multiple meetings), I have heard the all-important words, “You will make it through this intact. God will strengthen you. He will keep you. I know, because he kept me.” I needed to hear women say they still cry about their loss. I needed to hear that grief is necessary and doesn’t always have a timetable. But I also needed (and still need) to hear that God will bring me through this.

I remember vividly attending a conference a week and a half after the miscarriage and really struggling with being in a crowd of people, while having to be happy for that long of a period of time (and if you know me, crowds are life-giving to me normally). On two separate occasions God used two older women to cry with me, pray with me, and share in my hurt. These were God appointed times, where these women were obedient to God’s prompting that a hurting sister needed encouragement. Through them, I felt God’s loving care over my dark circumstance. He used them to part the heavy clouds, even if it was only for a short time.

Some women have been more invested in me than others, simply by the nature of our relationship. They are in it for the long haul; asking the hard questions, praying for me regularly, and seeking to encourage me through a common shared experience. One dear friend told me (after talking with me on the phone for almost an hour after we lost the baby), “you have now crossed over into a group of women that is bonded through this loss, even though we would never have chosen it, it bonds us.”

It’s true.

We need Titus 2 relationships regardless of our circumstances. We need people in our lives. But we need them in our lives before tragedy strikes so they can walk through pain with us. If you are an “older” woman, who has experienced a loss (and you are ready emotionally), one of the most influential ways you can help a woman in the aftermath of a miscarriage is to be the “older” woman for her. Cry with her. Listen to her. Empathize with her. Share your story and let her know that she will survive. Your investment matters. God used these women in my life to hold me up. I know he can use you.

Would I have survived without these women surrounding me? Of course. I have an amazing husband, and more importantly, I have an amazing God. But it surely helped. And for that I am eternally grateful.