Friday, July 29, 2011

Fearfully and Wonderfully Made in a Fallen World

The last two weeks have been pretty busy for us around here. Between travel for Daniel's job, my trip to Florida to see my parents, the church plant, and various writing projects I have had little time to think about this blog, which makes me sad. But I have been writing even if it isn't appearing here. That will change once August rolls around. In the meantime here is a link to something I wrote for The Gospel Coalition. Earlier this week they published an article I wrote on Psalm 139. The idea for the article was born out of multiple conversations Daniel and I have had about understanding the physical brokenness of our bodies (infertility) in light of the great truth that we are "fearfully and wonderfully made" by our Creator.

Here is an excerpt:

"This passage reveals great truths about God’s sovereignty over life in its earliest stages. God is the author of all life. How glorious that a holy God would be so intimately involved in our lives! But what if you don’t feel like you are “fearfully and wonderfully made”? What if your body is ravaged by cancer, plagued by infertility or frequent pregnancy loss, or succumbing to an incurable illness? What if your child’s development is slowed or disabled by autism or Down’s syndrome? While we cling to the fact that God is the creator of life, not every life comes out physically perfect. Can we trust that Psalm 139 includes these people, too?"

Reconciling God's sovereignty over my creation with my physical limitations with conception has been a wrestling match this past year. But God has not left me to myself. He has brought me to his word and made me think hard about who he is, and who I am in light of his greatness. This article is what has been born out of that, but adapted for a more broad application of physical brokenness. There is a future for all of us broken people (and all of us are broken in some way). The future in this life might not look like we want it to, but the future in the next will be far more glorious and perfect than we could ever imagine. That is what we hope for as we walk walk through this life.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Give Them Grace: A Book Review

I have not had the privilege of parenting children yet, but I'm surrounded by amazing friends and family who walk through task of parenting on a daily basis. One of the things I hear the most is that parenting is hard work. It takes a lot of grace and a lot of prayer. And more than anything else it takes a daily dependence on Jesus Christ. As a pastor's wife I'm sure there will come times when I am asked for resources on parenting biblically. There is a lot of good stuff out there, but there is also a lot of bad stuff. That's why I'm thankful for Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson. This mother/daughter team recently authored the book Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus. I was asked to review it for Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today blog for women) and the review was posted yesterday. I loved the book. Even though it's not applicable to me directly right now, it helped me understand my own sinfulness and greater need for Jesus, which I'm so thankful for.

So if you are a parent, soon-to-be-parent, longing-to-be-parent, or just a friend to a parent, I encourage you to read the review, and even better, read the book! It will serve your soul.

The review can be found here.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Writing is an Exercise in Humility

For my senior writing project in college all of the writing majors were assigned small groups that would meet every other week for intensive peer critiques of our final project. We would meet at a local coffee and bagel shop by school, only critique with pens that were in "non-threatening" colors, and pour over the work our fellow students presented us. The content of these bi-weekly meetings was nothing new considering that for the duration of our time in the program our writing assignments were continually subjected to multiple revisions. I learned a lot of things in those years but the one that has really taken shape in my life since college is that a writer's work is never complete.

Going into my classes I thought very differently. And I honestly don't think I grasped this concept until recently. Like so many young adults I thought my writing was unique, compelling, and pretty much perfect. All it took was a freshman composition professor telling me I was a good writer and I knew it that I was destined for greatness.

Ten years, and quite a few humbling experiences later, and I think differently. I still love writing. I still feel that God has given me a mind that best understands him when I write about it. But I've learned that writing is hard work. It doesn't come easy. It's a discipline. And it should make me humble.

You might wonder how writing is an exercise in humility when so much of writing is for public consumption. How can it be humble to have your work out there for all to see? I'm not saying I'm a humble person, or that writers are humble people. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that is often very far from the truth. But the truth is that to be a good writer, to really grow in your craft, requires hard work and a lot of outside input. What I didn't understand in all of those writing groups in college is that they were designed to make me better, but they were also designed to show me that I'm really not that great. There will always be a better writer. There will always be something I can change, clarify, or even write better. Good writing should never be done in isolation. Anyone can think they are the next John Piper if they edit their own stuff. What is the real test is if we submit ourselves to editors (whether they are friends or online magazine editors) and take their feedback and seek to grow from it. Editors exist to make our work better, serve people, and help us clarify our thoughts. They also exist to help us think of ourselves rightly, as broken people writing to broken people (Romans 12:3).

I wish I had seen the pride in my life back in college that kept me from really embracing criticism of my writing. I didn't like to be picked apart and pushed in my writing. I thought I had it all together, clinging to the words of that first-year comp teacher. To my shame I wasted a lot of helpful feedback at the altar of my own glory. I'm not going to say that I now have it all together and like to hear critiques of my writing. I don't. But as I write more, and am exposed to more editors, I'm thankful for the help. If anything it's an exercise in humbling myself before God, recognizing that he alone gives gifts and takes them away.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Chick-Flicks and a Dissatisfied Heart

The images flashing across the screen were all too familiar. I knew I had witnessed this very scene before, but with different characters and a different setting. Yet I sat mesmerized.

I was watching a chick-flick.

The female character is stuck in a dead-end relationship with a guy who won’t commit. She travels across the world to keep said guy, who always seems so aloof to her needs and wants. Then she meets a dashing, handsome, sensitive man who she bickers with at first, but eventually falls madly in love with because he understands her every need, unlike aloof boyfriend. And then comes the moment of truth. Should she stay with Mr. Non-Committal or marry Mr. Wonderful? After much agonizing, Mr. Wonderful wins and they live happily ever after in either marital or non-marital bliss. Regardless of their marital status, they are together and the movie patrons are pleased, including me.

Now I’m not going to lie. I enjoy a good romantic comedy. I also like a good ending, preferably one where everyone I like ends up happy and married. But have you ever noticed what the constant up and down of a whirlwind movie romance does to your own understanding of romance? Maybe it’s just me, but I find myself slowly thinking that being understood fully by a man who sees my needs before they are even realized is the way to go. Who wouldn’t want that? The Bible tells husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way, so I should expect nothing less, right? Sure, as long as he can expect that I will always submit to him and respect him with a happy heart. A steady, unregulated, diet of romantic comedies can make me slowly dissatisfied with covenant-keeping love with my husband. The characters in romantic comedies tell me that my needs are ultimate. They tell me that relationships can be ended at anytime, especially when someone better comes along. They tell me a lie.

The danger with romantic movies, like so many others have said, is that if we are not careful we can begin to see the casual nature of a relationship as the norm. Very rarely do movies present strong, covenantal, life-long love as the relationship worth finding. It’s not exactly a box-office selling point. Marriage has been so squandered by those inside and outside of the church that our culture doesn’t see it as anything special anymore. But God, the creator of the universe, sees it as infinitely special not because we do it right all of the time, but because it points to something far more glorious—our Christ and his Bride, the Church. If we really grasped the wonder of this mystery we wouldn’t want to settle for anything less in our own marriages and in the ones portrayed on our television screens.

My heart is corrupt. And so is yours. Regular consumption of media that lies about God’s design for our lives can have disastrous effects on our souls, if we are not careful. Does it mean we never consume secular media? Of course not. But it does mean that we have a sober understanding of the fact that there is a Devil out there seeking to devour our understanding of marriage because he hates the image it represents—Jesus Christ.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Friday is for Food: Grilled Baby Back Ribs

I've never made ribs before, so I was really nervous to try them. But my husband loves ribs. So when I found them on sale at the store I snatched them up and decided to put my fears to rest. How hard can it be? Well, not too hard at all actually. We are house/dog sitting this week and the house we are staying in has a grill. This is a very welcome treat for little apartment dwellers like us. So I saved the ribs for this week. I looked around on the internet and in my cookbooks for the different ways ribs can be made. After gathering some information I decided to be brave and create my own recipe taking a little bit from each recipe I read. And much to my surprise it actually turned out pretty well. So for all you ribs lovers out there, this one's for you.

Grilled Baby Back Ribs

What you need:

-2 tablespoons Worcestershire Sauce
-1/2 cup of brown sugar (add a little more for consistency if needed)
-1/4 cup of ketchup
-Dash of red wine vinegar
-2 tablespoons of steaksauce
-1 tablespoon of liquid smoke
-dash of paprika and cayenne pepper
-Full rack of baby back ribs

How It's Made:

-Preheat oven to 350 degrees
-In a small bowl mix all of the sauce ingredients together. Add more brown sugar if the sauce is too runny.
-Cut ribs in half (along the bone) and lay meaty side up in a 9x13 pan
-Pour 3/4 of the sauce over the ribs. Flip the ribs over and cover the pan with aluminum foil.
-Bake for 1 hour
-Preheat outdoor grill to and set at medium-high heat
-Remove cooked ribs from the oven (the meat should be pulling away from the bone) and place on the grill.
-Cook for 10-15 minutes, adding the remaining sauce at the end.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Psalm 1 and the Righteous One

Daniel and I have been traveling for the last few days, so that is why there has been so much silence on the blog. July has turned into a crazy month for us, which has been good but not allowed as much time to write for the blog. But Psalm 1 has been lingering in my mind over the last few days. The first time I ever heard D.A. Carson preach was in chapel at college. I didn't know that much about him, but everyone said it was a big deal that he was there to preach so I listened a little more intently that day. I wish I could say that it changed my life and I remember every word he said. Sadly, I don't remember much from that day. But I do remember one thing clearly. He preached from Psalm 1 and I learned that Psalm 1 is about Christ. For a new believer wrestling through how to interpret the Bible it stuck with me.

Psalm 1 says:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.

In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Countless passages in Psalms, Proverbs, and others present the prosperity of the righteous in contrast to the demise of the wicked. One could infer that if you could just be righteous you would be set. God would look on you with favor. But if you are like me, there is always that little voice in your head that reminds you of all the ways you are not like the righteous one in this passage. And then you read Romans 3 or Psalm 14 and see that no one is righteous in God's eyes. So how do we reconcile the perceived promises for the righteous in Psalm 1 in light of what the Bible, and our own conscience, says about our condition before God?

Let's consider what the Old Testament says about our condition and need for righteousness. The major prophets (Isaiah and Jeremiah) talk repeatedly about a Righteous Branch, one who will execute justice and righteousness for God's people. In Isaiah 11 the Righteous Branch is shown to bear fruit. In Isaiah 60 we see that righteousness and prosperity (and judgment) are all of God. In Jeremiah 23 and 33 the Righteous Branch saves his people. The Old Testament is preparing us for the reign of this Righteous Branch. His name is Jesus. He is the one who executes righteousness and justice. He is the only one who can be called righteous by a holy and perfect God.

Psalm 1 says that we can be blessed if we are righteous. And this is true. But we are not righteous. And we cannot be righteous by simply getting our act together. Our righteousness is determined by another. When we cling to him and his perfect action on our behalf, atonement for our sins, we get all of the benefits of his righteousness. We get to drink from the flowing streams of God's goodness because Jesus perfectly obeyed and cleanses us from all unrighteousness.

So the next time you hear that little voice condemning your unrighteousness when you read these passages take heart, dear Christian. While the little voice is right in declaring us unrighteous there is a way to be righteous and his name is Jesus.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Friday is for Fotos: Our Humble Abode

We have now been living in Little Rock for almost 2 months. It's hard to believe that two months have passed since we made the trek south. It's the middle of summer here and every day is at least 95 degrees. The humidity rises significantly by evening, so if you step outside for anything you are covered with a blanket of oppressive heat. It's the summer and it's glorious. I've never been more thankful for air conditioning and fans than I have been in recent days. Since we are now settled into our little apartment I figured it was time to put some pictures up here on the blog. We downsized tremendously to save some money, so half of our stuff is in storage right now. But it works and we really like our complex. I know I have some friends and family from far away who are wanting to see where we live. So here you go!

A typical day in our house. Daniel works from home so this is one of his "offices".

Our closet is huge! It's hard to really convey the vastness of the closet in a picture. But trust me. It's big.

You can't see it from this angle, but Daniel's other "office" is in our bedroom. Our bedroom is so big we could fit his desk in there.

The kitchen.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

I Don't Belong at Walmart: Thoughts on the Baby Aisle

Nearly every week I make a trip to Walmart. While I’m usually there to buy food to feed my little family of two, as my husband can attest, I often find myself meandering about the store. Sure I only need some bread, but a detour through the home goods section never hurt anyone, right? Every once in a while I find myself wandering through a more painful section of Walmart. The baby aisle. Call it wishful thinking, but I sometimes feel drawn to all the little outfits, furniture, and products that are designed for that little bundle of joy. Sometimes it makes me hopeful. Hopeful that one day I will have a reason to step foot in the baby section of a store without someone else’s baby registry in hand. But sometimes it just makes me ache when I see the large bold letters “Baby” across the center aisle. “That’s not for me,” I think to myself. Bathroom, kitchen, and bedroom accessories? Yes. Baby section? Not me. I don’t belong there.

Maybe you can relate. Perhaps your only child is in heaven, too, and seeing all of the baby clothes at the store just brings to mind too many thoughts of what could have been. Or maybe you are struggling through infertility, and the baby section is another reminder of dashed hopes every month. I can relate.

So what’s a girl to do? I can’t avoid Walmart, Target, and every store that sells baby things. I have been particularly blessed by a post Molly Piper wrote last year about feeling like she didn’t belong in the little girl section of the store. In it she says,

“Grief is not just for grieving places, like the cemetery. It happens in other stranger places–you know, places like Kohl’s.”

For the most part I feel pretty good about my weekly trips to Walmart. But there are some days where it just hits me like a never-ending freight train, and I feel overwhelmed with sadness that I don’t belong in the baby section, even though every part of me hoped and thought I would this summer. I might not belong in the baby section, but as Molly says in her post, I do belong somewhere much more comforting—at the foot of the cross. She goes on to say:

“But Jesus doesn’t turn away the grievers. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” I am called blessed. And I’m promised His comfort.

This is blessed assurance. It’s like a great big sign at the foot of the Cross that says:

“You Belong Here.”

The Bible doesn’t tell us that we won’t grieve, or even that our grief will end at a given point. But the Bible does promise us a refuge when the grief comes. His name is Jesus. So the next time I find myself longingly wandering through the baby section on my way to find a surge protector for our bedroom, I can trust that while I don’t “belong” in the baby section, I do belong with the Savior.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Friday is for Food: Chicken and Tomato Alfredo

Word of caution: if you are looking for a meal that is low fat/low calorie, this is not the meal for you. But if you want a little guilty pleasure of yummy goodness, this is definitely the meal for you! Anyway, I made this meal for dinner on Wednesday and we loved it. The meal comes from the Better Homes & Gardens Bridal Edition Cookbook. I made some variations and I'm glad I did.

So here goes...

What you need:
-8 ounces dried fettuccine
-2 tablespoons butter
-1 cup whipping cream
-1/2 teaspoon of salt (I used Kosher salt)
-1/8 teaspoon black pepper
-1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
-1 cooked chicken breast (I grilled ours on an indoor grill)
-1 can of fire roasted tomatoes (the recipe calls for dried tomatoes in oil, but it was way more expensive than the can of tomatoes)
-1 small container of fresh mushrooms, sliced and sauteed (we just had these in the fridge, so I thought it would add some flavor)

How to make it:
-Grill chicken on an indoor or outdoor grill, cut into small pieces, set aside
-Cook pasta according to package instructions
-In a large saucepan melt butter
-Add cream, salt, pepper. Bring to boiling and reduce heat. Boil gently for 3-5 minutes or until mixture begins to thicken
-Add tomatoes, mushrooms, and chicken to the sauce
-Add drained pasta to the sauce and toss to combine

Serve immediately and enjoy creamy, buttery goodness!