Monday, January 30, 2012

A Woman's Influence

My husband values my opinion. When he has a big decision to make, or a serious idea weighing on his mind, he seeks my counsel. When he is working on a sermon, like he has been the last two weeks, he asks what I think about the text. There are a thousand little decisions that he makes throughout his days without talking to me about them, but when big things are on the line, we talk because he cares about what I think.

Because my husband values my opinion so much, I often think about what I say to him and how I influence him. What I say matters to him. And while he is the leader of our home and the buck ultimately stops with him, I never want to use my influence to manipulate him or influence him negatively.

I’ve been reading through Kings and Chronicles the last few weeks. Usually I’m struck by the sad commentary on the life of the kings in Israel and Judah. With the exception of a rare few, many of them turned away from God and worshipped the idols of the land. But something else stood out to me more forcefully this time.

The influence of their wives.

Solomon was the wisest king who ever lived. But as we now know, he didn’t end well. He disobeyed God’s law and married foreign women—women who drew his heart away from God. For the rest of the history of the kings of Judah and Israel, they repeatedly married women who were idol worshippers and against God and his people.

And Solomon was not alone. The first marriage was no different. In the Garden of Eden we see Eve believing the lies of Satan and dragging her husband down with her. And when God’s people begin to grow and are living among idol worshippers, he repeatedly reminded them to flee from unholy marriages—marriages that united them to the surrounding nations. Why was God so concerned about who they married? God knew the power of the marriage relationship, because he created it. The Old Testament repeatedly plays out this theme of marriages that were outside of God’s design, and therefore led to problems for his people.

Obviously, the influence of an unbelieving spouse goes both ways. So a husband could just as easily lead his wife astray. But I think women have a unique ability to influence their husbands unlike anyone else in his life.

Proverbs 31:11 says that the heart of a husband trusts in his wife. He trusts that she will do him good. He trusts in her love for him. He relies on her as his helper and companion. There is no greater bond than the marriage relationship. God knew what he was doing when he commanded Christians to marry Christians. So when we see marriages like Ahab and Jezebel in Kings, we feel the tension of her overwhelming influence over him and his complete abdication of responsibility. She used her power to influence him to love what she loved—the gods of this world.

So what does this mean for believing women? Can we still influence our husbands in ways that are not helpful? Obviously, by God’s grace we won’t be drawing their hearts away to worship idols, but we might use our power in less obvious ways.

Women can be master manipulators. We can twist a story, use emotion, use our knowledge of our husband’s weaknesses and strengths, and use his love for us to get what we want. So here are a few questions to ask ourselves:

Do we withhold information?
I know I am prone to do this. I might not “lie”, but I might keep out important details to influence my husband to do something that I want him to do.

Do we use sex?
This is fairly self-explanatory, but we can use our sexuality and bodies for our own gain, rather than giving our bodies freely to our husbands as a gift, not leverage.

Do we use the power of affirmation?
Men want to know that they are doing well. I’ve seen my husband be empowered to lead more boldly and fulfill his responsibilities with greater strength all because I’ve encouraged him in what God is already doing in his life. The flip side of this is that we can easily use the power of words for our own advantage to get what we want.

It’s easy to look at the sinful women in the Old Testament and think that this has nothing to do with us. In some senses, that’s true. They were unsaved idol worshippers, we are trusting in Christ and saved by his righteousness. But do our husbands trust us because we do them good all of our days? Or do they trust us because we have learned how to use our role as wives for our own gain?

A wife has tremendous influence in her marriage relationship. Women have been using this influence since the beginning of time. The real question is how we are using this influence. As redeemed women, bought by the blood of Christ, let us use our influence to do our husbands good all of our days.

Friday, January 27, 2012

My name is Courtney. It's nice to meet you.

I have been doing this little blog for nearly 4 years now. Crazy! A lot has happened from 2007 to 2012, and the blog has been there for it all. I have been on two mission trips. I confessed to being a recovering feminist. I moved to Louisville to attend seminary. I met my amazing husband and got married. I struggled through learning how to be a wife. My grandpa passed away during our first year of marriage. I miscarried shortly after our one year wedding anniversary. Daniel graduated from seminary. We moved to Little Rock to plant a church. And now, we are walking through infertility. It has been a wild, crazy, fun, and sorrowful ride.

"Don't Waste Your Infertility" brought some of you to this blog. Some of you have been here for a while. Some of you are my family and friends. Some of you are far away friends. But none of you are strangers. I'm the kind of extrovert who hasn't ever really met a stranger. So if you are new here, let me be the first to welcome you to my blog. I'm glad you are here. If you lived near me, I would totally have you over for coffee. But since many of you are not, I'm glad we can connect through this little thing called the internet.

The blog is called In View of God's Mercy, and that's what leads me to write. God has saved me and bestowed his mercy upon me. My thoughts are in light of that amazing reality. Sometimes I write about personal things. Sometimes I write about cultural things. Sometimes I write about food (yum!). But most of the time I just write about the things he is teaching me on this journey called life. So if you are an old friend around here, consider this a little update/refresher. If you are new, thanks for stopping by. I'm glad to walk this road with you.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Power of Persistence

“And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart.” –Luke 18:1

Do you lose heart? Do you find yourself growing weary of daily coming to the Lord only to be met with a “no” or “not now” answer? Do you even believe he will answer you when you call to him?

This verse begins the parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8. Jesus told parables to bring truths to greater light for those who had ears to hear it, and to further blind those who were unwilling to see the light. In this case, Luke tells us that Jesus is telling this parable to encourage his hearers and to teach them that they should always pray. We know that these hearers are his disciples because of the previous verses that reveal that Jesus is simply continuing his teaching to them from Luke 17.

So why does Jesus see the need to encourage them and spur them on to fervency in prayer? He knows what’s coming. There was going to be a day where he was no longer with them. There was coming a day where all of the external circumstances would seem like God had forgotten them. In those days, discouragement and fear over God’s care for them would surely follow. So he teaches them through a parable—a parable that highlights the character of God.

Jesus, through the parable of the persistent widow, was showing his disciples that by the very nature of his character, God is able and willing to answer prayer and give good gifts to his children. Why was he doing this? So they wouldn’t lose heart. Jesus knows the human condition. He knows our tendency to grow weary—especially when our prayers seem to be unanswered. He experienced it acutely. He knows what it feels like to be tempted towards discouragement—and even more than that, he knows the answer for it. So he tells the disciples (and us) a parable. The ones who have ears will hear and not lose heart.

So what are the implications of this for us? Jesus is showing us how we must beseech God in our distress—boldly and with hope. We can approach him boldly because we know that, unlike the judge in the parable, God is a gracious and merciful God who delights in giving good things to us. And we can come with hope because we know that he will act. His character tells us so.

Jesus wants us to see the kindness of the Father in greater measure in this parable. He wants us to look at the character of this judge, in stark contrast to the gracious and merciful character of the Father, and have hope. God will answer our prayers. God will act on our behalf.

But then Jesus poses the real question: “Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Jesus begins and ends the parable with his reasoning for speaking in this way. Will you trust him? Will you look to the character of God for your basis for persisting even when you are overcome with adversity, or will you lose heart and fall away proving that you were never saved? The stakes are high, but you serve a faithful God. He will bring you to the last day. He will execute justice for you. He will answer your constant petitions to him. We don’t worship an absentee Father. Hold on to his promises to you. Cry out to him day and night. He will act.

This encourages me so much, especially when how I feel towards praying can be so up and down lately. I have seen him show up and rescue me from despair after days and days of begging him to give me eyes to see his glory. The day will come, dear Christian. Be like the persistent widow. Plead with God to answer you when you call to him. And he will show up. His character is gracious and kind. And he delights to give good gifts to his children.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Supremacy of Christ and Roe v. Wade

Yesterday marked the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion in every state. And while we grieve and fight to end abortion in our own country, we recognize that the slaughter of millions of children through infanticide is a worldwide epidemic. In our own country it's primarily through abortion, in other countries it shows up in sex-selection abortions and murdering of infants simply because they are female. It's horrific from every angle and it's a reality we must face.

Last week, my students learned about the image of God in my marriage and family class. The primary emphasis being that to understand marriage, to understand what it means to be male and female, we must first understand what it means to be created in the image of God. This has implications for a variety of things in our life, the most relevant one today is that all children regardless of gestational age are image bearers of our Creator. On Friday we watched a video by Voddie Baucham on the image of God and something he said stood out to me as I watched the above video. He essentially said that atrocities like slavery were eventually ended because of the supremacy of Christ. Why? Because Christians, who trusted in Christ as the supreme and greatest treasure, believed that all human beings were created in the image of God. They had incredible worth and value, regardless of the color of their skin. And that was worth fighting for.

What does that mean for us today? What does that mean for us as millions of babies have been murdered in this country alone? What does that mean for the woman in India who thinks that her eight daughters mean less in this world than one son? It means that, as Christians, we have an answer to the horror. We can fight with boldness because of what we know about God's creation. We can pray with passion because we know that God cares about baby girls in India and first-trimester babies in America. And we can trust that one day our Savior, King Jesus, will return and make all things new--from the repentant abortionist to the discarded baby.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday is for Food: Grilled Chicken Sandwiches

Spicy Chicken and Arugula Sandwich
from Cooking Light (I changed it a bit)

2 (6 oz.) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
1 tablespoon of fajita seasoning
1/4 cup light mayo
3 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon of grated lime rind
1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
1 (9 oz.) round loaf focaccia, halved horizontally (I used ciabatta rolls instead)
1 medium ripe tomato, sliced thinly
Sliced red onion (if you like red onion)
1 1/2 cups of trimmed arugula (I used spring lettuce and spinach mix, so you can use any green that you want)

Heat grill
Place plastic wrap over chicken; pound each piece to a 1/4 inch thickness using a meat mallet or rolling pin. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with fajita seasoning. Add chicken to grill.

While chicken is cooking, combine mayo, cilantro, rind, and juice; spread evenly over cut bread. Arrange chicken on the bottom half of bread; top with arugula (or lettuce), tomato, and onion. Cover with top half of the bread.

Serve with Paula Deen's sweet potato fries and enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Keller on Marriage

"I'm tired of listening to sentimental talks on marriage. At weddings, in church, and in Sunday School, much of what I've heard on the subject has as much depth as a Hallmark card. While marriage is many things, it is anything but sentimental. Marriage is glorious but hard. It's burning joy and strength, and yet it is also blood, sweat, and tears, humbling defeats and exhausting victories. No marriage I know more than a few weeks old could be described as a fairy tale come true. Therefore, it is not surprising that the only phrase in Paul's famous discourse on marriage in Ephesians 5 that many couples can relate to is verse 32. Sometimes you fall into bed, after a long hard day of trying to understand each other, and you can only sigh: 'This is all a profound mystery!' At times, your marriage seems to be an unsolvable puzzle, a maze in which you feel lost."

"I believe all this, and yet there's no relationship between human beings that is greater or more important than marriage. In the Bible's account, God himself officiates at the first wedding (Genesis 2:22-25). And when the man sees the woman, he breaks into poetry and exclaims, 'At last!' Everything in the text proclaims that marriage, next to our relationship with God, is the most profound relationship there is. And that is why, like knowing God himself, coming to know and love your spouse is difficult and painful yet rewarding and wondrous."

"The most painful, the most rewarding - this is the Biblical understanding of marriage, and that has never been a more important time to lift it up and give it prominence in our culture."

-Tim and Kathy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

As I prepare to teach my first marriage and family class to high school students tomorrow, I'm praying that I accurately and faithfully teach these realities to the next generation.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Kate Middleton Baby Watch, and Why We Shouldn't Participate

Yesterday, Her.meneutics (the Christianity Today women's blog) ran a post I wrote about the hype surrounding whether or not Kate Middleton will have a baby this year. It seems to me that our cultural obsession with a little royal is an exaggerated snapshot of our comfort with asking people we hardly know when they will have kids. Sometimes our lack of knowledge about their situation, coupled with questions about their plans, can bring more pain to their situation. Obviously, this doesn't pertain to everyone, nor is it the same thing as asking good friends about their plans for children. It's more of a general observation and some thoughts on how to think through the questions we ask people we don't know very well.

In the post, I say:

You never really know where people are. I’ve seen people ask a woman when she was going to add another child to her bunch, only to find out later that she had miscarried a week earlier. She and her husband were trying; it just wasn’t public information. We tend to be really comfortable with asking couples when they might want to have children, but we tend be unaware of the fact that these questions might bring pain rather than encouragement. Unless we are invested in the lives of young couples in our churches, we don’t know about their circumstances any more than we know about Middleton’s.

Of course, the answer is not an end to all pregnancy questions. Children are a gift from the Lord and should be welcomed and celebrated. One of the things we often fail to embrace when we ask such questions is that conception is not a man-made invention. Even the most fertile couple in the world can “plan” their family only to be met with a little “surprise” earlier than they had scheduled. God is the author of life, an oft-forgotten concept in our zeal for new children. But as Christians, our questions should always be laced with sensitivity and, more often than is true, restraint. Thinking through your questions before you ask them can bring a wealth of grace and encouragement to a couple who might be facing infertility or the loss of a child.

Read the rest here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Don't Waste Your Infertility

It’s been a few months since we received the hard news that our struggle with infertility would require more treatment before we are able to proceed with trying to get pregnant. Few things feel worse than waking up from surgery and hearing the words, “it was worse than the doctor thought, you will need more treatment.” I went into surgery hopeful and came out feeling like I had been punched in the stomach (physically and emotionally). This is not how we planned it to be. This is hardly what we wanted. And this diagnosis only prolonged, and solidified, that we weren’t just a couple who was having a hard time getting pregnant again. We were infertile, at least for the time being.

I wish I could say that my response to this news has always been Christ-like and admirable. It hasn’t. But through this trial, God has taught me some specific things about his character, my depravity, and his goodness in all things. I believe that God is absolutely sovereign over my infertility in the same way that I believe he was sovereign over my miscarriage. It was not a surprise to him. In fact, it was designed by him for my good, and he doesn’t want me to waste this suffering. Below are a few things I’ve learned about not wasting my infertility. It’s hardly exhaustive, but it’s a start. If you are struggling with infertility too, I pray that God uses it to encourage you as we walk this road together.

Not wasting your infertility starts with a deep and abiding trust in the God who knows the end of your infertility. He knows the end of it because he gave it to you (Gen. 50:20; Job 2:10; Ps. 88:6-7). But he also knows the end of it because only he can truly heal your body and give you a baby. He is worthy of your trust. Get to know him more deeply through his word. Study it. Live off of it. You will find that he is good all of the time, that he loves you more than you know, and that he wants to give you a greater knowledge of himself through this devastating trial. In his word you will find comfort for your soul. Not wasting your infertility is a constant fight to see God as good, but it’s a fight worth having.

Not wasting your infertility means you worship even when your heart is breaking (Job 1:21). John Piper says that the “unwasted life is the one that continually puts Christ on display.” That’s what worship is, giving God the glory due his name. Worship means treasuring Christ above all things, even a baby. God gets the glory (and you get the joy) when, like Job, you bless his name even in the deepest moments of your pain and suffering.

Along the lines of the previous two points, not wasting your infertility means praying boldly. Only when we trust God as the all-sufficient creator, healer, sustainer, and good God that he is can we worship him, and also pray to him boldly. Knowing God enables us to pray to him with confidence that he can and will act in our best interests. Infertility is a disease of the helpless. You can’t change your condition. You can’t make two blue lines show up on a pregnancy test instead of one. But God can. Your experience with being utterly helpless to change your circumstance puts you in fellowship with many biblical characters. Pray like King David in the Psalms (see Psalm 27, 28, 30, 56, 62 and many others). He faced great difficulty and tribulation. His prayers were honest, bold, and worshipful because he trusted in God to be his hope and salvation

Not wasting your infertility doesn’t mean you don’t grieve and feel pain. This might seem like an odd addition, especially when statements like “don’t waste this season” are the entire point of the post. But the unwasted life isn’t the triumphalistic life. The apostle Paul accurately described walking through this life as, “sorrowful yet always rejoicing” (2 Cor. 6:10). That applies to infertility as well. We are sorrowful because it’s devastating, painful, and sometimes lifelong. But we are rejoicing because we have hope that this is not all there is. It’s not that we are happy with our circumstances. There is nothing happy about not being able to get pregnant. Oh, but there is a great Savior who has given us everything we need through his death—including comfort in our pain.

Not wasting your infertility means taking your thoughts and emotions captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Infertility brings with it a minefield of scary scenarios and questions (What if I can’t get pregnant? What if I miscarry again? What if I can’t afford treatment). Those thoughts tend to bring emotions, which then bring stress and worry. Infertility, like all suffering, has a way of putting pressure on us and our relationships. But infertility doesn’t bring with it a free pass on how I treat people, my husband especially. It also doesn’t give me license to daydream about the myriad of “What if’s” that come with infertility. I have learned this the hard way. God gave us real emotions and feelings, but they are not morally neutral. And our husbands are real people who are often hurting just as much as we are. The concept of talking to yourself, instead of listening to yourself is especially helpful when you feel your emotions taking over. Ask yourself, “is this feeling true?” (Phil. 4:8). If it is, you have a faithful, sympathetic Savior who understands your feelings. If it’s not, that same Savior is able to comfort you and change your feelings for his glory.

I didn’t put any practical suggestions in this post because I’ve learned that practical application is often person-specific. What helps me stay busy and use my season of waiting for the good of others might not work for other people, and that’s normal. But even more important, the practical cannot happen unless we embrace Christ as our greatest treasure in our season of infertility. Sure, we can find ways to stay busy to take our mind off of the pain, and those are good things to do (I’ve done it). But busyness in order to run from the suffering is not the same thing as busyness in order to fill the season with good things. God has designed suffering to chisel us more into the image of Christ, to draw us closer to himself, and to give us a greater vision and understanding of his glory. We could easily miss that if we fill our schedules in order to forget.

I don’t know the outcome of my journey of infertility. As of right now, I know that I’ve still got a road ahead of me that needs to be traveled. I don’t know where you, dear reader, are at either. But I do know this: no matter where we are in the journey of infertility, God has a lesson for us. His purposes for us are sure and good. He will test us, he will chisel us, and he will show us more of himself every step of the way. And after he has tried us, by his grace, we will come forth as gold (Job 23:10).

Friday, January 6, 2012

Friday is for Fotos: My Favorite Pictures

Next week I will get back to a Friday Food post. I just haven't made anything new and creative since we have been back, but I have some new stuff planned for next week's menu. So for today, I leave you with my two favorite pictures from our trip home. These pictures capture my husband perfectly. He loves children and babies, and Rebekah had been a little fussy before Uncle Daniel was holding her. After some quality time with Uncle Daniel, she was as content as she could be!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Thanking God for Grace in Others

It’s a vicious cycle. You see a woman who does something really well, let’s say cooking, and you initially admire her and praise her for her kitchen prowess. The admiration might turn into inquiring how she became so proficient at making meals for her family. Then a little voice begins speaking, “You can’t cook like that. Your dinners always turn out bland and uncreative. You are lucky if you don’t burn dinner. Stop trying, she is just better than you.” What was once admiration has now turned into discouraging comparison, and now you are just straight-up jealous.

It’s hard, isn’t it? There is always someone who is more creative, more organized, more physically fit, more kind, more whatever than us. If we let ourselves, we can easily spiral out of control with discontentment, jealousy, and discouragement over what we are not and what we wish we could be. And as the proverbial saying goes, the grass really is always greener on the other side. When we believe these lies of comparison we will never truly be satisfied, primarily because we are disobeying God’s word and allowing the sin of discontent to rule our lives.

One of the things I’ve done in the past when I’ve seen a character quality or evidence of grace I admire in someone is to thank God for that grace and ask for the same measure of grace in my own life. When I see a wife lovingly serve, respect, and submit to her husband, I’ve prayed that God would give me that same gracious spirit. When I see a marriage thrive in love and grace, I have asked God to be pleased to work that same outcome in my own marriage. When I’m tempted to wallow in self-pity when I see my life in comparison to hers, my mind is filled with thoughts like “why can’t I be ____?” “I wish I was ____.” Questions like this inevitably lead me to despair. I can’t make myself do anything. I can’t change my personality. I can’t change my sinful tendencies on my own. So instead of looking to the faithful giver of grace to change, I’m ruled by my longing for something different. God is the giver of all good things and the grace to change. Instead of sinfully comparing myself to everyone else, I should be thanking God for the gracious gifts he gives, and ask him for the same work in my own life. The truth is, it’s really hard to be jealous of someone when you are thanking God for them.

Peter faced this same tendency towards comparison (John 21:18-22). Instead of allowing Peter the indulgence of his sinful comparison to those around him, Jesus turned his statement on its head and told Peter to follow him, essentially saying that Peter’s inquiry about them didn’t matter. The same response is true for us. After thanking God for the evidence of his work in the life of another, we must then look to the giver of grace and follow him alone. A gaze set directly on Christ will not afford us the opportunity to look around and compare because we will be so captivated by the treasure that he alone is for us.

What I need is a reoriented mindset. Comparison and jealous are ruthless masters. They keep us believing that we are never good enough and that someone else always does it better. They probably do, but that’s not the point. The point is that it doesn’t matter. Christ has called us to himself and only asks that we follow him. “Don’t look at the people around you and despair over your life,” he says. “Follow me and me alone.”

We are prone to compare and we will probably fight this temptation until we see Jesus face to face. But until that day, I resolve to fight my own sinful temptation to compare and despair by thanking God for the gifts in the people around me and following Christ alone.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Count Your Blessings in 2012

“Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was in a besieged city.” –Psalm 31:21

2012 has arrived and many of us have moved from family mode to reflective mode. We are making lists and making goals. We are resolving to exercise more, read more, accomplish a difficult task, or learn a new skill. We are looking back at 2011 and looking forward to 2012. The beginning of a year can feel very hopeful and anticipatory about what is to come. Maybe 2011 wasn’t the year you expected, and you want 2012 to be the turning of a page and start of a new and better chapter of your life.

I can relate. 2010 was a hard year for us. My grandpa died in February of that year and then I miscarried in August. I ended one grief process only to be met with another. And I remember when the clock struck midnight I was relieved that 2010 was over. 2011 was supposed to be the year of hope for us. It was supposed to restore the years (or months) that the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25). I was excited and ready to move beyond this season of our lives. Less than a month into the new year, Daniel’s grandmother passed away. And then a month later we started seeing a doctor who informed us that our difficulty with getting pregnant again might be related to fertility issues. Where was the hopeful 2011 I had anticipated? It wasn’t even spring yet, and here we were facing similar heartaches at the start of another year.

I wish I could say 2011 ended with a pretty bow and “they lived happily ever after.” While we are happy and enjoying one another, the story hasn’t changed much since the end of 2010. This chapter in our life isn’t over, but I know that my attitude towards it has changed. As I reflected on 2011 last week Psalm 31:21 was the constant theme in my mind. It’s really easy to reflect on our circumstances and only see the gaping, baby-shaped void in our lives. It is there, and that’s just a reality that we are living with. But it’s not what defines us (especially me) anymore. Yes, we are in the besieged city of infertility and loss right now. Yes, our hearts ache a lot. But God has shown up. He has shown us his love and care for us in ways we never would have known if our 2011 had the alternate ending of a smiling baby in our arms.

And that’s what matters more than anything. As I begin 2012, and reflect on 2011, I am reminded of so many evidences of his steadfast love to me—too many to count. It’s easy to forget these things when the thing that I want most right now is missing. But just because I forget them doesn’t mean they aren’t true. God did so many great things for me in 2011, and I know that his kindness to me will continue into 2012, with or without a baby to call my own.

So, here’s to holding on to hope in 2012. God has shown his steadfast love to me, even in a besieged city. Even when my circumstances are unstable, my God will never change.