Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Pain of Motherhood

In a recent article at The Gospel Coalition, I wrote about Mary’s coming pain in the wake of Christ’s birth. Motherhood is filled with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, and she was not exempt from such emotions. With the joy of her newborn baby’s birth came the dark shadow of his foretold death. She felt the sting of motherhood acutely throughout his adult life, and as she stood at his cross and watched him gasp for breath.

I've said before, motherhood, like many things, is a great equalizer for women. It takes women from all walks of life, all cultures, and all time periods and brings them together under one unifying purpose—loving a child. It’s why women cry at birth stories of strangers and weep over the caskets of children they have never met. We know the joy and the pain that comes with being a mother. We feel it in our bones.

But like everything in this sin-cursed world, every joy carries with it the reality of pain. With the overwhelming joy at the birth of a baby comes the paralyzing fear of SIDS. With the excitement of watching your young toddler takes his first steps comes the all-consuming fear that he may one day get hit by a car or run into danger. With the joy of watching your teenager drive away for the first time by herself comes the helpless fear that she may not always be safe on the road alone.

We all have lived long enough to know that every happy moment we face as mothers can in an instant be laced with soul-crushing sorrow.

So what are we to do when we face these fears, sometimes on a moment by moment basis?

It’s easy to look to the temporal, tangible realities staring us in the face as our assurance of hope, like the assurance of our newborn’s breathing patterns or making our toddler hold our hand at all times in public. We feel like we can control those moments. We can put our finger on them as markers of goodness and faithfulness towards us. But those markers aren’t always there, are they? When every earthly treasure gives way, Christ is all our hope and stay.

The psalmist has this to say about our fears:

I lift up my eyes to the hills.
    From where does my help come?
 My help comes from the Lord,
    who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121:1-2).

He didn’t look to what was happening around him, good or bad. He looked away from his circumstances to the God who lovingly controls his circumstances and is working them for his good. But the truth is, it’s hard to do when everything is crumbling around us, isn’t it? Trusting God with our circumstances starts when all is well, when we are overwhelmed with joy. Mary couldn’t contain her wonder at what God did through her and for her in the birth of her son. But this wonder is what would carry and sustain her when all seemed hopeless and lost.

The same is true for us. Walking the road of motherhood carries with it more emotion than I ever knew humanly possible. Giving your life for another does that to you. With the intense love I feel for my children comes the possibility of tremendous heartache. Where does my help come when my fears seem to be my undoing? Or even more devastating, when my fears become reality? The same God who gave me these precious gifts, is the God who sustains me in my fears and heartache as well.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Learning from Hannah More

Earlier this Fall I received a copy of Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More--Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. I couldn't wait to read it. I had been hearing about this book from Karen Swallow Prior for a while, and the more I heard about Hannah More, the more I wanted to get to know her. I think you will too. Here are some brief observations about her life that really stayed with me. I hope it will make you want to read the book (there is still time to get it before Christmas!).

  • Her accomplishments as a woman in her time period. Hannah lived in a day where women were not educated like men were. Women had little rights and voice in the powerful ranks of society. But Hannah was an exception. She did not embrace the early feminism that was rising up in her day, instead she understood her creation as a woman and used it to accomplish great things. 
  • She valued female education. In a Western context it's easy to take this for granted. But for many women in our world this is still a very real means of oppression. She taught women to read, to think, and to use their mind for good. But she saw a clear distinction between teaching women to think and making women think like men. "She sought to advance female education in order to fulfill women as women, not to make them like men" (24).
  • She was brave enough to go against her culture regarding slavery and the treatment of all human beings. It's easy to look at history from our vantage point and think Hannah's positions on the deplorable practice of slavery and the refusal to educate lower class people are simply no-brainers. But we must remember that she was standing up for things (abolition of slavery and education of all people of all classes) that were unthinkable to many English men and women. Like every society, we have our own blind spots, and like Hannah, we must ask God to reveal these blind spots and give us the courage to stand against the tide.
  • She had a consistent ethic regarding the dignity of persons and creation. One of the more surprising, and interesting, aspects of her life to me was how she fought for the ethical treatment of animals. It might seem like a random addition to a book on her bravery as an abolitionist and educator, but the more I learned about her the more I realized that it all goes together. Hannah believed in the dignity of people because they were created in the image of God. She believed in the fair treatment of animals because she valued God's creation. Her high view of God enabled her to honor and fight to protect all that he had made. 
Those are just a few of the many things that struck me about her compelling and convicting life. I hope you will take the time to read Fierce Convictions and discover the myriad of ways that Hannah More's life means something for us today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Dependent Woman in an Independent World

The twins and I just got back from a two week trip to Florida to visit my parents, which means I flew by myself with two 21 month old boys. It was fun. It was intense. It was filled with memories. It was exhausting. This is a snapshot of how it went.

Between staring out the window at all of the airplanes, watching Bubble Guppies, and eating an abundance of snacks, we all had a pretty good time flying together. Daniel and I have flown with them together before, so I knew what to expect a little bit. But this was my first solo venture, so I was a little (a lot!) nervous about how it would all go. In God's kindness, these sweet boys exceeded all expectations and made it a fun ride. 

What I didn't expect was how my ugly battle with pride would come full force as I boarded the plane with two littles. I prepared for little help from fellow passengers, but I was blown away by how kind people are to a pregnant lady with two toddlers. I never actually had to get the boys on the plane alone. Someone always stopped to help me, which was a great blessing. But with every offer for help from kind bystanders I felt my own self-sufficiency rise up in me. Of course, I brushed it off as not wanting to be an inconvenience. But I know what I really meant in my heart. I may have said "thank you" out loud, but I was thinking:

No, I don't want your help. I want everyone to marvel at how I mastered flying alone with twins.

It's awful, really. Only a crazy woman refuses help when she's trying to wrangle two busy toddlers. But I am that sinful, crazy woman. The very essence of pride is a desire to make much of yourself, to puff yourself up in front of others. It can even come across as noble and good, like taking care of twin boys on a flight to Florida, but it's still pride. I've written before about my struggle with accepting help from others, and while my circumstances are different this time around, it still lurks in my heart. 

It doesn't help that I live in a culture that prides itself on self-sufficiency. America is about the self-made man or woman. America celebrates independence, not dependence. We marvel at the woman who does it all. We praise the man who came from nothing and made himself into a successful businessman. We love a story of survival and grit. But that is not the way of Christ. As a Christian, everything I have is owing to the merits of another. My motto should be "nothing in my hands I bring, simply to thy cross I cling." So even in my best moments as a mom, wife, friend, or writer, I'm still coming up short on the sufficiency front. It's pride that feeds me lies, making me believe I'm doing better than I truly am. 

Now that I'm home, I'm glad all those people offered to help me. It made the trip much more enjoyable. It protected my boys from running off when I couldn't move fast enough to catch both of them. It even allowed me to make some friends on the flights. So the next time someone offers to help me, I want to accept with a willing and grateful heart, rather than as a woman who thinks she's got this whole mothering twins thing together. Because, let's face it. I need the help.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Some Trust in Ultrasounds, But We Trust in the Lord

On September 29 the baby we lost earlier this year was due. Due dates are always hard when there is no baby coming. They are a reminder of what could have been. They are a reminder of a pregnancy that didn't make it to term. They are a reminder of empty arms. I've faced three due dates now with no baby inside of me. One was because the twins were born eight weeks before my due date. The other two were because I lost the baby in the first trimester. So I'm quite familiar with due dates.

But this due date was different. This due date was filled with anticipation. Not with anticipation over the grief I would feel that day, but because I knew what was coming the next day. I would get to see our newest baby for the first time. That's right, I am pregnant again.

I am also very familiar with ultrasounds. I have had a lot of them in my day. With the twins I had more than is possible to remember. But I've always walked into that first ultrasound with the same fear and trembling. Daniel and I barely talk in the waiting room. We know what could happen. We could either walk out of that room with pictures of our new baby or walk out of that room broken over the loss of another. On September 30 we were walking into that room for the fourth time, and at that point we had experienced more bad first ultrasounds than good ones. Because the last time I had an ultrasound was when I was still pregnant with the last baby we lost, the ultrasound log picked me up as being 40 weeks pregnant. So we had to explain to the ultrasound tech that we were in fact there for a our new baby and not the one from February.

We were scared to death.

But in God's kindness he turned our mourning into dancing by letting us see the beating heart of our newest little baby, due May 14, 2015. So far, all is well.

The first trimester is not nice to me, and this pregnancy has been no different. In fact, it's been a whole lot worse. As I'm slowly coming out of the non-stop sickness, thanks to medicine, I have found myself facing the same old fear that always plague me in pregnancy.

Will I lose this baby, too? 

Pregnancy lost its innocence with me a long time ago and I feel like it's God's way of pruning me and causing me to trust him with everything.

I find myself trusting in hearing a heartbeat more than I trust the God who made this baby's heart and keeps it beating this very moment. I find myself trusting in hugging the toilet bowl more than I trust the God who knit this little, nausea inducing baby together in my womb (Ps. 139:13). I find myself trusting in the passing of another week more than I trust the God who sustains the universe and numbers every hair on this little one's head (Luke 12:7, Matt. 10:30).

You see, it's easy to brush my fears off as normative. I've lost babies. I've had a high-risk pregnancy. I've had premature babies who had to spend five weeks in the NICU. Every part of my pregnancy history causes my anxiety to rise and makes me want to think I'm justified in my response to my circumstances.

But I'm not.

My fears are no different than anyone else's fears. We all have life experiences that inform our fears, but we are still called to trust in the God who is sovereign over our very lives.

The verse I keep coming back to is Psalm 20:7:

"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.""

Maybe I don't have to deal with enemies seeking to destroy me every single day. But I do have the enemy of my mind that lies to me about God's goodness and care for me and my baby. We can insert any earthly means of assurance into this psalm and the outcome is still the same. God is on the throne and he is the only one worthy of our trust. No ultrasound, fetal doppler, baby kicks, or pregnancy symptom will be the assurance I need to sustain my faith. God alone is my help and my trust.

So it's in him I trust as I walk nervously through another pregnancy. Hopeful and excited for the life he has given us again.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Waiting for the Promised Land

I've struggled with fear and anxiety all of my Christian life. In many ways it seems that when I conquer one fear, another one is lurking in the shadows. Fear is my constant enemy. I've often thought that the constant refrain of my soul is "Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief!" This is my heart's cry as I seek daily to do battle with my ever present fears.

I just finished reading the book of Joshua. As the book came to a close for me, my fears were confronted with this comforting truth:
And the Lord gave them rest on every side just as he had sworn to their fathers. Not one of all their enemies had withstood them, for the Lord had given all their enemies into their hands. Not one word of all the good promises that the Lord had made to the house of Israel had failed; all came to pass (Joshua 21:44-45).
After years of wandering, failing, and being carried by God to the land he had promised, these words came true. I imagine as the people of Israel embarked on the conquest of Canaan, and now faced the prospect of entering this unknown land, many fears could arise. But here we see that in the midst of it God is keeping his promises. Every word he spoke to their fathers proved true. Every promise he made to them from the calling of Abraham, to the fleeing of Egypt, to the wandering in the desert, not one word fell to the ground.

So what does this have to do with my fears? I have no word from the Lord about deliverance from what ails me. I have no promise that I will be freed from circumstances that terrify me. I don't know that tomorrow will go better than today, or that my children will come to faith in Christ, or that my husband and I will live to see our grandchildren. I am not an Israelite and I do not have those promises passed on to me from my parents.

But do I?

In Christ I have been given a great inheritance. I may not have promises of earthly deliverance, like the Israelites did. But I have a better one. Through Christ, God is making a people for himself today in the same way that he was in Joshua's day. Through Christ, He is keeping his word to his children in the same way he kept his word to the Israelites, but even more so. Through Christ, I have the reward of eternal life, the promise that while my earthly life may not materialize into everything I hope it to be, my heavenly one will surpass my wildest imaginations. Like the Israelites in the wilderness, I have yet to reach the Promised Land. God's promise to sustain me on my sojourn is just as real as it was for them. God's promise to give me a land of rest and glory is just as real as it was for them. Like them, I must wait for that Promised Land and trust that it is coming. But I also have something better than what they had. They had the tradition passed down from their fathers through the Law, I have the promised Son who intercedes for me and makes me like himself every day. This is my assurance that this promise is coming for me, too. Christ is my guarantee that this is not all there is.

So where do I go when my fears assail me? To Jesus, the one who purchased me with his very blood and daily lives and pleads for me before the throne of grace. He knows my fears and knows that they are not the final word on my life. I am a pilgrim on this journey, like the Israelites of old. Every word that God has spoken will be true in my life because God can only be true to himself. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

What I Missed About Work

The subject of work and how our faith relates to our vocation has been a topic of much conversation in our home lately. In a lot of ways, these two articles (for TGC and Boundless) are the fruit of those conversations. Daniel has sensed God's leading to stay within his current vocation (as a lay pastor and salesman) and I have wrestled with the implications of it all.

But more importantly, our thinking, praying, and crying (mostly me) through all of these issues has caused me to reflect on my current vocation (as a mom, wife, and writer) and also on my previous ones. If I am truly honest about the past, I was an unfaithful worker in my twenties. I may have shown up on time, completed my work, and even gone above and beyond sometimes, but my heart wasn't in it. I had an unbiblical disconnect between my role as an image bearer and the nature of work. I thought if I wasn't doing something really valuable (like saving orphans in Africa or teaching a bible study) I wasn't really doing anything at all. I saw my work in the secular market as a means to an end, and I had little respect for people who did such work for the rest of their lives. As Daniel has moved towards his current profession, I have been forced to move along with him. And it's been really good for me. I have grown to see his work (and ultimately my own) as valuable not necessarily because he is evangelizing everyone he meets, but because he is working faithfully in his job, thus reflecting his role as an image bearer.

This has had a profound effect on how I view my current vocation as a stay-at-home mom. While there are two little people who depend on me for their constant care, it is easy to see my work as meaningless. Because there are no tangible markers for how I am doing, I can easily neglect certain responsibilities or fail to work hard because no one really is evaluating me at the end of the day. But I also can see my work as having little value, because I don't bring in the bulk of our family's income or get feedback on my work. Besides the occasional hug or kiss, the most return I get on my work in my home is a peanut butter hand print on my clean windows or syrup in my hair. But it is still work, and it still demands my faithfulness.

Understanding the value of work that is directly related to my role as an image bearer shapes the way I work. I work not just as "unto the Lord", but also as a representative of my Lord on this earth. When my kids see me work on their behalf, for the benefit of my church, or for the good of a friend in need, I hope they see a small glimpse (albeit very flawed) of the creative goodness of our God.

This is what I missed in my twenties. I thought work was all about me and my personal fulfillment. I didn't see the people in the cubicles around me as recipients of my faithful work. I just wanted out of the cubicle. I wanted to be in a place where real good was happening, not some corporate environment. And I regret that.

My prayer for my thirties, and beyond, is that I would joyfully embrace whatever work God sees fit to give me, not necessarily because it fulfills every need I have, but because work is a good gift to God's people, his image bearers. We work to reflect his glory. We work to create and cultivate like he does. We work to make much of him as the author and giver of every good thing--even the fruits of our labors.

Now if you will excuse me, I need to get to work.

If you want to read more about how God has been shaping our understanding of work, you can read this interview Daniel did with The Gospel Coalition. It's really helpful, but I am a little biased!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Time is Never Enough

When we were at seminary, we regularly sang the hymn "Soldiers of Christ, in Truth Arrayed." The hymn, written for the first graduation ceremony of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is moving and these lines have always stuck with me:

"We meet to part, but part to meet."

It's a fitting song for a seminary setting. Students are transient. You make friends with fellow students only to say "goodbye" a few years later, likely never to see each other again.

My parents were here visiting this past week, and like every time we are all together, we always think the time really is too short. "If only we had a few more days," we say. Except this time we did have a few more days. My mom and dad stayed longer than they both had ever stayed together (with the exception of my mom practically moving in after the twins were born!). When we go to their house for Christmas, we tack on an extra day with the hopes that maybe this time the time spent together will feel sufficient, like we aren't saying our goodbyes before we even get started.

But it never does. And this time I was struck by the fact that no amount of time will ever feel like enough. We could spend the next month together and still cry with the same amount of sadness when the time to go our separate ways arrives. Because it's not about the time. It's about the relationships. The more you love someone the more you want to be around them. I love my family, so naturally I enjoy their company. I will always feel like our time is cut short because of the nature of our relationship. But it's also more than that. The deep ache I felt as I watched their car drive away on Tuesday morning is pointing to something deep within my soul. I wasn't made for such departures. As a human being, created in God's image, I was made for relationship--relationships that aren't hindered by the distance of time or place. Every goodbye with my family and friends is reminding me that there is a day coming where there will be no more tears or departures.

The time will never feel like enough because it really isn't enough. The fellowship I experience with my parents is a sweet foretaste of the eternal fellowship I will experience with my heavenly Father. So I will cry. I will be sad. I will ache and miss them with each passing day. And I will look forward to the next time I get to see their faces in the flesh.

Monday, August 25, 2014

A Momma's Heart Breaks, No Matter Her Culture

It's been a sad cycle of news these last few weeks. We've heard reports of children being slaughtered in Iraq, thousands have died and suffer from Ebola, Robin Williams committed suicide, Michael Brown was killed, an American city is in emotional upheaval reminding us all of our nation's rocky history, and James Foley was murdered for all the world to see. These are just the things I can think of off the top of my head. I know there are more and it's hard to take it all in. I don't respond to major news stories usually. Most of that decision is owing to the fact that I don't know enough about it to offer any credible insight into the situation, and almost all of it is owing to the fact that others (much wiser than I) have better things to say. So I listen and think and talk and pray. But I rarely write about it.

Until now.

I'm not going to offer any commentary on any particular situation. Again, even though I'm writing about the generalities of our sad news cycle, I still don't feel adequate to speak into any one situation. But I am going to speak to one thing that unites a large percentage of our global population.

I'm a mom.

My heart has been slowly breaking as I processed each piece of sad news these last few weeks. With each snippet of story I saw, one thought kept coming to my mind, I wonder how the mothers are doing?

Motherhood is the great equalizer for us as women. It's why we share birth stories with complete strangers. It's why we offer advice with a new mom. "It will get better," we assure her. It's why we cry when we see other mothers sending their children off to college (or the first day of school). We've been there. We know the feeling. We've felt the morning sickness. We've felt the first kicks. We remember the feel of their heads when the nurse first placed them in our arms. We've been up late at night with a sick toddler. We've kissed a skinned knee, packed a lunch, wiped a tear, and never once have we thought we would be the one to say the final goodbye to them. If the thought has crossed our minds, it's been in our deepest nightmares.

But as I've watched the news lately that's all I can think about. The mothers. The mothers who have rocked their babies to sleep and read them books, now burying those same children in the cold, dark, ground. And I can hardly choke back the tears.

Whatever we believe about any situation that is happening in our world (whether or not missionaries should go to places that threaten their lives, who was at fault in the death of an African American teenager, how to handle the suicide of a celebrity, or how to respond to the crisis in Iraq) one thing is certain, the people we are talking about as the latest fodder for the evening news are children of grieving mothers. Whatever is true about them, their mothers lost something that can never be replaced--or at least are facing the possibility of the loss.

And while I have no answers to the many problems facing our world I do have this. Tears. A mother's heart breaks the same no matter where she's from. And this momma is grieving with her.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Women Are No Threat to Me

In my single days, my roommates and I kept an article from John Piper on our refrigerator as a daily reminder to fight the sin of comparison. I was reminded of it last week as we wrapped up our summer bible study on John with the women of our church. As Peter has just been restored to fellowship with Christ, he is immediately pulled into the comparison game as he looks at his fellow disciple, John. Piper says this about Peter's question to Jesus.
That’s the way we sinners are wired. Compare. Compare. Compare. We crave to know how we stack up in comparison to others. There is some kind of high if we can just find someone less effective than we are. Ouch. To this day, I recall the little note posted by my Resident Assistant in Elliot Hall my senior year at Wheaton: “To love is to stop comparing.” What is that to you, Piper? Follow me.
Comparison is such a besetting issue for us as women. We see a woman dressed differently than us and we mentally stand next to her and boast in our attractiveness or wallow in how much better she looks. We see another mother with her children and compare our parenting skills, or lack of skills. We see a wife love her husband well and measure our relationship next to hers. We see a co-worker excel at a particular task and wonder why we can't work with the same speed and precision. Or to hit it home for me, I read another writer and feel stings of comparison as her perfectly crafted sentences make mine look like the work of an amateur.

The business of comparison is a dirty one.

But I was struck by something else as I studied this last part of John, something that put my own struggles with comparison in perspective. Peter and John both served very necessary, yet unique purposes in the establishment of the church. John lived a long life and wrote a number of New Testament books. Peter was at the forefront of the spread of the church (through much persecution) and according to tradition, was crucified upside down. Both lives looked very different. But both were needed in God's kingdom.

The same is true for us as writers, women, mothers, wives, employees, and church members. As a writer, I may say something in such a way that a specific woman has ears to hear. Land a different woman's eyes on my written words and she may need the voice of another friend of mine, who writes in a different voice. Both voices are necessary, both styles get the point across, but everyone has different ears to hear in different situations. We are all necessary.

In the writing world it can be easy to compare our own abilities and accomplishments with the woman next to us (or to put it more clearly, on the Internet page next to us). But we mustn't do that, friends. Like Peter and John, we have been given unique abilities, voices, and styles to minister to women who need to see that God's word is true and valuable in their lives. The woman who writes with more wit or careful turning of a phrase than me is not a threat to my gifting, but a blessing. She helps others see God when my words fall short. That is a gift! She is a service to the church in the same way I am called to be. I can lean on her and learn from her, but I should never resent her.

There is much to celebrate in this particular season with the multitude of women writers. I am encouraged by so many of them. As Christian women, who long to see God glorified in our lives, let us take the words of our Christ to heart when we feel the sting of jealousy rise up in our hearts over the giftings of another:

"What is that to you [sister]? You follow me."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Salvation Comes Through Jesus, Not Courtney

The other night as my head hit the pillow I felt weighed down by a lingering cloud of guilt. I couldn't shake the sense that I was doing something terribly wrong, or at least not doing enough. Either by commission or omission, I was failing. But what I couldn't understand was why I felt this way on that particular evening. There were no catastrophic accidents with the twins that day. No one had a meltdown that was out of the ordinary. I hadn't lost my temper with Daniel, the boys, or anyone else who got in my way that day. By the outward looks of things I had no real reason to feel like I was missing the mark.

While it didn't look like I had a reason to repent over my actions, I did. Here is what I mean. For starters, I have noticed in the past week that I have allowed myself to grow lazy in training the boys. Instead of stopping whatever I am doing at the moment to help them in their burst of emotional outrage or fight over a stolen toy, I often stick to quick fixes without really understanding what is going on or showing them a better way. When I recounted the events of the day that particular night I was struck by my own selfish actions towards my boys. I didn't deal with them because it wasn't convenient for me. I didn't lovingly break up the fighting because I didn't want to be bothered. Immediately I was reminded of all of the biblical warnings for failing to discipline and train our children and I confessed to my husband that I was certain I had failed them for life (I'm a little dramatic at times).

But there is something less obvious that needed my swift repentance. It's the thing that I have noticed most in my own heart as I've learned this whole parenting thing.

I can't save my children and I need to stop acting like I can.

My children will be who they will be in spite of me. While I would like to think that if I just did all the right things for the necessary period of time, my kids will come out praising Jesus, but the unfortunate fact is they won't. They might, but it's not a guarantee. The promises of God are not a magic potion.

Of course, for the many biblical truths about God's sovereignty over salvation there are countless ones that talk about our need to be faithful with what he has given us. I will give an account for how I raise these boys. I have a responsibility to teach them and train them in God's ways. God's sovereignty is intertwined with my responsibility. But that doesn't mean I can save them. It doesn't mean that my every sin towards them will lead them on a swift path to destruction. It doesn't mean that my catechizing of them will lead them to repentance and faith. I obey and God gives the results.

This is incredibly freeing for an often sinful momma. But it's freeing for everyone, really. Maybe the unsaved person in your life is your brother or sister, mother or father, husband or wife, co-worker, friend, or neighbor. The truth remains. There is no other name under heaven by which men can be saved (Acts 4:12). And that name isn't Courtney (or your name). It's Jesus Christ.

We will not always present the message of Jesus' life, death, and resurrection perfectly. In fact, we often won't even come close. At times, our lives will betray the very Jesus we love. We will miss the mark with those we care about. We will sin against them. We will serve them in our own interests, not their own. But Jesus is the one who saves. The same blood that covers us can cover our loved ones, too.

There is freedom in that, my friends. When we are overwhelmed by how much we sin against our kids, our spouses, our friends, and church members we are given an opportunity to show them that Jesus saves us, too. We repent before God and them, seek forgiveness, and trust in his grace to make us more like him. Our kids will see that testimony of the power of Jesus just as evidently, if not more so, than if we had always done everything well.

I'm so thankful that Jesus saves. It gives me hope, not just for me, but for my kids, family, and friends, too. He makes dead hearts beat again. He opens blind eyes. And he alone can save even the vilest sinner.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Be a Faithful Mom, Not a Busy One

I take the twins to a story time once a week at our local library. They love it because they get to meet new toddlers and play with new toys. I like it because I get to meet other moms who are doing the same thing as me—learning this whole mom thing one toddler step at a time.

Since the twins have turned one I have struggled a lot with what I do with my time now. One year was a big milestone for us. They finally started sleeping more consistently, which meant I had a little more freedom to do other things again—like reading and writing (and sleeping). With the new time has come a whole new set of challenges, like all changes bring.

As I talked with one of the moms at story time I was struck by the frequency with which she mentioned the other things she does in addition to being a stay-at-home mom. She is thinking of opening a small business again, does small jobs on the side, and tries to keep her foot in the career world she left behind. I get the pull to do other things. In fact, I do other things, too. So I’m not knocking the other things at all. I understand that seasons of a mom’s life lend themselves to more time for such endeavors. And those can be very good opportunities for us. But as I reflected on her insistence that she has a profession outside of her child the finger turned back on my own ambitions.

How do I define myself when I speak to others?

Or to put it even more specifically, how do I want others to perceive me? Do I want them to see me as just a stay-at-home mom, or do I need something more than that?

With this new season of time the twins have afforded me I have noticed a new struggle emerging. I want to feel like I’ve accomplished something. If I get to the end of a day with little tangible results for the labors of my day, I feel defeated. Did I do anything of value? Did I accomplish something important? Did I write enough? Did I clean enough? Did I work hard enough to justify my existence and worth in this family?

More often than not the answer is a resounding no, because even with the emergence of time, twins don’t always give me the time I am expecting. And I’m only human. I just can't do it all. Or even come close to doing all I want to do.

But I think the problem is deeper than simply wanting to be useful and productive. When Betty Friedan encouraged housewives to find their identity outside of the home the cultural acceptance of the stay-at-home mom was lessened. I agree with her notion that women should never find their identity in their home, husband, or children. But in a lot of ways, our culture has traded one identity for another. Maybe we don’t think a woman should be defined by her work inside the home, but we do define her by what she does outside of it. Feminism has made us all feel like we need to be doing something useful to justify our equality and personhood. Women have made great gains for us and we should be taking advantage of those opportunities.

This is true for the stay-at-home mom, too. The reality is we don’t often have tangible markers for how we spend our days, unless you count the fact that our kids are clothed, fed, and smiling when our husbands get home. But sometimes we can’t even boast in that. It’s easy to be discouraged when we can’t point to what we did with our day as the basis for our value. The truth is, sometimes we can’t even remember what we did with our day. We’ve given up a lot to be here, we think to ourselves, so we better earn our keep. I even often find myself telling Daniel all I did in a given day, with the secret hope that he will see that I worked hard. I did something useful. Like the mom at story time, I want him (and everyone else) to see that my busyness during naptime and playtime amounts to a lot of good old fashioned work.

But that is not how God views our work. As I’ve written elsewhere, a mommy’s worth is not marked by check marks on a task list, but by sacrifice and service. Those are not always results we can point to as evidently, but they are there nonetheless. But it’s also more than that, I think. In the same way that our culture values work outside of the home, it also values busyness. We think that if we are super busy than we must be doing something right. We are so important. We have so much to do. We are busy, busy, busy. But is busyness the standard for faithfulness? Is it the standard for getting things done? Is it true that the more we do the better we feel about ourselves?

I doubt it.

I’m coming to terms with some things with the extra chunks of time I get now that my children take a regular nap. It’s okay if I nap, too. It’s okay if I write and clean and do other things, but it’s not wrong to rest either. My children and husband are served more by a happy and rested mom than a mom who got her to-do list done. And I feel better for it, too.

One of the phrases I repeat to myself often is that “busyness does not equal faithfulness.” Work important. We were made for it, actually. But as a stay-at-home mom my work doesn’t always look like my work did when I sat at a desk all day, had lunch meetings, and wrote marketing plans. Sometimes it means I’m up all night with a sick little boy (and thus need a nap) and sometimes it means I’m cleaning, writing, and cooking during my free moments. As an image bearer, I was made to work. This is true. But I was also made to rest. And as a mom who struggles with wanting to find my worth more in my work (and not in my rest), I would do well to learn the balance of them both.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Why We Sing

I’ve always loved to sing. I come from a family of singers. Some of my fondest childhood memories are of my mom singing hymns to me to help me fall asleep. You could say music is in my blood. I’ve transferred that love of singing to my local church as well. As long as I have been a Christian I have looked forward to congregational singing. Finding out the songs on Sunday morning when I open my bulletin is like Christmas morning every Sunday. Musical worship stirs my soul and readies my heart for the preached word.

But what if you don’t like to sing? Or maybe you do, but you aren’t much of a singer. Is congregational worship still for you? Does it matter if you stand silently in the pew (or chair) on Sunday morning because you simply don’t (or can’t) sing?

I think so.

I have been reading through the Psalms this week and been struck by the frequent references to musical praise. While the musical instruments may have changed over the years, musical worship has always been part of God’s economy. In fact, many of the psalms in the Bible were originally intended for musical worship. The psalmist meant for them to be sung congregationally.

Psalm 33:2-3 says:

Give thanks to the LORD with the lyre; make melody to him with the harp of ten strings! Sing to him a new song; play skillfully on the strings, with loud shouts.
Psalm 89:1 says:

I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.

 And again in Psalm 91:1-4 (a song specifically designed for the Sabbath, the holiest day):

It is good to give thanks to the LORD, to sing praises to your name, O Most High; to declare your steadfast love in the morning, and your faithfulness by night, to the music of the lute and the harp, to the melody of the lyre. For you, O LORD, have made me glad by your work; at the works of your hands I sing for joy.

So what does all of this have to do with us, in the 21st century? Musical worship is not a new, modern idea invented by people who want to get more young people in the doors of our churches. While the mode and style of musical worship might influence why a person attends a particular church, the act of musical worship is a universal privilege for all believers, regardless of preferences or denomination.

The psalms are far more concerned with what we sing, not necessarily how we sing. Of course, what we sing has implications for how we sing, and often how we sing reveals what we believe about the One we are singing to. But for brevity’s sake, I want to encourage us to think primarily about why all of us, good and bad singers alike, should strive to be active worshipers when it comes to congregational singing.

Psalm 92 is a good place to start. Like I already said, it’s a psalm for the Sabbath, which was the Jewish day of worship. The Sabbath was our Sunday. So this psalm was meant for God’s people to use in worship of him. Because he has authority over all things, including us, this means our musical worship of him must be under his authority. He cares about how we worship him. To say it another way, he wants us to worship him in the way he prescribes and with our entire beings. Singing praises to God should be a delight to our soul. Musical worship is God’s plan for his people. Music stirs our affections and draws us out. Even secular music does this for us, right? Music causes us to feel deeply. And this is a gift to us. When we sing our hearts should be stirred to remember God and his ways. So if you are struggling with a desire to sing on Sunday morning whether because of lack of talent or lack of interest, remember this, dear Christian. Singing to God, as described in God’s word, is the overflow of a joyful heart in God alone. We should delight in singing to God because we delight in the truths of God. Congregational singing is not as much about the talent of the one singing as much as it is about the object of our singing—God. Our collective singing on Sunday morning should be a rich reminder of the goodness of his ways, the power of the cross, and the treasure that God is for us in Christ.

We sing because we love God, not because we are the next Whitney Houston. Making a joyful noise is more about the One who makes us joyful than the squeaky noise coming from our vocal chords.

So sing with all your might, my friend. Let the truths of God’s word stir your heart to worship him in song as you praise him for all he is for you in Christ.

Monday, August 4, 2014

How to Work Out Your Salvation

"We are to strive for growth with all our strength and to work to put sin to death within us. But we are to do so in a way that is always mindful of our inability and weakness so that we do not despair." -Barbara Duguid (Extravagant Grace, 220).

Friday, August 1, 2014

Extravagant Grace: A Review

I received a copy of this book at the bloggers gathering at TGCW14 over a month ago. The title, Extravagant Grace: God's Glory Displayed in Our Weakness, by Barbara Duguid (P&R), caught my eye immediately. I feel weak often. I am overwhelmed by my sin on a regular basis. This book, I thought, must be written for me.

I could not have been more right.

It is a rare occasion that I finish a book sad to see it end. At over 200 pages, I honestly wished for it just to keep going. Not because it was incomplete or in need of greater explanation, but because it was good for my soul. I was opened to a fresh understanding of my indwelling sin and its purpose in my own sanctification. I was confronted with the glory of Christ's death on the cross and his righteousness that covers me. I was encouraged to remain steadfast in my fight against sin and my trust in the Savior. I just wanted to keep reading in order to drink deeply from the well of truth contained in its pages.

This book reminded me of three crucial truths about the Christian life.

The value of prayer. Duguid reminds us that only God can change a person's heart. He is the one who grants the new birth in Christ and changes a person day by day. Because of this we should pray fervently for God to work in the lives of people. I was encouraged to pray for family members who don't know Christ and for friends I know struggling with besetting sins. I was convicted to pray for myself. I know that there is just as much besetting sin in me as the next girl. No amount of willpower will get rid of it for me. I need the supernatural work of God to change me and make me more like himself. The good news is that he has promised us this very work in his word, Duguid says. We aren't praying blindly, but with bold faith for God to do what he delights to do--humble his children and make them like himself.

The reason for indwelling sin. This point is probably the greatest takeaway for me. Duguid says that God wants humble children, which is one of the primary reasons he leaves us with indwelling sin. Sin humbles us. It shows us our desperate need for a Savior. Because of our tendency towards self-sufficiency, if we had been wiped clean of our propensity to sin at conversion we would fail to give God glory for this cleansing. Indwelling sin keeps us on our knees and gives God glory. It also makes us long for heaven more. Only on that final day will we truly be cleansed from the sin that entangles us. While God sees Christ when he looks at us now, there will come a day when the full, sinless righteousness of Christ will cover us completely. Heaven is our final home. We will see God in all his glory because we will be like him, perfect and whole. This truth should make us ache for that day. Our sin reminds us that we are not there yet--not even close. Come, Lord Jesus!

The importance of a long term view of the Christian life. Because our salvation is an "already, but not yet" reality, we need not be discouraged when we are not yet there--or when those around us aren't either. Duguid says that God is the one who gives people differing degrees of faith, sanctification, and resistance to sin. Some of us struggle with certain sins all of our lives. But because of the final day, when our sin stains are cleansed in their entirety, we can have hope for the present. God completes the work he starts in us and in our friends and family.

Uses for the book. Because of the nature of the book, it is a really good option for any type of book study. There are in depth questions at the end of each chapter that bring the points of the chapter home. Duguid is a biblical counselor, so she is skilled at getting to the heart of matters. There are multiple questions, so if you were working through the book in a book club or small group, you may, for the sake of time, go through only two or three questions in a gathering. But if you wanted to use the book in one-on-one discipleship or personally the questions would be really useful.

One of the main points of the book is that she interacts with John Newton and his teaching on the Christian life, indwelling sin, and God's grace. It made me want to buy the writings of Newton immediately! While I was always helped by her interaction with Newton, the back cover of the book states she turns to Newton "to teach us God's purpose of our failure and guilt." This is true to some extent, but she doesn't use him as much as I thought she would. This is not a critique by any means, because I think the book is perfectly complete on its own. It's more an observation than anything else. I suppose by interacting with Newton, even if it was less than I anticipated, she did her job. I want to read Newton now. And read this book again and again.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Where Does My Help Come From?

I lift my eyes to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord who made heaven and earth - Psalm 121:1-2

This verse screams conviction at me. In theory, I believe it with every fiber of my being. I know that  I can do nothing without God's sovereign help. But in practice, I act like I'm a tower of competency all on my own. I believe that my help comes from the Lord, but I act the exact opposite.

This is a regular battle in my life. I go through seasons where I am overwhelmed by my circumstances, cry out to God for help, recieve said help, and then praise God for the moment of relief. But when the relief comes something else starts to happen in my soul. I feel pretty sure of myself. I made it through the difficulty on top (or at least without dying). God gets pushed to the side and Courtney moves front and center. I may pay lip service to God's almighty help in my situation, but in my heart I'm screaming "Me, me, me! I can do this!"

Recycle and repeat.

God has been taking me on a journey (a long, long one) of learning to trust him not only in the moments of weakness, but when the weakness dissipates, too. When all is going well it's easy for me to think that the goodness I am experiencing is owing only to my skills, and forget God all together. It's when the heat of life is blown on me that I am forced to run to him for cool relief.

And that's a good thing.

I felt that very heat last night. It's not unlike countless nights before it. Insert any situation that has threatened to swallow me in overwhelming despair or just straight-up exhaustion, and I know I have been there before and seen the same comforting results. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. He's been kneading this truth into my life these last many years, and it's been good for my soul, but often painful to endure. He will have no proud and self-sufficient children. And I am no different.

So when I awoke this morning, Daniel had placed this verse on the counter for me to see. I am so often tempted to look for help in what I can see with my own eyes. But my eyes like to play tricks on me, especially when I am physically tired and emotionally weary. How do I know that my help comes from the Lord? The second part of this verse provides a helpful clue: "the Lord, who made heaven and earth."

The same God who spoke something out of nothing, said one word and creation burst into existence, and formed his people out of the dusty ground he made, is the God who is our help. Every earthly help that promises to sustain us or satisfy us bows in submission to the creator of the entire universe. There is no security apart from our great God. There is no help without him. He sustains what he created. He helps what is rightfully his, namely us, his image bearing children.

When I went to bed last night I wished for rest and got another exhausting day instead. Sure, I was a little less tired than I was when my head first hit the pillow, but the sleep is never enough. The day's duties were waiting for me and I felt anything but competent to tackle them. But God is not surprised by my weariness. In fact, he welcomes it. It is in my sleep that the God who never sleeps is working actively. It is in my weakness that his strength is so beautifully displayed. It is in my inability to get everything done that he is shown to be supreme over all things, even a to-do list and busy toddlers.

Where can we look in our moments of despair or weariness? The God who is our help and is sustaining us by his very word.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Our Speech Held Back

I've talked about why I need this exercise in thinking through how I speak. I've also talked about who we are addressing when we use our words for good or for evil. But I've also been convicted lately about the need to restrain my speech. I'm a talker. I like to use my words. When I'm happy, that's a good thing. When I'm angry, not so much. In the heat of an argument or when my feelings are hurt, words fly like fiery daggers. I even would go so far as to say that I feel as if it's my duty to throw words in a moment of rage. If I don't, who will? If I'm offended, who will speak in my defense? If my feelings were hurt or I was wronged in some way, how will that person (namely, my husband) ever know how badly he needs to change if I don't say something right then? So I load the ammunition of words into my mouth and fire away.

My sense of justice is my guide.

But I think scripture provides another, more helpful, way.

Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends (Proverbs 17:9).

Now, I am not talking about offenses that are physically harmful, recurring, or out of the ordinary. I'm talking about the day to day offenses that arise because we are sinners trying to live together in a fallen world. The mundane offenses that threaten to undo us. Your husband forgot something important (like planning a date), again. Your wife neglected you after a busy day at work, again. Your roommate went behind your back, again. Your friend talked only about herself, while failing to ask how your difficult situation was going again. All of these offenses are hurtful, sinful, and can damage a relationship. Which is what the writer of Proverbs is getting at.

Suppose your spouse or friend confesses this sin to you. They understand what they did was wrong, yet you still feel the sting of rejection and hurt. What do you do? Do you make them pay with your words? It's an easy out for me. I understand the temptation. But the writer of Proverbs gives us a better way. He tells us that repeating the sin will be the death of the relationship. And who hasn't seen that happen, right? But covering the offense is actually the loving thing to do.

So how do you "cover an offense"? Does simply saying "I forgive you" make it go away? Anyone who has ever tried reconciling knows that doesn't always cut it. Throughout scripture we are given a picture of God covering the offenses of his people. And we feel the tension of the Old Testament when God covered the offenses of the Israelites, yet they continued to go back to their sin. There needed to be a better, more complete covering, to deal with the magnitude of sin. When we are sinned against we feel it, too. I imagine that is why we feel the need to use our own words to wound. In our hurt we want the sinner to pay for what they have done to us, and in our pride we think our words will suffice.

But like the Israelites before us, there is nothing in us that will ever truly cover the offenses done against us and within us. This is why Christ had to come. Unlike the Israelites, we do have a way forward in covering the offenses of others. We live on the other side of the cross. As Paul tells us in Romans 3:25, Christ was our propitiation (our covering) for the sins we have committed (and will commit). It is only through his blood that we can truly be cleansed from our unrighteousness and covered with his righteousness.

So what does the propitiation of Christ have to do with our speech?


We can cover the offenses done against us because of the cross. The cross assures us that the sin done against us was paid for by Christ, if the offender is a believer. And if not, the cross assures us that one day Christ will come back and judge that sin on the last day. The bases regarding all sin committed against us are covered. There is nothing left for us to add to it.

This should free us in our conversations with others. When we are hurt, we can forgive because of Christ's blood and coming judgment. When we are offended, we can cover the offense because Christ has either paid for that offense or will judge it one day.

Jesus' blood is powerful enough to cleanse even the greatest offense we endure. He frees us to love, not hate when we are sinned against. He frees us to restrain our words in times of emotional crisis, and use our words for good, not evil. His blood shed for us is the means by which our speech is held back, even when our hearts tell us that our only defense is the dagger of our words. We can choose another way.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

How The Church Became Our Family

Most of us can recall a time where God gives us something we think will be the end of us, only to find out later that it was the exact thing God used to strengthen our faith—or give us a better portion than we could have hoped for. Maybe it’s the break-up with the person you were certain you would marry. Yet years later you meet another person, one more suited for you and better than you could have hoped for. Maybe it’s the dream job that fell through. Yet after another unlikely interview somewhere else you get the job you never even thought to dream of. God works like that, doesn’t he? Because he is sovereign, and we are not, his hand is in the details we cannot even see, let alone attempt to control.

When God withholds something from us, his purposes are always to give us something better. Of course, we may not perceive it as better at the time, or even in the immediate future. But he is good and we are not. He is wise and we are not. He can see infinitely into the future and we strain to see what is standing right in front of us. This is why we can trust him. I know for myself, some of the darkest moments of feeling as if God has completely abandoned me have turned out to be the moments where I ultimately saw him working in ways I could never have imagined. In the desert he is working to bring water to his thirsty children. In the storm he is our strong refuge who gives us a rainbow on the other side. He does not forget us, even if we feel forgotten sometimes.

For most of my adult life I have lived away from my family. I never thought much about it except on the occasional birthday or holiday when other members of my family were gathered together to celebrate and I was left to experience the party by telephone many miles away. I missed them, but I never thought I would live near them. My life didn’t lend itself to living in their proximity and I was okay with that. When Daniel and I got married, we appreciated the forging of a new family that came with living in a city away from both sets of parents and all of our siblings. It was good for us. When we moved to Arkansas we had a church, friends, and a whole lot of time with each other that made transitioning all the easier. Again, I didn’t think much about my life away from my parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews. I cherished the moments I got with them on holidays, but was content with where God had us.

Then we had twins.

There is something about becoming a momma that makes you long for your own momma, you know? Maybe it was the fact that I was pouring every ounce of energy, sleep, and whatever leftover adrenaline remained on two very tiny, dependent baby boys. I just needed my mom to come rub my head and let me take a nap on her. In God’s kindness, my mom came a lot to help in those early months of the twins’ life. But in the interim periods between her visits to help us I noticed a recurring pattern in my own life.

When it got hard I would threaten to pack up with the twins and move to Florida. If we had a dollar for every time I said I was going to do that in that first year I’m pretty sure we would be rich by now. Some of that particular threat was rooted in my own tendency towards escapism, but some of it was rooted in the fact that for the first time in my adult life I really, really missed being around family. Of course I missed them before this time, but this was different. As I watched my little boys grow up right before my eyes my heart broke knowing that our parents and others would only be able to experience this wonder through pictures and the occasional Skype call.

But there was something more serious in my cries of despair. I was missing the treasure of hope that God was literally laying at my feet nearly every week.

During the entire time the boys were in the NICU (five weeks) our church family brought us meals and gave me rides to the hospital. Because I had a C-section, I couldn’t drive up there every day and Daniel had to keep working, so without the rides I would only be able to see the boys once a day for a couple of hours. Many women in our church sacrificed their time to pick me up, drop me off, and pick me up again two hours later. They gave me rides to the store to pick up essentials we were missing. They brought us meals so I could rest when I wasn’t at the hospital. They were our family in the absence of blood relatives.

As the time has progressed and I am in a different season, my missing of my family has only intensified. But again, we have not been left alone. When Daniel travels, friends come to help me with the boys and keep me company. When we miscarried a few months ago, many women brought us meals as we grieved and recovered.

Yes, we miss our family. Yes, we wish our boys could grow up around our parents and their aunts, uncles, and cousins. But in their stead the church has become our family. They have cried with us, rejoiced with us, and served us like we were their own. If we had received the desires of our heart, namely the seeming ease of being around our own parents, we would have missed this beautiful picture of God’s family being joined together through Christ in our own lives.

God knew what I needed in those days of despair over missing my family. He could see what I couldn’t, that the church was my family. These people who he sent his son for were (and still are) my own through Christ’s blood. And I love them like my own family.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

"I Want to Read My Bible More" - Thoughts on TGCW14

It's been almost two weeks since I boarded a plane by myself to spend the weekend in Orlando listening to the Bible taught by godly men and women. In a lot of ways the daily realities of my life now make the time spent there seem like a distant memory. But the impact of the weekend has not left me, and I pray it doesn't for a long time.

This was the first TGC women's conference that I have ever been able to attend. Since it's only the second conference, I'm glad I'm not too far behind on the curve! But I did listen to all of the previous conference's plenary sessions, so going in to this conference I was eager to listen to some teachers I have never had the privilege of hearing much from before. Paige Benton Brown was one of them. I had a hard time making it to things on time while at the conference (maybe it's because I was childless for the weekend or maybe it's because I loved talking to people, or both), but I made sure to get a seat on time for her. Not only does listening to her speak make me passionate to know the Bible like she does, but she also opens up the scriptures for me in ways I never would have seen otherwise. She makes the Bible come alive and she makes her audience want to drink deeply from the fountain of God's word with her. I also went to her breakout session with my sister-in-law and we both left the session wanting to go spend some serious quality time examining the Bible for ourselves. She has a gift of making God's word appear as the treasure we often forget it is. I needed that desperately.

It's hard to capture the value of a weekend filled with teaching and fellowship with other likeminded women. Whether you spend your days with toddlers (like me) or spend your days staring at computer screen or some other daily grind, we all need rest and retreat. While there wasn't much sleeping (at least on my end), the fuel tank of my soul was filled to the brim. My husband says that everyone needs something like this every once in a while, especially if you struggle with discouragement or losing your joy in the midst of the mundane. And I was right there going into this conference. I didn't even know how much I needed the break and refreshment until I was there drinking it deeply.

More than anything I walked away from the conference with a renewed passion for God's word. Ever since the twins have been born, like many moms, I have struggled with finding joy in reading the Bible. My mind races about all that needs to get done instead of focusing on the words in front of me, or the moment I sit down to read I hear a baby cry. When I am in the midst of calm or silence, I find myself wanting to do other things (like watch TV or even read a book) rather than read God's word. Over the last 17 months I have wondered if I would ever delight in God's word again. I have had pockets of joy interspersed among the mainly dry valley of caring for twin boys.

But God met me in Orlando.

It wasn't with much fanfare or even in a burst of wisdom from the pages of scripture. I simply left with an excitement to read and study God's word. I left with a greater passion to write within the season God has given me and for his glory, not my own. I left with a love for God's people and a desire to see them love his word with all of their heart and mind.

It was good to be at TGCW14. It was good to see old friends and make new ones. It was good to see family. It was good to hear from God's word and see how God is moving in the lives of others. But more than anything, it was good to taste again the sweetness of God's word.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Headed to TGCW14

I had high hopes for this week. I was going to check things off my to-do list, get my house in order, and head out of town feeling like super mom (and wife). I also was praying for humility, having noticed pride lurking in my own heart. It tends to do that after I come off a period of manning the fort while Daniel is traveling. So in true prideful fashion, I was due for a good humbling. And it came in the form of a cold. At least at first. In rapid succession we all succumbed to it's viral power, the twins, then me, then Daniel. It destroyed any hopes of accomplishing anything besides blowing my nose and wiping two others this week. And I needed it.

In a moment of weakness, and sinful anger, I had a meltdown yesterday afternoon. This was not how I was supposed to leave for TGCW14. I was supposed to leave with blissful memories of a task list conquered and a house in order. Instead my husband is still sick and my heart still stings over my outburst yesterday.

I texted my sister-in-law in the midst of my difficult day, knowing she too was trying to get out of town for this weekend. When I told her how humbling the whole debacle had been she comforted me with these words:

"Isn't that a great place to be going into the conference?"


God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. The broken and contrite heart he doesn't despise. The meek inherit the earth. The weak are made strong by his strength.

Our pride is deadly. It keeps us from seeing God. It keeps us from hearing him speak clearly in his word. And that is what I need more than anything as I prepare for this weekend--to hear his word.

I don't know what your circumstances are coming into this conference. Or even if you aren't attending, you surely understand the war between our pride and fight for humility. Maybe you left a desk with piles of unfinished work and an inbox that never empties. Maybe you left piles of laundry and a fussy toddler. Maybe you left conflict unresolved with your husband and you don't know how to fix it. Maybe your family is broken and it weighs on you. Maybe your life resembles all of the above

I have good news.

That's a good place to be as you go to a conference to hear from God's word. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. May we all drink deeply from that grace this weekend.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Crossway Hosts Women of the Word Month in July

The summer is a time to slow down and enjoy the longer days. Some of you may even have a summer reading list that you are trying to work through (I have a loose list myself!). Maybe you are hoping to study the Bible more or are looking for a way to do so. If that's you, I have an exciting opportunity to tell you about.

During the month of July, will be hosting Women of the Word Month—a 31-day online campaign designed to encourage women to get in the Word and stay in the Word during the busy days of summer.

Timed with the publication of two important new resources from Crossway—Women of the Word by Jen Wilkin and the ESV Women’s Devotional Bible—the campaign will feature a daily email devotional, as well as practical blog posts and weekly video interviews with gifted Bible teachers. Contributors include Jen Wilkin, Kathy Keller, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Gloria Furman, Paul David Tripp, Kristyn Getty, and more.
The best news? It's entirely FREE! That's right. It's free of charge, my friends. What more reason do you need to sign up?
So I hope you will join me for Women of the Word Month. I'm excited to dig in and see what God will do.

For more information or to sign up, go to



Wednesday, June 18, 2014

God Created Male and Female, and It Was Good

The first time I ever heard the word complementarian was while sitting in a pew at Bethlehem Baptist Church. I can't remember the exact moment, but I knew it was a new concept for me. My early years as a believer were spent sitting under the ministry of John Piper and the elders of Bethlehem. When I walked through those doors my first Sunday I didn't know what "sovereign" meant, let alone how important it was that I was made female and not male. But in my three formative years there I drank abundantly from the spiritual water of God's word. When I walked out of those doors for the last time as a member, I was a changed woman. 

My belief in God's good design for men and women was merely an unwatered seed, planted by my Christian mom and dad, in my early Christian days. The weekly proclamation of God's word that came out of that pulpit watered that little seed. And God made it grow.

That's why I am so thankful to have contributed to this new E-book on God's good design in creating us male and female. In the pages of this book you will find a dozen young complementarians who are committed to proclaiming God's glory in how he created us. They want you to see your purpose as an image bearer of our Creator. And they want you to find joy in your differences. 

You want to hear something even better? It's entirely FREE. That's right, free

If you want a fresh understanding of what it looks like to live as male or female and find joy in God's good plan, I encourage you to download this book

(My chapter is on my recovery from feminism)

Monday, June 16, 2014

A Run to Remember

On Saturday our family had the opportunity to run in our first 5k as a family of four. Daniel and I ran one together before we were married, but it hardly counted as a run since I could barely walk the whole thing. This time it meant something to us. We ran in the Race to Remember, which benefits an organization called Mamie's Poppy Plates. This organization provides hand painted plates of footprints and birth stats to families who have lost a child in early infancy or in pregnancy. While we have never experienced infant loss or stillbirth, we have lost two babies to miscarriage and felt like this race was a worthy cause to give our time to.

Leading up to the race I was really anxious and I couldn't put my finger on it. As I drove to pick up our race packets on Friday it hit me. I was aware that running in a race in memory of the two babies we have lost put our grief right out into the open. Of course, it's a race to remember, so it's only fitting that I would remember the babies we don't have with us. It felt so raw and in my face to take part in something that put my loss out in the open. The Internet is one thing. Looking people in the eye who have experienced similar (and far more horrific) losses to my own was freeing and excruciating.

As we stepped inside the park to join the pre-race festivities I felt my self-conscious fear melt away. Everywhere I looked there were families in shirts bearing the names of the babies they have lost. I made a point to read and process every precious name on every shirt. Names of lives desperately wanted. Names of babies who were gone far too soon. Names of boys, girls, full term, premature, and sick babies who never made it through their first few moments of life outside the womb, if they even got that far.

And that was the point.

Every person who chose to run that race on Saturday knew they were running for something more than themselves. Grandfathers ran in honor of their grandchildren. Brothers ran in honor of their sisters. Cousins ran in honor of their cousins. Aunts and uncles ran for their nieces and nephews. And mothers ran for their babies. I read those names because like their family members, I want to remember that their lives mattered, even if they were brief.

The beauty of memory is that we are given the chance to remember what is most precious to us. Even if it is laced with pain, we still have the hope that our memories remind us of happier days. God did not need to bless us with this gift, but he did. Throughout the Bible he tells us to remember, most importantly to remember his kindness to us. On Saturday, like many other mothers who have babies no longer with them, I remembered not just the lives lost, but the goodness of God in the midst of the pain. God gives and God takes away and his name is always worthy of my praise.

(Before the race there was a balloon release in memory of the babies who have died. If you had an early pregnancy loss before you knew the gender you received a white balloon. If you look closely, the above picture is of our two white balloons floating away.)

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A Father's Delight

On Saturday we took the twins to an unused baseball field to let them run around in the outfield. Both boys are at a point in their life where running is their top priority. Since our backyard is fairly uneven, rocky, and has a variety of levels, it's not really conducive for toddler activities. So we have been brainstorming about ways to help them burn their restless energy. And that is how our Saturday activity was born.

Daniel noticed the baseball field when he was playing tennis earlier that morning. He could hardly wait for the twins to wake from their nap so we could take them out to play. In his fatherly imagination it was going to be a great time. And it was. From the minute we got there both boys could hardly contain their excitement. Zach, who is a little more active than Luke, ran for the entirety of our time there. As he ran through the grass, from one end to the other, he screamed and laughed like we had never heard before. Both of their faces expressed such joy, that in turn made us joyful. As we drove home from our time there (they ran for thirty minutes straight and were dripping sweat!), we couldn't stop talking about how much fun we had. But what struck us was how our excitement was simply owing to the delight we saw in our children. For those thirty minutes Zach and Luke were filled with unbridled joy in doing what they were made to do, which for 16 month old boys is to run and run and run until you can't run anymore. And we felt every bit of that joy.

As I've reflected on this experience more I have been amazed at how kind God is to give us such beautiful, living, tangible metaphors to understand the depth of his love for us. So many of our earthly realities are designed to point us to the perfect heavenly one that is waiting for us. Through our very lives we are living these metaphors. But even more than that we get to experience a taste of the beauty the metaphor is describing. When I think of how happy I was to see my boys enjoy something so small as running in an open field, it pales in comparison to God's delight in giving us good gifts. He loves seeing his children appreciate and find joy in the good gifts he gives so freely.

But more than that his gifts to us are always for our good. We took our sons to an open field, and not our backyard, because we know what is best for them. We know they want to run. We know they love being outside. But we also know that four foot tall drop-offs and rocky terrain are not the best places for wobbly toddlers. So we took them to a place that was better for them. We didn't withhold the gift. We simply gave it parameters and a better context. If the twins had only known the rocks, broken sticks, and uneven landscape of our backyard they would never have known the wonder of a flat open field where they could run with abandon for hours.

God is infinitely more loving and wise than that. He delights in giving us good gifts. And even when those gifts are withheld or seem far away, he is not doing so arbitrarily. He has a purpose. He has greater joy awaiting us. In our finite minds we would settle for the rocky terrain and uneven landscape, when in God's perfect wisdom he has open fields just around the corner.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Who Our Speech Addresses

I have been really helped by reflecting on the image of God lately. Every human being, male or female, healthy or unhealthy, infant or elderly, bears God's image (Gen. 1:26-27). This has profound implications for how we live. It means that our life has value. It means our gifts and abilities mean something. It means that our very lives tell a story about who God is and what he is like. But it also has implications for our human relationships. We don't murder someone because he or she bears the image of God (Ex. 20:13). We don't abuse someone because he or she bears the image of God.

We also don't use our words to hurt him or her because that person bears the image of God. 

Did you catch that? That's often the hardest to pinpoint in our own lives and also the easiest to forget.

In the heat of the moment it is easy to forget who we are talking to or about. A friend hurts our feelings and all we want to do is vent to another friend about how terribly she has treated us. We want vindication. We want our hurt feelings to be mended. We want someone, anyone, to see that we were wronged. What we really want, is for that friend to pay for what she did. So we talk about her. We malign her character with our wounded pride and heart.

Or maybe you hit things head on. I get that. I'm not one to be afraid of a fight. Your family member says something that bothers you. Maybe he hurts your feelings, too. Or maybe he just misunderstood what you were trying to say, so you push back. But your harmless quip turns into a full blown attack. Next thing you know you are spewing memories of pain from months ago, rather than focusing on the conflict at hand.

Besides the need for serious conflict resolution, what has each person forgotten in each scenario?

There is a person at the other end of their rhetoric. 

Our feelings tell us that our wants, pain, and frustration must be realized in the confrontation or humiliation of the one who wronged us. But our feelings aren't ultimate. Of course, conflict must be resolved. Of course, relationships need to be mended. But always in the context of Jesus' words that we must do to others as we would have done to us (Luke 6:31).

Why does Jesus say it in that way? Because not only does he understand our own inherent need to protect ourselves (which in turn allows us to understand the command), but also because he understands our standing as image bearers. We treat others the same way we would treat our very bodies and souls because we all bear the image of our Creator.

Our words have lasting implications. We can all probably pinpoint, to our shame, a memory where our speech has failed us and painfully failed another. Our speech never falls into an empty void, but always addresses a person. A person created in the image of God.

This is the first post in an occasional series on speech. I address why I started this series here.

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

A Series on Speech

I'm a talker. My parents say I haven't stopped talking since I uttered my first words. I'm pretty sure all of my former school teachers and husband would agree. I've been known to get in trouble with my love of talking. From being told to go back to my cubicle at work for talking about "things that weren't work related" to speaking my mind in the heat of an argument, my words can hurt me sometimes. I want to talk well. I want to use my personality, talkative nature, and ability not for my own benefit but for God's glory. He created me, which means he created me with a mouth that likes to move. But I'm also a sinner. Which means, my mouth that likes to move often moves in unhelpful ways.

So in an effort to help myself I'm going to be blogging about speech for a little bit. I will probably interject a random post here and there as ideas move me, but because I learn through writing I'm hoping that this little writing exercise will bear fruit in my life. Maybe you can relate, dear reader. Maybe you, like me, like to move your mouth and want it to move for good and not evil. We are in this together. I hope you will join me for the ride.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Grace for the Humble

I'm not a humble person. In fact, pride is a sin that I daily have to crucify. I hate my pride and its many manifestations in my life. And I want desperately to be humble, to possess humility. Because pride is an affront to the truth of the gospel, God delights in answering prayers that ask for more humility. It is in our humbling that we see our desperate need for Christ. I think that is why Peter reminds his readers, and us, that "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble" (1 Peter 5:5).

The Bible talks a lot about pride and humility, from direct commands like 1 Peter 5 to giving us flesh and blood examples like Moses, David, Solomon, Absalom, and others. The most vivid picture of humility is found in our Christ, who Paul says "humbled himself to death" (Phil. 2:8). He embodied humility perfectly. The Bible often talks about our posture before him, which should be none other than utmost humility and fear, and we see consequences for those who do otherwise (2 Chron. 33:23). Jesus tells us that if we humble ourselves we will actually be exalted, but if we act in pride we will be brought low (Matt. 23:13, Luke 14:11). Humility is an often commanded, difficult to make happen, heart condition for the Christian.

But God does not leave us to our own prideful hearts.

Daniel often reminds us of the verse from 1 Peter, that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. In moments of deep humbling it is a mercy to reflect on the fact that God is humbling us because he loves us. To stay in our pride is to be the recipient of his opposition. To be humbled is to receive his grace. So when I am confronted with my sin against my husband or family member, make an embarrassing mistake that many people see, or dealing with a toddler tantrum in a public place, it is helpful to remember that these moments of humbling are not evidences of God's abandonment. They are in fact the exact opposite. They are reminders of his kindness towards me. God will have no spoiled children. He will have no self-sufficient children either. It is only when I'm on my face in humility that I can truly stand in his presence.

I want to be humble. It's a scary prayer to say out loud "Lord, make me humble," because we never know what it will take. I know it takes a lot to humble me, but I want to receive it as a mercy from his loving hand. He wants me humble so he can give me more grace. He wants me humble so I will worship him with an undivided heart. So I pray, Lord, make me humble.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

A Quiet Month

It's been a quiet month around here. Sorry for that! My book is due June just a few days away. I've been in the thick of editing, chasing around busy 15 month olds, and hanging out with my mom who came for a short visit. But I will be back in June. Thanks for sticking with me in the silence.

To tide you over, here is a picture of the twinsies. They seem the make the silence on this site all the more bearable, right!?!? Maybe I'm a little biased. Back to writing. See you on the other side!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

On Five Years of Marriage

Marriage is one of those things that you think you know all about and then you get blindsided by the reality that what you thought you knew really was nothing at all. At least it was that way for me. Before we got married I thought a lot of things about marriage. I had high expectations. I expected that we would spend endless amounts of time together. We would relax at the end of a long day and watch television and read together. We would explore our city and go out to eat at fun new restaurants. But those things take time and money, none of which we had a lot of as we got married in the middle of Daniel's seminary career. I expected all that we knew about manhood and womanhood and conflict and resolution would somehow just fall into place. But textbook and real life are two very different ballgames. I expected more children, easy pregnancies, and a different career path. None of those things is true of our life together. Earlier this week Daniel and I both read a helpful article on what to do when your twenties aren't what you hoped they would be. We can relate. We got married in our twenties and they weren't what we thought they would be. In some ways they were better and in others much, much harder. But we do know one thing:

We are not the same people today that we were five years ago.

And for that we are grateful.

Marriage has been a good and hard road of unexpected turns and circumstances. I have seen firsthand what it means to be loved in sickness and in health. Daniel has held my hand as I've been wheeled off for one surgery, one C-section, and one D&C. He wept with me through two miscarriages and two years of infertility. He has held my hand through uncertain ultrasounds with a high risk pregnancy and made me dinner when pregnancy hormones made the smell of the oven too much for a queasy stomach to handle. He has loved me through happiness and tears. He has stood with me during multiple middle of the night feedings and daily visits to the NICU. He has loved me fiercely. We have laughed over things that only we think are funny and talked passionately about things that only we can understand. There is no one else I would rather spend my days with, even if they are hard and good and messy and crazy.

But like all marriages, ours is far from perfect. We know what it's like to fight on date night and go to bed frustrated. We know what it's like to feel distant even when you are sitting right next to each other. When we said "I do," five years ago, we felt a rush of emotion and never wanted it to end. We know what it's like for that emotion to wane and then come back with greater intensity than there ever was before.

What I've learned in these short five years is that I have a lot to learn. We are not where we want to be, but are glad we get to walk this road together. We know less today than we did five years ago, but by God's grace are not the same as we were that joyous day either. I've learned that no marriage is perfect. Every marriage has its quirks and blind spots, but the beautiful thing is it is ours. This story is our story. With all of its tears, disagreements, laughter, and silliness, it is ours. God has joined us together and he is making us into a picture of himself.

God knew what I needed when he gave me Daniel Reissig five years ago. And I wouldn't have it any other way. Here's to fifty more, babe.