great things in 2016

As I look back and reflect on 2015, one thing is loud and clear to me: the year 2015 looked absolutely nothing like I anticipated upon entering it.

We had no idea there would be a sudden job change for my husband, or that we would begin homeschooling our daughter, and, perhaps least of all, that we would witness the birth of a second child, our son.

In these last few weeks since his arrival, in the very early hours, when my house is dark, before the cats are prowling around meowing (screaming) for food, before my daughter is up giving me fashion makeovers, before my husband wakes me for a moment to say to goodbye before leaving for the day…I have held my newborn son. 

I have liked to sit in his room, in the watches, in those early dark hours, and hold him. I have liked to hold him and stare at him, sitting in the old feeble rocking chair I found for a dollar and my dad fixed up for me. 

I have stared at him, and I have cried. I have cried because his chubby round face, so still and so perfect and so lovely, makes me ever so grateful. It brings to my mind all that God has brought about for my family; the external evidences he has given that demonstrate the internal workings he has done. The realized and unrealized burdens that he has lifted, and the quiet joy that he has brought to our souls because of how incredibly merciful he has shown himself to be to us.

I see its realness when I look in my husband’s eyes and see a brightness there. I see its authenticity when I watch my daughter’s selfless attitude and deep love towards her new baby brother. I see its freedom when I search my own heart, and feel the need for his continual mercy.

Watching my family live life, and living it in light of the mercy of our great God, is an astounding, blessed, grace-filled, holy gift; it is a gift that I could never have before imagined until I lived this life, with these people, before this God. It makes my soul fall upon its knees in speechless wonderment. It makes my mind desire to lift itself up to the throne of grace. It makes my heart tremble with humility before the One who has so cheered my flailing, burdened spirit. 

What will this next year hold for us? For me? My husband? My children? Our family? I have made a few plans, a few goals. I want to grow in commitment to the tasks God places before me, and so I pray that I choose to keep at these tasks, and not willingly go my own way in the things I take on.

But above all… in the midst of all that, really…I want to watch God at work, as I have watched him work this year, and the years before it. I want to continue to see my family live life as he works in our hearts to deepen our knowledge of himself. I want to watch him move among the people of my church, opening eyes and deepening faith. I want to watch him expand his flock, bringing the straying and the wandering to the safety of his eternal care. I want to join in singing with the angels, as they rejoice over souls saved. Though I have vision and thoughts and ideas for 2016, I’d much rather it look nothing like I anticipate. I want God to astonish and astound me with his plans and works. I want to end 2016 much like I am ending 2015; in speechless, tearful, joy-filled thanksgiving and praise. 

And so for 2016, my prayers for myself, my family, my church, my community, is this:

Nothing exceeds thy power,

Nothing is too great for thee to do,

Nothing is too good for thee to give.

 Infinite is thy might, boundless thy love,

 limitless thy grace, glorious thy saving name.

Let angels sing for sinners repenting, prodigals restored,

 backsliders reclaimed, Satan’s captives released,

 blind eyes opened, broken hearts bound up,

 the despondent cheered, the self-righteous stripped,

 the formalist driven from a refuge of lies,

 the ignorant enlightened,

 and saints built up in their holy faith.

I ask great things of a great God. 

– from The Valley of Vision

praise to the only One

The layers of my personality and my sin, and how they interact and fit together are deep. Unfathomable. The only one who can probe those depths truly is the one who knit me together in my mother’s womb and who remembers every moment of my life; every motive, every memory, every decision, and every circumstance prompting all that I’ve done or didn’t do. I remember so little of my life; how could I really ever know myself truly or interpret myself accurately? I must interpret in light of God’s truth, revealed in his Word, and believe that what he says of me is sufficient for all my time here on earth.
In light of the knowledge that I cannot fully comprehend all my motives or reasons for acting, I can still see a pattern of sin that is not uncommon to many. It is the lack of putting whole effort into something, and the desire to do ‘just enough’ to get by. When faced with the flaws of one’s personality, thoughts can become daunting, and lead to a variety of fears that stifle any attempt to be truly wholehearted in what she is supposed to do.
It can be discouraging, and cause sorrow upon sorrow, to recognize that instead of being mastered by the God who knows the depths of one’s personality, we can let ourselves be mastered instead by the fear of what may be. 

Sometimes, the fear of what may be is the resultant pride that could be waiting on the other side of a good effort put forth, and it can cripple. When fearing pride is the current ruling master of one’s thoughts, it can be a paralyzing idea that pride will again be the same ruler after all is said and done. Then, instead of putting out the effort, all effort is stifled and avoided, and God is not glorified.

I think of this and wonder, has anyone really, ever given their all? Even among the “competitive” personalities? Are there really those who have given their every effort, worked truly hard and diligently, for whatever it is they do? And after all is said and done, after this wholehearted effort given, is there truly any who have ever done it purely? Who, when on the other side of their hard work, have finished and received praise for a job well done, and have actually responded rightly? Who have not bowed down and submitted themselves to the rule of pride?

Surely there must only be one. One, who did his task with all his energy, all his willpower, all his strength. Yes, there was one, and it was Christ. It was he alone who worked hard, wholeheartedly, tirelessly, enduringly, non-competitively, without apathy, without laziness, and fearing nothing about results from his completed task.

It was Christ, who, on the other side, when the job was done and done well, remained constant and unchanged in personality, in motive, in response, in mindset, in goals, in priorities, and in role. It was he who remained focused on his purpose, determined to continue on to the next task, continuing his work, and continuing in obedience. Who did not attempt to do more or less than what his assignment was, but rather did exactly what he was meant for. There has only been one who knew himself truly, knew his ability, and knew that instead of ever being ruled by the sin of pride, he alone had the authority to conquer it.

This ought to convict us, humble us, and also give us great peace. It ought to put our minds and thoughts in a right place as we see our gifts, tasks, talents, and roles in light of what Christ did and how he did it. Even when our personalities are inclined to give valiant effort in tasks he gives us, our imperfect perfection cannot compare to his perfect perfection. Our personality and sin working together is unfathomably deep to us, but it is not to him. He knew this as he went forth in his task. It takes wholehearted effort to empty oneself in order to bring wholehearted assurance to the one who cannot.

Praise to the One who gives us the opportunity and the command to press on and forget what lies behind us! The half efforts, the false efforts, the fear or pride, and the shame of it all. And praise to the One who gives us cause to look forward and strive forward in faith as we find assurance in him that all our efforts to follow him, serve him, obey him, adore him – feeble though they may be – will be happily and gladly seen by the God who created us and understands us better than we understand ourselves, in light of his Son’s valiant, complete effort.

Sometimes I look back on the memories of my first pregnancy and wish I could forget them. Marriage was in one of those “rough patches,” my relationship with God felt lonely and confusing, and life in general felt uncertain. After coming out of that season, I was ashamed of my faithlessness and my lack of holding to truth, and committed to myself that if I was ever pregnant again, I would glorify God through it, somehow.

The years have passed since then. My love for God has been refined, clarified, and made firmer. And through many tears, many prayers, and many stories that very few know or understand, seven years later here I am today, expecting our second child.

Expecting my second child, in the very throw of pregnancy, having that same question in my mind nearly all the time, “How is God glorified through this?” I read and hear much about that after birth, when the baby is crying all night, when the children are begging for your attention. But what about during pregnancy? Does anybody talk about that? Maybe I missed it.

How is God glorified when I can’t keep food down, when I gag at every turn, when headaches linger all day long, when I feel faint and weak and start blacking out? When I can barely exercise anymore because I’ll be out of breath in a minute, and am practically passing out when I stand for long anyways? When my doctor prescribes an inhaler to use during the night when I wake up gasping for breath?

When my brain thinks and feels and acts like a million, soft, delightful, easy going, clear, blissful, shiny bubbles filling and floating the clear blue sky?

At first, I thought I was failing. My normal tendency is to be in God’s Word, to be reading, studying, asking questions, helping, serving. But this pregnancy thing, it has thrown me off. Already. Before baby has come. I feel miserable a lot. There is a good sized lump on my belly now, hindering my movement. At 17 weeks I started getting some pretty strong kicks that, although thrilling and exciting and evidence of life, I confess were already starting to annoy me with their constant prodding and poking.

I thought I was failing because I had no energy to do hardly anything wholeheartedly like I normally do. I was falling asleep during my studies. Reading my Bible and the books that I normally did were giving me headaches and making me sick. I could tell my poor daughter was feeling deprived and missing my usual attentions. My sweet husband never complained when he came home from work and had to clean everything, do everything, go everywhere for me.

I thought I was failing until I remembered that this pregnancy isn’t about me. Perhaps that is what made it so hard to endure the first time around; I was focused on how this pregnancy affected me, what lovely thing was coming to me, what suffering was coming to me, what joy was coming to me.

But this isn’t about me. It’s about God, and how he is bringing about new life. It’s about God forming something new in my womb, breathing life into it, and molding its very being. My daughter was asking about why she had so many freckles the other day, and we talked about God planning and making those freckles even when she was growing inside me. Just like he’s doing with this new baby on the way.

When the focus is off of me for a moment and on to Christ, I stop always asking the generic question “how do these miseries even glorify God?” And I start asking things like, “How can I die to self in this season? How can I sacrifice my life, for the sake of this life inside of me? How can I give my all to this season? How can I let go of my wants and desires the way Christ did for me? How can I endure for the sake of Christ?” If all I do is ponder over and over the beauty of Christ’s humility on the cross, remember his suffering in light of my suffering, and remind myself that there are other believing, suffering, pregnant ladies out there, enduring the same “trial” to varying degrees, and we do it together, and we do it for his sake and not our own, is that not how he might be glorified?

Oh blessed thought! That those floating bubbles of my mind would be full of the glory of the cross as I lie awake in the watches of the night, and remember that it is for his sake I carry this little lump around. What a glorious thought! That as I sit hovering over my toilet spilling my guts out into it, with my knees already bowed on the bathroom floor, my mind would be confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father!

Serving and reading and studying and praying and teaching and meeting with friends all look a little different for me right now. And after 7 years of being in a routine and expanding that routine in lovely ways, this longed-for and waited-for and prayed-for pregnancy is a slight interruption in the way I do my life. But oh, what a unique interruption in order to learn about sacrifice and humility! What a blessed time to learn about laying down my life, my pride, my desires, my ambitions, for the sake of another.

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:8-11

I signed my daughter up for her first running race. When I told her about it, she was worried about winning. “Mommy, do you win the races you do?” “No, I’ve never won any of my races, Maddie. I don’t do it to win; I just do it for fun. Because I enjoy it, I have fun when I’m running.”

This has been on my mind since, and I’ve thought, is this all I run for? Because it’s fun? Because I enjoy it? Hasn’t God taught me much about my faith and hasn’t he shown me much about the motives of my heart, the priorities in my life, and the glory that he alone must and shall receive in all my slow running efforts? Lord forgive me for keeping my mouth shut about his goodness and his glory in that moment with her.

This morning, the two of us went out to “practice running.” She chattered away about a fly and the birds she heard and anything else that came to her mind. She did well, I was proud of her. She didn’t complain once (!!), and towards the end of our run, I encouraged her with the kinds of truths I should have done before. “God can teach us a lot through running, Maddie. He teaches us about perseverance and endurance. Remember how we learned that he wants us to run to him in prayer? We can learn to keep running to him in prayer and in the Word as we learn how to run with our legs. We learn to keep going, we learn to endure, and we learn to keep running. Thank you God, for our strong legs so that we can keep running! Teach us to run to you!”

And as we finished, I said to her, “Way to go Maddie! You did it! You persevered and endured to the end!” She had a big smile on her face.

It made me think, might this be the kind of thing we teach our children? Whether we run, swim, or cycle, whether we play basketball, soccer, tennis or golf…might the disciplines we learn in these activities translate into biblical exhortations for our children? Because, if we assume they’ll know how to glorify God in these ventures, we assume wrong.

And what about us? What do they see in us as they watch us? What motives do they see? What words do they hear? Is it all about losing weight? Being great? Looking great? Winning? Staying healthy? And, is this all it’s really about for us? Those are all valid reasons but for the believer, is it all it can be about?

This is what the world would tell us. But God has given several reminders in his Word that his people are not to think like the world thinks. We are to think differently, to believe differently, and to be motivated differently.

For the believer, physical training is good but it is secondary. For the believer, we are to love God first with all our mind, soul, and strength.

Our children will see our priorities. Christian, do you seek your exercise more than his Word? What, believer, is your daily priority? How do you honor God with your motives in exercise?

If we are to exalt Christ in our own minds, if we are to work as unto the Lord in all matters, if we are to proclaim Christ in this life, surely we must do this in our exercise, too. We can’t leave it out. How can we teach our children to thank God for food in our bellies, sweet friends, and good daddies, and ignore the state of their hearts towards their physical activities? When we sign them up for dance, soccer, swimming, tennis…do we even mention how God can be honored in these activities? Teaching them to be healthy, to develop good skills, and to relate to others is good. But translating it through the lense of the gospel is best.

When we say exercise keeps us healthy and strong…let’s say it keeps us healthy and strong so that we are physically able to serve the Lord; legs ready, hands prepared and minds alert to do the task when it comes.

When we say it develops good skills and disciplines…let’s say it does so in order to prepare us for the work God has for us and to ready us to enter his Kingdom; endurance, perseverance, commitment, focus.

When we say it nurtures friendships and teaches us to work as a team…let’s say it gives us every opportunity for God to grow us in Christ-likeness; bearing spiritual fruit in our hearts, as we learn patience, faithfulness, kindness, and love.

Let’s not think like the world thinks about exercise. For those of us who want this to be a priority in our own lives and in the lives of our children…whether we do it “for fun” or whether we do it “to lose weight,” let’s be silent ourselves for a moment before the Lord, and search our own hearts. Let’s allow God to reveal how little we may have prioritized him in these things, how we may have demonstrated to our children worldly perspectives in these areas, and repent. Our children are watching us, learning from us, and following our examples. Let’s make a commitment to put prayer and the Word first in our life, exercise second, and let God teach us how to teach our children the same.


an evidence of maturity

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;

fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:7

My husband and I just began reading through Proverbs together today. After a few observations upon the text, our conversation went something like this:

I never want to be in a place where I despise wisdom and instruction, and become a fool…Sometimes I think I’m a fool in little ways, maybe not in the grand, bigger direction of my life, but in daily things. Like…the way I respond to someone who gives me instruction.

I am amazed at two of my friends, Leah and Mackenzie. They are two of the most teachable people I know in moments of “confrontation.” I have seen this about each of them for years. How many times have I asked them questions? Held them accountable? Taught them something that maybe they didn’t really want to know in the first place? Offered my unsolicited opinions? How many times? How many? It feels like countless times, to me.

These two women in my life demonstrate a much greater level of spiritual maturity in times of “personal confrontation” than I seem to in similar circumstances. I think, these two friends of mine, how often have they asked me? Held me? Taught me? Offered to me? Or perhaps better phrased to suit my meaning, how often have I let them?

In those moments of addressing sin, wrong perceptions, or false perspectives, I have to be careful. Me, who “discerns” and “picks up” on things, can pretty easily cross the line of acting with wisdom, and step easily into foolishness. Me, who may view myself as “mature” in those moments of addressing “issues,” and as being one who “doesn’t let things go left unspoken,” at times can really be quite immature. Self-righteousness has a way of creeping up even in the midst of obedience.

I wonder, if there is ever a lack of people around us – wise, discerning, grace-filled and loving people – letting us know about our own misconceptions and sin, and if it seems that we never grieve anyone or wrong anyone ever… if this actually reveals a place of immaturity? Perhaps pride has creeped in unawares. Perhaps people see some unteachableness in our hearts, some self-righteousness in our attitudes. Perhaps we have given ourselves and others a false perception of our own maturity. I wonder this, about myself, mostly.

And, these thoughts lead me to wonder also, are we quick to go to others and confess our sin because we really are convicted? Or because we want to “beat them to punch” so to speak, before they have a chance to confront us? Are we confessing out of self-righteous motives? Wanting to avoid dealing with the pride we must fight, and those feelings of defending and justifying our actions if someone corrected us? Is it a way of making sure others know our “rightness” in our right decisions and our “obedience” in our obedience? I admit to you I see these schemes in my own heart at times.

Ah, but glory be to God, these ponderings of the heart cause me to cry! Glory be to God who gives us people of wisdom, people who know prudence, people who have insight and understanding! Because when we are confronted with sin, when others teach us, when there are those who may have a correction or recommendation for us, it is opportunity to not be a fool who despises wisdom and instruction. It is opportunity to grow in righteousness and humility, and it is opportunity to grow in the fear of the Lord. All glory, we can cry, to the one who saw our self-righteous, foolish ways, and provided his Son to die for this need, too.

My son, if you receive my words…you will

understand the fear of the LORD

and find the knowledge of God.

Proverbs 2:1, 5