4 Things to be Thankful for in the Midst of Sickness

There is weariness I've experienced this season, because it seems like every other week since September, someone has been sick in our house.  This is mostly due to the fact that we have 3 very young children, 2 of which have yet to understand the concept of keeping their hands out of their mouth.  Not to mention, keeping things from passing around our own family is extremely difficult.  Gabe and Cal share everything, and even when I'm super intentional about keeping cups and pacis straight, they will just swap behind my back.  Sickness is just going to happen.  There is no way around it.

The hardest thing about sickness, however, is my own heart.  When myself, my husband, or my kids are sick, it's really easy for me to moan and groan.  It's one area where the discomfort and stress overwhelm me, and most of my thoughts turn to complaining instead of praise.  This is frustrating, because deep down, I want to be able to approach each life circumstance with a spirit of thanksgiving and humble acceptance of God's sovereign plan.  So I'm sharing these reasons today, because I need to hear them.  I need to be reminded that there are reasons to praise in the midst of throw up, dozens of dirty diapers, runny noses, and fevers.  And being that we are getting ready to go into family settings where germs are bound to be passed, I need to get my heart ready to joyfully endure whatever comes our way.

Here are a few lessons I'm trying to take to heart in the midst of this never-ending-ridiculously-cold-sickly-winter:
1.  I'm thankful that we are healthy most of the time.
When I (or my husband or my kids) feels sick, it's the worst...we boo hoo about it, but honestly, when someone is throwing up again, all I have to do is remind myself that it is going to pass.  Then I sit and think, "what if this was our 'normal' everyday life due to a medical problem or treatment?"  I wonder, "what would life be like if one of our children had an ongoing illness, and not just a virus?"  These short bouts of sickness really do remind me to be VERY thankful that some stomach bugs and low fevers are all we have to worry about.  There are much worse and life altering medical issues we could be dealing with.

2.  I'm thankful that God made our bodies to heal themselves.
In my opinion, throwing up is one of the worst physical feelings....maybe second only to labor pains.  Not to speak of the discomfort that comes from chills, fevers or body aches.  But honestly, they serve a great purpose.  God did a miraculous job creating our immune systems to know how to fight off normal illnesses successfully.  If he didn't make our bodies in a way that caused us to throw up when we got sick, they might be overcome by the virus.  He is a God of restoration, and although it's sometimes uncomfortable, I'm thankful that usually, our bodies DO restore themselves instead of giving over to death.

3.  I'm thankful for the reminder that I'm not in control.
You know what happens when I'm feeling sick?  Nothing.  I'm weak, powerless, and stuck in bed.  I tend to think I'm pretty put together and self-sufficient, but all it takes is a few measly germs to totally hinder my ability to even complete simple tasks.  We are so fragile, and it's amazing that for as 'in control' as we think we are, all of our plans can be instantly affected by illness.  And although we can support our body in it's healing, we are powerless to just 'end' our own suffering.  What a good reminder that God is sovereign, and only because of his grace are we able to function day after day.

4.  I'm thankful that sickness will not exist for believers in eternity.
The bible says that someday, His children will experience no more sickness, death, or pain.  So illness might be dominating now, but after this life, that will NEVER happen again for all of eternity.  I am reminded that on this Earth where sin and death exist, my body is in a constant state of decay.  But because I have faith in Christ, this will not always be, and someday I will experience final restoration.  Praise God!

It's pretty hard to feel thankful when sickness is hanging around, but the bible compels me to...
  • "Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." 1 Thessalonians 5:18
  • "Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good..." Psalm 107:1
  • "...giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father..." Ephesians 5:20
There are a TON of verses spurring us on towards an attitude of thanksgiving in all things.  I don't know about you, but I'm a poster-child for wanting God to just release me from tough circumstances instead of trusting his purposes in the midst of them.  So this winter, I'm learning to say, "Thank you God for how you reveal your glory in sickness, please achieve your purposes in and through even this."  Amen!

Technology and the Glory of God: Some thoughts & takeaways

Recently, Brad and I had the opportunity to attend a one day seminar on "Technology and the Glory of God" with Matt Perman and Tim Challies.  I'll admit that I'd been looking forward to this from the moment it popped into my email inbox.  Partially because I greatly admire both of the speakers (and could barely believe they were coming to a church within walking distance of my house), but also because the topic of technology has stirred up so many questions in my heart over the last couple of years.  So without further ado, here are some thoughts and takeaways from the day:

Do I have a plan and a system for my life?
Sometimes qualities like "productivity" and "efficiency" can seem like they are in opposition to God's great commission for us to love others and make disciples, but according to Matt Perman, that really isn't the case.  It is by and through prayerful planning, developing systems for managing tasks, and working to create good habits, that we are most effective at loving our neighbor to God's glory.  This is a freeing and exciting shift in thinking, and makes me even more motivated to leave this mentality of "survival" that I often live in.  Most of my days are spent taking care of the urgent and important needs of others, like changing diapers, making meals, putting on clothes, etc.  It can seem impossible to take care of things that are important but not urgent, like ironing my husband's shirts, developing a love of reading with my children, and training them to do important life skills.  I know it is possible and necessary for me to (by God's power and grace) take care of these non-urgent needs as well, and that starts with having a system for how I manage my home and my day.  Any good manager has a plan, so why should a homemaker, wife and mom be any exception?  Running my home without a plan and strategy is foolish, and will cause me to spend my life in reactionary mode.

How do I handle the distractions of technology?
Specifically, how do I handle the devices in our home (and on my person) which can cause distraction and information paralysis?  Do I have a strategy and accountability to keep my iphone from becoming my igod?  If my first reaction is to always check social media or repetitively check email all day, is that really an effective way to interact with technology?  And how is that impacting my ability to manage my home?  Maybe the distractions and pull of social media and online connection is some of what distracts from my ability to take care of these non-urgent but important responsibilities I have as a wife and mom.

Do I actively think about how I can use technology for God's glory?
Am I prayerful about what I post?  Have I evaluated some of the risks and pitfalls of my social media and internet usage?  Do I know my own weaknesses and do I fervently guard against those sins?  It is easy to just passively use Facebook, Instagram, Blogs, etc. and not really think critically about how they might impact others.  Technology is not bad in and of itself, it's just a tool.  And more and more, I want to harness and use that tool for redemptive purposes, to do good to others and share the gospel.  Some days that might involve sharing a snippet of my quiet time, other days it might mean staying silent when I feel the temptation to boast, and other days it might mean showing the daily life of our family.  Overall, I want to be more thoughtful and generous in doing good to others through the use of technology, instead of letting it just be neutral or viewing it as a bad thing.

Where is God leading me to be more "authentic" and what does that look like?
"What does authenticity online look like?"  Tim Challies responded by making two points that I will attempt to summarize (to my understanding):
  • We can't be completely transparent all the time and use social media to publicly report every sin.  If we didn't polish anything, no one would pay any attention.  Ultimately, people don't want to hear about every negative detail.  So it's not really right to think, "I want to influence people by sharing all of my 'real' sin moments."  If we did, we would have zero influence and little credibility to share truth.  
  • On the other hand, we need to be cautious that we aren't fueling this mentality of "jealousy" and perfection.  There does need to be prayerful authenticity where it is appropriate.  Our purposes in posting things shouldn't be to fuel our own good self-image, but to share things that are helpful and loving to others. 
Obviously this plays out in different ways for each person, but it really made me think about evaluating my heart in my social media usage.  How can I hold back in some of the moments where I just want more 'likes', and share more when I am tempted to hide my faults?  But on the other hand, how can I encourage others by sharing my victories in a way that brings God praise and glory?  As I think about the Christians whose lives I find most encouraging (who genuinely make me want to pursue a deeper relationship with Christ), I observe that they are humbly aware of their sin without glamorizing their failures in an effort to appear humble...which is an important distinction.  

What plan do we have to guard our children from the pitfalls of technology, and am I willing to hold myself to similar standards?
Tim Challies laid out an excellent and simple plan for guarding children and discipling them in the use of technology.  He specifically focused on the issue of pornography, but I think it applies across the board of unhealthy behavior online.  He shared that one reason it was hard to introduce it into their family was because it sort of pushed on everyone's desire for comfort, especially for them as a married couple.  Tim and his wife were willing to impose some accountability and restrictions on their own technology usage as a model to teach and train their children.  What strikes me about this, is that I often want to teach my children things without having any accountability myself.  For instance, I want to be able to check my cell phone all day, be glued to social media / Pinterest / blogs, waste time online AND at the same time I want to tell my toddler that he needs to learn self-control with screen time.  The most convicting thought of the whole night for me:

I need to, by God's grace, develop healthy habits and self-control in the area of technology.  
This isn't just a concern for my children, this is an issue in my life.  

I want to harness the power of technology in the digital age to further the great commission.
I want to find creative ways to love others through the use of technology.
I want to help spread the gospel to places I never could have reached before technology.
I want to be a witness to unbelievers through this blog and social media, when I would otherwise have no outlet to communicate deeply.
And through repentance, a closeness with God, and prayer - these things are possible!  

What concerns do you have about technology in your life or in the lives of your children?

Read More:

Making Time for Jesus (when you have little kids)

making time for Jesus (when you have little kids) - From the Jensens Blog
*This is a practical follow-up to my previous post, "I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry." 

This is titled 'making time' instead of 'finding time', because anyone who has a busy life (everyone?) knows that there really isn't such a thing as 'free time'.  Here's the reality:  making time for Jesus is a spiritual battle, one that we engage in daily...and if we don't make time for it, we won't do it.  The world and all of our responsibilities will beckon us, "Come do this or that urgent thing first." and it never happens.  As my wise bible study leader said recently, "Satan's first plan is to keep us from becoming a Christian, and his second is to keep us from becoming an effective Christian."  How would he do that?  By keeping us from time in God's presence, praying, reading and meditating on God's word daily.

Over and over again people have asked me how I am finding time to meet with God amidst the chaos of three kids two and under.  Here is the most important answer I can give:  BY GOD'S GRACE.  I don't have super powers, yet God has been faithful to keep me and help me persevere in the midst of a challenging and busy season.  He is good, and I have to rest on that goodness continually when I sense my heart focusing too much on the urgent needs of the present instead of the unseen rewards of eternity.

But there are some other things too, practical things, that have helped in this journey.  I want to share them; not because I have it all figured out (I don't and I'm still learning each day), but because I'm encouraged and inspired to spend more time with God as I hear how other moms with young children are working this out in their daily lives.  Even if you don't do anything I do, but you read this post and think, "I am so thankful for what Jesus has done for me, and I want to make more time for him." That's great!

Here are some things that have helped me feast on my 'daily bread'...

Understanding why it's important
I am the type of person who needs to know why a rule exists in order to be motivated to follow it.  But once I embrace the reason behind it, I can happily live within the boundaries.  It took me a long time to establish a regular time each day with the Lord, making it my highest priority, because I wondered if it was just a legalistic expectation that Christians place on themselves.  But I've come up short in my ability enough times to realize that in order to obey God, give him glory, and have wisdom for the day, I must first be worshipping and enjoying him.  My 'good works' will only be an overflow of my time spent being filled by his love and grace.  Suddenly, daily time with God stopped being a burden and started be a necessary part of doing anything else with eternal purpose.  Also, as I've observed other Christians, it's clear that those who are shining the light of Jesus most brightly are the ones who make time with God a priority each day.  So if that is the type of woman I want to be when I'm 40, 60, 80 and today, then time invested in the Lord is incredibly important!

Meeting in the morning 
I love the powerful story of Susanna Wesley, who put an apron over her head to signify to her 10 children that she was spending time with the Lord.  She couldn't find time to fit in a quiet moment, so she just made one!  I've needed to discover my proverbial 'apron' and figure out how to make time for Jesus, even when I have a busy and demanding lifestyle.

Although I do not believe that there is a biblical mandate to have time with the Lord each morning (because we are justified by faith alone and not our works), it is of great value.  There is just no way around it for me; I've tried to do quiet times at all times of the day, but I just desperately need it in the morning.  I need it like I need coffee and breakfast.  If I don't read scripture, meditate on it, and pray - I'm sure to be feeling frustrated with my children before lunch and groaning over every mess.  I'll be looking for ways to avoid all of the hard stuff, and will miss practical areas where I can be faithful and obedient.

Right now, this looks one of two ways...the ideal thing is for me to wake up before everyone else, and I would say that happens 2-3 days a week.  I say "ideal", recognizing that a long night of being up with babies, illness, or any other manner of routine disruption make this really challenging.  Sometimes I just need to sleep, and that's okay.  But as much as possible, I like to have some time to center my heart and mind on the Lord before I'm being needed for urgent tasks.  If I'm not able to wake up before the kids (or if they somehow sense I'm awake and get up early with me), I plan to do quiet time right after breakfast.  The kids watch a show or play for about 30-45 minutes while I work on bible study and pray.  I sit at the kitchen table and expect interruptions, but this still serves as a necessary time to receive nourishment from the word for my day.  In the event I'm not able to do either of these, I try to do something in the afternoon during nap time (or I just rest on God's grace for me that day, knowing that my relationship with Him is based on Christ alone)!!

Taking advantage of unexpected opportunities.
Sometimes very gracious family members watch my kids for periods of time during the week.  Although I can think of 1,000+ things to do with those precious minutes, I try to take advantage of those times to spend focused and uninterrupted time with the Lord.  This is different that my daily quiet time, and often includes reading a book, digging deeper into a topic I've been curious about or writing down what God is teaching me (which occasionally leads to writing blog posts).  Also, if the children all wonderfully align their naps for the day, I can spend part of the afternoon listening to podcasts of biblical teaching, watching conferences that I wish I could have attended, or otherwise multitasking learning with chores.  Speaking of which - it's been tremendously helpful for me to look for ways to redeem my daily chores and use that time to multi-task, because often those daily things are mindless and you can use that time to think about God!

Refusing to be overcome by guilt.
Okay...let's level here...
All of that sounds really great, and for the most part, this reflects my current habits in this season of life...but my kids also get sick, and I get lazy, and there are days / times / weeks when it just looks less than ideal.  I skip days, I choose my to-do list over my quiet time, and I waste time online.  As I mentioned in the beginning of this post...spending time with Jesus is a daily battle, and sometimes I lose the battle.  But here is the good news:  my standing before God doesn't change if I skip a quiet time or fail to be faithful to him.  He is faithful to me.  He keeps his promises to me.  He holds on to me no matter what.  And I have to remember and recall those truths when I haven't been in fellowship with him!  Because if I don't, I'm likely to start avoiding God altogether because I think he's mad at me or something.  Jesus paid the price, and God's mercies are new everyday!

I would love to hear how you make time with Jesus a priority - and fight the battle to make him number one!

"I'm Sorry for What I Said When I was Hungry"

Thoughts on consuming Jesus as our Daily Bread - From the Jensens Blog

Living as a person who is hungry
I've seen this phrase on T-shirts and art prints everywhere, "I'm sorry for what I said when I was hungry."  And it's funny, because most of us can relate.  Who hasn't been in a situation when they were ready to eat a meal, feeling hungry, and then felt like they couldn't focus or be nice to anyone until they ate?  I have experienced this at wedding receptions without appetizers, on long car rides, and even at parties when I've had to wait and wait for the food to finally be served (wishing I would have snuck a granola bar in my purse).  Of course I was physically present, but my mind was focused on one thing, "When is the food coming?  I'm hungry!"  This state can lead to distraction and irritability...hence needing to apologize after you've eaten for what you said.

Hungry People:
  • Can be irritable and easily angered
  • Can have a difficult time focusing on anything but meeting their own needs
  • Can be more likely to consume unhealthy food because they just want to feel full
We know this about ourselves physically, that when we let ourselves get too hungry, there is no telling what we will do!  Similar things can happen when we hunger spiritually, and interestingly the bible draws many parallels to this pop culture recognition of huger and the heart.

Eating our daily bread
As the Israelites were journeying through the wilderness after the Exodus from Egypt, they started to get hungry.  The desert didn't provide much (if any) opportunities for food, so they grumbled at Moses and Aaron, but really, they grumbled at God.  Without having their physical need for food met, they had a hard time focusing on or accomplishing much else.  So God, being merciful and patient, provided for their needs by sending daily manna (bread) from heaven.  Each day they were to gather this bread, eating just what they needed to sustain them that day, and trusting God to bring manna again the next day.  The only exception being the Sabbath day, where they were to rest and eat that which God had provided to them the day before.

While this manna was significant to the Israelites at the time, as God tested their faith, it was even more importantly a sign pointing to a greater form of manna (bread) that God would send over a thousand years later.

Jesus says, "I am the bread of life."  and "I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  If anyone eats of this bread he will live forever."  (John 6:48, 51)

Just as God gave the Israelites manna so that they could daily humble themselves and trust in God's provision for them, God gives us Jesus so that we can daily 'eat of him' and live.  It is telling that God didn't just give the Israelites manna once a month, once a week, or once a year.  He didn't say, "just go gather this occasionally and save a bunch to live off of for a long time."  The Israelites had to wake up each day hungry, and then have faith for their bread that day.  In the same way, Jesus isn't something we partake of occasionally, hoping we can live off of a little truth for weeks or months, but someone we need to connect with daily to be filled.

Jesus says, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me."  (Luke 9:23)

We see from the symbolism of the manna and from Jesus' own words that there is significance in eating of the true bread of life each and every day so we can be filled spiritually.

Living as a person who is full
Just like a person who is hungry can't really focus on anything except for their stomach, we have a difficult time truly serving God and others when we are spiritually hungry.  We might be able to fake it on the outside for a while, but eventually we will break our cover and reveal the starving nature of our heart.  This might come across as anger, irritability, a word spoken harshly, or even a failure to notice what someone really needs.  It's hard to truly love others when you are hungry.

But on the contrary, a person who is full can just rest and pay attention to other things.  They are at peace and are less likely to fill themselves up with meaningless and temporal things in order to sustain them for a time.  Full people can start to think about things other than themselves.  Eating of the true bread of life, Jesus, is not something we do daily so we can check it off of our to-do list, but it's as crucial to our existence as eating food.  We don't wake up in the morning thinking that we can just survive on what we ate last week, we recognize our need for food to sustain us that very day.

Only in a relationship with Jesus Christ can we function as we should with God and others.  First we have to be filled by the true bread of life, and then that overflows, reaching every aspect of our lives.  Full people can be a blessing!

*The journal pictured above was purchased through Life Lived Beautifully on ETSY.  This is an amazing tool, and I would definitely recommend one to anyone who prefers a 'guided' journal for quiet time instead of just blank pages.  

Not Shifting Our Hope

"He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister." (Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

Behind the Curve
I can understand right alongside you how easy it is to shift our hope. Daily, I read blogs, see Facebook posts, and read Twitter tidbits that preach a different kind of gospel. They say that in order to be a good mom, 
"You must stop exposing your family chemicals."
"You must have a themed birthday party every year."
"You must read to your kids for 30 minutes a day - minimum."
"You must keep up with mom blogs."
"You must start doing educational activities at home no later than 12 months."
"You must dress your kids in unique artisan clothes (eco-friendly, perhaps)."
"You must take family pictures every year."
"You must make sure to document your child's first day of school with a sign."
None of these things are bad, evil, or wrong in and of themselves.  In fact many of them are good, and hold benefit for ourselves and our families.  But what are we to do when these 'good things' start to burden us, making us feel like we are constantly behind the curve?

Re-Adjusting Our Hope
When we feel burdened to the max, throwing stones of mom guilt in our backpacks until we can't go on anymore, what are we to do?  (Maybe now would have been a good time to experience the benefits of those Pinterest circuits we were going to incorporate into our daily routine.)  The answer isn't to just try harder to mimic the moms who seem to be carrying their heavy backpacks just fine.  NO.  The answer is to just stop and take it off, because there is someone who will carry it for you.  His name is Jesus.

In him, all things hold together.  He is over this world of expectations, trends, and pressures to be a certain kind of mom.
In him, we have peace through the blood of the cross.  PEACE.  Not striving to do better and be better.
In him, we are no longer alienated and hostile in mind.  No longer do we need to strive to make a name for ourselves, because the only name that matters is the preeminent one, Jesus himself.

Paul says there is something we need to do if we are going to continue in our faith, to remain stable and steadfast and it is this:  we cannot shift our hope onto anything other than the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Our hope can't be found in the physical health of our family.
Our hope can't be found in how well we prepare and educate our children.
Our hope can't be found in how versed we are in our culture's norms and trends.
Our hope can't be found in how good our parenting looks to others.
There is nothing to add to what Jesus Christ has done on our behalf.  He has paid all of our dues so that we don't have to keep trying to be a perfect mom.  When we know and trust him, we are seen as holy and blameless before a holy and blameless God.  And if we can say that is true, then we have nothing to fear in this life.

Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus
A favorite hymn of mine goes like this:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus
Look full in his wonderful face
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace

If you are having a hard time with the burdens of motherhood or the burdens of the world, there is only one place to look that will make them grow dim, and that is into the face of Jesus.  You can learn about him and know him through the word of God given to us in the bible.  You can find out about this magnificent Christ who was the firstborn of all creation.  I am confident that getting to know him won't make your life easy and perfect, but it will fill you with joy beyond comparison.

You might also like The Gospel (for moms)

On finding a good bible study...

Stumbling into Study
In 2009, I was recently married and seeking to do something more intentional with my time.  Haphazardly, I was also looking for a bible study as a way to add another activity to my week and have some community.  I had no idea how this choice would change my life!  Although I had been a Christian for a few years, was reading many biblically based books, and was trying to navigate the bible on my own, I had not really "studied" the bible in a structured way.  This meant I did a LOT of picking and choosing and a LOT of reading out of context.  While God is gracious and able to use any of our bible reading to grow our knowledge and love for him, I had no idea the richness of scripture that I was missing out on with my random reading.

Next week, I will begin my 6th year of in-depth bible study.  In the past 5 years, God has transformed the way I read and understand scripture - and in turn, He has transformed my heart.

Making Bible Study a Priority
As I enter another year of in-depth study, I want to encourage you to consider some questions, and pray about how God might want to answer them in your life.

1.  Is the bible a key aspect of your relationship with God?  
2.  Do you read specific scriptures in context and seek to understand them in relation to the greater narrative of the bible?
3.  Do you have people in your life who regularly hold you accountable to reading and studying scripture?
4.  Are you involved in a community of believers with whom you can discuss God's word and its implications for daily life?

Reading the bible is not a requirement for being or becoming a Christian.  The only requirement is that you put your faith in Jesus Christ, repenting from your sin and trusting that his sacrifice for sin on the cross has fully cleansed you and reconciled you to God for all eternity.  However, the implications of this type of faith includes a transformed heart and a strong desire to know God more deeply, obeying him and following his instructions.  If this is a strong desire of yours, then it also logically follows that reading and understanding the bible is an important part of living out your faith and being continually changed.  Because the bible is the way in which God speaks to us, thus transforming our minds and hearts.

Doing a bible study is hard, and it requires sacrifice, but the rewards are eternal.

If you haven't ever studied the bible, why not start now?
I went almost 3 years into my walk with God before participating in a bible study, and it greatly affected my my faith when I finally started.  Studying the bible is different than just reading it at face value, and there is an infinite depth of knowledge as you get to know God through his word.  This is achieved as you give specific portions of scripture your full attention, meditate on the meaning, and pray about how it impacts you.

If you haven't been very consistent in reading your bible, stop worrying about it and get back into it!
God doesn't love you any more or less because you read the bible.  He loves you because of what Jesus did on the cross.  Having time in the bible isn't something for your to-do list, it's something you do because you love God.  So stop feeling guilty, pray and share your heart with God, and get started again!

If you can, join a good bible study and be accountable to other believers!
This could be through your local church, a friend's church, or a para-church organization.  Having a regularly scheduled time when I had to show up, discuss what I read with other Christians, and complete specific study questions was what impacted me the most.  Without fellow believers and a structured study, I'm pretty much still a person who randomly reads my bible here and there without much direction or practical application.

This isn't about being a "better Christian" or adding another thing to your proverbial to-do list.  This is about the truth that God's word is living and active, sharper than a double-edged sword.  It will pierce your very soul, transform you, strengthen you, give you peace, and offer deep wisdom.  God will speak to you through it, and draw you near to himself as you ponder who He is and what he has done through Jesus.  Go and enjoy what he has richly blessed you with...an opportunity to study the bible.

Resources and Study Options
Many studies take a break over the summer and start again in September...so now is a great time to get involved!
  • Your local church:  Most local churches have good bible studies or even a Sunday School class that might have material to review throughout the week to help you stay consistent.
  • Bible Study Fellowship:  This organization holds studies in many cities all over the country (and the world).  You can go to their website to look up a location near to you, and visit the welcome class to get involved.  It runs for about 9 months (with breaks for holidays and summer).
  • Precept Ministries International:  This is another organization with wonderful in-depth studies all over the country.  Visit the website for more information and locations.  It runs for several weeks to several months depending on the length of the study.
  • She Reads Truth:  This is an online study where you can also connect with a computer and use an app on your phone or your blog RSS feed to keep up with it.  I think you can also invest in hard copy materials if this is easier for you.

Just wait - I'm working on it!

It's VERY common in our house for children to have to wait for things.  I'm one mom with two arms and three boys.  Sometimes they all need something at once, and other times, I'm in the middle of other important things and they just have to wait a few minutes.  That's okay, and from my perspective as a mom, it's hopefully teaching long-term character qualities like patience and contentment.  I don't want my kids to have an attitude of 'want it now, get it now'.  So honestly, their waiting doesn't bother me much anymore (at least not as much as it did when I was a first time mom).

It would be easier for everyone if babies and toddlers could just comprehend statements like, "I'll working on it!" and "Hang tight, mommy knows that you are hungry!".  I'm often hopeful that they can be reassured of three things:
1.  That I hear them.
2.  That I'm doing something about it.
3.  That my timing is going to be good.  (even when I choose for them to wait)

Unfortunately, babies aren't like adults.  All they know is that they have a need...NOW...and you aren't taking care of it fast enough.

I'm convinced that one of God's ways of sanctifying us as parents is showing us little glimpses into our relationship with him as "Father".  And I think if we are honest, our hearts are much like babies and toddlers sometimes.
  • We cry (complain / grumble / whine to our friends) because we want and need things.
  • We don't really trust that our Father hears us - so we keep trying to either take care of it in our own way or we remain bitter and upset.
  • We aren't really sure that our Father knows our needs, and don't feel confident that he is doing something we can't see.
  • We haven't considered that our Father might be wanting us to wait for bigger and greater purposes (maybe even to teach us patience or contentment).
  • We don't believe that our Father has our best in mind and has better perspective than we do.
When I say, "Babies - I'm getting your bottles ready...I'm almost done...just wait a few minutes!", I'm reminded that God is in the process of meeting my needs too.  I might be doubting it or feeling confused about how God is going to take care of a situation, but I need to have faith that my Father is "making my bottle" (so to speak).

Of course one thing that doesn't carry exactly in this analogy, is that sometimes when we think we need something, God's answer might be "no" or "wait a really long time" or "I'm going to give you something completely different".  And even in this, I pray I can respond more like an adult who is okay with waiting a while (even for a lifetime), trusting my Father to give me only what's best for His glory and kingdom.

When Rest is Disguised as Work

Since I've had 3 little ones at home, I've found it more important than ever to strike a healthy balance between rest and work.  No matter how much I strive, there are always more crumbs under a high chair, more dirty clothes, and more unexpected spills.  The tasks never stop, and giving into the temptation to beat it once and for all can leave me drained and disappointed.  In the moments where I feel overwhelmed by having a toddler attached to my knees and babies on my hips, I sense God's word beckoning me to experience the blessing and command of sabbath rest.  Regardless of your season of life, you need to rest, or eventually you will experience negative consequences of trying to be all things to all people at all times.  

One of the more interesting things I've discovered about rest, is that it often comes disguised as work and things that might appear 'restful' sometimes end up being meaningless or even burdensome.  I've spent many rest times frustrated by this, and I wanted to share the way I've experienced this play out in my life.  (Maybe you can relate to some of them, and have a few to add to the list!)

*For the sake of this post, I'm defining 'rest' as: taking a break from our normal labor in order to re-gain strength, mentally, physically, and spiritually. 

Things that look restful (but really aren't)
1.  Browsing blogs, social media, and Pinterest.
This is one of my go-to 'restful' activities.  It tricks me nearly everyday.  I get a few minutes to myself and my immediate reaction is to pull out my computer or smartphone.  I figure it must be restful because I'm sitting down and I'm not having to think critically about anything.  However, 1 hour later, I usually find my heart in knots.  I've read a handful of controversial and divisive Christian blog posts (which have left me doubting all of my own biblical convictions), I've seen a massive array of home decor items I didn't know I was missing, and I've realized I forgot to Instagram my afternoon tea.  I usually end this time feeling let down and frustrated that I didn't do something more productive, because nap time is over and all I've done is scroll and click.

2.  Retail therapy.  (namely, walking around at Target)
If blogs, social media, and Pinterest are my go-to inside of the house 'rest' activities, then I would call retail therapy my go-to outside of the house activity.  When someone else is watching my kids for a few minutes, a trip to browse the aisles at Target with no one rushing me sounds like bliss.  I picture trying on flats, admiring the new throw pillows, and even digging through clearance items without the threat of anyone's temper tantrums.  But let's face it, when I leave Target with a cart full of items I didn't even know I needed, I don't exactly feel awesome.  I come down from that Target high, and I'm not even sure why I purchased more blue aztec print napkins.  Rest has slipped between my fingers once again, and now I'm wondering what to do with this new stuff I need to manage.

There is nothing inherently wrong with any of these things.  Trips to Target alone are nice, and it is fun to get new ideas on Pinterest.  I'm only saying that in my personal experience, these things aren't good substitutes for REST.  They might provide a entertainment and recreation, but I'm usually not returning to real life feeling energized and ready to go. 

Things that look like work (but can really provide rest)
1.  Exercise
Over 4 months ago, I started training for my first 5K.  Before that, I had not 'sweat' exercised consistently in almost a decade.  Sure, I live a fairly active lifestyle, but I was not a person who really pushed hard at physical exercise.  Running a 5K in July (albeit, slowly) really changed my mindset on these things.  What I've learned is that exercising (to the point where I'm breathing heavy and sweating for 30 minutes or more 3-5 days a week) significantly boosts my mood and energy levels.  Did I mention the word, significantly?  This was shocking to me.  When I take 30 minutes out of my evening or morning to exercise, it sounds like it's going to be a ton of work, but instead it leaves me energized to take on the day.  I never regret exercise (once it's over), and I can often use that time to listen to a sermon or reflect quietly on the things God is teaching me...which is extremely helpful!

2.  Studying scripture
When the kids go down for a nap, I often knee jerk to pull out the laptop, but I love it when I get out my study books instead.  It sounds a little like school work to voluntarily study a biblical doctrine or a few verses of the bible, but I find it to be extremely rewarding.  Getting my mind of off myself is crucial to good rest, and studying God's word gets my perspective right every time.  Worshipping God with my mind is very relaxing to me, and so is writing about what God is teaching me.  I can usually end this time by praying for God to help me re-align my heart and do the tasks at hand for his glory...which is exactly what rest is about!  

3.  Meeting with friends
Once again, it sounds like a lot of work (especially if you are a busy wife and / or mom) to find time to be with friends.  And for introverts, this might not be relaxing at all.  But I am really energized by good conversation over coffee.  In fact, if I'm in a funk and feeling a little isolated, I can usually trace it back to a lack of community and time with women who encourage me in my faith.  I've never left a time with girlfriends feeling more exhausted thinking, "that was draining and not worth it."  No!  I always leave encouraged to pursue Christ and tackle the callings God has laid before me.

4.  Keeping a tidy house
This one is a little tricky, because it requires work before rest (and sometimes if you work more, rest never comes).  But all I know is that when I've managed my house well and kept things tidy, I have a much more restful 'rest time' than if the place looks like a pit of destruction.  I've found that if I leave my cleaning for later, I'll often spend my time resting feeling slightly guilty (so it's hard to fully enjoy).  Also, I have to keep tabs on the clock for my rest if I don't clean ahead of time, because I know that I still need to get up and keep working (versus getting my work done and using the rest of the time for relaxation).  Just a thought!

5.  Crafting, creativity, and baking
Does anyone else feel like working with their hands is therapeutic?  Getting out the craft supplies or the sewing machine makes a huge mess (and one that does take more effort to clean up later), but it's almost always worth it.  Having an hour or two to sew quietly can do wonders for my mood and excitement to be with my kids later in the day.  I'm not sure what it is exactly, but a little creativity and using my brain for other things I can focus on the joy of completing a project for fun...not because I have to, but because I like it.  The same is true for un-obligatory baking!

Of course, there are always obvious things that are restful no matter what...like taking naps and having a quiet time reading and meditating on scripture.  And I don't think it's less spiritual to choose the nap - because God created us to need sleep and we are being prideful if we think we are that one superhuman who can survive well without it.  

What do you do for rest?

...and if you are struggling with resting a little too much, you might like this post on being a "Sluggish Woman" or my sister-in-law's thoughts on being a hard-working wife and mom.

My favorite old sin: Self-Suffiency

Every year in early August, I find myself reflecting on the anniversary of my conversion.  Here are some thoughts as my 8th year as a follower of Christ draws to a close.

(this pic is circa 2004 - my high school graduation - still 'having it all together' on the outside)

I used to tell Jesus, "I got this."  
Before I became a Christian 8 years ago, one of my favorite things to do was act like one.  I thought that the essence of being a Christian was behaving like one...which included doing things like reading the bible, praying, attending church, and doing good htings.  I thought it was especially important to not sin, because it seemed like Christians were supposed to 'have it all together'.

So I would try to have it all together; focusing on my appearance, my achievements, my relationships and my social status.  But, each time I tried to act like a Christian, I would eventually fail and find my life devastated by my sin and circumstances.  This made me feel awful, so I ran to Jesus in worldly sorrow.  I disliked the consequences of sin, but instead of repenting and leaning on God's grace, I just resolved to do better and try harder.  I told Jesus in essence, "I got this. I'm going to start living up to your expectations from now on.  I'm going to start behaving like a good Christian."

For days, weeks or even months (in some cases), I would read my bible, journal, attend church activities, say and do "good" things.  I would push the desires of my flesh deep down, as if I could stop them.  I thought, "If I could just stop acting so unholy, things would be better.  I just need to change."

And my falls got uglier and uglier.  Eventually, I would run out of strength to keep pretending and trying to lead a double life; acting like a complete hypocrite to the faith I supposedly held dear.  Like an un-trained athlete trying to run a marathon, I would crash after the first few miles.  This seemed to confirm in my heart, "I must not be a Christian because I can't act like one.  Why even try?"  Then I would give myself permission to just be "free" and stop trying to obey God's restrictive laws.

This cycle continued until the age of 20, when God miraculously intervened and allowed me to realize that I was incapable of changing myself or acting holy.  It was so freeing to finally admit to God in tears that I needed His mercy, because without it, I was doomed.  I was done trying to save myself...all I could rely on was his grace and pardon.

Let's face it, I still like to try to be perfected in the flesh
These days, it's tempting to slip back into a similar cycle.  I see an area of my life being threatened by sin, and my response is to try harder and make a plan to change.

The scary thing is, before I was a follower of Christ, I didn't have the framework or the knowledge to be able to "try hard" for very long.  But now, I can sometimes disguise good works apart from faith as Christian growth, and no one knows the difference.  But thankfully, God is good, and he won't let me go on in my own strength for long.

He continually weakens my muscles and causes my plans to fail.  He reminds me that the old me was self-centered and full of pride.  I was my own savior.  Sometimes I think I'm doing good if I don't let any "bad sins" back into my life, all the while ignoring the fact that I've given way to my favorite old sin:  self-sufficiency and living life apart from the grace of Jesus.

And this is the lie of the deceiver: that once we become a Christian, we can stop doing bad things and start doing good things.  It is false to believe that after we have saving faith, we move past our need for God's grace and on to working hard to be a better wife, mom, friend, and servant.  The goal isn't to 'get saved' and then 'be good'.  The goal is to love God and find our joyful identity in Jesus.  Out of this flow all heart transformations.

More gospel, less self-sufficency
I hear the Apostle Paul calling me out as he rebukes the Galatians, "Oh foolish, Emily!  Who has bewitched you?...  Did you receive the spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?  Are you so foolish?  Having begun by the spirit are you now being perfected by works of the flesh?"  (Galatians 3:1-3 my name inserted for emphasis)

As I embark on my 9th year, redeemed by Jesus, I'm tempted to resolve to try harder.  I want to tell Jesus, "Okay, in my 8th year I didn't do so good, but next year...next year I'm going to evangelize for you, I'm going to pay better attention to my kids, I'm going to serve my husband more, I'm going to stop complaining to my friends, and I'm going to control my love for cookies."  This sounds sooo good, and my law loving heart wants to fist pump and say, "Yes!  Go me!  You can do it!"

But the gospel and the bible bid me to do differently.  They call me to start out this 9th year by getting on my knees and saying, "In my 8th year, I didn't do so good.  But you died for my lack of evangelism, my selfish parenting, my disrespect of my husband, my grumbling, and my gluttony.  Only by your grace and mercy am I saved, and the goal isn't to get better, the goal is to love, know, and worship God.  I have your righteousness, and only by your power can I resist the temptation to sin."  This is more humbling, and it requires my law loving heart to repent and trust nothing but the true savior.

As I embark on my next year as a believer, I want more gospel and less self-sufficiency.
Can you relate?

Staying the Course

It's been a silent month around here, and with anticipation and a re-newed perspective, I'm excited to start hitting the "publish" button again instead of "save".  I'm so thankful for the time off, and I'd love to share with you a bit of what I learned while I was away!

When Blogging Becomes a Burden
I remember when I started writing on the blog last year, and it was just pure fun.  I had little to no expectations of where it would go or how it would end up.  Writing was led by the spirit, and I was under no illusions that I had much wisdom to offer anyone in my own strength.  There was no pressure to write about certain things or to have my blog look a certain way.  I was fairly sure only 10 friends and family members read it anyway - and they are the kind of wonderful friends and family that read because they love you (regardless of how silly your blog posts are).

Then things started changing.  More comments rolled in, more "likes" and more follows.  I started reading other blogs more seriously, and feeling like mine didn't measure up.  It seemed like my writing was really inconsistent compared to those "professional" blogs.  I jumped everywhere with topics and didn't have good headings or nice pictures.  The pressure was on.

Somewhere along the way, blogging became not primarily about responding to God's leading and being used as a vessel for his glory (although that was still on my heart), but about a means to a "bigger and better" end.  I had made some connections, and suddenly I wondered if God wanted me to monetize the blog, write an ebook, contribute original content to other blogs, or something else.  As my stats increased, so did my concern with pretty pictures, consistent post lengths, easy to read categories, and carefully crafted bios.

And in June, I realized that I was blogging like it was a part-time job I had.  Creating content was feeling stressful and burdensome.  I was getting anxiety about how I would be received and what important people might be stumbling across my writing.  All the while, I was missing out on important little events happening in sweet hearts in my four walls.  I was putting too much emphasis on the blog and not enough on my laundry.

I couldn't put my finger on it at the time, but I knew I needed to listen to God's calling to pause and seek first the kingdom of heaven - no blogging and social media.

If Not Me, Then Who?
There are a multitude of Christian women out there, spreading gospel-centered content for the world to read.  God is using it to drive women to the Word and to repentance.  What I do (although not word for word) is replicated all over the web.  There are thousands of women blogging, but only 1 woman that can be a wife to Brad and a mom to Lewis, Gabe, and Cal.  I needed this reminder.

There is a short window of time I have with my children, and 18 years from now I don't want to be watching my boys leave for college and feel regret.  I don't want to see these years captivated and dominated by a laptop, a cell phone, and an ipad.  I don't want to have pain in my heart, as I see that while I used my moments for good things, I could have used them for teaching and training my children in the ways of the Lord.

Laptops and blogs are not evil.  And many MANY women are able to blog without jeopardizing crucial moments with their children.  Many women are able to work (paid and volunteer jobs) in and outside the home, and train their children in the ways of the Lord.  This isn't an argument for or against women working paid jobs in or outside the home, volunteering their time, or pursuing hobbies.

This is about me, ignoring a moment to correct and nurture because I'm still finishing an open post.  
This is about me, feeling pressure to spend time doing things a certain way on this blog because it might lead to something more prestigious.
This is about me, thinking that there is more holiness and glamour in ministry "outside" motherhood than inside my four walls.

The Lord struck me and re-focused me during this hiatus.  I still wrote and studied daily, but I paid more attention to the crucial heart happenings in my home.  I realized how distracted I had been when I felt pressure to get a "good blog post" out.

Who do I expect to teach my children about the gospel, the bible, and the crucial doctrines of our faith? Church might help, but they can't and shouldn't be expected to do it for me.  And while my husband is a huge participant in this, his time somewhat limited compared to mine due to his career.  The responsibility primarily falls to me in this season (by God's strength, grace, and help).  If I don't teach them, throwing the full weight of my gifts and wisdom behind it, who will?  This is one of the reasons my husband and I choose for me to not work outside the home...so I could have more time to teach and train to the glory of God.  Anything that distracts from that mission must be prayerfully evaluated.

Moving forward
All this to say, the answer to the blogging question for me isn't "stop" or "don't do it".  I love writing, and I truly enjoy and experience blessing as God works through this little corner of the web.  But I feel tremendously free and joyful to say that from here on out (unless God directs otherwise), this blog is just for my processing and sharing things from the overflow of my own life experiences.

It's not to impress you.
It's not a "means to an end".
It's not a way to get more followers or likes.
It's not to sound holier than I really am.
It's not to make money or build a brand.

Practically, this means I'm not necessarily going to update consistently.  I may write 3 posts one week and none the next.  I know that's not traditional and that's not what a "professional" blogger would do, but I'm not doing this to become a professional...and claiming that feels awesome.  It means that while I'm going to try to respond to comments and keep you updated on social media, I'm going to stop feeling guilty for being less skilled at the branding and PR side of this stuff.  I'm not doing this so I can gain a huge following.  I'm just writing as the Lord leads, doing my best to share when I post, and then whatever God does - great!

There is nothing wrong with being a professional blogger, or free-lance writer.  I have friends and family members who earn money for their family doing what they love in this area.  For those who are called to it and can do it without sacraficing the mission God has given them in motherhood - this is awesome!  But for me, in this season, with three kids under 2 (which is more than a handful)...I just don't have it in me to do both really well.

I want them to remember...
If there is one thing I want my children to remember about their childhood - it's not how much mommy wrote on her blog or studied in her books.  I want them to remember playing and laughing with me.  I want them to remember that I told them "no" and faithfully discipled them.  I want them to remember hearing me tell them the gospel over and over in every teachable moment.  I want them to remember me as being engaged, present, and caring about their hearts.  I want them to see me serving in the church and being engaged in life outside the home - but not to the point where I'm out of touch with the needs of their soul.

So here is to continuing this blog - but not to avoiding or trying to sneak my way out from under this very challenging and often times mundane calling of motherhood.  This is the good work that God has given me in this season, and I want to joyfully accept all circumstances for God's glory.

(photos courtesy of Brad's Aunt - from mid July)

Encouragement Worth Sharing

We recently reclaimed our master bedroom after 7 months of having two adorable little roommates.  Those babies stayed a lot longer than we originally planned, and their sleeping schedules made it nearly impossible to keep our room tidy and fresh.  It felt awesome to clean, de-clutter, vacuum, and regain hope that it can again be a place for us to relax and unwind as a couple!

Are you too Christian for Non-Christians?
I am often deceived by the rampant excuses surrounding my lack of authentic relationships with people who don't share my faith.  This article that appeared on Desiring God's blog had some excellent and practical steps for making those relationships intentional.  Brad and I are talking about our struggle to engage with people when it's not comfortable to us, and we want to see ways to love our neighbors, acquaintances, and family members to minister the love of Christ.   It's easy for me to sit behind a computer and speak the gospel, but much harder to invest in a flesh and blood relationship with a heart of evangelism.

Secret Church - Angels, Demons, and Spiritual Warfare
This series by David Platt is one of the best I've ever encountered about these topics.  It's biblical, thorough, and is basically like listening to an audio version of systematic theology.  Each part of the series is about 1 hour, and I was able to digest it over the course of several days.  Once I started, it was hard to stop listening until I heard his conclusion.  I don't spend much time pondering these topics, but they are really a crucial part of the Christian life.  It's a wonderfully encouraging and challenging teaching series!

Finally, I'll be taking (at least) a 4 week break from blogging!  Here are some of the reasons...
  • I'm potty training Lewis, and a mom can only do so much when she is trying to stay the course with perseverance to the task ahead!  (lots of wiping floors and laundry in my future...)
  • Brad is going into his busiest 6 weeks of the entire year at work.  Since he is my resident "editor", I'm hoping to take at least one thing off of his plate by taking a break with blog posts.
  • I've been writing on this blog (more intentionally) for almost a year now.  When I started, I was just dabbling in a lot of topics, but I've seen the content and direction really evolve in the last few months.  I want to take this opportunity to evaluate my mission and purpose in writing, so I can (by God's grace) provide consistently encouraging content that is true to God's word.
  • Blogging (especially "Christian" blogging) can have some unique temptations.  On one hand, I'm excited to share the message of the gospel, but it's very easy to get sucked into self-centeredness and self-glorification.  Taking an intentional break will be an opportunity to continue examining my heart so I can do this for God's fame and not my own.
  • Finally, it's critically important to me that the time I spend blogging about motherhood, womanhood, and marriage never compromises my ability to live out those truths in real life.  Developing good / sound content is often time consuming, and I want to prayerfully set up healthy boundaries for the time that it takes.
Thank you SO much for your support and encouragement!  I'll see you back end of July / early August!  If there are any topics you would like to see discussed in the coming year, please comment or email me at fromthejensens@gmail.com.  I would also love to hear how God is encouraging you through this blog and how I can serve you as a reader in the future.  Have a wonderful July!

(I posted this on my Facebook Page, but if you are on Twitter - I finally came out of the dark ages and decided to join the conversation.  Follow @fromthejensens)

Monday, According to the Spirit

Today was one of those mornings where I looked up from my quiet time to see my toddler rubbing chapstick in his hair (let's overlook the fact that I made a rookie move and handed it to him minutes earlier).  It was a morning to down coffee as quickly as possible, because even though the baby that was up all night was now sleeping soundly, I did not fare so well.  It was a morning of children with low fevers and turning on Sesame Street earlier than I planned.  But I was desperate to hear God's truth and to find the peaceful relief found in His word.

Flip to Romans.  Yes, I can find the gospel in Romans.  Romans 8.

I was looking for the same old refreshing message...I am not condemned.  Therefore, no guilt chapstick giving, Sesame Street mom!  But this was not the message the Lord wanted to share with me for Monday.  Instead I hovered over verse 5, pondering anew its treasures:

"For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit."  ESV

Scribbling on the back of my to-do list, I started writing...What does it really mean to live "according to" the Spirit?  It's always those little transitional words and phrases that give meaning to the big concepts I long to embrace.

Agree - Conform - Depend
"According to" (the phrase) has three applicable meanings:  in agreement with or in accord with a judgement or person, in conformity with something, or depending on a thing or person

The lightbulbs start to flicker.

A person who lives according to the Spirit...
Agrees with the Spirit:  The Spirit at work in me gives me the ability to live and be motivated in a way that affirms God's goodness and the truth of His word.
Conforms to the Spirit:  The Spirit at work in me gives me the ability to align my will and my actions in a way that displays the gospel and the glory of God.
Depends on the Spirit:  The Spirit at work in me gives me the ability to rest not in my own good works, but in the power of God to will and to do every good thing because of His grace.

Strength for the day
Instead of snapping at my toddler in my frustration, according to the Spirit, I can respond in patience and love with correction.
Instead of wallowing in the pile of cereal on the carpet, according to the Spirit, I can diligently pick it up and be thankful for children who spill and make messes.
Instead of feeling defeated before my first cup of coffee, according to the Spirit, I can trust God's sovereign plan and good purposes for my day.

The Holy Spirit gives real power for my life and my day.  The message of the gospel is not just that I  have escaped condemnation, but that through the blood of the Lamb, I have access to the same grace that gave Jesus the ability to serve and love God.

With that, I can go forward and live abundantly on this Monday - already full of toys, sickness, messes, and overflowing to-do lists.

How do you plan to live according to the Spirit today?

5 Reasons for Motherhood

Wrong Assumptions About Motherhood
If I step out of the mental vortex of motherhood for a minute, I can remember what it felt like to be a young woman looking ahead to the stage of babies and young children.  Honestly, besides acknowledging that I wanted to be a mother "someday", I thought it looked pretty bleak.  From an outsiders perspective, moms don't get very much glory.  It seems like after they have babies, they get tunnel vision and can't talk about anything but their kids.  They post lots and lots of pictures of their children doing seemingly ordinary things on social media, with too many smiley faces in the captions.  Every fitness magazine speaks to the herds of mothers who have body image issues because it's near impossible to get your pre-baby body back.  Practical options, like driving a minivan, seem to outweigh decisions based on pleasure and recreation.  Women who used to seem driven and accomplished can appear frazzled and lonely.  Why would you want to become a mom when this is the picture our world gives?  Luckily, I was around some pretty wonderful moms too who gave me a better image of the purpose of motherhood, and through God's leading, Brad and I decided to pursue having children earlier than we originally planned.

Once I had a baby, I started to understand moms.  They made sense...the pictures, the minivans, the baby weight.  I was living the reality day in and day out, and I felt guilty for judging something I knew little about.  But I still didn't have a good understanding of why women should desire to become moms.  You sacrifice a ton, you don't hear thank you (at least until they can do sign language and you can direct them to thank you), and although you are overwhelmed with love for a little person, there are still a multitude of challenges.

Biblical Reasons for Motherhood
Almost two years and three kids later, I'm starting to understand the "why" behind motherhood and the more I embrace it, the more I feel a deep contentment and joy with even the greatest challenges before me.  I want to share this list with you, because I think women (married and un-married) would have better expectations and heart attitudes about motherhood if they understood what it has to do with God's plans for his kingdom.  So here is a completely non-extensive list of things I've learned about God's purpose and reason for motherhood.

Why would you want to become a mother?
1.  Because God calls it a blessing:
This is something you have to believe by faith if you can't believe it by watching other moms.  You have to acknowledge this as true, because the bible says it is.  Just like you can't understand what it's like to be married when you are engaged, you can't understand the love and joy of motherhood (completely) until you are a mom.  Yes, it's weighty and difficult, but isn't that true of most of our real blessings in life?
2.  Because we are called to spread the gospel to the next generation:  
If you want to disciple and train up the next generation in the ways of the Lord, spend nearly 24/7 with a little person, laying down your life and pouring truth into them every day.  Think about how much influence your parents had on you growing up (for good or for evil), and be in awe at the amount of influence you can have on your own children. Becoming a mom is an incredible way to leave a deep impact for Jesus as you minster and teach a few really well.  
3.  Because it's part of God's purpose for marriage*:  
God meant for Adam and Eve to multiply.  Sexual intimacy in marriage is for pleasure, but it's also for creating children.  There is something wonderfully weighty and intimate about sex when you realize that your "pleasure" (that is mostly self-serving) is capable of producing something self-sacraficing.  When lived out biblically, a family is an extremely beautiful picture of God's headship, Christ's submission, and grace for sinners.
4.  Because it will sanctify you:  
You might think you are pretty selfless, until a baby comes along and steals your sleep, a toddler follows you everywhere (even to the bathroom), and you literally give up your body so that someone else can have growth and nourishment.  Suddenly, your self-worship bares it's ugly head, and you see how much you love being served instead of serving.  Not to mention, every time you tell your child, "You need to obey mommy" you hear God whispering, "You need to obey too, dear daughter."
5.  Because it will bring you joy:  
There is no describable love that I can compare to the feeling of love you have for your children.  It's different than how you love your husband or your mom or your best friend.  It's an unconditional, "you could pretty much do anything, and even if I was mad, I would still love you and want the best for you" kind of love.  It's an all-consuming love that never grows cold or tired, even when it's annoyed or frustrated.  It's a weighty love that realizes great responsibility and impact.  It's a gracious love that helps you better understand how God loves us.  Each milestone, moment, and piece of them brings you joy.

For those of you who still aren't convinced, hopefully you will seek what the bible says so you can better understand the weight and purpose of motherhood.  It's not something to be taken for granted (nor are the children God does give us).  Every bit of mothering that we get is a treasure and a blessing, even though the children don't ultimately belong to us, but to the Lord.

*I wanted to caveat this because there are probably some reading this thinking, "I DO WANT TO BECOME A MOTHER BUT I CAN'T!"  There are many reasons for this...miscarriage, infant loss, infertility, singleness, divorce, a husband who doesn't want children or isn't ready...and probably more reasons that I don't even know about.  This is deeply sad, and little grieves my heart more than knowing someone who desperately wants to become a mother, and yet, she is not given this privilege for sometimes unknown reasons.  This is sad and unfair and it isn't the way God originally created things to be.  Sin has ruined, destroyed, and touched every part of humanity and unfortunately it has complicated the issue of motherhood just like everything else.  I can't pretend that there isn't deep suffering experienced by those who long to become a mother (or have more children), but I do know that there is a God who loves you and there is hope in Jesus.  Maybe not answers or an easy road, but there is hope of a joy-filled and content life in the waiting.  So if you don't need convincing that motherhood is a joy and a blessing but you are still denied it, please pray and pour your heart out to the Lord where you can seek refuge.

*Secondly, I want to caveat this because sometimes in marriage there are reasons to wait to have children.  I can't go through the good reasons (and the not so good reasons) in this post, but I want to acknowledge that it's still important to have right thinking about motherhood even if you aren't called to it yet.  I wasn't serving mothers around me very well when I was thinking of motherhood as a bleak and frustrating calling, only to be accepted because it's the next thing on life's to-do list.  Please, if you don't have children yet or aren't married, be thinking biblically about this calling and encourage mothers around you to have this mindset as well!

photo by Amanda Lorraine Photography - taken when Lewis was 10 months old

Encouragement Worth Sharing

What Not to Say to a Mom of Multiples
When this article was posted in my twin-mommy group on Facebook, I found myself relating to many of the things on this list.
But on the other hand, I understand why people say to me, "I would just die if I found out I was having twins!" or "Better you than me...having twins would be awful."  I understand, because I used to think the same thing before becoming a mom to multiples, and I probably would have said something similar.  However, times have changed and so has my heart, especially in the moments when a comment like that makes me feel like my children are not a blessing.  Should ANYONE be made to feel like this when it comes to their children?

Here's what used to be going on in my heart when I thought things like, "Having twins would be the worst thing...please, God don't give me twins!!"
1.  I wasn't believing that ALL children are a blessing.
This applies to one child, or children than come in groups of twos or threes.  This applies to blonde children and brunette children.  This applies to healthy children and children with a myriad of disabilities.  If God chooses to make you a mother, even if it's just for a short time, I think we need to believe this is a blessing - no matter what form it takes.
2.  I wasn't trusting God's will for my life.
If God gives me something, it must be for my good...even if it appears difficult on the surface.  This has been true of my twins.  What I thought would have been too much hard work and a curse has brought tremendous blessing and joy to my life.  You never know how God will use a perceived hardship for your good.
3.  I wasn't believing that God's grace is sufficient.
Regardless of what the Lord brings, he promises to give us the grace and strength we need to endure it.  When you imagine having two babies, you can't also imagine the way he will provide for all the challenges that will come.  Nor can you imagine the ways he will strengthen your faith as he provides.

SO - if you are like I was, someone who looks at the prospect of having multiples as something undesirable, I want to encourage you to do 2 things...
1.  If you are talking to a mother of multiples, consider restraining yourself from saying anything that might maker her feel like God has cursed instead of blessed her.  Don't focus the conversation on what you would or wouldn't do in her situation, or how it would make you feel.  Consider telling her that her children look really cute or she is doing a wonderful job handling such a great responsibility.  If you want to ask her about some of the challenges, that's fine.  She will probably enjoy talking about motherhood with her sweet littles, and might even share some of her burdens.  But please don't make her burdens greater by telling her that it would be horrible to have what she has.
2.  Examine your heart attitude towards children and God's plan for your life.  Do you trust that however children come, it will be a blessing?  Do you trust that God can sustain you regardless of your circumstances?  If you can believe those things, there will be no need to dread having multiples.

Thanks for enduring this mini-post within a post :-).
I don't mean to make anyone feel bad for saying these things to me and I assure you, I'm not bitter about it or dwelling on it.  However, I do want to be a safe voice to help you re-consider your heart attitude and words before saying something similar to another mom of multiples.  I think it's fine to marvel and be curious about the special challenges that moms of multiples face, and it's OK to acknowledge those things and ask about them.  It's just not very loving or courteous to tell someone you're glad you didn't get their lot in life.

...and if you still find yourself lost for words, try this list of the Top 5 Things to Say to Moms of Multiples

...And for anyone who missed it, my brother was recently featured in two news articles because he was selected to be the torch bearer for the Iowa Special Olympics.  This was a great honor given to a very deserving athlete, and I've enjoyed being the proud sister watching from the sidelines!!
Torch Bearer:  Ames man to carry torch into Special Olympics

The Sluggish Woman

I'll never forget meeting the pastor who married us, because when he heard my name, immediately he told me it meant "industrious".  First I thought, "woah, you know the meaning of my name?"  Then I thought, "what does industrious mean exactly?"  And finally, "if there is anything I'm NOT, it's industrious!"  For years after that I wondered, "Why did God name me, Emily if I'm not naturally a hard worker?"  But what was interesting, is that this very curiosity lead me to study what the bible said about being industrious, which in the end convicted me deeply about my love for sluggish living.  Six years after being informed about my namesake, I see God's work in my life, helping me become the woman he purposefully named me...Emily, the industrious.

My ears still perk up whenever I hear teaching about hard work versus lazy work.  Over the years I've read about and listened to many women whom I would consider to be industrious, and my heart has been taking notes.  Daily, I see obstacles to completing the tasks set before me with vigor and excellence, but I continually encounter stories of women who accomplish more than I can even imagine.  Why are the most God-fearing women seemingly also the highest-capcity, hard-working, and accomplished women?  Is this a coincidence or is there some connection between our sanctification, righteousness, and a desire to work hard?  I've come see that the more we believe our identity in Christ, the more we want to make the most of our time on this Earth, doing much work for God's glory instead of using our time for vanity and pleasure.

At first I wanted to rebuke our generation because when I look at women of history (or women around the world), without modern conveniences, health, and safety, I'm AMAZED at what they achieved on a daily basis.  We whine about the fact that it's hard to keep our children's 10,000 toys picked up or keep our dishwasher unloaded, when many children have had to learn to make toys from nature while their mothers sweat away at the dish bucket.  But before I jump on a soapbox with a rebuke I know I desperately need to hear, I'm going to pause and turn to scripture.  Because honestly, that's far more helpful (and far more correct) than using the lives of others as a measuring stick for holiness.

So, let's examine the sluggish woman...

What does the word "sluggard" mean?
The word sluggard is primarily found in the book of Proverbs.  It is the Hebrew word "'atsel" (sounds kinda like ought-sell) which literally means to lean idly or have slack.  Another translation uses the word "delay" to describe the actions of a sluggard.  Our commonly used modern-day term is "lazy" which literally means to do something slowly.  This term brings many pictures to mind, most of which we would like to believe do not pertain to us.  I mean, lazy people are couch potatoes (insert picture of an overweight man watching TV with greasy chip hands)...right???  But if you look at the biblical definition for the word and then examine without the mental picture of a couch potato, it becomes far more universal and convicting.

What might a "sluggish woman" look like?
This is my own application and interpretation of how the word picture of being sluggish (as presented in the book of proverbs) might apply to women today.  I have provided references if you find yourself wanting to dig deeper into the wisdom from these passages to better understand the context.

A sluggish woman:
  • Sleeps a lot more than is necessary or places an unhealthy value on her sleep (Prov 6:9, 26:14)
  • Does not complete the tasks she has been given to a high degree of efficiency or excellence, thereby cursing or letting down the task giver (Prov 10:26)
  • Covets the lives and accomplishments of others, although she gets nothing from it (Prov13:4)
  • Experiences hardship as a result of being slow to act (Prov 15:19)
  • Struggles to complete even the most mundane and simple daily tasks (Prov 19:24)
  • Doesn't do her work when she should or when the time is right (Prov 20:4)
  • Has desires that ultimately lead to death (Prov 21:5)
  • Overreacts to poential obstacles and / or makes excuses for her inactivity (Prov 22:13)
  • Eats more than she should (Prov 26:15)
  • Is not teachable and thinks she is justified in her delay to complete her work (Prov 26:16)
I don't know about you, but more than one of those things pertains to me on most days.  I see a different type of couch potato in that list.  I see a woman who has plenty of time to browse her blogs, catch up with Facebook, eat extra snacks, respond to emails, go to the park for a play-date and check her instagram all while complaining about her inability to get her other practical duties completed.

What are the implications of being a "sluggish woman"
A sluggish woman is sluggish in her heart more than her actions.  Her heart says, "How can I delay this work?  How can I get out of this work?  How can I do more of what I want and less of the stuff I don't really enjoy?"  Instead of diligently completing the tasks set before her with a high degree of excellence, knowing she is working unto the Lord, she sits and sits and sits, investing her time in breaks and leisure and "me time".  Or  maybe she does other good things, but is slow to do the tasks that really matter and take self-discipline.  I can't really say  how this reveals itself in each woman's life...because for some, they are really busy and check a lot of things off the list while in their hearts saying, "If I get this done as quickly as possible, then I can relax.  The goal is to get my work done so I can do whatever I want."  This attitude (while looking good on the outside) is just as poisonous as the woman who writes her to-do list and then forgets it the minute she walks away.

No matter what it looks like on the outside, we can see from the study of Proverbs that the sluggish woman is going to come up against great hardship, sorrow, and even death (apart from Jesus).  It's not that we should work hard just because God said so*, but because it's for our good and for our joy.  Proverbs 13:4 says that the soul of the diligent will be richly supplied...it will fill up to overflowing!  I know when I choose leisure and laziness over diligence, I'm failing to believe this principle.  Instead, I believe that the instant gratification of putting off hard work will give me the rest and refill I need...but it never does.

As always, remember that conviction is different than worldly sorrow and condemnation.  Conviction leads to repentance, restoration and running back to God while condemnation leads to a greater feeling of guilt and separation.  God calls us to repentance, because he loves us.

So if we aren't supposed to be sluggish, what ARE we supposed to be?  I think the answer is industrious - believing the principle that our souls are deeply rewarded when we work hard.

*update:  Actually, we do need to do things "just because God said so" because the bible calls us to obedience even when we don't understand the reason behind it.  What I should have clarified is that God is not like a mean parent, just ordering us to do things for no good reason.  He has great, wonderful, and perfect reasons for us to do things - and in this case it's to bring us joy through diligent work.
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