Taking Heart

Just From Jesus Simply Taking

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Just from Jesus simply taking life and rest and joy and peace. I stand in my kitchen, listening as the words fall and flow like Isaiah’s waters in the wilderness. “The burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water”, he prophesied.

God knows I am thirsty.

And, just from Jesus simply taking— this is living, gospel water.

My default, a combination of temperament, experience, and the general human condition, is to approach the Christian life ready to do, to strive, to work. I am not a Deist; I do not believe God just wound the clock and left us to run. But I can live as if I am the main force in my life, God having jumpstarted it by grace.

We sang Tis So Sweet at our wedding, hands raised, declaring God’s faithfulness and our need. These days, the old hymn ministers to me again. “Just from Jesus simply taking” does not come naturally, and has not been my posture as of late.

Just from Jesus simply taking— can it really be that simple? In the midst of all that is going on in and around me, life and rest, and joy, and peace are mine to simply receive? As I meditate on these words, the weight in my heart shifts a bit.

If we have eyes to see them, to listen for it, we will find Scripture replete with God’s divine invitation to simply take.

I came that they may have life and have it abundantly (Jn. 10:10).

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28).

Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full (Jn. 16:24).

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid (Jn. 14:27).

Life. Rest. Joy. And peace. These are mine and yours for the taking. Not as mighty conquerors claiming a prize. No, not as the world gives does he give. Not by earning. Not with strings attached, only if you’re beautiful and smart and strong and good enough.

This is Jesus who gives. Precious Jesus, who said of his own body and blood, offered to sinners— Take, eat and drink. To those with no hope of making it on our own, he gave himself that we may freely receive what he has bought with his blood.

So come, weary ones, and find rest. Come depressed and despairing, find joy. Come, anxious and obsessive worriers, find peace. Come broken and dying, and find life. Take him at his word and rest on his promise. In simple faith plunge beneath the healing cleansing flood, and find grace to trust him more.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

She Sings

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She sings as she suckles. The notes rise and fall and I feel her song on my chest. This moment is a gift, a divine yes.

The last month hasn’t been the easiest. We are walking on while waiting on many fronts. Some are shorter-term needs, others are distant hopes. We are praying for prodigals and struggling saints, for suffering friends and hurting ministries, for the faith of our children and our own sanctification. In my grief and anxiety, I have wondered if he truly sees, if he will really answer. God, help me believe that you answer prayers, I weakly offered just last week.

Now, listening to my baby breathe, I think about how each exhale is a resounding testimony that he indeed hears.

During pregnancy, I prayed almost daily— God, please let this baby live.

After miscarriage, after Jeff dreamt we had another little boy and girl— God, please let this be prophetic.

As newly married— God, would you grow our family?

When we dated— God, please confirm our steps.

As a single woman— God, you know my desires.

Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, he said. And this is just one trail of petitions.

If I reach for a different thread, I find countless others wrapped up in this very moment. There’s confirmation about where to serve, the home I am sitting in, the faith to follow. There’s the silence right now—the gift of rest as Jeff takes out the big kids, and the notable absence of the voices of shame and condemnation, once constant companions. I have a steady sense of purpose, a will to live, an assurance that I belong to God. This hasn’t always been the case.

There have been plenty of no’s and the answers have not always come as quickly as I hoped. But I pleaded in years past— God, make yourself real to me. Steadily and surely, he has. The gift of our fourth child and the faith I have as I hold her now is but a small sampling of how.

From the lips of my baby he has ordained praise, the gift of unveiling and an invitation to remembrance. Do you really answer prayer? Her song is the gentlest rebuke for my forgetfulness, a soft yet strong word: See here my yeses.

Motherhood & Family

Family Bible Reading

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My parents gave me this Bible as I started ministry after college. It travelled all over the world with me, sitting open during meet-ups and quiet times. It is highlighted and underlined with remembrances of living words shedding light on my heart. And while it’s been shelved for some years (I switched translations), I pulled it out recently for Bible reading with the kids.

There’s nothing magical about an old Bible, but it is sweet to think that God knew as I read, prayed, fretted over my future with it, I’d one day be using it to speak his words to my own children.

Our family has recently started reading the Bible together daily. We’ve probably only been 50/50 (or 75/25) in terms of consistency, but it’s been really good. So while we’re just getting into the grind of it, I thought I’d share some of my preliminary thoughts for others thinking about cultivating the same discipline.

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

We read one chapter in the OT and one in the NT per reading (right now Psalms and the Gospels). We try to read in the morning over breakfast and at night when the kids are ready for bed. We’re not always consistent, especially at night, but having a simple routine keeps it from feeling too daunting. For us, 5-10 minutes a reading means 10-20 minutes a day. We’re not coming with lesson plans (though we have had good conversations), just listening to God’s Word together and answering questions as they come up.

It’s a great way to serve my children while caring for my soul.

Last month, I talked to a friend, a mom and missionary, who recently sustained an ankle injury. When I asked her how she’d have time to focus on her recovery, she told me PT told her to include her kids in her therapy exercises. Right now, our children love it when we read to them. They love spending focused time with us (sometimes when we’d rather them not!) and will take every moment with us they can get. As much as I may feel too busy or tired, I want to make the most of this time while their hearts are still soft to God’s word and to me. And in this season where alone time is hard to come by, God’s been refreshing my heart through these morning and night bookends.

It’s about tasting and seeing together that God is good.

One way to make readings feel boring for kids is to automatically turn the passages into ways to get them to behave. While there are times for correction and instruction, not every Bible reading should feel this way. More than needing a moral compass, our children need (and want!) to know the living God through his wondrous deeds. When we read together, we are simply opening up the Word of God to discover together how amazing, captivating, powerful, holy, beautiful, and wonderful he is. And truly he is.

It’s not impossible.

I remember reading about families doing family devotions and thinking it was a good idea— in theory. I pictured something that felt formal and forced. I pictured families sitting still, being serious, and basically not looking like ours. (For some context, we have trouble getting the kids to stay seated at the table for meals.) It turns out our readings just look like our family having our usual time together– only instead of focusing our attention on a children’s book, game, or movie, we’re reading the Bible together. Sometimes the kids will roll around in bed, stare off blankly into space, or ask a completely unrelated question. But more often than not, they are listening. And even if they don’t remember everything we read, they are learning through practice that God’s word is worth our time and attention.

Lastly, we need to believe it is worth it it.

Though it’s not impossible, consistent Bible reading does take effort. But it takes more than just determination and grit. When I get to the heart of it, the biggest reason I often choose not to spend time in God’s word is not busyness or lack of discipline, but unbelief. I push it aside because I’m not sure he’ll speak to me. I’m not convinced that he’ll speak what I need to hear or meet me in my need.

So I need faith. Faith that God has something to say to my family, that he holds the words of life. Faith that as pressing as everything else seems, we won’t regret stopping to hear from him. Faith that above all else, we need him, his grace, and his truth. And faith that if his Word falls on good soil today, it will bear a harvest, 30, 60, 100-fold in due time.

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul.
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
Psalm 19:7-8 (NIV)

Motherhood & Family

My Soil

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(from Instagram)

“Can we check on our garden?” I give them the go ahead and they run to fill their cans in the bathroom, watering the kitchen tiles on their way out. They return with strawberries, cilantro, and news of promising zucchini flowers and sunflower stems.

I leave most outdoor activities to Jeff, but I think writing, for me, is what gardening is to him. When I arrange and tend to words and thoughts, I feel I’m doing good work, even if only as an amateur in my backyard. The fact that my work yields handfuls of fruit at a time is okay with me. I enjoy it and am thankful it can be beneficial to others in some measure.

It’s hard though to find energy and time. And a few months ago, I found myself growing impatient at the demands of home and family because I wanted to write more. It occurred to me then that I was in danger of resenting the very soil God wanted me to write out of.

It’s tempting to imagine we’d accomplish more— for God even— if not for the circumstances we’ve been placed in. It’s easy to believe we’d bear more fruit if only. If only the kids weren’t so needy. If only the people I discipled more mature. If only my parents more reasonable. If only schoolwork easier. If only my health were better.

But beloved, Divine Love has ordained for you this season and place to offer worship and obedience you could not offer in any other time or place. And as you abide in Christ, he promises the fruit you bear this season will last (John 15:16).

If it were up to me, I’d probably choose to bear fruit in a climate-controlled, sterile greenhouse. Here I’d serve, live, love, and write without hindrance. But I am bound to my own time and place, affected by the weather and surrounded by dirt. This is the soil I have been placed in to work out my salvation— the vocation of motherhood, the heartache of ministry, the needs of souls, life circumscribed by my limited body.

Here, I have been called to bear the fruit of the Spirit, to serve, to be made more like Jesus. Here, in this season, in this space, with gardening children and slippery kitchen floors.

Taking Heart

Gaius

IMG_9670“Unfortunately, no other information about Gaius has survived,” I read. I pause and store this fact (of lack of facts) to come back to.

The unknown surrounding the life of the recipient of an epistle (3 John, specifically) is strangely comforting to me. Although, I shouldn’t say ”strangely” since I’m predictably drawn to such stories of hidden, Godward lives. I wouldn’t dare to say I identify with these saints as if I’d number myself among them. But their stories refresh my heart and recalibrate my desires. And they give me relief from the soul-shaping pressures of what is showcased and applauded in the world and much of Christian ministry today.

We minister, work, raise children, and live life in an age where we’re presented with constant, often instant, measures of success. The Bottom Line. Likes. Reach. Church Attendance. Conversions. We admire those who manage to bring in more of the above. We study how they made it. We listen to their talks and hope to one day share the same stage.

It is exhausting, discouraging, confusing, and our hearts know something is off here.

Which is why I am grateful for Gaius, whose hospitality was commended by John: “Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers.” And I wonder how appealing such praise would be to most of us today, to be told we are doing a faithful thing.

I wonder if we’d opt for other adjectives: It is an effective and productive thing you do. It is an unprecedented and amazing thing you do. It is a groundbreaking and world-shaking thing you do. In the office, at home, in ministry, on social media, how many of us would consider being called “faithful” high praise?

But God rejects our terms and pays no heed to our metrics. Because, yes, you can be famous, highly effective, and praised while walking with God— but you could also gain the world and lose your soul. Because, if God saw success like we did, how would Jesus have measured up, finishing his ministry with 12 disciples—one a traitor— a mere 120 in the upper room after his ascension?

Scripture shows us it is his job to makes things grow, ours to be good and faithful servants. Thus, I am asking for grace to reject the world’s descriptors of a thing well-done and choose to do the faithful thing. As one who is beloved by God (as Gaius was described by John), to do the faithful thing in midnight baby feedings, in everyday marriage, in speaking to my children, at church, in writing. And in of it to leave the measuring to him.

I am asking for eyes to see past the screen, the praise of people, my own legacy.

And I am asking for a heart that daily works toward his praise in both senses– for the glory of his name and for his precious words of encouragement when I see him face to face.

Beloved, we may be forgotten by the world, but we will never be forgotten by him. And on the day of Christ, we will see that nothing was worth pursuing more than his welcome and well done.