Motherhood & Family

God Who Pursues

(Reposted from Instagram)

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So much about parenting is hard. The sleepless nights, the pouring out, the not knowing what I’m doing. But the hardest thing is how little control I have over what matters most.

Jeff and my greatest hope for our children is that they’d know and walk with Christ. My greatest fear is that they won’t.

Will my children know God?

Sometimes this fear drives me to my knees. These are my best times, too few and far between, when I let desperation and helplessness usher me to God’s throne of grace.

Do my kids love Jesus?

Sometimes this fear becomes panic. Like a madwoman, I act as if I alone stand between my children and a future I fear is barreling toward them. My words come out forcefully, but not with God’s power.

Will he save them?

And sometimes, my fear leads me to wrong thoughts of God himself. I can’t know for sure whether my children will trust him. And his sovereignty starts looking more like fate than fatherhood, his election more like impersonal algorithm than love.

This week, I opened up the Scriptures and so did one my girls. In the same room, we read. I prayed. She highlighted. And when she shared later what she’d gleaned, I held back tears. God had spoken to her. She had insight that wasn’t from me. True thoughts of God from God himself. I caught a glimpse of God‘s pursuit of her heart and mind. And the fact that he is pursuing her apart from me.

Parents, God wants our children to know him more than we do. He is more committed to leading them in the truth than we are. He has chosen their times and places so that, seeking him, they would find him (Acts 17:26-27). He will not allow us to singlehandedly set the courses of their future because he loves them more than we ever could.

So let’s teach them his word. Let’s pray for them with tears. Let’s repent and live as examples of those being changed by the gospel. And let’s remember that we do all this because God first pursued us.

Because he chooses to pursue them them through us, we tread with holy fear.

Because he pursues them, we walk on solid ground.

Taking Heart

God Who Waits

IMG_7676Note: These shorter posts are reshared from content on my Instagram. I’ve found it easier these days to write shorter reflections there, but still plan to hit up this blog once in a while for longer pieces too!

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Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace
Freely bestowed on all who believe,
You who are longing to see his face
Will you this moment his grace receive?
– Grace Greater Than Our Sin

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As a kid, I got stomachaches in the middle of the night. I’d want to wake my mom but was afraid I’d get in trouble. I never got scolded, but even so I’d wait until it was unbearable.

I’ve come to see I do the same with God.

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There’s no such thing as cheap grace. There‘s presumption, the wrong notion that love looks at sin and says, “whatever, no big deal.” But that’s not grace. Grace is costly. All who’ve come to love our crucified Christ know this.

Sometimes though, the enemy takes my understanding of costly grace and twists it. He says to me:

…You’re going to pray about that again?
…Shouldn’t you be doing better by now?
…Can’t you handle this one on your own?

So I try to. Because I don’t want to presume on God’s kindness. I don’t want to test his patience. I don’t want to keep being so needy. I don’t want to get scolded.

But I am needy, and God knows I needed these words this week:

“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you, and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.” (Isaiah 30:18)

It turns out that I test God’s patience my own way— by not going to him. I have tested him, and he has proven to be so, so patient.

Just when we think we’ve out-asked, out-needed, overestimated him—when we finally come to him— he exalts himself in showing mercy.

So beloved, pray about that need again today. Come to him broken, come sinful, come wanting.

He waits to be gracious to you.

Motherhood & Family, Truth & Orthodoxy

Because You Tell Me

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Overheard today—

Jeff: You’re a very pretty girl!
Daughter: I know.
Jeff: How do you know?
Daughter: Because you tell me!

Not too long ago I had another conversation telling one of our girls why she was so special to me.

Her: Why are we talking about this?
Me: Do you want to talk about something else? Like why your brother is special?
Her: Yes!

I told a friend recently that growing up I was never insecure about my looks— even with big glasses, braces, and no sense of style. I attribute it to 1) not having TV, teen magazines, or Instagram. And 2) having a dad who told me I was beautiful. Dad told me this enough that I took it to be true. Then I didn’t even need to think about how I looked, pretty or not.

Every day we are presented with visions of beauty, aptitude, talent. As we scroll and scroll, we are lured into judging. To comparing. Then we filter and crop our lives to size. We forget we are image bearers, that God lovingly designed us with our builds and heights and hair. With our talents, gifts, and passions.

In Christ, our Father removes us from the slippery slopes of comparison and places us on level ground. You don’t need to earn his approval. You don’t need to compare. You don’t need to hold yourself to the world’s standards. And from this place of security, you can walk on.

Not to self-esteem boosting, mirror pep talks, and self-love memes. But to serving others. To neighbor-love. To God-glorifying stewardship.

Today, let your Father tell you what he thinks of you. Believe him. Let him free you from insecurity until you can forget yourself. And then move on to greater things.

Like listing all the reasons your little brother is so special.

Motherhood & Family, Taking Heart

No, I’m Not A Pro

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It hit me over Tex-Mex after a doctor’s appointment last week. I paused from my burrito, looked at Jeff and said, Can you believe we are going to have 4 kids? Can you believe we have 3?

I’m 37 weeks pregnant and baby girl could arrive any time. My doctor jokes about how I’m a “pro” going into my fourth labor and delivery, but the truth is, I don’t feel much more prepared for this baby than I felt 7+ years ago. If anything, three kids deep, I feel less sufficient for the task. Weeks (or days) away from meeting our fourth, I don’t feel as capable as I might have thought I’d be by now.

It’s not just the number of kids, really. (Though when I was pregnant with our first I couldn’t imagine how people made it past one.) I remember being discharged from the hospital with our firstborn and thinking, “That’s it? They’re just going to let us take her?” That we are allowed to be parents at all is still as shocking to me. As a mom of three, the enormity of the task of motherhood continues to dawn on me daily in new ways as does my inability to carry it out as I ought.

There is much more mystery in parenting than I had anticipated. I never expected to always have the right answers, to know what to do at all times, but I don’t think I ever realized how incredible it would be to be firsthand witness to a child’s life. As parents, there’s no one else who knows your children as well as you do and it’s easy to start feeling like you’ve got them figured out. At the same time, there is so much we are still learning about our children, so much hidden in the depths of who they are that we are only beginning to see.

It’s not just that each child has a unique combination of personality and preference,  strengths and weaknesses. It’s been fun to watch these aspects of their personhood be revealed, to learn who’s good at what, to be able to anticipate their different responses to circumstances, and to know how to help them differently. But there is a deeper reality that has become more apparent to me these days. That is, the fact that my children are daily interacting with the world— and with me— as embodied souls.

It’s not that I didn’t know this before, that my children have souls, but the reality of it is  becoming increasingly evident to me. I see it as we talk and they give me insight on how they interpret the world. I see it as they struggle to do good, as they grapple with their fears. I see it as they become aware of the brokenness in and around them.

I see it when one of them calls from the bed, “Mom, I have a question— it’s a Bible question!” It turns out she doesn’t just want to know some facts from Scripture, but what to do with her knowledge of falling short of God’s standard. We sit and talk through how difficult it is to be sorry and how hard it is to forgive.

The whole day, I have interacted with her primarily as caretaker and in-charge momma, now we speak as fellow struggling sinner-saints. We talk about how Paul wrote about the waging war inside us, of not doing the good he wanted to do, of doing the evil he didn’t want. I struggle too, I tell her, and we will continue to until we see Jesus. But he forgives us. He can change us. “I think I get it now,” she says sweetly. We hug and say goodnight. I have not been granted a chance to hear her thoughts and feelings, I have been gifted a chance to glimpse the inner workings of her soul.

My children are immortal beings with eternal souls. I would say this takes my breath away, but I don’t want to give the wrong impression. It feels less like witnessing a pretty sunset at the beach and more like standing at the precipice of a mountain. The view is incredible but my sense of helplessness at the top of sheer rock is almost overwhelming. To be entrusted with the care of souls is beautiful and terrifying at the same time. It is a holy task.

When I spoke to my daughter, we weren’t just interacting as thinkers. I couldn’t just operate out of my knowledge of religious truth, philosophy, or child psychology. Parenting is soul work. As she tried to make sense of what she knows and feels to be right, her own experience of being unable to carry it out, and her fears about the implications of her failure, her heart was making sense of truths with eternal consequences. My children are daily learning to live their lives before the face of God, of the reality of sinful nature, and hopefully, learning the wonder of the gospel.

Thus it is with fear and trembling that I prepare to welcome our newest family member into the world. I am not a pro. I could never wear any motivational mom gear because I am not #momstrong or a #bossmom by any measure. I don’t say this just because I know I should, but because I feel my own insufficiency more deeply and the weighty task of caring for these souls to be increasingly heavy. Yet I think there may be one thing I dare say I have grown in since not-so-baby-anymore #1, and that is turning to the one who is sufficient.

Many years ago, I may have crumbled into discouragement and fear at this growing sense of the enormity of motherhood, but by grace, I am learning to lean on grace. I have grown a bit, I hope, in running more quickly to my eternal refuge and help, to the one who welcomes weak moms and those who feel like they don’t know what they’re doing. I am recognizing more quickly that as I start feeling like panicking from the heights, that this is a call to trust. It is a call not to dwell on my lack but at his willingness to give grace, to finish my declaration of weakness with James 4:6’s but he gives more grace.

I have found there are one of two great temptations we are faced with when standing before tasks too great for us. First, the world would encourage us to turn inward at this point, to self-help and positive hashtags. But many of us have fallen enough times into the foolish self-confidence of Peter, who after declaring that he was different than all the other disciples, that he’d never deny Christ, found himself weeping at the end of the night. We have had enough of our own declarations of strength and subsequent failures.

The second temptation though, when we find ourselves trembling, is to try to pass off our unbelief as humility. Just as as soon-to-be-king Saul hid among the luggage even after God made clear his calling, we may walk in something that looks like humility, but actually is unwillingness to trust in his grace.

We, however, are called to a third way. To declare as Paul did, that though we are weak, our God is strong. As Christians we are freed not only to admit, but boast in our weaknesses and hear our God declare the sufficiency of his grace over us. His power is made perfect in our lack, so we stand confident in the strength he promises to give us to face the tasks he calls us to. Whatever your particular temptation in the face of God’s calling, know this — God gives more grace. He delights to show himself merciful to the humble and needy, and when you turn to him in your weakness, he receives glory by showing the sufficiency of his grace.

So here I am, in the last stretch of pregnancy, still learning to trust God with the life of my baby. Only instead of just wondering whether her heart will beat until we hold her in our arms (which I still grapple with anxiety about), I am trusting God for grace to care for her soul and the souls of her siblings.

I don’t know what you are being called to these days, whether it’s parenting or something else, but I do know that our sense of inadequacy and insufficiency often serves to remind us that God calls us to holy tasks too great for us. Maybe the reason why your particular task seems so huge is simply because it is huge. To live in obedience to God, to love as he loves, to trust and obey, to persevere through suffering– these are no small things whatever the context.

Whether in church, work, friendship, or family, we need not be strong on our own. We need not cower because of our inability. Though we may stand trembling at the precipices of God’s tremendous calling for our lives, we can trust.  Fully aware of the beauty and enormity of the tasks he has granted us, we look to him. Truly, our tasks are great and we really are insufficient for them, but even so, he gives more grace.

P.S.  I’ve been away from the blog for a while because I’ve been working on another writing project– but I hope to be posting more regularly again! They’ll probably be shorter posts so I can get them out more often, but hopefully they will be still be helpful. 

P.P.S. At the advice of a friend, I’m starting an Instagram account for this blog that I plan on using more regularly. If you’re on Instagram you can start following @keepingheartblog.

Truth & Orthodoxy

The Common, Hard Things

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“You’re so proud.”

Such were the insightful words of a dear, straightforward friend after I shared about my time in prayer. More specifically, I told her that I had told God, “My heart hurts…a little.” It was pretty big for me to admit out loud, to God and to another person, about my heartache. But she was referring to my attempt to play down what actually had hurt quite a lot. I laughed because she was right, and more than 10 years later, I’m thinking again about what she said.

Ever since I was a kid, I prided myself in not making a big deal out of things my peers did. I probably thought of myself as more mature, saving my sympathy for things I thought were real problems, not boy or friend drama. There were so many people going through worse things, how could my friends or I complain about our lives? I don’t know what it was that made me start comparing people’s difficulties so early on. Certainly pride was a factor, though I think not the whole reason.

Part of comparing people’s suffering had to do with trying to make sense of the world. As a child, I was moved by reports of famine abroad or serious illness closer to home. I didn’t know how to reconcile such terrible suffering with less horribly difficult things, and I didn’t think I should make a big deal out of my relatively easy life. I knew God was involved in our day-to-day, but I couldn’t see him as sympathizing with our daily burdens. Not when there were so many others who suffered more. Not when he himself already had gone through so much for our salvation.

The moment more than 10 years ago when I admitted that my heart was hurting (albeit, toned down with “a little”) signified a breakthrough for me in learning to come to God with suffering that in my mind was insignificant but felt hard nonetheless. As I started to give God just a little leeway into my hurt, he broke through in compassion with words Jesus spoke at the famous feeding of the four thousand.

The story goes like this. After days of ministering to the crowds, healing the lame, blind, crippled, and mute, Jesus approaches his disciples about getting food for the people. The disciples protest the impossibility of this task, and Jesus performs a miracle, feeding four thousand plus with seven baskets of leftovers to spare. I had known this story since I was a child, but for the first time, I noticed Jesus’ motivation for multiplying the bread and fish.

“I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.” (Matthew 15:32 ESV)

Jesus, who’d fasted for forty days early in his ministry, was concerned about a crowd who hadn’t eaten for three. He didn’t compare his capacity and trial to theirs. He knew some of them would not be able to handle the journey home, and in his kindness, was unwilling to send them away empty. He didn’t say, “I’m doing important things like healing blindness and sickness, bringing about God’s kingdom. You find food on your own.” He didn’t harshly rebuke them, “I didn’t eat for forty, you should be able to survive three.” He had compassion on them, the Scripture says. In the same way, he has compassion on us.

A few weeks ago, I told a friend how tired and unmotivated I’d been feeling. I wouldn’t have minded the fatigue if my mind were sharper and soul healthier. If I were out of commission physically, at least I could be getting some reading or prayer in. But I was reminded again that try as I may to separate the parts, I am an embodied soul, and my body, mind, and spirit are interconnected in complicated ways. My lack of productivity, both outwardly and inwardly, contributed to low-level guilt. I was also tired and cranky. And I was frustrated that I was being knocked out by something so common— a healthy first-trimester of pregnancy.

Then she spoke words I believed were from God to my heart. “Just because it’s common doesn’t mean it’s not hard.” (Thank God for kind friends who speak truth!)

So I have been thinking again of the gift of approaching God with our common, hard things, and want to share some of what I’ve been learning.

Common, hard things remind us of God’s infinite mercy and power.

If God were finite, he’d need to split his time, attention, and power accordingly between global crises and individual personal requests. The news cycle and “compassion fatigue” reveal our limited human capacity to care, much less act, in response to the suffering we witness in the world. Oftentimes we assume that God is like us, triaging the needs of billions and prioritizing the urgent ones first.

Some people think going to God with the small things in our lives belittles him, making him small in our own eyes. This is true if we only ever go to him with our own wants and needs. But our heavenly Father is big enough to handle both requests for his kingdom to come and for our daily bread. He is powerful enough to shoulder our troubles and the burdens of the rest of the world day in and day out.

I’ve heard people say they don’t pray because there are so many other important problems in the world for God to tend to. I know what that feels like. Often, God provides in small ways that matter to me, and as I’m thanking him, I am embarrassed that he answers my “dumb prayers.” I’ve been trying to stop calling them “dumb” and instead think of them them as “sparrow” requests, granted by God who cares for lowly sparrows and numbers the hairs on my head (Matthew 10:29-31).

Because God is infinitely powerful, no burdens are too heavy for him. Because he is infinitely merciful, none insignificant. He knows our frame, knows when there are things that will leave us too faint to walk home, and is willing and able to provide the bread and fish we need. Learning to come to him with our common, hard things reminds us of the greatness of his compassion and the limitless of his power.

Common, hard things deepen our sympathy for others.

There are trials we all recognize as legitimate suffering— serious illness, death of a loved one, persecution, and the like. But it’s harder to minister to people when they are not as strong as we are, not “getting over” things as quickly as we would, not enduring with attitudes we think they should have. We grow impatient with such sufferers. The problem with having a measuring chart that relativizes our suffering is that it hinders us from ministering to those whose trials are deemed less difficult. Thankfully, Jesus is not like us.

Jesus endured all we face: loneliness, rejection, temptation, pain, loss, tiredness, and more. He knows all of it, from Everest-sized suffering to pebble-in-shoe trials. Yet he doesn’t wait for us to approach him with our problems only to respond, “I endured. Why can’t you?” Rather, because he was tempted in every way as we are, our High Priest mercifully sympathizes with us in our weaknesses (Hebrews 4:15).

Likewise, as we learn to admit to God that the common trials in our lives are hard, we no longer see ourself as better than others who suffer. And as we receive comfort from him in our trails, we are able to comfort others with his divine comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

Common, hard things humble us so we can receive grace and give him glory.

Marriage and parenting are God-given mirrors, revealing to ourself our true selves. Since becoming a parent, I’ve seen how impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty I can be. But the most humbling thing for me hasn’t been merely seeing how sinful I am. The most humbling thing has been realizing how I’ve pridefully judged others who I thought were impatient, unmerciful, unkind, and all-around nasty. If my trials were uncommon and suffering extreme, I may find a way to excuse myself. But being put through the daily, common grind and temptations others face— and failing. That has been humbling.

The common, hard things in my life have been used by God to surface pride in the ability to resist temptations I thought myself above. I didn’t think I’d be the mom with the kid screaming in the store, caring more about my image than my child. Until first trimester of this pregnancy, I didn’t understand the temptation to distract myself with entertainment on my smartphone. I didn’t think my ability to be reasonable and patient was so rooted in my good health until facing constant fatigued and nausea. And I didn’t think there was so much pride and judgment sinisterly lurking in my heart.

1 Peter 5:5 says that “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (ESV). It is scary to think about being opposed by God. But the child of God has great comfort in knowing our Father works to humble his children. He disciplines us not just for the sake of putting us in our place, but that he may give us grace: grace in forgiveness, grace in his provision for our needs. And as we receive his grace, he receives all the glory.

When we don’t think we need him in our day-to-day, common, hard things, we miss the gift of his nearness, care, and forgiveness. When I push through ministry, family, friendship, and pregnancy on my own strength, I miss out on a chance to receive the grace of God and display his power being made perfect in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9). I miss out on the opportunity to show those around me that anything good in me comes not from me, but from Christ.

Our infinite God joyfully welcomes not only his strongest saints, but lovingly carries the weakest of his fold. So I’m hoping to learn to come to him more readily with my feeble heart, mind, and body. I am hoping that together we’d receive help to endure things we feel only ought to hurt “a little” and that we’d help others do the same. All so that ultimately we’d be witnesses to the boundless compassion and power our loving Heavenly Father.