Hell0, 2017!

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I have a love/hate relationship with midnight, New Year’s Eve. I appreciate the opportunity to turn a new leaf, but I am very nostalgic, so I always cry as we bid farewell to another year. One year, Andrew and I took a getaway over New Year’s with two couples. While the other five were drinking sparkling cider and watching fireworks from the balcony, I was sitting inside with tears streaming down my face. It’s become a big joke…my friend Brittney always texts me to ask how my annual cry was. ;)

This year, I missed the countdown. My hubby was in bed and I was in the dark living room feeding my baby. I felt contented and peaceful as I looked at the clock and realized it was midnight, 2017. I didn’t cry.

I’ve come a long way in the past year. When I reflect on where I was at as of January 1, 2016, I am thrilled to see tangible ways that God changed and grew me. If I had to pick one word to describe my 2016 “journey” it would have to be “trust”. I continued down the path of learning to give my mommy anxiety to God and let Him care for my little ones. I gave our future job/ministry plans to God as we waited for Him to open doors. I let go of stressing about when God would give us another baby. Over and over, God met our needs and gave us answers, sometimes to questions we hadn’t even thought to ask. He showed me repeatedly that trusting Him is always best, and He is always faithful. I am so grateful for the work He did in me, through pain and through joy, and I look forward to 2017 with great anticipation for what He will accomplish!

In some ways, with the excitement of a new baby and Andrew’s completion of seminary, the New Year caught me off guard. So I’m behind on goals and plans. But here are a few scattered ones I’ve been mulling over for awhile. These are mostly practical/tangible. There are also many other ways I am asking God to grow me in godliness and Christlikeness this year.

I am purposing NOT to push through the days and “just try to make it” to crib time or bed time or Daddy getting home. All the frustrations and accidents and challenges that happen on our way to those times of respite are what these little years are made of. How can I wish them away?? I want to be very present and to enjoy my children even when it is hard to see past the spilled juice and the meltdowns and the blowouts. These sweet little souls will only be little for so long and I will choose to embrace this season, each part of it!

I hope to grow in my prayer life, to sieze many small opportunities to commune with God throughout my day. I have grown in being faithful to actually pray for people when I say I will, and I desire to be even more consistent in this and remember to check in with those I am lifting up.

I will seek to grow in having a “helper mindset” toward Andrew. To be flexible and adaptable, eager to free him up for ministry to others. I was dependedent on him so much last year when I was in the throes of pregnancy sickness, and I am excited to use my good health and energy this year to better serve and help him fulfill his callings. I want to be a gracious and humble wife, with low expectations.

I desire to train our children with their salvation and love for the gospel in mind. To correct for the purpose of showing them their need for Christ and His perfect fulfillment of that need, rather than for the purpose of making my life easier, making me look good, etc. I want to train them unselfishly with true, biblical love, and to be consistent and not lazy in my correction.

I will take consistent preventative measures to build up our immune systems as best we can, while knowing that God alone oversees our health. I did some research over the past few months and with Andrew’s permission, picked a few realistic things to create our new daily supplements “regimen”. They are a good probiotic (I’ll be rotating which one we take every few weeks), vitamin C, and cod liver/fish oil. I also just bought elderberries to make elderberry syrup, and we have almost entirely cut refined sugar from Caleb’s diet. I am still taking my prenatal vitamins, magnesium, and a large dose of Vitamin D daily, per my midwife. I hope these efforts help us achieve a healthier year, but I know that God is in charge of whether or not we get sick.

I hope to read six books. I hope I read more, but I figured I’d start with a super realistic goal and go from there. ;)

These are a few of my random goals for 2017, what’s left of it now that we’re in February. :) What are you working toward?

Serving Open Arms

I’ve got so much I want to record about Caleb and our sweet Seggie. It’s been an eventful couple of months this summer and we made lots of memories I don’t want to forget!

But in the meantime, I’d like to share about an opportunity to support the pro-life cause in a tangible way. I have a more personal connection this year to the clinic we are raising money for. When I was six weeks along with Baby Seggie, we went to Open Arms Pregnancy Clinic to have my first ultrasound. I got to meet a number of the staff, see what their welcome “interview” is like, and benefit from the medical expertise and kindness of their ultrasound technician. I also personally know one of the women who is full-time there, as she is in our fellowship group at church. This is a wonderful nonprofit!

Although we gave Open Arms a donation to thank them for serving us, it was all we could do to convince them to accept it. There is absolutely NO pressure to donate, which from many testimonies I’ve read, is not true of Planned Parenthood, though they advertise their services as free. Open Arms is truly all about ministering to women by showing them the value of their babies’ lives, supporting them emotionally, practically, and spiritually throughout their pregnancy and beyond, and giving them the hope of the gospel.

It sounds cliche, but $5, $10, or $50, no amount is too small. Together, our family is raising money for the Walk for Life on October 15, which, due to a schedule conflict, only Andrew will actually be walking in. We appreciate any gifts toward this vital ministry!

Our Fundraising Page

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19ish Weeks :)

{Marriage Journal} A Baby Is Not An Escape

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Here are a few thoughts I drafted one month before Caleb was born, but never posted. 15 months later, I’m convinced more than ever that a solid marriage is the best foundation from which to begin adding children to the mix! =) 

Andrew and I are bursting with excitement to meet our first child sometime in the next several weeks. It’s truly a day we’ve talked and dreamed about for years, and it’s finally here.

Goodbye, Just Us

Saying hello to this beautiful new season of life called parenting has meant bidding farewell to an equally amazing time as just the two of us, and that makes me sad. Andrew is my very favorite person and best friend, and no matter how much one-on-one time we are blessed with, I could always enjoy even more. I’m never tired of his company, and when he is at school, I look forward to his return all day long. Sometimes we can’t even wait through his 20 minute commute and one of us calls the other when he’s out of class so we can start talking while he drives. =)

This is not to say that we do not sin against each other, behave selfishly, hurt one another’s feelings, have conflict, and hit bumps in the road, because we do. But thanks entirely to the grace of God, our relationship is characterized by unity and camaraderie. He has enabled us to establish the habit of keeping short accounts, so that matters of conflict are addressed quickly and willing forgiveness is granted regularly. This makes for an imperfect but oh, so sweet friendship. Praise God!

Hello, Parenthood

The natural progression of life is to start having children sometime after your wedding, and that’s a very good thing. But I think it would be easy to seek this “next step” of parenting as a means of escape from the monotony of a marriage that has become at best boring, or even downright unhappy.

Escape is never the right reason to begin having children. Adding babies to an unhealthy marriage is a sure way to make that marriage even worse. I cannot imagine navigating just the challenges of pregnancy with a husband I’m not close to, let alone trying to raise a little person(s) together. That sounds like the recipe for disaster.

If you happen to be someone currently married and pre-babies, I would encourage you not to crave that “next step” as a way to restore excitement or add a new distraction to your life. It may be wise to evaluate your relationship with your husband and take purposeful steps to help it flourish. (This is always a good idea, regardless of your season of life.) Pinpoint where you are sinning or slacking off in your marriage and ask the Lord to change you from the inside out and grow you into the wife He has called you to be. Communicate with your husband and work together to strengthen your friendship. Of course, all our people problems can be traced back to where our hearts are at with God, so this area of our lives must be addressed first.

Having children should be a joyful step that married couples decide to take as one happy unit. I don’t know this first hand yet, but I have observed that parenting is a team effort and should draw dad and mom closer to one another as they learn to lean on God through brand new challenges and responsibilities that children bring.

You’re Already a Family

Instead of thinking of “starting a family” as the morning you get a positive pregnancy test, think of your wedding day as that moment. You are a family, just the two of you. Soak up this precious season of life as “newlyweds” (even if it’s been years) and build into your friendship with your husband. After all, when the kids are grown and gone, you’ll be right back where you are now. If your littles were your escape from “just the two of you”, that doesn’t sound like a happy way to enter the “empty nesters” phase.

I know there are countless stories of unhappy couples having children, and God using parenting as a tool to refine the marriage and bring the husband and wife closer together. All is certainly not lost when babies are added to a rocky marriage. Praise the Lord! But it is ideal to work toward that healthy relationship before the kiddos come along, so consider how you might do that now. Never view a baby as an escape; instead ask the Lord to create a marriage you don’t want to escape from.

This World is Not My Home…And That Changes Everything

IMG_7707As I wrote recently in my 2015 recap, I did a lot of wrestling over the past year. Much of that wrestling continues as we are one month into 2016. It’s not necessarily a negative thing; wrestling is a necessary part of the Christian life. There was a time when I didn’t really wrestle the way I do now, and I know that I had nowhere near the relationship with Christ or the desire to make my life count for Him that I do now. With growth and sanctification has come more intense internal spiritual battle.

In reading Letters to Pastors’ Wives (which is SO good so far, by the way), I stumbled upon a quote that absolutely hit the nail on the head in articulating one of my biggest struggles. This quote is written of two godly Christian wives from years ago…

“They knew this world was not their home, and this knowledge gave them stability to enjoy good times without needing them and to endure hardship without despair.”

When I read that, my world was rocked. That is precisely where I so want my heart to land. I’m a pendulum, constantly swinging between being so caught up in not holding onto my gifts that then I don’t even enjoy them, to being crippled by fear that I might lose them because I’m idolizing them. But that simple sentence encapsulates the balance that I long to strike: applying the truth that this world is not my home by enjoying the good times, with a precious, healthy family and all my material needs met, while still having a heart that is prepared to see those blessings removed without sinking into despair.

This concept boiled down into one simple sentence hit me in such a profound way that I felt compelled to share it in case anyone out there wrestles with the same issue.

Believing by faith that this world is a fleeting journey taking me toward my eternal home with Christ has massive practical implications for how I live my life. I’m constantly begging the Lord to give me the discipline and vision to set my “mind on the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God” (Col. 3:2).

Because doing so changes everything.

{Mommy Journal} Where’s the Chocolate?

DSC_1763It’s been one of those long stay-at-home mom weeks, as my baby has had a drawn-out flu bug leading to restless nights and fussy days. My “tired” this week pales in comparison to most mothers’ tired, but I struggled with it nonetheless.

In many little moments of feeling emotionally and physically spent, I noticed thoughts like this skip across my head.

I need a few minutes to put my feet up and watch a grown-up show. Chocolate would make everything better right now. I really need a nap. I need a washing machine in my apartment. I need my mom. I need a husband who isn’t buried in homework. I need a break. 

But guess what? I didn’t need any of those things. We’re a little over halfway through Whole30 right now (a restrictive 30 day nutritional reset diet), and if nothing else, it has shown me how quickly when I’m feeling sad or at the end of my rope, I turn to food or something else for the comfort I’m craving, without even thinking about it! I didn’t eat any chocolate this week, and I said no to a lot of other desires as I realized that these small trials are meant to push me not to comfort food, a nap, or a break, but to Jesus Christ Himself. On good days and on bad days, Jesus and Jesus alone is what I need.

I long for my first impulse in the difficult moments not to be “Where’s the chocolate?” but a humble cry to my Savior. When life’s hard circumstances, big or small, have me down, I want to instinctively run to sit at His feet, by meditating on memorized Scripture, singing hymns in my head, or poring over an open Bible.

This week, as I’ve recognized my sinful tendency to skip Jesus and seek joy from material gifts, I have experienced the lasting benefits of instead denying my flesh and “seeking the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1b).

It takes surprising discipline to do this–to meditate on the gospel while I’m cleaning a sick little one, or praise God for Who He is when I’m getting up for the 10th time at night–but the reward of real peace and contentment is well worth the struggle to think heavenward.

One specific thought that has encouraged me this week came from a chapter I read from Here is Our God along with Revelation 4-5 a few days ago. I’ll leave you with this quote.

“Let’s never forget that this heavenly scene, with God’s throne at the center, is the center of the universe NOW, with this ongoing worship of our Creator God. There is a throne in heaven now, awesome and sovereign. Don’t doubt it. It’s right there right now as if just through a door. Let’s think of this throne when we wake up tomorrow morning… Let’s never think of our sufferings or our joys–or others’ sufferings and joys–without letting live in our imaginations the picture of this sovereign throne and our awesome holy God and this worship of Him ringing right now at the center of the universe.”

(Kathleen Nielson)

Clarification: Chocolate, washing machines, naps…they are all gifts from God that can be used and enjoyed. This post simply seeks to point out my tendency to start (and often end) with those things, rather than running to God with my troubles. 

 

2015: The Year of Wrestling

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I generally feel sad on New Year’s Eve. It’s a day when I can’t avoid how quickly time is passing by. Every time December 31 rolls around, I can remember the previous one like it was yesterday, and it weirds me out. It’s a day when my nostalgic, sentimental side threatens to overwhelm me with melancholy.

But I also embrace the opportunity to reflect on what God has done in the past year, and to start afresh with renewed energy and passion. This year, I’m especially grateful for the past 365 days.

While last year was certainly one of sweet, unmatched blessings with my precious little family, I am even more grateful for everything God did in my heart.

If I had to pick one word to describe my spiritual journey in 2015, it would be “wrestling”. I wrestled with intense fear like I had never known. I wrestled with assurance of salvation, and it was a hard, draining, fight. I wrestled with finding the balance of enjoying God’s good gifts while recognizing that He could remove them at anytime and that I am not entitled to anything.

I haven’t overcome all these struggles by any means, but I have seen God’s faithfulness to comfort, to speak truth, to hold onto me. He restored my confidence and trust that He has saved me, after some very agonizing months, and I am closer to Him and more thankful for His work on the cross than ever before. He used His Word and many wise believers in my life to teach me how to combat fear and anxiety Biblically, so that although I still struggle with it, I am equipped to conquer it in His strength. He is still teaching me how to enjoy His material blessings without finding my joy and stability in them.

It’s not something you can measure, but it feels like I grew more in my love for God and my understanding of the Christian walk in 2015 than I did in my whole life up to that point. It makes me excited for how He will continue to change and shape me in the years to come. What an awesome, powerful God we serve!

Yes, I wrestled in 2015. It was hard work and at times I was overcome by how far I had to go. But God was right there with me, every step of the way. So really, when I look at 2015, I see God. I see Him overshadowing all my failures and struggles and sin. And I trust Him to stay at my side for whatever 2016 will bring.

Do not fret because of evildoers,
Be not envious toward wrongdoers.
For they will wither quickly like the grass
And fade like the green herb.
Trust in the Lord and do good;
Dwell in the land and cultivate faithfulness.
Delight yourself in the Lord;
And He will give you the desires of your heart.
Commit your way to the Lord,
Trust also in Him, and He will do it.
He will bring forth your righteousness as the light
And your judgment as the noonday.
(Psalm 37:1-6)

To Make You More Like Christ

DSC_0603It was 11 PM and I was in bed but far from asleep.

I had just finished complaining to Andrew about some apartment management frustration and worries over how the following day would go in terms of coordinating my responsibilities with Caleb’s schedule.

After about five minutes of silence, I blurted out, “I’m really mad and it’s making me mad that I’m mad!” (Two-year-old reasoning, anyone?)

We talked some more and I said, “But why do these things always happen on the days when you’re gone?”

Andrew’s answer: “To make you more like Christ.”

Ouch. I knew he was right, and as I sat there trying to surrender my heart to God’s sovereign provision of irritating circumstances, I replied in a humorous tone, “Congratulations. You’ve successfully shut me up.”

We have a running joke about one time when I was upset about another situation and Andrew gave me wise advice. My response in the moment had been, “I don’t need to be Biblical counseled right now, I just need you to listen!” (Excuse the poor grammar. I know the nerds out there are dying to add an “ly” to the end of “Biblical”.) Now, when these sorts of conversations start, Andrew likes to mimic me in an annoying, squeaky voice, “I don’t need to be biblical counseled!” I don’t know about you, but in our experience, humor is often a great way to diffuse tension.

But I digress.

Andrew’s answer was spot on, and I knew it.

This small frustration was just one of many tools that God uses to refine me and transform me more and more into His image. As Andrew also pointed out, I could either have a bad attitude about it, or I could choose to let it drive me to the cross and make me more like Christ. Either way, I wasn’t getting out of it, so I might as well grow through it!

Are you dealing with something difficult, big or small, today? God wants to use that situation to make you more like His Son. Don’t waste that opportunity. Don’t fight God’s hand.

Loving Sacrificially as Jesus Loved Us

loveOn Monday night I shared this simple little devotional at our monthly Bible study Ladies Night. Posting it was easier than writing something new…so here ya go. =) 

Tonight I want to share a few thoughts about one aspect of Biblical love. In John 13:34 Jesus says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another.” Since Jesus commands us to love each other just as He loves us, I started thinking about what that looks like. One of the most obvious aspects of His love for us is that it is a sacrificial love.

“But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; The chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, And by His scourging we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5)

Jesus loved us so much that He sacrificed more than we could ever imagine for us. He left His home in Heaven, where everything was perfect. There was no sin, no sadness, no broken relationships, no suffering, no misery, no sickness, no hunger and thirst, and no pain. He came to earth and was born into a modest family in a stable. He went from the glory of Heaven, where everyone recognized Him as the King that He is, to growing up surrounded by sinners, most of whom did not know He was God, or refused to believe. He experienced 40 days of hunger and thirst, He fought temptation, and He spent His time ministering to unlovely, sick, disgraced, and poor people. He invested years of love into a man who betrayed Him for money. And finally, He suffered unbelievable physical pain and the emotional torment of separation from His Father, ultimately giving up His very life, all so that we could be reconciled to God and have our sins forgiven. He sacrificed in all these ways so that we could be saved.

“He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification.” (Rom. 4:25)

In Jesus, we have an example of the kind of love we are called to show to one another.

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:16-18)

The world tries to tell us that love is about romance and feelings. Even worse, our culture emphasizes the importance of loving ourselves and seeking our own happiness. Relationships according to the world are about what makes us feel good.

But the kind of love that Jesus calls us to is a sacrificial love that puts others’ needs and interests above our own.

Think about one of the relationships in your life. Perhaps someone hard to love, or someone you interact with regularly like your husband, parent, sibling, roommate, or friend. Take a moment to evaluate your love toward that person. Do you show more or less love to them depending on what they can do for you or how they make you feel? Does your behavior toward them change depending on theirs? Are you characterized by willingly and joyfully making sacrifices for them with no expectation of thanks or acknowledgement in return? Are you motivated to love because of what you will receive back?

I was asking myself these questions about my marriage it hit me that often the “sacrifices” I make for Andrew are done with unspoken stipulations. For example, I will be joyful in my sacrifice provided he acknowledges what I have done. If I do not receive thanks in return, I may pout and wonder why I bothered going out of my way for him. Because my husband is a thankful guy, I do not often have a chance to practice sacrificing for him without acknowledgement, but I think often I just subconsciously expect and feel like I deserve his praise.

1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “it does not seek its own”.

If I am sacrificing in order to enjoy the praise or thanks of another, or to get some favor in return, or because it makes me look good of feel good about myself, it is not truly sacrificing at all. It is doing something with my best in mind, not that of the other person. That is not the love with which Jesus loves us. 

John Piper writes, “The highest act of love is the giving of the best gift, and, if necessary, at the greatest cost, to the least deserving. That’s what God did. At the loss of His Son’s life to the totally undeserving, God gave the best gift – the display of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.” 

It’s so easy to go through life with an entitlement mindset. It does not come naturally to us to love others sacrificially without thought for our own well being. But this sacrificial love is what we see modeled in our Savior, and it is the kind of love we are to practice.

Ironically, when we unselfishly sacrifice for others with Jesus’ love and in His strength, we are rewarded with the pleasure that comes from obeying and serving God. The satisfaction we might find in receiving praise or acknowledgement from people is fleeting. But there is lasting joy in pleasing the Lord!

This week, meditate on the sacrificial love that Jesus has shown to you. Thank Him for loving you with no consideration of what you could give back to Him, and ask Him to enable you to show that kind of love to the people in your life.

Image taken from fortalezadoguincho.com. 

{Reading Report} What I Read in 2014

My five favorite books I read in 2014 were:

The Hole in Our Holiness
The Gospel at Work
Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus 
Creative Counterpart

I didn’t exactly meet my goal of reading 48 books. I read 33, and that was only thanks to the book review job I started in the spring. Below is what I read. The books in bold are what I read independently, the others I was paid to read and review. For those I read on my own, you can find some of my reviews here.

Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book about a (Really) Big Problem 
A Quest for More: Living for Something Bigger than You 
I Will Carry You: The Sacred Dance of Grief and Joy 
When God Weeps: Why Our Sufferings Matter to the Almighty 
Creative Counterpart : Becoming the Woman, Wife, and Mother You Have Longed To Be
Glimpses of Grace: Treasuring the Gospel in Your Home 

Unbroken (audiobook)
For Women Only 

First We Have Coffee
Reckless Abandon 

A Cup of Cold Water: The Compassion of Nurse Edith Cavell
Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow
Passion: How Christ’s final day changes your every day 

The Hole in Our Holiness
A Loving Life: In a World of Broken Relationships 
The Intolerance of Tolerance
Captivated: Beholding the Mystery of Jesus Death and Resurrection

Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full
Jesus or Nothing
What Every Woman Wishes Her Father Had Told Her
Everyone’s A Theologian
Evangelism: How the Whole Church Speaks of Jesus 
The Doctrines of Grace: Student Edition
Suffering Well
The Witch of Blackbird Pond (audiobook)
The Gospel at Work
Now That I’m a Christian: What It Means to Follow Jesus
Stepping Heavenward: One Woman’s Journey to Godliness
Al Capone Does My Shirts 
Al Capone Shines My Shoes (audiobook) 
On Becoming Baby Wise: Giving Your Infant the GIFT of Nighttime Sleep