Thursday, November 19, 2009

True hope

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." -- Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

I can quote this verse, but I forget, sometimes, to claim its truth and live it out. It's been a rough couple of weeks with the pregnancy, not because of any problems really, but because of expectations and false hopes.

Last week, at 37 weeks, I was barely dilated, but the doctor was hopeful that something would be happening soon. Other mommy friends told me their stories and I started to get excited that maybe we'd have a baby by the end of the week. On Friday, after timing contractions for an hour between 4 and 5 a.m., I woke Phil up, certain we'd be heading to the hospital. As I sat on the couch, though, just to be sure I was feeling what I was feeling, the contractions stopped. And as the day went on, life resumed to normal. Disappointment set in as I refreshed my memory about the signs of false labor. Then, I got angry. So, I took out my frustrations on the dishes and anything else I thought needed a good cleaning. And I wore myself out.

At my next appointment, I went in with the hope that my cervical dilation would have progressed in the last week only to find out that really nothing had happened. Same dilation, same belly measurement, and now the doctor was talking possible C-section if the baby didn't drop soon. We did have another ultrasound to measure the baby's growth, and he or she is not quite 8 lbs. yet, so the news wasn't all bad.

I left the appointment in tears, with more disappointment and frustration taking control of my attitude. After rejoicing that we made it past the 35-week mark, I've convinced myself that this baby is never going to be born, even though I'm still two weeks from my due date. I've allowed the doctor appointments, and even other birth experiences, to build my expectations and set me up for false hope. Not that anyone has intended to do that; I've just been willing to cling to any kind of hope that the baby will be here sooner than my due date.

Even the doctor this week, though, said he wished he had a crystal ball and could tell me what was going to happen. As I've thought more about the past couple of weeks, I'm being reminded that even though the doctor can't tell me for certain what will happen and my friends' birth experiences won't necessarily be mine, I have a Father in Heaven who knows EXACTLY how this pregnancy will end. He knows the time, day, place and circumstances. And though I wish He would let me in on some of that, I have no other option but to trust that His timing is perfect and will be perfect and there's a reason for all this waiting. I cannot trust in what I know, what my friends know or even 100 percent in what the doctors know because none of us is God Almighty.

And I have to remember that the hope I have in Christ is "an anchor for the soul, firm and secure." (Hebrews 6:19, NIV) When I cling to this hope, I will not be tossed about, emotionally or spiritually, but can wait with confidence for Him.

Easy? No, but neither is freaking out and placing my hope in news that seems to change from week to week. Firm and secure. That's what I need. That's what I've been lacking.

As the hymn says, "On Christ the Solid Rock, I stand. All other ground is sinking sand." Amen. And Amen.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Making room

We've had an interesting day, but it really begins Tuesday. That was my 35-week doctors' appointment, at which the doctor discovered that my belly had grown, in a week, bigger than it should be at this point in the pregnancy. So, she scheduled us for an ultrasound, which was this afternoon. Bear in mind that a year and a half ago, at 35 weeks pregnant, I was in the hospital preparing to give birth to our 6 lb., 3 oz. daughter.

As the ultrasound tech took the baby's measurements, she said, more than once, "Oh, big baby." Really? I thought. I mean, people have been looking at me like I'm nuts when I tell them I have five weeks to go, even asking me if I'm sure I'll make it one more day, but I guess I wasn't totally prepared to hear that the baby is big. I blame the steroids in the shots they're giving me. :) Anyway, according to her measurements, the baby is 7 lbs., 6 oz. already, which may bump my due date up about two weeks.

So, let's see, if my math is correct, five minus two is ... three. Three? Like, we could have a baby in less than three weeks? But we're so not ready! I envy those people who have everything in order and who seem to just sit around and wait for the baby to come. That's not been our experience so far. Heck, when Isabelle was born, our apartment was undergoing electrical work that our landlord had yet to finish and we had, literally, nothing as far as baby gear goes. No car seat, no crib, no diapers, no clothes. I remember telling people, "We have five weeks" like in that span of time, the baby fairy was going to sweep through our apartment and equip us with everything we needed.

Lesson learned. This time, at least, we have gear. We have diapers. We even have a more-than-half-packed hospital bag. Still, we find ourselves with some minor redecorating, shall we say, to make room for the baby, who will sleep in our room for the time being. After hearing today's baby update, it seems like all of a sudden we're in high gear to get this stuff done.

All of this makes me think of getting ready for Jesus. The world was mostly unprepared for His arrival the first time; will we make the same mistake the second time around?

I think of the Parable of the Ten Virgins, found in Matthew 25:1-13, and how half of them were ready and half of them weren't. And even though the bridegroom in the story was delayed, the five who had prepared were ready anyway while the other five were caught by surprise. In the course of my everyday life, I wonder if I'll be caught by surprise when Jesus returns or if I'll be ready. It's certainly no secret that He's coming again. He talked about it often when He was on earth, as is recorded in the Gospels. So, like with pregnancy, I shouldn't be surprised that it will happen someday.

Unlike with pregnancy, there's no due date, though. At the end of the passage in Matthew, Jesus says, "Be on the alert then, for you do not know the day nor the hour." How, then, should that affect how I live my life?

Anticipating the baby's arrival, I see my daily activities through a different lens. I look around the house and see better what needs to be cleaned or moved or gotten rid of. How I spend my day also is affected. I rest when I need to, knowing that I have the trial of labor ahead. Or I prioritize baby-related activities, like washing baby clothes or packing the hospital bag, above other things I could be doing like reading or checking Facebook. (OK, so it doesn't always look like that as I'm 100 percent guilty of being on FB when I should be doing something far more productive.)

If I view my life through the lens that Jesus is returning, and it could be any day, then my priorities should change, too. I should value what He values. I should consider how I spend my time and money. I should have an urgency about my life that reflects the need to be ready for His arrival.

Most days my life doesn't look anything like that because it's so easy to get caught up in the daily stuff of life that we, in some ways, have to be concerned with to make life flow from day to day. Still, I desire a more eternal perspective. Will you pray with me for that perspective? Regardless of the day or year of Christ's return, we, Christians, need to be ready. How will you get ready?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Lean on me

It's been an overwhelming couple of days, just thinking about what's to come and what needs to be done. I've passed the psychological milestone of 35 weeks in this pregnancy (that's when Isabelle was born) so I feel like I'm in waiting mode -- that any day, our second child could enter our lives.

On top of getting things ready for the baby and the seemingly endless string of doctors' appointments that go with it, we've had additional basic life issues to deal with this week like paperwork for benefits renewal, car inspection and trying to find somewhere, anywhere still offering flu shots. Add those to the daily grind of school, work, housework, child care and it's no wonder the floodgates opened tonight and I found myself a blubbering mess of tears as a friend and I met for our weekly chat. Yet when she left, life suddenly didn't seem so overwhelming and just voicing the struggles diminished them somewhat.

The same thing happened yesterday when I was frazzled and frustrated -- the ladies of the Bible study I attend threw me a baby shower of sorts, complete with cupcakes, ice cream, baby-themed plates and a generous offer of meals for our family after the baby is born.

Both instances brought to mind a passage from Ecclesiastes. "Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up." (4:9-10, NASB)

Phil and I have and continue to be lifted up by our families -- both biological and spiritual -- in ways we can never repay. At times, it's hard to accept so much help when you feel you have nothing to give back, but we're learning firsthand the principle of passing on to someone else what's been done for you. Pay it forward, if you will. We're racking up quite an account for someone or several people in the future, which is indeed a blessing now and to come.

I think it's safe to say the hardest thing we've had to do so far in our married life is leave our hometown, family and friends to move to a state where we knew less than a handful of people. We knew when we got married that it would be that way. So, for our exit song at our reception, we asked that the DJ play "Lean on Me" and that all of our family and friends join us for a sort of group hug/dance. It's a song that Phil's camp "kids" made meaningful to a group of Bible campers, but that's not the main reason we chose the song. Its words hit us where we live, then and now. It really has the same message as the Bible passage quoted above: We need other people to survive in this world, but we can't get help if we don't tell people we need it and what a sad state to be in: needing help but having no friends.

Two hours ago, and most of yesterday, I was too stressed to even know where to begin counting my blessings. Now, although it's somewhat cliche, I can say that I'm too blessed to be stressed. Life's circumstances and responsibilities haven't gone away, but I've got a better perspective on them, and I'm reminded that I'm not walking through them alone. I just have to be willing to make them known, even if it means crying a mess of tears in the presence of a friend.

Whatever circumstances you find yourself in as you read this, I pray that you have a good friend who can walk with you and lift you up. Life really is better together.

Monday, October 12, 2009

So much love to give

We're expecting baby No. 2 in seven weeks or less, and I'm beginning to wonder if I will have enough love to give two children. Do you ever wonder if there's a limit to your love?

As I "practice" raising two children under 2, I find myself at times unable to love someone else's daughter as much as I love my own. Maybe that's not required of me, but I can see a difference sometimes in how I treat them. And I worry that my love for Isabelle will grow less when a new baby enters our world or that I'll find myself struggling to love them both equally.

How do you do it, parents with multiple children? Do I worry for nothing? Does love increase with the number of children in your house and you find yourself with more to give? Is this just pregnancy hormones and third trimester anxiety kicking in?

"For God so loved the world ..." I read in John 3:16; how does He do it? I know He's God, but the world, is well, big, to say the least, and growing bigger every day. I'm in awe of His infinite capacity to love, even those who don't want anything to do with Him.

So, I pray to be more loving, to be full of God's love because on my own, I haven't enough. And I trust I'll find a way to love my daughter as much as a new baby and vice versa.

Lord, I don't have it in me to love the world as You do; all I ask is for enough love to give to those You give to me. Amen.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Salty living

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men." (Matthew 5:13, NASB)

I'm consistently amazed by Jesus' use of the simplest images to convey deep spiritual truths, and his use of salt imagery is one from which I continue to find more and more meaning. Today, as I read this verse, the word "tasteless" practically jumped off the page. I've never thought that salt could be tasteless in the sense of having lost its flavor because I have no memory of ever eating salt with no taste. But I thought of another use of the word "tasteless," the sense of liking or inclination (think tasteless joke or bad taste in friends).

So, I looked up the Greek word for "tasteless" used in this verse ( and besides meaning "salt that has lost its strength or flavor," it also can be translated as "foolish." The root word of the Greek word used here means "foolish, impious and godless."

Have you ever cringed when another Christian opens his or her mouth and presumes to speak for all Christians? Are you ever sad when you see how TV shows or movies portray Christians? We can criticize those depictions all we want, but if we're honest, there's probably an element of truth on which they are based.

I wonder if Christians, the Church, have become tasteless to the world. I'm not saying we're to say what the world wants to hear, i.e. make the Gospel "taste" good while throwing out the truth. I'm just wondering if we're fulfilling our mission to make the world crave the Gospel. Salty foods make me thirsty; salty Christians should make others thirsty for the Living Water found in Jesus Christ.

In addition to being tasteless, I wonder if our "salty" lives sometimes leave a bad taste in others' mouths. I remember one time my husband and I made spoonbread (a cornbread-like dish you can eat with a spoon, hence the name) and when we tasted it, we practically spit it out because it didn't taste like we had remembered it. Turns out, we used a tablespoon of salt instead of a teaspoon. The salt taste was so overpowering it ruined the dish. Maybe, at times, we can come on too strong and leave people wanting to have nothing to do with Christianity.

Somewhere in between is a balance, and I'm still figuring out how to live a life that leads people to crave Jesus without giving Him a bad name.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Failure to launch

So, what if you started a moms group and no one showed up?

This summer, it was on my heart to try to start some sort of weekly moms gathering at our church, even though there aren't a lot of stay-at-home moms in our church. I've just been really burdened for mom company and offering a place where moms can get together for a little while during the day and get to know other moms. Over the summer, I repeatedly heard the message, "Reach out." If I wanted friends, I needed to take the first step and not wait for someone else to reach out to me. I didn't have a curriculum or concrete plan in mind; I just thought we could get to know each other to start and go from there, eventually reaching beyond the church walls to our neighbors and moms in need in our community.

The first week, two older moms (whose kids are grown and are grandmas) showed up to support me so I wouldn't be alone. It was a touching and thoughtful gesture that almost made me cry. (Of course, it doesn't take much to make me cry these days!) This week, Isabelle and I played in the nursery by ourselves.

I wasn't too discouraged after the first week; it's sort of what I expected. And as we walked home after meeting Phil for lunch, I felt God impress on me the words "faithful with a few things." It comes from the Parable of the Talents, found in Matthew 25. Jesus tells a story of a man who leaves his possessions to servants to care for while he's gone. The three servants are all given different amounts and do different things with them. The first two servants grow their master's possessions while he's gone, and the master says to them, "You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master." (Matthew 25:21, NASB)

I believe starting small is a good thing, but that also takes time and patience and faithfulness. I know of other moms groups that started with 2 or 3 and have grown multiple times that over years. I know God can do that here, but He also could keep us small or impress on me that maybe this isn't the right time or place. I know it's in His hands, so I cling to His encouragement, "faithful with a few things."

I have a little more marketing to do to get the word out more about the group, but my first priority right now is prayer and looking for opportunities to build relationships with other moms as I meet them. And I'd ask if you have a similar burden where you're at, or something you're considering starting, to pray with me, and I'll pray with you. And maybe a little at a time, we can change the world for Christ.

Monday, September 28, 2009

It don't mean a thing, if it ain't got that ring ...

For a variety of reasons, I haven't been wearing my wedding ring much lately. Especially over the summer, it has rarely found its way to my hand, mostly because of the heat. My hands swell and I have trouble getting it off, so most days, I just haven't bothered. And if I know I'm not going to leave the house, then I usually leave it off.

When I do leave the house, even if it's just for a walk around the block with Isabelle, though, I like to have it on. Maybe that's just for appearances' sake, but I feel like anyone I meet might notice I don't have it on and assume I'm a single mom, pregnant out of wedlock or something like that. I wonder if that's because I might mistakenly assume the same thing about someone I see with children who isn't wearing a wedding band.

I find myself often looking at people's ring fingers -- so I can pass judgment on them or just gather information? I remember after we moved to Pennsylvania last year, we couldn't determine right away if our pastor was married because he wasn't wearing a wedding ring. We speculated for a few weeks, until we met his wife, and later learned he'd lost his ring on a mission trip to Brazil. I think he got a new one for their anniversary a few months later. (If I've got the story wrong, correct me!)

Wearing my ring or not wearing it doesn't make me any less married, and I know there are some cultures where rings aren't part of a wedding ceremony at all. And even though I know a ring or no ring won't change my actions or the fact that I'm married, I still feel the need to wear it out in public.

This makes me think about Christianity and how we know people are Christians or not. Does it depend upon some outward indication, like that they're wearing a cross necklace or a Christian-themed T-shirt, they go to church or carry a Bible? Is it more like a state of mind, like when I'm not wearing my wedding ring, I still know and act like I'm married, so similarly, whether anything in my appearance says it or not, I still know and act on the truth of my relationship with Christ?

The Bible gives some ways we can tell. One that comes to mind is found in John 13:35: "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

Our youth group will be discussing this issue in the next couple of weeks, so I'll be studying it more during that time. I'm just beginning to believe that telling someone you're a Christian isn't enough anymore because it has sort of lost its meaning, or it has a different meaning to different people. But maybe like the wedding ring thing, I'm just making dangerous assumptions without knowing the truth.

How do you tell people about what you believe, and what does "Christian" mean to you?

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Bravery's price

Someone told me today I was brave. My feat? Standing in front of a room full (maybe 50 or so) of writers, mostly Christian, I assume, and sharing for a few minutes what God had put on my heart about the need to write His stories. It's only the second time I can clearly remember someone calling me brave. (The other was on a New Year's Eve date disaster. My date, my friend, her boyfriend and I went to a dance club/bar in Iowa that allowed minors. My friend and her boyfriend got in a fight on the way there, and my date would have been more comfortable in a line-dancing type of club. Tired of sitting at the table doing nothing, I got up and joined a group of strangers on the dance floor. When I returned to my table, my date said, "Boy, you sure are brave.")

Most of the time, "brave" is not a word I would use to describe myself. Shoot, tonight I was even slightly afraid to take laundry to the basement by myself. And I usually think that if I was ever in a situation that required bravery, I would be the one cowering in the corner, praying for it to be over without incident.

The "brave" comment brought to mind a Sara Groves song that almost always makes me cry when I hear it. In "When the Saints," she sings of how the courage of other saints, past and present, drives her to keep up the good fight. Here's an excerpt:

'"I think of Paul and Silas in the prison yard
I hear their song of freedom rising to the stars

I see the shepherd Moses in the Pharaoh's court
I hear his call for freedom for the people of the Lord

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them

I see the long quiet walk along the Underground Railroad
I see the slave awakening to the value of her soul

I see the young missionary and the angry spear
I see his family returning with no trace of fear

I see the long hard shadows of Calcutta nights
I see the sister standing by the dying man's side

I see the young girl huddled on the brothel floor
I see the man with a passion come and kicking down the door

I see the man of sorrows and his long troubled road
I see the world on his shoulders and my easy load

And when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them
and when the Saints go marching in
I want to be one of them"

It's that last part that always gets me ... "the world on his shoulders and my easy load." I'm humbled and challenged by all of these scenarios, and I know my faith is weak in comparison. I have no fear that I won't go to heaven, but I long to join this band of saints who weren't and aren't afraid to do the hard things in the name of the Lord.

Brave? Hardly. But I'm learning to cling to the promise: "For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline." (2 Timothy 1:7, NASB)

And what follows that promise is a challenge. Because God has given us power, love and discipline, "Therefore, do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me (Paul) His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity." (vv. 8-9, NASB)

To be brave comes with a price, and I know I haven't come close to paying it yet.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Family resemblance

"This little one must belong to you. I can see it in everything about her."

Words spoken by a complete stranger at a picnic yesterday while Isabelle sat next to me eating corn off the cob and potato chips. I told her she'd say the opposite if my husband was present because most people see him in her before they see me. Either way, though, there's no denying she's ours.

Have you had people tell you that about your kids or your parents? I used to get it all the time growing up. Either they'd say, you look just like your mother or you must be Rich's daughter, depending on who they knew. As a kid, when you just want to be an individual, it's not always a compliment to be told you look like someone else (unless it's a movie star, of course!) and as a girl, being told you resemble your father can be devastating. Fortunately, we get over such childhood devastations and realize that people were being kind, not cruel. As a parent, it's a huge compliment to hear that people can see you in your child. To me, it was just neat that someone who didn't know us could tell that Isabelle was my daughter. It adds to the amazement of God's miraculous work of using two people to make another person.

As Christians, we can have no higher compliment than for someone to tell us we look like our Father, or that they can see Jesus in us. Romans 8:29 tells us that's God's purpose in our lives: "For those whom he foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren." (NASB)

Ideally, then, the longer I walk with Christ, the more I will look like Him. Most days, I feel like I have a long way to go. Do you know people who exude the likeness of Christ? I can think of a few, and they challenge me by the way they live their lives.

The tricky thing about this is that I want to look like Christ in the way I live my life, but if I know how much I look like Him, it may become a source of pride and then I'm back to looking less like Him.

At this stage of her life, I'm not sure my daughter has any idea she looks like me or my husband, and sometimes, even when we're older, that's hard for us to see. So, we rely on those around us to tell us what may be plainly obvious to others but not to us. I think it can work the same for our Christian brothers and sisters. It's easy to get discouraged and think that we in no way resemble our Father. After all, the world certainly doesn't make it easy or fashionable to look like Christ. So, maybe what needs to happen is that if we see someone doing something Christlike, we encourage them and say something like "You look like your Father," "You must be a child of God" or "I see Jesus in you."

Maybe that sounds kind of cheesy, but I think it could go a long way in lifting each other up and helping each other get through one more day. I'll look for more opportunities to tell people that, and in the meantime, I'll ask God to show me how I can be more like Him.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Living sacrifices

This was kind of a rough week emotionally. I know I can use pregnancy as an excuse for my wild emotions and moods, but I don't like to do that all the time. It just seemed like every other day I was crying about something.

Most recently, I was dwelling on all the "missing out" we're doing as a family. It breaks my heart that we can't be physically present for our family and friends when there are births, weddings and other joyous celebrations. I think this hits me especially hard on holidays, even "small" ones like Labor Day, when all our neighbors seem to either have family over to their houses for a cookout or be at a family member's house for a cookout. Meanwhile, we have our own little cookout, but it's almost like just another day. I know we could invite people over, which we always think of too late, but there's still something missing when your family is hundreds of miles away.

Even as I drove by the hospital on the way home from my weekly shot, I was sad thinking about how few visitors we might have when the baby is born because our families might not be able to be here for the birth.

All of this thinking added up to a breakdown the other night as I sat on the couch trying to explain to my husband what I was feeling. I finally said, "I just need to know that all of this is worth it in the end. And right now I can't see that." He later said he wanted to remind me that I had been overjoyed earlier this summer that he was one-fourth of the way through seminary. One year down, three to go. Still, that seems like a long time.

And it's not like I didn't know what I was getting into when I married him. His calling to be a pastor is my calling, too. I knew the steps that would be necessary. I just didn't know it would be this hard sometimes.

God reminded me this week while I had some alone time that I've given my life to Him. That is, my WHOLE life, and when I try to take it back, there's struggle, heartache, pain and frustration. In Romans 12:1, we're told to offer our bodies as living sacrifices. I once heard a teacher/pastor say that the problem with living sacrifices is that they can crawl off the altar. That describes what I'd been doing. And not only that, but being a living sacrifice hurts. Not to be morbid, but if you're already dead when you're sacrificed, you don't feel anything. A living sacrifice can feel pain.

I'm reminded of the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite singer/songwriters, Jason Gray. In "The Cut," he sings:

Mingling here
Your blood and my tears
As You whittle my kingdom away
But I see that you suffer, too
In making me new
For the blade of Love, it cuts both ways

As You peel back the bark
And tear me apart
To get to the heart
Of what matters most
I’m cold and I’m scared
As your love lays me bare
But in the shaping of my soul
The cut makes me whole

So, I'm believing that this pain is purposeful, that it WILL be worth it, even if I never see the reward this side of Heaven, and that in choosing to follow Christ wherever He leads, we are surrendering our "rights" to be included, to be present and to do what others may expect of us.

It doesn't bring me 100 percent peace to say that, but I choose to trust the God I chose to follow, the God who chose me before I even knew Him.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hey, Jealousy

A newspaper I used to work for recently learned that it would be receiving nearly 30 state-level awards for its division in annual newspaper contests. When I worked there, we were usually proud of ourselves if we made it to double-digits total.

I admit, a twinge of jealousy sprung up in me and for a moment I wanted to be part of that staff, relishing in the recognition by your state-wide peers of a job well done.

And it got me wondering, is jealousy a sin? Can it be a good thing? And is there a difference between jealousy and envy?

I think we have a tendency to use the two words interchangeably, and I'm wondering if this isn't a mistake.

Merriam-Webster's online dictionary,, defines the two words this way:

envy - n. - painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage

jealous - adj. - intolerant of rivalry or unfaithfulness; disposed to suspect rivalry or unfaithfulness; hostile toward a rival or one believed to enjoy an advantage; vigilant in guarding a possession

The Bible describes God as a jealous god (Exodus 20:5 and 34:14, to name two places), and since God can't sin, then jealousy, as first defined, must be a good thing. After all, if my husband were to show favor to another woman -- the sort of favor that is supposed to be reserved for me as his wife, then I would have a right to be jealous.

Envy, on the other hand, seems to appear most often in "do not" commands or in a list of other sins. For example, Jesus says in Mark 7:21-23: "For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man 'unclean'." (Emphasis added.)

In the oft-quoted "love" passage of 1 Corinthians 13, we're told that envy is something love does not do. If I love another person, I won't secretly, or openly, pine for what they have, like well-behaved children, a comfortable home or a new car.

I don't think I resent my former newspaper for winning all these awards. In fact, I'm thrilled for them. I'm just sad that I'm not a part of it. So does that make me envious? Or can I still say I'm jealous because I still feel some ownership and investment in a place I spent seven years of my working life?

How about you? Is there anything you're jealous for or envious of? Let's pray for wisdom in discerning the difference between these two closely related-yet-not-interchangeable words to describe this emotion.

And if you have any insight on this subject, I'd love to hear it, because I sort of feel like I may be more confused now than I was when I started!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Rusty tools

Just before we left for Illinois this last time, my husband, while changing the air filters in our car, discovered that his tools, which he keeps in the trunk of the car, had rusted a bit. The tools are less than 3 years old (a wedding/shower gift, I think, for him) and maybe aren't top of the line, but still, they're pretty good quality. Obviously, they're not an everyday use sort of item or we'd have discovered the rust before now.

This summer, I was getting back on track with Bible reading and prayer time, mostly because my husband had night classes and other obligations that took him out of the house for hours at a time after Isabelle went to sleep at night. Then, we went to visit family and that whole routine went out the window. Now that we're back, I'm finding it hard to get back into the groove. Isabelle's sleeping later in the morning, so as a result, I am, too. My husband's classes just started today, and his weekend job will provide those alone-time hours again soon, but I feel like my faith tools have been locked away in a trunk, only to be pulled out in an emergency, and now they're rusty.

I don't have a clue what to do to refurbish my husband's rusty tools, and I'm almost as clueless about how to polish up my faith. But I know that without the daily use of the tools God gives us to survive in this world, I'm gonna fall apart.

Just an example from this week: I'm now 26 weeks pregnant, and the baby is moving consistently, which gives me great peace of mind. But I'm to the point of pregnancy where I'm now expecting that this child will be born, and I'm afraid something terrible will happen between now and then, making the loss even greater. Not that losing a pregnancy in the early months is easy, I'm sure ... I know not of what I speak and won't pretend to ... but this is where I'm at with my worries and fears. They are fine-tuned, for sure, and I wish for a reversal -- that somewhere along the line I would forget how to worry and fear and automatically exercise my faith in a tough situation.

I guess it's a battle of will. The house is quiet now, so I should take the time while I have it. I think of Paul and his struggles and I'm encouraged: "For what I am doing, I do not understand; for I am not practicing what I would like to do, but I am doing the very thing I hate." (Romans 7:15, NASB)

Time to make the tools useful again.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Beautiful mess

When Phil was deployed to Iraq a few years ago, I reacquainted myself with cross-stitching as a hobby. I remember learning how as a young girl, and my mom and I would often work on projects together. It's one of my favorite ways to pass the time, especially if Phil has sports on TV. I like sports; I just have a hard time sitting through an entire broadcast of them without doing something else. Cross-stitch makes me feel like I've accomplished something.

As I finished up a project recently, I took notice of the back of the work. Frankly, it's a mess -- knots, end pieces, long strands stretched from one side to the other. If a person only saw this side of it, they'd have no idea what it was supposed to be. Maybe they'd get glimpses of the picture, but it wouldn't be clear. Flip it over, though, and the picture comes to life and all the messy backwork makes sense.

Sometimes I feel like all I can see of my life is the backwork, and I wonder, "God, what in the world are You doing? This is a mess." I guess that's why one of my favorite verses is Philippians 1:6: "For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus." (NASB)

When all I can see is a mess, God sees the whole picture and promises that someday it will be beautiful. As one of my favorite musicians is fond of saying, "It takes a lot of manure to grow a beautiful rose bush."

Here's to beautiful messes.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Warning signs

Accident ahead. Expect long delays. Choose another route.

As if a driving trip from Illinois to Pennsylvania weren't long enough, this message greeted us just west of South Bend, Indiana as we traveled the Indiana Toll Road on our most recent trip home and back. By the time I pulled the map out, our first chance at an alternate route had passed. When the sign warned us again just before the second alternate route, my husband and I mutually decided to stick with the Toll Road and see what was ahead.

Lesson learned: If the department of transportation tells you to take another route, obey!

As we approached the final exit before the accident, traffic came to a standstill because both eastbound lanes were closed and all traffic was being forced to exit. An hour later, we had completed the two miles to the exit and were navigating our way through the South Bend/Elkhart area to find our way back to the Toll Road. Our traveling troubles weren't quite over, though. The local road was closed, so we needed to follow a detour, and while on the detour road we saw a sign that said "road flooded." We were beginning to think this was the black hole of Indiana and we would never find our way out.

Two-and-a-half hours later, with a stop for lunch included, we were back on our way, seriously delayed, because we had not obeyed the warning signs in time. It made me think of the warning signs in the Bible we often ignore or don't take seriously.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight." (NIV)

I felt like this could have been painted on our car after the South Bend delay. We could have trusted the DOT signs and taken another route, avoiding the delay and the frustration of having to navigate multiple detours. Instead, we plowed ahead based on our own understanding of the situation, which at the time wasn't much. Life is the same way. God wants to show us which way to go, but if we choose to follow our own ways, we might end up stuck, delayed in our dreams, frustrated, regretful or far off the course we'd hoped we'd be on.

Here's the other verse that came to mind: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2, NASB) These were John the Baptist's words just before Jesus started his public ministry. I often think of the wild-eyed, long-haired, "crazy" guy seen in movies holding the sign that says "Repent" while standing on a city street corner and telling people they need to repent. That's not too far off the picture we get of John the Baptist. Either way, the key is the word "repent," which means "turn." Another warning sign we can heed or ignore. Jesus offers us a better approach to life than we can offer ourselves, but it's up to us whether we believe him or not. The result of this decision, though, is more serious than just disappointment with the life we live. It affects our eternity. To choose repentance is to choose to join the kingdom of heaven, both in life and death. To ignore the call to repentance is to choose eternal separation from God.

The good news is, if you're reading this and you haven't chosen a life of repentance, you still have a choice. As long as you live, God will continue to pursue you with warning signs about where your life is headed.

But only you can decide if you'll obey the signs or find yourself not exactly where you planned.

"... I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. So choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and by holding fast to Him ..." (Deuteronomy 30:19-20, NASB)

Friday, July 31, 2009


It's one of those just-enough-to-pay-the-bills kind of months. You know, the kind where you hold your breath, close your eyes and pray that when you're done subtracting, there will be something, anything, left in the checking account, even if it's single digits. Tell me I'm not alone here. Tell me you've been there.

God has been speaking to me through songs recently. Maybe that's because I've neglected reading the Bible and praying lately. Instead of meditating on His Word, my mind has been filled with the how-to's of paying bills and making ends meet.

Today, I remembered the Caedmon's Call song "This World." The chorus says: "This world has nothing for me, and this world has everything. All that I could want and nothing that I need." Sometimes I'm down when there's only enough money to pay the bills. And I'm jealous of people who get to take vacations or make new purchases or even save a little for a rainy day. But as this song runs through my head, I remember what's important. That all the stuff this world has to offer, even the good, fun stuff, is nothing compared with what God has to offer.

I've been adding to my guitar-playing repertoire, and one of the recent additions is the Chris Tomlin song "Enough." It was a favorite during my college days, and I'm still encouraged by its chorus: "All of you is more than enough for all of me, for every thirst and every need, you satisfy me with your love, and all I have in you is more than enough." Even with single-digits in the checking account, I have more than enough to get through this life. That sometimes sounds naive when I think it or voice it, but I can't think of anything I would miss more in my life if it wasn't there than Jesus.

Yesterday, as I was making French toast for breakfast, I started singing "Seek Ye First," especially the verse that says "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, Allelu, alleluia." That's almost a direct quote from Matthew 4:4, when the devil is tempting Jesus to satisfy his hunger by turning stones into bread. This convicts me. Even Jesus wouldn't use his own means to meet a basic need in his life. He trusted his Father, even with his hunger.

This is so contrary to our culture. We applaud people who "make something of themselves." We're expected to solve our own problems. We value people based on their net worth. We're impressed by the number of things we amass.

And yet the Bible's message is consistent with the song lyrics ... the world has nothing of real value to offer, God is more than enough of what we need, we're not to live only on bread.

Oh, Jesus, help me embrace that counter-cultural attitude and trust that You are truly all I need. Amen.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Better together

We had a rough weekend. As Phil put it this morning, I haven't felt this tired since Isabelle was a baby. Isabelle battled a fever all weekend, thus her usual sleep patterns were disrupted. She didn't nap well during the day, and at night she would sleep for 3-4 hours at a time, then wake up hungry and have trouble going back to sleep. Fortunately, when the doctor checked her out this morning, she couldn't find any sign of ear infection or throat abnormality, so she left us in wait-and-see mode. We didn't have to wait long. She was fever-free all day.

It's a relief, in a way, to know that nothing's wrong, but the emotional toll of the weekend almost makes me wish there was some explanation for the suffering ... both hers and ours. Phil started a new night job this weekend, on top of his regular job which is Saturday early evenings and Sunday afternoons, so much of the burden for caring for Isabelle fell to me, day and night. I don't deal well with anyone in our family being even a little bit sick, so I found myself crying every time he left the house. I was emotionally empty, physically drained and spiritually dry. I haven't cried that hard in a while.

Sunday night was by far the roughest of the weekend, but that afternoon, I was more hopeful than I had been all weekend because I knew at least that Phil would be there for a day/night block of time without interruption. Even when Isabelle's crying for "Mommy, mommy, mommy," I'm encouraged when he's just in the house because there's another option for her care.

The whole situation made me think of the verse in Ecclesiastes that is sometimes used in weddings.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work. If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up! Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm. But how can one keep warm alone? Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12, NIV)

I take this to mean that God does not intend for us to go through life alone. Married or not, we need other people to help us along in our life's journey, especially when the tough times come. Otherwise, we end up burnt out -- spiritually, physically, and emotionally. We don't always need someone who can fix our problems or pull us out of the tough times. Sometimes all we need is a shoulder to cry on, a warm embrace, a kind word, or a listening ear.

And while we're strong together, we're strongest when God is in the relationship, be it a marriage, a friendship or a family.

It's not always easy to admit we need other people, but it's clear from God's Word that Christians, especially, are meant to function as one unit, a body. Toes wouldn't last very long by themselves, nor would ears or noses. The parts of our bodies are designed to work together for the good of the body; so, too, should we, the body of Christ work together for the good of the whole.

We don't have to go through life, the good or the bad, alone. We're not meant to. Who do you need in your life today?

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More like Jesus

Do you ever feel like a mule? Man, was I dragging my heels, and kicking and screaming on the inside today when my husband and I got into a discussion about a phone call that needed to be made. The conversation went something like this.

Me: Well, if that's what needs to happen, you're going to have to do it.

Him: Oh. But it was your idea.

Me: But you're related to her.

Him: But you're a woman.

Me: So?

Him, a few minutes later: I'd really like to know ahead of time if you're going to not follow through on something so I don't sit around and wait for it to happen.

Me: (hurt, speechless and pouting on the couch)

I stewed about it some more and decided he was right. It was only a phone call, after all. And it was painless. But it was another reminder of what's expected of me as a wife. Actually, as a Christian in general but the husband-wife relationship seems to be the hardest place to accomplish it.

Earlier this week I was reading the account of Jesus washing his disciples feet found in John 13, and I was reminded of the importance He placed on servanthood.

"'Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you.'" (vv. 12-15)

Christ, the Messiah, the King, took on the role of a servant and performed the lowliest task around. (Any RRBC'ers out there remember what it was like the year we washed each other's feet during chapel service?) It's humbling to kneel before someone, take their foot in your hand and gently wash it as an act of service.

We lose some pride and some of our rights when we choose to serve someone, even if there's no chance of being served in return. But that's not the way we want it, right? We'd rather the deal be, "I'll serve you, if you serve me." The way Jesus wants it is to serve even when we aren't being served.

I'm reading Nancy Leigh DeMoss' book "Lies Women Believe and the Truth that Sets them Free" and one of this week's truths was "We're never more like Jesus than when we're serving others." That hit home hard with me. I've gone through weeks recently where I've kept score in my head of the number of times I've done this or that for my husband, waiting for him to return the favor, then growing resentful when it doesn't happen. After I read that statement, I quit keeping score, or at least tried to. Human nature says I'll fail time and again at it. And I found that when I served and then served some more and then served some more, I wasn't angry, or resentful, or tired. I was ... joyful?

I didn't expect that. I hoped I'd be content, but full of joy to change the umpteenth poopy diaper, to wake up early with the toddler again, or to prepare his snack for his night class?

Really. It's true. If you don't believe me, give it a try. And don't expect your husband necessarily to notice or say anything. Just do it, and know that Jesus is pleased that you're following His example and becoming more like Him.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Worth the wait

On a recent repeat episode of "Antiques Roadshow," I caught a segment featuring a man with two 19th century paintings by J.F. Kensett that he'd purchased at a yard sale. He told the AR appraiser that he once had them appraised for $800-$900 by a woman who also offered a buyer for the paintings. The AR appraiser, after examining the paintings and consulting with colleagues, told the man a conservative auction estimate for the paintings was $30,000-$60,000 each. Understandably, the man was speechless. (A transcript of this exchange can be found at His is not the first story of this kind I've heard on the show. I always wonder how close these people came to accepting a first, and lesser, offer for their valuables and what must be going through their minds when they find out they were almost robbed of the true value.

We can be just as easily duped about life. How often do we settle for what is good, or something we think is good, when if we wait we will have something with a value beyond compare?

Jesus said, "The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it." (Matthew 13:44-46)

Life is a treasure with which we are entrusted for a time, but we so easily sell it for less than what it's worth. We sell ourselves to our jobs, success, retirement accounts, houses, entertainment, "stuff" and even our families. And we miss the point if that's all we make life about. Jesus is telling his disciples in this passage that there's something far greater to invest our lives in than anything we can own or see. He's calling people to salvation, the promise and assurance of life forever.

Only when we look to Jesus can we discover what life is truly worth. The apostle Paul twice in his letters tells us we were bought at a price. John 3:16 tells us the price -- Jesus' death on the cross for sins he never committed. But because of that price, we're promised an inheritance in heaven if we accept that we need Jesus and what he did because of our sins.

And God, because He's a generous God, doesn't only leave us with a promise of good things to come. He promises that with Him, life here, in the meantime, can be as good as it gets, His way, not the world's way.

"The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10, NASB)

It's easier to value what's right in front of us, to treasure what we can see and believe what the world tells us is valuable, but like the man on "Antiques Roadshow," if we wait for the Expert's assessment, we'll find a value far greater than we could have dreamed.

Friday, July 17, 2009


I've come to enjoy hanging clothes out on the line. Some weeks, I wait for a sunny day to do laundry just so I can take the wash outside to let it line dry. When we first moved here, clothesline drying was a necessity. Our rental house came with a washer, but we didn't own a dryer, so we had to make do with the natural drying abilities of the sun. In time for winter, we bought a used dryer, so our laundry schedule became a little more flexible. Still, if given the choice, I'll walk the clothes outside to hang up rather than haul them downstairs to the dryer. (Our washer is on the main floor in the kitchen; our dryer's in the basement.)

In a region full of Amish and Mennonite homes, clothes hanging on the line is a common sight, even in winter. What isn't so common is openness, and I don't mean that people here aren't friendly. The opposite is true, in fact. We've made many wonderful friends here. But I'm told, and we've been able to observe it as well, that Pennsylvania Dutch culture is quite closed. People aren't terribly willing to tell you their struggles, their secrets or even to share much about their relationship with God. Come to think of it, I can be that way, too, especially with people I don't know well or haven't known long.

What I find funny is that we can't hide our laundry from the neighbors when we're hanging it on the line. I try to surround our underwear with rows of T-shirts and pants, but really, it's right there for everyone to see. I sometimes chuckle to myself when I see a clothesline that is highly visible to the street and has underwear hanging on it. It's kind of silly, right? I mean, we all know that most people wear underwear, so therefore, at least one load of laundry each week will contain some "delicate" articles. I think it's just slightly embarrassing to think about them being on display because for most people, underwear is not usually seen.

I think the same is true for our struggles, feelings and even, sometimes, our triumphs. We all know we have them, but because we don't often see them, maybe we're sometimes shocked when they're suddenly disclosed or we come upon someone who isn't afraid to share them with people. Maybe we'd be more comfortable with people's personal lives if we saw them more often.

My husband and I aren't terribly private people. I think he's drawn me out of that a little bit, although as a writer, it sort of comes with the calling. We're not afraid to tell you that we struggle or answer the "how are you?" question truthfully if we think you really want to know. In the last year I've taken some risks in letting people see some of our struggles and the emotions I wrestle with. It's scary to be that vulnerable, but I've found in it a great reward, too: friendships -- new and deepening. And some of the same struggles I'm going through.

While I don't intend to blab my problems to every person I meet, I am hoping to be more honest and transparent with those in my circles of influence. I believe God puts us through situations and circumstances, difficult ones, especially, not just to strengthen our own faith but to help others with whom we're in contact. The words of 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 come to mind: "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." (NASB version)

May you be encouraged to open up about your struggles with people, and may you never look at underwear hanging on a clothesline the same way again!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Here am I. Send me!

I'm not sure how often you're "supposed" to post to your blog, but I feel like I'm making up for lost time. So, if these posts are too frequent to begin with, I'll pray that you don't get sick of me, and maybe in a few weeks, they'll be fewer and farther between.

Or maybe they won't. My husband and I talked about blogs on the walk to seminary yesterday, and I thought about whether or not I should start one. I wondered, Do I have anything worthwhile or unique to say? And I questioned my motives. Did I want a blog just because "everyone else" had one?

But God's been impressing on me the issue of calling lately. For me, writing is part of that calling, and I've been challenged to take that calling more seriously. A few weeks ago in Sunday School, we studied God's call to Moses in Exodus 3 and 4, and I found myself identifying with Moses and the excuses he gave the Lord. "What if they won't listen?" "I'm not eloquent." And I add a few of my own: "I'm too busy raising a child, soon-to-be two." "I'm at a different season of my life than the other writers I know." "I don't have enough experience."

And God says to me what He said to Moses. "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now then go, and I, even I, will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to say." (Exodus 4:11-12, NASB)

That promise isn't enough for Moses, who then begs God to send the message through someone else. I don't know that I've ever begged God to do that, but twice in recent memory, He's shown me that if I won't write for Him, He'll find someone who will. In both instances, it's been through people who would say of themselves that they aren't writers but felt a burden from the Lord to communicate His message that way. Those were wake-up calls to me to embrace the calling and obey God's leading to write.

When the prophet Isaiah was called, the Lord asked, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?" Isaiah said, "Here am I. Send me!" Only after he responds does he find out what God's plan is. Me, I always want to know the details first before I volunteer. Where are we going, Lord? How will we get there? What are we going to do, exactly? But if I knew all that ahead of time, I'd probably never sign up for anything!

It's scary to say to God, "Here am I. Send me!" But if He chooses us for a task, we won't regret saying "yes" whole-heartedly. And if we won't do it, He will find someone else.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Every Day, Jesus

I'm still new at this stay-at-home mom thing. It's been almost a year since I quit my job and moved from the Midwest to the Mid-Atlantic to join my husband on the adventure we call seminary. Part of the adventure has been for me, the former "breadwinner" of our relationship, to stay home with our now toddler daughter. Financially, it looked like a suicide decision, but God has shown Himself faithful beyond our imaginations. Emotionally, it's been a roller coaster. Spiritually, it's been like appearing on "The Biggest Loser" -- God is trimming the excess from my life to make me a lean, mean, spiritual machine. Or something like that.

One of my biggest struggles has been with mundaneness. I worked in journalism for 8 years -- I'm used to deadline pressures, breaking news and the exhiliration of a story well-written or a page well-designed. Some days, it seems all I've done is cook, wash dishes and hang clothes out to dry. And I wonder: Am I wasting my college degree? Am I doing anything worthwhile with my life? What IS my purpose now?

I suspect I'm not alone. That there are other mothers asking the same questions in the midst of a day at home and other people, in general, who wonder if their work is all there is to life.

Recently I read in Oswald Chambers' "My Utmost For His Highest" this passage about the Christian life: "Jesus does not ask me to die for Him, but to lay down my life for Him ... It is far easier to die than to lay down the life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling. We are not made for brilliant moments, but we have to walk in the light of them in ordinary ways."

I long to do something great, something big in the "grand scheme," but in reality, I may not ever make a huge impact, and what I consider "grand scheme" may be small potatoes to God. He has better vision than I do, and He can see what truly matters about my life and what I'm doing. So, I'm trying to see Jesus in the so-called mundane stuff of life. How can I serve Him in my ordinary life? What can I do each day that will last forever?

I'm learning that cooking, dishes and laundry may be all God wants me to accomplish in a day, but by serving my family, creating a loving and somewhat orderly home, and teaching and caring for my daughter, I'm also serving God.