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.

Does Your Husband Buy You Flowers?

IMG_8751One of the many things I’ve learned from being married is that no two marriages will look the same, nor should they. Our culture paints idealistic cookie-cutter pictures of romance and love, but reality is often far from what we have seen in movies or read about in books. (By the way, I’ve found that reality is different, yes, but far deeper, richer, and more wonderful than the culture’s portrayal of it.)

Romance is one of those words that can encompass a million different things, but often gets squished into a few ideas: flowers, a candlelight dinner, hand-in-hand walks on the beach at sunset, etc. Those are all romantic and special ways of showing one another love, but romance can mean so much more!

Andrew is, in general, not a flower-buyer. He is not one of those guys who will randomly stop by the grocery store on his way home and pick up a bouquet of roses “just because” more than once or twice a year. This has never been a “hard” thing for me, but I have teased him over the years about it because he predictably buys me flowers on Valentine’s Day.

The summer I was expecting Caleb, I was dealing with a really difficult situation related to my apartment management job at the time. I left home in a puddle of tears for an errand. When I returned about 45 minutes later, Andrew was just washing the last of a huge stack of dirty dishes in my kitchen. I started crying again because it meant so much and it was such a relief to come home to a clean kitchen. (Dishes hang over my head like no other chore!)

“I was going to go buy you flowers,” Andrew explained, “but then I thought that washing the dishes would mean more to you, so I did that instead.”

In that moment, I realized that every time he voluntarily washes the dishes for me or speaks my love language in another way, it is like his “version” of bringing home flowers. Not only does it take the same thoughtfulness and love, but it really does mean more to me than flowers. I don’t particularly love flowers for the flowers’ sake. What I love is that they mean Andrew has thought about me and chosen to do something to tangibly convey that love. But he does that in a million other ways that are actually even better (to me) than flowers, and when I recognize that, there is no room for jealousy when I hear about a hubby who brings home bouquets on a regular basis.

I drafted this post about a year-and-a-half ago, and finally publishing it today ironically comes on the heels of a surprise bouquet of flowers from Andrew after a hard day. But the message I hope to convey is the same.

Don’t let the world’s definitions of love and romance make you miss out on the ways your spouse is already showing affection. Never play a game of comparison, and wish your hubby would be as romantic as your friend’s is. Observe and appreciate the “unconventional” ways he romances you, and treasure the reality that your marriage is uniquely yours, and your husband is uniquely him. He may not buy you flowers, but I’ll bet you can find his thoughtfulness in a hundred other gestures, if you’re just willing to stop and look.

 

{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. 

 

{Mommy Journal} Sign Language

I’m neglecting to write down so many things I want to remember about Caleb! He’ll be 14 months on Friday, and he is more and more fun every day. One exciting thing to watch develop is his sign language. It’s been so helpful that he can communicate certain things with us, but it can also be very frustrating when it seems that he’s trying to sign something and we don’t know what it is! He has learned these signs from Andrew and me, but over the past three months or so he’s watched very limited Signing Time, mostly just when we have been sick, so a few of his signs have probably been reinforced through that. Here are the signs he knows to date:

more/please (one sign for him) =)
all done
hurt
banana
cracker
thank you
milk
bath
tree
outside
touchdown (okay that’s not really a sign)

He just started signing “outside” today so we’ll see if it sticks. Sometimes he relapses and forgets a sign. He did that with “thank you” for a long time. I’ve been working on “drink” forever but that has not clicked yet!

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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)

{Reading Report} Children’s Christmas Stories

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If you don’t read Christmas picture (or chapter) books as a family, I encourage you to begin the tradition! Many of my fondest memories from December are those of my mom and dad reading Christmas stories aloud to me and my brothers. And now it is one of my favorite things about having a toddler at Christmastime, although we very much need to start building our Christmas book library! =)

I’d like to introduce you to my favorite children’s Christmas books...

When I Celebrate His Birthday

whenicelebrateThis is a simple board book that I grew up on, and my mom was so thoughtful to order one for Caleb this year! It’s been one of his favorites, he brings it to me often. There’s not much to it, but a little girl shares about how her family celebrates Jesus’ birthday every year at Christmas time, and I love the sweet illustrations.

Christmas at Rumpole Mansion

rumpolini-001It appears to be out of print, which is a shame, because I remember this book the most fondly of them all! With a little prompting, I still have it memorized almost word-for-word to this day. It’s the story of a mouse family who learns the valuable lesson, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” at Christmas time. The illustrations of life in a cozy mouse home are absolutely captivating to little ones. Both my parents read it aloud multiple times every year and I can’t wait to do the same for our kiddos one day!

The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey

The old widower woodcarver is in no mood for making friends. But when a kind widow and her vivacious young son hire him to recreate their precious Nativity set in time for Christmas, gloomy Mr. Toomey’s heart begins to soften and new relationships are on the brink of forming. The paintings in this book are absolutely gorgeous and the narration of the audio book is excellent!

The Legend of the Candy Cane

9780310730125I’m disappointed that this book comes “newly illustrated”, as it would be impossible to improve on the vibrantly detailed paintings in the original. However, the message still stands. It’s about the meaning behind the candy cane–a classic piece of Christmas that tells the story of Jesus’ birth and sacrifice on the cross. This book would make the perfect gift for an unsaved family or for use as an evangelism tool in your own home.

How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Okay, so you’re probably all too familiar with this classic from Dr. Seuss. But I had to include it because the Christmas season was never complete without my dad reading it aloud to us multiple times. It’s a silly story, but I’m forever endeared to it. The rhyming is catchy and the original animated movie is great, too. =)

Happy Birthday, Jesus!

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I love this board book, which was introduced to me this spring by my sister-in-law Shelby. It’s a well-rhymed poem (not all poetic children’s books actually flow the way they should!) and the vibrant pictures catch Caleb’s eye every time. =)

Miracle in a Shoe Box: A Christmas Gift of Wonder

51XjPSeeL7L._SL500_SL160_This fictional account of two children who are blessed by Samaritan Purse’s shoe box ministry brings good perspective to the holiday season. We are so richly blessed in America, while so many people around the world are living in turmoil and have nothing material to enjoy. I loved this story growing up, and it inspired our family to participate in the shoe box project at least one year that I recall. Reading Miracle in a Shoe Box made picturing the children who would receive our gift that much more special.