Being a Mom

Silly Family

Being a mom
is hearing a sweet voice say, “Mommy, I love you!”
It’s rocking a baby at 3 a.m when you’re too tired to cry.
It’s picking up the house…again…in the futile hope of vacuuming.
It’s dancing through the house, singing songs together.
It’s wondering how you’ll survive another day of constant, overlapping demands.
It’s kissing bumps and bandaging invisible bruises.
It’s looking at a precious face, relaxed in sleep, and thanking God for this blessing.

Being a mom
isn’t easy or simple.
It requires daily choices to meet the needs of another first.
It means sitting down to read a story when the kitchen sink is piled high with dishes.
It means pushing that errand to another day because it’s already nap time.
It means spending your evenings at home so babies get to bed on time.
It means you might not mop or dust more than once a month (maybe less!).
It means realizing that well-loved kids are more important than a spotless home.

Being a mom
is both fulfilling and worthwhile.
It’s full of joy, hope, and laughter.
It’s watching your babies take their first steps; say their first words; and laugh at your tickles.
It’s teaching them to read and write and do math, smiling proudly at their excitement when they understand.
It’s reading books and planning adventures together.
It’s sharing stories about God and the world and His plan to rescue us all.
It’s being amazed at the depth of their insights and the tenderness of their hearts.

Being a mom
is knowing it will take over 20 minutes to actually exit the door.
It’s repeating routines, day after day, and meeting needs even when you’re tired.
It’s feeling little arms wrap around your legs in a spontaneous, tight hug.
It’s walking into a room and watching your baby’s face light up as he reaches for you.
It’s building a tent and playing dentist or doctor.
It’s squeezing every second out of that 26-minute-long Daniel Tiger show to cook or nap.
It’s driving to the grocery store, by yourself, and sighing in relief at the silence and peace.
It’s changing diapers and wiping noses and checking fevers and rocking sick babies.
It’s telling jokes that only your kids think are funny.

Being a mom
is one of my favorite things in the world.
It’s also one of the hardest things in the world.
It’s crying out to Jesus, begging Him for patience, endurance, and wisdom.
It’s watching little personalities bloom and grow.
It’s watching your kids pretend together and joining in the fun.
It’s playing at the park, feeding ducks, and delighting in plants, flowers, and bugs.
It’s heating up lunch and cooking dinner and making smoothies and giving baths and brushing teeth and singing bedtime songs.
It’s going on walks and pointing out every bunny, airplane, and fire hydrant.
It’s hearing your son pray, “Jesus, I’m really glad you’re making everything good and new again.”
It’s hearing your daughter say, “I wan’ be like you, Mommy!”
It’s hearing your baby squeal with excitement as soon as he sees you.

Being a mom
is one of the most beautiful and most challenging callings I possess.
These babies are sent from God.
How I love them.
And how I need His grace to love them well.
Now these three remain: Faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love.

 

Sneak Peek: Finished Illustrations!

Here are Ian Dale’s completed illustrations I shared as sketches earlier! They’re all beautiful! These (and many others) will be in The Advent Storybook: 25 Bible Stories Showing Why Jesus Came. It’s coming on October 1, 2018 and is being published by David C Cook.

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Advent_Art_Day18_PromoI can’t wait for Advent/Christmas 2018!!

I Have a Problem

RICH12.jpgI know this confession places me in the extreme minority, but I’ll make it anyway: I don’t watch TV. With the exception of faithfully listening to the daily weather forecast every spring (I live in Oklahoma, the land of tornadoes), I don’t even turn it on. I don’t like the jarring noise, the pushy advertisements, or the oily content. In the hospital, I occasionally enter a patient’s room and have to mute the blaring screen before I can even think. I have also turned a painful, deep red at the revolting stories and scenes being regurgitated and then passively ingested by those in the room. To be honest, most of the shows on television make my skin crawl and my heart sick.

Once, I remember discussing my habit of studiously avoiding televisions with my co-worker. She was astonished and asked, “What do you do?”

My response, “Everything that matters. How do you have time for TV?”

Tonight, I was rocking my baby and browsing twitter, and I was reminded once again why I don’t watch TV.

A porn star is being interviewed about her long-lost affair with Donald Trump. Thanks to the President, the reality shows and soap operas I refuse to pour into my mind have now infiltrated the news.

I winced and kept scrolling, then saw a tweet that went something like this: Lots of people will be watching Stormy Daniels tonight, and some of them will even be watching 60 minutes.

And my wince turned to nausea, because this person is right.

Donald Trump has serious problems, but he’s not the only one.

The two primary components of both TV shows and movies are violence and sex. It seems that people never tire of watching one more act of violence, or seeing one more sex scene. Both components are disturbingly present in pornography. And…the vast majority of Americans (and other nationalities) ingest, on a regular basis, one or more of these re-enacted stories promoting both violence and casual, meaningless, consequence-free sex.

This fact makes me simultaneously numb with horror and raw with anguish. What kind of world will my kids be forced to navigate?

Here’s the thing: Repetition reinforces both learning and practice. If you want to learn to play the piano, you sit down and practice. And practice. And practice. Eventually, you will learn to play the piano. If you want to memorize a passage of literature, you repeat it. You write it down. You say it out loud. And you do this over and over again until it’s part of your memory–until it is part of you.

Why do we want explosive violence and seedy sex to be a part of us? Why do we want them to be a part of our children? Why do we insist on consuming entertainment that portrays women as nothing more than objects to be used for sex, and violence as a natural response to frustration or anger?

Have we learned nothing from the endless shootings and #metoo confessions?

What is going on here? Why are we so intent on destroying ourselves, our children, and our societies? Why are we repeatedly lathering ourselves up with filth and relaxing contentedly in refuse?

I have a problem with any show or message that tells my daughter that she is nothing more than an object to be lusted after and used by men (or anyone else).

I have a problem with any show or message that tells my sons that women are nothing more than objects to be lusted after and used for sexual pleasure.

I have a problem with any show or message that excuses violence and portrays it as an expected, acceptable response to someone not getting what they want, when they want it.

Life is about so much more than sex. And violence is rarely the solution to a serious problem.

Don’t tell me that the shows you watch, the movies you enjoy, and the pornography you indulge in don’t hurt anyone. At the very least, those stories are shaping your view of reality and harming you, twisting you into someone you were never intended to be.

Beyond that, our culture’s lust for sex and violence has created an environment where people like Weinstein, Trump, and countless others thrive. They get to abuse an endless parade of women, because we’ve somehow convinced women that they must sell their bodies and their dignity in order to achieve their goals. After all, what harm can come from one night? What’s one more man, or scene, or affair?

That’s a revolting lie from hell.

Your body is part of you. Violence or abuse committed against your body will stay with you for a lifetime. “Consequence-free” sex and affairs routinely destroy relationships, trust, honor, and dignity–not only yours and that of your partner, but also of your (current or future) spouse/family and his or her (current or future) spouse/family.

We have no shame. Anything goes, as long as there is that nebulous word “consent.” But how traumatic and devastating when someone tentatively offers consent only to receive wounds and scars that will last a lifetime.

Also, how on earth did something as vulnerable and private and precious as sex become a casual commodity to be sold, with millions of onlookers ogling a moment that should be known and shared and treasured only by the committed, loving, faithful couple?

I realize that abuses of sex are not new. They’re as old as sin, and sin first happened soon after the world was created perfect and good.

But the horrifyingly easy access to horrifyingly abusive, addicting videos acted out by real people for a profit is a relatively new development. And I think it is contributing to an insidious decay of both people and societies, from the inside out.

People were not made to use and abuse others.

You will not find happiness, contentment, or life by using or abusing others.

You will not find happiness, contentment, or life by being used or abused by others.

The Switchfoot song that says, “Life is more than money” is correct. Life is also more than sex, or power, or abuse, or guilty pleasure.

True life–which is what we were created for–involves thriving, healthy friendships between both God and people, and between people and people.

Life is actually all about love.

Unfortunately, the word love has been diluted and misshapen until we’ve forgotten its true meaning and power.

Love is not sex, or sexual attraction. Love is not simply friendship. Love is not even wanting the best for someone.

Real, true love is infinitely wider and deeper than any of these.

True love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good. Real love is meeting the needs of another even at great cost to oneself.

Real love is when an exhausted mom wakes up in the middle of the night–again–to feed her hungry newborn. Real love is when a family invites their immigrant neighbors over for a meal. True love is an elderly lady faithfully caring for her husband with Alzheimer’s even though he doesn’t remember her. True love is a mom who decides to keep her unexpected, inconvenient baby even though she has no idea how things will work out. True love is a dad forfeiting his relaxing weekend with the guys to take his sons camping.

True love is a husband promising his wife that he won’t indulge in pornography or questionable movies. He won’t look at other women with lust. And if he fails in this commitment, he’ll confess to her and re-commit to loving her and finding satisfaction only in her.

True love is a wife promising her husband that she won’t read books like 50 Shades of Gray or use pornography, imagining the perfect man and ensuring that her husband always falls short.

Real, true love is giving life instead of death. It is shining light into darkness. Real love is shockingly rare and indescribably beautiful.

My Rescuer exemplified real, true love. And He continues to create, grow, and sustain love to this day. He is slowly but surely making all things good and new again. And He will rescue anyone who realizes their need to be rescued.

His name is Jesus.

We need Him. How we need Him.
In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him.
1 John 4:9 ESV

Behind the Scenes: Advent Storybook Sketches

Ian Dale has finished the first round of sketches for The Advent Storybook (releasing on October 1, 2018)! We wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at Ian’s creative process and share three of his sketches as a sneak-preview.

First, Ian creates a lot of thumbnail sketches to work out the overall composition.

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He chooses the best then creates a more refined digital version, sometimes including rough shading and coloring.

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The final step is adding the color.

We’re sharing a few sketches here, and then Ian will be adding color to these over the next few weeks!

This is the sketch for the story titled “A Promise Kept.” Abraham and Sarah, after years of waiting, miraculously received the son God had promised them! The first time I saw this illustration, it almost made me cry, because everyone is so happy!

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A Promise Kept

This is the sketch for the story titled “Abram and God’s Promise,” which happens right before the sketch shown above. It depicts Abram hoping and longing for God’s promises to be fulfilled. God promised Abram that his family would be a great nation and bless all the other families of the world. He promised Abram that his family would be as large as the number of stars in the sky. But the promise seemed impossible.

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Abram and God’s Promise

And this sketch depicts the prophet Jonah, who decided that he didn’t want God to show mercy to his hated enemies, the Ninevites. He tried to run away from God and His plan…but it didn’t work out so well. Ian added some intial, rough color to this but will be completing it in the coming weeks.

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Jonah

Ian is so gifted! I love how well he portrays the emotions of a scene through the faces and relationships of his characters. His illustrations seem so real because of his skill and his creative use of lighting.

I’m so excited to watch these illustrations (and all the others!) develop over the coming weeks and months!

This book is going to be amazing–I can’t wait to read it with my kids this December! And I’m thrilled that it will be widely available, thanks to both David C Cook and our Kickstarter supporters, for so many other children and families! Each year, it will take us all on an unforgettable journey through the history behind the coming of Jesus, our Rescuer!

To receive updates and be notified when the book is released, follow us at https://www.facebook.com/AdventStorybook/.

 

Spending Your Limited Time Well

2018-03-01 10.03.57.jpgHave you ever felt like your life and your family are fragmented? The typical modern American family consists of two parents working full-time outside the home, at different jobs, with a few children who are daily sent off to either daycare or school. The lives of each family member may intersect at dinnertime, if someone found time to cook after rushing home from work. Or, they may have time together on the weekend, if those hours aren’t full of chores, errands, or TV. An annual vacation may provide some much-needed family time, but one week out of every fifty-two isn’t much.

This cycle continues, year after year, until the kids graduate from high school then move away to start their own lives, often in other cities, states, or even countries.

Adult children (with their own families) occasionally return, usually on holidays. The parents retire from their jobs and continue to age and, if they haven’t maintained good eating and exercise habits, develop chronic diseases (hypertension, diabetes, heart failure, etc) that are difficult to manage. Their children live across the state, or country, or world and aren’t there (or can’t stay long) during subsequent hospitalizations and surgeries–after all, they have their own lives and crazy schedules to juggle!

Ill, aged parents no longer able to care for themselves or their chronic diseases end up in nursing homes, alone and lonely.

And the cycle repeats.

Does this seem strange and depressing to anyone else?

Is this really what life is all about–spending your days chasing riches and comfort until you’re too sick and too lonely to care about them anymore?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. I’m a nurse, and I’ve noticed a disheartening, recurring pattern at work. I’ll enter a room of someone who has just had a major heart surgery, and he (or she) will be in there alone–no family, or even friends, present to offer support. I’ll start talking with them about the surgery and the lifting restrictions they’ll have for about 2 months while their sternum heals. And then I’ll ask if they have anyone available to help them during that healing period. And…they’ll say no. There’s no one. Their kids are too far away or too busy with their own lives. Their spouse has passed away, or they’re divorced. They don’t have any neighbors or close friends who can help.

And this keeps happening, over and over. Most people, thankfully, have a devoted spouse or child available to help them, both in the hospital and afterward. But I keep seeing some people who have neither, and it’s heartbreaking.

What are we doing with our time? That money we’re working so hard to earn…it can’t move the heavy trash cans or vacuum the floors or help us out of bed after we have our sternum split in two for coronary bypass surgery. It can’t comfort us or laugh with us or challenge our self-destructive habits out of love. Money can’t buy friendships, so it definitely can’t buy happiness.

I just…what am I doing with my life, and where do I want to be 50 years from now? What do I want to have around me? A big house full of expensive things, or my family that I have invested in and loved?

Then, I read an article recently called A Man’s Place Is In The Home. That’s obviously a provocative title, but the guy made some very good points about the importance of having not only the wife intentionally involved in life at home but the husband, as well. The article talked through some of the history and consequences of the industrial revolution, and the technological revolution, in pulling first men and then women away from home and out into the money-making workplace. And it talked about how much we’ve lost as a result, and as I read it, I thought about all those people who have lived the typical American life and end up with no one when they really need someone.

And the phrase “You reap what you sow” kept repeating in my head, and I was struggling to find a solution, which is never simple or easy.

Part of it is the structure of society. Most people don’t have parents with a family farm or a family business. The goal of American parenting often seems to be the creation of an independent adult able to provide for him/herself and chart their own path in the world. Those infamous 20-something millenials who move back home are considered lazy and an embarrassment. They should get their own house and life, not mooch off their working parents.

Since everyone needs shelter, food, water, and clothing (and a car if you live where I live), we have to get a job. We buy our food at the grocery store (or already prepared at restaurants)–we don’t grow it ourselves. Mortgages, bills, diapers, and loans all take resources, as well. Depending on the size of the house or the brand of clothing and cars, sometimes 2 jobs really aren’t optional.

Our economic system has set us up to spend the majority of our time away from the home, but ironically, we spend a substantial amount of money on making that home exceptional. And then we have to take out a second mortgage or work even more to pay for the upgrades.

Another huge problem, of course, is our selfishness. Selfishness is not limited to a certain age group or gender–it’s a destructive characteristic shared by, literally, everyone. Because of our selfishness, we naturally break our relationships with others. We’re both self-and-others-destructive. We want what we want when we want it, and the most obvious way to obtain things (both needed and wanted) is to get a good job and work hard. There’s nothing wrong with that…it’s just that our jobs now separate us from our families and most of what really matters. And they do it day in and day out, year after year, until we’re too tired and worn out to work anymore. Thankfully we have retirement accounts and social security to fall back on when that happens, so even though we’re lonely, we’re not going hungry.

People that have kids are required to juggle insane schedules, trying to fit in work requirements (often for 2 different jobs), school and extracurricular requirements (for multiple children), chores, some kind of social life, and some sleep. Kids, if we’re honest, are frequently perceived as expensive inconveniences that stand in the way of our real goals. We pay for daycare and then breathe a sigh of relief when they’re old enough for “free” public schools. If we happen to make a lot of money, we may have the resources for a private school of our choosing. But our kids march off to school and someone else shapes them, planting ideas and watering beliefs, nourishing worldviews as they blossom and grow.

We try to maintain some kind of relationship with our spouse in the midst of it all, but only the very intentional couple is able to pull it off. Divorce and shattered families are depressingly common. Those issues are not black and white or easy; they’re multi-layered and complex. But I know that 2 major contributors are 1) our inherent selfishness and brokenness, and 2) our weird, disjointed lives that move in different orbits and only intersect if there’s very intentional effort to do so. It’s hard to maintain a relationship with someone you never spend time with or talk to.

I’ve decided I don’t really want the typical American life. The cost seems pretty steep and the long-term benefits seem dismal.

I currently have no idea how we’re going to do life together as a family and still pay the mortgage and bills. I do know that we’re going to homeschool our kids. It seems crazy to me to send my kids off everyday to be shaped by teachers I don’t know (and can’t pick), indoctrinated in a government-sponsored view of the world that often fails to correctly answer the most fundamental questions: Who is man? Who is God? What is life all about? What is reality–what is the most really real? What is good and what is evil? I only get 18 years to build the foundation for both our lifelong friendship and each child’s view of God and reality, and I want to spend the time I’m given with my children, with my children. I want to build lifelong memories together as we learn and play and discover the truth about this world, about God, about ourselves, and about our source of hope in the midst of evil.

My husband and I were on the all-work-no-play train for about 4-½ years. We worked 2 different jobs, on opposite schedules, 6 days a week for that entire time period. We didn’t want to put our kids in daycare, so whoever wasn’t at work was in charge of the kids. We don’t live close to grandparents. It was exhausting. We had 1 day a week together as a family, and it was always full of groceries, doctor appointments, and the other necessary errands of life. We were also juggling MBA school (my husband), writing books (me), and homeschooling on the side.

In January, my work increased the requirements for part-time workers (I was working part-time primarily so we’d have health insurance), and our insane schedule could no longer be maintained, unless we wanted to work 7 days a week. We couldn’t, and didn’t. So right now, I’m working part-time (a little under 30 hours a week) while my husband finishes his Master’s in Business Administration. Our bills and mortgage and food and diapers are (almost) covered. Thankfully we have some savings to make up the deficit.

Despite the fact that we have no money (our budget is so tight that my husband isn’t buying coffee because he’s the only one that drinks it), I’m actually happier and more at peace than I’ve been…probably ever, to be honest.

We’re homeschooling our kids and taking them to the science museum and the park. Matt is planning and building a big garden in our backyard. He’s still studying and I’m still writing in the evenings after the kids go to bed, but we both enjoy our days and evenings now. We’re reading stories to our kids and we’re going on walks around the neighborhood. I’m able to bake fresh bread almost every week that we can all enjoy.

Things still aren’t perfect, of course–my kids still wake up well before dawn, and they each have their own idiosyncrasies. I still work every weekend, which makes social activities a challenge. And we encounter various other challenges each day, but we’re walking through the good and the bad as a family.

Our current schedule can’t be maintained long-term for financial reasons, but I want an eventual new schedule that prioritizes time as a family, doing life together. I know that I’m investing in relationships that will last a lifetime and beyond–and relationships are what real life is all about. We were all made to love and be loved. We lost that ability when we defied God in the Garden long ago, but Jesus came to restore all that was lost and fix all that we broke. Because of our Rescuer, we have hope. He changes our hearts so that we can, once again, love and know we are loved.

I want to spend my time enjoying friendships with God, my family, and the others God has placed in my life. That’s what’s going to last into the next life, and that’s what will bring true happiness and fulfillment right now. At the end of my life, I won’t care about my latest gadget or the size of my house or bank account. I’ll care about my good God that loves me, and l’ll care about the people He has placed in my life to both love me and be loved by me, by His grace.

The Valley of the Shadow

2018-02-18 17.50.06I’ve been feeling overwhelmed lately by the rampant evil and oppressive pain that characterizes this world.  Another school shooting that violently stole 17 lives; a friend whose newborn has brain cancer; kids who are hungry or abused or both; shattered marriages and families; sleepless nights battling a paralyzing enemy called anxiety; and numerous other examples of the devastating brokenness in which we live.

What is going on? What’s the point of it all? How are we supposed to smile and be cheerful when there is so much to cry about?

I’ve struggled with depression in the past. I’m not depressed right now, but I feel the weight of pain and evil and fear rather than the freedom and joy I’d prefer. My own life is relatively calm and manageable right now, but I frequently feel the pain of others (and I also struggle with the knowledge that something awful could be just around the corner). Unlike my husband, I look far ahead and plan the steps required to reach my goal–and then I worry…and worry…and worry about things not going as planned. He, on the other hand, takes each day as it comes. I’m the planner and worrier; he’s the calming force reminding me that I am not God and can actually control very little. I know he’s right. But I forget so easily. And then I keep worrying.

Life just isn’t supposed to be this way, you know? It’s just not. I hate all the evil. I hate all the agonizing pain. I hate that horrible things happen literally every minute of every day. It’s all so wrong, and so far from how I know it should be.

[Side note: I find it intriguing that most people have a sense of what should and should not be; of what is right and what is wrong. In America, we like to think that we can define our own truth, that nothing is absolute, and that we can make our own reality.

And then another mass shooting occurs, and we all know that it is unequivocally, irrevocably evil and wrong. It’s disgusting, horrifying, and devastating. The right thing is for children to be safe when they’re studying and preparing for their futures.

There is a standard. We all know it, deep down, even if it’s hard to admit. God made that standard. He defined good in the very beginning when everything was perfect. He created us to enjoy perfect friendships with Him, with each other, and with all of creation. He created us to love and be loved. But we chose to defy Him and know evil, too. And then everything shattered. And He’s been working ever since to fix what we broke. That’s why Jesus came.]

So, the question I’m wrestling with is this: How do I exist in this broken world but still maintain some kind of hope? If I choose to focus on the devastation (which is my tendency), I’ll walk around defeated and depressed every day. That’s not good for my kids, my husband, myself, or my coworkers and friends. I don’t want to minimize or ignore the pain—I want to cry with those who cry. And I don’t want to minimize horrors and put on a brave smile no matter what I’m feeling—denying emotions doesn’t get rid of them. It stuffs them inside where they deteriorate and spew out at really inconvenient times (and cause more problems, like depression). If I can’t ignore and can’t deny, that means confronting the evil and emotions head on.

But…is the world really completely broken? Or, if I look closely enough, are there blessings and good things mixed in? How do I see the good, too, and put my hope in the final, coming Good—the complete renewal and restoration of this world that Jesus has begun and will accomplish?

I’m currently researching and writing the sequel to my first book, The Advent Storybook, which is an illustrated children’s book that begins with Creation (when everything was good) then travels through ancient history, tracing God’s recurring promise to rescue us. [It’s being published by David C Cook, and the release date is October 1, 2018!!]

The sequel will focus on Jesus’ life, showing who He really was and what He really came to do. One aspect I’m including is the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Dr. Kenneth Bailey has written several amazing books that have influenced many of my stories.

In The Good Shepherd, he dives into Psalm 23 and other passages, bringing out truths that many have missed. Psalm 23 was written by David, the famous Shepherd-King of Israel. In it, David affirms that God is his Shepherd. And I think remembering that Jesus is my Shepherd is one of the ways I can rest in the midst of chaos and evil. In the ancient Middle East, every family had a few sheep because they needed wool to make their winter clothing. In order to survive, sheep need 3 basic things: grass, water, and protection. That’s the background behind the famous, beloved Psalm 23.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

In Israel, shepherds have always led their sheep out into the wilderness to graze. As the days and months pass, the shepherd must go further and further from his village in order to find adequate food and water for his flock. Before cell phones, when a shepherd and his sheep left the villages along the north-south ridge, they left both civilization and any potential source of help. They were on their own. They faced many potential dangers—thieves, snakes, wild animals, dust storms, water shortages, loose rocks, and fiery heat. All could be deadly, and there were no police or rescue teams to call (or even a way to call). But sheep trust their shepherd implicitly. They know he will both provide for their needs and protect them from danger. David says that just as his sheep had once trusted him to both provide and protect, he trusts his Shepherd to care for him and meet all his needs.

He settles me down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.

This verse is often translated “he makes me lie down,” but Dr. Bailey argues that the word used should be translated “settle down” or “rest.” And then he asserts that no one can make a sheep lie down. Sheep lie down only when their bellies are full and their thirst is quenched—and when they feel completely safe from danger. This verse is saying that God meets his needs so well that David knows he can lie down and rest.

Additionally, Dr. Bailey points out that for much of the year in Israel , the grass available for animals is dry and brown. It’s only during the short rainy season that the grass turns a rich, satisfying green. David is saying that his Shepherd not only gives him the food he needs, He gives David the best food from green pastures.

Sheep won’t drink from water that is moving—they instinctively know that if they trip and fall into a moving river, their thick wool will become heavy with water and they’ll be pulled down and drown. They insist on still water that is safe to drink, and the shepherd has to either find still water or dig a small ditch beside a stream and create a place of still water in order for his sheep to drink.

David declares that God provides richly for his needs—giving him both the finest food and still water, and protecting him from danger—so that he is able to lie down, rest, and digest.  God is a good Shepherd that he can trust.

He brings me back. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

The word often translated “he restores my soul” is better translated “he brings me back.” The sheep is lost and in danger.  He needs the Shepherd to come find him and bring him home to safety. The shepherd is his only hope.

When a sheep is lost, it panics. It often tries to hide under a bush or rock and then begins to bleat loudly and shake uncontrollably. The shepherd must find the lost, defenseless sheep before a wild animal finds it first. When the shepherd does find the sheep, it’s too traumatized to walk and must be draped over the shepherd’s shoulders and carried back to safety. God brings David back when he is lost—and David knows that he is prone to wander (just like us—all of us).

And when God restores David to safety, He can then lead him in the good, true, safe paths again—the paths that are right, where the needs of his sheep are met. Traversing the wrong paths and getting lost leads to danger—and potentially to death. But staying beside the shepherd on the right paths will bring abundant life because of the Good Shepherd who both provides for and protects his sheep.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.

In the format of the poem, this central section is actually the climax. I won’t dive into the “prophetic rhetorical template” or inverted parallelism here (although it’s completely fascinating and necessary for correct interpretation—see any book by Kenneth Bailey to learn more). But just know that this thought, at the center, is the climatic point to which the psalm crescendos. The ideas after the climax will mirror or clarify, in reverse order, the ideas we’ve already discussed.

In Israel, deep, dry valleys exist in certain places. These valleys are the only place to walk through that particular part of the mountains, but they pose a definite danger. If heavy rains occur somewhere “upstream,” the valley can abruptly turn into a raging river. Any traveler (or sheep) caught in the valley will be swept up by the flash flood and killed. These valleys of darkness and death can also be haunted by bandits.

David knows that, at times, it is necessary to travel through these valleys. That’s the only way to other side. Here, he seems to acknowledge the fact that this world is broken. Evil and dangers abound, and we can’t always avoid them. But, the valley doesn’t last forever—there is a way through. And even in this dark, shadowy, dangerous place, he knows his Shepherd is with him. He trusts the Shepherd to lead him on the right path, and he trusts his Shepherd to want good for him, protecting him and meeting his needs.

Fear can be paralyzing. Anxiety and anticipating these “valleys of death” can prevent someone from eating the green grass and drinking the still water when it is present. I think that’s what happens when I worry. My entire attention is focused on the potential horrors and threats to come, and I don’t even see the lush grass, fresh water, and rest that my Shepherd is providing right now. Anxiety and fear often steal the joy, provision, and protection of the moment. Then, when my Shepherd does lead me through the dark valley, I begin the journey hungry, thirsty, and exhausted.

That’s not the kind of abundant life the Good Shepherd intends for his sheep. Jesus, help me to remember that I can trust You.

for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

This is the reason David doesn’t fear evil. His Shepherd is with him. Not only does the Shepherd lead him to lush grass and still waters; not only does the Shepherd find him when he is lost; the Shepherd stays with him through the dangers in order to protect him.

The rod carried by shepherds has several uses, but it is primarily a weapon used to protect his flock. It’s like a mace, with a heavy end often embedded with iron or nails. With this rod, a skilled shepherd can fight off predators, whether they are human or animal.

The staff, on the other hand, is much lighter and longer with a crook on one end. It offers support when standing, walking, or climbing, and it is also used to direct sheep or lift up lambs that have fallen off the path.  The rod protects while the staff supports and directs, and they both reassure the sheep when they are carried by their trusted shepherd.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

The poem shifts here from talking about a shepherd with his sheep to talking about a banquet; before, David talked about food provided for sheep, and now he mentions food provided for people. In the Middle East, hospitality and community are highly valued. Shared meals are an integral part of the community-oriented culture.

Additionally, Dr. Bailey points out that preparing food has traditionally been the responsibility of women. One fascinating aspect of this psalm is how God is compared to both a good shepherd and a good host (who, if she prepares food, is a woman). I really appreciate how Dr. Bailey points out that God created both men and women in His image; He highly values both; and while He is Spirit (and, therefore, neither male or female), He has characteristics that are traditionally attributed to both males and females.

Dr. Bailey understands the phrase “in the presence of my enemies” to mean that God shows David (and us) love no matter who is watching and no matter who will be angry about it. If a guest is hated, that hatred is often transferred onto the host, as well. Dr. Bailey gives the example of how years ago, if a white person invited a black person to an expensive restaurant in the white part of town, people would’ve been furious. The hatred and hostility usually directed at the black person would have been felt by the white person, as well. He would’ve paid a high price in order to dine with his friend.

There are several examples of this “costly love” in Jesus’ life, which I’ll share in The Easter Storybook. Here, David affirms that God, both his Good Shepherd and Good Host, loves him no matter the cost and no matter who hates Him for it.

Anointing with oil (often perfumed) and filling a cup to overwhelming show how “over the top” and hospitable the host is treating his guest, regardless of the furious enemies looking on.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,

David is followed, like sheep heading home after a long day in the fields, by Goodness (tov) and Mercy (khesed)—by the Good Shepherd who walks behind the flock in order to keep them safe.

Tov, or goodness, paints the picture in my mind of a perfect life in the Garden of Eden—where everything was good and we enjoyed perfect friendships with God, with each other, and with all of Creation. That’s what goodness really means, I think.

And khesed is a beautiful word that means not only faithfulness to a covenant (a friendship promise), but also grace, or undeserved favor. Unfailing love, faithfulness, and grace describe who God is—and that’s who follows David home and protects him. That’s who follows me, and you, and protects us. Usually being followed is unnerving, but if you’re being followed by the Good  Shepherd, it means you’re safe.

and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for the length of the days.

Where else would a sheep rather be than in the house of the Good Shepherd, who provides, protects, and loves?

There isn’t a better place.

That’s where I want to be. I know if I follow Him, He’ll lead me to green grass and still waters. He’ll allow me to rest. And He’ll always come find me if I get lost.

Why should I fear?

 

Is Depression a Sin?

2018-02-04 16.00.48Did you hear any of these phrases growing up?

“Hard things in life are like squeezing a tube of toothpaste–they show what’s really inside a person.”

“Christians should be the happiest [or most joyful, if you were extra-spiritually-correct] people in the world.”

“Christians shouldn’t worry, because that’s a sin. Don’t you believe God is in control?”

“Christians shouldn’t get angry, because anger is a sin.”

“Don’t ever retaliate. Christians should always turn the other cheek.”

This is a sampling of the “Christianity” I remember being taught as a child. Whether that was the intended message or not, that’s the message I understood. Live a certain way, check off all the little boxes on the list of rules, then (humbly) congratulate yourself for being a good Christian.

But is that really what following Jesus is all about? Putting on a fake smile, suppressing and denying your anger, refusing to fight against evil, and gritting your teeth while you determine to never worry about the rampant evil raging all around you (and inside of you)?

When I was about 11, my entire world turned upside down. My parents announced we were becoming missionaries and would be leaving the small town I had always known. I would be leaving all my friends; my church; my school that I could walk to; my grandparents whose house I could walk to; and everything I had ever known. I was devastated.

I remember covering papers with dark, angry strokes expressing my anger, my confusion, and my fear. I’ve always been an introvert, meaning that “new” does not equal “adventure” in my mind. The absolutely last thing I wanted was a new country, a new language, and a new culture. But I was powerless to change the mind of my parents (or, it seemed, the mind of God). Additionally, I was becoming a “missionary kid”–one of those kids that other kids are supposed to look up to as a fascinating role model. I wasn’t allowed to express my anger or fear. Good Christians trusted God and smiled when things were hard.

So I stuffed all the anger, fear, and doubts inside. They kept trying to spew out, so it took a lot of work to keep them safely out of sight.

First, we moved to Virginia for a couple of months so my parents could receive training. I missed the second half of 5th grade due to that move. I eventually made friends, but then we all left for different countries across the globe. More anger, more fear to stuff down.

Then, we moved to Costa Rica for a year to learn Spanish. I, once again, made new friends–which isn’t easy for me. I liked Costa Rica–except for the giant bugs–but we left again, and so did my friends. More anger and fear to stuff down.

We then moved to Mexico City, and I once again made good friends. But then they left after less than a year, and by this point, I knew something was wrong. I was decently good at hiding that anger and fear, but I began noticing how I didn’t seem able to feel much anymore. It was almost like I was numb. It was hard to pull out that fake smile, and I was starting to feel like I couldn’t keep all of this up. What was the point of it all? What was life about? Who was I, anyway? And for that matter, Who was God and why was He putting me through all of this chaos?

We moved two more times in quick succession, and I ended up in a large city in central Mexico called Leon. By this time, I battled feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness every day. I was too shy and too perfectionistic to make new friends in the new city–I still hadn’t mastered Spanish and felt embarrassed to make mistakes when trying to communicate. I was also completely done with investing my heart and life into friendships only to lose them soon after. I turned more and more inward, but that wasn’t much solace, because inside I just found all of that suppressed anger and fear, and what was I supposed to do with it? I knew it wasn’t supposed to be there, because good Christians don’t worry or get angry, but I had no idea what to do except keep stuffing and denying.

I was severely depressed, and I existed in that state for a solid 4 years or more. It was a living nightmare. I have journals somewhere from that time, but I can’t bring myself to read them and revisit that time of my life.

I was never suicidal–I never thought about killing myself or had a plan to do so–but I remember thinking that it would be easier and better to just not be alive. If God could take care of that, I was basically fine with it, but I knew death was something He decided, not me. I figured that no one would want to be around me, anyway–I didn’t even want to be around me.

My journey out of depression was slow but steady. I made the most progress when I went to college. I met friends who were patient and kind, who started coaxing me “out of my shell.” I realized that I would soon have control over whether or not I moved, and that was a relief. About a year after graduating from college, I married my best friend and first date, and I breathed a sigh of relief that this best friend, at least, would always stick with me. I would never have to move away from him.

We started having babies that infused my life with a mixture of joy, purpose, overwhelming love, and utter exhaustion. I love my family so much.

But I think the biggest component of stepping out of the darkness of depression and into the light of life was finally understanding Who God is, who I am, and what life is all about.

For years, I stuffed my anger and fear deep down inside because I wasn’t “supposed” to feel those things. For years, I envisioned God as Someone who had a lot of rules that He apparently cared a lot about and expected me to follow. If I didn’t follow them, I would be punished. If I did follow them, I would be rewarded with heaven (and potentially some good things here on earth, as well). Even if I did follow the rules, God might still throw some hard things into my life to test and purify me (so that I could then follow those rules even better). I had to work hard and would be rewarded for my labor. If all this sounds miserable, it totally was.

Finally, I had a breakthrough.

When I finally understood that God cares about PEOPLE, not rules; that He prioritizes RELATIONSHIPS, not sacrifice; and that He loves me and wants good for me…my entire paradigm shifted. It was like the dawning of a breathtaking sunrise after an achingly long and dark night.

I was so tired of trying to hold on to friendships then having them ripped away; I was so tired of grinning and bearing it; I was exhausted from trying to keep all that fear and anger “safely” hidden. Life wasn’t about following the rules…life was all about LOVE.

I finally understood who God was, and He was beautiful. My question changed from: How the heck am I supposed to love God? To: How could I not love the One who came and died to rescue me and set me free?

I finally understood God, and then I  could understand what life is all about.

We were made to love and be loved. Life really is all about love. But it’s about real, true love–love that meets the needs of another even at great cost to oneself. Love that wants good for another and then does that good.

But we have a problem: We are utterly incapable of real love. All of us are broken and selfish, unable to do what we were created to do. And that’s why Jesus came. He came to rescue us–all of us. He will rescue anyone who realizes their need to be rescued and reaches out to Him.

He came to make everything good and new again, like it was in the beginning. He came to restore our ability to love and know we are loved. He came to make all things right and bring us home–home to perfect friendships with Him, with others, and with all of Creation.

My illustrated children’s book, The Advent Storybook, starts with Creation and journeys through ancient history, tracing God’s recurring promise to rescue us. It shares the beautiful Story of our amazing God and His plan to rescue us–the Story I completely misunderstood for so long. It’s also the Story that finally freed me from both my depression and my endless striving to be good enough.

God did give us laws. But why?

He gave us laws to show us how to love Him and love others. He gave us a standard so we could clearly see that we can never meet it on our own.

I began to understand God; I began comprehending the purpose of life; and I began to really know myself, too.

I am broken. I am in need of rescue. I’m a sinner, but not because of depression. I’m a sinner because I consistently destroy my relationship with God and with others. I’m a sinner because I’m self-destructive and others-destructive. I’m a sinner because I cannot love God or others on my own. Sin isn’t primarily a broken law; it is ultimately a broken relationship.

I also understood more about the bundle of motives, tendencies, beliefs, and emotions that define me.

I’ve always been a quiet, mostly serious, and deep-thinking person. I love deep conversations, close friendships, and quiet places, especially out in nature. I love to read and study then share what I’ve learned. I love to laugh, but I’m not usually very silly, spontaneous, or carefree. And now, I love to share the beauty of my Rescuer. On the Enneagram, I’m a One: Reformer–I’m practical, always think ahead/consider consequences, and tend toward perfectionism. I want to fix what is wrong and make things right–and it bothers me when I can’t.

I’m really sensitive to a lot of things–caffeine (I can’t drink coffee), noise, horrifying news stories, etc. Small things can affect me deeply for days. As a child, I remember crying when I saw dead squirrels on the road. When my dad shot a deer and hung it up in our garage, I was horrified and insisted that I would never eat that meat. I asked before every meal if the food had deer meat. When my parents snuck it into a stew, and then told me afterward, I felt betrayed and furious. When I hear about a person (or animal) experiencing abuse, it still upsets me to the point of tears. My husband knows to not talk about anything remotely upsetting after 8pm, because otherwise I’ll dwell on it and not be able to sleep.

Because I’m so sensitive and so future-oriented, anxiety is a problem I struggle with frequently. I’ve discovered that my insomnia is directly tied to anxiety, so learning to cope with anxiety has been the most helpful thing in managing my insomnia.

Depression and anxiety are  widespread. Though I don’t have research to back this up, I think people who tend to be more sensitive–or those who have experienced stressors and horrors far worse than me–are often the most prone to anxiety and depression. This world is horribly broken, and shoving all the resulting (often legitimate) anger and fear inside can result in depression. I think depression is an indication that you know, deep down, that something is horribly wrong with the world (and with yourself). You know things are broken, that things are not as they should be.

If you’re depressed or anxious, know that you’re not alone. And know that there’s a way out, because we really do have hope. One day, our Rescuer will make all things good and new again! And He’s working toward that goal even now. Those things that you are angry or scared about are awful, and you don’t have to pretend like they’re not.

If you’re sensitive and notice that some things bother you that don’t seem to phase others, know that God made you as you are. He has a purpose. You are broken–we all are–but you don’t have to stuff yourself or your feelings into a rigid box that stifles you. Jesus came to set you free, to enable you to love and know you are loved.

Emotions are not sins, but your reaction to them can be. Depression is a side effect of sin and this broken world…it’s not something you need to be ashamed of or hide. It can be very serious, so please get help if you need it, especially if you have thoughts of being better off dead. If you think about killing yourself, or have a plan in mind, tell someone you trust; go to the ER; or call the suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255.

The beautiful Creator loves you and has wonderful plans for your life. He is making you, and me, and all things new! The horrors  you’ve experienced, the abuses or stressors you’ve suffered, do not define your identity or worth. God does, and He loves you so much that He died to rescue you and set you free from evil and pain. One day, He will wipe away all our tears and restore what we lost in the Garden long ago.

There is hope! May His beauty, love, and peace shine upon you.

 

Confessions of a Cave Dweller

20170414_193647I just watched a short video about an elderly gentleman who volunteers two days a week in the pediatric ICU of a hospital, holding babies whose parents can’t be there because of distance, other children, or competing responsibilities. It was a touching video–he does it to meet the needs of these babies when they’re hurting, sick, and just need to be loved and cuddled.

In the video, he is asked this question: “What do you get out of it?” And something about that question broke my heart. It’s a completely legitimate question, because every person has a motive behind their actions. And, if we’re honest, the motive is usually selfish–we all ask ourselves this question every day. Will this be good for me? What benefits or perks will I get from this? It’s not a bad question in light of human nature.

But the fact that selfish motives drive most of our behavior is a tragedy. It’s so, so sad because it’s so, so different from the way things are supposed to be.

Yesterday, my 4-year-old was sitting at the kitchen counter. Mornings start early around here. This conversation happened between him and my husband, Matt:

My 4-year-old (reflecting as he was waiting for breakfast): God made the world good. He made it so people could love each other. But Satan tricked Adam and Eve and told them they could be like God if they ate the fruit. But they were already like God. And now everything is broken.

Matt (blinks, still half-asleep): That’s right. Who’s going to fix everything?

4-year-old: God! And Jesus!

And I decided that I like our early mornings after all.

My 4-year-old’s reflections on the true condition of the world and the beauty of  Jesus came to mind when I was watching that video about the volunteer. He is loving those babies–wanting good for them and doing that good, despite the sacrifice in time, the likelihood that he’ll be puked or peed on, and the fact that he’ll probably never see those babies again or receive a thank you from them.

He’s not cuddling babies for himself–he’s doing it for them. And his act of love is a picture of the way we were all created to live. It reflects, in a way, what real life is. Real, true life is enjoying friendships of love with God, with others, and with all of creation. We’ve never experienced a perfect world of perfect love. We’re like the man in Plato’s cave who has only seen shadows–we’ve never seen the Light. But, because of Jesus, we’ve seen glimpses of true Light and Life. And, because of Jesus, we have hope that He will rescue us out of our “cave” and bring us into the Light and life and love we were created to enjoy.

I’m typing this post as I’m rocking my 9-month-old. His tummy has been upset lately, and it’s preventing him from getting his much-needed morning nap today. I was hoping to spend that much-needed hour finishing up the manuscript for my book that’s due soon. And I was feeling extremely frustrated that my time is, once again, being “wasted.” I have so many things I’m trying to accomplish, and so often my time is interrupted or used up by meeting the needs of my 4-year-old, 2-year-old, and 9-month-old. And I was feeling annoyed at his tummy problems and annoyed in general, and then I watched that video. And remembered my 4-year-old’s deep reflections yesterday.

And then I realized (again) how broken and selfish I am.  How sad it is that I’m begrudgingly rocking my precious son, wishing I could be more productive. What higher calling do I have than loving those God has placed in my life to love?  What better way to spend my time than meeting the needs of my children, gifted to me by God?  I filter every action through the question: What will I get out of this?  And when I do that, I completely miss out on real, true life.  I’m stuck in a smoky cave of shadows, when Jesus intends the beautiful world of Light and love for me and everyone else.

I am in such desperate need of my Rescuer. And I’m so thankful that He comes to bring me home, again and again, every time I crawl away from true Life back to my cave.

When Jesus began His ministry, He spoke these words:

And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because  he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives

and recovering of sight to the blind,

to set at liberty those who are oppressed,  

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”

Luke 4:17‭-‬21 ESV

I am the poor, the captive, the blind, the oppressed. I am in need of His rescue.

We all are.

I’m so thankful He came for us.

And now I’m going to rock my baby and enjoy it, remembering that loving him is the best way to spend my time right now.

Should I Make A New Year Resolution?

2017-10-02 08.32.59Back in my college days, I went to the campus library a lot. It was spacious and quiet with tall windows overlooking a peaceful stretch of grass dotted with trees and inviting benches. I was usually too busy studying for my nursing classes to read for pleasure, but I remember one title that caught my eye almost every time I walked down a particular aisle: Ideas Have Consequences.  I never had time to read it, but the concept rings true to this day and still pulls me toward that as-yet-unread book.

Most people acknowledge the fact that actions have consequences. If I put my hand in the fire, it will get burned. If I wake up each morning and go to work, I’ll earn money.  If I spend time practicing, I’ll learn to play the piano.  If I only sit on the couch eating potato chips and playing video games, I’ll forfeit my health, most relationships, and most adventures.

What we do directly affects both our life experiences and our character–our choices largely shape who we become.  Actions have consequences, whether positive or negative, intended or unintended.  And it isn’t only our actions that affect us–the choices of others directly impact our lives, as well.  The man who chooses to drink then drive, and then crashes into a minivan, harms both those lives as well as his own.

We know that actions have consequences. So, what causes us to act the way that we do?

Ideas. Ideas and beliefs, colored by emotions, influence and guide our choices in life.

If I believe that eating a variety of fruits and veggies every day, coupled with exercising at least 5 days a week, will improve my health–and then I do eat good food and exercise regularly–I’ll get healthier. I’ll almost certainly avoid some of the biggest risk factors for heart attack and heart disease: high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, and inactivity.

Ideas really do have consequences.

I’ve been thinking about all of this because January 1 is fast approaching. For many, a new year signifies a fresh start. Many will set goals and decide on New Year Resolutions–they’ve identified areas of growth or change and make a plan to reach them.

I love setting goals and creating a plan to achieve them. On the Enneagram personality diagram, I’m a solid One, called The Reformer. I’m principled, idealistic, goal-oriented, and self-disciplined.  I’m very committed to my view of what is good, right, and true.  Once I identify the good, I strive toward it, and it’s really hard to change my course (just ask my very patient husband!).  

I, too, have goals for this new year, and I’ll be writing a post soon about how to create reachable goals (especially health-related ones) at my other blog, tipsfromanurse.com.

But this post is about the immense importance of both actions (which stem from ideas) and grace.  We are all shaped by both.

We’re familiar with the strong correlation between action and consequence–though to be honest, we often hope to be the exception to the rule. When I see someone flying down the road, driving like a maniac, I very much want them to be caught by a police officer and receive an expensive, behavior-altering ticket.  When I look down and realize that I’m speeding, on the other hand, I very much hope that no one (especially a police officer) noticed my error as I gingerly step on the brake.  We like it when our actions bring pleasant rewards–but the same is not true when we justly deserve unpleasant punishment.

The connection between action and consequence is aptly summed up in one Biblical phrase: You reap what you sow.

And it’s true.  

You really do.

Unless you add a beautiful thing called grace into the equation. When you do that, it miraculously changes everything.

One of my favorite summaries of grace occurs in Isaiah 55:

Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.


Usually, someone who doesn’t have money would have two options: 1) Go without water, wine, and milk, or 2) Steal water, wine, and milk.

But when you throw grace into the mix, a third option appears: 3) Receive water, wine, and milk at no cost to you. Get them for free (because someone else paid for them in your place).

You do reap what you sow…unless God steps in and gives you what He has sown.

I’m writing this post because of the long journey toward grace and freedom that I have walked thus far. For many years, I tried to earn the money I needed to buy my water, wine, and milk. I worked really, really hard. But, despite my best efforts, it wasn’t ever enough. I was still thirsty!

It wasn’t until I realized that I could never work hard enough or long enough…I could never be perfect enough…I could never follow God’s laws and reach the ideal…I could never really love on my own (and love, of course, sums up all of God’s laws and embodies the ideal toward which I strove)…it wasn’t until I realized that I was totally unable to pay on my own that I witnessed a miracle.  

I finally realized that I would always be thirsty–that I would, in fact, die–if it all depended on my efforts. And when I realized that horrible, nauseating, terrifying truth–Someone came to me. And He held out His hands. And He said, “Come. Drink your fill. I purchased fresh water, wine, and milk. I know you can’t pay for them. But I want you to have them. Your efforts won’t ever achieve this result–you can’t pay. But I can, and I did. Drink deeply–what I give won’t run dry.”

This Giver of never-ending water (and wine and milk, too!) is the reason I no longer have to “spend [my] money for that which is not bread, and [my] labor for that which does not satisfy” (Isaiah 55:2). I’m free. Instead of endless striving, now I can dance in this Love that graciously meets all my needs. Jesus is beautiful.

Jesus does the impossible: He changes hearts that are bent toward self-destruction and others-destruction, slowly re-making them until they become hearts of love…hearts like His.

Jesus changes our hearts, which changes our ideas, which changes our actions. But since change is a life-long process, He steps in and pays for that which we desperately need but can never earn on our own. 

So make those goals!  We all need to change. We all have areas in need of growth. New Year Resolutions are really important! If nothing else, they highlight the fact that we are not basically good. We can’t achieve perfection on our own.

But as you make them, just remember that while you can achieve amazing things by setting goals and working, step by step, to reach them…you can’t achieve the most important thing on your own.  That takes grace.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13

 

Encountering Beauty

20161130_100742-EFFECTSSometimes, I encounter beauty that takes my breath away.  It’s happened before as I was gazing out across a lush, tree-covered valley atop a fog-cloaked mountain in the Costa Rican rain forest.  I’ve experienced awe in the midst of beautiful Colorado mountains, standing tall and immoveable against a clear blue sky.  It’s occurred when I hear stories of people who pour out costly love on others, such as the policeman who adopted the drug-addicted baby of a homeless, drug-addicted woman he happened to encounter.  And most poignantly, my heart soars with joyful hope (and simultaneously cries with longing) when I encounter a glimpse of the glorious, all-encompassing love of my Rescuer.

That happened today.

It’s been a long day, and I’m pretty tired–my kids have been sick most of the week, and last night my baby was up until midnight and then my toddler and pre-schooler were up (as usual) by 5:30am.  I was at work all day (I’m a nurse and work weekends), which is often a much-needed break from the chaos of 3 children who are 4 years old and under–but at work, I can’t sneak in a short 15 minute nap like I (very rarely) can at home.

So…my primary goal was survival.  But while I was at work, I was standing on the third story looking out through the wall of windows.  Now, where I live, we don’t have many breath-taking vistas.  We have flat, scrubby grasslands–and lots of concrete and buildings in the cities.  I was actually just looking out across a mostly-empty parking lot, but the sun was shining just so, and I was thinking about Jesus coming as Light into our darkness, and my heart started to quicken.  And though I was tired and cranky, peace and hope began pouring over me and filling me up, and I just couldn’t help but rejoice at the beauty of Jesus coming to show us the way out of our brokenness and evil.

And then I came home, and I was rocking my baby at bedtime, and a beautiful person I’ve known a long time texted to ask me how much money we still need to create The Advent Storybook, my illustrated children’s book on Kickstarter.  I told her we had about 10 days left and still need over $12,000 in order to reach our goal.  But I reassured her that I won’t give up if this first campaign fails, and I shared that a traditional publishing company is potentially interested in partnering with us and sharing some of the costs! We’d still need to pay for all of the illustrations, but they would help cover the cost of printing the books, so a second Kickstarter attempt could actually start out with a lower, more-reachable goal!

And then…

She told me that she felt like the Lord was telling her to give me $12,000 to make the book happen.

This generous, beautiful person is not wealthy.  At all.  Her overwhelming generosity took my breath away, but I immediately told her that I just can’t accept a gift like that.  I can’t.  It’s far, far more than she can afford–and if this first attempt fails, we’ll just keep trying!

And then she told me that she believed in me.  And that she feels like God has a plan for this book.  And I thought back over all the times she has encouraged me, believed in me, and loved me over the years.  And my eyes filled with tears.

I tearfully thanked her and expressed my gratitude at her costly love and generosity but reiterated that I just can’t accept that gift.  If God wants it to happen, it will happen–without her bank account being emptied!

Even though I can’t accept her gift, I felt compelled to share the beauty of her love.  Real, true love is always beautiful.  Real, true love is meeting the needs of another even at great cost to oneself.  True love is wanting good for someone and then doing that good for them.  This precious person was willing to give far more than she is able in order to meet a need, because she wants to share the story of Jesus’ rescue with children all over the world (through my book).  That’s love.

And God is real, true love.

Jesus came to rescue us out of our broken, destructive, dark evil and into His glorious, freeing, beautiful love.  He came to rescue us and make everything good and new again, like it was in the beginning.  He came to restore our ability to love and know we are loved.

I don’t often encounter the beautiful love this person was so willing to bestow on me.  And I know that He is at work in her life, growing that willingness to sacrifice and pour such costly love on me and others.  Her love looks a lot like His love–I recognize the beauty of her love because I’ve encountered it before in the Source of true Light, Life, and Love.  Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone loved like this beautiful person (and like God)?  That’s the way things were before everything shattered in the Garden so long ago.  It would be paradise–perfect friendships between God, people, and Creation.

I still don’t know how this book will be funded.  I’m still really tired.  But I’ve encountered beauty and love today that took my breath away.

We celebrate Christmas because God poured out costly love on us, gifting us with a beautiful Rescuer who will make right all that is wrong.  That gift overwhelms me, and it’s one I know I don’t deserve…but I’m holding on to that beauty and goodness and hope with everything in me.  His gift cost Him far more than I can comprehend, but I accept it wholeheartedly.  May we remember and celebrate and reach out toward Jesus.

Merry Christmas!