Do Not Hinder Them

“No!”

This is the most frequently uttered (screamed? shouted?) word in my house.

Our toddler recently entered that stage of toddler-hood that is especially trying. Up until last month, she would have good days and bad days, and good moments and bad moments, but overall we weren’t really surprised by her behavior. But one morning a few weeks ago, it was as if a different person woke up in her bed. Everything is a fight now. “Time out” has been a frequent occurrence – and what’s worse, I think she actually likes it. Sometimes she’ll hit her sister just to get into “time out.” And then she sits and laughs at me.

I know some of this is a reaction to changes happening in our household (potty training and the introduction to the big girl bed, for instance), but nothing I do seems to help. I keep reminding myself that this is temporary, and eventually she’ll move on from this behavior to something else (most likely equally frustrating). I pray and pray and pray and despite my best efforts I’ve still lost my temper, yelled, and slammed a door or two.

A week or so ago, I was reading in the book of Luke, and came to the passage where Jesus welcomes children who are brought to him:

Now they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” – Luke 18:15-17

I’ve been reflecting on that verse, “and do not hinder them,” in particular, since then. And today, I was listening to a sermon podcast (it was really good – give it a listen!) centered on Mark 19:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” Mark 19:42

Can I be honest for a minute? I am so discouraged. I’m so discouraged thinking about how I’ve behaved, particularly when my oldest screams or tries to slam a door – because she learned that from me. I taught her how to act out in anger. I taught her that sin. I have already hindered my kids. It would be better for me if a millstone were hung around my neck.

And, at the same time I feel discouraged, I have found encouragement. Despite what I deserve, God has already paid the debt for my transgressions. I know that I cannot do good on my own power. I know that if God has set my children aside for his own possession that nothing I do will prevent them from going to Him.

But I still don’t want to be the reason my kids have doubts, or the reason why my kids know how to do bad things. And I know that all trials and tribulations (however large or small) sanctify us.

Maybe God is sanctifying me by teaching me to trust his ability to redeem my girls. Maybe, despite my head knowledge, there are places in my heart that I’m keeping away from God. Places where I’m secretly harboring the expectation that I can, by my own power, save my children.

I don’t want to be the reason my kids have doubts, or the reason why my kids know how to do bad things. So I go back to the slog. I keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep reading the Bible. Keep praying. Keep trusting. Keep trusting. Keep trusting.

On Getting Healthy

I am not the kind of person who really likes to discuss her weight. However, over the last few months I’ve been opening up about it and sharing some of my struggles. A few friends have asked me what I’ve been doing to achieve a healthier weight, and since this journey is MUCH more than weight loss, I thought I’d share a little here. So here’s my journey, in brief:

1. I was convicted by the Holy Spirit that it was an issue of sanctification.

The first time I realized that I was overweight was at recess in fifth grade. I noticed that my shorts hugged my legs in a way other girls’ shorts didn’t. I was in seventh grade when I started my first diet because I wanted to be skinny like the other girls in my class. I wanted to blend in. It never occurred to me that my weight was unhealthy – all I knew was that it was abnormal.

Eventually I acknowledged that my weight wasn’t healthy, but I wasn’t as concerned with that as I was my body image. When I was a junior staffer on Capitol Hill, I decided that I wanted to date, but knew I couldn’t ever be comfortable dating at my size. So I started modest exercise and made a few modest diet changes. I lost a lot of weight, and I felt fantastic. For the first time, I realized how happy I could be when I wasn’t huffing and puffing all over the place. I knew what healthy was, and I liked it.

And then Jack and I met and fun date night dinners got to be frequent. I got a new job and couldn’t exercise like I had been. Weight steadily piled back on, and then Jack and I got married and I moved back to the Midwest where drive-through food is EVERYWHERE. There is very little in the way of drive-through restaurants in the immediate DC Metro area. So if I got hungry while I was away from home, it was tough luck. But back here, if I got hungry I could just swing through someplace and get a snack. It took very little time for me to regain everything I’d lost. And then I got pregnant – enough said.

You’ll notice throughout that whole narrative I never once described my food intake as sinful. But one day when I was pregnant with our second daughter, I stopped at a drive-through and after placing my order, a thought popped into my head:

“Do you really need that? If you don’t really need that, is consuming it sinful?”

Over the course of my second pregnancy I was increasingly convinced of the sinfulness of over-consumption of anything. I knew that as my kids watched me over-consume, they would have little reason to listen to me when I told them they shouldn’t. I was working this over in my mind when I read the story of Eli, the priest of God who died when he fell over because he was “old and heavy.”

…the story of Eli was a catalyst for me to really start examining my habits and the example they set for our daughters. With God’s help, I am working to change course in a number of areas of my life. I know that ultimately the choices my children make will be theirs, just like Eli’s sons’ choices were their own, but I want to be able to say with confidence that I did what God asked of me as a parent.

The Holy Spirit and the Word of God worked to convince me that I had sin in my life I needed to excise. So I started trying.

2. I started a diet and exercise program.

After we came home from Christmas travels this year, I purged our house of every cookie, full-fat ice cream container, bag of chips – everything. I subscribed to Weight Watchers. I don’t go to the meetings (I know lots of people like the meetings; I just didn’t find them particularly helpful. Also? I have no time). I like Weight Watchers because it’s basically a calorie counting and portion limiting plan, and it’s taught me how to plan my food consumption. I track my food on weekdays. I still make low-point meals on the weekends and don’t go totally overboard (we typically go out once on the weekends), but I take a break from tracking.

We have an elliptical and I try to walk on it every day, and lift hand weights (to this routine) every other day. And – guys, let me be totally honest with you – I do not work really hard. I put the elliptical on the highest resistance setting and just walk. I do not care about achieving a good cardio heart rate. I just aim for the activity. Sometimes if I’m feeling ambitious I’ll run for a few minutes.

I do my best not to be really hard on myself if I don’t get downstairs to work out or if I eat something I shouldn’t (the nice thing about Weight Watchers is if you slip up during the day, you can usually keep within your point allowance if you’re diligent).

3. I pray about my struggles.

Probably unsurprisingly, prayer was not a huge part of my weight struggles until recently in my life. Mostly my prayer in this area was limited to emergency “keep me away from this temptation” prayers. These days, I pray for diligence in this journey and give thanks for the total transformation God is working in my life. (Don’t get me wrong – those emergency temptation prayers TOTALLY still happen! There are still a gazillion drive-through restaurants out here, after all)

I’m incredibly happy to report that since the birth of our second daughter I’ve lost all of the pregnancy weight (from both children) and am down 55lbs. I still have 50lbs to my next goal (assuming no pregnancies), which I hope to reach by November. I am learning so much about myself, and how I’ve used food in the past. But most importantly, I’m learning that there isn’t a sin pattern too tough for God to break if you let Him. As with any story about my life I can tell you, this story is ultimately about Him and His power, glory, and goodness. And it is so exciting to be part of anything God is doing!

Duty or Joy

It’s been a hard couple of months.

When I say that, it probably conjures up thoughts of death or sickness or some other misfortune in the family. But, honestly? The last few weeks have just been difficult. But for a while I struggled to understand why.

On paper the last several weeks have been great. I’ve been sticking to a regular diet and exercise and weight is seemingly melting off me – I recently kicked off the last of the baby weight and am extremely close to wearing clothes I last wore when my husband and I met in 2014. Our toddler has good and bad day behaviorally, but, on the whole she’s doing very well. Our infant is beginning to sleep through the night more regularly. The weather is finally nice. My husband is very well after our emergency room and hospital ordeal. I’ve been reading the Bible daily and have finished the Old Testament all the way up through 2 Kings.

But I’ve been cranky. I’ve been dissatisfied. I feel like I’ve brought more complaints to my husband in the last eight weeks than I have in the entirety of our marriage. I felt under siege by frustration. And then I felt guilty because there are so many people I know with a great many more important problems than my grumpiness.

So how do you get out of an unexplained funk?

Eventually I realized I wasn’t praying. That is, I was praying “daily maintenance” prayers (“God, please help me have patience right now as my kid is losing it,”), and I was praying for friends and family who asked for prayer, but not really sitting down quietly with God and talking with him.

And the more I thought about that, the more I wondered what the deal was with my daily Bible reading. How was I approaching it? I’ve been following a read-at-your-own-pace plan, in hopes of reading the whole Bible in a year. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized I was going to the Bible not to know know God’s word, cherish it, and have it transform me, but just to get the reading done.

I was reminded of Lamentations 12, where Solomon says “The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man,” (v 13).

The first time I read this passage I was really struck by the word “duty.” I thought back to the Psalms, where David rejoiced over God’s commandments:

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain! … I find my delight in your commandments, which I love. I will lift up my hands toward your commandments, which I love, and I will meditate on your statutes.” – Psalm 119: 33-37; 47-48

David sinned – majorly, in catastrophic ways – but his heart was always for God, His laws, and His righteousness. Solomon kept the outward appearance of following God’s laws by offering the requisite sacrifices, but he didn’t seem to long for God’s law like David. My favorite example of this is Solomon taking an Egyptian wife (against God’s law) and having to build a separate house for her: “for he said, ‘My wife must not live in the palace of David king of Israel, because the places the ark of the Lord has entered are holy.'” (2 Chronicles 8:11) (DO YOU HEAR YOURSELF TALKING?????)

Solomon (barely) gave God what was his duty. But he tried to find joy in other things. Spoiler alert: he was not successful, and he spent an entire book of the Bible talking about it. But David spent an entire book in the Bible rejoicing over God’s word.

Am I Solomon, or am I David?

More frequently the former rather than the latter, I’m afraid.

So yesterday I went out and bought a prayer journal, and last night when it came time to read I turned to the Psalms (I had been in Isaiah). I read, and I meditated, and I prayed. And today I can find joy in the way God has been convicting my heart of things and transforming me into a new creation in Him.

New Mercies I See

Last week, my husband had to be whisked off to the emergency room at 4am and spent a few days in the hospital. He is on the mend now and all will be well. Any friends who wish to privately inquire about the details of that episode are welcome to do so, however, the most important thing about all of it was how God was providing for us in the midst of total chaos.

I’m thankful that my mother in law lives nearby enough to have met him at the hospital so I could stay home with the kids. She and I swapped places once the kids were awake, and by some providence I had the presence of mind to grab my Bible before leaving for the ER. Once I was at Jack’s bedside and things had quieted down I opened up to where I had left off in Exodus, just after the Israelites were delivered from the Egyptians at the Red Sea:

They set out from Elim, and all the congregation of the people of Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is in between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, and the people of Israel said to them, “Would that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by meat pots and ate bread to the full, for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Exodus 16:1-3

Every time I read Exodus I am totally blown away by the Israelites’ ability to not know who God is after everything He did for them. I’d like to think that if I had been a witness to the plagues of Egypt, or the pillar of fire, or if I’d crossed the Red Sea on dry land, I would be faithful. But in reality, even if I’m not a witness to things quite so fantastic as what God did in Exodus, I am a witness to the very many things He’s done in my life and I frequently forget them. And these things aren’t small, either. Where I went to college, the friends I made, the church I called home in DC, and how I met my husband were really more like divine appointments than chance, I think.

But anyway.

So I was sitting in the ER reading this account and found myself thinking how ridiculous it was that God had literally delivered them from slavery into freedom and yet the Israelites were longing to go back to slavery. It seems ridiculous at first. But, then, how frequently is this me? How often do I wish to return to the fake comfort of sin because I think it’s easier? A lot, really.

But what struck me on that day in particular was the ungrateful attitude of the Israelites. I thought right at the outset, “I don’t want this to be me.” And I prayed. I thanked God for how he had protected Jack from the beginning of that morning. He could have been seriously injured, but he wasn’t. I thanked God that the kids miraculously slept through all of the commotion at 4am. I thanked God for my mother in law. I thanked God for all of the friends who were praying for us.

Over the next few hours and days as we muddled through, the refrain of “Great is Thy Faithfulness” started to echo in my thoughts. With every meal delivered by our church family, or every expected temper tantrum from our toddler that didn’t happen, I saw new mercies. All of our needs were met in Jesus — sometimes physical, but always spiritual, and most importantly always our need of rescue.

The last week has not been easy, but it has been good. God is so faithful. And He is so good to show us how He works in the midst of our trials. I am so thankful!

“Great is thy faithfulness!
Great is thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning, new mercies I see;
All I have needed, thy hand hath provided,
Great is thy faithfulness, Lord unto me!”

Train up a child

The thing about parenthood that weighs on me most is the responsibility to my children to Train [them] in the way [they] should go;” (Proverbs 22:6). Ultimately I will not be responsible for their life choices, but it is the responsibility of my husband and I to lay a good foundation so that, by God’s grace, they may come to love the Lord and to live a life giving glory to Him.

This is a matter of daily prayer and practice. I do my best to pray for them each day, and we try to facilitate a household where God is at the center of everything. We know that because He loves us, God disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:6), and I need to love my kids by giving them discipline. But – now I know this is shocking – disciplining a toddler is stinkin’ hard.

Our oldest child’s favorite word is “no,” and she delights to test the limits of EVERYTHING. To get attention, she shrieks as loud as she can. The thing that makes me craziest? She smiles when she knows I’m angry. It is SO much easier to just let things go. It’s SO much easier to let her watch “Baby Shark” over and over again on YouTube rather than enforcing our “no screens” rule. It is SO much easier to let her run roughshod over everything rather than asking her to behave the way she is capable of behaving. I know it doesn’t get any easier. And this is just the beginning.

Over the last week as I’ve been reading further in 2 Samuel and Kings, I’ve come to realize just how merciful God is to parents to have recorded in his Word stern warnings about parenting. The story of Eli still floats through my mind all the time, but David – the man after God’s own heart – also provides a lot of warning.

David takes multiple wives, and has many children. So many children, apparently, it is difficult to be a fully-present father to them. This is highly evident in the story of Amnon, who rapes his half-sister Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. This should have never happened in the first place. David should have been around enough to ask, “Why is Amnon behaving this way,” when Amnon started “[making] himself ill.” (2 Sam 13:2) But he wasn’t, and a disgusting injustice was perpetrated against Tamar.

David is king. It is his responsibility to execute God’s justice in this situation (the penalty under the Mosaic Law for incest is death). David is Tamar’s father. It’s his job to protect her and her honor. But “When David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” (2 Sam 13:21) The Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint add “But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.”

So Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, murders Amnon. David again withholds punishment, and even lets Absalom return to Jerusalem, where there Absalom overthrows his father and attempts to reign as king. He dies as a result, but not for lack of attempts on David’s part to prevent his son’s death.

In 1 Kings, David’s fourth-born son, Adonijah senses a similar opportunity. In David’s old age, “…Adonijah … exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ [Instead of Solomon] And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?'” (1 Kings 1:5-6).

His father never displeased him by asking, “excuse me, what are you doing?” Woof.

David’s kids were all adults when these things happened. They knew they could get away with their actions because they could expect David to either not pay attention or to not follow through with a consequence, would be my guess. They were a product of their rearing.

So I have David’s example before me, as a warning to be diligent in my parenting – even when it’s hard – to protect and discipline and lead those whom God has placed under my care. But David’s example is also an encouragement. First, because his example is recorded in the Bible at all (as an aside, what other religion includes such terrible depictions of their heroes? Not many), and importantly because God still prospered David in spite of his sins. There were consequences for his actions, but David kept his heart set on God, and God had mercy. I am so thankful that God gave us His word to instruct us in this most important work, and His mercy for when we fall short.

From Whom All Blessings Flow

It seems like I start every blog post by saying that I’ve been meaning to write for one, two, three, six, however many weeks and keep getting side-tracked. But, for a change, what’s been keeping me from this particular post is having two kids under two. Usually it’s because I haven’t been reading my Bible and don’t have much to say, but WHEW! I have been reading daily and WOW do I have a lot I’ve been seeing lately! But let me first start with this:

One of the podcasts to which I regularly listen Stand To Reason‘s weekly broadcast. The host, Greg Kokul, sometimes challenges his listeners to follow a yearly Bible plan. I’ve also heard him say that sometimes his daily readings have been timely; he would read some verses and in close proximity to his reading, that subject would come up in his life somewhere. Jack and I have actually talked about this phenomenon happening in Jack’s life, too.

But when I first heard Greg issue this challenge, I thought, “Well, you know, I’m in a regular Bible study and reading my Bible MOSTLY daily, so, I’m fine.” But, of course, BSF is only during the school year which leaves three months where – let’s be honest – almost no reading takes place. So a few months ago when Greg mentioned it on the podcast again, I thought, why not? I printed a read-at-your-own-pace plan from Ligonier and started reading in addition to my daily BSF homework. (If nothing else, it’s super satisfying to my hyper-competitive soul to be checking off boxes as I complete chapters)

I started off in Zechariah, and after a few days something related to what I’d read in Zechariah was discussed on the STR podcast. And a day after that, The Gospel Coalition published a talk that showed up in my social media feed on Zechariah. I thought about what Jack and I had talked about, and what Greg Kokul has said from time to time on the air, hm-ed to myself, and moved on.

My strategy with my daily reading was to go from an Old Testament book to a New Testament book, so after Zechariah I went to Matthew. Jack, meanwhile, has been reading the book of Hosea, which he randomly mentioned to me one morning.

A few nights ago before bed I was reading The Parable of the Weeds in Matthew 13 and was reminded of the verses in Romans where Paul says “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory,” (9:22-23), which I read in BSF last year. So I went back to Romans 9 to refresh my mind with those verses.

Jack was sitting next to me in bed when I burst out laughing, so I started reading out loud to him. The very next verses in the book of Romans are a quotation from Hosea:

“Even to us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? As indeed he says in Hosea, ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people,” and her who was not beloved I will call “beloved…” (9:24-25)

I wish I could say that because of all of these funny and delightful coincidences, I’ve gained some new and amazing insights into God’s word. I can say that I am better acquainted with God’s word – with Him – in these readings. I think that this other stuff has come up because He is blessing my learning. And not only has He blessed the learning, He’s blessed the time in my day.

For a long, LONG, time, I have struggled with ordering my time and procrastination. It is in my nature to sit on the couch and do nothing whenever possible. But over the last few weeks I’ve found that I have motivation to do not only the daily tasks that keep our household running, but also larger projects to get us better organized and even to spruce up the house a bit. This is time BESIDES the twenty-or-so minutes I spend reading the Bible daily. GUYS. I have found TIME. WITH TWO BABIES IN THE HOUSE. DO YOU KNOW HOW WEIRD THAT IS???

Anyone who’s spent time in a church has probably heard the “I stepped out in faith and gave more money than I thought I could to the church/mission/whatever, and somehow God blessed me with a raise/some other unforeseen increase in cash flow,” story. Lord knows I’ve heard it MANY times. And, go figure, it turns out God blesses the time we give him, too.

So praise be to God today and every day, for all the ways he increases the resources we give him (whatever they are), and for having mercy on us even when we’re stingy. I’ve been stingy with my time for so long, But that didn’t stop Him from pouring forth all sorts of provision before I started reading my Bible more. He is good all the time – which is definitely easier to see when you’re spending some time with Him daily.

Old and Heavy

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So, it’s been a while.

We welcomed our second daughter in September and WHOOBOY has life been bonkers since then (surprise, surprise). Kiddo Secundo entered the world via a picture perfect c-section. My recovery was great. Breastfeeding initiated like a dream. We thought Older Sister was an easy baby but WOW – Kiddo Secundo makes Older Sister look like a colicky nightmare. That is, she did until we hit the dreaded four-month sleep regression. It took us a while to get things back under control (as much as one can “control” the behaviors of another human being), but now that they are, I feel like I’m finally coming out of Baby Fog and entering some semblance of a new normal and can get back to some regular writing.

I am also, very thankfully, back to a regular Bible study. I’m in Bible Study Fellowship (BSF), and this year we are doing “People of the Promised Land, Part I,” which is a survey of various Old Testament books. My BSF group started the week Kiddo Secundo was born, so I didn’t actually make it to class for a couple of months, but I was really convicted by our study of Eli the priest, found in 1 Samuel.

Eli is the priest who trains Samuel. One of the first things we learn about Eli (other than his rebuke of Hannah for assuming she is drunk when she’s not) is that he has “worthless” sons (1 Sam. 2:12). They were blaspheming the sacrifices made to God and sleeping with the women who were serving alongside them. The narrative says “Now Eli was very old…” when he rebuked his sons (1 Sam 2:22) for their behavior, and they “would not listen to the voice of their father” (25).

When God calls Samuel, he “was ministering to the Lord in the presence of Eli. … At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his own place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was.” (1 Sam 3:1-3) Yet, when Samuel hears God’s voice, Eli cannot. 

Finally, when Israel went out to fight the Philistines and suffered defeat, they decided that they needed the Ark of God in their camp with the army. Eli’s sons bring the Ark, and it’s captured. “Eli was sitting on his seat by the road watching, for his heart trembled for the ark of God. And when the man came into the city and told the news, all the city cried out. When Eli heard the sound of the outcry, he said, ‘What is this uproar?’ Then the man hurried and came and told Eli. Now Eli was ninety-eight years old and his eyes were set so that he could not see. And the man said to Eli, ‘I am he who has come from the battle; I fled from the battle today.’ And he said, ‘How did it go, my son?’ He who brought the news answered and said, ‘Israel has fled before the Philistines, and there has also been a great defeat among the people. Your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.’ As soon as he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell over backward from his seat by the side of the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for the man was old and heavy.” (1 Sam 3:13-18). 

A few things here: Eli’s heart “trembled” for the Ark, but he either apparently didn’t notice the Ark was gone, let Israel take the Ark out into battle, or was powerless to stop his sons from taking the Ark out. This is also the second time the narrative tells us Eli was blind. Also, he was “old and heavy.” Now, I don’t know a lot, but I imagine it takes rather a lot of laziness to be “heavy” in the ancient Near East.

I wondered as I was reflecting on Eli whether he was actually blind, or if history recorded that he was because he turned a blind eye to things he ought not. I wondered why he was sleeping while Samuel was still awake to hear God’s call. And then I wondered how much of his story is my story.

What a gracious warning God gives us in the life of Eli. He has given my husband and I two precious girls to raise, and they require all of our eyes, ears, and heart to train them up “in the way [they] should go; even when [they] old [they] will not depart from it.” (Proverbs 22:6) I can’t say that I have been doing so perfectly, or even super consistently, but the story of Eli was a catalyst for me to really start examining my habits and the example they set for our daughters. With God’s help, I am working to change course in a number of areas of my life. I know that ultimately the choices my children make will be theirs, just like Eli’s sons’ choices were their own, but I want to be able to say with confidence that I did what God asked of me as a parent. I am so glad He gives us His Word to show us what is on the line, to encourage us that we aren’t alone, and to give instruction!