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!

 

Unplanned

Dear Second Daughter:

In a week and a few days, we’re going to meet you (I know this because your older sister was born via csection after 27 hours of labor, so we are having a second csection. Yes, I will always hold this over your older sister’s head). And as we prepare to meet you, I’ve been thinking a lot about what God has been teaching me through this pregnancy. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit to you that you were not planned.

BUT! I am admitting this to you because I want you to know that even if we didn’t plan you, God did. He knew that I needed to carry you with me for nine months because I had a lot of stuff to learn. He also knew, better than I did, just how much your dad and I wanted to have you around. So he gave you to us not on our timing, but on his perfect timing.

Let me tell you some of the stuff I’ve learned.

Before your dad and I got married, I made kind of a big deal out of wanting to practice Natural Family Planning. Your dad and I believe (and we believe science backs us up) that life begins at conception, and therefore we had to practice a birth control method that would protect life once it was conceived. I boldly proclaimed that we were open to having as many children as God conferred to us. When we decided we wanted to have children, we knew exactly when the right time was. We prayed. God gave us your older sister immediately.

But instead of giving me confidence in God’s timing, this gave me confidence in my timing. I felt like I was in control. I had been boldly proclaiming my submission to God in this area in my life, but it turned out my words were empty. And like the good Father he is, he made me eat them.

We found out you were with us in the dead of winter. I’ve only been living back in the Midwest for a couple of years and after living on the milder East Coast, the adjustment has been difficult — not so much because of the cold (don’t get me wrong, it’s pretty terrible) but the duration. As winter dragged on and my friends back east posted pictures online of cherry blossoms, green trees, and tulips in my favorite places I realized just how seriously I still pined for the life I’ve given up back in Washington. I started having really vivid dreams about getting my old job back and finding an apartment. I was really emotional — probably due in part to the hormones, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I’d had Seasonal Affective Disorder.

But looking back on it, I realize that even if I thought I’d thrown off the idol of my old job, status, and life, I was still clinging to it in secret places in my heart. Faced with a situation I had not planned and feeling out of control, I started longing for the worldly things I gave up when your dad and I got married. See — God knew this. He looked into my heart and saw that there were things I hadn’t given up to him yet.

So God gave me you, because he knew I needed to put my trust back in him. I’m pretty sure he’s going to spend the rest of your life teaching me that, too. But I thought I’d share with you the start, because I’m pretty sure the rest of the story will be pretty amazing, too.

Can’t wait to meet you.

Love,

Mom

Wonderful words of life

So. It’s been a while.

I’ve legitimately been pretty busy with life things – mostly preparing for the birth of our second daughter (IN A MONTH?!) – but can we discuss for just a moment how difficult it is to write about God’s work in your life when, you know, you haven’t been reading the Bible?

Newsflash: It’s really hard!

A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a woman who grew up in the Catholic Church and left for a more progressive denomination. She talked about how she read the Bible, and was really enjoying reading the Gospel of John. But primarily “These days,” she told me, “I commune with God and nature.”

When I first considered her statement I thought how odd it sounded, given the strong truth claims about Jesus contained in John — and then I realized I was staring at the speck in this woman’s eye without considering the plank in mine. Without opening my Bible on a regular basis, I am definitely more on the “communing with God and nature” end of the spectrum these days.

Colossians 3:16 says “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” Matthew Henry’s commentary on this is searing to me:

The gospel of the word of Christ, which has come to us; but that is not enough, it must dwell in us, or keep house… not as a servant in a family, who is under another’s control, but as master who has a right to prescribe to and direct all under his roof. We must take our instructions and directions from it, and our portion of meat and strength, of grace and comfort, in due season, as from the master of the household. It must dwell in us; that is, be always ready and at hand to us in every thing, and have its due influence and use. We must be familiarly acquainted with it and know it for our good… Many have the word of Christ dwelling in them, but it dwells in them poorly; it has no mighty force and influence upon them.

Our toddler is beginning to learn words. She actually was kind of slow to start talking and I was starting to worry about it (when I say slow, she didn’t start saying words until after 12 months, which is well within the margin of error and I freely admit I worry about everything too much, but I digress). She also had a lot of talking, flashing, singing toys that commanded a lot of her attention. One night after we’d put our daughter to bed, I expressed total annoyance at the abundance of these toys to my husband and he confiscated all of them to the basement. I kid you not, barely a week later, our daughter started saying her first words.

What changed? Well, our daughter started showing me toys that didn’t talk, as if to ask what they were. “It’s a teddy bear,” or, “that’s a block.” She started giving me books to read to her (books upon books upon books! Sometimes all we would do between breakfast and lunch was read!). She started hearing words.

Imagine that!

All of those talking toys, you know, talked. They spoke to her with the pre-programmed phrases and songs — a reflection of the real thing. Sort of like how creation everywhere points to God (Job 12:7-10, Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20). But she couldn’t know the real thing until someone taught her. I can’t know God unless I let him speak to me through scripture.

So today I’m thankful that God — despite my unfaithfulness and how poorly I’ve let his word dwell within me — is faithful to me. “Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (Lamentations 3:22-23)

And, let’s be honest, I’m really thankful that Bible study is starting up again soon!

Heart issues

Freely PhotosSo there have been a few things in the news this week.

And, can I be honest with you? All I want to do with this blog post is tell you how I feel about all of them. Why? Because I have thoughts. And you guys don’t all share my thoughts. But I consider myself a smart, well-reasoned person and I want the opportunity to convince you all that you’re wrong and I’m right.

Which is… not sharing the gospel.

Last Sunday, our pastor was preaching out of Proverbs and talking about guarding our hearts. He told us about a time when one of his kids was clearly having a bad day and through sitting down together and talking about it they were able to get to the root of the issue — what his son was holding dear to his heart in that situation.

I’ve been thinking about this as I considered my own dilemma. Every time I opened up social media, everyone I knew was airing an opinion and I wanted nothing more to engage. But why? Why do I have this pathological need to opine on things? And after a lot of consideration, I don’t have a desire to engage thoughtfully in conversation (even though I want to thoughtfully converse, generally) so much as I’m plagued by a desire to explain my viewpoint in the hopes that it might be accepted.

This is totally natural. Everyone wants to feel accepted. And these days, when the Wrong Opinion on certain issues gets you branded as a bigot, a racist, a Nazi… you know, I feel somewhat justified in my desire to be not labeled those things. Especially by friends and church family.

This begs the question, by whom do I ultimately need to be justified?

And He will judge the world in righteousness; He will execute judgment for the peoples with equity. — Psalm 9:8

But God is the Judge; He puts down one and exalts another. — Psalm 75:7

Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations. — Psalm 82:8

Right.

And how am I ultimately justified before God? Certainly not by the approval numbers of my various opinions.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. — Ephesians 2:1-10

I’m justified before God by Christ’s acceptable sacrifice on my behalf.

On Sunday our pastor also talked a bit about keeping it in our minds that our decisions have eternal, not momentary, consequences. I might give into my “cravings of the flesh” in an attempt to gain worldly approval for a time, but would that worldly approval come at the cost of my soul?

Now, definitely, there are things Christians have to stand for and against. And getting into political issues on social media isn’t an issue of salvation, per se. But what I’m saying is that why I’ve been tempted to engage on these issues is a matter of salvation. It’s a heart issue. It’s where I’m finding my treasure. And ultimately my treasure isn’t found here. So I need to leave it behind.

I’m so thankful for a God who has been working these truths out in me, proving my need of Him all the time!

THAT ALL BEING SAID…

I would like to share a video about sharing the Gospel in situations like this one. A lot has been said over the last few weeks about what the Bible has to say about immigrants and how they are treated. People who might not actually be Christians are talking about the Bible (!!), and this is such a good opportunity to turn the conversation to the Gospel. In this video, Voddie Baucham (seriously, look him up) talks about an episode of The West Wing which uses a Biblical argument to tear down the use of the Old Testament to justify opposition to same-sex marriage. Obviously the topic at hand is a little different, but the general principle remains the same. Give it a listen.