Sunday, November 12, 2017

more or less... God's love is the same...

My sweet Annabeth, another month of your life has come and gone and I'm running a little behind on my monthly mother wisdom. I've written a post to you each month of your life since you've arrived, and I have hardly scratched the surface of things I want to share with you. One year is certainly not enough, so I've decided that I'll keep this up for as long as I can because I'm positive we'll never run out of topics.

This is an interesting time. I'm sure that every person who has ever lived has believed that their time was the most interesting, and we're probably all right in believing that. I don't watch the news on a regular basis, but I try to keep up with what's happening in the world so I'm not totally out of the loop. You have to be careful here. Ignorance is bliss, but it's beneficial to know a thing or two when it comes to the current events. Knowing too much, on the other hand, can fill you with fear and depression. And so each morning I turn on the news and I think, "I wonder what tragic thing has happened today."

Last Sunday morning a man walked into a church and began shooting innocent people. This is a regular headline. People taking the lives of people, that is. And it hit close to home because it happened close to home. It could have happened at any church. It could have happened in any city. It could have happened to anybody. I read a few testimonies of survivors, and one struck me particularly hard. I don't want to go into detail here, but I thought about me and I thought about you and I thought about what it must have been like to be in that situation. To be in a place where your life is threatened and you are helpless. To be a mother whose attempts to protect her child might fail. I thought about how terrifying and scary that would be. And then I thought about the fact that while some had lived their last day on this earth, we would wake up tomorrow and life would pick back up and time would move on.

Your dad and I teach a Sunday school class for college students at our church and the last few weeks we've talked about money. We all need it, we all have it, and some have more than others. The thing about life is that while you are given free will and able to make many decisions that will influence the course you're on, you aren't able to choose where you are born or into the family you are born. This one is chosen for you. And so some people are born into families that have a lot of money while others are born into poverty. Some are born into warfare while others are born into freedom. Some are born into families that are healthy while others are born into families that are broken. And, to be honest, it can be easy for us to think that if life goes one way for us that might mean that God loves us more.

You see, we might think that if God gives us more days on this earth, more money, more opportunities, more friends, more connections, more earthly privileges, more health, more children, more power, or more influence then we must have done something that would cause him to love us more. To love us more than the one whose days are cut short, who never had the opportunity, who wasn't well known, the sick, poor, barren, powerless, and overlooked. But what a danger when we start to think such things are proof of God's love. This couldn't be further from the truth. Because the Bible tells us that God does not show partiality. That His love for us is equal. That it's not in His character to choose favorites. I realize how hard this can be to wrap our minds around because I struggle with this, too. But I want you to know, Annabeth, that you can never do anything to cause God to love you more or less. And life's circumstances are not proof of God's love for you, no matter how good or how difficult they are.

It was at a time in my life when I felt most unloved that I realized the depth of God's love for me. A time when all of the "more" was stripped away and I could only see less. But it's in our less that we see more of God. In the words of John the Baptist, when we are less, He is greater. And as God continues to teach me and challenge me, I am coming to understand the peace that comes from knowing God's love is. It is. It never ends, it never stops, it never fails. Even when we do, His love doesn't. In the less, in the more, in the hardship, in the abundance, God's love is constant. It doesn't increase, and it doesn't decrease. It has nothing to do with us but everything to do with Him. We can't earn it and we won't lose it. Some days we may feel it more than others, but truth reminds us that it is always there. We can't escape it. We can't hide from it. And when we can't see it, we can ask God to open our eyes so that it's clear, that it's felt and known. From my experience, there's never been a moment where God hasn't been more than faithful to answer such a request. After all, that is who God is. Love.


Friday, November 3, 2017

pride...

I started writing almost six years ago. Well, technically, I started writing in grade school, but you know what I mean. I learned the power of journaling in high school when I read my way through Forty Days to a Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. Think what you will about the book, but it taught me how to journal my prayers, and a new door, spiritually speaking, was opened for me. I began journaling off and on throughout the rest of high school and college. It always seemed that when I journaled my prayers, I felt closer to the Lord, and it was easier for me to write out my words versus saying them. I found that by writing my prayers, they were more focused. They were intentional and well thought out, so it only made sense that those seasons of my prayer life were stronger, too. And so I knew that if I was struggling, I needed to start journaling again. That's how my blog started. Not for fame or money, not even to be read by anyone else other than the Lord and me. It was a place where I could process and collect my thoughts, and the truth is, typing is much easier than writing things out by hand. And so in January 2012, thanks to a nudging from the Lord, I began writing about the things God was doing in my life and the things he was teaching me.

Clearly, I know little about technology. Aesthetically, I have the most plain and boring blog background possible. I'd love to attribute it to the fact that I like to keep things simple, but the truth is that I'm ignorant on how to change it and have zero desire to figure it out. I picked a free template and stuck with it. After all, I wasn't trying to impress anyone because, like I said, I didn't plan on many people actually reading it. I was doing this because I felt the Lord was asking me to, but I didn't know why.

I didn't consider myself to have the gift of writing. I have a love for words, but it never clicked that the love for words stemmed from a love of writing. I'm the girl who has kept every single letter and card she's ever received since I can remember. I have boxes full of cards from loved ones dating back to my fifth birthday. I am a note writer. I write thank you notes and long birthday cards, and I love doing it. It's easy for me to express how I feel in words. And as I kept blogging, more people began reading and saying things like, "Wow! You're doing a great job! You need to publish this. You should write a book. I'd read it!" But I always laughed it off and thanked them because that seemed like an impossible task. I was already feeling so broken that I couldn't see how God would ever be able to use me again. The truth about God, though, is that it's our brokenness that He most often chooses to use. "God," I prayed, "I don't know what your purpose is for me writing this, but if you can, I pray that you would use it to encourage and speak to others who need to hear from you." And the more people began commenting, and the more people said nice things, the more my pride grew.

I never started out blogging because I thought it would turn into something. In fact, before this all began, I hadn't even dabbled in the world of blogging. I still don't. I don't follow people. I rarely read blogs, but somewhere along the way, I began thinking that if I kept this up long enough, it would eventually turn into something big. Someday, I'd happen to write that magical post that would go viral and bam, I'd make it. All of my diligence would pay off. Having been faithful in the small things, I could now be faithful with more. I began thinking that the only way I could really make a difference with my writing is if it was on a grand scale. The more followers, the more likes, the more shares, the more effective. If I could just be known. If I could just get this stuff out to the masses. If I could just share with the social media world, I'd have my big break. My reward.

But the truth about blogs is that anyone can have one. In fact, most people do. Anyone can write about anything as long as they have a basic understanding of the English language, and that's not even a requirement. You don't have to be special or chosen to start a blog. They're free, too, so you don't even have to have any money to get it up and running. And the longer I wrote, and the closer I got to my initial goal of 1000 posts, I became discouraged because I was exactly where I had started. The same people, mostly family, consistently read what I wrote. I felt like I had accomplished something great, writing 1000 days in a row, and unless someone was my Facebook friend, they knew nothing about it. Over 1200 posts later, and almost 6 years down the road, God has begun showing me that it was never about being well known or followed. It had nothing to do with likes or shares or reaching the masses. What started out as an act of worship evolved into a sense of pride, and the joy that came from what He began quickly turned into disappointment because it wasn't going how I expected.

And so I have found myself in a season of breaking. God has taken a big red pen and begun marking all the areas of my life that are being ruled by pride. Little things that I didn't even realize. Things that had become so much more about me than about God, and I have to say that as difficult as it is, I am thankful. I am so thankful that God cares enough about me to show me the very thing that so often keeps me at an arm's length from Him rather than letting me float off into the distance. I am thankful that God, in His kindness, not only reminds me of why this all began but that He would also give me the perspective I need to see that He has, in fact, answered my prayer of using this gift to speak hope and encouragement to others. I haven't reached the masses or gone viral. I don't have a great following. I have yet to receive the opportunity to write for some major publication, and I really don't even know that that is even in the cards for me. But then again, I'm making it about me, and if it weren't for God breathing life into my lungs each day, if it weren't for God giving me these experiences and words, if it weren't God's idea in the first place, I wouldn't have any of this. This is God's doing, not mine, and I would do good to always remember that.

I can't tell you how many women I have met over the past 5 years who have gone through the same things I have. Not hundreds or even thousands, but a good little handful of women who needed a listening ear of another who understood their circumstances. I can't tell you how many friends and family members have said, "Thanks for sharing your struggles. I am dealing with the same thing and I was encouraged to know I'm not alone." I have had numerous conversations I would have never had otherwise had I not been willing to openly write down and discuss all that God was teaching me. But the real kicker to it all is that I have a beautiful paper trail as a constant reminder of how God counseled, healed, and loved me through some of the most challenging, confusing, difficult, and joyful seasons of my life. I have words that I can look back on and be encouraged by when my mind tends to forget truth and my heart starts to question God's plan. Because I am reminded, once again, that God is not about  numbers. God is about people. He's about hearts. He's about relationships. And what a joy, no matter how "big or small" in our eyes, to know that the God of the universe hears our prayers, answers them, and would choose to use imperfect, flawed, people to accomplish His purposes. To accomplish things far greater than we could ever do on our own.

"I am the vine you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit. Apart from me you can do nothing." - John 15:5

Thursday, October 19, 2017

because this is what will end your marriage...

I sat in Counselor Mark's office on a weekly basis for almost the entire season of fall. He was truly a God send. I never imagined that I would need counseling, but then again, we also never imagine ourselves facing the tragedies that life throws our way. Those things are supposed to happen to other people, right? And so I was at a loss for what else to do because I felt like I had tried everything. I had one more card up my sleeve that I thought might work and I remember Counselor Mark saying, "Whatever you do, choose your words wisely. You can't take those words back once they are out of your mouth so don't say anything you might want to take back later." It was timely advice for the moment, and it has served as timely advice since. He told me that people have a hard time knowing what to say to others who are going through difficult circumstances to which they can't relate. "People will probably say things that hurt, but know that they mean well." I was glad he told me this, too, because it helped me move forward in ways that I may not have been able to otherwise.

I remember the night was a night I was sitting on my couch trying to put together the pieces. Where had everything gone wrong? How could I fix it? I blamed myself over and over and over again, and I replayed years' worth of memories in my mind trying to see if I could solve the puzzle. I just needed answers to all of my "why's." I think that's a normal human desire, isn't it? Although it seems knowing the "why" will make things better, sometimes it just makes things worse. But well intended people, people who had probably faced some bumps in their marriages but nothing to this magnitude, were trying to help me understand. I've learned that we are all experts in the things we know nothing about. For example, how many of us know exactly how we would parent a child although we've yet to do it? Or how many of us give out relationship advice when we are single or unmarried? It's easy to do, and we're all guilty of it, including me. And so thoughts were tossed out and analyzed and I'll never forget the comment that was said. The one that cut me to the core. The one that heaped on even more blame. The one that really shouldn't have even been mentioned but is always the inevitable and "go to" for situations like these. "If they aren't getting it at home, they'll get it somewhere."

I sat in Bible Study this morning and we talked about marriage. I have realized that I will never stop learning how to be a wife or a mother. And the more opportunities I have to learn about both of those roles, the more I think through these issues. Growing up, I heard comments like "boys will be boys," to justify boyish behavior. And yet we live in a society who is, right now, focusing so much on sexual harassment and abuse that story after story is going viral and we're learning just how many people have been victims of these very things. And so if we laugh off the saying that "boys will be boys" and that is excuse enough, then why are we so upset when we hear stories of rape, of sexual exploitation, of abuse, of infidelity, of trafficking and pornography addiction? And what is "it" in marriage? What is considered enough to be faithful? Is there a standard or a gauge to make sure your spouse won't go looking elsewhere?  And is that a sufficient excuse to be unfaithful to your spouse? Because here's the deal whether or not we like it. God has called us to live holy and pure lives. Not to satisfied lives, not to happy lives, not to flesh feeding lives. He has called us to be holy, just as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). And so when we stand before a holy God in matrimony, we not only promise ourselves to our spouse, but we make a promise of faithfulness to God. I cannot imagine that we could stand in front of a holy God and say, "Lord, it was my spouse's fault that I wasn't getting "it" (and "it" could mean more than one thing) at home and so I went elsewhere for it." And that our Holy God who has called us to live holy and blameless lives will say, "That's totally fine. I understand where you are coming from so I'll be sure to hold your spouse responsible for this sin in your life and excuse you from it."

The reason marriages fall apart is sin. Period. That's it. We can get into the nitty gritty and play the blame game but we know that sin stems from selfishness, and at the end of the day, who doesn't suffer from that? We're all selfish whether or not we want to admit that, and we're all looking out for number one. My dad once told me, "No one is more concerned about your happiness than you." It's true. When we go to bed at night, who is the last person on our mind? When we wake up in the morning, who is the first person on our mind? Sin comes from wanting what we want, not what God wants. If we were as adamant to only chase the things God desires, rather than the things our flesh desires, sin wouldn't be an issue. But none the less, we let sin creep into our lives in a million ways all the while blaming others for our fall. It's in our bones, isn't it? Remember Adam and Eve. She ate the apple, but so did he, and when God called them out, what did Adam say? "That woman you put here with me - she gave me fruit from the tree and I ate it." (Genesis 3:12) So according to Adam, it was both Eve and God's fault for all of this mess they were in. Interesting how the fall is never ours to own, is it? But God didn't accept that answer, just as He accepts no sin. Our spouse is not responsible for our sin. God will not hold our spouse responsible for our sin. In fact, there is only one person who is responsible for our sin, and that's the person committing it. That's you, that's me, and we are the ones held accountable for the choices we've made. And so what are we to do then? Are we to live in unhappy matrimony? Are we to suffer in an empty marriage? Should we endure decades frustration and disappointment from our spouse when we know there's got to be a better way?

What's "it" that you want and you feel you aren't getting? What's missing? Where is the breakdown? Where lies the temptation? What's the sore spot in the relationship? You know exactly what it is, but your spouse may have no idea. Early on in our marriage, Aaron would say, "You have to directly tell me things instead of dropping hints or hoping I'll read your mind. I can't read your mind, so I don't know what you're wanting." And let me tell you, this goes both ways. A successful marriage only works when BOTH parties are working on it. Let me say that again, a successful marriage only works when BOTH parties are working on it. And so we have no excuse if we keep our mouths shut, say nothing to our spouse, and then one day surprise them with the worst news ever assuming they should have seen it coming all along. A person cannot fix a problem of which they are unaware. Just like your friend can't remove the broccoli from her teeth if she doesn't know it's there. You can see it, but if you don't say anything, she's going to ignorantly flash her broccoli smile all day until some brave person points it out. She may feel embarrassed for a moment, but she can take care of the problem and move on. Marriage is no broccoli in the teeth, but how much better it is for you to talk with your spouse about issues going on in your life so you can both work through it than for them to find out the unfortunate truth in a most devastating way when it may be too late to turn the ship around?

Every marriage is worth the risk, and every marriage is worth the work. A marriage is only too far gone if the decision is made to let it go. And the scary part of that is the unfortunate fact it doesn't have to be a mutual decision. It doesn't have to be agreed upon by both parties. All you can do is your part, and your spouse will do theirs. No one can make anyone do more or less than they want. But what is important to remember is that your marriage is not, and will never be, about you. You gave that slice of selfishness up on the day you committed your life to another and agreed that the two of you would become one. If you prefer selfishness, my recommendation to you is to embrace and enjoy your singleness. But if that isn't your case, and if you're selfishly rowing your marriage boat in a different direction than your spouse, seriously thinking about how the grass is greener on the other side, it's time to stop. It's time to put your paddles down and meet in the middle for a come to Jesus meeting. And I mean it. It's time to talk about it and take it to Jesus. To get off your chest what you need to say, to listen to what you need to hear, and to gather at the feet of our Lord and ask for His help. Who else better to turn to for saving than the Savior of the world? Who else better to seek guidance and advice from than the one who created not only marriage but also you and your spouse. He will save you, He will save your marriage, you just need to be willing to be rescued.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

year one...

How can it be a year, Annabeth? It seems like we were just meeting for the first time, and now you're a year old! As I look back over your first year of life, I am amazed at all that we've been through. I'm amazed at how much you've changed. And I'm amazed at how much I have, too.

Per the norm, this has been another big month for you. You're working on cutting your seventh tooth. It isn't coming through as quickly and nicely as the others, but you're handling it well. You've begun walking with some assistance, which you decided to try out on your own, by the way. You've figured out how to open and close just about any and every thing you can reach in the house. You're quite the thinker, trying to learn how the world works. Although you're a busy body, you'll sit still and work through a challenging task until you've mastered it. I'm so impressed with the speed at which you learn new things that I have to be careful what I show you and what I give you. I don't know what plans God has in store for your life, but it wouldn't surprise me if you ended up being an inventor or an engineer!

Your amount of talking seems to increase on a daily basis. I haven't heard you say many new words this month, but you do say "yah-bee, yah-bee, yah-bee" a lot. You're a good listener, and you're doing well in the obeying department. We're using "old school" parenting methods on you that seem to be working for now. When I tell you "no," you usually respond accordingly, and for that I am grateful.

We had your first birthday party yesterday, and the Lord gave us a beautiful day to celebrate. I know you won't remember anything about it, but I will. And one day, I'll show you the very few pictures we have of the day and hopefully you'll appreciate it then. We threw you a fiesta, you seemed to enjoy your first bite of cupcake, and you were gifted with a plethora of great toys that should keep you busy for a while. All in all, I would say that it was a success and, for me, it was a precious moment in time. It's not every day a momma gets to throw her baby a first birthday party, and I certainly think each year of life is worth a great celebration!

I distinctly remember our first night together, your actual birth day, and it didn't go well. No fault of your own, it was just the aftermath of an unfortunate labor and delivery. I remember bringing you home after spending a week in the hospital, and frankly, that's about all I remember. I can't recall the first few months with much clarity. I remember that we watched a lot of Gilmore Girls and spent a lot of time in our pajamas. That's about it. Thankfully, I took pictures and wrote about it so that we could both look back and remember. Mom-brain is a real thing! And so as much as you've learned and grown over this past year, and as much as I've tried to me a good mother, nurturer, and teacher, I've learned to be a student as well.This has been a big year for you, it's been a big one for me, too.

The year began with a lot of personal doubt. As you know, I quit my job to stay home with you, which, at the time, proved to be more difficult of a decision than I thought it would. I'm a creature of habit and that was a huge change for me. On top of that, I had never cared for a baby in my life, and so I was starting from ground zero. I literally knew nothing about babies, and that "motherly instinct" that I was supposed to have never showed up. I do remember sitting in the parking lot at the hospital one day before we went in to see Dad. I was listening to the radio and a woman was talking about her struggles with motherhood and how she felt that it came unnaturally to her. It was one of those divine moments where I know God was playing that segment for me. I wrote down the name of her book and went by Mardel on our way home to buy it because I felt like I was failing. We were only a few months in and I was overwhelmed by the task of being a mother. It seemed that all of the other ladies around me were pulling off their role as mom effortlessly and I was struggling greatly. I didn't have it together, and frankly. I still don't. I felt like I was losing myself, and I didn't really know who I was anymore. My perceived identity had changed drastically from being a professional working woman to a sweatpants wearing mom-bie (that's a mom zombie, by the way) who was barely keeping her head above the water. All of the things I had imagined and expected about staying at home weren't happening, and frankly, I didn't know if I would ever be able to get it together again.

Slowly, God began changing my heart and my outlook. It was little ways, really. Like coming to terms that my perfectly decorated house, now cluttered with baby gadgets and gizmos, was a blessing, not a mess. (This has come in extra handy now that we've moved in to our "fixer upper.") I realized that I was no more valuable or important as a working woman than I was a stay at home mom, even though the pay isn't near the same. And as He continued to change my heart and equip me for this adventure of motherhood, I came to realize that I didn't have to be Supermom. I just needed to be Annabeth's mom and let go of my unrealistic expectations. Truth be told, some days I sit back and reflect on the ways that God has changed me, and I am truly amazed at how I'm turning out. Seriously, I surprise myself! That Type-A, slightly obsessive, overly organized, and highly planned woman is nowhere to be found. Instead, I see a woman who has learned to roll with the punches and take life one day at a time. A laid back, stress-free mom who realizes that messes are just that and can be cleaned up when there's time, herself included. Because God has helped me understand that this is just a season, this is not the rest of my life. One day, I'll get to sleep as much as I did before you arrived. One day, I'll have that spotless house, with everything in place. One day, I'll have plenty of time to work, do my hair and make-up, and maybe even keep my nails polished if I want to. One day, things won't look like they do today, and when I think about the woman I was the day before you arrived versus the woman I am now, I'm amazed at how God has transformed me and given me all of the traits and abilities I need to do what He's called me to. But then again, should I really be surprised? God always gives us what we need when we need it, especially when we come to Him and ask for it.

As so as we are celebrating your first year, here's what I want to share with you. Don't be afraid of the tasks that God lays before you. From what I've seen thus far, you don't appear to be afraid of much and are a quick learner and always looking to tackle a new challenge. Yet there may come a day when God asks you to do something that is difficult or scary. You may not think you are cut out for the job. You may question your abilities or even question the call. It might feel overwhelming at times, and you may feel as if you can hardly stay afloat. But don't give up and don't doubt God. He will absolutely supply all that you need, and sometimes what you really need is to be willing to change. To allow God to mold you and equip you with His strength and wisdom for success in your endeavors. You may need a fresh perspective or a new mindset. And so don't be afraid to ask. Ask the one who knows it all, the one who has all of the answers. Because God is faithful, Annabeth. God is good. And God will always be there for you!

"To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge, and happiness..." - Ecclesiastes 2:26

Sunday, October 1, 2017

when renovating your house renovates your relationship...

I knew moving into a fixer upper wouldn't be as easy as it would seem. Chip and JoAnna can get it done in an hour, but we are the Davis'... not the Gaines'. As if having a job and a baby and all of the other life responsibilities weren't enough, now add on to that a construction zone. Not to mention two people (well, one more than the other) who have never done anything like this before. I know what you're thinking. What were we thinking, right?

As with all exciting projects, it started with great zeal. Zeal that was quickly zapped when the first dose of reality was swallowed. We just thought we were going to fly through it. We thought it would be a breeze. We thought wrong, and so we began to recalculate.

Early on in our marriage, we worked overtime on our communication skills. We felt that if we could get down a solid means of communication, we could apply that to every situation and find success. It was a little rough at the start, but it proved to be true. In fact, we made it through the next few years, a pregnancy, and a new baby with virtually no fights. If we felt frustrated, we'd just lay it out there, own up to our respective parts, forgive, and move on. Easy enough, am I right? If we could go through those life changes without any bumps in the road, we could do this, too.

To be completely transparent here, I'll give credit where credit is due. When I say "we," I really mean Aaron. Aaron is the one who does the majority of the work. He is the one who has the hard job. I come up with the ideas and he has to figure out how to complete them. I help when I can, but my help is limited to nap time and bed time since Annabeth isn't one for manual labor. And so one night I decided I would be extra helpful to give him a break. He has more than enough on his plate at work, and he needed time to study for an upcoming certification exam. I told him to go shower and study and that I would work complete this small project in no time. I've learned to stop saying things like that.

I sat down with roller brush in hand and began rolling paint onto the bathroom siding. If one has never painted siding before, it is helpful to know that rolling it is not the appropriate paint application method. But having no such knowledge, I was confident that it would look fine once it dried and was very impressed by my speed. I finished the other side of the bathroom only to realize that the paint was not drying smoothly. No problem, I would just take the brush and smooth it out. Easy fix, or so I thought. The paint began to clump. I tried to wipe it off which might have worked if it hadn't partially dried. And so I grabbed the scrapper to scrape off the clumpy layer, and next thing I knew I was looking at the original yellow paint that was a few layers below where I was painting. Obviously, this was going to be more work than I had expected.

I began scraping and pulling paint off of the walls as fast as I could. I hoped with all my might that Aaron wouldn't do his usual check-in to see my progress so that maybe I could get it repainted and he would never notice. But as a few hours passed, he walked in and found me pulling old paint off of the walls. The walls that were supposed to be covered in a fresh coat of paint hours ago. I honestly wasn't sure what type of reaction to expect. I prepared a little dialogue in my head to explain how this no fail project had gone wrong. But he just let out a little laugh and said, "Well, that's one way to do it!" And that was that. A few hours later, the walls were repainted, and I think they turned out really well if you ask me.

The thing about marriage, and about relationships in general, is that if you show a little grace and mercy, you are more likely to receive it. Because truth be told, this renovation project has been far from easy. There have been many moments where things have not gone as planned, and we are far from finished. In fact, we aren't even a fourth of the way done. This house is proving that nothing is as easy as it seems. Of course, is any worthwhile adventure?

We show grace and mercy because it is shown to us. God, in his unlimited supply. has poured grace and mercy so richly into our lives that it would be a shame for us to act any other way. Of course, we certainly have our moments when we do, but aren't you thankful that God never does? That even when He finds us in the midst of a mess that we've personally created, He doesn't demean, embarrass, or humiliate us. He doesn't take the opportunity to make us feel even worse than we already do. He shows up with compassion, with help, with whatever we may need at that moment, and He does it every time.

"Then let us approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need." - Hebrews 4:16

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

to stay or to go...

They were out to get him, and they wouldn't stop trying until they did. It would happen eventually. Persistence pays off. It wasn't the first time they had questioned him. Unfortunately, he was difficult to stump. No matter how hard the question was, he always had an answer. Not only was it an answer they never saw coming, as he was sure to throw curve balls each time, but it made them feel stupid. Baffled. Humiliated. If they had asked in private, maybe the response wouldn't sting near as much. But the fact that the crowd heard it too, that they witnessed the verbal show down, made each loss all the more bitter.

After much deliberation and discussion, the perfect question was posed. There's no way he could get out of answering this one any other way but their way. They would trap him in front of the very crowd that was so enamored by him. Make him look like the fool for once. And after he would be forced to eat his words, maybe then they would be satisfied.

"Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. They sent their disciples along with the Herodians. "Teacher," they said, "we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with truth. You aren't swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?

But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, "You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax." They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, "Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?"

"Caesars," they replied.

Then he said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." 

When they heard this, the were amazed, so they left him and went away." (Matthew 22:15-22)

He did it again. Somehow, he knew. How did he know? How did he always have an answer? Calling them out, with their true hearts exposed, they left him. Amazed that He knew, and amazed at what he said. And it kept them away.

But the same thing happened on the day she met him. Doing her daily chores. The kind of chores that never end. Laundry, dishes, cooking. She would need water, so she headed to the well.

He sat there, thirsty. It was as if he had been waiting specifically for her. And although she didn't show up to talk, it appeared that he did. It was like her knew her, but she was certain they had never spoken before. Regardless of the numerous encounters she had had with men, she would have remembered him. His kind eyes, gentle ways, friendly demeanor. Men didn't treat her that way. She would never forget a man like him.

He began telling her things he knew about her. She did have a reputation, but how could it have reached this stranger's ears? How did he know so much? And although it was the truth, and something she wasn't particularly proud of, his knowledge pulled her in. The way he spoke, this man had great wisdom. She was amazed at what he had to say. It wasn't what she had expected to hear. And thrown for a loop, with her true heart exposed, this woman left him, but she didn't stay away.

She hurried back into the town with excitement. In fact, she was so excited that she forgot her water jug. Oh well, the chores could wait. This couldn't! She ran into neighbor after neighbor, saying. "Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Christ?" (John 4:29)

They made their way toward him, this eager woman leading the way. She had found him, the one they were all looking for. It wasn't her worthiness that brought her back, but the fact that she wasn't. She wasn't worthy of his time, his attention, his kindness, or his living water offer. And, unlike the others, she knew it. But she didn't let it keep her away. Why would she? He was the answer to all of her questions. She didn't keep it quiet. She told others, inviting them to come and see the Jesus she knew. A Jesus she couldn't stay away from.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

worst mother of the year...

The first few weeks I was home on maternity leave, I wondered what I had done to my life. Seriously, I remember sitting in bed, exhausted and trying to unsuccessfully nurse a newborn baby, and I kept thinking, "What did I do? The fun, easy going life I loved and enjoyed, is over and it will never be the same." And as much as I wanted to go back to work and have some sense of normalcy, I couldn't bare the thought of being away from my tiny, fragile, vulnerably baby. I made the decision to stay at home, and I hoped and prayed that it was the right one.

Around that time, I began feeling pretty sorry for myself. The days drug on, and I had no social interaction until the end of the day. I looked forward to 4:00 so I could call my mom after she got off work, and I was thrilled when 5:30 rolled around because that meant Aaron would be home soon. I'm not an extrovert, so I've never had an issue with being alone. But being along with a baby that you hardly know and are somehow supposed to magically know like the back of your hand was proving to be harder than I thought it would be. 

I told Aaron that I felt alone. I was the only mother I knew of in my shoes. Most of my friends were either working moms, stay at home moms with older children, or didn't have children yet. I didn't know of any stay at home moms with a baby near Annabeth's age. Plus, there was no way I was going to take my newborn to play dates with older children. She couldn't play, and since she has refused to sit in my lap since she arrived, I knew it would be more stressful than fun. We spent many afternoons just driving around in the car so she would sleep and I could enjoy listening to the radio. I told myself I wasn't cut out to be a mom of a newborn but that things would get easier the older she got. 

After the holidays were over, I was more than ready to have some sort of schedule and get out of the house. Thank goodness our home church offered a few morning opportunities that I quickly jumped on. I would have at least 2 days of something to do with people around, and oh my word, did it help. Little did I know, God had a sweet friend lined up for me who just so happened to also be a stay at home mom with a baby. That was a real blessing! And as Annabeth was getting older, she was getting a tad bit easier to figure out. I don't know who was improving, really. Maybe the fact that things were finally starting to click for me in the motherhood department was making the real difference. Either way, I felt like I kind of had a handle on thing and we were both going to make it. 

Over the past 11 months, plenty of women have said things like, "This is the best stage you're in. It gets so much harder." Well, spoiler alert: each stage is hard! And the truth is that whatever stage you are currently in is going to be the easiest compared to the next. Why, you ask? Because once you've already done something, it seems easier. Think about it this way. A fifth grader thinks fifth grade is hard because they've never experienced it before. They're in the thick of learning so many new things. I could go back and dominate fifth grade... I think. I've been there, passed it, and I've been through a lot of school since. Fifth grade would be a breeze for me, but try telling that to a kid who's learning long division (or whatever you learn in fifth grade). They wouldn't believe you. 

Well, we're almost through our first year together, and many are the days that I feel like I'm in first place to receive the "Worst Mother of the Year" award. Because for every little thing that actually did get easier, there are just as many new developments that make this stage harder. The other day, I found myself telling Aaron, "Maybe I should have gone back to work. I think Annabeth would do better going to daycare anyway." I don't know if that's true or not, but the feelings of not being a good mother are real. Maybe it's just me, or maybe it's just the territory that comes with being a mother. But the more I've pondered this thought, and the more I've struggled with it, I've come to wonder if feeling as if you're not a good mother is the actual mark of being a good mother. 

Because good mothers sacrifice for their children. They swoop their babies up and kiss their boo-boo's even though they're beating themselves up internally for having slow reflexes and not being able to catch their falling child fast enough. Good mothers discipline their children when they need it despite the fact that it hurts their hearts to do so. They wake up during the wee hours of the night to feed a hungry mouth that, honestly, is probably capable of waiting until morning to eat. Good mothers thanklessly wash about a million dishes and clothes a day so their children have clean dishes to attempt to eat from and clean clothes that will last a few hours. They could probably change a dirty diaper with their eyes closed, assuming it's one kind and not the other. They get down on the floor and roll around to play even though the couch seems much more inviting. They clean up vomit, wipe away boogers, wear spit up on their clothes, and don't hesitate for a second to meet their child's every need no matter how gross or messy it may be. Good mothers keep on mothering when they're past the point of exhaustion. They don't stop when they feel under the weather or just have a serious case of the "don't want tos." They never stop loving their babies, caring for them, nurturing them, and praying for them. That's what a good mother does.

When I look at God's word to find the truth about being a mother, it doesn't say a thing about having it all together. No where does it imply that a good mother never struggles in her role. It doesn't say that a good mother always looks the part. The Bible doesn't tell us that in order to be categorized as a good mother, we must follow all of the societal norms and pressures and outperform ourselves day after day.

To the tired mother, God says, "Come to me, and I will give you rest." (Matthew 11:28)

To the anxious mother, God says, "Cast your cares on me because I care for you." (1 Peter 5:7)

To the scared mother, God says, "Do not fear, for I am with you." (Isaiah 41:10)

To the overworked mother, God says, "I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand." (Isaiah 41:10)

To the lonely mother, God says, "I go before you, with you, and will never leave you nor forsake you." (Deuteronomy 31:8)

A good mother and a perfect mother are not the same thing. One of them actually exists, the other one doesn't. But when a good mother relies on a perfect God to give her wisdom and guidance as she raises her child, she can rest in the promise that God really will work out all things for the good of those who love Him, according to His purposes.