“OOOOHHHH, Baby Sis-tert! It’s okayyyyy. What’s wrong, Callie Raeeeeee??!!  Ohhhh, BABYYYY!” 

This is the chant that I hear several times a day from my two-year-old, trying, in her best, raucous way, to calm down her little sister. I can usually laugh, despite how tense the moment may be, because I know she has heard these things from me. Not only are the words the same, but the voice inflection usually passes uncannily as mine as well. Only without the yelling. 

But yesterday I heard something new. 

“Baby Sis-tert!! I’m here. I’m here.” 

I realized that she has also gleaned this phrase from me. I hadn’t even realized that it was something I said. But thereafter, I found myself saying it without thinking. 

In the middle of the night. 

When the bottle was warming. 

When she was in another’s arms and discovered what felt like my absence. 

Anytime she was worked up about anything, those words would tumble out of my mouth.

It usually results in the same response. When she is crying, I can put my head next to her face and whisper to her. Almost always, she immediate calms down. From day one, my voice has had a calming effect for her. 

“Mama’s here, sweet girl.” 

It’s the strangest thing. It doesn’t put a bottle in her mouth. It doesn’t make the gas pains go away. It doesn’t change her diaper. But it comforts her because she trusts that voice. She knows that hearing it means that I am near and will see to it that her needs are met. 

It reminds me of the Good Shepherd. Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I won’t want for anything. I used to think that was strange. Like… well, God is my Shepherd but there are still a lot of things I think I need. I want desperately to get to the place where I didn’t “want” anything, but I’m currently not able. Because Zulily.

But that’s not exactly what it means. I had the privilege to study this passage and guide a group of ladies through this sweet chapter last year. It means that I have everything that I need. And that if I don’t have it… I don’t need it. 

What a promise! How that would change things, if we knew that God’s loving no meant He had something better in mind. 

How my world would be turned upside down if I knew that when I cried out for something, God’s voice, whether yes or no, would be all that I needed to experience immediate calm, peace, and fulfillment, even without that thing I desire.

Callie is too young to understand this concept in full. But instinctively, she knows that my presence is a comfort. That knowing I’m around will mean that she will be satisfied and taken care of. How I long t o experience this same sensation, spending time with Jesus and reading His Word, His whispered promises to me. As I pray, I hope I can be still enough to listen to His still, small voice. 

Reminding me that He is here. And He is enough. 

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It’s You I Like

I find myself singing songs subconsciously as background music, especially at 2 am when the world around is silent and all you have is the gurgling and clicking of a baby’s tongue against white foam for a soundtrack. Daniel Tiger often takes the stage, with some virtue demonstrated in treble and base. My friend Miranda introduced me to this show, when her Bradley was as old as Eden. This show is a tribute to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, and it incorporates many of the songs and ideas and themes that Fred worked into the scripts for his show so long ago. It validates kids’ feelings and then gives them tools to know how to deal with them, usually in the form of a catchy song.

Tonight’s soundtrack was this song: 

It’s you I like,

It’s not the things you wear,

It’s not the way you do your hair–

But it’s you I like

The way you are right now,

The way down deep inside you–

Not the things that hide you,

Not your toys–

They’re just beside you.

But it’s you I like–

Every part of you,

Your skin, your eyes, your feelings

Whether old or new.

I hope that you’ll remember

Even when you’re feeling blue

That it’s you I like,

It’s you yourself,

It’s you, it’s you I like. 

-Fred Rogers

There is a quote that has always bothered me. I love you not for you but for how I feel when I’m with you. It always hit me the wrong way. I don’t love you for you? But for how you make me feel? I love the emotions you draw up inside me? I love the dreams that you make come true for me, and the way you check all my boxes and you wave your magic wand and become my personal genie? What ever happened to simply just liking a person? In a world where we love boxed mac ’n’ cheese for its yummy cheesy-ness, where we love Plexus because of its health benefits, where we love Arbonne for how it youth-enizes our skin, where we love chocolate because of the gooey satisfaction it brings, how can we love God, too? Isn’t there more to it than that? 

I don’t want Brandon to love me because I look good on his arm. Or because I keep a clean house or cook like Rachael Ray. Because if one day I were to lose my ability to do and my figure became flawed, would he lose his affection for me? I want him to love me for my personality, my character, the way I push through hard things and continue to find joy and bloom in dry seasons. I want him to love my sense of humor, my work ethic, my soft voice in the middle of the night when I feed our daughter, the way I kiss booboos and the way I correct his spelling, the way I pray and how I connect Scripture and life.  We all desire to be completely known and completely loved. We all long to be secure in the love of someone who knows everything about us and isn’t turned off by the ugly they see. We don’t just want to be loved. We want to be liked.

So I mull over this thought of simply liking someone. What does it look like to like God? To like Jesus and all He stands for, in purity and holiness, all by Himself? To just like to sit with Holy Spirit in quiet and solitude, to talk to Him while I’m driving simply because I like His company? To talk to God without requesting anything? To just be fond of Him? Regardless of any benefit I receive for knowing Him, despite heaven and salvation and grace and heavenly treasures? Besides the peace He offers in crisis and the refuge He provides from calamity and the forgiveness He extends in the battle with sin? It bothers me that it feels like loving God is just another way of loving myself. 

Perhaps it’s why God commands us to love others as ourselves, because we aren’t bad at loving ourselves. But it’s also why He says that we best demonstrate the Gospel when we love people who do nothing for us in return. Because it goes against the grain… loving those who don’t love us doesn’t come easily or feel good. But this is how He loves us. There was nothing we could offer Him as enemies of the cross. And yet He chose us and drew us and loved us despite all of our ugly and rebellion and entitlement. We love for what we can get, but He loves for what He can give. 

And so I’ve decided that when my husband does things that I don’t particularly like, I can thank God for giving me an opportunity to love like He does. I can push through the negative feelings that I get when my child resists obedience and love her in the middle of her sin and mess. When God doesn’t operate on my timing or answer my prayer exactly as I wanted, I can choose the sacrifice of joy because I like Him for Him and not for the things He gives.

A sweet friend from North Carolina contacted me a couple weeks ago and asked if we could get together while she was in town. I was quickly reminded of all the reasons I liked her. She wore a long tunic with leggings, her hair up in a neat bun, with a stunning pair of earrings and minimal makeup that allowed her smile to shine. She gifted me with some outfits for my littlest, for the future, and I reminded her of her gifts for my firstborn and how I couldn’t bear to part with them since I thought of her when I used them. She asked thoughtful questions ranging from our house construction to my labor and delivery to church to how I was finding joy in this season.

But if you asked me why I like her, I wouldn’t tell you I like her for her burp cloth gifts or her top knot. I would tell you I like her because of her gentle presence, her calm, her quiet wisdom, how she points me to Jesus, the way she relates to me and the gift of listening she has… all of these are things that draw me to her.  I liked her outfit because it showcased her simple, unassuming style. And I liked her not for her gift, but because it demonstrated her generosity and kindness. I liked our conversation not just because she let me talk about myself, but because it reflected her investment in my life and her desire to connect with people in different seasons of life than herself. I like her because being with her makes me want to be a better person, makes me want to be like her when I grow up. It seems I can’t separate liking her for her and liking her for the things I get from the relationship. The things I enjoy from her are simply perks flowing out of her very soul, and I love her soul.

So perhaps I can’t separate the two. Perhaps it’s impossible to tell where loving God for God and loving Him for what He does for me ends. 

But because it is an easy temptation to love for what I can get, or to only love when things are going well, or to only invest when we see a return on that investment, I make it my aim to invest in my relationship with Jesus daily, regardless of how I feel or what is currently going my way. It’s why I keep tapping into Scripture, keep walking beside Him, keep spending time with Him, keep flowing the conversation flowing between me and Him. It’s why I keep discovering new ways to love Him for HIM. The more I know Him, the more I want to know Him, and the more I love Him. Just for Who He is. 

He is altogether lovely. Jesus, it’s You I like.

http://mbird.com/2012/05/its-you-i-like-by-fred-m-rogers/

Clothespins and Gummies

I felt incredibly silly as I pulled out a stool and clipped them to the fan with clothespins. My daughter watched, eyes wide. “If you can stay all night in your bed without crying or throwing a fit, then you may have this pack of gummies when you wake up.” Her scrunched-up face told me she wanted to protest because she couldn’t have them right then, but she was so puzzled by the whole thing that she was speechless.

I was texting a friend later and she asked how sleep training was going. “Well, I just clothespinned a pack of gummies to her fan, so that’s code for desperate, right?” She said, “I love the point of visibility for maximum temptation!” It brought to mind something that my aunt said a few years ago at a retreat: We crave what we see everyday. 

And that makes sense to me. In a remote village in Africa, I don’t think they’re craving sodas and potato chips. They don’t even know they exist to know that they want them. And the same thing is true of me: when I was still dead in my sins, I didn’t know Jesus existed to know that I so desperately wanted Him. I knew I wanted something or someone to save me… because I felt the affects of my sin, but it wasn’t until I met Him that I knew He was what I was after.

This principle holds true for all matters of the heart. Whatever I put before my eyes is what I am going to crave. And this is what Tara-Leigh was getting at: I must put Jesus in front of me every single day. It will not be enough to see Him occasionally or once a week or on holidays. The thing that I fixate on every day will be the thing that navigates and motivates my life. If I spend hours pouring over magazines and television shows with impeccable living rooms and patios, that is where my focus is going to be. If I stalk people on social media, I will compare my life to theirs whether I realize it or not. If I stock my pantry with Kit Kat bars and Chips Ahoy, those will likely be the first things to go. We will always gravitate towards the things that are familiar, comforting, and satisfying. But until we pay attention to how shockingly unsatisfying the world’s goods are, we will never know the disservice we cause ourselves.

And if we pay attention to how empty we feel with all the things the world offers, we will then discover how ultimately satisfying Jesus is.

So— how do we go about craving Jesus? 

I often feel silly, asking Him to help me want Him more than the things that entice me. It feels akin to asking my husband to help me love him more. But with God, He already knows my heart. He knows I lack the want-to. He knows this because He gave us Holy Spirit, Who draws us to desire Christ in the first place. Holy Spirit quickened our dead souls to believe that Jesus was the answer to sin, and He continues to call us out of our deadness into true life and fellowship with the Father every single day of this Christian walk.

So it’s okay to ask Him to allow us to WANT to want Him. To call on the Holy Spirit to do His thing…to hover above the waters of futility and joylessness in our lives and create sustainable life (Genesis 1:2-3). 

And sometimes, God shows up on the road to Damascus and blinds us with His light. Other times, He asks us to take some steps in His direction.  He asks us to perform simple acts of faith and obedience to demonstrate to ourselves and to the world that He is what we live for. He asks us to open our Bibles and hear His voice (2 Corinthians 3:16-17). He asks us to communicate with Him in prayer and form relationship with Him far deeper than a rote prayer three times a day before consuming carbohydrates (Ephesians 6:18). He invites us to meet daily with other believers, exhorting and encouraging one another (Hebrews 10:25). He asks us to glory in our weaknesses, because then we have died to ourselves and allowed God to get glory instead of us (2 Corinthians 12:9). He asks us to be on mission for Him, building His Kingdom instead of our own (Matthew 6:33). Not because He is a God Who is full of Himself: but because He knows that we can only find true life and purpose and joy outside of ourselves. He asks us to love Him above all else, because this kind of love is the kind we’ve been searching for all of our lives.

So maybe a better question would be: how do you let go of a love like this? By looking at everything else you don’t have instead of looking at the greatest thing you possess: a relationship with the God of the universe. 

How do we grasp on? We choose to see Him. We choose to place Him before us. We place His will before us. His plans before ours. HIs desires above our own.  He knows we are dust, and naturally such a forgetful and ungrateful people.

The answer to how to crave Him? It’s not a magic formula or a program or a degree. It begins with a choice. It might flesh itself out in a Bible study or a prayer reminder app or Bible memorization. It might look like changing the radio station or having a yard sale and evaluating where we spend money and place priority. It may be decreasing the mental and physical clutter around us so that we can be one in heart and purpose, and so that we don’t crowd out what’s truly important. It for sure will look like time spent at Jesus’ feet, in His Word and in sweet conversation with Him, and in church with other believers who adore Him.

It may look like keeping the Bible open on your counter, asking someone to check in with you and ask where your focus has been, writing verses on notecards to leave in your car and around the house, using prayer prompts to inspire you to pray about every little thing.

Deuteronomy 6 talks about it like this: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Look at Him as often as you can, and you will find that He is worth any sacrifice that you might have to make. Gaze on Him to discover that He is altogether lovely and desirable.

Over and Over Again

As I get older, I am realizing some things about my salvation. The biggest one is that salvation is not simply a one-time occurrence. It is something that will happen on a day by day basis as I walk in communion with Jesus. Yes, I initially need to have the “Damascus road moment”, where I make the connection between my sin and Jesus the Savior. After that, I do not need re-salvation. But I do need to be saved from my sin, from my shame, from my guilt, from my past, from myself. Way more often than once.

I have spent the 26 years since I got saved trying so hard to save myself. To make God proud that He chose me. And it’s been 26 long, exhausting years. Somehow I have perverted God’s plan into a mixture of part-Gospel, part-self-sufficiency. Maybe it’s because I’m a first-born, but I don’t expect God to come and save me from my failures. I want to pull myself up by my bootstraps, whip myself into shape, conquer that debt myself, take action to work on my gluttony with the newest fad diet, clean up my house to make my life feel like it isn’t in shambles. But you know what? I’m a miserable failure.

And while I have claimed for years that one of my favorite things about this God we serve is that He didn’t just save us and then leave us here to struggle on our own, that’s exactly what I’ve been doing. Don’t get me wrong— I pray for help. I seek forgiveness for the umpteenth time that I have tried to do things on my own, but I never quite understood why I always felt like such a huge failure.

The enlightening has been life-changing. In a recent message by JT English at The Village Church, the role of the Trinity was defined:

God initiates our salvation. Jesus accomplishes our salvation. Holy Spirit applies our salvation.

Hi, my name is Cara and I’ve been trying to replace the Holy Spirit.

Yes, I believe God initiated my salvation. He gave me the faith to believe. He chose me. I believe Jesus made a way for this to be possible by His sacrifice on the cross. And yes, of course, I “believe” that Holy Spirit is my helper who convicts me of sin, but I thought it was all up to me to apply my salvation: to my diet, my lifestyle, my wardrobe, my housekeeping skills. I felt called to be responsible… to stop praying for things when I knew I just needed to put on my big girl panties and do the right thing. But it never worked out for me. Even in good moments of “success”, it felt empty at best and precarious at worst… precarious because I wondered how long I could keep it up. I know myself too well and began to expect failure.

God has been gracious to allow me to fail. Every. Single. Time. He has been gracious in not freeing me from my food addiction. He has been gracious to allow my child to be strong-willed. He has been loving to allow me to marry a husband who doesn’t know the word “organization.” He has been so, so kind. Because had I been able to conquer all of these things? I wouldn’t have needed Him. I would have completely believed the lie that I was able to apply my salvation to all of these areas all by myself. I would have taken the credit. And I have, in the past. I have given credit to Fitness Pal and books on the market for how to get organized. I have given the credit to my discipline. I have given the credit to my first-born tendencies (eh hem, perfectionist tendencies.) I have given the credit to accountability partners and mentors. (And let’s make this clear: they deserve a LOT of credit!) But ultimately, I left the Spirit out of it altogether.

I am becoming more and more aware of the times I have quenched Him. And more and more aware of how much I need to rely on Him if I want any sustained progress in my Christian life. And one thing that has helped a lot is realizing that I don’t need to have it all figured out RIGHT NOW. I don’t need to be as perfect as I expect myself to be. I don’t need to have everything under control, everything all together.

Being a Christian doesn’t mean that we don’t have problems, or things that urk us, or things that steal our joy. In fact, it’s okay to not be okay, and there is no shame in admitting that. That’s why we all need Jesus. We STILL need Him.

If I were perfect now, what would there be to live for? There would be nothing left to strive for, to attain to. Even Paul (who in my book had it all figured out) said to CONTINUE running the race, to attain the prize. Why do I want to attain it immediately? Therein lies the pride, and the lie that I can do this on my own. Holy Spirit’s way is more gentle, more subtle, less time-sensitive. He isn’t worried that I might never arrive (like I am). He is patiently prodding, convicting, guiding towards the next thing to work on. He wants it to stick… to be a lifelong change, and not a temporary fix. A relationship with God is not a rat-race, just like marriage isn’t a contest. We aren’t in it to become perfect spouses with the perfect marriage and home. We’re in it to enjoy each other.

A verse you’ve probably heard more than once in 2 Corinthians 5 says this: Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, He is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. I looked up this phrase “have come”. It is an imperfect future tense:  a verb form which combines past tense (reference to a past time) and imperfective aspect (reference to a continuing or repeated event or state.) This is what theologians call the already and the not yet. We have already become a new creature but we are still becoming that new creature. It is okay to still be becoming.

I hope you heard me. Can we all give ourselves grace? There is not only grace for the sinner. There is grace for the believer.

My accountability partner told me at the end of last year that she didn’t feel like I actually ENJOY God. That stung a bit, but I never questioned its truth. I spend more time trying to please God and serve Him than I do just enjoying Him. I think of Him when things are on edge, when I’ve failed Him…again. When I have forgotten to be in the Word. This manifested itself when I began only talking to my daughter about Jesus when her behavior was poor: “Jesus doesn’t want us to act that way.” Instead of in everyday moments, like when the sunrise is breathtaking, and when the dentist office gives us a free ice-cream cone, or when my grandmother buys us mini animal crackers. It says a lot about when MAMA thinks about God, and it’s devastating to realize that at the end of the day, you may have served your way through your existence, but you didn’t truly enjoy any of it. That you may have mastered marriage, but didn’t enjoy it. That you took a bath every night to be clean, but not to enjoy it. That you shoved down food to satisfy a part of you that you could never satisfy, but you didn’t actually enjoy eating it. That you cleaned your house aggressively, but didn’t just enjoy it. That you knew God, but didn’t enjoy Him. What a travesty.

So this feels like the year that my words from the past 3 years have collided….and I get chills to think of how He has brought that about.

Steadfast in 2015.

Joy in 2016.

Necessary in 2017.

Expectant in 2018.

It is because of God’s steadfast love for me that He wants me to take joy in Him, and if I am to take hold of that joy, it is necessary that I rely on Holy Spirit to dash my false expectations and put my expectant hope in His ability to apply my salvation instead of my own efforts.

A series of unsuspecting and seemingly unrelated things have brought these discoveries to my attention.

A sermon series in December at my local church about expectations and how they rob us of joy.

A book given to me by a friend called Love to Eat, Hate to Eat. The premise so far being that there is joy in denying ourselves, in carrying our cross, in being a little hungry. Creating space to need God, instead of filling all of our needs before we even feel them.

An Instagram live by a friend who is doing a fast this month. To hear that a fast doesn’t have to be eating nothing: but could simply be eating things that your flesh doesn’t crave. And realizing for the first time that a fast is not only to have more time to focus on God, but to create a space where we HEAR Him, instead of the distractions of what our body says we need constantly.

A series of marriage counseling sessions from some people we admire and respect. Their advice to stop looking at irritations as the problem itself, but as an opportunity to lean into sanctification, was a relationship-changer. To realize that we will conquer one problem, only to face another. (Encouraging, right?) We will never arrive, and so knowing this lets down the expectation easy that we will one day have marriage all figured out. And it encourages us to take one thing at a time, thanking God for sanctifying us through this thing called matrimony.

A podcast and a new study on the Trinity in my discipleship group, and a re-acquaintance of sorts with the Person of the Trinity that is talked about the least.

It is a beautiful web God is weaving in us. It is not on our time-table, but I’m beginning to appreciate His timing. Learning this at age 31 instead of 5 seems disappointing, and yet more of a game-changer at this stage.

Can we slow the pace of attaining perfection and simply appreciate the places where we are weak, so that He can be strong? It is God’s kindness that allows us to struggle with the same things over and over again, not because He wants us to doubt His salvation, but to realize how much we STILL NEED IT.

The Gospel is not just something I needed as a child. It is not just for unbelievers, as I always assumed. The Gospel is GOOD NEWS for me RIGHT NOW. Because I will never be enough. I will never perform enough. I will never be good enough to live this life without Him. Every failure and every sin is simply a reminder of how much we need Him. I pity the person who thinks they don’t, because I have spent a lot of my life being that person. I have believed things in my head, but functionally operated as if post-salvation, it was completely up to me to save myself from my sin, hang-ups, failures. What a relief it is! To admit that I cannot ever be enough. But He is. 

If you feel like your salvation was not genuine because of how often you mess up, saturate yourself in the Psalms, and in the story and life of David. A man after God’s own heart who did things we would never conceive of. Thank Jesus that when He allows these failures instead of preventing them, He is whispering the Gospel to you again: He is enough for those things. Not just past sins, but present sins, and future sins. How arrogant of us to assume that we need Him for past sins, but that the ones we commit today are on us.

Jesus, save us from ourselves. Not once, but every single day of our lives. 

A Letter to 2018

Welcome, 2018.

2018, we all have big plans for you. We have resolutions, ideals, dreams, desires. We’re making our plans over here, like we run the world. Like we can delay or skip or fast forward any of your days and months. We’re racing the clock to see how many minutes we can save, in the name of time management. We’re trying to change our destinies, with every program we sign up for and every extra dollar we try to earn in each of your tiny squares. We all hope that the dawn of 2019 will reflect all the things we have accomplished.

We want you to be a good year for us. We want to say that you’ve been good to us. We have big expectations, for you, 2018. I thought it was only fair that you knew it.

Because how can you give what you don’t know we’re expecting? And truth be told, we make it all about ourselves when we focus on what we accomplished.

So you don’t need to be good to us, 2018, because we have a Father Who is. You don’t need to deliver health, wealth, and happiness. We can rest knowing God will decide which of those things He wants to give us. And even in unfortunate circumstances, God is still good. His character doesn’t sway according to the things He allows.

2018, nothing that you can throw at us amidst any of these page flips or numbered squares will change our destiny. We are children of God. Our accomplishments don’t define us. Our failures don’t condemn us. Only our Father can do that.

So just for you, 2018, I’m changing my expectation system. I’m going to stop expecting misfortune. I’m not going to cuddle up next to negativity. I’m not going to project those things onto you. I’m also not going to expect you to be flawless and fabulous. What I AM going to do is let go of the expectations I have of what my life should look like. I’m going to stop comparing myself to others and wishing I had what they have. I’m going to stop expecting that if I do all the right things, my life will be a bed of roses. I’m especially going to drop the expectations I have of people—friends, family, authorities, and not the least of all, myself.  Heaven knows I expect myself to be and produce and succeed more than is feasible for one human being. Maybe if I stop kicking myself for letting me down, I won’t be so disappointed with others when they do.

I don’t know what you hold for me, 2018, but I’m expectant. I’m expectant that God will do what He said He will do. That when I fail myself and don’t cross off my resolution list, He is still faithful. That when others let me down, He never does. That when tomorrow and the next day and the day after that throw me unexpected chaos, I can stop looking for someone to blame, and instead look for Someone to thank. Because all of your minutes and hours and days serve to increase my sanctification. I can look at the future squares on your calendar without dread or anxiety, because I know Who already resides in them.

So, 2018? You can breathe easy. You’re off the hook.

 

Psalm 62:5 “My soul, wait thou only upon God; for my expectation is from Him.”

Surviving Christmas: A Word about Self-Care

It’s been a little quiet around here recently. And by quiet, I don’t mean silent. (I have a one-year-old.) But I have been a little more unplugged, a little less prone to screen time, a little less-present on the interwebs. Due to finances, we cut our cable, and subsequently internet, about two months ago, and it’s been a welcome distraction gone. I was also getting a bad taste in my mouth for all the buzzes and beeps coming from my devices, so I turned off all notifications. I thought I would miss it. I don’t.

This time of year, I immerse myself in all the Ann Voskamp Advent books, as well as various other Advent studies. I am trying to simplify: clean out a closet I’ve always felt sure I needed, so that we can knock down a wall. Giving lots and lots and lots of things away. I’ve been more likely to meet up with friends for coffee. I’ve put the house aside and given my daughter a bit more hands-on attention. I’m working less than I ever have in my life (or so it seems), and yet I might be the happiest I’ve ever been with my house that will never keep up with the Joneses. Sure, there are things I want, things I think I need. Depending on the day, parenting is hard, or marriage is hard, or both. I am not even close to having life figured out, but I’m finally becoming okay with that.

I think about this community a lot. I want to connect here. I want to do ministry. I want to do what I love and write more. And there are seasons for that. But sometimes the Lord intentionally shelves all of those things for a while to draw me to Himself. To quiet my heart and remind me of what’s most important. I can get caught up in all the good things and miss the best thing.

So I’ve been asking a deep question. What do I want my legacy to be, and are my daily actions proof that I believe this? Do I want to be known for knowing Jesus? YES. This is it. I want to be known for pursuing Jesus. And so when it comes down to it, my house doesn’t need to be perfect. (Said closet contents are currently taking over an entire couch in my living room, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that I’m sitting here typing instead of clearing that pile off.)  My value doesn’t lie in what I accomplish today, or in how much I weigh, or in how much money there is (or isn’t) in my checking account. I can’t neglect those things entirely, but what have I truly accomplished if I’ve tended to all those things but neglected the thing I’ve claimed to be most important in my life?

What if I gain the world (lose the weight, check all the lists off, have a spotless house, be financially secure) only to lose my own soul? I’m not speaking of heaven or hell here, although that is surely what the text means. But what if, in pursuit of all these things, I neglect my own soul? I neglect my relationship with the Lord? I fail to pass on my faith to my children? What have I really gained?

My friend texted me yesterday and said, “Would it be weird if my word for 2018 was self-care?” I looked up the definition of self-care: any necessary human regulatory function which is under individual control, deliberate and self-initiated.

This concept has been taken to the extreme in our society, where we often speak of loving yourself and the quip “take care of yourself, because no one else will.” But why did Jesus tell the story of the Good Samaritan? Because He was asked the question: What is the greatest commandment in the law?” His response? “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and love your neighbor as yourself.” How can we love our neighbor like we love ourselves if we don’t love ourselves? How do we know how to care of others if we don’t take good care of ourselves? Tell me: do you think the Good Samaritan was overweight and in poor health, bad with money, or a person whose family and home were a wreck? I doubt it. He was able to stop and help the man on the side of the road because he had taken care of himself. He was physically able to stop and load him on his donkey. He was mentally able to fit in one more thing into his day. He was  spiritually-minded because he was looking for opportunities to give of himself. Only a healthy person could behave in this way.

This is Biblical in origin. Guard your heart with all diligence, for out of it flows the issues of life (Proverbs 4:23). Glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:20). I discipline my body and keep it under control so that when I have preached to others, I myself should not be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:27). A tranquil heart gives life to the flesh (Proverbs 14:30). There remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).

Taking inventory of our heart and emotions, disciplining our body, establishing tranquility, and entering into rest. Going back to the definition of self-care, it is deliberate. Self-initiated. It is something we must be intentional about, something we must put into motion. Keeping ourselves fit and active by exercising, taking time to inventory what’s going on within us, and entering into rest in non-slumbering ways are all methods of self-care. I’ve written posts before on Sabbath, and will write more in the future, but there are many different ways to “Sabbath.” And each of our Sabbaths will look different, because each of us have different things that stir our affections for Jesus. We avoid the things that steal our joy and immerse ourselves in the things that allow us to focus on Jesus. For some, it may be taking a nature walk. For others, it may be taking a bath. The Sabbath is a built-in facet of Christianity; Jesus mandated it. Rest for our bodies, our hearts, our souls. So that we know that we can cease striving. So that we can remember what’s truly important. So that we have what we need to serve the body of Christ.

What does that look like for me in the middle of Christmas season? Saying no to things I actually really want to do because it will make my life hectic. Writing down my victories and losses from 2017, and jotting down goals and prayerful resolutions for the new year. Slowing down to take time to appreciate all that’s around me. Buying a dessert for the next gathering instead of trying to make a delightful Pinterest recipe that will likely turn into a fail (because we’re real here.) Taking my daughter to visit a widow. Meeting with my mentor and accountability partner. Spending drawn-out time in the Word and in prayer. Exercising. A bath here and there.

And, hopefully, a cheeseboard.

Because nothing stirs my affection for Jesus like cheese.

Toddler Tales

Before I had children, I asked about 8 people to pinky-promise me that if my child was ugly, they would be honest and tell me.

Either those 8 people are liars, or Eden hasn’t turned out so ugly after all. But do you know what I realized last week? When someone tells me that Eden is cute, they are just as much talking about her personality as they are her facial features. This compliment means even more to me than I ever thought it would. I mean, no one wants to have ugly kids, but it’s more important to me that my children have beautiful souls, not just a pretty face. We have enough of those.

But as Eden has gotten older, it’s getting old that people keep telling me how well- behaved my child is. That her personality is so docile and perfect and that she is so sweet- natured and kind-tempered. You know why? Because while it may be true in public, she saves her real face for me.

I’m especially sad for all the moms who are in the middle of disciplining a full-fledged toddler fit, and who look at me and say, “You probably don’t have this happen, do you?” So, I have threatened to record one of these tantrums if people keep telling me they don’t believe me.

So, it happened last week. I asked, as I always do, how Eden was at preschool. One lady started chuckling and said, “I’ll let Deneise tell you about that. Let’s just say, they saw a side of Eden today they never saw before.” Uh-oh. As soon as I appeared at the door, both teachers looked at me with awe in their eyes and both started talking to me at once. They explained the fit she threw, the kicking and screaming and all-out temper tantrum. I told them that I hoped they disciplined her. They replied that it was kind of cute. Kind of cute? I don’t remember ever thinking that when I saw a fit in the mall.

I had her give the teachers love on out way out and then talked sternly to her all the way to the car. As soon as I strapped her in, I got a dose of what they had been talking about. And yes, I’m going to post this on Facebook under this blog post because it’s unfair for any parent to think that there is a child who doesn’t act this way.

But do you know why the teachers said it was cute? Because they knew her. They knew how out-of-character it was for her. They know that this is not her normal personality. But this IS her sin nature. Call it the terrible twos if you’d like, but it’s just her strong-will surfacing. And the Bible talks a whole lot about how important it is to submit our will to God’s will. If our children can’t submit their will to ours, how on earth will they ever learn to submit to God?

If it happened every day, I assure you it would get un-cute in a hot minute. I know this because it has happened to me every single day since. Not every child responds the same way to a certain form of discipline, so prayerfully consider what works best for your child. Always with the mission in mind of teaching them that they are not in control of their life– God is. They can control their choices, but very soon they will learn cause-and-effect, also known as consequences. We are putting them at a disadvantage if we let them grow up thinking they can control their circumstances. They don’t understand all of this yet, so it is crucial that we behave towards them as God does.

Parenting is darn tough. It has been no cake-walk for me, either. As parents, we have the HUGE responsibility to prayerfully consider how we are representing Jesus to our littles. This is no small task. This is HARD, and it requires dying to ourselves, and submitting ourselves to Him, just as we are trying to teach our children to do one day.

I’ve seen parents punish for every little thing. I see little grace in this. I’ve seen parents threaten and count themselves to death, and I see the need for a bit more reinforcement here. My friend Megan said something to me about this topic of the (exhausting) consistency required in parenting: “I think both sides of parenting are equally as lazy. One side lets the child do whatever they want because it’s too hard to tell them no. The other side only wants to beat them over and over for every offense because it’s too hard to discern a correct punishment.” So how in the world are we EVER going to find a happy medium here?

Lots of prayer. Humility. Unconditional love. Well-known expectations. The Holy Spirit.

This is our job. We’ve got one shot to raise these kids. So how do our children view God? The way they view us.

In which ways are we representing Him wrongly?? God doesn’t ignore bad behavior, not in the long run. He doesn’t threaten without following through. He is not a pushover. He never says something and forgets to act on it. Now, we give ourselves some grace, because we are forgetful and we are human. But overall, we want our children to learn that God expects a lot from us, because we have been given much (Luke 12:48.) And we want them to know what to expect from God. He does not let sin go unpunished. Our sin will find us out.

After over a decade of nannying, babysitting, teaching, and now parenting, I’ve learned that there is a secret to it: consistency. It doesn’t matter as much what you do, as long as you see results from what you’ve chosen and you do it consistently.

I’ve also learned one other thing: if you question whether they are manipulating you, they probably are. We don’t give kids enough credit. They’re super smart. (Also, they can put on their own jacket and do their own breathing treatments much sooner than you think they can. Resume reading.) And just like all children, we are born with a will to rebel. God has granted us the huge privilege of identifying the areas where this rebellion exists and nurturing their hearts toward Jesus. All of life is about digging up more sin roots and surrendering our lives to Jesus, so why not give them a head-start now? Because it’s too hard? Because you’re tired? Because it’s embarrassing in public not to just buy them that candy bar? I hear you. And I know it is. But, oh, friend. It’s so worth it. Do the hard work now, and then the foundation will be laid when they become teenagers. You’ll make your job then and their lives so much easier.

The terrible twos turn into the terrifying threes if you don’t deal with the twos. And the terrifying threes turn into the ferocious fours if you don’t deal with the terrible twos. Read Proverbs and ask the Spirit for direction and wisdom with each parenting decision you make. Pray with your children. Fold them in your arms after you punish and tell them how much you love them, and how much God loves them. I don’t do this perfectly, and we mamas need to pray for each other! This is tough stuff. Right now, I am weary feeling that we may never escape this boundary-testing stage.

The day after the episode at preschool, Eden’s teacher sent me this picture. She said, “This beautiful and blue-eyed baby girl even on a rainy day is sunshine! Sweet, sweet, sweet, even when she is having a ‘moment’.” This is how God looks at us, friend.IMG_0402.JPG

He is waiting with open arms to receive us back into the fold again. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how cute their clothes are or how pretty their hair bow is. What matters is that they learn that when they see ugliness inside, Jesus can turn their ashes into beauty.