New Year, New Self-Control

I was introduced (online, of course) to Jen Wilkin in 2015 and have been so inspired by her writings. I am beyond thankful for the way she teaches, her passion for women and Bible literacy, and her devotion to knowing Christ intimately. Things have been a little busy around my house this year, and it hasn’t left much time for blogging here (I’ve been doing some blogging over at Kristin Schmucker’s blog.) But this article is worth reading and I know I’ll need to read it again several times this year. So I’m featuring it here for easy access! Hope you are blessed by it like I was.

New Year, New Self-Control

Author: Jen Wilkin CategoryGeneralCulture

A new year is upon us, and unless this one is much different from others, our conversations will be laden with talk of fitness goals and holiday diet missteps. The New Year is traditionally a time for resurrecting our self-control, so this is no surprise. But this New Years I have a different form of self-discipline in view—one with potentially longer-lasting impact than dropping a dress size.

I recently came across an article showing ads from the 1930s and 40s selling products to help people gain weight. The ads made claims that sounded completely comical to our modern ears: “Add 5 lb of solid flesh in a week!” “Since I gained 10 lb…I have all the dates I want!” I showed the ads to my daughters, whose response was, “Mom, I don’t think those are real. Have you checked that on Snopes?”

But they’re real all right, despite how preposterous they seem. My first reaction, I am ashamed to admit, was that I was born too late. How great would it be to live during a time when well-padded women held the glamour-girl title? (As long as I’m being honest, I had a similar reaction to learning that in South America women get implants in their bottoms to achieve their culture’s ideal shape. By some cruel twist of fate, had I been born on the wrong continent? Why couldn’t I live where hips were hip?)

But of course, to seriously entertain these thoughts is to drink a Kool-Aid that has been served up to women since the dawn of time: the belief that ideal physical beauty exists and should be pursued at all costs. For much of human history, the curvy beauty has prevailed. Statues of women from ancient Greece and Rome celebrate a body type we would call “plus-size” today, as does Renaissance art. Historically, padded women were considered beautiful because only the rich and idle could achieve such a figure, and because curviness indicated fertility. For women of past generations, curviness was extremely hard to achieve unless you had the money to eat well and work little. Thanks to trans fats and high-fructose corn syrup, this is no longer the case. Ironically, the rich and idle of today strive to look undernourished and overworked. And the rest of us rush to follow suit.

So, would it have been better to live during a time when well-fed women were hailed as beauties? I doubt it. Because the issue is not “fat versus thin”—it is “perfect versus imperfect.” There has never been a time when women have not defined themselves by (enslaved themselves to?) some ideal of physical beauty. Though its definition may change across the centuries, one element remains constant: it is always a definition of beauty that is just beyond our reach. We want what we cannot have. If curvy is hard, we want curvy. If thin is hard, we want thin.

The expectation of physical perfection hits modern females early and often. In middle school, girls cut themselves to deal with the pressures of conforming to the ideal. In middle age, women do, too—but allow the surgeon to hold the knife. We carve the record of our self-loathing into the very flesh of our bodies—a self-marring, a literal carving of an idol. Increasingly, physical perfection is the legacy of womanhood in our culture, handed down with meticulous care from mother to daughter, with more faithful instruction in word and deed than we can trouble to devote to the cultivation of kindness, peacemaking and acceptance that characterize unfading, inner beauty.

In this as in all things, there is hope and good news for the believer: one day we will be free of our self-loathings and will live in harmony with our physical appearance. We will be given new, incorruptible bodies—bodies that are no longer on a collision course with the grave. We dare not reduce this future hope to that of an eternity with thinner thighs or a smaller nose. We must celebrate it as the day when vanity itself is dealt a fatal and final blow.

But how should we live in the meantime? By all means, we should steward the gift of our physical bodies—but for the sake of wellness, not beauty. Two women can step onto two treadmills with identical fitness goals and widely different motives. Only they will know the real reason they are there.

January is typically a time when we talk a great deal about calories, workouts and weight loss. What if we didn’t? What if we didn’t talk about body sizes at all? What if we made it a point not to mention our own calorie sins or victories in front of our girlfriends and daughters? What if we started living in right relation to our bodies now, instead of at the resurrection? What if every time we looked in the mirror and were tempted to complain, we said “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” laying claim to the future hope that our bodies will one day celebrate function in right relation to form, living in the glorious truth of that future hope now?

What if this New Year we decided to fast not from food but from body talk? Sure—hit the gym, eat the Paleo diet, run six miles a day, wear Spanx from neck to knee—just stop talking about it. Stop telling your friend she looks skinny—instead tell her you love her sweet spirit. Choose compliments that spur her to pursue that which lasts instead of that which certainly does not. If someone comments on your own shape, say thanks and change the subject. Banish body talk to the same list of off-limits topics as salaries, name-dropping and colonoscopies. Apply the discipline you use to work out to controlling your tongue. Do this for your sisters, and by the grace of God, we could begin a legacy of womanhood that celebrates character over carb-avoidance, godliness over glamour.

Sister in Christ, physical perfection is not within our grasp, but, astonishingly, holiness is. Where will you devote your energy in the New Year? Go on a diet from discussing shape and size. Feast on the Word of Truth. Ask this of yourself for your sake, for the sake of your friends and daughters, for the sake of the King and His Kingdom. On earth as it is in Heaven.

“Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:10-11

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Offering of Beggars

I was chatting with a friend the other day (over my ridiculously large iced latte with whipped cream) about our time. There never seems to be enough of it. We both like to journal and paint in our Bibles as a reflection of what we have learned from sermons and Bible studies. She lamented about how far behind she was in a current study. She had considered skipping it and waiting until a new study began, because the thought of starting a week behind was overwhelming.

I can relate. I usually had time to read the devotionals each day, but didn’t have time to meditate and create like I wanted to. So, sometimes, I just put it off entirely.
Jesus is so worthy of my BEST. I don’t want to give Him the leftovers of my day. I don’t want to give Him only a few minutes when He deserves an hour. But as I mulled over the conversation with my friend, I prayed for enlightenment about our problem. What if there was never enough time? What if a month went past and we never cracked open our Bibles because life had simply taken over and we didn’t have time to give Him what we thought He would be pleased with?

I’ve always thought of the widow’s mite as a story for my financial heart. And in so many ways, it is. But what if it also applied to my time? She could have stored up all her mites until she had an offering worthy for a King. Geez, she could have saved up until she had at least more than one. 
 
Maybe she was beating herself up when she put it in. Maybe she looked around with shame. Maybe she cringed, waiting for the religious leaders to make a scene. Maybe she put it in an offering envelope so no one could see what she gave. But Jesus wasn’t ashamed of her.
And instead of reprimanding her for her measly sacrifice, Jesus commended her for giving all she had. He didn’t view it as leftovers. He didn’t view it as unworthy. He blessed her and lifted her up as a beautiful example in front of his disciples.

This gives me hope that I am so much harder on myself about this issue than anyone else is- especially to the One Who matters. He is the One Who gave us time.He gave us the faith to believe in Him. He’s the One Who gave us His Word. He gave us the provisions of paint, bleed-less pens and stickers, as a way to engage with Him. And He gives us a heart to seek Him.

And instead of giving us a mandate for how long we seek Him, He simply says that those who seek Him with all their heart will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13). Even our best offering will never be worthy of Him. He doesn’t NEED it… but He desires it. So maybe our offering is more for us than for Him. To realize our need. To acknowledge our dependence on Him. To refocus our priorities and our affections on the One Who deserves them most but Who won’t compete with the iPhone and Facebook.

Let’s stop looking at ourselves and what we have to offer, and fix our gaze on the Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith.

The Triumph in the Tombstone

We moms spend a whole lot of time worrying about our babes. Do they feel well? Why aren’t they sleeping? How can we make them like vegetables? Are they keeping up with other kids their age? What is laying around the house that could hurt them? 
 
These concerns are all normal and necessary. So much so, that if a mother was NOT thinking these things, it could border on child abuse. 
 
The hardest part for motherhood for me has been the lack of sleep. Specifically, the lack of sleep that involves my daughter not sleeping. I have tried all the tricks- cry it out, gas drops, Zantac, routine, scheduled daytime naps, extra cereal at dinner, scheduled bedtime, rocking, warm baths and thieves oil. (Johnson & Johnson claims that their three-step bath time routine helps babies sleep. And I suppose it works, because she falls asleep fairly quickly.) (The problem is that she doesn’t stay asleep.) 
 
Because it affects me so much, I’ve become somewhat obsessed with a solution for WHY MY CHILD DOESN’T NEED SLEEP. I’ve questioned whether she can be our child if she doesn’t like to sleep. That is what Brandon and I do for fun! (We got a babysitter for five hours on our anniversary. When we got done eating early, we can home and took naps. It’s a hobby around here.) I’ve become so obsessed that I talk about it with everyone, hoping they will tell me a magic something I’ve never heard before. I read all the posts and blogs and articles and books hoping to get a tip that will change everything for us. 
 
The women who traveled to the tomb early Sunday morning after Jesus’ crucifixion were also fixated on one thing: how would they move that very large stone? They knew it was probably too heavy for them to maneuver, because the religious leaders were concerned that someone would steal the body. The stone was placed there as a surety that Jesus would stay put. Little did they know, the stone wouldn’t be an issue at all. When they arrived at the scene, the stone was already rolled back and an angel was perched up top, arrayed in light and eager to relay his message. Jesus had risen! He was alive! 
 
But the women didn’t shout or cheer. They didn’t jump for joy or quake with excitement. Instead, they were so fixated on their problem- the stone- that they couldn’t see the miracle. 
 
My pastor Scott Wakefield preached on this Sunday and I haven’t been able to get it out of my head. “I am worried about so many things that are not worth being distracted or worried about. A lot of our worry is tied to an overestimate of our own knowledge and power. They couldn’t help not knowing what they didn’t yet know. But here they are, most worried, NOT that the power of sin had been defeated and perhaps was available for them, but that the stone needed to be rolled away. When it had literally physically already by been done. They were, at this moment in the text, unaware of the full weight and power of God and how much, even then, the world had actually already changed. So they get there, were worried about what to do, and BOOM, it’s done. Because— BECAUSE someone Bigger is in charge here.”
 
What if I’m so absorbed with my problems that I miss His plan? What if I’m so blinded by my concerns that the beauty around me is camouflaged? What if I miss ministry opportunities because I’m allowing myself to drown in my “misfortune”? Am I allowing small setbacks to distract me from the main mission? The measure of my parenting is not determined by how tall my daughter is, and likewise, the measure of my ministry is not determined by how much sleep I’m getting. His grace is sufficient, whether I’ve had four hours or a full night’s sleep. 
My pastor said that the angel shifts these women’s eyes from memorializing Jesus to being a missionary for Jesus. My life is not primarily about moments or milestones— it’s about my mission. My mission is to raise a child who loves Jesus. Who sees Jesus in me. To serve Jesus, despite comfort or happiness.
As it turns out, the most comfort and happiness I’ll ever have resides in Jesus. I don’t have to live a life of death because Jesus is alive. 

Soul Rest

It seems the Lord keeps bringing me back to the same concepts over and over until I have explored every crack and corner and crevice.

Sometimes, it feels like a canyon.

One thing I’ve never been good at is rest. This concept eludes me. Regardless of what I’m doing, I am constantly guilty that I should be doing something else. When I’m vacuuming, I wish I had started a load of laundry so it could be finished before I run errands so I could hang it out to dry. When I’m cleaning the bathroom, I should have started dinner so it would be ready when my husband walks through the door. When I’m reading my Bible, I should have filled up my water bottle so I could drink a glass while I read. When I’m eating lunch, I should have plugged in my phone so it could be fully charged by the time we headed to the store. As one of my friends puts it, I “should” all over myself.

I’m realizing that it might be more a quest of perfecting the multitasking game than anything. I love nothing more than being efficient, saving time and money, and killing two birds with one stone.

This can also be exhausting. As you might imagine, this lifestyle leaves little room for rest or relaxation (or heck, sitting down!) There’s always something screaming for my attention. Something that, if postponed, will wreak havoc on my life or someone else’s. It sounds dramatic, but in my mind, that is not too far from the truth.

It’s no wonder the Lord continues to emphasize thoughts of rest, the Sabbath, and being still into my mind. And now it pops up in the most unusual places.

I’ve read the book of Ruth a half dozen times or more, and never noticed that rest is what Naomi implores her daughters-in-law to do in the wake of their grief. Ruth 1:9 says: “The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband.” This struck me as crazy for several reasons.

#1 If my husband just died, rest would be the farthest thing from my mind. I’d be updating my resume and handing that baby out all over town. I’d be shopping the clearance sales and stockpiling my pantry staples before all my money ran out.

#2 I would be so overcome with grief that I couldn’t sleep. Unless I might cry myself to sleep.

#3 Perhaps most obvious is that she reminds them of the husbands they don’t have. After Naomi told me to go home to my husband-less house, I would want to call the realtor and look at new bungalows immediately. I would want to go somewhere that didn’t remind me of my grief day in and day out.

Naomi seems to assume that the only way to embrace rest was to remarry and start again. All of us know that starting over is not always possible. We can’t dump a few kids on the church steps or go live in a tent that won’t need the floors mopped or stop wearing clothes so we never have to do laundry again.

How do we then return to rest in the middle of grief and hopelessness? To cease the running and turn off the emergency mode and learn to slow our pace and focus on what matters?

It’s striking what things we think of when we hear the word “rest”. I immediately think of how many hours I’ve had on the pillow. I also think of coffee shops and quiet mornings. A long run. A giant bubble bath. Don’t get me wrong… these things do create environments for rest. They are tools we can use to position us to receive rest. But we can also find it in the middle of a crowded market, in our suffocating cubicle, in front of the washing machine.

Rest is the state of our souls, folks.

Naomi assumed that marriage equaled rest. “{M}arriage is called the port or haven of young people, whose affections while unmarried are continually floating and tossed to and fro like a ship upon the waters, till they come into this happy harbour” (The Biblical Illustrator, C. Ness).

Or maybe Naomi had accepted a few of the ideas from the pagan nation she had been dwelling in. In her grief, she had forgotten the character of God, and was wishing her daughters bodily comfort before soul comfort (Geneva Study Bible, Theodore Beza). Or, it’s possible that she spoke these words knowing her audience was two women whose beliefs were quite different than her own. Either way, she was wishing the evils away that typically accompanied widowhood. Some theologians say that she was actually wishing them husbands who would be better than her own sons who died so prematurely.

What would surprise Naomi is that Ruth not only knew more of her beliefs than she may have thought, but would also know more about rest than Noami gave her credit for. Ruth was willing to leave her house and her family and her people and any hope of another marriage to follow this woman and her God wherever He called…with the realization that she may never have another home, husband, or family.

Because rest is a state of the soul. Our circumstances can be tumultuous. Things happen that we can’t prevent, control, or change. But one thing that we can play a part in is the attitude of our souls and our willingness to trust our Father with the things that happen to us.

“We need not waste time shaking our fists at heaven when we can run full-force into His arms, trusting that He can redeem even us, even this, even now” (She Reads Truth, Amanda Bible Williams). I have witnessed people I love go through horrific tragedies, injustices, and calamities. And in the face of the evil, have still spoken kind words. Still reached out to help others. Still called to check up on me despite what they were going through. The only way they were able to get through this all? The still state of their souls. “He will keep Him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on Thee” (Isaiah 26:3). And, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

Naomi’s solution for rest was to escape the mess, seek restoration with a new husband, and start over.

Ruth’s solution was this: “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and YOUR GOD MY GOD” (Ruth 1:16, emphasis mine). She somehow knew that the key to rest was in Jesus.

“Come unto Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find REST FOR YOUR SOULS. For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30, emphasis mine).

No matter the stockpile of paperwork, the screaming children, the dishes in the sink, or the people around us searching for iPhone charging stations, we can silently connect to Home Base and find rest for our souls from the One Who breathed life into us in the first place. He is offering. Now it’s up to us to receive it.

HOW TO NOT MISS THE PERFECT LOVE OF IMPERFECT DADS

Our guest blogger this weekend is one of my favorites- Jennie Allen. Grab a warm cup and enjoy.

Jennie-Allen
(Originally posted on June 21, 2015)

There is a term you have heard… “Daddy Issues.” It certainly is a real thing. I have spent enough time with a lot of you, and there is real, sincere hurt from dads in the world.
I’ve had some of those hurts.
Somewhere in my story … I believed I was not loved, I believed I was not measuring up, I believed I was not enough.
My dad wasn’t extravagant with words (which is–I guess–at the time, what I was looking for), but now as a parent and as a daughter, I see so clearly that he was EXTRAVAGANT WITH HIS LOVE.
I write books and at times, my darling father has been a part of some of the darker seasons of my life. (Here is a shout out to all the poor parents of writers!) Early on, my dad graciously gave me permission to write about his life–and even his weaknesses–if it helps people and brings God glory.
God bless him. Writing. It costs everyone you love if you write honest and raw like I do.
So today–with Father’s Day around the corner–I would like to shout about all…
The extravagant ways my Dad loved:
1. He tucked us in… Almost every night, he got on his knees beside our bed and he prayed for us, and he told stories he made up about Ellie the Elephant and George the Giraffe.

2. He worked so hard to provide for us… There were so many times money was tight, but he never wanted us to know and he always protected us from it.

3. He was present… He attended games and plays and gymnastic meets–he had 3 daughters–and I have a hunch there were other places he might have wanted to be.

4. He created moments… Celebrations meant something around here. He and Mom wanted Christmas and birthdays to be unforgettable, and they were. I have had a hard time recovering since.

5. He was faithful… He loved my mom and he stuck by us.

6. He did his best to give us God… He led family devotions and advent (even if it was painfully awkward, because sometimes it just is), and he took us to church and sent us to camp, where eventually I did trust Christ.
And I could go on and on.
You read this and you think… WOAH! You officially have the best dad that ever lived. And you would be right.
But most of my life, I missed it…
Sometimes, we miss all the ways someone is trying to love us, because of the ways we wish they would love us.
It wasn’t till adulthood that I put words to my hurts–to how desperately I needed to hear some things from him.
And guess what? These days, it seems he is bound and determined to tell me every phone call, every visit how proud he is, how much he loves me–enough to make up for 10 childhoods.
When our dads are imperfect, it leaves room for the perfect Father. Guess what? 100% of us are imperfect parents. We are the norm, and so we save for our kids’ counseling bills, and tuck them in and lead the awkward devotion, and we do our best to push them to the only perfect One.
When our dads are imperfect, it leaves room for the perfect Father.

I talk to so many of you who have tremendous hurts from your dads, and I know some of you could never form a list like I just did–there is only pain, and there wouldn’t be enough good. (And to you, I am so sorry.)
But some of you can. And life is too short for words to be left unsaid.
Write the list, even through the hurt. If your dad is still alive, text him or email him about all the ways he loved you, and thank him today!

That night will forever burn in their memory. Waiting around, pacing the floor, nerves all on edge. The parents held their babies tight, waiting for the signal that they were safe and could emerge. Throwing everything they owned over their shoulder, they ran quickly and quietly and dared to hope that they would get out alive. That very night God brought the Israelites out of Egypt, tribe by tribe. They were still singing the victor’s song when they came to a screeching halt. Just as they received the bad news, they heard sounds in the distance behind them. Their fears were confirmed. The Egyptians had come to take them back. And they were trapped against the Red Sea with nowhere to go.

The Israelites were the most blessed children of God. They saw myriads of miracles, heard the Lord communicate with them, and observed His power close-up. He sent them a deliverer to pull them out of bondage and gave them a personal travel guide to lead them to a land that He promised they would inherit.
But they weren’t thinking about how good God was they came up against that ocean, being hotly pursued by their former taskmasters the Egyptians. They were angry. How could God allow them to escape their oppressors only to be trapped by this huge body of water? They would  either be killed, or at best, taken back to captivity.
Later on, when they were en route to the Promised Land, with nothing to eat or drink in sight, God seemed anything but good. They quickly forgot their torment back in Egypt when they remembered those melons that they loved so much. Their captivity almost seemed worth it for a bite of one of those. To make matters worse, their spies brought back word that there were giants in the new land. They thought would surely forfeit their inheritance because the giants would squish them like grasshoppers. Was this part of God’s good plan? When they failed to believe that God could help them take the land, they were sentenced to wander 40 years in the wilderness because of their unbelief. God seemed cruel.
But their God was looking out for them. He wanted to show them His power at the Red Sea, how He would part those waters and make corpses of their enemies. He would also drop manna from the sky every morning, fly hordes of quail so low that they could be caught, and gush water from a rock for His hungry people. With each fortress in the Promised Land, He would give them victory over their enemies one by one in unique and creative ways.
And yet, God’s children were constantly disgruntled, hot-headed, and bitter. What God had already done for them wasn’t enough. They wanted every comfort and convenience to go along with it. God loved His people too much to leave them in their complaining, self-centered state. How much He desired to show them His power and how much He loved them! In hindsight, we can see the faults of the children of Israel and mock them. They certainly were selfish and ungrateful! But we are often no different.
We, too, experience oppression and time in the desert. The way we continue to see God as gracious through thick and thin is all in perspective. Our vision is easily blurred by the fog of grief, physical needs, or emotional trauma. The key to believing the promise despite opposition lies in identity.
Knowing who God is stands as our sturdy foundation when life is crumbling around us. Beth Moore explains it like this in her book Believing God: “Over and over in Scripture, when God was about to move in the lives of His people or instruct them to reposition, He began with a reminder of Who He was. A thumbs-up of sorts.” To Abraham, He said, “I am the LORD, who brought you out of Ur.’ and ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.’ ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob…I have indeed seen the misery of my people…So I have come down to rescue them from the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land into a good and spacious land (Exodus 3:6-8).’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’…God knew that the most powerful force driving the children of Israel would have pressing them toward their earthly destiny was their certainty that the One who went before them was who He said He was.” It ought to be enough that when He says Who He is, we take Him at His word.
Once you know Who God is, you can be assured of your divine calling in this life. We work for God. He doesn’t work for us. When we see ourselves as an island, only looking out for ourselves and our best interests, it becomes easy to shake our fist at God when things are going poorly for us. We are here for a God-designed purpose. We are blessed, forgiven, chosen, redeemed, adopted, and favored.
When they were trapped on the shores of the Red Sea, God told the Israelites this: “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still” (Exodus 14:14.) He said that after He butted them up against a roadblock and waited for them to ask Him for help. He was just waiting to show off for them. We don’t have to have it all figured out. We can sit back and watch Him do His thing. That’s what makes Him God and not us. Isn’t that comforting?
Even when God is the furthest thing from our minds and choices, He is always ordering things on the timeline of the universe to be the best-case scenario in the end for us. How incredibly undeserving we are!
When we view God rightly, as a good God, we realize how far from good we are. When we are tempted to think something isn’t fair, we can remind ourselves that simply by giving us salvation, He is good. If He never did another thing for us, He would be good. Redeeming us was more than He ever had to do for us, and yet every day He continues to give new mercies (Lamentations 3:22-23). His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him Who called us by His own glory and goodness
(2 Peter 1:3, NIV).

In the good and the bad, our Father is the treasure. Not favorable circumstances, a secure bank account, or a well-manicured lawn. Regardless of how things go for us, He wants us to desire Him above wealth, fame, or success. He is the ultimate prize. We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). When you turn your eyes upon Jesus, the world around grows dim and you aren’t distracted by lesser priorities and frustrated when things don’t go easily for you.

The good news is that He doesn’t leave us to fix our vision on our own. He gives us a power tool: gratitude. He tells us that we are to be thankful in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18.) Not necessarily thankful for  all things, but grateful that we can depend on Him to be in control. When we choose to give thanks even when we don’t understand, He gives us the eyes to see His plan behind the scenes. Jean-Pierre de Caussade said it this way in A Guide to Prayer for All God’s People: 

You would be very ashamed if you knew what the experiences you call setbacks, upheavals, pointless disturbances, and tedious annoyances really are. You would realize that your complaints about them are nothing more nor less than blasphemies- though that never occurs to you. Nothing happens to you except by the will of God, and yet {God’s} beloved children curse it because they do not know it for what it is.”

God knows that in order to recognize the good, we must be familiar with the bad first. The children of Israel would never have appreciated the Promised Land if they hadn’t wandered in that desert first. They would have taken for granted every one of those giant grapes. By allowing them to suffer the consequences of their unbelief, He was gracious in teaching them His character. They would indeed have crumbled under the weight of the giants without the Lord’s help. He needed to establish an understanding between Him and His children…that He could be trusted to win their battles for them.

The truth is that God wouldn’t be good if He gave us everything we wanted. The psalmist begged God not to give him so much that he would forget the Lord (Psalm 30:8-9). One of the reasons He is good is because there are a LOT of times He doesn’t give us what we ask for. As long as we hold onto our earthly treasures, we will never be able to receive all that He has for us. Often, in His withholding, He is releasing our grip on this world to open our hands and make room for more of His blessings and more of Himself.

When our good God is the standard for what is good in this life, then we will see everything that comes from His Hand as a good and perfect gift (James 1:17). Even the bad is good when we trust that it comes from a heart that loves us deeper than anyone on earth could.


The End is Just the Beginning

Arguably the two most significant life events are birth and death. Coming into the world and heading into the next. We generally tend to celebrate births and mourn deaths. Despite varying birth stories, life is predictable for the most part. Death is often shocking and ugly, and we can’t control or predict it.

We would rather say hello than goodbye.

Perhaps the greatest mystery of death is why it happens to some before others. Why some die young and why some live to be 105. We question because we can’t control it. We don’t like it because we can’t make it “fair”. I’ve never heard anyone ask, “Why on earth would God bring that baby into the world healthy?” We expect it…perhaps we feel entitled? The answer to that question, were it ever asked, would be because God is kind.

That’s the same answer for why God would take someone out of this world.

At any point, whether deemed prematurely or at a ripe old age, God is kind to take them. And when someone is born unhealthy? God is kind then, too. Kind to give life to someone that would otherwise never experience it. He is kind to perpetuate the human race despite our utter atrocities and failure at stewarding this gift well. When we shake our fist at God and ask Him why there is heartache, the irony is that the heartache of the human race’s rejection of God has already once in history been so great that He destroyed almost all of humanity.

He was too gracious to watch them destroy themselves with their sinful ways and wreak havoc on themselves and others. Killing them was their saving grace. You see, when He gives and when He takes… He has never been anything other than kind. For those who subscribe to the damnation and brimstone theory of God, I hear your protests. God is not only love, yes. He is also just. But I believe that even in His judgment, He is kind. He could have blotted Sodom and Gomorrah from the planet before they even had the chance to blow it. And yet He created them anyway. He made Judas, and then chose Him as His disciple, knowing his knack for dipping his hands in the money bags and his ultimate act of betrayal. He chose him anyway. Birth abnormalities, infant death, cancer…they are heartbreaking. But He creates life anyway.

Life is HARD, people. Especially when we are simply at its mercy. But we are at the mercy of a God who can control it, and He is just that…merciful. Even that very last breath we took was a grace.

And my Aunt Gina’s last breath was a grace, too.

You see, the journey had been long. The pain and sensitivity from the brain tumor had been unpredictable at times. In her last week, her quality of life was unbearable to watch. But she would never say that He was not gracious. He gave her three more years of life after her first surgery. She said He didn’t have to do that.

Would He have been more gracious not to let her even be born? So as to not experience any pain in this life? So that dying early wouldn’t have been a factor? So we wouldn’t be grieving now?

You can only grieve what was once beautiful.

To say that God would have been more gracious in refusing her life on earth would be a slap in the face to anyone who has loved Gina. There was beauty to behold in her life and even her death was beautiful. The death of His saints is a beautiful thing (Psalm 116:15). God’s calling Gina Home was the most generous. She is with Him, and that is a joy greater than any other joy that Gina would have ever experienced in this life.

There has been sorrow in this life, yes. One sorrow that Gina experienced was the Lord calling Home someone she dearly loved. Her daughter, Bethany, is no longer with us. We have never questioned where she is. Gina is with her now. But perhaps one of her greatest earthly joys was the birth of her granddaughter. Thanks to the Lord’s graciousness, He allowed the first surgery to be successful. He prolonged her days so that she could enjoy almost a full year with Akira.

My daughter was born 28 days before Gina passed away. There has been a lot of joy and sadness mixed into the last 4 weeks. It was hard to watch, pray, and wait as we anticipated Eden’s arrival into the world, wondering if she would be a healthy baby, a girl or a boy, and whether she would be {whatever we would deem} normal. It was also hard to watch, pray, and wait as we knew Gina’s time was coming to exit this world, wondering how long we would have her, how she would go, and if we would be ready to say goodbye.

But isn’t that really all we do in this life anyway? Watch, pray, and wait? We operate as if we have so much control over life when, in actuality, we have none. We can schedule and plan and prepare. However, many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the LORD’s purpose that prevails (Proverbs 19:21). Right now, my baby girl is healthy and happy and alive. This is grace. But one of these days, she will breathe her last here and breathe her first in heaven.

This is the utmost grace.

Eden and Akira were both promised death at birth. Health may or may not be promised. Happiness may or may not be promised. Long life may or may not be promised.

But they have access to the same Father that Gina did.

And I promise you that He is a good, good Father.

That makes me smile.

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