My Boy and the Ocean

Last year my Toby was absolutely terrified of the ocean.  Like “wouldn’t go anywhere near where the water might happen to touch him and would cry with nervousness even watching his brothers go in” terrified.

It took us by surprise.  We’re straight up beach people.  We love it and none of our boys had ever been afraid of the ocean before, including Toby…in fact they have always seem to come even more alive when we’re near it.

Our Toby has always loved water and has never been timid around form of it.  Still, something spooked my boy last summer and he could not be reasoned with.  He was straight up Afraid with a capital A.  He wouldn’t go anywhere near the waves during our family summer vacation.  Wouldn’t let the tide touch him during our little fall getaway.  And still kept his distance when we spent the day at the shore last Easter.

Give him a pool or creek or lake and he would transform into a little fish.  Give him the ocean and he turned into a ghost crab digging his own little hole in the sand…far, far, far from where the waves might touch him.

As parents, this concerned us.  Not just because we were hoping he would enjoy something that brought the rest of us joy.  Not just because we felt like he was missing out.  But because we were concerned for his little heart.

We always thoughtfully select a book to purchase and write in for each of the boy’s birthdays…so for Toby’s 4th birthday this past March, we bought him Max Lucado’s The Boy and the Ocean.  

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The book is beautifully illustrated and compares God’s great big love for us to the ocean, the mountains, and the sky.

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We began to pray that our 4 year old boy would not only gain understanding of God’s great big love for him, but that the ocean would begin to remind him of that love.  And that he wouldn’t be afraid of it.  Not only that, but that looking at the ocean would bring him confidence, knowing the God of the Universe knows his name and cares deeply for him.  We specifically began praying 1 John 4:18…that God’s perfect love for our boy would cast out all fear.

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Four months later we packed up for our annual family vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Though we had talked and prayed about it a lot, we were still uncertain what Toby’s beach experience this time would be like.  Upon arriving at our rental house and waiting for the rest of our family members to arrive, Toby very matter-of-factly declared,  “Mama, I’m not going to be afraid of the waves this year.”

I wanted to believe him.  I really did.  But Mama wasn’t quite sure.

But then I watched him walk across the street and up over the sand dune.  I watched a smile stretch across his face when he could finally see the ocean.  I watched him walk confidently through the sand and wait patiently for his Daddy to put down our things.  And as I watched him take steps toward the shoreline, I saw in him a brief hesitation, as if he had to stop and make a conscious decision whether to go further or run away.  I saw the smile fade for a second and a reminder of the fear flash before his little green eyes.

But then I saw him keep going.

Oh, my eyes are filling with tears even as I think of it.  He walked right up to the Atlantic Ocean.  He let it touch his feet, lap against his knees, and christen his skin.

And I saw him laugh.  With such delight that I didn’t think his smile could possibly get any bigger.  As the evening sunlight glistened in his hair, he ran up and down and back and forth along the shore line with such excitement that his little brother began imitating his every move and every noise.

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Adam and I watched in awe…with smiles, I’m sure, that were even bigger than our boy’s.

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That week was such a joy.  He got in the ocean every day.  We watched him dance and sing and jump and belly laugh.  We saw waves knock him over and we saw him get back up again.  We held him as we went out a little deeper and taught him to doggie paddle through the calm water and brace himself for the mountains and valleys and currents of the waves.  He made me enjoy my own time at the beach more than I ever remember enjoying it before.

But as we returned home and I looked through the photos of him with his sun kissed skin, squinty eyes and cheeky smile, I was convicted about my own recent moments of panic and fear.  Whether it had been with my pregnancy or our ministry or my parenting, there had (and still have) been distinct moments this summer when I saw that same panic flash before my eyes.  In those moments I had very much felt like Simon Peter, who confidently stepped out of the boat – so sure of Who he was following, sure of where he was going – but for a moment looked around him at the wind and waves and suddenly panicked and began to sink in his doubt and fear.

Those times when I questioned His calling, His control, or His care.  When I couldn’t see how it all “fit” or I wanted to escape the “hard”.  When my tears blurred my view of the Truth and the waves felt neither fun nor exciting nor calming.

The Psalmist seemed to know that same fear in Psalm 93…

“The floods have lifted up, O Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods have lifted up their roaring.” (Psalm 93:3)

Tim Keller points out in his devotional The Songs of Jesus that in Biblical times the sea was feared as “the source of chaos and the habitat of monsters”.  It was beyond their understanding.  Beyond their control.  Beyond their sense of peace.

But the Psalmist continues…

Mightier than the thunders of many waters, mightier than the waves of the sea, the Lord on high is MIGHTY!” ( Psalm 93:4)

Rather than choosing to fear the rising waters and the tumultuous waves, he chose to remember the One Who was (and IS) absolute over it all.

I’ve been convicted about what my recent panic and fear revealed about what my heart is really worshipping – what other “gods” I’m ascribing ultimate worth and value to – when HE should be (and ultimately IS) above it all.  Psalm 95 describes this…

“For the Lord is a great God, and a great King ABOVE ALL GODS.” (Psalm 95:3)

My fear reveals what I hold tightest and most dear.  My kids.  My ministry.  My family.  My control.  My plans.  My approval by others.  My “success”.  

my. My. MY.

  “In HIS hands are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are HIS also. The sea is His, for He made it, and His hands formed the dry land.” (Psalm 95:4-5)

But ultimately they’re not mine at all.  They’re His.  And HE holds them in His hands.  The gifts, the joys, and even the scary seas.  They are HIS and are in HIS strong, capable, and loving hands.  These things that were made to point to Him.  To glorify Him.  To lead me to worship Him for Who HE is and what HE has done.

Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” (Psalm 95:6)

Just as we prayed that the sea and the waves would remind our boy of God’s great love and power and lead him to awe and worship, I need to pray the same thing for myself.  I think Paul had the same thing in mind when he prayed for the Ephesians…

“…that you – being rooted and grounded IN LOVE, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the 

breadth 

and length

and height 

and depth,

and to know the LOVE OF CHRIST that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”

-Ephesians 3:17-19

What surpasses and dismisses and casts out all fear?  What will naturally lead my heart and mind to worship the only One worth worshipping?

Knowing and dwelling on the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s great love for me – expressed through His ultimate gift of grace: Christ’s death and resurrection.  All done for ME.

Here I can see the waves not as chaos or monsters, but as opportunities to grow my faith, to shape the landscape of my character, to dive more deeply into the gospel, and to swim confidently and safely in and through those very seas with my Father.

Here I can enjoy the gifts, soak in the refreshment, and stand in awe of the One Who created them and gave them in the first place.

Here I can dance…and dare I say, even laugh with joy…knowing a Love that

is always here

is always deep

that never ends.

And though the tide and current may change, my God and His love for me never will.  He’s never failed.  And He won’t start now.

He Who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not always with Him graciously give us all things?…

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness or sword?…

NO.  In ALL these things we are more than conquerors through Him who LOVED US.  For I am SURE that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor ANYTHING ELSE IN ALL CREATION, will be able to separate us from the LOVE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS OUR LORD.”

-Romans 8:31-39

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“You call me out upon the waters
The great unknown where feet may fail
And there I find You in the mystery
In oceans deep
My faith will stand


And I will call upon Your name
And keep my eyes above the waves
When oceans rise
My soul will rest in Your embrace
For I am Yours and You are mine


Your grace abounds in deepest waters
Your sovereign hand
Will be my guide
Where feet may fail and fear surrounds me
You’ve never failed and You won’t start now


Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders
Let me walk upon the waters
Wherever You would call me
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior”

– Oceans (Where Feet May Fail) by Hillsong United

 

Thirsty Little Elephants

We had been in the middle of a difficult discipline week.  You know those weeks when your kids are obedient, it appears as though you’re really making progress, and you feel like a super success as a mom?  Yeah, that was definitely NOT one of those weeks.  I knew I was in a great battle for the hearts or my boys and felt fearful that it was one I was losing.

One particular morning I turned on “Zooboomafoo” (the “Wild Kratts” of the previous decade) for my little guys.  I was working in the kitchen when Chris Kratt’s voice stopped caught my attention…

“And if the matriarch or  leader elephant doesn’t remember where the waterholes are, the whole herd could be in danger.”

And I felt the Holy Spirit’s gentle, yet forceful prodding…

Megan, it’s YOUR job to daily show them where to drink.

And I don’t mean where to fill up their sippy cups or lunch thermoses.  I mean where to find the Living Water that they REALLY are thirsting for.  Not just the saturation they need for their bodies to survive, but the saturation of their souls that they need to thrive.

You see, elephants are huge animals in a hot and dry climate.  They must stay hydrated and cool and often have to travel hundreds of miles to find water.  And it’s the mama elephant’s job to smell it out and get her herd into position to drink.

And my calling as a mom to my little herd?  Show them they are thirsty and tell them where to drink.

I need to strive to help my boys see their sin – to show them the law and where they aren’t measuring up.  In doing so I need to show them their need for a Savior – the only One who was and is good.  Ultimately, I need to help reveal to them their thirst and where to get a drink.  I NEED to give them the Gospel.

“Dazzle [your children] with the message of Christ’s love and welcome, and then when you think that they surely must be tiring of it, go back and drench them with it again.  Steep their little parched souls in the blessings of the good news: Jesus Christ has already done all the work that needed to be done.  When in great relief from excruciating agony of soul he declared, ‘It is finished,’ it really was.  This is the message that we and our children need to hear over and over again.”

After all, without showing them where the waterholes are, my whole herd could be in grave danger.

“Raising good kids is utterly impossible unless they are drawn by the Holy Spirit to put their faith in the goodness of another.  You cannot raise good kids because you are not a good parent.  There is only one good Parent, and he had only one good Son.  Together, this Father and Son accomplished everything that needed to be done to rescue us and our children from certain destruction.”

And I’m sure those big ol’ mama elephants can’t get their children’s thirsts quenched unless they are first putting the the herd into position to drink…and then drinking from that same watering hole themselves.

“Give this grace to your children: tell them who they really are, tell them what they need to do, and then tell them to taste and see that the Lord is good.  Give this grace to yourself, too.”

– Elyse M. Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson (Give Them Grace)

Jeremiah obviously needed to remind God’s people of the same thing – to reveal to them how their adulterous hearts were running after insufficient water sources to try to satisfy their thirst.

“My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

– Jeremiah 2:13

They had forsaken the Fountain of Life – the only constantly replenishing Source that could truly save, satisfy, and sustain – and tried to quench the thirst of their souls with temporary, man-made, and faulty cisterns that would eventually break and leak and, in some cases, eventually become prisons.

I would suggest that as moms we can often do the same things.

I can focus on behavior modification and external “goodness” and outward appearances.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on building their self-esteem and self-righteousness and nurturing their pride.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on high GPAs and athletic accomplishments and filling up their schedules.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on feeding them the “right” food and choosing the “right” schooling and orchestrating the “right” sleep schedule.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on only making them happy and giving them stuff and entertaining their socks off.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on trying to become, myself, their hero, their friend, and their wanna-be-savior.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I can focus on protecting and sheltering and hovering and holding.  But it’s a broken cistern.

I’m sure the mama elephant has many other roles and meets many other needs of her herd, but if she doesn’t take them to the watering hole, her herd ultimately won’t thrive in the ways that truly matter.

And neither will mine. Because if I’m missing the Gospel, I’m missing the point.

As moms, may we remember our highest calling.  May we consistently taste of the Lord’s goodness and drink of His grace ourselves.  May we lead our children to the Cross and tell them the story of a relentless Father Who freely adopts rebels, clothes them in His righteousness, and transforms them into beloved sons and daughters.

Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again. But whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

John 4:13-14

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Matthew 5:6

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Growing Grass and Growing the Church

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When we moved into our house 1 1/2 years ago, we knew we’d have a lot of work to do in the backyard. Though the ivy, ground cover, and large flower bed were perfect for an elderly widow, they weren’t really conducive to play sets and backyard baseball games.

We’re working on it a little at a time, as our schedule and finances allow, and yesterday we took apart the large flower bed, stacked the bricks, transplanted flowers, leveled the mound of dirt, and planted new grass.

It was time consuming. It made us sweat. It required us to dig deep, to tear out unhealthy roots, to carry heavy weight, and to essentially replant. The new seed was costly. And it will take time for the grass to grow and show results.

And as I worked and my muscles began to ache, I realized how much our project yesterday reminded me of ministry and the work of essentially replanting a church. It’s hard. It’s incredibly humbling. It’s time consuming. It requires digging deep and tearing out unhealthy roots to make room for new ones. The weight is heavy to carry and it will take time for true, healthy, and vibrant growth to spring forth.

Sure, we could have just left the flower bed in the middle of the yard, afraid to make changes, trying to just work around what we had. Sure, we could have done without the digging and tilling and just thrown some shallow seeds and settled for quick growing weeds and crab grass to cover the dirt. But we knew it would be worth the work, worth the cost, and worth the time waited to produce growth that truly fit our family’s needs and purposes and desires.

And so it is with ministry. I’m reminded to not take the “easy” way out. To not become impatient or discontent with the time it takes. To not complain about the cost because I know that it WILL be worth it. To follow the Lord’s lead to achieve the kind of growth rooted deeply in the Gospel and that best glorifies and pleases the Owner and Father and Lover of the Church.

As I watch the rain fall this morning, I’m reminded that I can work and toil and serve, but ultimately the grass’s growth is NOT up to me. On my own I CANNOT make it grow.

And I pray. Pray that the Lord of the harvest will do the work, asking Him to give us the grace to be faithful, and trusting His hand and His plan for growth both for my yard and for His Church.

“He covers the sky with clouds; He supplies the earth with rain and makes grass grow on the hills.”

– Psalm 147:8

“So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, Who makes things grow.”

– 1 Corinthians 3:7

Wild Kratts and The End of the Episode

When Isaiah was about Toby’s age he LOVED the show “Wild Kratts”.  And by “love”, I mean he wanted us to call him “Chris Kratt” and would only wear the color green (Because that’s what color Chris wore. Duh.).  He soaked up every bit of animal information and quickly built up his repertoire of strange animal facts.

We haven’t spent much time with the Kratt brothers over the past few years, but Isaiah wanted to introduce his little brother to their animal adventures and “creature power” rescues.  When I put an episode on the other day, we fully anticipating Toby being enthralled by it, seeing as he not only loves animals, but also typically throws himself into anything that his big brother enjoys.

I didn’t take into account, however, that Toby is reaching the stage when he seems much more aware of good and evil, dark and light, heroes and villains, “good guys and bad guys”.  He’s gotten a little more sensitive to things that may be scary or upsetting.  Still, I was surprised when he came running into the kitchen mid-episode, declaring that he did NOT like “Wild Kratts” and would NOT watch it anymore.

You see, most episodes introduce some kind of villain that poses a threat to the animals who, without an outside intervention, face the danger of harm, endangerment, or the sentence of extinction.  Even the Kratt brothers, who come to the animal’s rescue, often have to put their own lives on the line to save them.  And when the seemingly silly villain of this particular episode came onto the television screen, Toby.was.DONE.

“I don’t like that bad guy!  I don’t like Wild Kratts – it’s SCARY!”

I’ve seen enough Kratt brother adventures to know that they ALWAYS save the day, the animals are ALWAYS rescued, and the bad guy NEVER wins.  I didn’t want my boy to be afraid.

“Buddy, it’s okay.  I’ve already seen this one and I promise the bad guy never wins!  You don’t have to be afraid.”

And as I heard the words come out of my mouth, I realized how easy they are to say, but how much more difficult they are to live.

In this broken world, there is MUCH we could fear.  And with a heavy heart, I admit that it feels very much like the bad guys are winning.  Even if I run away from my T.V. or computer screen, I can still see it…

Dirty politicians are winning.

School shootings are winning.

Terrorist attacks are winning.

Divorce is winning.

Cancer is winning.

Scandal and slander and segregation are winning.

Sin and all of it’s ugly consequences are winning.

And my heart and mind can easily and quickly be paralyzed by fear.

But as I’ve reflected on my knee-jerk reaction to my (almost) 4 year old’s fear of “Wild Kratts”, I heard my Father whispering those same words to my heart.

My child, I promise it really will be okay.  I know it doesn’t look like it right now, but I’ve already told you the end of the story and the bad guy doesn’t win.  I’ve provided your rescue.  There’s nothing left to fear. 

Isn’t this, after all, the hope and celebration of Easter?

We listened to the lies of the Serpent that questioned God’s love for us and sin won our hearts.

We severed our relationship with God and the curse of sin and death won our sentence.

So, God became man to rescue us…and yet, in His sovereignty, He was tempted and tortured and treated like a criminal.

On Friday, death and that Serpent appeared to have won the battle.

But, Hallelujah! Sunday’s resurrection secured the victory of the war!

And this Easter morning triumph won not only my redemption and freedom and the forgiveness of my sins.

By grace, through faith, it also restored my relationship with the God of the Universe…

“If our greatest treasure – communion with the Living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid?” – Tim Keller

It secured my identity as a child of the Conquering King…

“Hell dances when God’s people are afraid. So I can either add to their revery and stew in my fears down here, or I can bring them to the cross, where God is not spurning them, but hearing them and calming them…God is a loving Father, and not my adversary.” – Molly Piper

“For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!'” – Romans 8:15

It provided me with a mediator, a perfect intercessor, to go to the Father on my behalf…

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear a million enemies. Yet distance makes no difference. He IS praying for me.” – Robert Murray M-Cheyne

It promised me a future and an inheritance and gave me a glimpse of the end of the story – the one where the bad guy never wins, my eternity is fixed, and there is nothing left to fear…

“Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back,

but HE WAS DEFEATED,

and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

And I heard a loud voice in heaven, saying, ‘NOW the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers HAS BEEN THROWN DOWN, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him BY THE BLOOD OF THE LAMB and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. Therefore, REJOICE, O heavens and you who dwell in them!'”

– Revelation 12:7-12

Today we still live in a broken and sinful world.  Thus, today may be hard.  Today may be scary.

But, take heart!  The Lamb has overcome!

And we know how this episode ends.

“I have told you these things, so that IN ME you may have peace. In this world you WILL have trouble. But take heart! I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” 

– Jesus (John 16:33)

“The head that once was crowned with thorns
Is crowned with glory now
The Savior knelt to wash our feet
Now at his feet we bow

The One who wore our sin and shame
Now robed in majesty
The radiance of perfect love
Now shines for all to see

The fear that held us now gives way
To Him who is our peace
His final breath upon the cross
Is now alive in me

The tomb where soldiers watched in vain
Was borrowed for three days
His body there would not remain
Our God has robbed the grave

Your name, Your name
Is victory
All praise
Will rise
To Christ our king

By Your spirit I will rise
From the ashes of defeat
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me
In Your name I come alive
To declare your victory
The resurrected king
Is resurrecting me…”

– “Resurrecting Me” (Elevation Worship)

Little Mouths, BIG Praise

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

A few days ago these were the words that kept running through my head.  It’s not a new battle.  I’ve heard these lies before.

My husband and I have been called to minister and serve at a little church plant.  Every once in a while I have a little time to write a little something on a little blog that has a VERY little following.  I’m at stay-at-home mom that spends her days with little people, feeding little mouths and wiping little butts and getting little thanks or recognition or paycheck (okay, no paycheck).

There are days in my flesh and pride and temporal perspective when I long for more.  You know, for more of the BIG things.  Immediate results without the blood, sweat, tears, and waiting.  Recognition and respect.  Significance and success.  I want to know that what I’m doing matters.  That God is pleased.  In a sense, I found myself crying out for a bigger and more significant “mouth” for Him.  I wanted to be like a blazingly bright, loud, and flashy billboard that screamed the glory of God’s name…but, unfortunately, that at least had my name in some kind of bold font, too…you know, toward the bottom.

And the enemy saw my guard down and pounced with his lies.

You’re not good enough.

You should be more like them.

You are defined by what others’ say about you.  

You need to defend yourself, prove yourself, promote yourself. 

What you’re doing doesn’t really matter.

Like a broken record, the melody of these accusations played over and over again and a familiar fear of failure offered it’s melancholy harmonies.

Until Psalm 8 interjected a screeching halt to the repetitious, condemning, and self-centered song.

“Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is YOUR name in all the earth!

You have set YOUR glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    YOU have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.”

Through the praise of children and infants.

The Hebrew used here is actually better translated as “young children (toddlers) and nursing babies”.  Little mouths.  Insignificant mouths.  Weak mouths.  

These are the mouths that give praise to His glory?  The mouths through which He establishes a stronghold against His enemies?  Little mouths that don’t talk well or can’t talk at all?!

Small.

Insignificant.

Unsuccessful.

Our 18 month old, Jack, isn’t talking much yet.  Compared to his big brothers, who seemed to come out of the womb speaking full sentences, our littlest boy has only a handful of regularly used words.  He understands what we’re saying and can follow our directions, but communicates with gestures and cries, grunts and squeals, babbles and pointed fingers, and a very limited vocabulary.  If he’s upset or has been wronged by his big brothers, he’s fairly helpless to express or defend himself.  And it’s hard to be self-promoting when you can’t even say your own name.

But yet this is the picture David chose to use in Psalm 8.  It is through these seemingly insignificant, weak mouths that God chooses to reveal His majesty.  Through which he silences the enemy.

Our little Jack sings with joy and dances with abandon.  He squeals with delight and laughs without a hint of worry.  He cries out to the ones who know him and will meet his needs.  He rests and follows and trusts.  And his little being makes a BIG deal of his mom and dad whom he adores.

This is what I am called to.  Not to seek the big, but to follow and be obedient in the little.  Not to worry about the next step, but confidently trust the One Who holds me.  Not to defend or vindicate myself, but to trust the One Who sees and hears and judges.  Not to be confident and qualified and in control, but to be aware of my weakness and inadequacies and unworthiness.  Not to toil and strive after other things to define my value or success or acceptance, but to set my eyes on the One who gave His life to graciously provide all of those things to me in Him.  Not to seek recognition or praise, but to gratefully and joyfully and adoringly give it to the only One with the name worthy of it.

God is most LOUDLY glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him alone.

“Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. IT IS BECAUSE OF HIM that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become FOR US wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.'”

1 Corinthians 1:26-31

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Groundhog Day in December

Sometimes my life seems like the movie “Groundhog Day”.

Every morning can feel like a repeat of the day before.  The same messes to clean up.  The same squabbles to referee.  The same meals to make and bums to wipe.  The same homework to help with.  The same routines.  The same struggles.  The same books.  The same conversations.

Except unlike “Groundhog Day”, this “sameness” thing rarely seems to work to my advantage.  I seldom feel like I’m on top of all the things or like I’ve got everything under control and my to-do list is hardly ever completed.

This morning I felt overwhelmed.

It’s December 4th (Or is it the 5th? I’ve had to check the calendar 3 times already today) and there are still pumpkins on our front steps.  Christmas decorating has started but there are still tubs of lights and wreaths and ornaments in the living room and the lights just burnt out on the garland and we have yet to get a tree.  I seem to start our family Advent devotions  at least one day late every. single. year.  And yesterday I gave my kids 2 pieces of candy from their Advent calendar because I forgot what day it was.

Our refrigerator and and fruit basket have yet to be refilled from last week. There are emails to respond to, phone calls to make, appointments to schedule, meals to prepare, gifts to buy, parties to plan, clothes to wash, and bathrooms to clean.  We’ve been battling our first colds of the season and my boys have been snotty and whiny and hold-on-to-my-leg-while-I-make-your-eggs clingy.

I felt myself questioning if I’d EVER totally get my act together.  If I’d EVER have it all figured out.  If I’d EVER stop my clamoring and finally reach great mom, great wife, great-fill-in-the-blank-of-whatever-I’m-doing status.

But as I took my boys for a walk this morning (I didn’t feel like running, but goodness knows we needed some sunshine and this Mama needed some coffee), God brought verses I had read just a few hours before back to mind…

You see, another way my life is unlike “Groundhog Day” is that I don’t need an alarm clock to start my “repeat” day.  Every morning, like clockwork, my 2 oldest boys bound (literally, they sound like elephants) out their door and into my room at 7:01 (or maybe 7:13 or 7:21 if they “sleep in”).  And because I want the first words out of my mouth and into their ears each morning to be better than my own, my little guys climb with me into the bed their daddy had already left for work and we read a Psalm together.  This morning these are the words we read and prayed…

“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  But I have calmed and quieted myself; I am like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child I am content.  Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.”

Psalm 131

My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty…I remember it’s not about me and what I do.

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me…I remember I won’t have it all figured out and some things will always be beyond me.

BUT…in spite of this, despite of this, in.the.midst.of.this…

Like a weaned child I am contentI remember I can stop my clamoring and stressing and striving and wanting and be satisfied in His presence.

Put your hope in the Lord…I remember to put my trust, my expectation, my satisfaction in Who His and what He has done.

You see, last year at this time, sitting in the recliner and holding Baby Jack only meant one thing to him – DINNER.  He would clamor and squirm and fuss and reach and root.  But now that he is weaned he is content to and wants to simply be with me.  To feel my closeness, my presence, and my love.  Now my boys want to crawl into my lap, not because of what I’ll give them there..but simply because I am there.

And the great I AM is here.

Emmanuel – God is with us.

Here I can breathe.  I can quit my stressing and striving.  I don’t need all of the answers or a haughty and temporal feeling of accomplishment and “greatness”.

In Jeremiah 45:5, God tells his people…

“And do you seek great things for yourself?  Seek them not

But I WILL GIVE YOU YOUR LIFE…”

Stop seeking greatness.  Stop seeking freedom from difficulty.  Seek Me instead.  I will give you life.  I AM the life.  And I am here.

Isn’t this the beauty of Christmas?  We couldn’t get to Him.  We couldn’t save ourselves.  We had no hope.  But into our mess, HE CAME.

Into our mundane and our mess and our monotony.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our fears and questions and anxiety.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our striving and performing and stressing.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our suffering and pain and sickness.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our dissatisfaction and disappointment and disengagement.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our weaknesses and failures and inadequacies.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Into our darkness and sin and enmity.  Emmanuel – God is with us.

Not to throw us a temporary hunger fix.

Not to make us great.

Not to give us a pep talk and tell us that we’re alright.

But to live a perfect life we couldn’t live and die a death He didn’t deserve. To not just enter into our sin, but actually become our sin (2 Corinthians 5:21) for us, that in by putting our hope and trust in His work on the cross and His victory over the grave, we might receive His righteousness.

To give you your life…

To be restored back into His presence.  Like, from the very beginning, we were always meant to be.

In His presence.

So now let us want Him more than greatness.  More than pretty houses and checked off to-do lists.  More than freedom from suffering or temporal success and fleeting pleasure.

Finding our joy and fulfillment and delight not in the gifts, but in the Giver.

Simply being in His presence.

“You make known to me the path of life; IN YOUR PRESENCE there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

Psalm 16:11

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Hello, My name is I AM.

Today my 7 year old started 2nd grade.  Labor Day has passed.  Summer vacation is over and a new school year has begun.

Not unlike his sentimental Mama, this did not sit well with my little boy last night.  He was sad that summer was ending.  And he was nervous for the new school year that was just hours away from beginning.  As we ate dinner and got ready for bed, nervous tears filled his eyes.  I held him.  I reassured him.  I spoke Truth to him.  I prayed with him.

Mommy put on a tough front, but her insides were squirming, too.  I didn’t want to be the overly sappy or protective mom and I didn’t think I was…but your insides seem to have a way of exposing the real you.

While cleaning up the kitchen together in an uncomfortable silence after the kids were in bed, my rock of a husband grabbed my hand and said, “I think the older he gets the harder it is to release him.”

And the tears boiling up in my insides started to make their way to the outside.

He was right.  As our boy’s growing body grows more and more cells, it’s tempting for my heart and mind to grow more and more fears and concerns.  And the fuller my hands, the harder it sometimes is to loosen my grip.

As Adam and I prayed together that night, my grip tightening fears came to the surface.  My mind was suddenly filled with the “What ifs”…

What if he doesn’t know what to do or where to go or who to talk to?

What if he gets overwhelmed and scared?

What if he gets left out and alone?

What if he doesn’t like second grade?

What if he doesn’t remember enough from math and he gets frustrated and it’s too hard?  

What if he gets hurt?

What if he hears things he shouldn’t and we have to have conversations we didn’t want to have?

What if his behavior gets worse and we have to discipline more?  

What if this year is really HARD?

But as softly cried into my pillow, the Holy Spirit gently but firmly interrupted my swirling thoughts…

“I know who you are.  I know Who I AM.  And I’m really good at being God.”

Even though I had spent time that evening neatly writing my son’s name all over his school supplies…

Even though I have relished this title of “Mom” to my Isaiah…

Neither of those were the names that were of utmost importance.

He knows who we are.  And He knows Who He is.

I AM. (Exodus 3:14)

The Self-existent and Self-sustaining One.

The Creator and Sustainer of all that exists.

The Immutable and Unchanging One.

The One who has already gone before and with my boy.

The One who promises to use the HARD for our GOOD.

And how quickly I had forgotten the words I had read only a few minutes earlier…

“God is not working to make my journey between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’ as easy as it could possibly be.  God is never caught up short when one of his children is enduring difficulty, as if something strange were happening.  No, walking with Jesus is not the grand vacation, a life free of responsibility and trial.  Walking with Jesus is not like that because our right here, right now life with him is not a destination (as a vacation would be).  He is not Vacation Planner Jesus; he is our sovereign Savior King.  Thus, this present life is meant by God to be a time of preparation for the final glorious destination that will be our eternal home.  So our right-now life is not a paradise.  Right now, God in grace, is working to prepare us through the difficulties of life in this fallen world for what is guaranteed to each and every one of his children.”  – Paul Tripp

I realized that in all of my fears and concerns, what I really was wanting was control, comfort, and ease.  A little Kingdom of ME.  The desires at the moment that were ruling my heart showed that I wasn’t much valuing WHO Jesus is or what He was working to do in the hearts and lives of both myself and my little boy.  After all, I don’t need a Vacation Planner Jesus.  I need a Sovereign Savior King who can certainly carry my precious Isaiah.  I may be able to walk him to school, but HE is the One Who is walking him through life. And I do want so much more for him than a good education and I hand-full of friends.  I want him to KNOW JESUS, whatever it takes.

The ease of summer vacation may be over.  And this school year just might be hard.  But this year is already held in the hands of the great I AM.  And I might need a little reminder of Who He is…

I AM the Bread of Life who nourishes and satisfies your soul (John 6:35).

I AM the Light of the World who brings salvation and causes you to shine like stars in the universe (John 8:12; Philippians 2:15).

I AM the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep in your ultimate protection (John 10:14).

I AM the Resurrection and the Life and even death is defeated by me (John 11:25).

I AM the Way, the Truth, and the Life who gives access to the Father, truth in a world of lies, and life abundantly (John 14:6).

I AM the True Vine in whom you can abide and hide (John 15:1).

And He’s really good at being God.

What calming salve that is to my anxious heart.

Whatever this school year brings – whether it’s ease and laughter or trials and tears – may we be found abiding in who He is, walking with Him, trusting that, as HIS children, He will work EVERYTHING for our GOOD and the GLORY of HIS name…and that NOTHING can separate us from the love of the great I AM.

“None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothingcan get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

Romans 8:37-39 (The MESSAGE)

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Easter Traditions

A lot of the time, traditions get a bad rap.  And I understand why.

When we think of tradition we often think of “old”, outdated, or irrelevant.

We think of ritual and stale and legalism.

We wonder if these traditions have a purpose and if they do, what does it matter to me?

As we approached Easter this year and prayed through how to make it meaningful and purposeful for our kids and a watching, curious world around us, we continued to go back to our Easter traditions.

But I knew that my kids would want to know and need to know why we do what we do.  And as we embark on this journey of church planting and sharing Jesus with a world that doesn’t know Him, I knew that others around us might be wondering the same.

I love that in Deuteronomy, after God tells His people to diligently teach His words to their children and reminds them not to forget Him, He assumes that their children, too, will have questions…

When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the Lord our God has commanded you?’ …(Deut. 6:20)”

Why do you tell us all of this?  Why do we believe what we believe?  Why do we do what we do?  

“…then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh’s slaves in Egypt.  And the Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand.  And the Lord showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and gives us the land that he swore to our fathers.  And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always…(Deut. 6:21-24).”

These questions elicit a response that gives them context for what they say and do and celebrate.  They do it because they have been rescued.

They were slaves under the authority of another.  They were in the wrong land.

God brought them out.

He protected and and punished and prevailed for them in unbelievable ways.

He provided a way out through the blood of a lamb.

He brought them out so He could bring them in.

He kept his promises and promised their good.

And why did He do it?

“For you are a people holy to the Lord your God.  The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.  It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt.  Know that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who keeps his covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…(Deut. 7:6-9).”

He didn’t do it because they were anything special or because they earned it.  He did it simply because He loved them.  Because he chose to love them.  Because He keeps His promises and anything less would be contrary to His character.  And because rescue was just a glimpse of a greater and more complete rescue that was coming.

And as I prepared for Easter and continued to teach my children why we celebrate, I want and should encourage my children to ask questions…

What is the meaning of this?  Why do we do what we do?

And what will say then?

I love how beautifully Ephesians 2 aligns with the Israelites rescue in Deuteronomy 7 and tells of our rescue…

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked…(vs.1)”

You were slaves.  Slaves to sin.  Carrying the curse of death.

“…remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (vs.12).”

You were on the wrong side.  You were in the wrong land.  You were without hope.

“…following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience – among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind (vs. 2-3).”

You were under another prince’s authority.  You were on the side of the enemy.  You were in the wrong family.  You were living the wrong way and in the wrong land.

BUT NOW in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ (vs. 13)…and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.  And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.  For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So now you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God…(vs. 16-19).”

He provided a way out through the blood of Christ.

He brought us out to bring us near.

He redeemed and reconciled and restored us into the right side and the right family in the right land.

And why did He do it?

“…being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been savedthrough faith.  And this is not of your own doing, it is the gift of God (vs. 4-5, 8).”

He did it because simply because He loves us.  Because He chose to be merciful.  Not because we deserved it or somehow earned it.  Because He kept His promises to rescue us!

What a promise!  What a story!  I so badly desire that all of our Easter traditions (and everything we do throughout the rest of the year) reflect and enhance the beauty of the gospel.  I want to dazzle my kids with the great love with which Christ loved them!

So on the Thursday before Easter, we once again did a Passover/Maudy Thursday Meal as a family.

It was Passover, the time when God's people remembered how God had rescued them from being slaves in Egypt. Every year they killed a lamb and ate it.  'The lamb died instead of us!' they would say.

It was Passover, the time when God’s people remembered how God had rescued them from being slaves in Egypt. Every year they killed a lamb and ate it. ‘The lamb died instead of us!’ they would say.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

As I prepared the lamb earlier that day, cutting the flesh and adding the spices, my stomach turned and tears filled my eyes as I felt the weight of my sin and the price that was paid for my freedom.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”
– Isaiah 53:5

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Like Jesus washed the feet of his disciples that night during The Last Supper, I watched my little boys wash each other’s feet.

“Jesus knew that what people needed most was to be clean on the inside. All the dirt on their feet was nothing compared to the sin inside their hearts.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

“One by one, Jesus washed everyone’s feet. ‘I am doing this because I love you,’ Jesus explained. ‘Do this for each other.'”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

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We ate the bitter herbs and salt water and remembered Israel’s tears during their bondage in Egypt and remembered the bondage of our sin.

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We broke the bread and drank the cup and remembered Jesus’ sacrifice for our rescue.

“Then Jesus picked up some bread and broke it. He gave it to his friends…’My body is like this bread. It will break,’ Jesus told them.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

“He picked up a cup of wine and thanked God for it. He poured it out and shared it. ..’This cup of wine is like my blood. It will pour out. But this is how God will rescue the whole world. My life will break and God’s broken world will mend. My heart will tear apart – and your hearts will heal. Just as the Passover lamb died, so now I will die instead of you.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

“My blood will wash away all of your sins. And you’ll be clean on the inside – in your hearts. So whenever you eat and drink, remembered, I’ve rescued you!”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

On Good Friday Adam took the boys for a walk to find rocks to put into their Easter baskets.  It was a dreary day.  A reminder of the darkness of that day so many years ago.

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They talked about how sin had made their hearts like stone and only God could make them into hearts of flesh.

“And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.” – Ezekiel 11:19

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As they picked up their stones, Adam drew their attention to the building and construction behind them.  The building was empty.  It was broken.  It was a mess.  Just like our hearts before we put our faith in and believe on Jesus.

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But soon, the building would be made new.  It would become a apartments – places for people to dwell.  Jesus came to make our hearts new.  To make our hearts the place where He dwells.

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Their baskets were heavy now – filled with a weight that they couldn’t carry on their own – that they needed their father to carry for them.

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They talked about the weight of our sin.  About how Jesus took the full weight of our sin and sickness and sorrow, the full weight of God’s wrath upon Himself on the cross.

When they got home, we talked about sin.  Their own sin.  And wrote some of those sins on the rocks.

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“God was going to pour into Jesus’ heart all the sadness and brokenness in people’s hearts. He was going to pour into Jesus’ body all the sickness in people’s bodies. God was going to have to blame his son for everything that had gone wrong. It would crush Jesus. But there was something else, something even more horrible. When people ran away from God, they lost God – it was what happened when they ran away. Not being close to God was like a punishment. Jesus was going to take that punishment. Jesus knew what that meant. He was going to lose his Father – and that, Jesus knew, would break his heart in two. Violent sobs shook Jesus’ whole body. Then Jesus was quiet. Like a lamb. ‘I trust you, Papa, ‘ he said. ‘Whatever you say, I will do.'” – Jesus Storybook Bible

Then we read about that dark Friday, when God’s rescue plan became reality…

The full force of God's fierce anger at sin was coming down.  On his own Son.  Instead of his people.  It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin.

The full force of God’s fierce anger at sin was coming down. On his own Son. Instead of his people. It was the only way God could destroy sin, and not destroy his children whose hearts were filled with sin.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

“Then Jesus shouted in a loud voice, ‘It is finished!’ And it was. He had done it. Jesus had rescued the whole world.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

We covered their Easter baskets with a red cloth, symbolizing Jesus blood.  DSC_0172-001 DSC_0174-001

We blew out the candle symbolizing the death of the Light of the World.

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“‘Father!’ Jesus cried. ‘I give you my life.’ And with a great sigh he let himself die. ” – Jesus Storybook Bible

“How could Jesus die? What had gone wrong? What did it mean? Jesus’ friends didn’t know anything anymore. Except they did know their hearts were breaking.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

On Saturday we made resurrection rolls together.

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“They laid Jesus in a new tomb carved out of rock…They hauled a huge stone in front of the door to the tomb. So that no one could get in. Or out.”
– Jesus Storybook Bible

DSC_0222-001 Toby was pretty impressed this year when the marshmallow disappeared. 🙂

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On Easter Sunday morning, the boys came downstairs to find the candle lit again and the red cloth replaced with a white one.

“…though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow…”

– Isaiah 1:18

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We read about God’s wonderful surprise that Easter morning…

“Just before sunrise, on the third day, God sent an earthquake – and an angel from heaven…The angel rolled the huge stone away, sat on top of it, and waited. At the first glimmer of dawn, Mary Magdalene and other women headed to the tomb to wash Jesus’ body…and immediately noticed something odd – it was wide open. They peered through the opening into the dark tomb. But wait. Jesus’ body was gone! And something else: a shining man was there, with clothes made from lightning. ‘Don’t be scared,’ the angel said…Jesus isn’t dead anymore! He’s alive again!’
– Jesus Storybook Bible

And we took off the cloth to reveal the rocks were taken away and gifts of grace were left in their place.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, we’ve been given LIFE.

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After celebrating with our church family that Resurrection Sunday, we drove to the shore for the afternoon.  Watching the waves and feeling the sun on our faces felt like a little piece of heaven.

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These traditions have become so very rich for us…and make us yearn for eternity.

Oh, how I long for our faith to become sight! When we can be with the One who paid the ultimate price just to be with us.  What a day that will be.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace…”

– Ephesians 1:3-7

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How Many Times?!

I used to think I was pretty good at loving people.

Merriam-Webster defines love as “a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person; a warm attachment, enthusiasm or devotion“.

That sounds nice and easy, doesn’t it?  And I considered myself thoughtful, encouraging, affectionate, and generally delightful to be around.

But then I had friendships and family relationships that were sometimes messy, complicated, and less than picture-perfect.

Then I gave my heart to, married, and moved in with another fellow sinner who thinks differently than me, communicates differently than me, and leaves his dirty socks all over the house.

Then I wore this hat called “Pastor’s Wife” and learned that church people aren’t perfect, that ministry (and people) are difficult, that hurts are hard to forgive, and that criticism is hard to shake off.

Then I had 3 babies that wrecked my body, my agenda, and my sleep patterns.  Babies that depended on me for absolutely everything and couldn’t say “thank you” in return.

Then 2 of those babies turned into toddlers that threw tantrums and threw off my schedule and threw up on my lap.  Toddlers that required repeated discipline, repeated trips to the bathroom, and repeatedly listened to the same books, same videos, and same songs.

Then 1 of those toddlers turned into a 1st grader that asks too many questions, voices too many complaints, pushes too many boundaries, and has way too much energy.

What of that that love now?

That feeling?  Strong?  Constant?  Warm?  Enthusiastic?  

Oh.  Now that sounds exhausting.

How many times will love require me to change the same poopy diapers, answer the same questions, break up the same sibling squabbles, calmly discipline the same disobedience, guard my tongue and my tone during the same conversations, show grace in the midst of the same misunderstandings, and forgive the same hurtful offenses?

How many times?!

Apparently Peter was wondering the same thing when he asked…

“Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him?  As many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21)

I hear myself in his question.  “God, I get that I’m supposed to love and forgive…I’m even pretty generous and decent at it…but how many times?  I mean, how many times before it’s acceptable and fully justifiable for me to loose my temper, throw my fit, or demand my way?”

“Jesus said to him, ‘I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (Matthew 18:22)

In other words, you keep loving, keep serving, keep forgiving, without keeping count.

The thing I’m realizing more and more is that the closer I get to the Light, the harder this love thing gets.  My sin, weaknesses, and selfishness get more exposed and uncovered.  I begin to see my intense lack of love in the little things I do, the careless words I say, and the attitudes that distract my heart.  But God’s grace exposes these things not to shame or pour guilt on me, but rather to deliver me from myself.  The mirror of God’s Word shatters that simple Webster definition and replaces it with a shorter but far more complicated one…

“God is love” (1 John 4:8).

So what is love?

God is.  Period.

Now love is only defined by the very nature of God – everything He is and what He does flowing from the love He perfectly possesses.

So if I want to really know how to love or if I ever really want to do it well, I’ve got to look at the One who created it and also commands it.

The One Who is merciful and kind even to the ungrateful and the evil (Luke 6:35).

The One Who forgives our iniquities, redeems our lives, shows mercy, satisfies us with good, works righteousness and justice for the oppressed, shows compassion and does not deal with us as our sins deserve, removes our transgressions as far as the east is from the west, forgets our confessed sin and yet remembers our frame and knows that we are dust (Psalm 103).

The One Who knows a little bit about having to be repetitive…

“You gave them bread from heaven for their hunger and brought water for them out of the rock for their thirst…

But they and our fathers acted presumptuously and stiffened their neck and did not obey your commandments.  They refused to obey and were not mindful of the wonders you performed among them…

BUT You are a God ready to forgive, gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and did not forsake them.

EVEN WHEN they made for themselves a golden calf…and had committed great blasphemes, You in your great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness…

You gave Your good spirit to instruct them and did not withhold your manna from their mouth and gave them water for their thirst…You sustained them in the wilderness, and they lacked nothing. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell…

So they ate and were filled and became fat and delighted themselves in Your great goodness.

NEVERTHELESS, they were disobedient and rebelled against You and case Your law behind their back…

THEREFORE You gave them into the hand of their enemies…and in the time of their suffering they cried out to You…

AND YOU HEARD them from heaven, and according to Your great mercies You gave them saviors who saved them…

BUT after they had rest, they did evil AGAIN before you…

YET when they turned and cried to You, You heard from heaven, and many times you delivered them according to Your mercies.  And You warned them in order to turn them back to Your law.

YET they acted presumptuously and did not obey your commandments, but sinned against your rules…and would not obey.

MANY YEARS your bore with them and warned them…

YET they did not give ear…

NEVERTHELESS, in your great mercies you did not make an end of them or forsake them, for You are a gracious and merciful God…”

– from Nehemiah 9

Phew!  Those Israelites sound exhausting.  Waaaaaay more difficult than my delightful, easy to love self, right?

Ugh.  I wish.  But my heart is full of the same disobedience, the same idolatry, and the same forgetfulness.  Thankfully, God doesn’t love me based on how I am or what I do, but based on the value He has put on me.

The Easton Bible Dictionary defines mercy as “compassion for the miserable“.  He saw my miserable state and instead of turning away, He dove right in…

“BUT God shows His LOVE for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

– Romans 5:8

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (satisfying the wrath of God by the offering of the atoning sacrifice of Christ) for our sins.”

– 1 John 4:10

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.”

– John 15:13

How could I ever get over that love?!

“Therefore I tell you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven—for she loved much. But he who is forgiven little, loves little.”

– Luke 7:47

Here, Jesus isn’t saying the the woman was forgiven because of her great love, but she showed great love because she had been forgiven.  

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”

– 2 Corinthians 5:14-15

So as hard as it is to love (especially when people are miserable).  As hard as it is to repeatedly forgive.  As hard as it is to be patient and kind and humble…

Dwelling on, saturating myself in, and not allowing myself to get over Christ’s great love and the Father’s unending forgiveness for me will be what compels me to do the same for others.

Seventy seven times.  To infinity and beyond.

This Valentine’s Day may we swim deeply in the waters of His grace, expanding our definition of love, and striving (albeit imperfectly) to live it out…until the day that love is perfected in us.

“Love is patient and kind;

love does not envy or boast;

it is not arrogant or rude.  

It does not insist on its own way;

it is not irritable or resentful;

it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth.  

Love BEARS ALL things,  BELIEVES ALL things, HOPES ALL things, ENDURES ALL things…

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.  Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.  So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

– 1 Corinthians 13

My little valentines

My little valentines

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Gracious
Slow to anger
Abounding in love
Good to all
All who call upon You
You will rescue and forgive
This is why I live

You lived the life I could never live
You died the death, oh, that I deserve
You rose to life and now You live
That’s how You forgive

The measure of Your love
That You came and died for us
Let us not forget
That’s how You forgive…

– Shane and Shane

The INCREDIBLE Name Game

A few weekends ago, while Adam was away at a youth retreat, I decided to have a movie night at home with my boys.  Isaiah had never seen “The Incredibles” so we borrowed it from a friend, popped our popcorn, drank our hot chocolate, and my little men and I watched our movie while snuggled under blankets on the couch.

Okay, Isaiah and I watched it.  Toby gave up on the movie as soon as the popcorn was gone and spent the rest of the time climbing on and off the couch, rolling around on the floor, emptying the toy box, and dancing for his shadow on the wall.

Isaiah, on the other hand,  LOVED it.  The action.  The danger.  The excitement.  The rescue.  He literally bounced up and down for the last 30 minutes of the movie.

That weekend being a combination of Daddy being away, Mommy being an exhausted pregnant lady, and the presence of another polar vortex, Isaiah watched “The Incredibles” 3 times in 3 days.  Since then my boy has been obsessed with these super heroes.

We’ve looked at their pictures, made our own costumes, and drawn the characters on lunch box napkins.  But we’ve also talked a lot about our Ultimate Super Hero.  Our perfect, good, and final Rescuer.  The One God graciously gave to pay the penalty for our sin and through Whom we have received adoption as sons (Galatians 1:4).

Our Isaiah’s name literally means “God is our salvation” or, according to the Jesus Story Book Bible “God to the rescue!

incredibles

incredibles 2

incredibles 3

After our three day Incredibles marathon, we took Isaiah along for our ultrasound for Johnson baby #4.  It didn’t take long to find out that God was blessing us with another sweet baby BOY!  We were mesmerized by his beautiful heart beat, watched him suck on his little fingers, and we counted his tiny toes.

And in my head began the name game for this next little miracle…

We’ve always liked our children’s names to have meaning, significance to what God had been teaching us, and character traits that we could pray for our boys.  We hadn’t settled on a name for this 3rd boy yet and asked for Isaiah’s thoughts on our way home…

“I want to name him Jack-Jack like on The Incredibles!”

We laughed and went back to our thoughts.  There really wasn’t anything that stood out to us yet.

We’ve felt like the past few years have been a new discovery of what grace really looks like and how God has applied it to our lives.  We’ve been striving to breathe deeply of God’s grace, drinking in it’s richness.  We’ve even asked you all to pray, from the beginning of this pregnancy, that we would see this pregnancy as grace, regardless of it’s outcome.

But that didn’t seem to help us out in our name game.  I told Adam in the car that day that I wished there was a boy name that meant “grace”…

Grace (charis)refers to God freely extending Himself, His favor, kindness, and grace reaching (inclining) to people because He is disposed to bless (be near) them.

That would be an easy winner.  

I shrugged and prayed that we’d find something else.

The next afternoon, I spent Toby’s nap time searching my Bible and going through lists of Bible names.  There were some that I liked, but nothing felt “right”.

That night, after the boys went to bed, Adam and I planted ourselves on the couch to read and talk.  Eventually I pulled out the laptop to continue our name search.  Still, between the two of us, we came up empty.

We were having fun researching our family and friends’ names when I decided to look up Isaiah’s Incredibles “Jack-Jack” suggestion.

I stopped in my tracks.

“Um, Adam?  Guess what ‘Jack’ means…it means “God is gracious“.  

God is gracious – full of GRACE.

Jack.  

It wasn’t at all what we expected or were looking for, but it sure seemed perfect for us.  (Aside from the fact that Jack Johnson was already a popular folk-rock singer…but some of his songs had been our go-to to soothe sleepy, grumpy boys on long road trips, so sharing a name with him wouldn’t be so bad, right? ;-))

Jack also happens to be the name of one of our best friends.  A friend that knows, loves, and understands my husband better than almost any other.  A friend that drove the whole way from Chicago to be with us after our baby died.  A friend that makes us laugh and challenges us to think and makes us want to love both Jesus and others more deeply.  A friend that is striving to figure out what it looks like to daily live out the Gospel.  All qualities of which we would love to pray for our boy.

It seemed a fitting addition for this trio of boys that we pray live their lives to point others to a realization of Who our God is…

Isaiah: God is our salvation

Tobias: God is good

Jack: God is gracious  

As we kept talking about names and thought back over the past year, another defining moment for us came from an older mentor of Adam’s from our church.  Adam had been meeting with him for accountability and counsel during a particularly difficult season of ministry.  I had watched Adam undergo some intense criticism from others, so this man’s counsel, sharpening, and affirmation of my husband blessed my heart deeply.  One day I emailed him to thank him for intentionally pouring into my Adam’s life and this is what he included in his response…

“The scripture that came to my mind as Adam and I talked, was the one where Jesus was calling his disciples and when He saw Nathanael coming He said  ‘here comes a man who is without guile.’  Adam is such a man.”

A man who is without deceit.

I’ve studied the passage that Adam’s mentor was referring to and have begun to realize the depth of his insight.  John 1 talks about Jesus calling his disciples.  Phillip comes to Nathanael and tells him about this Jesus he had just met.  Nathanael’s reply was “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”  When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, the Rescuer’s response was…

Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”  Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”  Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

– John 1:47-49

Matthew Henry’s Commentary says this…

In Nathanael there was no guile. His profession was not hypocritical. He was not a dissembler, nor dishonest; he was a sound character, a really upright, godly man. Christ knows what men are indeed. Does He know us? Let us desire to know him. Let us seek and pray to be those in whom is no guile; truly Christians, approved of Christ himself. Some things weak, imperfect, and sinful, are found in all, but hypocrisy belongs not to a believer’s character. Jesus witnessed what passed when Nathanael was under the fig-tree. Probably he was then in fervent prayer, seeking direction as to the Hope and Consolation of Israel, where no human eye observed him. This showed him that our Lord knew the secrets of his heart.

Though Adam is a sinner, makes mistakes, has weaknesses, and can be misunderstood, a man had watched him and taken the time to know his heart.  And this man found Adam to be a godly man of integrity.  And, oh, how much greater does God know us?!

“..For He knows the secrets of the heart.”  (Psalm 44:21)

We want to pray that the little man being formed in my womb becomes a man who has an integrity-filled heart.  A man in whom there is no deceit.

So, that evening we also looked up the meaning for the name “Nathanael”…

Nathanael: “Gift of God; God has given“.

Not only has God given us, out of His grace and goodness, the indescribable gift of salvation, but He’s also chosen to entrust these two unworthy, imperfect parents with the beautiful gift of another son.

This boy in my womb, a gift of God.  Unmerited.  Unearned.  Freely given out of our Father’s extravagant love.

Jack Nathanael Johnson

God’s gracious gift.

Would you continue to pray for Jack as God knits him together in my womb?  Also praying for his parents (and brothers) as we wait to meet him?  That we would continue to be satisfied in the good and gracious God of our salvation.

Thank you, dear friends!

“Gracious is the Lord, and righteous; our God is merciful.”

– Psalm 116:5

“In God we have boasted continually, and we will give thanks to Your name forever.”

– Psalm 44:8

So I’m breathing in Your grace, and breathing out Your praise…

– Matt Redman (Your Grace Finds Me)

Thanks for the suggestion, Isaiah! 😉

DSC_0166 its a boy 2 its a boy