Modern-Day Heroes

It’s hard to move 19 months after you moved to a place. It’s even harder when that place is where you made your first home as a married couple, walked through your first pregnancy, and began the journey of parenthood – all supported and surrounded by loving people, who loved you when they barely knew you and didn’t relent in their loving when you were getting ready to leave.
It’s also hard to leave the first friends your baby had – the one that looks like her polar opposite with the ‘fro and chocolate skin, the one who handed down head bands and tries to play with her during church, the one people asked if they were twins – the blue-eyed fair-skinned blonde fall-babies of GBC.
As I think about leaving behind yet another place and another set of friends, I’m reminded yet again of what Eleven said in Doctor Who:
“We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.”
We may be leaving our home here, but we won’t ever forget the people we love here and everywhere. It’s hard to leave, but it’s easier when you remember that leaving doesn’t mean forgetting and starting life in a new place and enjoying it doesn’t negate how wonderful where you were before was.

As I look back on the last year and a half and the people we have had the privilege of knowing here, especially at church, I have thought a lot about the people who have taught me so much by their lives, from when I was a child through to today.
I keep thinking of a stanza from the Getty’s “O Church Arise” –
“As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.”

Some of those people I’m not in contact with much any more and we’ve grown apart. Others I have sporadic contact with but it’s the kind of friendship that we can just pick up where we left off. Most of the ones I write about below I don’t know that well but the way they live inspires me.
In “A Sacred Sorrow” Michael Card wrote,
“The deep things of the faith we learn less by didactic principle and more through people of faith and their simple stories. After all, the gospel is not a systematic/theological presentation to which we give assent or not in order to become “believers.” No, it is a story, which we enter into even as it enters into us. We, iint eh most real and literal sense, become characters in this ongoing incarnating of truth and of the gospel. Its story continues to be told in and through us, and along the way we begin to understand.
“I believe the same kind of incarnational process is at work in understanding lament. Eventually, when we are struggling to explain a difficult topic like prayer, faith, or perhaps servanthood, we resort to naming a person who incarnates that ideal. … When we seek to understand discipleship, we think of someone like Deitrich Bonhoeffer, not because of his book on the subject, but because his life and death validated everything he spoke about in his writings.”

I’ve found that the people I want to learn from most don’t have lessons they can teach you very well. The things I respect and love and want to emulate in them aren’t usually things they can tell you. They’re often lessons learned through trial. These people are often ships battered by many storms, yet coming out triumphant through the guidance of Christ.
There’s the woman at church who lost her husband to cancer soon after they remarried after they had divorced, and said “grieve, but don’t be downcast.” (Among so much other wisdom I can’t remember).
And another who shared wisdom on marriage (that also applies to parenting) – “He’s not irritating, I’m irritable.”
And the mother who commented that she had nothing to share about parenting, then said – “Jesus, help me! That’s my advice.”
And the one who stayed with her unbelieving husband, holding on through difficult times, and then God changed his heart.
And Amanda, who died of cancer a year ago, whose hope of heaven and joy in Christ was so beautiful to see as she shared her struggles with the church.
My cousin, Kristen, hanging on to life and finding joy in it through Christ despite long-term health issues.
My mother-in-love, who had to take care of new mothers just hours after giving birth to her fourth, braved homes with rats and lands with many poisonous snakes, and is such a wonderful example of godly marriage and parenting (as are my own mother and Mrs. C!).
Mrs. Y, who opened her home to me and gave of her time to let me come in and learn from her, the way they disciplined their kids with gospel, her joy in motherhood, openness in sharing things with me and letting me open up, choosing marriage and motherhood above a career.
The M’s – Mr. M who takes such care of his wife and has taught their sons to do the same, and in it all their use of their home for hospitality and evangelism. Mrs. M who digs down to the root of the issue and turns it so you can see it in the perspective of Christ, who so openly and clearly loves her husband, who has such a great strength from being steeled -yet also softened – in fire of trials where she had to let go and let the Lord work, and trust Him.

There’s M, who my dad discipled and endured persecution by co-workers for his new-found faith.
And my friends who lived in an Arab country filled with turmoil, staying for years after most others left even though it meant being “stuck” there and knowing every day could be their last. They were faithful during the trials, hard though days are with little water, gas, or electricity. These things they gave up and suffered for the gospel – because Christ and the souls of the lost Brothers are worth those hardships.
And two others who the world calls our enemies but who counted the cost yet had great joy in Him as their satisfaction and certainty in their faith in their Lord, a willingness to give their lives if necessary.
And another whose testimony I heard before I met him, how God saved him from a wild lifestyle. I met him and was immediately amazed at his humility, boldness, and intentionality. His favorite question to ask people is “What are you reading right now?” and he uses that to channel conversations to eternal things. He’s ready to be a martyr. He’s ‘planning’ on putting his life on the line in a place where Christianity is unknown – because he loves Christ and His glory so much more than life.

I think it’s people like this Hebrews has in mind when it says the world was not worthy of them.
What a privilege it has been to know each and every one of these, and many more, and some even greater that I just don’t have the words for because they’ve taught me so much (like our pastor’s wife, and my parents, and the C’s).
I’m excited to see who we meet in all of the places we live in the future and how God uses them in our lives.

“I saw what I saw and I can’t forget it
I heard what I heard and I can’t go back
I know what I know and I can’t deny it

Something on the road
Cut me to the soul

Your pain has changed me
Your dream inspires
Your face, a memory
Your hope, a fire

Your courage asks me
What I’m afraid of
And what I know of love
And what I know of God.”
– I Saw What I Saw – Sara Groves

Current Events, the Church, and our Children

Sometimes I wonder what we’re doing having kids in today’s world. ISIS, Boko Haram, other terrorists. Our country spiraling down. Natural disasters. Violence in malls and movie theaters.
I want to protect any children we have from being affected by any of that, and I want to protect their hearts from being drawn to it, as I know is possible with the depravity of all human hearts. It’s terrifying whenever I think about it.

But in the midst of all the brokenness, it has been amazing to see the opportunities the church has to help and to see the church begin to step up to help.
Our church has been taking part in weekly protests at Planned Parenthood – and some have had opportunities to talk to those seeking PP’s services, and members also engage in weekly evangelism at a large, nearby park. We recently took food to a hurting neighbor next door, and Ezra has been able to talk and pray with him some. WORLD Magazine reports on a lot of the devastation in the world, but they also highlight many ministries that are helping people all over the world.
Caring for the poor, broken, and needy is not the job of the government, but of the church. Not in the sense of church programs, but in the body of Christ stepping up to the plate and working in the world around us.

As I paired these stories – though they’re not stories, they’re real life – with my struggle as we think about bringing more little sinners into this world, I was reminded of a phrase I heard John Piper say in a clip on birth control a few years ago.

“…Because the kids I’m going to raise are going to lift a million burdens.”

You Christian, you’ve got to believe that bringing kids into the world and being brought up in the Lord makes them burden lifters, not burden adders. They are in the world to lift the world, to save the world, to love the world.

You’re not just adding dead weight to the world when you bring a child up in the kingdom. You’re bringing up lovers of people and servants of the world.”

While what our children become is ultimately in God’s hands and not ours, it is my prayer and desire that our children – however many we have – will be children of change. That they will be men and women that will join with the body of Christ in showing His compassion to the sheep without a shepherd and rescuing those headed for destruction. That they alongside us will bring others to Christ and lift their burdens.
The world around us may keep spiraling down, but rather than cause for throwing up our hands in despair, it is opportunity for us to get in the trenches and come alongside both the hurting and the wicked with the hope we have in Christ.

O church, arise and put your armor on;
Hear the call of Christ our captain;
For now the weak can say that they are strong
In the strength that God has given.
With shield of faith and belt of truth
We’ll stand against the devil’s lies;
An army bold whose battle cry is “Love!”
Reaching out to those in darkness.

Our call to war, to love the captive soul,
But to rage against the captor;
And with the sword that makes the wounded whole
We will fight with faith and valor.
When faced with trials on ev’ry side,
We know the outcome is secure,
And Christ will have the prize for which He died—
An inheritance of nations.

Come, see the cross where love and mercy meet,
As the Son of God is stricken;
Then see His foes lie crushed beneath His feet,
For the Conqueror has risen!
And as the stone is rolled away,
And Christ emerges from the grave,
This vict’ry march continues till the day
Ev’ry eye and heart shall see Him.

So Spirit, come, put strength in ev’ry stride,
Give grace for ev’ry hurdle,
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.
As saints of old still line the way,
Retelling triumphs of His grace,
We hear their calls and hunger for the day
When, with Christ, we stand in glory.
– O Church Arise, Getty

Of Recent Events

One of the biggest things I was thinking about in May was the current situation with the Duggars. There was a lot going on in my mind, most of which it really isn’t my place to say and most of which has already been said. I hesitate to say anything about the Duggars, because the blog world and media are swarming with opinions about them already. This in contrast to ISIS – one man sins against five girls fourteen years ago, and the Internet is plastered with it, while meanwhile thousands are doing much worse to many more women, and the media is silent, also ignoring that pop culture embraces celebrities who have done much worse than Josh. Meanwhile, I write notes for this post on a shopping list for copy-cat s’mores frappuchinos. The levity of life here and our obsession with a “done” sin while the unspeakable is happening every minute across the water is something I cannot understand and yet struggle with myself.
It’s in the past, and it seems change and repentance are real, which is why I think it’s mostly irrelevant now (and the world without Christ has no categories for that kind of change). Yes, the Duggars chose to make their lives public, but it’s become just gossip, and people are saying either “don’t judge” or reveling in the scandal and calling the Duggars hypocrites. We shouldn’t judge, not because we’re not supposed to, but because we don’t have the information needed to form opinions on exactly who Josh is now or exactly what was done then. They’re not hypocrites because Josh is not continuing in this sin while speaking against gay marriage (though I do think the church shouldn’t zero in on gay marriage, but treat it the same as other sexual sin). I think the Duggars are handling it well now (especially after watching these interviews), and it’s the only time I’ve ever heard anything gospel from them, but whether that’s their issue or TLC’s I don’t know. It does bring up issues with Gothard and ATI, but I think the biggest – and perhaps only – thing that should be discussed publicly at this point is the proper handling of such a situation. I found this article helpful in that regard.

But I don’t want to say any more. Enough words have been said, while much worse happens while we are silent. Read this if you dare, but be warned (like I wasn’t) that it’s graphic and painful, especially as the mother of a little girl. I suppose I was naive, but I had thought death was the worst they were doing, and martyrdom was what filled my thoughts. But this is oh so much worse, and I pray daily for the women over there, especially the mothers and the young girls, and I hold my girl so much closer. After reading that, I really struggled for the rest of the week with being angry at God. Angry that anyone would do things like that to anyone, but especially to “my” Arabs, the warm, friendly people I grew up around, the relatives of the people whose living room floors I played on every week. And angry that a God who demands holiness could allow such behavior. I don’t understand it, but after a few days of reminders of His sovereignty, goodness, and omniscience being scattered in everything I was reading (particularly the Psalms, especially 60-65), and listening to (yes, even the book on investing!), the anger is much more subdued. Questions, sorrow, petitions for justice and salvation, yes. But He is lifting the anger.

I did just spill words about the Duggars, yes, but this is what really needs to be said and what really needs to be in the news, and what something really needs to be done about. We feel like we can talk all we want about the Duggars because it feels like we can actually have an opinion, might make a difference about it, and that most of us can talk about without having an emotional breakdown.
But something needs to be done, and there is not much we can do except give a little money, spread the word, and praypraypray. But maybe those little ways of faithfulness in caring for the widow, the orphan, the sojourner, and the oppressed will bear much fruit. No matter what, He hears us, and is doing something, though we may not see what just yet.

It’s a frightening world, both here and there. I was reading to the Munchkin out of the Jesus Storybook Bible the other day and read the part about Jesus calming the storm. It ended like this:
“Jesus’ friends had been so afraid, they had only seen the big waves. They had forgotten that, if Jesus was with them, they had nothing to be afraid of.
“No matter how small their boat – or how big the storm.”

P.S. Praise Jesus! And when I read this, the anger was fully lifted.  It is such a clear example of God answering prayer, because that’s one of the things I have been praying for so much. He’s not ignoring the evil there and letting it run rampant or turning a deaf ear to our petitions.

P.P.S. The other “big” news lately is Jenner. I’ve seen Christians take two stands on this: the one group saying that while we may disagree with what Jenner did and think it wrong, we should call him her/Caitlyn. The other implies that to do so is to condone the transgender mindset. I agree with both stands, depending on the situation. For a public figure like Jenner, I think referring to him by the gender God created him with is the right thing to do. However, I think the situation changes when you’re dealing with someone you know personally, especially if you met them as “Sophie.” In either case, we should strive for the “stone of stumbling and rock of offense” to be not our disagreement with their lifestyle, but the cross – and at some point that will include compassionately confronting their sin, just as it would any other friend living in any other blatant sin. Desiring God has good thoughts (and this article is why I take major issue with the tone of Matt Walsh’s), as does this writer.

Fear: Summarized

The last few months have been relatively free of struggles with fear, for which I’m very thankful. I was thinking about why this might be and noted a few key things I’ve learned about fear.

1. For me, fear has two roots: idolatry and lack of trust in God. When I put too much weight in the gifts He’s given me here, I hold them too tightly and anything that would make me lose them makes me very afraid. Likewise, when I forget who God is, specifically His desire to do me good, His power to protect me, and His sovereignty over all events.

2. Trust means that you know God has you in a certain place at that certain time, so anything that happens is not without His allowance.

3. Keeping your mind filled with good will keep it from being filled with fear. This is demonstrated in Philippians 4:6 (Do not be anxious about anything but in everything through prayer and supplication let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God… will guard your hearts and minds) and Isaiah 26:3 (You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on You). Some of this is very specifically meditating on God and His word, but some of it is also just not being idle – which is the big reason I think I’ve struggled less with fear since S was born – I have much less time to think about things that might happen! And just thinking about what MIGHT happen doesn’t bring the grace of God that He will give us if those things actually DO happen – those things are not among the “true” things that we are supposed to think on (Philippians 4:8).

4. Summarizing it all: BEHOLD YOUR GOD. This is why Isaiah 40 is such a big help to me when I’m afraid – it clearly shows so many of His attributes in a way that comforts immensely because it shows His involvement in the details of our lives.

The more I think about it, the more I realize that these things don’t only fight fear, but also most of the struggles we may have in life: they’ve helped with S’s reflux and being overwhelmed by long lists of things that have due dates (like taxes and preparation for our move).

On Fear, Again.

Over the past six years, I’ve had recurring struggles with fear, starting when we went to India for a missions trip (or perhaps earlier, when we thought I had appendicitis) and continuing on today, with many in between.
The past few years I’ve resolved not to fear in the coming year, but it always continued. I always felt like there was a piece missing, some ammunition I didn’t have and therefore couldn’t fight properly.

I don’t think the fear always stemmed from the same root, but in recent years I began to see a trend: I usually struggled the most with fear when life was the most rich and thus I was afraid of losing the people I loved so much and the life that was so good. It helped to know more of WHY I have seasons of being more fearful. But even still, I couldn’t really fight it apart from frequently reminding myself that God was good and sovereign, which assuaged the fear but didn’t take it away.

Whenever there was discussion of fear in sermons and such, it was always about fear of death, and I never connected with that. The only thing I thought I was afraid of concerning death was the dying itself, and that only if it was going to hurt.
I did, however, resonate with Valjean’s statement at the end of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, “It is nothing to die; it is frightful not to live.” It put into words fear stemming from not wanting to lose those I love.
I always denied that I had any fear of death, but the other day I got the last piece to the puzzle, the ammunition to fight. When fear comes from putting too much love in the gifts He’s given, taking my gaze off of heaven and the future being better, then I AM fearing death. I am fearing that what comes next won’t be better, fearing the unknown of what it will be like.

But rather than the realization that I do fear death causing me to be more afraid or distraught, it brought HOPE, because now I know what to do with it. Now I know how that fear can be transformed by Him.
I knew to fight fear by reminding myself of His love and sovereignty – that whatever happened I could trust Him, and that He had put us in certain places at certain times.
But that only helped so much, because of the piece that was still missing.

What is that piece?
I think fearing death the way I do can be transformed – not just held off for a time, but really transformed into joy and hope – in Christ and His death. In Hebrews 2 it says that through His death He freed us from fear of death, which is lifelong slavery (true!).

But how does His death free us?
His death and resurrection tell us who God is (love + sovereignty at work in His children’s lives, among other things), and that we don’t have to fear judgement and hell because Christ was punished in our stead – but it tells us more than that.
It tells us that because He destroyed death, what’s coming is abundant life, more abundant than here, which is why we don’t have to fear the leaving behind and the changes that happen in life and death. It tells me, too, that there’s forgiveness for the idolatry of loving His gifts too much and hope to overcome the fear of death.

It seems so simple when I put it all into words, but somehow I’d missed it until yesterday.
I’m thankful for His revealing it to me, and it’s even more exciting that it comes on the brink of a new year. I’m curious to how it will change the struggle with fear in the future, although it also brings up a new struggle: how do you balance not clinging to life here but still enjoying it and loving the people most dear to you that you don’t want to lose?

I’ll probably post more on 2015 and what we hope it holds for us soon, but wanted to close out 2014 with those thoughts.
I HAVE struggled often with fear in this last year, but God has always shown Himself faithful, whether in safe travels, S’s birth, or anything else we faced in 2014.
Happy New Year!

Thoughts from Isaiah: How Not to Fear

Why is my life so safe that all I worry about is where to get organic food while others flee for their lives or have no food?
Help us know how to help them and how to glorify you in our ease.

In affliction we grow, and spiritual life is dull when there is no struggle.
Ease is not always blessing.

Isaiah 11. His holy mountain is SAFE. Why is it safe?
Because the earth is full of the knowledge of Him and so all the earth changes because we know and see Him.

Isaiah 35:4.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be Strong! Fear not! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God.
He will come & save you.”

Isaiah 36.
Fear says “God can’t handle this.” We fear when we doubt God, just as my fear in wildfires, or flying, or childbirth or any unknown doubts His power, goodness, and sovereignty.

Isaiah 41:14-16.
We are worms.
But when He works in us, we do mighty things.

The hardest thing about pregnancy is coming face to face with so many unknowns out of your control.
And yet every single detail is already known by Him.
And He knows how to prepare us and get us through.

YOU are in control and I know I can trust You – who has brought this about, who gives life and health, who cares for my good, who is for our marriage, who is there in the valley, even in death, who knows each star by name and numbers the hairs on my head, who knows the way He is leading me on, who has Heard my prayers, who balances might and tenderness, who does not crush a bruised reed, who has given me Ezra to help in this.
Hope in God and fear not anything that is frightening. FEARLESS not because of me but because of who I have with me.

Isaiah 51:8.
Fear not the reproach of men,
Be not dismayed at their revilings.
For the moth will eat them up like a garment,
but My Righteousness will be forever and My Salvation to all generations.
HE WINS, even against ISIS.
I’m having a hard time doing anything “normal” when I’m thinking about all the suffering “over there” and how different our lives are here… and how “unfair” it is, and how much I want “those guys gone.” And I was reading in Isaiah and it’s incredibly clear there that no matter what… OUR GOD WINS.

I don’t want to not fear because circumstances aren’t scary.
I want to not fear because I hope in God.

Isaiah 51:12.
I, I am He who comforts you.
Who are you, that you are afraid of man who dies, and have forgotten the Lord, your maker, who stretched out the heavens?

We fear because we forget Him.

Go to His Word, not the news or the internet to know what to do.
How can we not have some fear? ISIS is ruthless, frightening. Unknowns are scary. But what does Isaiah prove?
Our God reigns.
The wicked will be judged.
He cares for His people.
His salvation is forever.
He is powerful and He is the one in control.

Why should I fear when the one who cares enough to call out each star every night, who is powerful enough to bring down the wicked, who is big enough that the heavens are but a hands’ breadth, who knows enough that my way and days are not hidden from Him – why should I fear when it is this God who is my shepherd, who loves me and gave Himself for me and is with me always?
I am a child of the Most High & I am not afraid.

A Study of Lament: Further Reading

How Long? – D.A. Carson
This one is very good. It is solid theologically and wrestles with a lot of tough questions about God and evil. However, it is very scholarly and sometimes hard to get through. Carson himself acknowledges this and also notes that because of this, it’s a book written for before you are suffering rather than when you are in the thick of it.

A Sacred Sorrow – Michael Card
If you only read one of these, read this one. It’s one of my favorite books of all time. There is theology contained in Card’s book, but it is skillfully worked into a more poetic style that comforts as it teaches. He writes about how we draw near to God in the pain, teaches about lament, and walks the reader through examples of sorrow in the Bible.

The Hidden Face of God – Michael Card
This is not a book, but a CD of laments. As with all of Card’s music, these songs are aesthetically pleasing and full of truth.

When the Darkness Will Not Lift – John Piper
A short book, in which Piper looks at various causes of depression and offers help and counsel.

Behind a Frowning Providence – John J. Murray
A pamphlet discussing faith in God during trials. This is very good!

A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
Lewis’s journals after his wife died. These are full of wisdom and show his process of grieving. It was definitely a helpful read for me as someone who hasn’t been through it, but it seems like it would be just as helpful, if not more so, for someone going through grief. He puts feelings into words so beautifully.

The Problem of Pain – C.S. Lewis
A scholarly and logical work, more for the skeptic more than the suffering. That’s not to say only skeptics should read it. Lewis deals with the perceived paradox of a good God and pain. All of it is good, but I think chapter six is the most helpful.

The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment – Jeremiah Burroughs
As I read this, I wondered, “how does contentment fit with lament?” But Burroughs answers that question as the book progresses. Contentment isn’t apathy but choosing Him. It’s not denying the pain or missing people – but it chooses to be joyful here.
This is a very, very good book.

A Lifting Up for the Downcast – William Bridge
Another Puritan work, taken from thirteen sermons. Bridge looks at ten causes of depression and offers counsel for them. It’s good and thorough, but he gets a little long-winded at times.

Spurgeon’s Sorrows – Zack Eswine
Probably the best book on depression I have read, both for those going through it, those supporting depressed loved ones, and those counseling people with depression. It was a turning point for me working through PPD in 2017, as it voiced (and “answered”) some of my feelings in a biblical way.

Dealing with Depression – Sarah Collins
A short overview of depression and some of its helps.

See my posts on postpartum depression for more resources.

Also of note:
Slave spirituals are often laments.
Carl Trueman has written an article titled “What Can Miserable Christians Sing?” in which he discusses lament and modern Christianity.
In Memoriam, by Tennyson, is a long but beautiful poem. Some of his theology is odd, but he has some very striking thoughts and moods.

These books can be good tools, but we have to be careful not to get so caught up in reading about these things that we forget to apply it and talk to God about it, which is the only way we will ever really understand it.
Look to Him & not at the waves!

I Have a Shelter
I have a shelter in the storm
When troubles pour upon me
Though fears are rising like a flood
My soul can rest securely
O Jesus, I will hide in You
My place of peace and solace
No trial is deeper than Your love
That comforts all my sorrows

I have a shelter in the storm
When all my sins accuse me
Though justice charges me with guilt
Your grace will not refuse me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
Who bore my condemnation
I find my refuge in Your wounds
For there I find salvation

I have a shelter in the storm
When constant winds would break me
For in my weakness, I have learned
Your strength will not forsake me
O Jesus, I will hide in You
The One who bears my burdens
With faithful hands that cannot fail
You’ll bring me home to heaven
{Sovereign Grace Music}