6 Months of Change

August 20th we sat in church after having been away from our congregation for a month. I was playing piano that week, and Ezra was preaching, so after a quick switch I sat with Ellie on my lap and S beside me. They were both surprisingly content and not their usual wiggly selves, so I was able to focus a lot more on the sermon.

As I sat there, I was struck with how much change there has been in the last six months. It’s probably been our calmest six months since we’ve been married: no newlywed paperwork, no moves, no babies, no time apart. On the surface, our family looks the same (as same as it can look when you have 2 young kids who change every day!). But under the surface I at least am so different. I also realized this while we took family photos earlier in August – in December when we had taken some, they felt fake to me because I felt like we were not in the best of places due to Ezra’s schedule in Japan and PPD… I knew we had a lot of growing to do and sometimes the smile hid the PPD in a way I didn’t like.

To be able to focus at all during church is a huge change, and then to be able to do so and tend to the girls at the same time is even bigger of a deal. So is having the time and energy to practice piano during the week so I can play at church once a month. And having the social energy to want to stay and chat after the service instead of wanting to retreat back home. A lot of that is due to my PPD being healed, but some of it is from other areas of growth.

And then at home, to not feel stressed all the time, to enjoy the girls – not just enjoying S and enjoying Ellie, but even enjoying having TWO kids, to be able to do the dishes and chores and the focus to put things away all the way… a lot of it seems really silly to write out but the lack of motivation to do those things was one of the last parts of PPD to go.
Our marriage has been through a lot of healing and change, with things I had pushed aside since they were “normal” in our circumstances finally being worked through so that we could grow through them (and are still growing).

I never wrote it down anywhere, but at the beginning of 2017 I prayed that it would be a year of healing and rest, and it really has been so far (though the rest part is still hard! I love to go-go-go and have to restrain myself a lot to not put too much on my plate, and still often end up doing so).

All that to say – life and I are still not perfect, but I am constantly praising God for how He has been at work. In January, before things began to change, and even in mid-February, when change had started, I would not have been able to guess that August would be so drastically different.

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Empty

Living in Japan has been wonderful, but it hasn’t exactly been easy. I think some of that is just the stage S is in right now, testing boundaries, being picky, and being cranky from whatever is causing her to wake up at 5. But it also took us a long time to get plugged in because ladies’ Bible study was during S’s morning nap and the first church we were going to wasn’t very good but from what we had heard it was the best option around, until we found something else (a community we are still plugging into but that can provide the support we need when E is traveling and when the baby is born). Culture shock was minimal, but still not nice and I still find myself with a deer in the headlights look thinking “I can’t Japanese!” in the middle of the crowded grocery store. And because E was delayed in the US and so I got here first, adjusting to him being here and a part of the life we had already settled into here was hard and rocky.

All that was an emotional roller coaster for me, often leaving me feeling exhausted – but I didn’t really feel like exhausted was the right word. Drained? Maybe a little closer. Overwhelmed? That was definitely a part of it.
Then one day it came.
Empty.
Everything together was taking all of my energy, all that I had.
But it was when I realized I was empty that things began to change, because when I realized I was empty was when I realized that I was trying to do it on my own strength. Of course I’d been praying about everything, but when I finished praying I went back to trying to push through it on my own.
But when I knew I was empty was when I could let God fill me and when I started to know that the feeling of “can’t” was a sign that instead of pushing through and praying about it later, I needed to ask for His help now if I was going to respond to S patiently.

It’s amazing to me how some of the biggest ways I’ve grown through motherhood have been such seemingly simple things.

Thoughts on Convictions – 2

In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.

Education
                There is a clear command in Ephesians 6 for parents to raise their children in the Lord. Many take this to mean that the only form of education is homeschooling. This is supported by Deuteronomy 6, where parents are told to speak to their children of God’s laws when you rise up, when you lie down, when you walk by the way, etc.  Homeschooling certainly makes obeying those commands easier, especially with younger children who don’t yet have the discernment to sort right from wrong in a secular teaching environment.[1]
But I have seen families who homeschool neglect the spiritual teaching and even more, spiritual care of their children, and I have seen families who do not homeschool excel in raising their children in the Lord. Those families had to work extra-hard to disciple their children, but they most certainly did not neglect God’s commands in sending their children to private or public schools. Successes and failures aside, what really matters is not what worked for someone but what God says.
My understanding of those two commands (Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6) is that the place of education isn’t as important as the interaction between parents and children at home. Discipling your children and homeschooling are not synonymous. Neither is simply doing family worship at the end of a school day, whether that day was at or away from home. It is teaching your children when you rise up (but you can be getting ready for school or studies at home), when you lie down, and when you walk by the way (whether that’s the car to and from school or up and down the stairs of your house).
We see homeschooling as the easiest and most practical way of doing that and so have chosen to homeschool, but believe making that the only valid option for Christians is beyond the teaching of scripture.

                Post-high school education is often hotly debated. This is an area that I don’t believe there are commands in the Bible that directly apply. However, there is teaching on the company you keep, making wise choices, and the calling of God.

We don’t see college as the only or even best route, but one of many. What is most important is receiving what you need to fulfill any calling or passion God has given you – that might mean internship, trade school, online courses, college, or simply reading and studying this and that on your own. This goes for daughters AND sons. The aforementioned callings and passions should be shaped and checked by scripture (for example, only men are to be leaders in the church, so if a daughter aspires to that she must re-think her desires). First, one must study the Bible to determine what a Christian is to do and be, and then what a man or a woman is to do and be, and finally what they personally should do and be with the giftings God has given them. From there one can determine what the wisest route is – and that is never sitting idly at home!
Because of the above, I don’t believe a daughter must stay at home, but I do believe that after careful study of biblical commands to women, it would likely be the wisest route in order to prepare for the future. I do not see a career as being the norm for a woman; see “women working” below.

 

Youth group
                As with education, the clear command of scripture is for parents to raise their children in the Lord.
Does this mean others can’t be involved? No. But others should not take the place of parents in any way. There are definitely times when peers can gather and do peer stuff. Is it always wise? No. But should it be banned across the board or generalized as dividing the church into age-based factions? I don’t think so.

 

Women Working

“Older women… are to train the younger women to be… working at home.” Titus 2:3-5. (Other translations say “keepers of the home.” Strong’s concordance suggests that the Greek best translates into the idea of housekeeper.)
The understanding of this command does depend some on the variance in translations, as noted above. Because of that, some read this passage and believe that women may only work in and from the home. Others apply that only to a wife. And still others see the application as the keeping of the home being the woman’s first and primary duty, but once that is done she is free to work outside the home. Because of Proverbs 31, there is rarely any dispute over whether or not a woman may work from the home. The issue is not a woman generating income.

I tend to side with the latter two opinions, thus concluding that daughters have more freedom in this area (though living at home would perhaps be wisest, and if at home, any family duties must be fulfilled), and that there are times it is permissible for a wife to work outside the home.
Our view is that if a woman can still manage the home (which pre-baby could easily have been as little as 15 minutes of chores and an hour of cooking a day), working is not an issue (it should also be noted, however, that working from home can cause as much if not more of a distraction from wifely duties than working outside!). This means that it would most likely only be part time and not full-time or a long-term career. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the wisest use of her time.

Before we got married, Ezra and I decided that we were okay with me working part-time pre-kids if I wanted to. But his job is plenty to support us and we decided my time would be better used in other ways – like volunteering at the pregnancy center, writing, visiting people from church, etc. Not that it was wrong for me to work, but we saw that the better use of my time would be in these other ways that were more along the lines of how the women who were applauded in scripture spent their time. Also, just because you “can” do both on paper doesn’t mean it will play out that way. As a couple, you must consider what it really means to be a keeper at home, versus simply making dinner at the end of a long day.
I wrote about this more in 2012, and you can read that here.
I understand and have respect for more conservative views, especially considering the variance in the translation of the passage, but do not see it as an across-the-board rule.

Birth Control
                 The Bible does not say anything about birth control specifically, however, it does speak about how we should view children, the sovereignty of God, the sanctity of life, and also to issues of sin in our hearts. Some look at these teachings and conclude that using birth control is always sin, implying that if you don’t take “as many as God gives you,” then you’re not really seeing children as a blessing. Others believe we have freedom to use whatever birth control we choose as long as we still view children as a blessing. In the middle are people who would use only some forms of birth control, or only at certain times.
This is a complex issue that is often emotionally charged, personal, and has many facets.
                First, there is our mindset towards children. The Bible is clear that children are a blessing, can bring their parents great joy, and are like arrows in the hand of a warrior – “tools” for engaging our culture.
                Second, there is the sovereignty of God. God is in control of every area of our lives – which combined with point one say to me that the number and timing of children isn’t something for me to regulate. This is even more clear to me as I think about the timing of S’s conception and birth – with circumstances that were better than we would have chosen, but also ones we would not have chosen – yet still showing how God’s way is so much better than ours. To say “it’s just science” is to deny God’s hand in every day details of our lives, including the science of things like the rising and setting of the sun. It does not feel right to me to try to take control of that, nor does it ever seem to me like there is a “good time” to have a baby – babies are always work and life is always kind of crazy.
                Third, there is the sanctity of life. This applies to specific forms of birth control that can be considered abortifacients, and that therefore I believe are wrong for Christians to use. If after points 1, 2, and 4 are prayerfully considered a couple still chooses to delay or prevent children, there are other options to choose from that do not compromise life, some that could even be considered God’s design (ecological breastfeeding, Hosea 1:8). However, I think in most circumstances, after said prayerful consideration, the use of birth control will be excluded.
And fourth, there is sin in our own hearts. Ask yourself: why do I want to use birth control? It’s easy to want to wait for a better time, or a longer gap (side note: I do believe God can and does give us more than we can handle – but never more than HE can handle!), or to want to be done so you can focus on other things. Those are often complex and deep concerns that often belong to the couple (and sometimes their mentors) alone, but whenever steps are taken to prevent children we must check our hearts for sin, particularly selfishness. Selfishness can also show up in our ideals for what we want our children to have. Love is not measured by what things we can give them or activities they can do.

Within that framework, I know people who have chosen to use legitimate forms of birth control, particularly for health reasons (and I know people who have chosen to still forgo any birth control despite health risks – and both decisions were reached with much prayer), or in seasons of particular trial. Whatever the reasons, though, we must always check ourselves to make sure it’s not simply selfishness that leads our decision.

Whichever side we fall on, the decision seems to come from more general texts (Children are a blessing and God is sovereign) that combined with wisdom are lived out a certain way (If the above statements are true, are we really in a place to seek to prevent kids?).

On the other side of things, I don’t think it’s right for us to pry into others’ plans for children. I always felt that if people weren’t divulging that information, then that was their choice to keep it a private matter and that was completely fine. I think that someone in a mentorship position can and even should ask about that at times, especially if the couple is waiting to have children, to help check their motives.

I’ve also often found that behind the asking and/or the way it’s responded to, there’s usually an unspoken implication that they’re hoping you take the same position as them, which in our circumstances has been the mindset of leaving it up to God and it makes it awkward if that’s not what you’re doing.

But what clicked the other day was also that the way some people reply to pregnancy announcements (or ask if you are pregnant yet), implies that we really hope you are because it’s the best thing that can happen in/because of your marriage. I don’t mean by being annoyed at this that children aren’t a great blessing or that having them isn’t good for your marriage (the past months have been very good for our marriage, especially communication, and I think a fair amount of that is due ways we’ve grown because of S). But marriage is about WAY more than having children, and there are other blessings God gives as well.

 

[1] Unless a child has a clear profession of faith and fruit to match, we cannot claim they are a necessary “salt and light” in the secular schools.

Thoughts on Convictions – 1

In the last two years or so, I’ve thought often about convictions, particularly the way they play out in conservative circles. I was raised with a lot of books and CDs from “ultra-conservative” circles  and benefited from them. However, I often accepted the rationales given for their values without question,[1] and there was definitely a time when I was lock-step with most of their teachings. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I began wondering at some of what they said, so that I started studying to make sure that my thoughts were biblical and not just things that “sounded right” to me.

As a continuation of those thought processes, I re-read some of the books we own dealing with homeschooling, birth control, emotional purity, etc. I really started thinking about phrases being used and where they come from. Is guarding your heart really a biblical concept? Are we really supposed to “give our hearts to our fathers?” How “wrong” is youth group? How absolute is homeschooling? And what should a daughter do with her time? In the end, my convictions remained the same in their basic outworking, but my explanations for them changed. This was mostly due to one thing I kept seeing again and again as a pitfall in these circles: It seems that the clear commands of the Bible, such as parents discipling their children (Ephesians 6, Deuteronomy 6), are often blown out of proportion. Instead of acknowledging the freedom we have to apply such commands in different ways, the application itself becomes a further command: you must homeschool. This also happens in areas such as modesty, courtship, birth control, youth group, and women working outside the home.
I firmly believe that the Bible speaks to each of these issues. It is usually very easy to see exactly what God desires:  you shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. Children, obey your parents. Flee sexual immorality. Parents, teach your children the ways of the Lord. However, as proved by the varied ways Bible-believing Christians apply the commands of scripture, it is clear that the simple commands of the Bible are not so simple to apply. The way a brief command interacts with culture is complicated. Sometimes, people use that to ignore commands of God, sweeping everything off of the table and saying nothing of those commands, refusing to consider the differences between our culture and what the Bible says. Other times, they make the commands to mean more than they are (as in the previous example of “bring [your children] up in the training and instruction of the Lord” becoming “homeschooling is the only form of education for the Christian family”).
There are many times when we have more freedom than some allow in the application of His commands. Things like homeschooling may be the wisest and most practical way to obey Him, but homeschooling is not the only way, nor is it a command from the Bible. It may be a right thing to do, but I believe it is the application of a law of God, not the law itself. I hope in the following posts to show examples of how this plays out in various issues. I hope by these examples to demonstrate that these things are important, but also delicate and require grace in the way we live them out.

[1] Despite my family’s use of the materials in a way that went to the Bible FIRST and applied any teaching with grace.

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

22.

Today I turn 22. And with my birthday, the seasons that have been shifting ever since we found out we were moving in May 2014 have really started to change as we head out of SoCal. It’s hard to leave, but I’m so excited to embark on this new adventure (beginning with a drive up the coast!).

21 was a pretty fantastic year. Becoming a mom was the biggest new thing that happened, which has been wonderful. The start was incredibly rocky and probably the most I’ve ever grown spiritually in the space of four months. Ezra has been so supportive and loving through it all, and I totally don’t deserve it and am so thankful he’s my husband.
And being a part of such an amazing church and having the opportunity to have so many friends and family come through to visit made it so much better.

22 is full of unknowns, but what a privilege it is to be a child of the God who does know. I’m looking forward to settling in to Japan and experiencing the culture and life there. Another year of marriage and watching S grow more are going to make it all the more wonderful.

Reflections on the Past Three Years


{two days before Ezra proposed}

It’s been three years since my parents told me there was someone interested in me. As I sorted through my stuff in preparation for our move this summer, I went through all my journals, lingering especially long on the ones from those three years.

If I had known how hard those three years would be, I may have said no… But if I knew the future to know how hard they would be I would have also known how beautiful they would be. So I would have said yes without hesitation.
Because I did hesitate. I didn’t know if I was ready to be in a relationship that might lead to marriage within a year. I didn’t know if I wanted that, especially if I wanted it more than staying in Dubai or counseling at Csehy.
But I finally concluded that God would make clear which was for me, so I agreed to begin a courtship with Ezra. That’s what we called it, but really you could call it all sorts of things: we wanted to get to know each other with prayer and counsel in order to determine if it would be wise for us to marry. It was eight months of long emails and Skype calls. Sleepless nights of prayer and soul-searching. Long runs and walks sorting out thoughts. Late nights talking with mom and dad. Did I really know what I should do with my life? Did i really trust God and Ezra? Did I want marriage to Ezra over Dubai?
But the light of clarity grew, and in December we were engaged and over the moon.

Engagement wasn’t easy either. The distance was even harder than before, there was so much to be done, and the sleepless nights didn’t end as I wrestled with trusting God about marrying a sinner and all that might entail. I struggled lot with fear, both of sin in either of our lives and of injury or death.

And then came marriage, and it has been easy compared to our pre marriage relationship, though not without trial, especially since Miss Munchkin came along, bringing a new sort of sleepless night. And then there was her reflux, which is a beast and makes sleep harder and slower in coming.
With S came postpartum depression, and with the new year came lots of traveling for Ezra.

But I wouldn’t have changed the last three years. They have shown me my sin is deep. Have taught me that God is sovereign and that the cross means even the worst of that sin is forgiven. Have demonstrated that He hears our prayers in our struggles and will help us conquer sin. That this life is just a shadow.
That He is faithful and loving and good, and gives good gifts, like Ezra and S and our friends and family, and stars and clouds and birdsong.

There have been difficulties, but even more, there have been blessings and surprises.
I knew Ezra was pretty amazing when I married him, but I didn’t know just how he would love, serve, and care for me and S, even when he’s away, and I didn’t know how exciting it would be to watch as he grows in leadership at the church and work.
I knew we had friends and family that loved us, but I didn’t expect so many of them to give of themselves in counsel, love, and help throughout these last years.

I don’t expect the next three to be any easier, especially as we leave the community we have here in just a few short months. I couldn’t have asked for a better church to be at as we navigated the first year and a half of marriage and months of parenthood.
But I’m so excited to see what He has in store for us, and pray I will remember to look back and see His work in the past and let it give me hope when we can’t see ahead.
I can’t believe I almost said no and missed out on all of this. God always knows exactly what He is doing!