With the year rounding to a finish, I took a peek at my statistics to see which articles have been the most influential. After this post I’ll be signing off until the New Year for a little rest and family holiday time. If you’re new to the site (or missed one of these posts), you may enjoy checking out some of the more popular topics explored in 2013:
My dear twenties, In seven days I will celebrate the start of my last year with you. 29. My farewell year to a decade well spent. I’ll have you know I’ve liked you a lot more than the teens. You are the decade that got rid of acne, gave me a job that didn’t come with an apron, and taught me how to spread my wings and fly away from home. You introduced me to love, turned me into a bride, and washed away the insecurities of adolescence with the affection of a man I never deserved.
You are the decade of burnt dinners, tiny apartments, and tender beginnings. The decade that laid a little body into my arms and in one swift moment made me a mother for life. Where adolescence taught me to be strong because I have not, you taught me to be strong because I have. You tutored me with kindness instead of pain. With blessings that made me ache to be better than I am. No matter what the future brings, I will remember you as the decade that gave me the gifts that would come to define my life and my legacy.
My dear twenties, you have been merciful to me. A decade of joy, lavish with grace. I used to view you as the ticking-clock decade, the race-to-the-deadline decade…in which case I would have just one more year to run a marathon, write a novel, and finish having children! But I know better now. Your goal has never been for me to gather accomplishments and pin them to my chest before I’m thirty. Because you are not the finish line, but the starting line. If childhood and adolescence is the “ready” and “set,” you are the gunshot decade that gives us a swift kick in the pants and tells us to “Go!” Take your life and your blessings, and live! Put wings to your dreams, and courage to your feet, and don’t be so afraid to stumble along the way. Thank you, dear twenties. I look forward to one last year with you!
Fear was the first thing that ever drove me to God. It wasn’t fear of God, it was fear of everything else. As a small child I lived in constant fear that my parents would die. By the time I was eleven-years-old I had developed an enslaving fear of demons that I would battle for nearly four years. I remember telling my mom I didn’t believe I would ever break free. But I did. One painstaking day at a time, my parents taught me to quote Truth in the face of fear over and over again, sometimes thirty times a day. And then twenty. And then ten, as the bouts grew smaller and my faith grew bigger. Until one day I realized I couldn’t remember the last time a fear of demons had controlled me.
That journey radically influenced my perspective of fear. It took the “fear” out of fear because it taught me that fear is conquerable. It taught me that fear is really all about deception. It’s about fooling us into forgetting the character and reality of God. I love the way the Jesus Storybook Bible captures the account of Jesus calming the storm. “Why were you scared?” Jesus asked. “Did you forget who I Am? Did you believe your fears, instead of me?”
Even as I type the words, my heart whispers yes. Yes, Jesus, even as an adult I forget who You are. I am tempted, continually, to believe my fears instead of You. Recently, a new mom contacted me to suggest I write about fear, specifically in parenting. This is a portion of what she wrote:
Since becoming a mom, one thing that I didn’t expect was the fear that has accompanied my new role. Fear that I’m not doing a good job, fear that I’ll hurt him, fear that I hear him crying while he’s napping and I’m in the shower, fear he will wake up in the middle of the night screaming, fear that he’s not eating right, fear that he’ll have allergies…the list goes on and on.
Can you relate? I sure can. Parenting has this unique way of opening up worlds of fear we didn’t even contemplate pre-children. And unfortunately (as wiser moms have taught me) the temptation to fear doesn’t bid you farewell when your kids get older. It only grows and expands like spaghetti in a pot. Either get a handle on it, or call Strega Nona!
So how do we get a handle on it? The same way I did seventeen years ago. By claiming the Truth in the face of fear, moment by scary moment. In regard to parenting, here are some common fears I’ve brainstormed. (Feel free to add more in the comments below.)
Life-threatening sickness or injury will befall my child.
“All the days ordained for (my child) were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” Ps. 139:16
My child will fall into the hands of evil people (kidnapping, abuse…etc.)
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of (my child’s) head are numbered. So don’t be afraid; (your child) is worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10:28-31
Something will be “wrong” with my child developmentally.
“For You created (my child’s) inmost being; you knit (him/her) together in (my) womb. I praise you because (my child) is fearfully and wonderfully made; Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Ps. 139:13-14
My child will experience unique suffering because of a disability.
“But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore (my child can) boast all the more gladly about (his/her) weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on (him/her). For Christ’s sake, (my child can) delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when (my child) is weak, then (my child) is strong.” 2 Cor. 12:9-10
My child will be rejected by peers.
“Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ.” Gal. 1:10
My child will experience failure in school that damages his/her self-esteem.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.” Rom. 8:28My child’s identity must be rooted in Christ (Eph 1, 2 Pt. 2:9).
A trauma we’re going through in our family (such as divorce or chronic illness) will adversely affect my child’s emotional well-being.
“I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him…” 2 Tim. 1:12
My child will reject God.
“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.” Jn. 6:44“(The Lord) is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” 2 Peter 3:9
Ungodly peers will influence my child.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Pro. 22:6“…He who began a good work in (my child) will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil. 1:6
I am an inadequate spiritual leader; I will “mess my child up.”
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Eph. 2:8-10
The sinful strongholds in my life will be passed on to my child.
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 2 Cor. 5:17
Obviously, I don’t believe we should claim these verses then sit back and do nothing to prepare our kids for ungodly influences, or counsel them through family trials. The Bible calls us to train our children in the discipline and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4). But ultimately, their lives–the days and experiences allotted for them–are in the hands of God (Acts 17:24-27).
Years ago, my mother spoke a Bible verse over my life. “Him shall you fear, Him shall you dread, and He shall become your sanctuary” (Isaiah 8:13). I didn’t understand it at the time, but it’s beautiful to me now. The secret to freedom from fear is fear of God. If you and I tremble at the power, dominion, and Lordship of God Almighty, we will tremble at nothing else. We will remember that the Captain of the Storm is still in the boat. And He will become our sanctuary.
Today is a day when the thought of putting on a nice outfit and going to work almost brings tears of longing to my eyes. The thought of having projects to accomplish on a computer instead of in the kitchen, of being treated like a professional instead of a referee, of having an hour for lunch during which nobody will demand I get up 79 times to get them more milk or another slice of cheese. Today is a day when I don’t want to clean up the 17 pieces of colorful tissue paper my kids decorated the floor with and then spilled water all over, a day when i don’t want to hear fights or demands or crying of any kind.
Today is a day when I’m sick of Rapunzel, sick of runny noses, and sick of my own guilt. A day when I catch myself dreaming of freedom and wondering why I’m so afraid to admit that sometimes motherhood feels suffocating.
Today is a day that makes me grateful for the cross. Grateful that Jesus called me not to a life of happiness, but of faithfulness. Today is a day when I feel how much I need Him. A day when I will keep loving, keep serving, and keep worshipping, because today Jesus is enough.
An unmarried friend asked me this question recently, and for one small moment I felt like Mickey Mantle teaching a newbie how to swing. Eight years ago a question like this would’ve been a fast pitch straight to my head. But not anymore. I smiled and watched the softball lob through the air. As a dreamy romantic who’s learned a lot of lessons the hard way, this was one question I knew I could knock out of the park.
Do I ever worry I’ll fall out of love? No. Because I already have. If we define love in the ooey-gooey sense that this question always defines it in, then I’ve already fallen in and out and back in and back out of love (with the same man!) thousands of times. That night I assured my friend that she could stop worrying about falling out of love not because it’s a rarity, but because it’s a certainty. It doesn’t matter who you marry, at some point the butterflies will fly away and forget to put the toilet seat down when they go. But this is not a bad thing! When those butterflies desert you, they will take with them the fairytale of love, and leave the reality of love in its place.
I know this sounds cringe-worthy, believe me, the Anne of Green Gables within me also wants to cringe. The fairytale of love is everything beautiful about love, right? It’s delight instead of duty, passion instead of obligation. But here’s the catch. Fairytale love is true love…just not for him. The reason fairytale love feels so great is because at it’s core it’s love for me.
At this point in the conversation I launched into Paul David Tripp’s explanation of the two kingdoms in life. (My friend rolled her eyes too, but pay attention! This is the heart of it all.) There are two kingdoms in life: the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Self. “Falling in love” naturally caters to the Kingdom of Self. It makes you feel beautiful, special, and skinnier than you actually are. Then you fast forward a decade and realize the Kingdom of Self has taken a major hit. Your handsome groom no longer exists solely to woo you and make you feel good about yourself. Worse yet, he’s prone to take an interest in his Kingdom of Self…which co-exists with your Kingdom of Self about as well as a kingdom can function with two kings and zero servants. At this point, you have a choice. You can continue living for the Kingdom of Self, which will involve slowly shutting him out, filling your life with personal hobbies and distractions, and perhaps finding someone new to “fall in love” with.
Or you can choose to live for the Kingdom of God. The tough part is, the Kingdom of God is radically opposed to *gulp* self. It stays up late to listen when it’s aching to go to bed. It wakes up early with the needs and desires of the other fresh on its heart. It forgives painful sins, gets involved in messy problems, and does laundry that’s been sitting in the car long enough to make you gag. The Kingdom of God honors others when no one’s watching, thinks of others when it doesn’t want to, and gives when nobody returns the favor. And when the Kingdom of Self is clawing at your chest, the Kingdom of God tells it to hush, and keeps on serving.
Do you feel hopeless yet? That’s a good thing because the bottom line is you and I can’t ever love this way on our own. That’s why we need a Savior. That’s why marriage is such a picture of the gospel. Without the grace of Jesus, two sinners could never love the way Christ loves. And here’s the really amazing part: this kind of self-denying, other-focused love that is agonizing to practice and only possible by God’s grace and strength, generates the truest and purest affection you could ever imagine.
Picture a day at the fair, riding on the Ferris Wheel with that charming boy who’s totally consumed with you. Ah, butterflies galore! Now picture that same boy ten years later, crying when he feels like a failure. Vomiting when he’s got a bug. Angry when he had a bad day. Picture looking at him and being able to see inside his heart—to see his insecurities, his weakness, his longings, and his hopes. Picture yourself comforting him when he cries, cleaning up his vomit, forgiving his misplaced anger. None of these actions are devoid of emotion. Neither are they governed by emotion. Rather, they inspire emotion. Empathy, devotion, gratitude, contentment, joy, and yes, even passion long after the last butterfly has left.
ACTIVITY: Make a Gratitude Wreath There are lots of variations on this time-honored Thanksgiving tradition, but they all have one thing in common–you need to start now! Throughout the month of November, let every member of the family write one thing they’re grateful for on a leaf and tape it to the wreath. If you’re artistic, you could make an entire Thankfulness Tree that covers your wall or try this banner idea from my talented friend Gina.
ARTICLE: 26, Unmarried, and Childless by Amanda Bast This article ran rampant about two months ago so you may have already seen it. But if you haven’t, it’s a great read. I especially loved it because it gave me a personal glimpse into life “on the other side.” Quite frankly I often envy my single friends (especially on Saturday mornings when I imagine them snuggled in bed with a great novel, a hot cup of coffee, and an empty agenda.) But of course I don’t know what it’s actually like to walk a mile in their shoes…until now.
PRODUCT: Tan Towel No educational toys this month, this is a product just for Mom! I’m a big fan of not dying of skin cancer, so I’ve never been to a tanning bed and rarely lie in the sun without sunscreen. Of course this means I’m also the girl who sports a farmer’s tan at weddings. Which is probably why a dear relative of mine introduced me to Tan Towel. Each pad is like a giant wet wipe–an easy way to even those tan lines before a special event.
A fun family night movie–think Avatar in cartoon version with a sweet Daddy-daughter side plot.
BOOK: What did you expect? By Paul David Tripp Why read another marriage book? Well, if you’re anything like me, you probably need it. Or as Paul David Tripp would say, “Somehow, someway, every marriage becomes a struggle.” I find that gospel-centered books about marriage are one of the best ways to ground my flighty heart. So…why read this marriage book? Because here’s what Tripp is going to do: he’s going to rip your heart apart with conviction (by showing you what TRUE love actually looks like) and then just when you want to bury your head in the sand, he’s going to throw you upon the beauty and grace of the gospel as the ONLY hope for loving your spouse like Christ. And, he’ll do it all through the lens of six practical commitments for biblical marriages.
After meditating on the home as a place of rest and learning, I’m on to purpose #3: the home as a holy place. *exhale* I already feel convicted and I’ve barely started typing yet. I suppose it’s because I know our home isn’t always very holy. I think I delude myself into believing I can contain the unholiness, like a visitor I can relegate to just one room. Hand her a glass of iced tea, lock the door, and only come in for a visit now and then. Like when the kids are in bed and I want to watch something entertaining. Or when I’m really mad and I “deserve” to let off some steam. Or when things get tough and I want to slip into her room and daydream about an easier life.
But the truth about unholiness is she will not be contained. She’s not the kind of visitor who makes her bed in the morning and only emerges for breakfast. She’s the kind who overtakes the house. Who leaves her socks in the den and her thoughts in your heart and her perfume in the air. She’s the visitor who grows to define the home, until one day you realize she’s become the tenant and you’ve become the guest.
And yet, the concept of a holy home is such a beautiful one to me. I long for our home to be set apart for Christ, a sacred place where He is pleased to reign. But how? How do I kick unholiness out of my house and lock the door behind her?
Recognize that for unholiness to enter the home it must first enter our hearts. Unholiness can’t sneak into our homes of its own volition. We are the ones who track it in like mud on the bottom of our shoes. What makes it so deceptive is it takes many forms. A stray thought that becomes a companion, a bitter resentment watered daily, a quiet addiction kept under wraps. Before long these things determine the mood and atmosphere of a home. But what if we got on our knees and kept short accounts with God, regularly repenting of the unholiness in our hearts? Surely this would be the primary way to purge our homes of such an unwelcome guest.
Consider the vulnerabilities of every member of the household. When the Israelites were preparing to enter the Promised Land, God warned them: “Do not bring any detestable objects (idols) into your home, for then you will be destroyed just like them. You must utterly detest such things, for they are set apart for destruction” (Deut. 7:26). The point is our homes should be a refuge from the things God hates. They should be places of protection from temptation for every member of the household. Which means when I rent a movie I don’t just need to consider the things that make me stumble, but the things that make my husband stumble as well. The detestable idols that easily ensnare me may not be the same idols that easily ensnare members of my family.
Give Christ preeminence in the home. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). Not only must I dethrone ungodly idols in our home, I must enthrone Jesus Christ as the true King. As a child, whenever we moved to a new home my parents would pray their way through the whole house. Living in foreign countries where idol worship was common, they literally dethroned any false gods who had been worshipped within the walls and exalted Christ as Lord of the home. They prayed for the people we would serve and the ministry that would take place within our home. They gave each room to God, for His glory, asking Him to grant us sleep in our bedrooms, harmony in our family room, fellowship in our kitchen.
It’s a small start, but these are the things I’ve been mulling over. So often I am the fool who not only fails to lock her door, but swings it wide open and invites unholiness in for a cup of tea…only to wonder why she leaves the china in shambles. What about you? How do you cultivate a holy home? How do you protect it from the influences of an ungodly world? One of my favorite things about this series on the purposes of the home has been your feedback. I loved all the suggestions for teaching and resting in the home, so if you’ve got a second (and some insight to spare!) I’d love to hear it. (photo credit)