This spring has been cold and snowy, just like our winter. Just this morning there was frost covering the car, and now I have a child with a cold napping on my lap as I write. It definitely doesn’t feel like spring. Just a few months ago I took this little sick girl in for a doctor visit (a well-child visit, ironically), and she was so afraid that she had a hard time getting out of the car. It can be difficult to help a child with fear because even if you can get them to obey, there are many emotions still lingering. I decided I needed a system to help my kids gain courage.
Second, we remember. We remember all the times we have been to the doctor and come out alive. We remember all the ways that doctors have helped us. We talk about times we have done scary things and everything turned out well. We remember when we went to the dentist and it didn’t hurt one bit. They may be too young to remember some of these times, so I tell them stories. I tell them about how they were sick as an infant and God protected them and brought them healing. Or if they are afraid of something else, like the dark, we talk about all the times God has protected us in the dark. We remember that He watched over us through thousands of nights. I have to show my child how to talk truth to themselves. The truth is that God cares about us and is constantly watching over us with care. I need to help them remember that so they can fight their fear.
Third, we give thanks. We give thanks for all the kind mercies along the way, even if the experience is hard. We look at reality, which is often less scary than our imaginations and worries. We give thanks for the stickers and the prize box at the pediatrician’s office. We give thanks for the free ice cream coupons after shots. We give thanks for the funny looking hospital gown we have to wear and we take silly pictures in it. I remind my child that God does not give us hard things without giving us gifts in the middle of the hard. We look around for the gifts and give thanks for them. On scary dark nights, we give thanks for nightlights and flashlights and CDs with our favorite stories and fuzzy pajamas. I can’t just tell my child to stop being afraid and obey. That is only the first step. I have to help them replace their fear with gratitude. I have to show them what courage looks like. If they are going to gain victory over their emotion of fear, they need to know what other path to take.
I have a very dear friend that lives too far away. We don’t talk as often as I would like, and we don’t see each other much. But she is a treasure in my life. She has never been afraid to tell me when I am wrong and to point me in the right direction. She is a patient listener, but won’t put up with complaining for a second. She always says “confront or forget and then move on”, and it is always the advice I need to hear. But one of my favorite things about her is that she consistently reminds me what a great man I married. Just in a normal conversation she will say something like “what a blessing that you married someone handy, who can fix things around the house” or “it is so fun to be married to someone with a great sense of humor, you know what I mean, Jon is hilarious” or “Jon is such a hard worker – he will always take good care of you.” She is a constant reminder that I was given a man who is kind and generous and funny and hard working and handsome and loves kids. And her praise of her own husband exceeds this.
I think this is an aspect of what Paul is talking about when he says for the older women to teach the younger women to love their husbands and children (Titus 2:4). Not only are older women to be a good example of how to love and respect, but they can also be helpful in pointing out the good. Remind the younger women, often and specifically, of what a great gift they have been given. Help them to keep their focus on the great qualities of their husbands and children. Point out how God has blessed them. Show them the respectable things their husbands do and the adorable things their kids do. If you notice a teenager being helpful, tell their mother. Help her love her teenager even more.
One of the most discouraging things we can do to a young wife is say something critical of her husband. Of course all wives know what their husbands’ faults are; women are experts at finding faults. Criticizing her husband will only make it hard for her to respect him. Make a point of being a fan of your friends’ husbands. Make a point of loving your friends’ kids. This is a huge encouragement to each other, and our words have so much power to give each other courage to be women who forgive quickly and who forget faults and who remember good.
“make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
2 Peter 1:5-11 NIV
Peter always catches me off guard in this passage. I am reading along about how we have been bought into the salvation of Christ, and then he says now that we believe we should keep adding to our faith. This is along the same lines of what James says: faith without works is dead. The faithful are known by their fruit. Peter gets very specific here about what that faith fruit should look like. We should first add goodness. Easy enough. Be good. Say a kind word. Cook dinner for someone in need. Then we should add knowledge. Study! Pay attention in the sermon! Read your Bible. Check. But then he says to add self-control, and this is where I get caught up. Unlike the first two virtues, self- control is not an action. All the sudden Peter is telling me to stop doing something I shouldn’t do, instead of telling me to find something good to do. The assignment just got harder. How do I add self-control? Peter doesn’t leave us hanging. If you skip down to verse 8, you will find the answer, the key to self-control. “But whoever does not have (these qualities) is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins.” The key is to remember that you have been cleansed from your past sins. If you believe every morning that your sins of yesterday have been completely forgiven, erased, forgotten, you will have the self control to turn from them. You are no longer a mom who yells at her kids, you are a forgiven mom. You are not a wife who disrespects her husband, you are forgiven. Today you are a new wife, you are a respectful wife, because you have been cleansed and you can do all things through Christ. You are not the girl who envies all the other girls at school, you are new. You are no longer lazy, no longer angry, no longer worried, no longer afraid, all those things have been forgotten and taken away from you. Today you are forgiven and you don’t have to worry or be lazy or be angry. You are not that person anymore.
We find some pretty great motivation in verse 11 “For if you do these things, you will never stumble, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” If we persevere in goodness and knowledge and self-control and godliness and love then we will be richly welcomed into the Kingdom of saints. Richly welcomed by Abraham and Sarah, by Moses and Noah and Ruth and King David and Elijah and Peter and Paul and so many others who have gone before. How we conduct ourselves in day to day relationships has an effect on how we will be welcomed by these saints when we enter the Eternal Kingdom.
I’ve been meditating on self-control a lot lately, and not just for myself. I’m still learning it, but as I do so I’m also trying to guide my children how to be self-controlled. I don’t want my children to learn how to just suppress all their emotion. That’s not my goal. My goal is to help them control their actions and not act solely on how they are feeling. Easy to say, hard to teach. But this is my starting point, my solid ground for teaching self-control that I need to continually fall back on. If I see they are really struggling with self-control, I need to make sure of two things. First, I need to make sure they know that they are forgiven. I forgave them, God forgave them. They are not my “difficult child”. They are my forgiven child. They are not my child who bites or hits, they are my forgiven child, they are made new every time they are disciplined and forgiven. They are not my stubborn child, they are my child who was baptized into Christ and stubbornness does not have a hold on them. I need to make sure they know this.
Second, I need to make sure my children have the reward of a rich welcome when they act in self-control. It is easy for me to notice when my children do not have self-control, when they throw fits or talk back or hit each other. But it is hard to notice when they sit still in church and cheerfully eat the dinner they don’t like and walk away when their sibling annoys them. I need to make sure that I take note and richly praise them when they are controlled. I need to be in the habit of giving high-fives and winks and hugs when they wait cheerfully for their dinner, instead of just noticing when they are whining and grabbing my legs like they have never had a meal before. My hope is that they will understand the reward of self-control is a rich welcome, a rich welcome here in our family, and a rich welcome into Eternity.
Almost a month ago we left our temporary home in Louisville, Kentucky and settled back into Idaho. When we moved to Louisville about three years ago I knew exactly two people in the whole city and I didn’t know them well. We moved here with no money, no job and two adorable little girls who were expecting to be fed and cared for. But even in the midst of these struggles we enjoyed the city so much. There were so many fun things to do and I really feel like we only scratched the surface of all it has to offer. It was challenging and pushed us to trust in ways that we didn’t want to learn. Moving is always a definite way to see a chapter of your life closing, and as it does here are three things the Lord kept teaching us over the last chapter that I do not want to forget.
1. God often provides for our material needs in ways that we don’t expect. In Matthew 17 Jesus is asked to pay taxes. He sends his disciples fishing and tells them they will find money in the mouth of a fish to pay for the tax. The last three years have been a financial roller coaster to say the least and The Lord has provided for us over and over again in ways that we were not even looking for. He has shown us that He loves to provide surprise gifts when we least expect it. He is not stingy when you put your trust in Him and go fishing.
2. The Holy Spirit comes to us in friends. Jesus tells us that He has left behind a Helper for us, which is the Spirit. I often think of the Holy Spirit as acting strictly in a spiritual sense to comfort and encourage our hearts. While this is something that He does, we are also told that our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. This means that other people’s bodies are also temples, and it is often within other people that we find the greatest help from the Spirit. The Lord brought amazing people into our lives in Louisville and many times when we prayed for encouragement, babysitters, a car, food, clothing, wisdom, it was those friends who have the Spirit of God living in them that became the greatest instrument of God’s blessing to us.
3. God’s love transcends denominations. I have always known that despite various theological differences, there are strong believers in just about every denomination. But in the last few years we have been very blessed to see it first hand. Louisville has hundreds of strong, thriving churches where people are gathering multiple times a week and the word of God is being preached and lived out. We spent our first year attending a large Baptist church, and while we differ on some theological points, we heard many encouraging and life changing sermons. The last two years in Louisville, we attended a wonderful PCA church. At both churches we met countless servants of Christ and beautiful families who are raising their little ones to love The Lord. Maybe God is using all these different denominations to reach different groups of people throughout the world. I don’t know His reasons, but I do know that none of us have it 100% right. I have enjoyed getting to know so many people from so many backgrounds that all love Christ and believe Him. The Holy Spirit is strong and moving and working mightily throughout that city. What a blessing to be able to be a small part of it.
Another day has passed and I have not used anything I learned in Algebra. I have actually come to a point in life where it seems like math is doing more bad than good. I’m sure I’ll find all those algorithms buried somewhere in my brain when my kids are struggling through high school arithmetic. But what I really wish I could unlearn is the basics, I wish I could forget how to count.
I need to be especially bad at math during this phase of life. My middle child has had trouble sleeping , and my oldest wakes me up to tell me. As soon as I lay down again, my youngest is wailing. I glance at my phone through bleary eyes. That’s 120 minutes of sleep that I did not get. My quick math is really stumbling me from greeting this day with joy.
The baby is learning about how many things he can reach and how high he can climb and how fun it is to splash in toilet water. I leave dinner bubbling on the stove to run and rescue him from drinking from the toilet, for the fifth time in sixty minutes. My simple addition, counting the times I have rescued him, is causing a problem in my attitude.
My five year old grows faster than anyone in the family. It seems like I am always shopping for shoes. My credit card statement comes and I use easy multiplication to figure out how much I can spent on shoes in the last few months. I cringe. My math skills are impeding me from giving freely.
Mothers need to be bad at counting sacrifices. I need to stop counting the loaves and the fishes and comparing it to the five thousand mouths that need food. I need to stop counting the number of times I was up in the night, the number of corrections I have given, the number of minutes the toddler napped, the number of loads of laundry, the number of handprints on the walls, the cost of food, the amount of alone time, the inefficiency. I need to freely give, to generously lavish late night story times and consistent discipline and clothes and snacks and clean sheets. I need to forget the number of times I had to cancel an evening with friends because of a sick child, to forget how to add up minutes when we are trying to get out the door, to overlook the high utility bill that resulted in a warm home and clean water for five. I need to stop counting, stop adding, stop calculating the cost. I need to open my hands and give every day and pray that I would learn to be bad at this kind of math.
It was cold and crisp that morning, but the sun shone beautifully on the New Year. The snow stuck to the branches and sparkled on the ground. After a night of fitful sleep, I left my apartment early. It was my wedding day.
I grabbed my fathers arm and we walked around the corner, a sea of familiar faces smiling at me and every one stood. I looked at my father, he swallowed hard and I had to look away so that I wouldn’t cry. From the balcony, crisp and beautiful, the choir sang…
Ubi caritas et amor, Deus ibi est
Congregavit nos in unum Christi amor
Exultamus et in ipso jucundemure
Timeamus et ameamus Deum vivum
Et excorde diligamus nos sincero
(Translation: Where there is charity and love, God is there
The love of Christ has gathered us into one
Let us rejoice in Him and be glad
Let us fear and let us love the living God
And from a sincere heart let us love one another).
The rest of my wedding was a blur, every bride will tell you. I remember beautiful words from my father and father-in-law, songs and toasts, so much food and wine. I remember dozens and dozens of friends volunteering their time (some last minute) so that everything would come together. Friends were cooking and setting up the reception and assembling centerpieces and vacuuming the church. I remember sisters, new sisters, little sisters, and sisters in Christ, surrounding me as I prepared for my wedding that morning with gifts and words and hugs. But the thing I remember the most was the choir as I walked with my father, singing Latin words about Christ and His love and how His love gathers us together, and then seeing so many friends pour out kindness and love without any recognition or return. It’s like the words took shape right before my eyes, teaching me what is really means to love.
Where there is love, God is there. Love is learning to see something from someone else’s perspective and anticipate their needs. Jesus says it: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Jesus did it; He took on flesh to see from our perspective.
Love is the same in marriage. It is like putting on someone else’s prescription glasses. At first it can be awkward and fuzzy, especially if you have different perspectives on a lot of things. But as you let yourself be influenced by each other your eye site changes and you start to see more clearly than you saw before. My memories from before I was married are fuzzy, as if I didn’t really know how to see the world. I have had to adjust, to see a new perspective, and I can say for certain that I love Jon’s glasses much better than my own. His perspective has changed the way I see everything, and his perspective has taught me so much about love.
(Photos by Peter Roise)
When I was growing up, Christmas was by far my favorite time of year. Decorations came out, music played, it was the only time we ever had candles burning. My minimalistic mother even had a throw on the couch, and the decor loving domestic seven year old in me just felt all warm inside. As I have moved on into a life of being the one to make Christmas happen, I have always tried my best to make it as big and as festive as my budget would allow. We have had big parties, progressive dinners, presents for all the siblings and spouses, and as our children have joined us in life our celebration has shifted to them. We don’t have big parties as often now, but we love to go on lots of Starbucks dates and drive around looking at lights after dark and build ginger bread houses and cook together and decorate cookies and partake in all forms of sugar. We fill the kids stockings until they are bursting and we buy as many gifts as we can afford. We watch all the Christmas movies with mint Oreos and candy canes and I find myself scrubbing my couch for days. We want Christmas to be fun, the most fun.
But somehow in all that mix, Christmas has become less fun for me. I am often so busy trying to make it fun for everyone else that I don’t have many moments feel fun. I enjoy seeing everyone else enjoy it. I love watching their concentration as they decorate sugar cookies and watching their excitement build on Christmas Eve and listening to them recite the story of Jesus to me. I enjoy all those moments, but to be honest I enjoy them while I am still hoping for a nap and halfway remembering all the things I need to do and running through the budget in the back of my mind.
I found myself alone the other day, sitting in the dusk living room with a glass of wine, staring at the sparkling tree and the pile of presents next to it. I couldn’t find a pen so I had stopped making lists for a few minutes. I wanted to recreate the sentimentality of Christmas, to feel the excited fuzziness that I did when I was a child, to have all the joy and none of the stress. I guess what I really wanted was a Hollywood Christmas, not the real one.
The real Christmas involved a woman who found out she was pregnant while still unmarried, whose fiancé was suspicious of her purity and didn’t want to marry her at first, who had to travel while nine months pregnant to obey a census law, who had to give birth on a bed of hay and somehow figure out how to cut the cord (I guess…I have no idea how they did these things then, but I imagine it was messy). The real Christmas story involved Herod issuing a decree to slaughter all the baby boys. Can you even imagine what it would be like if military officers were breaking into our homes and killing our baby sons? That is certainly much more stressful than anything in my life. But in the midst of the all the crazy stress, angels filled the sky on Christmas and they sang a song of hope and peace.
Even though in the story of Christmas there was great turmoil and a birth in a stable and babies being killed, heaven rejoices. I want to echo what the angels say, I want to look to the hosts of heaven and see what they see. They saw the joy shining through stronger than the trials. I want to cling to the joy of the shepherds and the angels, singing because the world was being redeemed, the course of history was changing. While I work so hard and so tired to make a great celebration and a fun and joyful time for my family, I should not be discouraged that I bear stress. The angels said not to look at the stress of the world, but to rejoice, rejoice greatly! Even if I feel tired and overwhelmed, that’s ok. I am in the weary world. It is part of the story, and it always has been. But heaven is not weary. Heaven is full of joy, heaven sees the whole picture. I want to see the whole picture, rejoicing even in the midst of the tired.
“What’s the fastest route” he asks me as we quickly come to a stop behind a sea of red brake lights. I pull out my phone and map all the options. Every way is red with traffic backed up. Deep down I must be a small town girl because traffic annoys me more than almost anything. We settle into a long wait.
“What do you think about the Syrian refugee crisis?” I ask. We haven’t been on a date in half a year, so discussing politics while sitting in traffic still feels like a luxury.
We inch our way through the clouds of dust coming from the road construction and finally make it downtown. We pass the beautiful brick cathedral, looking for parking. People are rushing up the stairs. Three old ladies in fur trimmed pea coats walk by us quickly, and I wonder how many years they have attended this performance of The Messiah. Jon pulls the tall wooden door open for me and we crowd into the foyer with all the other late comers. A lady in a long black skirt and short hair firmly holds her hand over the door of the sanctuary, waiting I think for a pause so she can let us in with minimal disturbance.
I can still hear the soloist through the etched glass doors …
“Every valley shall be exalted and every mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight and the rough places plain.”
One of my favorite verses. All the crookedness will be made straight: the crookedness of my own heart, the crookedness of injustice, the crookedness in the hearts of others, the crookedness of cancer, the crookedness of abortion, the crookedness of terrorism. Sin contorts and makes everything rough and crooked. But He came to make it straight, to make it smooth, to take away things that are tough and painful, the small hills and the huge mountains.
We sneak around the back of the orchestra and grab some of the last seats. The church is beautiful, with tall stained glass windows and white pillars trimmed with gold. The ceiling is painted dark blue and speckled with gold stars, and the majestic wooden organ covers the back wall.
“Is he awake?” Jon whispers, motioning at the percussionist with his white head nodding off to the side. He does look like he will slide right out of his chair.
The music is crisp and clear, the soloists on point with every note. Jon puts his arm around me. “Why don’t we go to things like this more often?” he whispers. “Because you are wearing a hoodie.” I say and we both laugh. I scoot my chair closer to his and he tries to convince me in a whisper that suits are totally inappropriate for 40 degree weather.
The percussionist comes alive suddenly as his part comes in, and he acts years younger than he looks, bouncing his head to count the notes.
And then the alto…
“Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”
I scan the sanctuary of the beautiful church, looking out over hundreds of bored faces. Some look half asleep, others look intelligently as if analyzing the music. Did they hear it? Death is swallowed up…in victory! Do they know it? Can they imagine it? Death, the worst enemy, the thing that breaks our hearts, the ultimate separator of love, the most crooked, the most rough of all the places, even death is made straight and plain, demolished in the resurrection.
The gospel sung is a beautiful way to remind yourself of its truth. It is sweet to live in a story where you know the ending, and you know the end is all things made straight, the ugliest of all enemies is swallowed, engulfed by righteousness.
We file out of the church with the crowd, thanking several of the musicians as we pass. The night is cold and I grab Jon’s arm as we try to remember where we parked our car.
The song of the chorus still rings through my head. So many of my friends have felt the sting of death this year, very closely. And living through the normal parts of life, like Christmas, is so hard when you are in a valley. My prayer for them in this season is that they would find great hope and comfort and peace as they cling to the promise of valleys being raised, and of crookedness being straightened, and of hardships being healed, and of trumpets calling the righteous to spring up out of their graves, and of every single causation of fatality in the world melting away like a long lost memory.
Happy birthday to my beautiful June Annwyn Marie. She is the first one in the family to have curls in her hair, and that seems very appropriate. She is bouncy and fun and loves to laugh and tackle her brother. We are big fans.
The name Annwyn is thought to have come from the Welsh word referring to a world void of disease, where the food is unending. In many myths it is associated with heaven. I can’t think of a more appropriate middle name for our girl. She has always been a bright light in our stories.
A few months ago June made up a word: “Labba-doo”. It means “don’t worry” or something like that. Whenever someone is crying or upset, June will say “Just snap your fingers and say labba-doo”. It always reverses the situation and most of the time we all end up laughing. That phrase sums up June perfectly. She is always trying to make people laugh, especially her brother and sister. She is the first one to turn a grumpy attitude into a joke. When she gets hurt she quickly wipes away her tears and says “it’s going to be ok!” with a big smile. I hope someday she understands how much I need her laughter.
June is always bright, she is our light. She is our June in November, our sunshine in the winter, our little sparkle of hope. She is so full of joy, and I am very much looking forward to another year with her!