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Category Archives: Non-Wedding Stuff

For Tom & Linda

TLanniv

When you grow up in the midst of a happy home, you take a lot of things for granted.

For instance, I didn’t know it wasn’t normal for both parents to come to every sporting event–home and away–of your high school athletic career. I didn’t know other families didn’t gather around the table for dinner every night. I thought it was pretty normal to play family games of Jeopardy around the TV, keeping track of your score on a notecard and determining how much you wanted to wager during the Final Jeopardy round.

In hindsight, I wasn’t nearly as thankful as I should have been. As a parent myself now, I marvel at the sacrifice of my parents. Hours during the week spent behind the wheel, driving me to-and-from various sports practices. Hours spent listening to the same songs (played poorly) on the piano. Hours of help with homeschooling and, in later years, homework.

I marvel at the sacrifice, but I’ve also come to realize that they really enjoyed being with their children. Even in my teenage angst, they genuinely seemed to want to hang out with me. I’m sure there were times when they were relieved when I was in bed, but I never saw that. I saw love.

Looking back, I realize they were, perhaps unwittingly, teaching me about God. They were teaching me what love really is–it makes sacrifices motivated not by duty, but by the joy set before it. Their genuine love for and enjoyment of me was a mere shadow of my heavenly Father’s love for me as His child. He doesn’t merely tolerate me, nor does He cast me away or roll His eyes when I’m making poor decisions, once again. He loves me as He loves His Son.

Even now, my parents are my cheerleaders. If you’re my friend on Facebook, you’ve no doubt seen their names on pretty much every thing I’ve ever posted. I could post the same link to an article 3 times and they would probably “Like” it all 3 times. I know how I’ve treated them in the past. I know I don’t deserve any support or encouragement on my own merit. But there they are, wielding Facebook “Likes” as pom-poms and faithfully cheering me on.

Today my parents celebrate 35 years of marriage. They’re spending the week at a friend’s condo. If you know them, you know this is an unusual blessing. Even their vacation time is usually spent with their kids and grandkids, working and serving.

For the past 15 years, my dad has been a bi-vocational pastor, working 40+ hours as a journalist and pastoring a small church. His life is service. He’s normally the first one at his church, helping set up chairs before the service, and he’s the last one to leave, collecting the fold-up church stand from the roadside on his way home. It’s not just duty; it’s joy.

My mom drives 10 hours every few months to my house to serve me for a week. She cooks, cleans and plays all day every day. She serves the women in her church. In fact, my parents are using some of their evenings to babysit for other families. It’s not just duty; it’s joy.

It’s the joy of being loved and known that motivates their own love and service. It’s the knowledge that Jesus Christ humbled Himself. But just knowing this isn’t enough. Their service is fueled not just by knowledge, but by receiving incredible grace. And they are conduits for this grace, dispensing it to all who know them.

My parents aren’t perfect, but they are a beautiful testament of the power of God’s saving, redeeming, sanctifying grace in the hearts of two flawed people.

So today I just want to say thank you. I love you, Dad and Mom.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Santa Claus

'Santa Claus with reindeer at the beach: Panama City Beach, Florida' photo (c) 1956, Florida Memory - license: http://www.flickr.com/commons/usage/

So I have a bit of a love/hate thing going on with Santa right now. I’m wondering if anyone else has dealt with this tension in the past, so I’m just going to put it out there and see what others think.

We’ll start with the hate, naturally.

Erik and I are both products of Santa-less homes. He was never part of our Christmas traditions, and we didn’t know any different. So when we began our own traditions with our kids, we had no category for Santa. In fact, when our daughter was 2, she somehow morphed Santa and Noah into one jolly, animal-saving being. I remember pushing her in a shopping cart around Lowe’s and, upon seeing a life-sized Santa figure, hearing her shout, “Noah says ‘Ho, Ho, Ho!'” Naturally, I did nothing to correct this. (Incidentally, I may have also allowed my young son to believe the bear says “wuah ha ha” for far too long…parents just do this when their kids say cute stuff…I’m banking on no permanent damage being done).

So we’ve never really been Santa people, and it’s never been much of an issue. But this year my daughter is in kindergarten, where Santa reigns supreme. By the end of September she had already told a classmate Santa wasn’t real. So we had many talks about how it’s not her job to tell other kids that, and we need to respect the traditions of their families, etc. And I believe that, really. I hoped we could all just get through Christmas peaceably.

But then she came home one day telling me how Santa is real after all. She’s seen his workshop, and his good kid/bad kid list. She only hopes she can get her name on the good list. Of course, I then asked her how many bad things she’s allowed to do and still be on the good kid list.(For example, would not believing her mom be enough to put her on the bad list? She did not appreciate this question).

This post isn’t a rant about my daughter not believing me, nor is it about our society perpetuating a lie. I mean, I’m not exactly thrilled about the whole setup, but that’s not really the issue.

It’s not even really about Santa. We’ve taught our kids about the real Saint Nicholas and we’ll continue to reiterate the truth within the legend. This is a good, valuable message.

But the naughty/nice thing is just the worst. It’s the worst because it’s just like us to crave a list like this. And it’s super convenient for having a peaceful December. The fear of coal-filled stockings is a real thing, friends. I’ve seen small children reduced to tears at just the thought.

So this is where the love part of the love/hate thing comes in. Part of me really loves Santa because I’ve never had an easier way to share the gospel with my kids as well as other parents/friends/teachers.

A couple of days after we decorated our home for Christmas, I put the kids’ wrapped presents under the tree. I’m not always (read: never) on top of things like this, but this year I’m so thankful for the miraculous gift of preparedness because it has come in incredibly handy with our kids. When the discussion of Santa and his lists came up, I was able to point my daughter to the presents under the tree. I’m so thankful for the wisdom of God allowing me to tell her this:

“Do you see those presents under the tree? They are from your dad and me. They will be there every day until Christmas morning. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how bad you are. You will not lose those presents. You cannot earn them–they are a gift from us because we love you. With Santa, you have to be good to earn gifts. But you and I both know we can never be good enough on our own. And that’s why Jesus is so much greater than Santa. God knew we could never be good enough on our own, so He sent Jesus. Jesus was good in our place, and when we trust in His goodness and His love, instead of our own, then we get His sinless record before God. We get to know God! So Santa really isn’t so great after all.”

So I know this isn’t the end, and we will probably have this discussion every Christmas for years to come. And while part of me hates the thought of forcing my kids to choose whom to believe, part of me loves that inherent in this discussion is a clear gospel presentation. I pray for opportunities to declare the freedom of gospel grace in place of the karma of Santa Claus.

Note: This is in no way meant to condemn anyone who does Santa with their kids. I know lots of people who do it for fun without the naughty/nice lists and have a great time with their kids, not taking away from the true message of Christmas. So please don’t read it as judgment.

But I am wondering how other parents tackle this topic with their kids. If you have thoughts or ideas, I would really love to hear them!

Gospel Like Jazz

Sometimes I think the deeper I go into the gospel, the harder it is to come up with blog topics. Almost daily my Facebook feed includes a link to a viral blog post about what to wear/what not to wear, what to eat/what not to eat, who’s in/who’s out, how to/how not to, and it just goes on and on. Not to say all these things are bad. Practical blog posts can be really helpful–there are many I have benefited from over the years.

But it occurred to me that blogging gives me an insight into sermon preparation. My husband and I are both pastor’s kids, so we’ve seen our dads study and prep and deliver hundreds of sermons over the years. I think most pastors who seek to be faithful to Scripture end up hearing the inevitable criticism, “That’s all well and good, but how does it apply to me? I need more practical application.” I get it…I like practical application too. This isn’t exactly a critique of that idea. But there’s a line I reach frequently in thinking about blogging, and I ask myself what the priority is. Am I seeking to be faithful to the truth of Scripture and the gospel of grace, and then applying that truth to daily life? Or am I taking an idea or preference, writing a blog post about it, then throwing in some Scripture? I’m learning there’s quite a difference.

I recently heard an interview on NPR’s Here and Now program, in which the host and his guest, Julie Lavender, discussed jazz music. She mentioned one musician, Daniel Bennett, whose work she really respects, and her description of his music stood out to me. She said:

“He will repeat things over and over and over again to give them a lot of meaning. Rather than try to shoot for the moon in a bunch of different notes and progressions and improvisations across a wide harmony spectrum, he will repeat and give greater meaning to things that are repeated over and over.”

I’m no huge jazz fan, but this idea has really stuck with me. The thought of giving something meaning through repetition seems to fly in the face of many of my presuppositions. Wouldn’t repetition cause the melody to become trite or boring? But therein lies the skill of the musician. He isn’t simply playing the same line in the same way every time. He’s adding depth, variety of tempo, instruments, emotion. It’s not just a stagnant melody line, but a layered musical jewel, at the same time simple and profound.

I love this idea for blogging. May my writing be one same melody line, repeated over and over and over again, but played at different tempos, with a variety of instruments, at all times simple truth.

And while I’m at it, shouldn’t this be my life as well? It might make for impractical sermons, blog posts, or coffee dates, but it’s all I’ve got. Christ is all. May it be so, here in this space, in my own home, and in my heart.

 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Phil 3:7-11

Book Review: Found in Him

I confess I’m not a great book reviewer. My reviews are far more subjective than objective, and I struggle to point out negative aspects. So normally I just review books I agree with and love.

And…today is no exception. While writing A Christ-Centered Wedding, I did a lot of research into and thinking about what our marriage union with Christ really means. When I heard that Elyse Fitzpatrick was writing a book on this very topic, I was anxious to read it, only to discover it wouldn’t be out until well past the due date for our book. This was probably a gift from the Lord so that I wouldn’t be tempted to plagiarize all of Fitzpatrick’s book.

I had the honor of hearing the author speak last year at the True Woman conference in Indianapolis. When we go to conferences, there is a tendency for us to make mental to-do lists of what we need to do and change when we return home. We hear a convicting message, determine to change things, and go home with renewed resolve. Or maybe it’s just me. But then Elyse Fitzpatrick spoke on our identity in Christ and talked about her desire to give women “No fluff, no bricks, just Good News.” I walked away refreshed, encouraged, and knowing how dearly I was loved in Christ.

This is the same feeling I had after reading Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with ChristThe entire book is about Christ. We’re so used to the “now that you know this, go do this” section of books that I kept waiting for it. But it wasn’t there. The book is divided into two parts: Part 1 deals with the incarnation of the God-man, Jesus Christ; Part 2 with our union in and with Christ.

This is a book that needs to be slowly chewed and reflected on. I received a digital copy from the publisher in exchange for a review (which is not required to be positive), but I will be ordering a hard copy just so I can write all over it and come back to it, a bit at a time, to really think it through. Fitzpatrick’s writing is accessible and understandable, but not watered down or overly sentimental. It’s like someone walking you through Scripture and constantly reflecting–“Can you believe this? This is the Christ who has loved you. This is what He did and is still doing.”

My eyes were opened and my heart rejoiced as I read about the deep significance of Jesus’ faithfulness and the purpose of His perfect life. I better understood the resurrection through the lens of childbirth. In fact, here’s just a small quote–I highlighted half of the book on my Kindle, so I’m really restraining myself not to share quote after quote:

When we read that God’s ways are higher than our ways (Isa. 55:9), we really don’t have much of a clue what that means, do we? Think of it: a virgin shall conceive. A desolate unmarried man sings because he gives birth and sees his children. A new humanity is born in a new garden, but this time it is not from the dust of the earth but from the flesh of God, once dead but now alive, that they come. God labors! The Son cries out in pain, and we are born again! He thought nothing of the shame of the cross because of the joy of our birth in him (Heb. 12:2).

There is some great stuff in the second part of the book, as well. The author discusses what it means for us to be the bride of Christ and spends some time reflecting on the fact that in Christ we are all (male and female) in a way feminine in comparison to the masculinity of God. This might be a somewhat controversial concept, but in context it points us to rejoice in the loving Bridegroom and our union with Him:

Whenever anyone got around Jesus they felt both welcomed and in need of protection and provision, and they all came to know that he had initiated the relationship and was completely in charge.

The final chapter is as close to a “to-do list” as it gets, but in fact it’s much more like a “to-think-on” list. It’s an application in a way, as if to say, “If all the preceding thoughts are true, what implication does this have for my daily life?” But, unlike many other books and teachings, it’s not focused primarily on change. As Fitzpatrick writes:

For many people the entire point of Christianity is found here in the topic of change. No matter how one might define that word, many of us are primarily interested in how to get better, to be better, and to do more. Rather than spending most of our time reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ, the majority of messages and books in the Christian marketplace are about what we’re supposed to be doing. The deep and life-transforming message of the incarnation and our union with Jesus is trampled under the stampede of believers trying to find the secret to being a better you.

So this final chapter shows how doing just that–reflecting on the incarnation and our union with Christ–powers and inspires us in daily faithfulness.

I love that this book came out in time to meditate on it before and during the Christmas season. I highly recommend it. It’s not just a “woman’s book,” but Fitzpatrick’s writing style is such that I think anyone would greatly benefit from a thorough reading. Maybe an early Christmas gift for a friend or family member (or yourself?).

Cold Water and Godly Women

'Water Pouring Over Glass of Ice' photo (c) 2012, StockPhotosforFree.com - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Imagine a young woman walks up to you after your church service this Sunday and says: “Hi, I was wondering if you might have time in the next few weeks to get together and talk? I’m looking for someone who can show me what it means to be a godly woman.”

What would you say?

Maybe you could invite her over to watch how you live during the day. You could teach her how you get up early, have your quiet time, make your family’s breakfast, organize your grocery list and schedule your life throughout the week. You could let her tag along while you go to work, or visit the nursing home, or go to the PTA meeting, or teach at the homeschool co-op. At the end of the day, she might have a little glimpse of what godly womanhood looks like.

Or maybe you’ve been burnt by well-meaning women who tried to show you how to be godly. Maybe when this young woman comes up to you, you respond by saying, “Just give it up. You can’t do it. Just embrace your failures and give yourself grace.”

Now, I realize there’s something to be said for women teaching one another skills like cooking, cleaning, organizing, serving, and so on. I’m not demeaning those things. But when someone asks for help with becoming a godly woman and that’s what we teach her, we might just be missing the point. Whether we mean to or not, we’re equating godliness with domesticity. After all, “cleanliness is next to godliness,” right?

The truth is, I could be a fantastic cook, have a perfectly organized home, iron not just my husband’s clothes, but also my kids’ jeans and sheets (I think people do this, right?), and miss the beauty of gospel grace because I’m so wrapped up in the vanity of my own performance.

So what’s wrong with the second response—the one that tells the young woman to just give it up?

I tell people all the time, “Just give each other grace.” But I recently had to ask myself, “What does that mean?”

Lately I’ve noticed this propensity for us to expose our failures to one another, whether online or in conversation. Now, I realize this sounds like a good thing. It’s true–we do need to show one another our failures and sin. So we call things “mom fails” or “epic fails” and display pictures of messy homes, children covered in sparkly make-up, perhaps to encourage other women that it’s okay—you don’t have to have it all together. I’m all for being real. But after a while, this trend started to bother me and I couldn’t quite put my finger on the cause.

I think the problem is that this is probably not what Paul had in mind when he wrote of boasting in weakness. Our “boasting” looks a lot more like actual “boasting” than what I think Paul was intending. It can almost become a competition—who is the most “real”? Who has the most chaotic life? Let’s follow that woman because she gets it…it doesn’t have to be perfect.

Indeed, freedom from the pressure to be a perfect Proverbs 31 woman is a good thing. Many of our efforts to be this kind of woman are human-driven, rather than flowing out of faith in Christ. But how does that freedom come about? Do we just collectively throw in the towel and say, “No one’s perfect, and you don’t have to be!”

Is this what we mean when we talk about giving one another “grace?”

Is “grace” really just making excuses for one another or overlooking each others’ sin?

I think somewhere along the lines, this is what it became for me. Maybe because it’s what I wanted people to do for me. Maybe because I didn’t want to take the time or put forth the messy effort of confronting sin. Maybe because I just didn’t understand the power of the gospel.

So here’s what I think we’re missing with both responses to our sweet friend:

Proverbs 25:25 says, “Like cold water to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”

What is the good news we can give this young woman—good news that will be cold water for her thirsty soul?

She wants to be a godly woman. Is it possible? Can she do it by employing our practical advice? Should she just throw in the towel now?

Well, we have good news—Proverbs 2 gives us hope that we can attain wisdom:

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding,

If you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures,

Then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.

And notice especially this part—Proverbs 2:6:

For the LORD gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;

So where does wisdom come from? From the Lord. More specifically, from His mouth. So it’s in His Word.

We have His wisdom right in His Word. And as I’ve been learning more and more, His Word is all about His redeeming grace—His perfect plan to redeem sinners through the incarnation, life, death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus.

We know both of the aforementioned responses are inadequate—one tells our friend she can be a godly woman based on externals, the other tells her that her sin isn’t that big of a deal.

We know she needs the cold water of the gospel for her thirsty soul. But how do we give it to her, and to each other? How do we really give each other grace without excusing sin?

Here’s what we do. We make sin real and big and terrible. We don’t excuse it.

J. Gresham Machen said, “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.”

In other words, a low view of law tells us we can do it—we can be righteous on our own. This leads us right back to legalism. We think we’re giving each other grace, but we’re not. We’re denying each other the grace we need by saying we don’t need it.

So there’s a better way. We can tell our young friend, and each other, this:

I know you want to be godly. That is Christ in you, loving you and causing you to want to bear fruit. And by trusting in His work, abiding in the Vine, and praying for the Spirit to work in and through you, you WILL bear fruit. But you will also fail. You will lose your temper. You will be lazy. You will manipulate. It’s hard to imagine it now, but it will happen. You will sometimes resent your husband. Your organizing system will fail. Or maybe you’ll struggle with pride because your organizing system is awesome.

There will be mom fails or wife fails or friend fails.

But that’s not even the half of it. It’s way, way worse than that. There’s the epic fail that has nothing to do with housework—it’s the epic fail of original, indwelling sin. Rather than telling you it’s not a big deal, I’m going to be honest. It’s a really, REALLY big deal. And no amount of trying harder will fix it.

So rejoice. He has done it all. It is finished. The problem is way bigger than you could ever imagine, and the victory is far greater than we could ever dream.

This is grace—our Savior came to earth as an infant just so He could live a complete, perfect life in our place. He empathizes with our suffering and our sorrow and our temptation. But He did it all—perfectly—with perfect wisdom. Not because it was easy, but because He loves us. He paid the debt, He bore our sin, He finished the work He set out to do, He rose in victory over sin and death, and now He is pleading on your behalf before the Father. This is grace.

This is cold water to our thirsty souls.

This is good news from a far country.

This is what it means to be a godly woman–a woman whose faith is in Christ alone.

For more on the idea of the “mom fail,” check out this post by Kimm Crandall.

Real Life

This week I intend to do some real blogging for the first time in several weeks. I’ll be reviewing a book or two (if I can finish them!) and sharing some things God’s been teaching me lately.

In the meantime, here’s a little update on our “real life” here in Nashville:

My oldest started Kindergarten this year, and we’ve all adjusted to it now, although I worry every morning that something will happen to my car on the way to school and I’ll have to get out of the car and expose everyone to the unseemly sight of my son and I in our pajamas. So far, so good. Last week I went on a field trip with my daughter and let me just say, I have so much respect for kindergarten teachers. I was exhausted after just 3 hours with 19 kids. Having our kiddo in school has opened the door for a lot of good conversations, and we’re thankful she loves school so much.

I’m enjoying the opportunity to spend some one-on-one time with my youngest. He is really coming out of his shell now that he has the opportunity to express himself without his loving, helpful sister always speaking for him. We spend our days having coffee dates with friends, doing chores, going to Bible study, and visiting our local children’s museum. And watching TV…that happens too.

Speaking of Bible study, the ladies in our church study are going through Nancy Guthrie’s The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books (Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament) and it is excellent. She is a wonderful writer, and there are no softball questions in the discussion guide (you know, the awkward questions that everyone knows the answers to, but no one wants to say it). We use the study guide in combination with lectures from women in our own church, and I have been privileged and challenged to teach two of these–on repentance in the Psalms and on Proverbs. More on that later this week, as God used Proverbs to teach me quite a bit.

I’m generally an introvert, but the Lord is stretching me and helping me come out of my shell and spend my days in conversation with others. I love seeing the unity of hearts as we share what He’s doing in our lives. And I love the reminders to lean on His wisdom and not my own, something I frequently get wrong. He has encouraged my soul through some sweet friendships–some new, some old–and I’m thankful for this season of being able to spend time during the day with other women.

I’m resisting the urge to participate in any kind of early Christmas activities. My son insisted on listening to Christmas music a couple of weeks ago, but thankfully that was short-lived. I have to confess that I get burnt out on Christmas as it is, so starting early only serves to make it worse. We’re trying to take our time and enjoy Thanksgiving this year, but I know I’m just one peppermint mocha away from losing my resolve.

So what about you? Do you indulge in early holiday festivities? Read any good books lately? What’s going on in your life?

 

Blog Silence & A Link Roundup

So it’s been a little quiet around here lately. I’ve been prepping a couple of Bible study lectures to share with the women in my church, and I seem to only get inspiration for one thing at a time. Thus, the lack of posting here.

Next week I plan to start posting again. In the meantime, here are some of my favorite things around the web from the past couple of weeks:

Naming Children – my friend Kyle writes about the names parents choose for their kids, inviting us to decide if it’s gotten out of hand. Hilarious writing here, people.

I See You and I Judge – by Jan Quick, on women and judging and shame and the solution

That One Sin – by Lindsey Carlson, on how we easily become defeated in our struggle against sin, and that one sin that just keeps coming back.

The Secret Women’s Porn Problem – by Trillia Newbell. It’s not just a man’s issue, and we need to be talking about it more. The first-person accounts in this piece open a window to see how this addiction starts, but the stunning part comes in Trillia’s thoughts at the end–freedom in Christ.

Also, I’ve had a couple of posts up on other websites if you’re interested in checking those out:

Tissues, Lassos and Labcoats: Lessons in Repentance – at True Woman I tell a childhood story and how it taught me I don’t have to fear confession of sin

Birth Choices, Baby Care and the Wisdom of God – at CBMW Karis I share how something my friend Mandi said completely changed my perspective on raising my kids

Finally, here’s a book I’m in the middle of. I’ll be posting a full review soon, but in the meantime you can check it out:

found in him

Found in Him: The Joy of the Incarnation and Our Union with Christ by Elyse Fitzpatrick