Afflicted But Not Crushed

It’s 3:30 AM as I sit here typing this. I should be asleep. I have tried, but I am in pain; and alas, sleep will not come. I have done some prayerful meditation in this time, and it’s really gotten me thinking. I am at a turning point in my walk with God. The Lord has nudged and prodded, and sometimes flat out shoved me right out of my spiritual comfort zone and out into the unknown. It’s a very exciting (and admittedly more than a little terrifying) place to be. He has allowed me to see so much more of his character, and his vision of my purpose is becoming clearer to me. He doesn’t want me to be a “Back Row Baptist” as we call them at our church. He wants me all in, completely sold out, ready to give up whatever it takes to follow him. As in the Bible series my husband and I are going through, Not a Fan. God doesn’t want fans with their Jesus fish bumper stickers and NOTW t-shirts. He wants us to take up our cross daily and follow him. (Matthew 16:24-26) What does that mean? What was Jesus doing when he took up his own cross? He was beaten nearly dead, and he had to carry that huge cross up to where he was about to be crucified. This is what he has asked of us, to take up our crosses daily and FOLLOW him, come what may. Jesus, I am there. I’m ready. Whatever it takes, whatever he asks, I am prepared.

And already, he has asked, and I have given. Already the Lord has been changing my heart and our lives as a family. Through seemingly small sacrifices for the Lord, our family is already seeing huge changes – all good ones!

However, at the same time as this amazing new fire was lit within my soul, I was physically afflicted. I cannot help but think of the Apostle Paul and his thorn that he wrote of. (Not that I am saying that I am anything like Paul, or his level of knowledge, his impact, or his spirituality – I can only wish!) I find myself likening this situation to Paul nonetheless, because I realize that God allows afflictions. I am praying for understanding as to why I am going through all this right now. Sometimes God allows it to reveal sin in our lives, sometimes it’s simply Satan throwing a hissy fit over seeing God work mightily in one of his children. And sometimes, as with Paul, God allows it to keep us humble. I am praying great deal on this, and I am pleading with the Lord to make his reasons clear to us. And if it is in his will, more than anything, I am petitioning him for healing! I would greatly appreciate any prayers you all have to spare for me! But no matter what, I will not lose my joy.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:8-10,16-18)

Image

 

Are We Taking Advantage of God’s Grace?

“It’s too radical.”
“You’re taking it too seriously.”
“We live under grace now, not the law.”
“It’s what in our hearts that counts.”
“You’re acting like the Pharisees.”

These are only some of the comments I have heard in the past few years of my walk with the Lord. We’re been making some pretty big changes to our lives, after examining our hearts and seeing how our apathy and worldliness has taken its toll on our walk with the Lord. From deciding to dress modestly in skirts and dresses to homeschooling the kids, from ditching the TV altogether (apart from movies we have pre-approved for the kids to watch) to deciding to trust the Lord with our fertility, we have had a lot of convictions placed on our hearts! And now we’re prayerfully made the decision to stop celebrating pagan holidays (you can read more about that here). I know that people have humored us along the way. (It’s been borderline patronizing, actually.) But I think that with this last decision, people in our lives have basically said, “Enough is enough already! It’s time to stop!” Everyone keeps telling me that the “drastic” or “radical” direction we’re going in our lives is simply not necessary. They point out that we live under grace now and now under the law, so it’s what’s in our hearts that really counts. And then they use that as grounds to completely rip apart our choices to life a life that it set apart from the world.

True, we are no longer under Old Testament law. Yes, we are under grace. And, yes, it IS the heart that counts. The problem I see therein is that when we reduce Jesus’ death on the cross to nothing more than an act grace that requires no further action from us beyond acceptance, then we are not giving true credit to just what he did on that cross! I believe that if we’re doing that, we should be examining our hearts deeper and understanding whether or not we truly even have a relationship with Jesus. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying here. I am not arguing that we can earn or work our way into heaven. No way, not a chance. Works alone are not going to give us salvation… BUT, salvation without works is dead. (James 2:20) They go hand in hand, and I think perhaps that’s what modern Christians fail to see. So many of us nowadays want to use the free gift of salvation as an excuse to live how we please with the assurance that we’ll still get into heaven. But if we’re truly saved, if we’ve truly allowed Jesus to enter into our hearts, then we should be bearing fruit and in turn we should look nothing like the rest of the world. You see, true faith in Jesus Christ should evidence itself. If we see no evidence, we need to stop and examine those hearts that I keep getting preached to about!

I am not trying to live like a Pharisee. I am not making these changes in my life so that the whole world can look at me. In fact, to the contrary, I’m going along with these changed God has initiated in my life (sometimes with me kicking and screaming, I’ll be honest!) in order to bring the glory and honor to HIM! Believe me, I certainly didn’t want to give up Christmas. And in my sinful heart, dressing modestly is not something I was excited about doing. I have followed God’s nudging on my heart because I believe in obedience. Spiritual obedience is more freeing than anything in the world.

I see it kind of like this. Have you ever compared children who are raised in homes with clear, realistic boundaries with children raised without any rules or expectations at all? Which children lead a happier, more rewarding life? Some might say that the children with no rules are happier, but it has been my experience that children actually thrive more with clearly understood boundaries and expectations. These children are given the chance to choose from right and wrong, and to see the rewards of choosing to do right. They see the pride in their parents when they do right, and they learn from the discipline they receive when they choose to disobey. In the end, they grow closer to their parents because of their obedience! Can the same be said of children who have no rules to follow, and are left to act as they see fit?

We are God’s children. He gives us standards by which we live. All throughout the Bible, he is sets the tone for how we should live in order to bring him glory. When we become servants of Christ, then we can truly experience freedom! It’s not out of legalism or wanting to check off the list of rules that I followed today, it’s about a deep desire to show obedience to my Creator! In turn, I get the pleasure of knowing him more intimately and reaping the amazing, joyous rewards of walking more closely with him. It’s the age old paradox of freedom through servitude, and it’s an amazing thing to see being play out right before me eyes!
So, before you decide that we must have lost our minds completely, please think about these things! We are to live a life set apart from the world. If we’re calling ourselves Christians, but going o to live with one foot in the world and one foot in heaven, can we truly call ourselves followers of Christ?

Image

The Luxurious Life of a Stay-at-Home Mom

I frequently get the comment that it must be nice to have the luxury of staying home with my children. I will always smile and say, “Yes, I am very thankful!” and move along. Yes, it’s true, I am thankful, but to be honest I am walking away from the person silently laughing and rolling my eyes. The luxury of staying home? Seriously?? Either these people have never had children that they spend any amount of time interacting with, or it has been too long since their children were young and they have simply forgotten what life with young children is actually like.

Allow me to paint you a picture. Imagine rolling out of bed in the morning after a particularly long and sleepless night. It’s 5:30 and the baby is crying (again), so you go to comfort her. Within minutes, the 7 year old wakes up and loudly bounds out of her room, practically singing “Good morning, Mommy!” (She’s a morning person. Something is very wrong with her.) Her loudly expressed happiness at greeting the new day then wakes the 2 year old who cries for Daddy, but she cannot have Daddy because Daddy is getting ready for work. So, there you are trying to nurse the baby while your 2 year old cries like she just lost her best friend in the world. (Did I mention it’s 5:30 in the morning?) Inevitable, all that ruckus wakes the 3 year old, who is now crying too and wanting to be picked up, but your lap is currently occupied, which leads to even more hysterics from the 3 year old.

Eventually, you get everyone happy with the help of Bubble Guppies and attempt to head downstairs for a cup of coffee when the baby sees you tiptoeing away and begins to holler. So, you make the pot of coffee with the baby on your hip and can’t help but chuckle at the cliche. Before you can even get one sip of the energy-giving nectar, the 2 and 3 year old begin fighting upstairs. You listen for a little while, waiting to see if they will be able to settle the squabble amongst themselves. Then comes the dreaded THUD immediately followed by crying. You fly upstairs and find one child lying flat on the floor, and the other one standing defiantly above her with a baby doll in her arms, and you can only assume that is the item that was the source of all the fighting. The crying one gets up, yanks the doll out of her sister’s arms, which leads to more screaming, and then in an instant they are rolling around on the floor in a full-blown cat fight. You get them separated, discipline, etc. Finally, you remember your cup of coffee, which is now cold. You stick it in the microwave to warm it up, and before it finishes nuking you have another minor catastrophe to contend with. Then the 3 year old announces that she has to go potty, so you take her and find that she has pooped in her underwear. Too bad she pulled her underwear off and climbed on the potty before you could clean her up, so now that’s another lovely mess to clean up.

You get everyone happy, clean, and then head downstairs where everyone is fed breakfast (except you, of course) and then look at the clock and realize it’s time to start school with the 7 year old. And then you remember that cup of coffee. You press the quick start button on the microwave and walk the 7 year old to the school room with the intention of grabbing the coffee as soon as the microwave beeps. You get the oldest situated with her lessons for the day, then head back to the kitchen to pull the baby out of the highchair, only to discover that she has somehow managed to climb out of it herself, and is now sitting in the middle of the table finger painting with her oatmeal, as well as with the bowls of oatmeal that her sisters apparently refused to eat. It’s everywhere. In her hair, all over her clothes, covering the highchair and table, and even some on the walls behind her. (How did she manage to make that big of a mess in, like, 3 minutes??) Guess that coffee will have to wait a little longer. Off to the bath with the baby! And of course, the 2 and 3 year old want to join, so here we are having our evening bath routine at 8 in the morning. Being the young children they are, they make a huge mess, spilling tub water all over the bathroom floor, which you then clean up with towels when they are all done. (Hey, that counts as mopping, right?) You then remember that you still have an oatmeal mess to clean up, so you head down to do that after distracting the kids with Bubble Guppies yet again. (Yes, I am *that* mom.) Once you get downstairs, you hear the oldest in the schoolroom crying. Apparently she had a question about her lesson and you never heard her calling for you while you were bathing the younger 3, so she’s now in the middle of a nuclear meltdown. You get her calm, help her, and then head out to the kitchen to clean up the mess. Then remember your coffee sitting in the microwave. But, before you can even heat it up someone is crying again, so off you go to put out another fire. And another. And another.

Finally, you get everyone down for a nap at 11, finish up lessons with the 7 year old and send her off to play, and sit down to enjoy your cup of coffee and have a quick bite to eat. But the peace is short-lived as the baby decides to cut her nap short. Here we go again.

This is, unfortunately, a true story. This was my day 2 days ago, and is a perfect example of what my life is like every. single. day. Yes, I am thankful to be home with my girls, and yes, this was a choice we made, but please don’t think it’s easy or luxurious. I get pooped on, peed on on, thrown up on, and covered in my kids’ food. I rarely get to enjoy wearing stain-free clothes all day long. Getting a shower two days in a row is so rare, I almost feel guilty when it happens. And using the bathroom in peace? I’ve just given up entirely on that dream. I clean up messes that take hoarders years to achieve that my kids manage to make in 10 minutes flat. I work from morning till night, and then I’m on-call all night, too. It’s not a glamorous job, make no mistake. Is it rewarding? Heck yeah. But it’s also the hardest, most exhausting job I have ever done.

I get so frustrated with the careless comments stay-at-home moms get from others. I’m sure people are mostly well-meaning, but I also think there’s a pervasive mentality behind those works that speaks of our culture’s attitude toward stay-at-home moms. As a SAHM I am told to tiptoe around the feelings of working moms, lest I say something that might offend them or demean what they do. But, yet people can throw out callous, hurtful remarks about me being “just” a SAHM or assume that my life must be luxurious, as though I am sitting on the couch all day watching soap operas while my children somehow stay perpetually happy and care for themselves and never, ever make messes. Look, we ALL are parents, and we ALL work hard, regardless of where we work. I’m not going to belittle moms who work, so please don’t belittle us moms who stay home, because we work too. Let’s just focus on uplifting one another, and try to choose our words a little more carefully, okay? This world would be such a better place to live if we could all simply support and encourage instead of tearing down.

Growing Pains and Growth Spurts

Looking back in my life, I clearly see a number of periods that were marked spiritual frustration, struggle and confusion – which were all later followed by amazing growth in my relationship with and understanding of the Lord. I have always thought of those times as my growing pains. They stretched, they hurt, and I always fought against it to keep the pain away; but when it was all over, I would find that I had a spiritual “growth spurt”; I was bigger – more spiritually mature – and I found myself closer than ever to my Heavenly Father.

A few years ago, the area of growth happened in regard to modesty. A dear friend gave me a copy of a wonderful book called Raising Maidens of Virtue. Having all girls, this friend thought this book would be an encouragement to me. Little did she know that the book would completely open my eyes to a huge, glaring issue in my life! The full change in my heart took several months and happened in stages because I fought back, not wanting to change. Eventually the Lord got my attention, the changes in my heart happened, and I have had so much joy in my life, in my marriage, and in raising my girls, since God put it on my heart to begin valuing myself as a Daughter of the King, not a woman of the world.

Another change came right around that same time, and that was to begin trusting in the Lord to make the decisions about our fertility. You can read more about that here. And for more stories of spiritual growth in our lives, check out this blog post, and this one.

At this time in my life, I can clearly see that I am going through a new wave of growing pains. The Lord, I believe, wants to purge my life of things that do not honor him; things that are difficult – downright painful – for me to give up. I don’t know why, but I always fight against these things. I know the end result will be wonderful, and that the Lord is only allowing these things to happen to bring me closer to him, but somehow that knowledge doesn’t stop me from my spiritual temper tantrum (I might as well call it what it is!).

After being shown this video by an a fellow homeschooler, my entire view of Christmas had changed. (I really encourage you to take the time to watch it before you continue reading.)

As you might already know, we had already given up celebrating Halloween, and we no longer do the whole Santa thing, nor the Easter Bunny thing, but Christmas has always been special. I’ve cut way back so that each of my children only received one gift each on Christmas, so as to make sure they wouldn’t get caught up in the materialistic aspect of the holiday. Instead, we threw birthday parties for Jesus, sang to him, and even had birthday cake! This has been a treasured time in our family, and every year we looked forward to “decking the halls” and putting up our tree. I never gave much attention to why we do those things, probably because we just always did! (How many things to we just “do” without ever stopping to wonder why we do them?) However, my eyes have now been opened. That video has lead me to research farther and deeper, and what I have found only feeds my repulsion. For example, I can never look at a Christmas tree again, knowing that they were originally used in pagan celebrations, and the pagans would dance naked around the decorated tree, participating in orgies and all other forms of ungodliness. How can decorating a Christmas tree, something that was originally meant to be a center of perverted acts, possibly be glorifying to the Lord? There are so many things that my eyes have been opened to, and I know I will never be the same. It hurts, the idea of giving up our beloved Christmas; but, I believe what hurts more is that our “beloved Christmas” was a lie all along.

I realize that this subject is taboo. I am not saying that everyone who reads this needs to stop celebrating Christmas, or Easter for that mater (but that’s a post for another day). I am simply stating that this is the spiritual struggle that my family is going through right now. To quote Peter Parker, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I think the same thing can be said of spiritual knowledge. As God chooses to reveal himself more to me and our family as a whole, with it comes the choice of what we will do with that knowledge. We can either use it to further grow our relationship with the Lord, or we can simply dismiss it and go on living our lives with one foot in heaven and one foot in the world. It’s a difficult battle, because the war being waged is not just internal; it’s the epic struggle of light versus dark. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12) That’s an important verse to remember, but the rest of it is equally important: “Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.  Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” (Ephesians 6:13-17) For us, my husband and myself, we believe that putting on the full armor of God means that while we live in the world, we are not to conform to it. Sometimes that’s hard to do, painful even, but we must follow our convictions – even if they are convictions that others may not share. We must stand firm, we must do what is right, we must heed the truth.