What is Courage?

This morning, my not-yet-three-year-old son went completely underwater *on purpose* for the first time. After two weeks of IMG_0955swimming lessons and countless “tries” that included only dipping down to mid-ear, he agreed with his swim teacher that on the last day of lessons, he’d do it. That day was today, and he spent five minutes with me trying. He kept getting a little deeper and a little deeper, and then he finally did it! Do you know what I said to him when he came back up? “That was SO brave!”

But was it? Based on a lot of public opinions I’ve seen on the topic of bravery over the last few months, I’m wondering if I may have used the wrong word.  Not all people who do scary-to-them things are recognized as brave. So, what exactly is bravery? How do we define courage, and why?

I think so many Christians — not wrongly — wrap up their definitions of courage and bravery with a sense of obedience to God, regardless of the cost. Trusting that God will fight for you; honoring Him when everyone else opposes you. This is very Biblical. The first verse I thought of regarding courage was “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and very courageous. Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 — probably a conglomeration of different versions). And there are very many others along the same lines. It has become natural to many of us to interpret courage from a spiritual standpoint, but does that therefore exclude people who don’t believe the same as us? Or align with our morals and values? If what they stand for is not Biblical, can they ever be truly brave in actually standing for it?

Publicly changing your gender doesn’t quite seem to fit the Conservative Christian mold, and generally, Conservative Christians (including famous, leader-types) are being awfully snippy and rude about how some are recognizing this act as an act of bravery. But is that really fair? (Or loving?)

19006598825_f67d5615ec_oCaitlyn Jenner is being compared to soldiers, police, firefighters, etc., as though their courageous acts negate hers. True, the former Olympian didn’t put her life on the line for anyone else. Or did she?

Have you noticed how she’s been vilified, ridiculed, mocked, and virtually spat upon since she (while still a “he”) went public in an interview with Diane Sawyer? She knew that would happen, yet she still did it. She intentionally went public. Was it for her own publicity? Maybe a little bit; she is a celebrity after all. But did you listen to her speech after receiving the Arthur Ashe Award for Courage? I did — you can watch it on YouTube. Here are some of the things she had to say:

  • People are dying. Literally — today, yesterday, tomorrow. People are killing themselves and being killed because of gender identity issues. They’re being bullied, harassed, abused. Every day. Someone needs to help.
  • With the spotlight comes responsibility. Speaking to a room full of athletes and celebrities, she reminded them that how they conduct themselves matters.
  • Accept people. People are going to be different. Accept them anyway.
  • Trans people deserve respect. And the inevitable byproduct of respecting them is having compassion for them.

Really great, Biblical points, by the way. MY point is that she’s not doing it just for herself. Caitlyn Jenner put herself out there intending to help other people. Regardless of whether we agree with her beliefs, values, or methods, the fact remains that she is willfully positioning herself to be ripped apart by Christians in an effort to help the lost, the confused, the hurting, the scared — the ones we’re tragically not that great at loving — in a way she thinks will give them hope. Knowing the inevitable backlash, she still moved forward with others’ pain as a major motivator.

Isn’t that ironic? What love she’s showing, and what judgment and ugliness we’re throwing back at her.

I would definitely call her courageous.

 

Discipline and Selfishness

Recently, I read a very good blog post about busy moms in the trenches of baby-/toddler-/preschooler-rearing and how we need The Church. I loved it, even though avoiding church out of exhaustion isn’t a particular struggle of mine. Still, a certain Scripture stood out from the article:

…make my [the apostle Paul’s] joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose. Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

~Philippians 2:2-4

The application in the above-referenced blog was to parenting, and how even though we may miss out on sermons or worshiping because of a fussy baby or a defiant toddler or preschooler, we need to refocus and consider our children’s needs as more important than our own. Bingo. I loved that. I “liked” it. And then I set about making breakfast.

Bennett (my nearly-three-year-old) was busy playing cars, waiting for breakfast to be ready. I communicated that he would play until breakfast was ready, which would be in just about five minutes. I gave him a two-minute warning. And finally, I let him know it was time to come to the table. OH THE HORROR!!! Flailing limbs, much wailing and gnashing of teeth, “BUT I’M NOT DONE PLAYING CARS!!!!!” Waaah waaah, whine, whine, scream.

I had a truly textbook response. It was a proud mom moment. I calmly and sweetly said to him, “Oh, my. Is that how we talk to Mom? Let’s try standing up, using your Big Boy Voice, and telling me what you need to tell me.”

It couldn’t have worked better — he promptly stood up, wiped his eyes, and stuffed down his whimpers as he c8471029060_40cabca059_oalmly asked, “Can I play cars for one more minute, please?” VICTORY! Glory hallelujah and amen. I said that he *could* have one more minute, and “thank you for your respectful attitude. In one more minute you will come to the table and eat breakfast with Mama. Yes ma’am?”

“Yes ma’am!”

One minute came and went, and it was a total train wreck from there. I won’t give you a play-by-play, but it ended with my removing him from his spot at the table, walking him to the living room, and having a discussion face-to-face, which was reinforced on his backside, and then leading him in repentance, prayer, and hugs.

The whole thing took so long (it always does; thanks Tedd Tripp!), that my eggs and muffin were ice-freaking-cold when we finally got back to the table. It would have been so much easier to just let him play with his dang cars until he decided he was done, and then let HIM eat cold breakfast alone.

As I sat down (after reheating my food), I remembered Paul’s words. Here’s a VERY amplified “paraphrase,” courtesy of yours truly:

Make my joy complete by being of the same mind with the Lord. Remember His mandate on parents and children — you *must* take the time and effort to discipline, as obedience to authority is at the heart of serving God. How can you obey God if you never learned to obey your parents? Maintain the same love — God disciplines those He loves. Unite in spirit with His Spirit, and be intent on one purpose: shepherding and disciple-making. Do nothing from selfishness (like wanting to eat a hot breakfast in peace) or empty conceit (like worrying about what other people will think), but with humility of mind regard your child as more important than yourself; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the long-term, eternal interests of your child. It may seem like this is about breakfast and cars, but this is an important battle in the fierce war that is being waged for his soul. 

That’s some pretty fancy “exegesis,” isn’t it? Even so, the principles remain the same, even if Paul wasn’t really talking about parenting, eggs, or Hot Wheels.

Whenever I choose not to deal with misbehavior or defiance, I am putting my own needs above my son’s. Whether it’s my need to spend my next several minutes doing such-and-such pressing thing, or my need to avoid judgment in public, or my need to just not expend the energy right now, whenever I fail to discipline swiftly and appropriately, I am putting myself before my son. I’m choosing my own comfort and desires over the spiritual well-being of my son.

So, what?

So, this is my new go-to Scripture when I am reluctant to respond the way I should — “Angela, do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself. Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”

Amen. (And Lord, help me.)

The Practice of Waiting

For months now — for months and months — I have been waiting on the Lord for something. This something is dear to my heart, and the longer I wait, the dearer to my  heart it becomes and the harder it is to keep waiting.

This morning, I read Joshua 16 and 17. Don’t look it up. If you do, you’ll be all like, “Why did I look this up?” I’ll go ahead and give you a taste, since I know you’re dying with curiosity:

The sons of Joseph, Manasseh and Ephraim, received their inheritance. Now this was the territory of the sons of Ephraim according to their families: the border of their inheritance eastward was Ataroth-addar, as far as upper Beth-horon. Then the border went westward at Michmethath on the north, and the border turned about eastward to Taanath-shiloh and continued beyond it to the east of Janoah. It went down from Janoah to Ataroth and to Naarah, then reached Jericho and came out at the Jordan. From Tappuah the border continued westward to the brook of Kanah, and it ended at the sea. This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

See? It’s a lot of this kind of stuff in these chapters. Foreign words we can’t say right and ancient places no longer on the map. But God spoke something beautiful to my heart through the discipline of reading through unfamiliar geographical accounts and waiting for His voice. Here’s what spilled onto my journal page:

God chooses our lot. And God’s choice is always good.

You may not have noticed those crucial few words in the passage above, those words that pierced my heart and opened my ears to the Spirit. It’s likely that you skimmed past it or had even stopped reading before you got there. Let me highlight it for you —

This is the inheritance of the tribe of the sons of Ephraim according to their families, together with the cities which were set apart for the sons of Ephraim in the midst of the inheritance of the sons of Manasseh, all the cities with their villages.

They didn’t get to choose their portion. God chose it in time past, according to His wisdom and goodness, because they were His children. If they’d been given a choice, they might not have chosen this. Would they have preferred to execute God’s judgment on foreign peoples and take their lands? Probably not. I bet if given the choice, they would have rather liked finding an empty, unclaimed land. And if given the choice, they would have liked that land some 40 years prior, thankyouverymuch.

Oh, but God doesn’t operate on our timetable or with our tiny thoughts or shortsighted reasoning. He made them wait, and then He made them fight. Their honey- and milk-flowy inheritance was truly grand and extravagant, but it wasn’t handed to them on a silver platter. It was messy, and bloody, and not for the faint of heart.

And that made it so much better.

How much better did they get to know the Lord in the waiting? In the fighting and in the trusting? How much more did they appreciate the gift, the sovereignty and the majesty and the extravagant grace of the Lord?

(Kind of the same lessons we try to teach our kids — “Good things come to those who wait” and “You’ll appreciate it more if you work for it.” We don’t like these lessons anymore than they do, right?)

wait-661072_1280So here’s what I believe He’s telling me right now: Just wait, and press into the waiting. Give thanks for the practice of waiting for the Lord, and be ready to fight. Don’t settle for anything less than the lot He’s already set aside for you. Don’t be fooled by man’s counsel or the devil’s craftiness. This waiting is a blessing — this is true spiritual warfare — this is beautiful and worth it, and God is worthy to be praised in it and because of it. Just wait. It’s gonna be good…

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the Lord
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary.

~Isaiah 40:28-31

Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.

~Psalm 27:14

Reflecting on Year Three of Homemaking

Wow! I can’t believe it’s been three years already! Today marks my third anniversary of becoming a full-time homemaker. Around my 2-year anniversary last June, I posted four goals for the upcoming year:

  1. Homeschooling
  2. Potty Training
  3. Balance
  4. Vegetables

Whelp! Let’s start off with total transparency: I completely forgot that there were four goals until just right now, when I looked up my old post. I thought there were three. Oops! And to make it worse, even though I thought there were three, I couldn’t remember what #3 was! You might think this means I didn’t take my goals very seriously, but that’s actually not the case.

Homeschooling and potty training were the two I remembered, and they were definitely my two “biggies” this year. While I didn’t remember that balance and vegetables were also on the “official” list, I was still actively working on them! God is so gracious. So, here’s how it went:

Homeschooling…
is difficult. BUT! Worth it! I predicted last summer that this would be my biggest undertaking of the year, and I was right. It was a major change, but it taught me so much about my boy. We had a lot of struggles, because our curriculum ended up not being the best fit, which made me THROW a fit, because I did not want to do heavy lesson planning! Once I got over that, though, and just buckled down and did what I already know how to do — since I was a school teacher in a past life — it got crazy awesome. Turns out, Bennett L-O-V-E-S school! He doesn’t care if we’re learning about the letter y or about ankylosauruses, about AABB patterns or Scripture, he just LOVES it. Every day, he asks if we’re going to “learn about school” today. It’s just about the only thing he will drop everything for, besides ice cream or Daddy coming home. Once I pressed in and found some supplementary things that worked for us, it just got beautiful. My kid memorizes entire passages of Scripture, and loves it! What an eternal work we’re doing here, sowing seeds for the future, planting truth deep in his heart. This is the best, and I might just homeschool forever. Except I totally don’t want to, except that I totally do. I’ll keep you posted on what God wants, since that’s a bit more important.

Potty Training…
was just about the worst time in my life. It’s worse than having a newborn. BUT! We’re through it. He’s potty trained. Still in pull-ups at night, but that’s an awfully long time for a little bladder. He makes it through naps, but not through the night yet. That will come. I’m choosing not to stress about it. I’m choosing to call this a victory!!! Potty training is a battlefield, and I may have scars, but I am victorious. Poop and pee are defeated and banished to the potty!

Balance…
is elusive. I’m learning. My word this calendar year is Simplicity. I have to let some things go, and choose to focus on the right things — The Things God points out.

THIS is important.
THIS is eternal.
THIS will be remembered.
THIS is the Lord’s work.

THAT is nice, but it is lesser.
THAT is temporal.
THAT, despite all your hard work, will be forgotten in a week.
THAT is just busy work.

♥ I’m working on it. ♥

Vegetables…
are becoming my friends! I didn’t actually keep a log of vegetable-serving frequency, but it *feels* like more. So, I can’t really quantify that and call it a victory. I can, however, say that my attitude has changed. Instead of, “Oh, I guess there should be a vegetable,” I’m all, “We need to have a salad night,” and, “I feel gross if I haven’t had any vegetables in a day or two.” MAJOR victory for me! Major. Still working on this one, too, but I can only go up from here. Even more telling is that my child loves carrots, green beans, broccoli, and peas! Like, he will eat them before anything else on his plate. I’ve made it a normal part of eating since he started solids, and so it’s normal to him. Let’s pray his taste buds don’t rebel in the next few years!

In conclusion: It’s been a year of much learning, growing, and victory! Stay tuned for my new goals for year four, which I’ll hopefully post soonish. Since I have no idea what these goals will be, I don’t know how long it will be before I post about them. But I *would* like to hear about *your* last year or so. How are things going for you? Have you had any victories and/or learning experiences in homemaking/parenting/life? I’d love to know, and be encouraged with you.

Write it Down.

100_2374In 2013, I started keeping a praise jar. It’s rather straightforward; every time there was something to praise God about, I tried to remember to write it down and put it in the jar. In January of 2014, it was so amazing to lay out all of God’s blessings (that I had noticed) month by month for the previous year. I spread them out on my kitchen table and just looked, in awe.

I never knew.

Never before had I kept such a meticulous record of every way God had blessed me and my family. And to be honest, I wasn’t all that meticulous about it. If I’d really written everything down, I’m sure my whole house couldn’t have contained all the sticky-notes.

Last year, I continued the tradition, but this time I included every answer to prayer — not only for us, but also answers to our prayers for friends, for relatives, for acquaintances, or for whomever else God had put on our hearts to pray. So this month as I looked back on 2014’s blessings, I also saw 52 specific answers to prayer.

Babies were a theme. We saw miracles for Ridgeley, Hunter, Caleb, Samuel, Deacon, Ethan, Emma, Abby, another Samuel, Josiah, Noah, and Graham. I tear up as I write these names, because some were “everyday” miracles of birth, but very many of them were miracle healings — babies who weren’t supposed to live; babies who were supposed to have extreme abnormalities; babies whose mommies had very high risk pregnancies; babies whose mommies’ doctors told them not to waste their time continuing gestation. All of these tiny people are alive today, healthy, loved, and a continual testimony of God’s mighty hand. We prayed fervently for these babies, and look! Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Oh, but I can’t forget baby Robert. We prayed fervently for him, too. We prayed; we begged; we wept; and God answered. God brought him Home as his mommy held him tight, whispering love.  I still cry over this beautiful baby; I cry for the loss his family feels. I remember May 12, knowing that when it comes again in a few months, and again next year, and again forever, his momma will feel a deep hurt resurface. But despite this pain, baby Robert is in my family’s praise journal because he is dancing with the King! Healthy, loved, alive, and not regretting a moment of his little life on earth. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

Friends were healed from cancer. Others were hopeless, then given hope. Missing, and then found. Hurting, and then comforted. Jobless, then employed. Addicted, and then freed. And so much more. Look what God has done! Great is His name!

I would have never remembered. Who remembers all of this? We may rejoice in the moment, at the news, but inevitably there’s dinner to cook and laundry to fold and butts to wipe. Life goes on, and we get right back to complaining about the dinner and the laundry and the butts.

We forget to notice the blessings. We forget to see the answers to prayer. We forget to recognize the miracles. We forget to praise God.

No wonder He seems so far away — we refuse to see Him. 

I was somewhat negligent in my attempt in 2014 to keep up with praises and answers to prayer. I forgot a lot. But even in the little bit I remembered, I recorded 52 specific answers to prayer and several more sweet blessings.

That’s because I wrote them down. This year, just like last year and the year before, I will see God.

Will you?

I will extol You, my God, O King,
And I will bless Your name forever and ever.
Every day I will bless You,
And I will praise Your name forever and ever.
Great is the Lord, and highly to be praised,
And His greatness is unsearchable.
One generation shall praise Your works to another,
And shall declare Your mighty acts.
On the glorious splendor of Your majesty
And on Your wonderful works, I will meditate.
Men shall speak of the power of Your awesome acts,
And I will tell of Your greatness.
They shall eagerly utter the memory of Your abundant goodness
And will shout joyfully of Your righteousness.

The Lord is gracious and merciful;
Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness.
The Lord is good to all,
And His mercies are over all His works.
All Your works shall give thanks to You, O Lord,
And Your godly ones shall bless You.
They shall speak of the glory of Your kingdom
And talk of Your power;
To make known to the sons of men Your mighty acts
And the glory of the majesty of Your kingdom.
Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
And Your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The Lord sustains all who fall
And raises up all who are bowed down.
The eyes of all look to You,
And You give them their food in due time.
You open Your hand
And satisfy the desire of every living thing.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways
And kind in all His deeds.
The Lord is near to all who call upon Him,
To all who call upon Him in truth.
He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him;
He will also hear their cry and will save them.
The Lord keeps all who love Him,
But all the wicked He will destroy.
My mouth will speak the praise of the Lord,
And all flesh will bless His holy name forever and ever.

–Psalm 145

 

 

 

 

2015: Simplicity

Do not worry…for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
~Jesus

A few years ago at the turn of a new year, my first lady challenged our women’s group to make spiritual goals for the upcoming months. Kind of like resolutions, but not at all. New Year’s resolutions always rely on personal willpower to muscle through something that you’ve already proven yourself completely incapable of doing, and you generally set yourself up to prove that inability to yourself once again, this time more spectacularly. Making spiritual goals, on the other hand, involves you humbling your heart before the Lord and asking HIM what areas HE wants to address. He chooses, you submit; He works, you yield; He is glorified, you are blessed.

I love it. I’ve been seeking the Lord in this way every year since. This year, the Lord gave me one goal, in one word: Simplicity.

He answered me. Life was too much because I was trying to exert some effort, out of myself, to glorify Him. To serve, to shepherd, to shine. Good things, yes. Commanded things, certainly. But not THE thing. Not what is first. Rushing around, trying to get to this, go there, do that, say this — all, honestly, in an effort to honor Him and to create opportunities to serve, shepherd, and shine. But some of these goings and doings were not from Him, and thus they were useless. So useless, in fact, that God actually made what should not be too much to be too much, so that He might get my attention.

He did.

Seeking the Kingdom, then, “in a certain sense…is nothing I shall do. Yes, certainly, in a certain sense it is nothing, become nothing before God, learn to keep silent; in this silence is the beginning, which is, first to seek God’s Kingdom” (Søren Kierkegaard, as quoted in Foster’s Celebration of Discipline, p. 87).

This is Christian Simplicity. Everything grows from here. Welcome, 2015. Welcome, Lord. I’m listening.

2014: A Failure

I still contend that it’s not too much. Many people do much more and do it well; a younger self once did much more, too.

That is not me.

That is not now.

Apparently.

As Christmas drew near and the year began drawing its final, chilly breaths, I mustered my courage and whispered secret words to a dear Friend:

“I just feel like such a failure.”

The context was homeschooling, but the truth was deeper. It was everything. And I hadn’t told anybody.

I just couldn’t do it. It’s too much. It isn’t too much, but it’s too much. The last few months of 2014 left me desperately trying to hide this secret chaos that was growing in my spirit. Every evening I went to bed, glad that I had finally caught up on this, but fretting over that which had now been neglected. It became too much. Why was it too much? Why couldn’t I catch my breath or a break? I can show you my schedule — it is NOT too much! This is all perfectly within reason. Look at her. Look what all she does. What is wrong with me?!

The Lord has been answering me; that’s for a later post, if God gives me the words and the opening. For now, I want to ask you a question He asked me:

What are you doing that God has not specifically consecrated you for?

This question is revolutionary, if you weigh your response prayerfully.