Why We Can Be Confident for the Future

Today, while most of us hurry to fulfill our daily to-do lists of making it on time to class, clocking in at work, buying groceries or dropping kids off at school, a million people will gather in Washington D.C because today is the inauguration — or re-inauguration — of President Barack Obama. It’s not quite the grand affair that it was four years ago when 1.8 million people turned out for the annual and yet historic event of the swearing in of our first black president. Less than half of that are expected to stand witness this year. But still, one million bodies are more than your average Christmas-time mall crowd.

If you’ve seen any recent pictures of our president, you’ll notice he is a victim of the bane of all of his predecessors. Four years of school shootings, embassy attacks, war, debates, press conferences and media nagging have etched themselves into the skin around Obama’s eyes. His face bears testimony to the fears and challenges the past four years have lain upon the American public – both that which we are conscious and unconscious of.

The marks of time Obama physically exhibits is something that many of us might not carry on the outside, but we are well acquainted with them in both mind and heart. For some, the inauguration this year is a time of hope and anticipation. But most of us, whether or not we agree with the president’s policies, have become jaded and skeptical — and even fearful.

There is fear as to whether Obama’s appeals to Congress on gun laws will or will not pass, fear as the numbers of the jobless are posted week after week and we wonder if we too will be one of those statistics, fear about the future of social security, raising our children in an increasingly morally depraved society. There is fear about America’s decline in prowess on the global stage, or on the other hand, fear about American “imperialism.”

There seems to be a lot of fear floating around. No, I wouldn’t say it’s floating; more like it subtly finds its way into our hearts and minds and takes up violent residence once root is established. Hope and change seem far flung and intangible. But fear – that is quite near at hand.

But we are Christians, we say, and we have sound minds and peace and rest, not fear. Do we really, when it comes to matters of our national and common future?

I would wager not. Fear is all too common and descriptive of the Christian mindset when it comes to politics and the global community. But why do we fear? As Christians, do we not know how the story of humanity unfolds and ends? Is it not true that a day will come in which we will live in paradise and guns and global economies and power won’t matter anymore? The story of the world is not a surprise to us. We might not know what the next ten or twenty or even hundred years ahead will look like, but we know the ultimate end. And that should lend us a great measure of confidence.

I am reminded of the story of Jesus calming the sea. Fast asleep on a pillow, as Mark describes it, the waves and the winds arose causing the disciples to fear for their lives and wake Jesus. He arises, rebuking the storm which instantly submits to His command. “How is it that you are so fearful,” Jesus says. “How is it that you have no faith?”

How similar we are to the disciples in the boat! We worry and are afraid of that which rightly seems out of order and chaotic. But we forget that we have a God who will calm the turbulent waters of our world in time — in His time. He might seem like He is withdrawn, leaving us to our fate, but He is there, waiting for His moment to restore all things to Himself and calling His followers to take up faith in the meantime.

Don’t get me wrong. Fear should not be equated with passivity. To stand in the face of that which goes against our conscience and understanding of the will of God and idly let it all unfold before our eyes is cowardly and irresponsible. But complaining or taking action should not be done out of a spirit of fear. Rather, our confidence in our God and the things that He has set indelibly in motion should cause us to face the wrongs and frustrations of the world with a peace and confidence that transcends the fires of fear that burn in our hearts.

Being confident in the character of God who is faithful and mighty to save will get us through the inevitable hard times that lie ahead. The pages of our story as part of humanity have already been written and we can valiantly live in the midst of whatever may come. We can boldly proclaim an eternal salvation that is far greater than the laws and reforms we attempt to enact on the earth.

Today, as President Obama is re-sworn in to another four years of leadership, I hope that Christians, regardless of their political positions, can be confident. But this confidence ought not be solely derived from what the state of affairs will look like four years from now, but in knowing that we have the answer, the long sought after key to knowledge and wisdom. Our God is bigger than the temporal that happens here. Kingdoms and laws on earth will pass away, but His kingdom will always remain.

Posted in Culture & Media, Current Events, Politics, Theology & Philosophy | Leave a comment

Have a Little Faith or Living on a Prayer?

The title of this post pretty much sums up how I have felt the last few months. At one point I wondered if I was having a faith crisis. That turned out not to be the case. At other times I have felt like I was living on people’s prayers. I was somewhere in between having a little faith and living on a prayer.

Now take a step back though and picture this . . .

Think of someone taking your life as you know it and writing down all the aspects of it, then taking the piece of paper and ripping it into small pieces. Now picture a fan starting and making all the scraps of paper fly around into the air. You try to grab on to them but they are flying around and you can’t quite grasp them. This is exactly how my life felt a few months ago. Chaos had struck. I started to think, what is true in the world? Who is trustworthy? Is anyone even trustworthy?

Everything I knew to be true and right in the world ceased to exist. When my life got to this point, I still knew that God existed on a cognitive level, but I felt lackadaisical about everything in life.  Crying out to God and feeling a strong sense of wanting for anyone or anything just didn’t happen. I was numb. Angry. Hurt. Mad. I was in a fog.

I believe that Christians are saved by grace. Since we are saved by grace we can do nothing to earn God’s favor and we do not deserve God’s favor. This saved by grace mentality affects how I think of suffering. I do not think God owes me a happy life but I didn’t trust anything. I knew in my head I didn’t deserve anything but I wanted so desperately to cling to something.

Knowing that God understands about the loss of relationships and suffering kept me rooted in my faith. In Tim Keller’s book entitled The Reason for God, he discusses the significance of God sending His son to earth and the effect this has on suffering. Keller points out that if we lose the relationship of an acquaintance the effect is not nearly as large as when we lose the relationship with someone much closer to us. He went on to say, “Christian theology has always recognized that Jesus bore, as the substitute in our place, the endless exclusion from God that the human race has merited” (pg. 24).

I also realized that the way people treat us can affect the way we see God’s love. Even though God’s love is perfect, we may relate it to how people love us and confuse the two types of love. This skews our view of God’s perfect agape love.

Skipping forward, eventually the fog slowly lifted. Friends and family lifted my head and led me in the right direction. I found some people who were trustworthy. Instead of taking care of other people, I had to let people take care of me. In these circumstances, some of the most unexpected people helped me see clearly. All I could say was thank you. I can’t repay these people for their help and kindness; I can just express my gratitude.

I started to feel more emotion. As I did, the song entitled “blessings” by Laura Story comforted me. I still listen to the song almost daily. (http://bit.ly/laurastoryblessingsong)

Part of the lyrics say:

We pray for blessings, we pray for peace

Comfort for family, protection while we sleep

We pray for healing, for prosperity

We pray for Your mighty hand to ease our suffering

And all the while, You hear each spoken need

Yet love us way too much to give us lesser things

‘Cause what if your blessings come through rain drops

What if Your healing comes through tears

What if a thousand sleepless nights are what it takes to know You’re near

What if trials of this life are Your mercies in disguise.

How true are these words. My healing has come through tears and sleepless nights. Now I am forming a new life and, as I do, I am excited about what God has in store for the future. My life will look much different than I thought it would a year ago. This can be scary, but it’s my new reality.

My faith is still there. God never left, my emotions just numbed out. I am still not one hundred percent back to normal, but my emotions are closer to normal than they were a few months ago. When my emotions and old self came back, feeling that sweet connection with God feels that much sweeter.

Thank you to all my friends and family for all your prayers and support. I wouldn’t trade my friends for anything. They are rock solid and loyal. Tonight I lay my head down singing praises to Jesus and as I do I will be singing Amazing Grace . . . thank you Jesus for saving a wretch like me. I am hanging on for the ride . . . http://bit.ly/amazinggracesong

Amazing grace

How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me

I once was lost, but now I’m found

Was blind, but now I see

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear

And grace my fears relieved

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed

My chains are gone

I’ve been set free

My God, my Savior has ransomed me

And like a flood His mercy rains

Unending love, Amazing grace

The Lord has promised good to me

His word my hope secures

He will my shield and portion be

As long as life endures

This blog post was originally published on Sarah’s personal blog.

Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Grief & Loss, Relationships | Leave a comment

That Is Too Expensive!

 

The concept behind this article was originally just a brief Facebook post on my Catch and Release Parenting page. I was just beginning to ponder this idea, and much to my surprise, it evoked more responses, shares and comments than any previous post.   

One of the areas I am exploring these days is how we talk — or in some cases, don’t talk — to our kids about money. Specifically, how many times we have said, “That is too expensive”, or “We don’t have enough money for that” in response to a request for something. That may very well have been true, but as my daughters have gotten older, I am realizing that it was the easy answer, rather than the one that might teach them something usable in their own lives.

Was that really the reason for our “no”? Was it simply a matter of available finances, or were there other factors? Was there something we could have shared with them about how we much we value something, or where it fits into our priority scale? If we did have enough money, would we buy it?

When our children ask us if we CAN buy something, we need to consider whether they are mature enough to answer the larger question: SHOULD we buy it? It’s easier and far quicker to say “that costs too much” than it is to explain why we don’t need to go to Disneyland every single year, or why we don’t need another Disney DVD, or why we don’t need another pair of high end premium jeans. That is not an indictment against people who can, and choose to, do those things. They are just examples of some requests that have frequented our household over the years. 

It takes some thought and extra effort to explain that there might be better uses for that money, or that we give to, and share with, others. If we don’t start letting our kids in on our decision making process when it comes to spending, they won’t have the tools when it comes time to make those decisions with their own money. If the primary reason given to kids for why we didn’t buy or do something was the price, than the logical assumption is that if you DO have the money you SHOULD buy or do it. Our kids need to enter adulthood with a better grasp on value than that

The Bible tells us that where our treasure is, there also is our heart (Matthew 6:21). In other words, we give the bulk of our time, talent, and resources to what we consider most valuable. There is a very real process that we go through as we decide not just how much to spend, but whether to spend at all. There is a point in our maturing process when we understand the difference between a want and a need, and from there, decide how it fits into our value system.

For little ones, could we answer with, “We don’t need another one of those, but it is pretty cool.”  Or maybe, “Our money is going to something else this week.”  Let’s save the ol’ “We can’t afford it” for something that we would truly like and plan to purchase someday when the funds are available.

But for our older kids, especially once they hit eight or nine, we can start taking advantage of these teachable moments. Draw the parental curtain back enough to let them in on the discussion. They are always watching, always learning, though at times they do a good job of appearing otherwise. When they enter the adult world, we want them to have seen this process modeled over and over again, and be able to make wise, thoughtful decisions about money based on their value system, rather than just it’s availability.

Article image provided by Stephanie Brubaker

Posted in Family, Parenting | 1 Comment

Surevy Results: What You Said About New Year’s Resolutions!

On December 29, 2012, On the Willows launched a survey about New Year’s resolutions! We wanted to know if you made resolutions, what they are, and how you go about fulfilling them, if at all! Finally, here are the results! Please share your thoughts in the comments section . . .

Q: Do you typically make New Year’s resolutions of some kind?

Usually
24.0%
Sometimes
68.0%
Never
8.0%

The overwhelming majority of respondents do make resolutions. Do you think New Year’s resolutions are just a trendy tradition for when the calendar moves ahead a year, or can they be a genuine, personal decision to “start fresh”?

Q: What answer best describes your follow-through with resolutions?

I follow through with most of my resolutions
18.0%
I follow through with some of my resolutions
50.0%
I follow through with very few of my resolutions
30.0%
I follow through with none of my resolutions
2.0%

The mere fact that only 2% of respondents follow through with absolutely no resolutions is an indication that making a New Year’s resolution is likely a helpful practice and more than just an empty tradition.

Q: Do you make resolutions about improving your diet and/or exercise routine?

Always
26.0%
Sometimes
50.0%
Never
24.0%

76% of respondents make resolutions about how active they will be and how they want to change their eating habits!

Q: Here is a list of popular resolutions (taken from other surveys). Check all that apply to your list of 2013 resolutions!

Read my Bible more
60.4%
Pray more
47.9%
Journal more
25.0%
Lose Weight
39.6%
Work out more
64.6%
Cook Healthier
47.9%
Spend less time on social media sites
20.8%
Spend more time with family
18.8%
Organize finances / financial planning
41.7%
Save more
37.5%
Get out of debt
29.2%
Get organized
37.5%
Organize all of my digital photos online
10.4%
Take a Dream Vacation
6.3%
Date my spouse more
18.8%
Work on my marriage
16.7%

Throughout the survey period (about 10 days), we saw “Read my Bible more” and “Work out more” battle for 1st place in the responses. It’s pretty safe to say these two are the top priorities of our readers/respondents for the new year.

Q: What are some of your New Year’s resolutions that you would like to share that were not listed in the last question? (about 50% of respondents answered this open-ended question)

The top trending response was to memorize scripture! The rest were varied responses such as: climb a mountain, floss more, buy a home, more sex with spouse, read more, investing in friendships, become a more godly woman, have a baby, stop gossiping, etc.

Q: What is the obstacle that typically keeps you from reaching your goals? (percentages do not add up to 100% because respondents were allowed to select more than one answer)

Lack of Discipline (including lack of motivation and time management)
71.1%
Lack of Time (there is no time for myself)
42.2%
Lack of Resources (I don’t have the money to do these things)
22.2%

Sometimes, having no time for oneself is a matter of self-discipline. We encourage you to make time for yourself so that you can enjoy hobbies and healthy lifestyle activities. Part of making resolutions is to rearrange priorities in your life! Ask a friend to help you list your priorities and to help you budget your time for these personal activities.

Q: In the past when you have accomplished a goal like this, did it require the help of others?

Yes, I needed accountability from my spouse or a friend
42.6%  
Sometimes, I can do it all on my own
38.3%
No, I never need help from others once I decide to do something
19.1%

There is no right answer to this question. Being honest with yourself and making sure you have what you need to be successful in your goals is what’s important.

Here is a list of recommendations to help you accomplish your goals:

1) Start by making a personal list of general priorities in your life (i.e. God, family, church, work, finances, fitness, healthy eating, blogging, reading).

2) Based on those priorities, make your list of resolutions. This can include both things that you want to add to your life and things you’d like to get rid of or do less of.

3) Pray over your list. Search your heart and motives and remove resolutions that may be there for the wrong reasons. Ask yourself which goals are realistic and which ones are superfluous. Keep the resolutions that come with conviction and are in line with a biblical lifestyle. Then, edit your list!

4) Make your goals attainable. If your goal is to “lose weight”, then come up with a specific exercise plan (i.e. three mornings of cardio and strength training at the gym, Pilates twice a week with a friend, switch to the Paleo diet [joking!?]).

5) Make your goals measurable. Again, if your goal is to lose weight, how many pounds do you want to lose and by when? If your goal is to read your Bible more, how often exactly? (Don’t get overly ambitious or you may sabotage yourself with unrealistic expectations and give up.)

4) Meet with a friend or your spouse and share your priorities and resolutions. Talk about any roadblocks you may foresee and allow them to help you come up with ways you can reach these goals. Also, ask them to follow up with you regularly to make sure you are staying strong! If you are married, we encourage you to get your spouse on the “same page” so he can help you and encourage you to accomplish these goals!

6) Get started on your new lifestyle! Remember that you are not doing these things to become superwoman! Keep your heart and motives in check regularly.

YOU CAN DO IT!!

Photo Via.

Posted in Current Events, Family, Health & Fitness, Marriage, Relationships | Leave a comment

Letting Go and Becoming Vulnerable

This year I am resolving to let go of the things that don’t benefit me, to make room for more God in my life. Previously, I discussed letting go of comparison of perfection. Today: letting go of the pretences and becoming vulnerable.

Vulnerable [adjective]

  1. Capable of or susceptible to being wounded or hurt, as by a weapon: “a vulnerable part of the body.”
  2. Open to moral attack, criticism, temptation, etc.: an argument vulnerable to refutation; “He is vulnerable to bribery.”

Years ago, in the middle of a conversation I no longer remember, the Lord spoke something very clearly to my heart that I will never forget.

“Natalie,” He said, “your greatest strength is your vulnerability.”

I was speechless.

Why did He have to pick vulnerability? Why couldn’t He have said that my greatest strength was my compassion, or my loyalty, or my tenacity? Why did He have to say vulnerability?

I didn’t particularly want to be vulnerable. Our culture doesn’t really value vulnerability. Even the very words we use to define it have negative connotations: “susceptibility to being wounded,” or “open to attack.” Being vulnerable would open me up to the possibility of being hurt. How could something that culturally we define as a weakness be considered my greatest strength by God? It was too hard to wrap my head around, so I set it aside, and moved on to easier things.

Years later, my lack of vulnerability reared it’s ugly head. My husband, Ryan, and I were driving down to San Diego for our honeymoon. At some point I started singing stupid songs to fill the time. I will never forget the look of surprise and delight on Ryan’s face when he turned to me and said, “Oh, you’re silly! I didn’t know that about you.”

At that point Ryan and I had known each other for four years, and somehow I had managed to conceal an entire facet of my personality from him.  I was horrified. If I had been subconsciously hiding from Ryan, the person I trusted most on earth, I could barely begin to imagine what I had been hiding from everyone else around me.

In 2 Corinthians chapter 12 Paul writes about some amazing experiences with God, and then he counters by discussing his weaknesses. In verses 9-10, he writes:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

It had been easy for me to read this verse and take out my spiritual checklist. Somehow I always managed to view it only in context of my sin. What was I dealing with that I should be delighting in? Anger? Selfishness? Control? I would ask God to use my imperfections to showcase His glory.

I had failed to realize that there is a fundamental difference between being open about my shortcomings and being vulnerable.

I had constructed my life in such a way that it was easy to look at my sin. Not that I enjoyed it — far from it — but I could acknowledge that it was there and that without Jesus it wouldn’t be going away. But ask me a question that exposed me for who I really was—the quirks and silliness, the secret hopes and dreams, the quiet sorrows that I had locked away in my soul—and I would answer just enough to satisfy without uncovering the real me.

It’s hard to be vulnerable when you believe that deep down you are fundamentally worthless—good only for being rejected. And while I knew intellectually that God is not lying when He says He loves me, in my heart the friendless little girl had a hard time believing that to be true. After all, if there was something so horribly wrong with me to cause such systematic rejection, how could showing anyone the soft vulnerabilities of my heart be safe?

I had forgotten that God didn’t say that His power was made perfect in my sin, He said his power was made perfect in my weakness, and there was no area that I felt more helpless and terrified than in simply being me.

So I let Jesus in first.

Inch by painful inch, I would cede ground to Him, rebuilding the trust that had been broken so many times before, and He never failed me, He never hurried me, He never relented. Suddenly, in the midst of my sorrow and brokenness I saw His love—His perfect, unconditional, holy love. He was right; somehow His power was made perfect in my weakness. Somehow He was able to do the impossible and change my heart.

So this is the year of embracing my vulnerability, only this time it’s not just with God, it’s with the people that He puts into my life every day to love and serve. This is the year to let people see into the real me.

There will be risk. It is impossible, I’ve learned, to be real without opening up to the possibility of ridicule and rejection; but it is also impossible to be closed off and still experience the sweet perfection of unconditional love.

There is so much freedom in vulnerability; I understand that now in a way I never could before. I don’t need the crutches I used to keep me safe from rejection. I don’t need to compare myself to make sure I am living up to an unspoken standard. I don’t need to be perfect to cover up my flaws.

I am free to be the person God created me to be.

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Posted in Adversity, Being a Woman, Relationships, Self Esteem | 2 Comments