Shine On

When our family moved to a small town in Vermont nine months ago, we joined a church unlike any other we’d ever experienced. Previously, we’d ended up in churches where the majority of the congregation was just like us: while dating and then newly married in Manhattan, we attended a mega-church composed primarily of single young professionals; when we moved to California for graduate school and started having babies, we went to a church plant made up mostly of grad students and young families.

The church we now call home is small: roughly 60 people in the pews on Sundays. But those people are an amazing cross-section of small town New England. The youngest member of the congregation is our one-year-old, the oldest is ninety-one. Sitting in church, I can often see four generations of multiple families sitting together. It’s a vibrant, loving, God-centered community.

But, sometimes, this diversity can feel a little lonely. There are only three other families with children the same age as ours; in the nursery, our three daughters frequently make up more than half of the class.

Lonely was my mindset as I drove to our church’s Women’s Prayer Breakfast last month. I was coming off two weeks in which our entire family had been sick, gray winter was dragging into March, and life just felt a little stuck. Now, at a women’s gathering at either of our old churches, I would have been surrounded by women who were going through the exact same things I was. We would have commiserated over sick children and stressed husbands, and left feeling refreshed, encouraged that we weren’t alone.

At this prayer breakfast, I was the only person representing my current life stage (which I’d describe as “at home with three children aged 4 and under”). Most of the other women there had at least a decade on me.

But guess what? I did leave feeling refreshed and encouraged, just not in the way I expected.

“Did they tell you that it gets easier?” my husband asked me, later that day.

“No!” I wailed, It just gets harder!”

Because I may be exhausted, stretched thin, diapered out, and missing adult conversation. BUT I’m not yet at the stage of caring for aging parents. I’m not yet at the stage of watching my children’s lives get seriously hard and not being able to help. I’m not yet at the stage of supporting friend after friend through life-threatening illnesses. I’m not yet at the stage of making tough decisions about retirement. If there’s one thing these women taught me, it’s that life most definitely does not get easier.

That would seem pretty hopeless, except that they taught me something else.

As these women shared about their lives, I realized that each one was really saying: it’s possible to live through DECADES OF HARD, and to still trust God. These women have walked through EVERYTHING I’m currently dealing with – and more – and they still show up at 8:30 prayer breakfasts.

And these women are BEAUTIFUL. I’m not talking supermodel beautiful, I mean that they SHINE. A rough composite of the kind of woman I’m talking about: someone who’s raised 3.5 children (with a few animals thrown in), works with the underprivileged, and in her spare time takes in stray children.

Here’s why I think they shine: Remember in Exodus when Moses wants to see God’s glory? God puts him in the cleft of the rock and lets Moses see his back as he passes. When Moses returns to the Israelites, his face is so shiny from God’s glory that they can’t even look at him. I think that these women are a bit like Moses. Every hard thing they’ve trusted God with has been like a cleft in the rock where they got a peek at God’s glory. These women are teaching me that, as life goes on, it doesn’t get easier, but by trusting God through the hard, you will get shinier.

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Divergent

People often ask me for book recommendations. I usually ask them what they like to read, and most of the time they say, “I really liked the Hunger Games.”

Well, then you will probably like Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Divergent was one of those books I couldn’t put down. Veronica Roth creates an exciting dystopian world that you just want to know more about.

The protagonist in the story is Beatrice, a sixteen-year-old girl growing up in dystopian Chicago. She is a member of a faction called Abnegation, about which she explains from the very beginning that she doesn’t feel like she belongs. She feels isolated and alone and unworthy. Lucky for her, there are four other factions and “Choosing Day” is coming up.

Beatrice decides to leave her current faction and move to another one, which is a big deal because factions operate almost like religions. They prize one thing above everything else. Abnegation: selflessness, Erudite: knowledge, Candor: honesty, Amity: harmony, Dauntless: bravery. Leaving your faction would be the equivalent of saying, “Hey Mom, I don’t want to be a Christian anymore.” Once you are in your faction, there is no changing, and you better hope you pass initiation or you will end up factionless – a purposeless people who do all of the menial jobs in the city and are always hungry and never have enough.

Thinking it will be so much different than Abnegation, Beatrice leaves her family’s faction and joins Dauntless. But what I love most about the book is that she learns that bravery and selflessness are often the same thing.

Pros

  • Tris (as she is called later in the book) is a strong female lead.
  • You always know what she is thinking.
  • The story is fast-paced and will keep you turning the page.
  • The world is very interesting.

Cons

  • Veronica Roth may be the world’s worst describer. You never get a clear picture of the surroundings, she relies heavily on the reader’s geographical understanding of Chicago, and you almost never know where Tris’s limbs are (which can be very annoying when she is describing a tender moment).
  • This is slated to be a series. I am sorry. But on the positive side, the second one is already out! Insurgent!
  • The end is either too slow or too fast-paced. I kept reading, wanting it to be over. But I think that’s because, as a writer, Roth leans very heavily on the internal dialogue of her main character and not enough on description. I think if there was more description, or even dialogue, it would have worked better. On a positive note, writers get better the more they write, so I will be looking forward to the growth in the second book.
  • The romance was rushed, in my opinion. I like a little more conflict and for things to be a little more drawn out. I will be interested to see where she goes from here with it.

Even though there are some things I would have done differently, Veronica Roth has an excellent story. She shows the bravery of Abnegations (who are clearly Christians), and proves that just because you prefer someone else doesn’t mean you are weak, it actually shows your strength.

Roth also makes fear in the book real. From terrible things happening to her characters to the fears that are purposely placed on the Dauntless, it becomes something you, as the reader, feel, and realize it is truly life and death.

On as scale of one to ten … this is a NINE.

If you have read this book and have a different opinion, or just something else to add, I would LOVE to hear it! Please show me your inner Candor.

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April Fools #13: Too Busy To Rest

Editor’s Note: This article concludes our “April Fools” series! If you missed any, check out the April archives! Thank you to all of the writers who took time to contribute to this series!


“Beantown”… It’s a very old nickname for Boston, the beautiful and historical city where I live. Back in the day, Boston was known for its production of molasses and the evolving recipe of baked beans that became a staple meal for early Bostonians. Where am I going with this? What is often left out of the story is the fact that on Saturdays, the puritans and pilgrims would cook huge pots of baked beans which would stay well preserved in molasses over low heat until Sunday. They were so faithful to observe the Sabbath, they found ways to rest from even cooking! This is how baked beans became the staple Sunday meal of Bostonians until around the early 1900’s. (read more here!) The nickname “Beantown” is a constant reminder to me to keep the Sabbath holy … and keep it low-key.

I am not suggesting that we will lose our salvation if we choose to cook on Sunday, and I’m certainly not suggesting that we should all eat beans every Sunday. Otherwise, that could create other problems. But I do want to share some results with you from an online survey on “Work & Rest” for women that I recently sent out over Facebook. If you participated in this survey, thank you very much for taking the time to respond! I hope the survey and these results will help all of us to re-evaluate our time management, priorities and the misconceptions we have about rest and work.

To give you an idea of the sample that responded to the survey, here is some information:

Results for “What keeps us busy”: About 44 women responded to the survey. Of the 44 women, 28 (about 60%) are married, and 22 are mothers. Of the 22 mothers, 11 of them are full-time, stay-at-home moms. Less than 10 respondents were students, and about 30 respondents were employed.

Since I was using my free account on SurveyMonkey to create the survey, I could only ask ten questions. So, I was not able to make the response choices as mutually exclusive or exhaustive as I would have liked! But I definitely gathered some interesting information.

Results for “Are you too busy”? Most respondents admitted to being busy, but they were able to manage it. Only 10% of respondents said they were “too” busy. But about 42% of respondents said they did not usually have time to themselves! Many who responded in the open-ended field admitted that they needed to manage their time better. And many women talked about some “seasons of life” being busier than others. Some women admitted that taking care of themselves was the “first thing to go”.

I was not surprised by these results. We live in a “busy” society. But I was surprised to see that so many women feel as though they don’t have time for themselves, even though they claim to not be too busy. It’s possible that you’re thinking, “What does she know? She’s not a mom, yet!” … And I certainly imagine that this will be something I will have to face one day. But this is how I interpret these results: if you don’t have time for yourself, then you probably are too busy. Or, maybe you do have time, but you don’t think you deserve time for yourself. As a society, maybe we are afraid of having time to ourselves?

More responses: Over 50% of respondents said they felt they needed to stay busy in order to feel productive. And nearly 60% of respondents said it was possible that they kept themselves busy to avoid boredom and/or loneliness.

As Christian women, it’s important that we understand that our heavenly Father created work (including the work of being a mom!) and rest for us. He also exemplified it for us. His Son exemplified it for us. The scriptures constantly remind us to: work, work hard, be skilled, enjoy our work and enjoy what our work produces. Work is a blessing from God! And REST! Rest is also a command from God. A common misconception about rest is that it makes us feel unproductive! But the truth is, if we take time to rest, we will be more productive. Rest is also a good time to reflect, put life into perspective, enjoy family, etc.

When we make work and rest an “ultimate” thing, it becomes a problem. When work becomes an ultimate thing, we idolize it and cannot be satisfied without it. When it’s gone or taken away, we lose our joy and feelings of “purpose”. We feel useless without it. When we make Christ, the one who never leaves us or forsakes us, our one and only ultimate thing in life, we will be satisfied with Him regardless of our work. We gain our validation from Him alone. Of course we can take pleasure in our work, in a healthy way, when we realize it is a gift from God.

Avoiding boredom and loneliness is a sign of idolizing work and rest. We feel like we always have to be doing something. It’s hard to keep restful, quiet moments restful and quiet. We eliminate the silence by flipping on a show, a movie, checking Facebook, etc. I love to watch movies and shows and check my Facebook, but I cannot let this steal away much-needed peaceful moments for reflection, resting and praying. If this is you, I encourage you to read a post about solitude that I wrote a while back, if you have not yet. You may find it to be encouraging to you.

Results for Sabbath / “day of rest”: Sadly, only 1/3 of respondents said that they usually or always have a day of rest. Another 1/3 of respondents said they only have a day of rest sometimes. The last 1/3 said they rarely or never have a day of rest.

As much as I understand how difficult it is to rest, these statistics break my heart. In the open-ended fields, some women claimed that it was only “a season” because they had kids. Some say they get a little rest here and there throughout the week. Some said they needed to address this issue in their life and make changes. Some blatantly said that it just how life is. Before I continue, I would like to say that I understand that moms and dads still have one another and children to care for, even on their days off. Of course, children are not just a “job”, they are a precious part of your family that, especially when young, require nurture and care nearly 24/7.

What can we do, as women, to make the most of our restful days like the early puritans and pilgrims? We have a lot to learn from them! Can we cook a big, fun meal on Saturday, and eat leftovers on Sundays? Or prepare a lasagna on Saturday and simply bake it on Sunday? Can husbands and wives help each other to get as much done on Saturdays so they can enjoy family time on Sundays as much as possible? As I said earlier, we aren’t going to lose our salvation from changing a diaper on a Sunday, or taking out the trash … it’s a matter of the heart. What are we doing to promote and preserve our restful Sabbath day? As our own God exemplified hard work and good rest to us, are we exemplifying that to our children?

I have not arrived to a perfected lifestyle of work and rest, nor have I met anyone who has. As a matter of fact, I am putting off a final paper I should be writing right now! (Don’t tune me out now, I’m almost done!) I am constantly convicted at my lack of hard work “because I’m so in need of rest” and my lack of rest “because there’s so much to do”. We must remind ourselves of the validation that we receive from Christ’s ultimate work that He accomplished on the cross for us long ago. There is no level of performance that will make Christ love us more. There is nothing more He can give us – He already gave it all. And there is no greater love He can give us – He has already expressed the ultimate form of love toward us. Let’s take time, weekly, to allow our hearts and minds to rest, reflect and wait upon Him.

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April Fools #12: If I Buy It, I’ll Be Happy

Last January my little family and I moved from a very comfortable suburb in California to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The last year and half has been a time of detoxing from American consumerism, and I literally mean “detox”. Seriously, I had more than one dream about Target. Oh that beautiful box store where I can buy deodorant, camping gear, and of course a cute new pair of earrings, or a purse, or some new shoes, and I just know I neeeeed a new cardigan.

At Christmas time we came home on furlough and I was looking forward to doing some shopping like any other American girl. My first trip to Target was fun … but before you judge too harshly, keep in mind that I had been in Ethiopia for a year, so at that point I was (and still am) very easily entertained. It was great. I was walking up and down the aisles with my long-awaited Starbucks drink humming “reunited and it feels so good” and enjoying the new trends I felt like I missed out on.

But after about twenty minutes, I was totally irritated. Maybe it was somewhere between the dog snuggie or the seasonal Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s bath towels, but I just became irritated and overwhelmed at all the excess. In general, most people would probably agree America has a problem with consumerism, but going from concept to transformation is at the very least a challenge.

What exactly is consumerism? It is the belief that your possessions and the power to get more of them will bring fulfillment. Consumerism tells us that our needs will be satisfied by what we consume. Few people would say (or admit) that their possessions fulfill them, but it isn’t so much a stated way of life as it is a lived way of life … impacting decisions, values, and goals. We know not all consumption is bad. After all, we were created to consume; life can’t be sustained without it. All of us need food, shelter, water, air, clothing, even love. But clearly we consume far beyond our needs.

Why do we, as Americans, have, for example, so much debt – around $16,000 just in credit card debt per household? Is it keeping up with the Jones’s? Is it entitlement, believing that things are owed to us, or a feeling that we deserve a certain standard of living? Maybe for some it is the thrill of the hunt in shopping? At the root of consumerism it is possible to find selfish ambition, competition, desire for superiority, greed, idolatry, lust, and even gluttony, all of which we are strongly warned and commanded against. Instead, we are directed toward godly perseverance, humility, generosity, the Lordship of Christ, and self-control. Consumerism rears its head in a multitude of choices which leave us in bondage to things and yet wanting more. As a result, many find themselves in a crippling cycle of debt and a slave to their lender. (Rom. 13:8)

We have a deep desire for more. We were created for more. When we find our fulfillment in our stuff, we have settled for an inferior pleasure. The longing is there so we will be ever-reaching of Him.

I have African friends who worship God under a tree. They notice the people in the neighboring tribe who feel the need to worship in a mud hut. They say to those Believers, “that hut won’t be there when Jesus comes back. What a waste. You won’t be able to take it with you.”

Maybe we can learn something from our African brothers and sisters.

I don’t have all the answers – I struggle. Sometimes I don’t know what to do with the poverty around me or even the story I just told you about my friends who worship under a tree. But, I am on a journey to be more like Christ in this area and let him be Lord over my needs and wants.

Here are a few tips if you are interested in doing the same:

Live well within your means. Not only is it biblical, it will actually build your wealth, which I might add, is not bad. Sometimes this requires making small adjustments, and sometimes it requires making drastic cuts. This is half the battle.

Make generosity a priority. Does all you money go to something that benefits you? Many times even the majority of the money we give to our churches benefits ourselves and a small circle of friends funding programs that are for you. Try to have a broader focus – say orphans in Southern Ethiopia, for example. (Shameless plug, I know.)

Don’t be legalistic about it. It is not wrong to have a nice house, car, get pedicures, or even buy expensive bags. It is a matter of walking in the Spirit and following the convictions God has placed on your heart. This will look different for different people. I realize this sounds like a copout to my overall point, but following our convictions will often cost us more than a few arbitrary rules that simply ease the conscience. To obey is better than sacrifice, and it certainly is more effective in God’s Kingdom.

Don’t judge others. How one spends his/her money is a personal matter. We don’t know the scope of people’s financial situations, so if a friend gets a new car or cute outfit, don’t judge. No one wants to be friends with the anti-consumerism police.

Rather, judge yourself. We know when we go overboard. We know when we buy to keep up rather than to fulfill a legit need. Put measures in place to help you be a better steward.

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April Fools #11: Sex & David and Goliath

Sex. I’m a big fan. It’s a beautiful gift that allows my husband and me to connect in a way that is ours alone. A safe, sacred place where we escape the cares of the day and just get lost in our love for one another. It can be fun and silly, it can be a gift given and received, and it is intimate and holy.

One of the most tragic aspects of our post-modern, “enlightened” culture, is the devaluing of sex. Because it has been violently ripped from its rightful and beautiful place within the marriage bed and brashly inserted into nearly every area of our society, one can hardly escape this foul imposter of what I experience as a godly woman.

Sexually immorality is, of course, older than the hills. We are not the first culture to allow sexual immorality to seep into the normalcy of daily life. But what is new to me is that I have never been a parent, raising two precious and beautiful daughters, in the midst of this kind of corruption. I was not handed a pamphlet in the delivery room entitled, “How to raise children who love Jesus and thirst after righteousness in a sexually distorted and saturated world.” Nope. I got an odd smelling vinyl diaper bag filled with 11,000 Similac coupons and a great new offer from Gerber Life.

This topic is so vast, the implications so far-reaching, that it is difficult to single out just one aspect, but I will do my best. Here are a few wake-up call stats:

Over 50% of 15-year-olds report having had oral sex, intercourse, or both.

Experts in addiction treatment and recovery are calling pornography “the drug of choice among our Christian youth.”

The average age of exposure to pornography has dropped from the ripe old age of 8 to 5. That’s right. Five years old.

Now that you are thoroughly disgusted and/or completely freaked out, let me say that you cannot protect yourself, let alone your kids, from what you do not acknowledge. You must be aware of the trap that has been laid for the sole purpose of destroying any semblance of virtue and purity. You must get to them first. You must lay the foundation of God’s wonderful design for sexuality before the perversion begins to take hold.

So what is God’s design for sex? In comparison with our society’s counterfeit, I believe it can be boiled down to three major points:

1. Society tells us that sex is for any individuals who are physically attracted to one another. God says sex is for husband and wife.
2. Society tells us that sex can only be experienced to its fullest by becoming a better, more experienced and skilled lover. God says sex is experienced to its fullest in the physical, emotional, and spiritual union with just one person.
3. Society tells us that sexual satisfaction is found in frequency and variety. God says sexual satisfaction is found in the safety and intimacy of marriage.

These are diametrically opposing views! How will my kids make it through their teens and years of singleness with the rest of the world shouting at them that sex is no big deal? That they deserve pleasure whenever they desire it?

This may feel like a bit of a David and Goliath scenario. One little prepubescent voice raised against the booming giant of culture. But the good news is that David had the right weapon for this confrontation, and you, too, have the slingshot. In it is the simple, ordinary stone of communication. It’s talking to them. Talking often, and sometimes at length, and pressing through awkwardness, and being willing to listen calmly and quietly while they process all of the confusing messages they are being bombarded with. This is no guarantee, but it’s the biggest tool in your toolbox. Here are some guidelines I find helpful when talking to tweens, teens, or single adults …

It is normal to feel uncomfortable talking about sex, especially with a parent. Do it anyway. Embrace the awkwardness.

It is okay if they are quiet and don’t ask questions. Sexuality is a topic they will be processing for years. They are listening.

Watch for teachable moments, which seem to happen quite often in our highly sexualized culture; movies, TV, fashion, ads, music, etc.

Always talk about sex in conjunction with marriage. It is a part of our value system.

Be positive, reminding them that sex is a wonderful gift from God that they get to look forward to and enjoy!

Discuss what TO DO as much as you discuss what NOT TO DO.

Avoid labeling. It is normal to wonder about all aspects of sexuality. Being curious is how we get answers. Don’t freak out.

Be unshockable. Prepare yourself to answer every question you can think of. If caught off guard, ask to think about it a bit and get back to them tomorrow.

Create a way for them to get the correct information about something they are too uncomfortable to ask face-to-face. Use email or a discreet box for passing notes.

If possible, talk about dating, romance, and sexuality as a couple. It is helpful to hear the perspective from both genders.

Do not talk about sex when you are angry.

Lastly, help them create a sexual plan and vision to help get them through to marriage. Encourage them to prayerfully consider and complete the following statements:

Physically, this is what I will do while dating …

Physically, this is what I will NOT do while dating …

This is what I will tell my boyfriend/girlfriend about my sexual boundaries …

This is what I will do when I find myself tempted to go further than I planned …

This is what I will do if I feel I have gone further than I should have …

You can help them along in this process, but you must let them answer these questions. It has to be their plan! They have to buy in. Few make it to their wedding without a few mishaps, but it doesn’t have to be a big one, and it doesn’t have to take them out. Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit, and it is also hard work.

If your children are still young, I highly recommend the series, “God’s Design for Sex” by Stan and Brenna Jones. This series is broken up into four age groups to help you know how much to say and when, and the storybooks provide a structure for giving this good information in a relaxed and enjoyable way. They are available on Amazon.

I admit, I take it a bit personally to see, once again, Satan’s attempt to take something beautiful and corrupt it to bring pain and destruction to God’s beloved ones. What I see in the media is such a poor, pathetic counterfeit. Lust is nothing but selfishness and exploitation. It is not the tender, loving intimacy I experience. And my daughters are going to know that.

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Posted in Family, Marriage, Parenting, Relationships | 2 Comments