“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it. God’s saving love in Christ, however, is marked by both radical truthfulness about who we are and yet also radical, unconditional commitment to us.” –Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage

I’ve wanted to be a wife and a mom since before I can remember. I was (and often still am) your typical girly girl. My childhood was marked by babie dolls, barbies, play kitchens, and in general a nonstop daydreaming about my fictitious husband and kids. When a husband didn’t show up when I thought he should I became distraught. When I found myself in my mid to late twenties as the only single one among my female friends I reached the depths of despair (at least that’s what it felt like). I thought that investing my time and efforts into a career would help (it didn’t) and found myself working at an adoption agency where I was the only single woman. I believed with every fiber of my being that becoming a wife and mom was what God had for me and I could not, for the life of me, understand why He wouldn’t just give it to me. It was a hard season, one in which I felt as though I was repeatedly being shattered and then pieced back together.

Obviously, my life has been a charmed one since my hardest struggle in life up until this point has been grappling with my singleness. But, guys, laying down your dreams, releasing that white knuckled grip you have on your deepest desires, whatever they may be, is (to put it mildly) really hard and painful. Every step of the way I saw His faithfulness. Through every tear that fell, every loved one that spoke truth, every mountaintop and every valley–God was causing me to look to Him, the author and perfecter of my faith. Through that season I learned of the depth of joy that can be experienced when you’re in the midst of the depths of despair. In the words of Charles Spurgeon, I learned to kiss the waves that slammed me into the Rock of ages. He is good. Abundantly good. Even and especially when we can’t see or understand what He is doing.

And then I met James. Truth be told, we’ve had our share of bumps in the road. I can, in all sincerity, say that those bumps have only made us more thankful for each other and for God’s sovereign hand in our lives. Ours is truly a story marked by restoration and forgiveness.

So, now my dream is coming true. In three months, God willing, I’ll be marrying the man who has become my best friend and the love of my life. I can tell you that, while we’re not yet married, I’ve already tasted of the painful yet wonderful reflection of the gospel that marriage is supposed to be. James loves me the way God calls him to and when someone loves you in such a way it places a magnifying glass on your sinfulness. James accepts me, forgives me, and continuously points me towards our Savior. There are moments when I sincerely do not understand why James loves me because, to be totally honest, I can be the worst. And yet, Jesus loves me more. James’ love for me is a mere reflection of our Savior’s and I pray that as James continues, by God’s grace, to love and pursue me in all of my messiness that I will only see more clearly the awesomeness of Christ’s love as He pursues His church in all of our sinfulness and messiness.

When I was single God showed His love and faithfulness to me through my loneliness and unfulfilled desire. Now that I’m about to enter into marriage with James, God continues to show His love and faithfulness to me through being in relationship with James.

I didn’t understand how beautiful and hard and messy and joy-filled being in relationship could be until God brought me James–and  we’re just beginning to scratch the surface. I pray that we have many years together to grow together in Him, to be a picture of the gospel through His grace and strength.

 

 

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Wonder

“But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.” –Micah 5:2

The above was the verse for my Advent devotional this morning. As the author of my devotional and the prophet Micah pointed out, before Jesus’ birth Bethlehem was insignificant and small. As I reflected on the verse I began to think about all the ways that God, throughout my life and throughout history, has chosen what is small and insignificant to manifest his power and glory. Why on earth would He choose a terminal screw up, like myself, to be a part of His grand design?

It honestly started to seem too good to be true for a few moments. This can’t be real. What if none of this is real?

I get so comfortable in my faith, so sinfully bored in the knowledge of my salvation, and I start to lose the wonder and grandeur of what God has done and continues to do through normal people going through their seemingly average and insignificant lives. So, I’m thankful that Micah reminds us that God does big things in and through little and insignificant places and that He acts in the hearts of ordinary and sinful people.

I’m glad I questioned, if only for a few moments, the realness of God’s greatness–the wonder of it all.

The creator of the universe, the Savior of the World, the King of kings and Lord of lords chose me to be a part of His family.  He washed me clean through His shed blood. He gave me His righteousness when I had none. He did this knowing that I would fail Him over and over and over again. He did this knowing that I would need an unlimited supply of His grace and mercy. His love is the big, unfailing, everlasting, unchanging, unlosable kind of love.

So, this Christmas season I’ll fight (through His grace and strength) to reclaim the joy and wonder that is so easily lost in the mundane, day to day struggle of life. I’ll pray with the psalmist, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Psalm 51:12) And I’ll give thanks for the God-man born in a dirty stable in a small town; the One born to be slaughtered for you and for me and I’ll wonder.

The Battle is His

This last month was a rough one. There’s been some heart break. I’ve had a lot of questions and I’ve fed a lot of fears. That’s one thing I’ve realized that I’m insanely good at–feeding my fears. And the enemy loves it, he preys upon that sinful talent of mine until I’m inconsolable.

Have you ever had one of those days when you have tried, tried so unbelievably hard to speak truth to your heart, to remind yourself of the deep truths of scripture only to have your heart say, “It’s not good enough. Today, Jesus is not enough. I want more. I want THAT.”? Maybe you haven’t. But I have. Oh, friends, my heart is so desperately wicked, so prone to wander.

Sometimes it’s hard, next to impossible to see what God is doing in your life. There are moments that it feels like He has come in with a wrecking ball, wreaking havoc for the sake of wreaking havoc.

But that’s not how He operates. Chaos is outside of God’s character. As my own life has felt uncertain and a bit chaotic recently, I’ve been reminded that God brings us to the point of famine only to nourish us; He brings in the wrecking ball to tear down our idols, to break down our reliance on self, to draw us closer to Himself, to mold us into the likeness of Christ.

Over the last month I’ve read the following passage approximately 87 times:

“10 When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, ‘Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.’ 13 And Moses said to the people, ‘Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.14 The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.'” –Exodus 14:10-14

Why had God brought them this far to let them die? Why did He give them hope and then snatch it away? I can’t imagine what their cries sounded like, I can’t imagine what their fears felt like. The Israelites had every reason to believe that they were facing certain death–except that they didn’t, because their faithful God was once again working for their good and His glory, they needed only to trust Him.

When the present feels too much like the past, when the future is so uncertain, in that moment when it feels like your world is caving in, when the pain is too much to bear, when you have absolutely nothing to give, when hope seems out of your reach, remember this: God is not confined by what your current circumstances look like. And His ways are greater, so much greater than our feeble minds could possibly comprehend. Just stand firm and see the salvation of the Lord.

And it’s hard, oh friends, it is so very hard to stand firm, to wage war, to take every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. I get so tired of the fight. I’m tired of waging war against my own flesh and against the powers of this world. I’m just so tired. And yet, in those moments I’m called to fight harder. Not in my strength, but in His. The fight, the struggle against my flesh is to let go and let God. The struggle is to understand that the battle is His–He will fight for me, I need only to be still. But that’s not what the world tells me. No, the world tells me that I’ve been cheated. The world tells me that I should have what I want and I should be able to have it now, damn the consequences. Satan tells me that my mistakes have been too great and continues to throw them in my face. But He is greater. He is greater than this momentary affliction. He is greater than my sinful, aching heart. He whispers truth into my heart through His word. He shows me that in the midst of embarrassing failures He is still working in me to sanctify me through and through. He is. He goes before me. He is loving and gracious. Compassionate and merciful. He is mighty to save.

So as you wade thru the uncertainties, stand firm. Stand firm in His steadfast love. Stand firm in His forgiveness and grace. Stand firm and take comfort in His sovereignty.

He goes before us. The battle is His and it’s already been won.



Grounded In Love

It’s the dreaded of all days for singles around the world. Social media will be inundated with photos of flowers and chocolates and jewelry and teddy bears with captions like “Best hubby ever!” or “He knows the way to my heart!”. And those posts are, in all sincerity, completely harmless. I choose in my heart to make them something that they are not—hurtful reminders of my singleness, flagrant bragging. The enemy loves for me to play the victim, Satan loves nothing more than when I begrudge this season of life rather than rejoice in it as I am called to do in all situations. Too often I’m so busy seeking validation for my own pain (which is real and valid) that I overlook all the joy and beauty that my Father in heaven has surrounded me with.

So today, I choose (by His grace and strength) to share in the joy of the many godly couples that God has surrounded me with. I choose to see the good (and there is plenty of it) in this season of my life. I choose not to feed the fear of the “what if” questions that seek to steal my joy. Because regardless of whether or not I ever get to be included in the beautiful gift of marriage I have been included in Christ. The Lord is my husband and if His is the only marriage that I ever get to experience then I can be truly glad.

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in you hearts through faith—that you being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” —Ephesians 3:14-21

Happy Valentine’s dear ones. I pray that regardless of what station of life we find ourselves in, we would live in the power of His Spirit and dwell in His love as we seek to love one another to the glory of His great name.

How Much Longer

November was National Adoption month, I know this because I work for a Christian ministry that serves as an adoption agency. The organization I work for held our annual fundraiser/celebration dinner last month, during the dinner an adult adoptee shared some of His story. He was born in an Eastern European country that was highly superstitious. He was born without arms and was viewed as cursed in his culture. A world away in the United States his parents were convicted that they needed to do something out of their comfort zone for the Kingdom. They decided that they wanted to adopt a child that no one else wanted. So they went to Eastern Europe and adopted the 10 pound, severely malnourished 18 month old with no arms. They adopted the child that no one else wanted, the child that was sure to die, the child nobody else was willing to take on and they called him son.

I was struck by that story and what an incredibly beautiful picture of the Gospel it is. We are the children that no one else wanted. We are ex-orphans. We are the ones that God sought out as we wallowed in our own sin nature. We were dead and He gave us life. He adopted us as sons.

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.” –Galatians 4:4-7

Adopted as sons. I’ve seen a lot of translations and heard a lot of people insert “and daughters”. As one who didn’t know what the literal translation is, I never thought about this much. I just assumed that Paul was doing what many people were taught to do in English class; that is to use the masculine pronoun in situations where the gender of their subject(s) is unclear or variable, or when a group to which they are referring contains members of both sexes. But to assume that does not give the God of the Universe much credit.

It was pointed out to me recently that in Roman society, during the time Paul was writing to the Galatians, daughters didn’t have full rights. Sons were given preference to inherit the family estate and in general it was males who were adopted by wealthy families to carry on the family name. So, when Paul says that God has adopted us into His family as sons, it’s not because of longstanding grammatical rules/traditions and it’s not because Paul is misogynistic; it’s because of the Father’s great love for us. It’s because of God’s absolute and unfailing attention to detail. It’s because there is absolutely nothing that our Heavenly Father did not think of in eternity past or eternity future. He has sent His Spirit into our hearts crying, “Abba! Father!” so that we can cry out as sons, “Abba! Father!” to the King of kings and Lord of lords.

When I was a little girl one of the best parts of each day was anticipating my dad’s arrival home from work. I would pester my mom asking her “How much longer?!”. I loved it when my dad would burst through the front door, as he said my nick name in a sing song voice which delighted me to no end. Dad was home. Our family was together and whole. All seemed right.

At this special time of year we reflect on and wonder at the great love of our Heavenly Father who sent His son into this world as a precious babe; the God-man born in a lowly manger. The Prince of Peace came to our broken world, bore our sins, poured out His blood, and clothes us in His righteousness. Our Father would stop at nothing to adopt us as sons. As we rejoice in and look back on our Savior’s birth, we should also look forward as we cry out with joy, pain, and hope, “How much longer?!”. How much longer until our family is together and whole? How much longer until all is made right? How much longer until we see His face and praise His name as He sings over us with love? How much longer, indeed.

Merry Christmas, dear ones.

“Come, Thou long expected Jesus Born to set Thy people free; From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee. Israel’s Strength and Consolation, Hope of all the earth Thou art; Dear Desire of every nation, Joy of every longing heart. Born Thy people to deliver, Born a child and yet a King, Born to reign in us forever, Now Thy gracious kingdom bring. By Thine own eternal Spirit Rule in all our hearts alone; By Thine all sufficient merit, Raise us to Thy glorious throne.”

Look Up

This morning the only thing I wanted was for God to grant me my deepest desires and dreams. That’s all. Not too much for the God of the Universe, right? No, I didn’t verbally ask for my deepest hopes and dreams, I asked for comfort, but He knew what I meant, He always knows.

You can imagine my surprise when God did not act as my fairy godmother in that moment, not even a little bit. No, instead of my hopes and dreams coming true I found myself on my bedroom floor crying and whispering, “My heart is so black, my heart is so black.” In that moment I felt the weight of my sin. I could clearly see my idols, my bitterness, and my distrust of the Lord. I cried out to the Lord. For forgiveness, for sanctification, for whatever He would give me. How thankful I am for the Holy Spirit who intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. The Spirit groans for us. How incredible.

I felt strangely, painfully, and magnificently loved by my Father in Heaven this morning. He who is more than parental affection loves us far too much to allow us to wallow away in our sinfulness. He loves me too much to not prepare me for the life to come, the life everlasting. God is all too aware of the fact that this world is not my home, this life is but a vapor. And my black heart has no place in the Kingdom of God.

Now I have to deal with that blackness and it is downright excruciating. It’s insurmountable. So, I look up. Because the One who loves me enough to convict me also loves me more than enough to sanctify me through and through. So, now, through tear stained eyes and with a shattered heart, by His grace I look up.

“I asked the Lord that I might grow
In faith and love and every grace
Might more of His salvation know
And seek more earnestly His face

Twas He who taught me thus to pray
And He I trust has answered prayer
But it has been in such a way
As almost drove me to despair

I hoped that in some favored hour
At once He’d answer my request
And by His love’s constraining power
Subdue my sins and give me rest

Instead of this He made me feel
The hidden evils of my heart
And let the angry powers of Hell
Assault my soul in every part

Yea more with His own hand He seemed
Intent to aggravate my woe
Crossed all the fair designs I schemed,
Cast out my feelings, laid me low

Lord why is this, I trembling cried
Wilt Thou pursue thy worm to death?
“Tis in this way” The Lord replied
“I answer prayer for grace and faith”

“These inward trials I employ
From self and pride to set thee free
And break thy schemes of earthly joy
That thou mayest seek thy all in me,
That thou mayest seek thy all in me.”

The Waiting Place

A few weeks ago I was reminded about how God uses our waits in this life for our good and His glory. Whenever I think about waiting I always think about Dr. Seuss (that’s normal right?) and his book Oh, the Places You’ll Go! In this book he talks about the “waiting place” and how utterly miserable and useless it is…

“You can get so confused
that you’ll start in to race
down long wiggled roads at a break-necking pace
and grind on for miles across weirdish wild space,
headed, I fear, toward a most useless place.
The Waiting Place…

…for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a sting of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

NO!
That’s not for you!

Somehow you’ll escape
all that waiting and staying.
You’ll find the bright places
where Boom Bands are playing.”

I get it. The waiting place is full of pain that is often too deep for words. It’s a place of confusion where we have to sit with unanswered questions and deal with unmet expectations and unfulfilled desires. The waiting place can feel catastrophically lonely.

There was a time, in the not so distant past, when I found myself sitting in church, listening to the pastor preach on being thankful for suffering, thankful for the waiting place. My initial reaction (which lingered for a solid 6 months…at least) was anger and hurt. My internal dialogue went something like this:

“Are. You. Kidding. Me? You’re telling me that not only has God called me to this difficult season of life, but now He has the audacity to call me to be thankful for it?! To rejoice in it?”

More often than I would like to admit those feelings of anger and resentment still creep up and I find myself, ultimately, questioning God’s plan, questioning His faithfulness to me, questioning if Jesus really is all satisfying. Those are doubts that the enemy would like me to feed, but I know the truth…

It is in the waiting place where our lives are lived. It’s in the waiting place where our hearts are shattered and restored by the Author of life. It’s where we release the white knuckled grip we have on our dreams and our desires and we lay them down at the feet of Jesus in exchange for dreams and desires that we could never muster on our own. Dreams and desires that are so much bigger than the here and now satisfaction we so desperately long for. The waiting place is where God crushes us in order to give us life, life everlasting, life in abundance. How could I be anything but thankful for the waiting place when in that place I receive more of my Savior?