The Summer Theater (A Fiction Story)

This flash fiction story (a story that is 1,000 words or less) was originally published last year in Splickety’s flash fiction magazine.

Mia adjusted the violin on her shoulder as the conductor lifted his hands. This was her favorite part of Les Miserables, where all the actors in the production came on stage to sing the last triumphant song. She slid her bow across the strings, feeling her heart rise as if it wanted to soar from her chest. She felt her tempo quicken and looked up to match the baton. Above the conductor, she saw the cast of characters form a line on the stage. And then Jean Valjean met her eyes. In real life he was Joel, captain of the high school hockey team.

violin-374096_1280

Mia tightened her fingers on the bow and then relaxed too quickly, almost dropping it. Her stomach clenched, and she held her breath as her eyes scanned the sheet music, finding her place just in time to play the last two lines.

Applause cut into the final note, and the other orchestra members bustled around, stacking their music, and heading to the tent where their cases were stored.

Mia tucked her violin under her arm, weaving through the crowd that had come up to congratulate the performers.

Had Joel meant to catch her eye tonight, or had it been a coincidence?

For each of their four performances, she’d noticed him looking at her during the last song. Either way, they still had three more shows, and she was sick of messing up the grand finale.

Stepping behind the tent, she placed her violin under her chin and ran through the song again. The conversation and laughter died away as the orchestra members left, but she continued repeating the last two lines as the sun dipped below the surrounding trees. Finally satisfied, she lowered the instrument. When she turned, she drew in her breath.

sunset-49383_1280

Joel sat cross-legged in the grass a few feet away. He smiled. “I have a hard time appreciating the music when I’m acting.”

Mia squeezed the neck of her violin. “But I was playing the same line over and over.”

“It’s my favorite part.” He stood and brushed off his pants. “Well, I won’t bother you anymore.”

Mia’s voice felt trapped in her throat. Joel had never talked to her before, so this might be her only chance. “You did really well.”

He shrugged. “I’ve always sung in the shower and my car, but I wasn’t sure I could really do it in front of people.”

Mia tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. Joel wasn’t at all how she’d pictured him. She’d always thought of the hockey players as a single entity, better than everyone else.

“So why did you try out? I never would have pictured this as your type of thing.” She didn’t think any of the other hockey players were in the musical, but since she’d never gone to one of the games, she couldn’t be sure.

He shrugged one of his shoulders. “I didn’t want to wait until the fall to see you again.”

Mia shivered in the night air, despite the summer heat, and clutched her violin to her chest. “What are you talking about?” Now that she thought about it, this last year at school she had seen Joel in odd places, like down the music hall or coming out of the restroom near her AP English class.

Joel ran a hand through his hair and squeezed the back of his neck. “You’re way out of my league, but tonight I decided rejection would be way better than not knowing.”

Mia felt like someone had scratched the wood on her violin. Was this some kind of cruel trick? But as she studied his face, she couldn’t help laughing. “If you heard the orchestra members talking, you’d think differently about your league—and mine.”

He took a step closer, and Mia saw a spot of stage makeup beneath his eye. She wanted to wipe it off, but she resisted and pressed her free hand to her side.

Joel tipped his head back, looking at the stars beginning to ease their way out. “I’ve seen the way you treat people. You’re so smart and talented.” He bit his lip. “Just all-around awesome.” He stared at her so long she had to look away. His green eyes made her scalp tingle.

stars-1245902_1280

Then his words came spilling out. “Do you want to go to a bonfire with me after the performance tomorrow night? I hear they’ll have s’mores.” He pressed his lips together. Mia felt like her limbs had turned to ice.

When she didn’t answer, Joel dropped his gaze to her violin. “Do you think I could play it?” He took it as if it were made of glass.

Mia hesitated…then moved to stand beside him. She placed the violin on his shoulder, reminding herself to breathe. “You have to keep your wrist straight to reach the notes well.” Handing him the bow, she saw him clutch it in his fist. She reached over to adjust his fingers, and the warmth from his hand spread up her arm. She jerked her hand back.

He set the bow on the string, and she tried not to cringe at the squeaking note as he ran it too close to the bridge. Sawing the bow back and forth a few times, he sighed then grinned at her. “I guess I missed my chance to be a child prodigy.”

Mia laughed. “I don’t know what your friends would say about their hockey star playing violin.”

He handed her the instrument. “Who cares what they think? I don’t.”

She took a deep breath. “Well then, I don’t, either. But I have to be home by eleven tomorrow.”

 

When You Feel Like You’re Missing Out

I’ve heard it said that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert at something.

I’m not sure how being a mother would be calculated if you factor in nap times, night times of being “on call,” and the fact that every time you turn around your children are at a different stage of life. (As if you could become an expert on unpredictable humans).

But if you took a skill like learning to play the cello, it would mean practicing for 40 hours a week every week for five years.

cello-663563_1280

Trying to Do It All

A few weeks ago, Christopher and I strolled past ice cream and used book shops on our way to Touch of Italy for our anniversary, relishing our kid-free evening. We talked about the dreams we have, from publishing a novel to saving up for a powered paraglider (I’ll let you guess which one was Christopher’s).

It made me wonder how I would feel if none of our dreams happened–or if the pieces of success didn’t bring the fulfillment we thought they would.

If this life is all there is, we only have 80 years to squeeze everything in–if we’re lucky. Our bodies start breaking down, and we might regret not doing more when we had the chance.

As our children grow, we see them as fresh starts and try to live some of our dreams through them, running them from activity to activity in an effort to keep them from being “deprived.”

Or maybe surviving life with little people right now feels suffocating, the minute-by-minute responsibilities turning into weeks and months of setting aside other pursuits.

At times, I’ve fought the feeling that in some undefinable way, I’m missing out.

That if my circumstances were different, I could really be successful.

And then I’ve realized how prideful that is, choosing to live in discontentment rather than trusting God’s good care in the life I have now.

As believers, we don’t have to worry about missing out because Jesus gives hope in the present, marching all the way into eternity.

If we truly believe that we’ve been given the Holy Spirit “as a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance” (Eph. 1:14), and that we have a  “new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. . . kept in heaven for you (1 Peter 1:3-4), this present life can always be enough because Jesus was and is enough for us.

We don’t have to prove that we are enough because Jesus’ blood-bought forgiveness and garment of righteousness has already covered us and will cover us until our souls step into resurrected, perfect bodies.

So what do we do with our desires now?

wood-721871_1280

Christopher and I talked about starting a life list, dreams that we would give to God. We realized that the list could be as long and outrageous as we’d like, since we have eternity to finish it.

Death from this life would only mean that we can work at the other things on the list from resurrected bodies that have been made perfect. Because Jesus is coming back to create a New Earth, we will have the chance to keep learning, in a world that has been completely restored.

Just think how many things we will have the chance to become an expert in.

Time is Not Running Out

When we quit feeling that we have to get it all done now, it makes this life so much less stressful.

When we see our lives on this present earth as a tiny dot on the line of eternity, we can rest in the circumstances that our Sovereign and Good Father has us in, and enjoy the people He’s put in front of us.

Because He’s in charge and always will be, we have a sure hope.

Paul says in Romans 15:13, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

If we are choosing to look to the God of hope, joy and peace are benefits in the present as well as the future, whether it be our kid’s next milestone or our final destination.

My mentor reminded me that God gives us grace in the present, and we can’t always see what His grace will look like in the future.

Trusting that God is good, loving, and in control, takes effort (strengthened by the Holy Spirit’s power), but the alternative is trusting in myself and forfeiting the gifts of joy and peace He wants to fill us with.

sunlight-166733_1280

Lifting Our Eyes

Maybe you feel like you’re making little impact on the world. . . look to the God of eternity.

Maybe your marriage doesn’t feel like you imagined it as a little girl. . . look to the God of eternity.

Maybe the cooked rice got thrown to the carpet, smashing down into a sticky mess. . . look to the God of eternity.

When our desire is for Him, He directs our other desires and goals for our life.

Jonathan Edwards put it beautifully:

“God is the highest good of the reasonable creature. The enjoyment of him is our proper; and is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied.

“To go to heaven, fully to enjoy God, is infinitely better than the most pleasant accommodations here. Better than fathers and mothers, husbands, wives, or children, or the company of any, or all earthly friends.

“These are but shadows; but the enjoyment of God is the substance.

“These are but scattered beams; but God is the sun.

“These are but streams; but God is the fountain.

“These are but drops, but God is the ocean.”
― Jonathan EdwardsThe Works of Jonathan Edwards, Vol. 17: Sermons and Discourses, 1730-1733

sunrise-1239728_1280

The Father has accomplished our salvation and adopted us as His daughters, so we can live lives of gratitude instead of striving for the world’s perception of success, fame, or money.

And as the apostle Peter reminds us to love one another deeply, he also gives us the perspective we need:

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. For,

“All people are like grass,
and all their glory is like the flowers of the field;
the grass withers and the flowers fall,
     but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)

Will you surrender the seed of your life to wherever the Father wants to plant you for this season?

Will you invite Jesus into your desires as you let your thoughts be shaped by His enduring Word?

Who is the Father leading you to love deeply today as you look to the hope of eternity?

When a Newborn Joins the Family (A Letter To Myself)

Dear Alicia,

You now have three months of experience as a mother of two, and there are a few things I’d like to remind you about this newborn stage in case you happen to get big and pregnant again and don’t remember what it was like to welcome a new member to the family.

Most importantly, please know that it will get better.

She will start to cry less, and you will come to terms with the fact that your schedule and rhythm will never look like it once did.

Here are a few other things I’d like to encourage you with (numbered, since there is a good chance you are hormone-charged or sleep-deprived).

IMG_0345

  1. You can’t help the fact that your baby would rather be back inside the womb.

I’ve heard it referred to as the “fourth trimester,” when the baby just wishes she were back in the darkness, surrounded by warm fluid, and getting to listen to your heart beat. It’s not your fault that even when she is fed, changed, and burped, she is still unhappy.

It’s okay to try things to make her feel better, but then you need to quit feeling guilty if she’s still uncomfortable and just not enjoying having to sleep on her back. She’ll get used to life just like you are getting used to a new stage.

She’s never known what it’s like to be hungry or have air bubbles inside her tummy. The only way she can communicate her feelings–ranging from slight annoyance to pain–is through crying. She’s experiencing the first sensations of what it means to live in a broken world.

Just think what wonderful news you’ll be able to share with her in the coming years as her tears find meaning, purpose, and healing in the forgiveness of Jesus.

  1. Life is going to be different, and you won’t be able to imagine how.

Over the past 2 ½ years, you’ve worked out different schedules with Isaiah–when to shower, read your Bible, and how to get household tasks done. But throwing a newborn into the mix will totally shake up the routine you’ve settled into.

Your previous way of life was not bad or good, it was just a different stage that you’ll never be able to return to. And this new life, with its unpredictability and having to divide your energies between two little people is exactly what God has called you to because He allowed them into your family in the first place.

Don’t worry about preparing yourself or trying to imagine how you’ll fit a newborn’s needs into your schedule. You won’t be able to. You’ll just have to find a new rhythm.

If you expect there to be unexpected circumstances to deal with (ex. Toddler pooping in the tub, clothes to rinse out from diaper blowouts, mysterious fussiness), you can see them not as interruptions, but as part of your schedule. It’s another way God is loosening your desire for control over your life.

IMG_0411

  1. There is no schedule.

You thought a few weeks in that if you got the right advice or kept perfect track of feedings and nap times, you’d be able to predict and conform Hosanna’s needs to your schedule. You saw her as a machine, thinking that if you’d punch in the right numbers, she would respond in a certain way.

You thought that if you only planned ahead well enough, you could avoid embarrassing situations like diaper explosions and finding a place to nurse in public.

Or when she didn’t nurse or sleep before you left to go to a restaurant or someone’s house, you imagined that when you got there, she would cry without taking a breath, and you’d have to endure helpful suggestions like, “Is she hungry?”

Sometimes if she was crying and you tried to nurse her, she screamed louder and pulled off, only to be doused by a spray of milk, (while everyone around was trying to ignore the all-out war going on under the nursing cover).

Unfortunately, worrying about it in advance won’t keep it from happening. On the other hand, she might sleep the entire evening because newborns are just that unpredictable.

Whether you get compliments on what a good baby she is, or whether you hide in a corner to avoid the pitying glances, Jesus is going to be with you, because His grace is always in the present.

You don’t have to imagine what it’s like raising eight kids because He gives grace for what He has entrusted to you.

On a practical note, once you’re three months in, there is still not much of a schedule. It’s more about being aware of the general times she’s eaten and slept and trying one or the other if she’s fussy. She might be awake for only a half hour or maybe two hours before she wants to sleep again.

And you won’t be able to fix everything with nursing. In fact, sometimes your letdown made Hosanna choke and get even more frustrated.

But it’s okay, because newborns are really bad at holding things against you.

IMG_0401

  1. Goals should be held lightly.

Everyone else who seems to be running around and getting a lot accomplished probably aren’t having their sleep interrupted every three hours at night. It makes a huge difference!

Your mentor Natalie had to remind you that during this stage, you should only have goals if you want to have goals, especially with your writing.

And do you really need to vacuum that often?

When Hosanna came along, jobs that had previously taken twice as long because of Isaiah’s toddler “help,” doubled again because her eating and sleeping-on-your-shoulder preference invaded every previously free block of time.

Try to think of getting your tasks done sometime during the week rather than sometime during the day, (or even sometime during the month).

Even your goal of getting in a nap won’t happen many times, (though it certainly doesn’t hurt anything to try), but it will be another reminder of your weakness and that Jesus wants to be strong in you.

In the fog of tiredness, you may be wondering if this is really how God is wanting you to spend your days. As Christopher had to remind you, you will never get it right all day every day, but that is exactly the point. Christ’s finished work on the cross accomplished everything needed to bring you into right standing before the Father.

He is inviting you to receive His love and rest as part of His perfect will for you.

  1. You may not feel a whole lot of affection for your newborn, but it will grow.

Those first few days and weeks were filled with Hosanna’s lung-strengthening demands, without even the courtesy of eye contact.

When you are jolted out of sleep for the third time that night, remember that all that sacrificial giving isn’t a way to show you how strong you are but that Jesus is the only One who can keep loving through you.

It’s okay to cry when she does.

Soon you will begin to see the twitches of a smile when she meets your eyes. And though it won’t make everything better, it will help. She’ll start to enjoy watching the goings on outside the womb, and be entertained by the funny sounds that come out of her siblings.

IMG_3899

  1. Have more dates with your husband in the first three months.

It’s easy to let those first weeks be consumed with trying to keep your little people happy. You were scared to leave Hosanna with anyone because if she was fussy, you felt like it was somehow your fault.

When you went on an anniversary date with Christopher, the frozen breastmilk bags split down the sides as they thawed, and she refused to drink the formula you sent as back up. Your mother-in-law said that she cried, and it was okay.

It was fine.

When you live in community, people aren’t expecting you (or your children) to be perfect. They aren’t sitting around waiting for thank you notes for the meals they brought. They’re letting Jesus love through them and giving you even more reasons to lift up praises to Him.

Just take the risk, and be thankful for the family who are willing to watch your kids.

And when you’re with your husband, don’t worry about trying to make deep conversation happen. Just enjoy each other.

IMG_0433

 

  1. You probably won’t like the way your body looks.

Just as you need to fight against the thoughts that make you think your worth is determined by what you accomplish, you need to hold up that shield of faith in front of your new post-pregnancy body.

You bear the marks of carrying another of God’s image-bearers into the world.

It’s okay to share with God your disappointment, but ask Him to open your eyes to see more of His greatness, so that you can see yourself and others as He sees you—a redeemed, adopted daughter among many other beloved creations.

  1. It’s okay to mourn the sacrifices.

You knew there would be lost sleep and crying, but when Hosanna actually came, you had to allow yourself to acknowledge the pain, so that you could bring your feelings to Jesus.

Of course someone else has it worse, but that doesn’t make giving up sleep, writing time, relaxation in the evenings, and quiet conversations with your husband unimportant.

When Isaiah was a newborn, you were able to get some good reading in while you nursed, but this time it’s been filled with conversations about the difference between an excavator and backhoe and what dinosaurs eat. (Or someone shouting “Mommy I need help!”  from across the house.)

You also used to have a block of time each day to write, but now even your moments to yourself have had household details pulling at your attention and a tiredness that’s made your  brain feel like part of it was slipping out the back of your head.

Allow yourself to mourn the ability to concentrate and the fact that your eyes get more tired looking at a screen.

Don’t fear that your writing will be permanently hindered because you can’t keep up with the quantity you were used to. God is not limited by your abilities. If He wants to keep using your writing, He will. What success are you really after anyway, if not to be led into the opportunities that God provides?

Your loving Father has so much more to teach you and so much more love for you to experience. Let your hope be in Him, Alicia, because that’s all that really matters.

Love,

Alicia

When Your Husband Isn’t Meant to Provide

“Honey, I have to stay late today.”

It didn’t seem like a problem, since my newborn was looking up with innocent smiles from her bouncy seat, and my toddler was paging through a book.  I stirred the onions and stepped over to unload the dishwasher.

broccoli-498600_1280

As I stacked the plates, I decided I’d try to have dinner on the table when he got home. All three of us would be waiting at the door, ready to give hugs and kisses. We’d listen to each other’s days as our toddler quietly ate his vegetables, and we’d probably even have time to catch up on our budget after supper.

My dream quickly dissolved as the baby’s moans of frustration soon crescendoed into healthy-lung wails, and my toddler latched onto my leg with demands for shows and chocolate milk.

The burning smell of the onions filled the kitchen, and by the time Daddy came in the door, finishing dinner had been moved to the bottom of the list.

The relief of having another set of capable hands in the house overshadowed my plans for a peaceful welcome, turning into a series of “Honey, could you’s. . . “

It also kept me from noticing his weary face.

Running in the Wrong Direction

When the immediate needs seem to fill each nook and cranny of the day and evening, I get the panicky feeling that nothing is being accomplished, (especially when nothing is crossed off the sticky note).

When our nighttime conversations, normally only punctuated by brushing, flossing, and mouthwash, get taken away by a fussy baby being handed back and forth, it makes me wonder why God would allow so many obstacles to feeling connected in marriage.

Doesn’t God know how much more loving I could be if life was easier? If I didn’t have to always feel so. . . dependent?

My mentor Natalie recently asked me who I run to when things go wrong—Christopher?

Or my Heavenly Father?

Do I trust God to provide, or is it only Christopher’s job?

It’s easy to feel unloved when I expect a person to do what only God can do—to listen perfectly, sympathize with my struggles, and be ready with grace and approval because of Jesus’ redemption no matter how many mistakes I make.

When Jesus was in the Garden of Gethsemane, He asked his friends to watch and pray with him. I’m sure they tried, but by the time He got back, they were asleep.

As human beings, we are limited. Jesus understands that, since He became a human and took on the boundaries of flesh while still remaining God. He gets it.

running-man-1149787_1280

Here are a few ways I’ve been encouraged to run to Jesus when all I feel like doing is complain to my husband and expect him to make everything better.

  1. Talk to your soul.

A friend recently reminded me that feelings should be acknowledged, but not trusted.

When I feel like I’ve accomplished little more than keeping two kids alive by the end of the day (and not even necessarily in a good mood), it’s natural for me to start judging myself. I think that my value in God’s kingdom is based on my performance or ability to be strong under pressure.

If I jot a list of tasks I want to get done, I expect myself to finish it.

I often let that attitude carry over into how I see my husband, and refuse to extend grace when a detail is forgotten.

The other day, after quite a few hours of unfulfilled goals, I realized how little joy I felt. It seemed the Holy Spirit was saying, “Well, you have five minutes now. Why don’t you use it to talk to your soul?”

And so I began.

The Father loves me.

Jesus paid for everything wrong I’ve ever done or ever will do.

I have been clothed in Christ’s righteousness, which is what the Father sees when He looks at me (instead of what I did or didn’t accomplish).

The two children He’s entrusted me with are part of His good will for my life.

He is using the newborn fussiness and minute-by-minute training of a toddler to sanctify me and show me my need for Him.

The Father is satisfied with me because He is satisfied with Jesus, who lives in me.

I have an inheritance in heaven, which the Spirit is preparing me for—and I’ll get to enjoy perfect fellowship with the Father.

Unexpected messes, tantrums, and car repairs are all part of the life He is allowing and walking with me in.

read-1188585_1280

The lies of comparing myself to others and expecting a certain set of circumstances can only be fought with remembering the truth found in God’s Word.

It’s worth every ounce of mental energy.

  1. Remember that we’re in this together.

When Christopher and I are both stressed, our capacity to listen can go down. We become focused on ourselves. I’m so thankful for the times Christopher has reminded me that we are going to face the bills, tears, and rice stuck to the carpet together.

  1. Value what he thinks is important.

I might have household tasks I’d like Christopher to do on a Saturday, but it is prideful to think that he should always place the same level of importance on gutters being cleaned. I’ve had to remind myself that it’s okay if it doesn’t get done today.

And if I really, really have something that needs doing, a calm and kind request makes all the difference.

whirlpool-883755_1280

  1. Allow him to be who he is and me to be who I am.

I’ve found that the more I try to control my circumstances or the people in my life, the more out of control they become.

Just as my newborn is not a machine that can be conformed to a rigid schedule of sleeping and eating, my husband has a distinct personality causing him to see the world a certain way. He often helps me to step back and see the big picture of our lives, when a broken vacuum cleaner feels like the end of the world.

When I can appreciate his role as husband and allow other friends to be a listening ear once in a while, it can also help me enjoy the times we do share our feelings and connect.

What burden do you need to surrender to the Father today?

What can you thank your husband for?

Why the Trinity is Essential to Motherhood

How do you think God views your role as a mother? With His arms crossed, thinking you need to do better at being patient and loving, not to mention get more vegetables into your toddler, keep the house picked up, and hold your baby more?

Do you think God gave you the family He did because He thought you could handle it, and when you don’t seem to be juggling it all so well, He is sitting back, rubbing His temples because you’ve let Him down again?

despair-1235582_1280

If we served a single-person God, these responses would be much more likely. His feelings toward us would be based on our performance.  If we were expected to be a good parent in our own strength, we’d fail every time.

But that was never the plan.

An Eternity of Love

If a single-person God didn’t have anyone to love until humans came around, He couldn’t be eternally loving. . . because who would there be to love? Himself?

Glen Scrivener, in his article, “The Trinity Saved My Life” said, “You loved me before the foundation of the world” – that’s how Jesus describes eternity in John 17:24.

“Before there was anything, there was love.  The Father, by the Spirit, has eternally poured His love onto and into His Son.  In other words: “God is love” (1 John 4:8).

“God is this loving communion of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

So why would He bother with us, knowing that we’d choose evil and fail each day in loving others completely?

I often have the best intentions to treat Christopher with love when he comes home from work, but then petty annoyances and selfishness in wanting to be served slithers in, poisoning my time with my family.

Scrivener goes on to write about the Trinity that “this relationship is the explanation for everything else.

“Their love was too good to keep to themselves.  From the overflow of their life together, the Father has created a world, through His Son and by His Spirit.

“We have been birthed out of love and destined to share in it.”

waterfall-1049079_1280

The Verdict Is In

So what does that mean for our nose-wiping, food coaxing, band-aid giving days (and nights)?

You will never get it right. And you don’t have to.

The love of the Father and Son flowed onto us when Jesus came to earth, lived a perfect life, paid for our sins by His death, and rose from the dead to daily intercede for us to the Father on our behalf.

The Father delights in us because we have been covered in the Son’s righteousness, and no amount of sin or failures can change that.

Mike Reeves, in his book Delighting in the Trinity, wrote, “This God makes no third party suffer to achieve atonement. The one who dies is the Lamb of God, the Son. And it means that nobody but God contributes to the work of salvation: the Father, Son and Spirit accomplish it all.”

Lifting Our Eyes

So when we think that we have to be more loving, have more faith, or trust more, we need to shift our focus.

I can’t force myself to become more loving. Love is a fruit of the Spirit, something that can only flow out of us when we’ve received the love the Father wants to lavish on us. .

We can’t squeeze our eyes shut and decide to have more faith (even if Hollywood would lead us to believe differently). That, too, is a gift to be received from our Father who longs to draw our hearts to Himself.

hand-1278394_1280

Even trusting God is not something that I can purpose to do any more than I can say I’m going to trust a friend—either I do or I don’t. Trust comes from being in a relationship. When we struggle to trust God, we can choose instead to meditate on the One who is trustworthy.

Salvation and grace aren’t perks thrown at us by a benevolent dictator God. They are part of enjoying the relationship we’ve been adopted into by a loving Father.

He is salvation.

He is grace.

Reeves goes on to say, “For it is only when you grasp what it means for God to be a Trinity that you really sense the beauty, the overflowing kindness, the heart-grabbing loveliness of God.”

Just imagine if we could begin each day (or wake up each night) remembering and delighting in our loving Father, salvation-giving Jesus, and empowering Spirit?

If, when the discouragement started seeping in because of the half-folded laundry and crumbs sticking to our bare feet, we reminded ourselves of the future hope of a perfect world with Jesus that each sunrise brings us closer to?

natural-656967_1280

Teeth-gritting resolve will only bring failure when our strength is spent.

Why not use that energy to focus again on the One who delights in being our strength?

*If you’d like to hear more thoughts from Mike Reeves, you can check out his soul-filling book, Delighting in the Trinity or listen to his series of three audio talks on Enjoying the Trinity.

When Motherhood Feels Like Survival

Do you ever feel guilty when people do nice things for you?

Or start comparing yourself to all those who have a harder life or circumstance?

And then the next second, when you’re trying to get the screaming baby to latch on and your toddler is yelling for your help from across the house, wonder why you have to be needed (and touched) all day, every day?

These past newborn days have been filled with grace and kindness. Cards coming in the mail. People from church bringing meals. My parents staying with us and cooking food, doing fix-it projects in the house and yard, and letting 2 1/2 year old Isaiah follow them around and “help.”

There have been text messages to let me know people have been praying. Calls to ask if I need anything at the store.

unnamed (3)

In the daytime fog that comes from each REM sleep cycle being interrupted by a famished newborn, trying to compose thank you notes doesn’t seem to be enough.

But then when we’ve just turned out the lights to go to sleep and the fussing starts, the ungrateful and self-pitying thoughts come rolling in.

Why couldn’t she schedule her gassy discomfort an hour ago, when we weren’t so tired?

Why does everyone around me have to be so needy?

The one sure thing about newborns is that they’re unpredictable, just like most of my other circumstances (including the ones that I’m living under the illusion that I control).

I often waver between guilt over the blessing in my life and frustration over the unexpected inconveniences of an overcharged internet bill and a little voice whining for a brownie for the 37th time that day.

It doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for joy.

I let my circumstances justify or condemn my feelings instead of just saying, “Ok, emotion. Here you are. Let’s go talk to Jesus about it and go from there.”

It’s easy to let my emotions force a false perception of reality into my mind—that this stage will never end, that other mothers have figured out how to do this parenting thing wonderfully, and that my thoughts will always feel this disconnected and boring.

shoes-1265438_1280

One gift in navigating the emotional newborn journey has been reading Gloria Furman’s book, Treasuring Christ When Your Hands Are Full: Gospel Meditations For Busy Moms.

She reminded me that every leaky diaper and temper tantrum happens under God’s sovereignty.

Every act of love and care points us to the greatest act of love: Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross so that we can be in relationship with God, adopted as His daughters, and heirs of the most glorious eternal life to come.

Gloria shares that, “In the context of eternity, where Christ is doing his work of reigning over the cosmos, we need to see our mundane moments for what they really are–worship. In the daily (and nightly) work of mothering, we’re given dozens of invitations to worship God as he reminds us of the hope we have because of the gospel.” p. 18

We are nurturing life in the face of death in our sinful, fallen world.

sprout-1147803_1280

When we allow ourselves to appreciate people’s acts of kindness, no strings attached, we can also delight in the undeserved gifts of grace and spiritual blessings God wants to lavish on us simply because we are His.

And when our thoughts are covered in the truth of the gospel, we are free to invite his presence into every chopped onion, Thomas the Train book, and nighttime cry, no matter how many dishes are still left in the sink.

When we feel that we’ve done little else than keeping a couple kids alive that day, we can rest in His greatest accomplishment of our salvation and daily power over the universe.

Will you invite Jesus’ presence into each messy day?

Will you let His accomplishment be enough today?

 

Why Our Children (And Others) Need to See Us as a Work-In-Progress

“Please go to your room so Mommy can change your diaper.”

He looks at me and then hurries in the opposite direction. “Let me get my legos first. And bear. And. . .”

I hear plinking on the piano, which he happened to see on his quest for diaper-changing buddies.

piano-1099352_1280

It’s easy to get offended, “How dare he disobey his mother. His own mother!” rather than see the behavior as part of his sin nature.

It’s easy to get angry and respond in a demanding tone, rather than take the time to instruct and discipline. (Especially in his moments of desperation when he shouts, “No. I won’t,” to my face.)

And then I realize how often I do the same in my relationship with God. Sometimes, it’s a direct “no” when I sense His conviction. Often, it’s a fake obedience of excuses.

I know I need to give the worry and stress over my broken washing machine to God, but I just can’t let it go. I think I’ll feel better if I worry about it a little longer, talk to other people about how stressed it’s making me, and then I can surrender it to God and feel free to accept His peace…

But what if it was my fault that the washer broke? Maybe I’d better worry about it a while more, so I can feel as bad as I should…

Hiding From Grace

It’s hard to give grace to our children and others in our lives when we choose to ignore the root of sin buried deep in all of us, (or at least try to cover it up so that people will think we have it all together).

It’s easy to take on an I’m-your-mother-so-you’ll-do-what-I-say attitude or to be proud when I don’t fall into sins I see others commit…

And then a second later feel like a complete failure after responding in harshness and anger to my son in Food Lion and other people have the chance to judge me.

shopping-1165437_1280

Sometimes the energy it takes to “bring our children up in the training and instruction of the Lord” feels too tiring to be worth it.

Elyse Fitzpatrick and Jessica Thompson in their book, Give Them Grace: Dazzling Your Kids With the Love of Jesus, remind us to, “embrace your weakness and the difficulties of parenting because they are the means that the Lord will use to acquaint you with the realities of his gracious power.” (p. 155)

God never commanded us to be perfect parents. And He never asked us to pretend for our children or anyone else that we are.

For me, daily discipline often feels like I’m walking through a dark sewer tunnel, feeling my way around the slime as I make decisions and not always being sure that I’m going the right way.

Sometimes I’ve wished for specifics from God like, “This is the way he should be punished if he doesn’t obey by the count of three.”

Like following step-by-step directions on the back of a brownie box.

But then I realize how I’d still struggle with consistency, trying to find my worth in my ability to keep to the standards given.

In Give Them Grace, the author quotes author Paul Miller who wrote, “I came to realize that I did my best parenting by prayer. I began to speak less to the kids and more to God.” (p. 135)

Melissa Kruger, in her Biblestudy on Motherhood shares that, “When impatience, anger or discontent well up in our hearts, these are signs that we are mothering in our own strength. Rather than dealing only with our outward behavior, we need the Lord to renew and recharge our hearts. Just as a cell phone loses power and needs to be recharged, our souls find renewed energy only by abiding in Jesus.” (p. 33)

Beautiful Discipline

We have the gift of being parented by the perfect Parent. In Hebrews 12:10, the author reminds us that, “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness.” The training God does in us produces a “harvest of righteousness.”

wheat-1149885_1280

As we enjoy the benefits of sharing in God’s holiness and righteousness, we can invite our children into the peace of that as well, experiencing glimpses of life as it was created to be.

And when we feel like we’ll never get it right, Melissa reminds us in her Biblestudy chapter on “PMS—Perfect Mom Syndrome” that, “Any failure that I fear is covered by His sacrifice. In Jesus, the performance pendulum stops—both the pride of success and the despair of failure are absorbed by grace (p.208).

As we admit our mistakes and accept the forgiveness Christ has earned on our behalf, we can show our children their inability to obey perfectly, so that they too, can see their need for Jesus.

We can pray with our children for God to help us obey His commands, just as God has asked them to obey ours as His agents.

When we live our lives in a rhythm of grace—failing and accepting forgiveness, we are free to rest in His satisfaction and security, no matter who is watching.

Maybe observing our mistake is just what someone needs to learn what God wants to teach them.

Maybe our children need to see us vulnerably embracing God’s grace to know that they can do the same.

Will you allow your parenting insufficiencies and failures to guide you into a deeper dependence on Jesus?

Will you let Him use your mistakes as a way to point others to His glory and perfection?

Why the Bible is Not About Me

Have you ever gone through one of those read-through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plans? What happened when you got to Leviticus?

stressed-646457_1280

When I followed one, there were certain times I would open my Bible with a sigh, counting the number of days I had left of a particular book and hoping to gain some kind of encouragement from reading about the process of dipping a bird in blood for ceremonial cleansing (Lev. 14).

And if I didn’t keep up with reading three chapters a day, I knew it would be a year or two before I even got to the Epistles, with straight-forward encouragement like, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

It didn’t seem fair that God would include so much detail from the covenant given in the Old Testament since He established a new covenant through Jesus’ death and resurrection.

I’d shut my Bible and wonder how the chapter I read was supposed to help me with my Math test or interacting with classmates in the lunchroom.

I had the same problem as Bible teacher Jen Wilkin, who in her early years said, “I believed the purpose of the Bible was to help me.” (p. 24)

friends-1015312_1280

I recently read her book, “Women of the Word: How to Study the Bible with Both Our Hearts and Our Minds,” and was reminded of two truths.

The first is that the Bible is a book about God, not about me.

The second is that it’s just as important to love God with our minds as it is to love Him with our hearts.

Not About Me

Jen shared that, “The Bible is a book that boldly and clearly reveals who God is on every page” (p. 23).

God has chosen to show Himself through the written words of Scripture, all of which help us get to know Him as our perfect Prophet, Priest and King.

It wasn’t intended to be read like a devotional, with a helpful tidbit for the day.

When I judged my times set aside for Bible reading based on how I felt a certain chapter would help me in my current circumstances, I missed the chance to let each passage grow my understanding of the God who is in charge of the universe and loved me enough to die for me.

When I read it only to pick out how I was supposed to act and behave, it kept my focus on my own ability to measure up or how I’d failed to follow His commands.

Jen wrote that, “There can be no true knowledge of self apart from the knowledge of God…When I read that God is slow to anger, I realize that I am quick to anger. When I read that God is just, I realize that I am unjust.

“Seeing who he is shows me who I am in a true light. A vision of God high and lifted up reveals to me my sin and increases my love for him. Grief and love lead to genuine repentance, and I begin to be conformed to the image of the One I behold (p. 26-27).

boardwalk-801723_1280

I could probably write out a list of attributes of God, but it will be hard to believe each one is true without seeing those characteristics manifested in the Story of Scripture.

If I only depend on my own limited experiences with God, I won’t notice the thread of God’s plan of redemption unfolded over hundreds of years, and trust His part for me in that. (Click here for a kid-friendly narrative of God’s rescue plan shown through all of Scripture.)

Mind Before Heart

As I’ve read prayers I’d written out in past years, (amazed by how much I could accomplish when there weren’t little hands to steal my writing utensils), in almost every one I declared my love for God before signing my name (as if He wouldn’t know who wrote the prayer).

I’d write about an incredible experience at a youth retreat or question why He was allowing the circumstances of a crush or a mean teacher to distract me from Him.

While I don’t want to laugh off the things I used to worry about (because they were real fears at the time), it makes me grateful for the things I’ve learned about God as I continue to deal with ever-changing circumstances.

I don’t think it will ever be easy for me to trust God with the future, but when those worry-filled thoughts begin to attack,  I’ve experienced more victory in clinging tightly to God’s truths as I’ve grown in the knowledge of Him.

But what happens when the responsibilities of being an adult seem too monotonous to be fair?

Why do dishes have to keep getting dirty?

And how does that laundry basket fill up so fast?

And where did those three hours before lunch just go?

If I measure my relationship with God by how many times I feel a rush of emotion, I will be riding a roller coaster of happiness and discouragement (or think I’m just trapped on a boring kiddie ride of bills, shopping, and potty training).

Here are three encouragements I’ve received in the pursuit of biblical knowledge.

  1. It’s a journey, not a sprint.

Some days, when I hit the snooze too many times, and any moments of concentration are interrupted by “Mommy, watch this!” I might not feel like I’m making progress at all.

But God is not blind to our roles or stage of life. He entrusted them to us, and rejoices in our commitment to learning about Him, even if we aren’t able to read an entire passage in its context, or our study notes get covered in crayon scribbles.

I really appreciated reading through Jen Wilkin’s Biblestudy method as a framework for growing in Bible literacy as she shared about keeping “The Big Story” of the Bible in mind, learning about the original audience and authors, and focusing on comprehension before jumping to interpretation and application.

2. It deepens our prayer lives.

When I take time to think about the ways I’ve seen Christopher show me patience, love, and grace–laundry left on the floor or a forgotten appointment don’t seems so important.

When I discover an attribute of God in Scripture, it gives me something to praise and thank Him for, no matter what I’m going through.

By covering our times of studying the Bible in prayer, it reminds me that this isn’t some school assignment. It’s an invitation to intimacy as we celebrate a relationship with our wonderful God.

3. It helps us to delight in and enjoy Jesus more.

Who in this world doesn’t long for significance? Security? Satisfaction?

When we let our knowledge of Him flow over into the way we work and serve, the things that we spend our time on will bring us into His satisfaction.

The diaper changes will hold significance.

The financial troubles will be filled with His security.

heart-637815_1280

When we let the Spirit carve the truths we learn into our hearts, people will see tiny reflections of Him when they look at us. And we will be free to open our arms to the beauty of an ever-deepening relationship with Him.

His Word is living and active. And as the prophet Isaiah reminds us,

“As the rain and the snow
    come down from heaven,
and do not return to it
    without watering the earth
and making it bud and flourish,
    so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater,
so is my word that goes out from my mouth:
    It will not return to me empty,
but will accomplish what I desire
    and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Will you ask the Father how He would have you love Him with your mind in this season of life?

Will you determine to know Him and trust that what He teaches you will bring the encouragement and direction you need?

 

When Your Husband’s Desires Don’t Match Your Own

I recently pulled out the workbook Christopher and I used during our pre-marital counseling six years ago.

The section that caught my eye dealt with the ideas each of us had for our new life together.

feather-duster-709124_1920

How would the housework be divided?

Who would pay the bills?

How many children did we want to have?

How would we discipline them?

How much time would we spend in the bedroom together?

While we laughed again about Christopher’s “the more the merrier” answer to how many children we would have (which wasn’t so funny when I thought he was serious), it made me realize how our desires are constantly changing and how dangerous it can be not to address them.

Sometimes I’ve felt frustrated with myself for having expectations at all, pushing them down along with my feelings.

Wouldn’t it be more loving to ignore a Saturday afternoon task that didn’t get done?

At other times, it’s sounded too exhausting to take the time to talk through them.

What if I couldn’t express my desires in a clear way?

What if he thought my ideas were ridiculous?

Sometimes I’ve wanted to force my husband to understand things from my perspective before making any effort to consider his own.

If only I felt like I was being heard, then I could be more loving and respectful when it was his turn.

headphones-933157_1920

Jesus Love

But Jesus didn’t put qualifications on others. The Scripture doesn’t say, “Consider others better than yourselves if you feel like you’ve been listened to and appreciated.”

Jesus died for us when we were still stained by sin, ignoring the abundant life He longed to give.

Grace is only grace when it has nothing to do with our behavior and everything to do with accepting and extending His gift of mercy (Ephesians 2:8-9).

That’s the kind of communication He invites us into—gracious, loving, forgiving—all empowered by the Spirit.

Here are a few things that have helped me when conflict seems to build like a pressure cooker.

meters-498677_1920

  1. Tell Jesus how I’m feeling.

We have access to a friend who knows our inmost being, sympathizes with our weakness, showers us with grace, and has the power to help us change. Would we rather trade that for Facebook sympathy?

2. Listen.

Emotions can feel like cotton balls stuffed in our ears, preventing us from hearing what our husbands are really trying to express. But God’s Spirit has the power to hold us as we press our lips tight or ask questions that will prompt him into sharing. It might surprise us what things he values over getting dinner on the table on time.

3. Be honest about my struggle.

I’m amazed by the gracious response Christopher gives me when I admit to what I’m struggling with and confess the anger and resentment that I’ve allowed to grow.

And when I’m able to state my failed hopes in a non-hormone-charged way, it gives him a chance to process what I’m saying.

A few years ago, a counselor encouraged us to consider the trust we’d built up from resolving past disagreements as we allow ourselves to vulnerably share our feelings with each other.

4. Pray together.

Sometimes I ask Christopher to pray for me right in the moment if I begin to feel condemnation and lies running through my thoughts. Sometimes he suggests we pray together if the disagreement doesn’t seem like it can be easily resolved.

Because asking for wisdom is a request God delights to answer. (James 1:5)

So often I try to find a solution to our problems by relying on my own understanding, (even if I’ve just prayed for God’s wisdom), which is a kind of spiritual schizophrenia as Jen Wilkin said in her Biblestudy on James.

Something Christopher has said many times to encourage me is, “I’m on your side.” We are in this together as we fight against sin and selfish desires.

5. Evaluate the expectations I have for myself.

When I feel frustrated by how little I accomplished during the day, it’s easy to want to try to make up for it in the evening. I find myself going into squirrel-mode, grabbing as many acorns as I can and trying to make others around me do the same.

acorn-456205_1920

“Here—take this acorn and put it in the dishwasher.”

“Put all your acorns back in your toybox this instant.”

“Did you call the guy about reimbursing our acorns yet?”

But sometimes, a few of my acorns need to be left strewn across the floor in favor of helping with my husband and son’s acorns.

Often, they are better at showing me how to love them than if I try to love them how I think they should be loved. (They’re also really good at loving and enjoying me without any thought to how many acorns they have to step around).

When we make the effort to work through conflict, we have the chance to catch glimpses of the perfect relationships we will have in Heaven in the Jesus-filled way they were meant to be.

Will you ask for the Spirit’s power, living in the hope of the gospel as you work through the messes of today?

He is ready to help.

4 Ways to Transform Your Thoughts

Becoming a mother has added more spice of unpredictability than I often think should go with the job description.

Desitin on the carpet.

200 wipes blanketed across his bedroom.

A box of elbow macaroni dumped on the kitchen floor.

Demands shouted.

Tears of defiance.

Acts of disobedience even during moments of discipline.

No matter what stage of life we are in, our circumstances can make us feel out of control, stupid and helpless.

fear-615989_1920

For many years, I didn’t give much thought to what was going on inside my brain. I figured that if I acted in the right way, I should be fine.

After all, no one could read my mind, so how could I be hurting anyone if I kept my frustrations hidden?

But certain thoughts have a way of taking over, until there is no more room for optimism, hope, and especially not a life of joy.

Like an unsuccessful attempt to hold back a wave of nausea, our discouragement can spew from our lips in harsh tones, ungratefulness, and self-pity.

We forget that every day there is a battle raging inside our mind and heart.

Thoughts warped by sin versus thoughts transformed by God’s truth.

I used to allow thoughts to flow through my mind like a television channel of Spanish soap operas, not even bothering to look for the remote.

remote-control-932273_1920

I ignored the power the Spirit longed to offer.

In 2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Paul says,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”

We have access to power the world could only dream of.

When we let our thoughts enslave us, we are choosing not to acknowledge the freedom and righteousness offered because of the gospel.

We lose ground when we try to imitate the world’s answers—either gritting our teeth as we will ourselves to think positively or giving up and living for fleeting bursts of pleasure that we try to coax from our circumstances.

But Jesus invites us to let His Spirit do the sometimes painful work of grabbing onto His truth and fighting through the thoughts that want to pull us down.

Because as my mentor once asked me, “What would you lose by giving up on the battle?”

Here are a few thought patterns I’ve needed the Spirit’s help to capture and destroy with the sword of His truth.

  1. Concerns about the future

My mind seems to hop so quickly from planning ahead to worrying about what it will look like. One moment I might be enjoying the cute baby girl clothes I’ve been given, and then next, I find myself fearing what life will be like when there’s a person to wear them and a toddler to continue needing me.

It’s been helpful to picture Jesus’s presence with me, caring for me in my future imaginings, instead of trying to figure out how I’ll have the strength to do it on my own.

Sometimes speaking the concerns out loud or imagining myself putting them in a basket to offer to God has given a sense of release. (1 Peter 5:7)

  1. Feelings of inadequacy and unproductiveness

In the days when I know I was busy all day but can’t quite put my finger on what I actually accomplished, I need to invite Christ’s sufficiency to fill my mind.

Because of Jesus, the Father is completely satisfied with me. I am significant because I am His, not because I was able to cross off every item (or even one) from my to-do list.

  1. Evaluating the past/decisions

It’s the conversation that plays over and over in my head as I’m trying to fall asleep. Did I say the wrong thing? Why did I feel so stupid around that person?

Did I spend my time on the right tasks today?

I need to remind myself that Jesus has paid for all my past mistakes, including the ones from that day. And sometimes, I need to just thank Him for loving me in my accident-prone humanness.

  1. Responding in frustration to events happening in the present

It can be discouraging to clean up other people’s “messes,” in addition to dealing with all the unexpected sicknesses, difficult conversations, and car repairs. I often want to stew over my situation and vent to whoever is closest to me.

The world might try to fix it by telling us to “put on a happy face.” But feelings can bubble over quickly when only a forced smile is trying to hold it back.

It’s been helpful for me to practice saying little phrases as soon as something happens, ranging from “Uh-oh” to “I trust you, Jesus.”

He also invites us to pour out our struggles to Him in humility, as so many of the psalmists did.

water-815271_1920

Still Walking

Because we are still on the journey to sanctification, it’s not possible to cross out our unhealthy thoughts and let our minds simply be blissfully blank.

Paul encourages the Philippians by saying,

“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” (4:8)

Here are a few ways I’ve found to invite the “excellent” thoughts in.

  1. Find someone to speak truth into your life and give perspective.

Maybe I need to consider the person I typically vent to. Does this person point me to my need for Jesus and remembering the gospel? Can this person help me to step back from my situation and consider the other factors involved?

  1. Give praise and thanks—all the time.

Author and mother Rachel Jankovic writes, “When you are thankful for the things that are right in front of you, getting in your way and messing up your hair, you are at peace with God’s will for your life. And of course when you are at peace with God and with His will for your life, you are equipped to do great things.” (Fit to Burst, p. 119)

If the Saturday of fix-it tasks ends worse than when we started, we can still give thanks and cry at the same time.

It’s a lot easier for me to give thanks when I do it out loud, so if I think of something while I’m cooking or driving, I just say it. (And an added bonus is that if my son is within earshot, he has the chance to join in my thanks.)

  1. Put on each piece of the armor of God.

There have been times that praying through each piece of the armor of God (found in Ephesians 6:10-17)  has given a structure to my “battle prayers,” inviting truth, righteousness, peace, faith, salvation, and the Word of God to cover each part of me. (Click here for a more detailed post on this.)

sword-918542_1920

  1. Cultivate an attitude of surrender.

God knows that our troubles don’t feel “light and momentary,” even if we feel ashamed for getting so bent out of shape over them. We have a high priest who sympathizes with us and is using our difficulties to prepare a future weight of glory (Click here for an incredible John Piper sermon on this topic).

When I open myself up to how God wants to use my circumstances, He can transform them in His infinite power and wisdom or bring us the peace to walk through them.

Will you fight today?

Jesus, we need Your Spirit’s power to live in Your freedom. Would You shape our minds to look more like Yours? Thank you for the life of joy you offer now and the sure hope of eternal enjoyment on your New Earth.