I've lived in Florida for almost 20 years, so I've encountered my fair share of hurricanes. Irma, of course, is more frightening than anything we've seen before---and it looks like it's aiming right for Tampa---so I'm much more concerned about this one than I have been in prior storms. I've never seen the bread or soup aisle completely empty before. My husband is prepared to potentially ride his jet ski in our streets to help people, and I'm trying to train my kids how to be contentedly bored in case we lose power or have to stay in a shelter for an extended period of time.
This morning I woke at 4 am with all kinds of irrational fearful thoughts: we're going to run out of beef jerky, the entire state of Florida's going to sink into the ocean, all the flooded alligators from the Alafia River are going to be terrorizing the town, etc. After over an hour of worrying in bed and Googling various hurricane-related things, I opened to Psalm 46, which should've been comforting, but it wasn't. I felt troubled by God's sovereignty. I would almost prefer that God wasn't in control, because then I would know that at least He didn't have anything to do with all this yuck. When I'm bracing for certain destruction, I don't get good feelings when the Bible tells me "The Lord sits enthroned over the flood; the Lord sits enthroned as king forever", "You rule the raging of the sea," and especially "I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.."
When we desperately scan the news and social media and thus immerse ourselves in the perspective of people who don't find any meaning in suffering, the best truisms we're offered is "hope for the best." (Or you could join the 54,000 people who plan on shooting at the storm.) Our culture has no clue how to deal with pain and hardship, and they have yet to hear a satisfying answer from Christians about why God would allow it. So we just see natural disasters as flukes of nature, purposeless pain.
A couple days ago my son was praying for the storm and when he said, "God, I know you have a reason for this hurricane. You have a good reason for everything," I had to honestly admit that I haven't thought about that very much.
With eyes that only see what's in front of us, there is no purpose in all this suffering. No reason for what happened in Texas. No reason for the earthquake in Mexico or the wildfires in Montana. No reason for three powerful hurricanes whirling in the Atlantic all at the same time, the worst of which has devastated entire islands and now seems to be taking aim right at my city.
Nobody has been given the job of saying "These are reasons A, B, and C for why God let this specific circumstance happen." I cannot believe that some people have the gall to say "God is sending judgment on this city!" Jesus addressed this very topic when he said, "Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
"Repent or perish" is, of course, the exact kind of biblical statement that makes us bristle. But, like the verse that says that God creates disaster, it is the Word of the living God. Whether we like it or not, God holds all power and non-passively runs the entire universe. He has an agenda as he does so. But it's only when we ignore what He is doing in the world and the universe and exalt our puny, limited selves over the everlasting and all-powerful God, when we judge His ways as "not good."
Another solution some might offer is that this superstorm one of God's warnings about the end times. Indeed, the news this week has used such dramatic language that it feels apocalyptic. But in Acts 1, Jesus said not to focus on figuring out the exact timing of when he will bring sin and death to its final end. Our hearts are to always be prepared, always eagerly expecting, always mobilized to love and good works.
So does the Bible give us any clue as to why God would allow---or even cause---catastrophes such as Hurricane Irma? I think Ephesians 1 gives us a really good answer, because it describes God's purpose for the entire universe: "to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth." He is the source of all goodness---from justice and love to chocolate cake and tickle fights---and He is bringing these people He created to Himself. He had to become one of us, die in our place, and rise again so that these rebellious creatures could have a relationship with this perfect and holy God who can create storms such as Irma.
If you read Ezekiel, a difficult book for our culture (and me) because it is stock-full of God's judgment, you'll be able to count about 74 times when God says "Then they shall know that I am the LORD." Everything He did was so people would look beyond themselves and see Him.
Do you see the mercy in that? The God who made the universe---including a star 5 billion times larger than our sun---orchestrates history so that people who need Him can know Him. So that people who are lost will be found by Him.
It is kind for God to turn people toward Him. A destroyed house is a very small price to pay if it opens our eyes to a life and eternity of being secure in our Maker's love. May the Church not waste this opportunity to be His hands and feet so that all may know Him!
Our troubles are much greater than hurricanes, and they existed before Irma ever started swirling. So I pray that Florida, the Caribbean islands, and all who hear or think about the frailty of life will be like those caught in a storm in Psalm 107: "Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress."
I'm grateful God can handle my wrestling. I'm grateful I can trust that He has kind and loving purpose even though I don't know everything that entails. And I'm grateful that, even if we lose everything in this hurricane, we still have everything. I know Him.
Remember in Pixar's Up when Russell warmly recalled times of sitting on the ice cream shop curb with his mom? He said, "That might sound boring, but I think the boring stuff is the stuff I remember most." This month I've found that the kids and I made some incredible memories, but we didn't go out of town or do anything particularly special. Our mundane was just really magical. And as Paul Tripp has said, it's those 10,000 small decisions that shape our entire lives. So I'm really grateful for all the tiny moments this month...with my kids, my husband, my friends. As the young folk say, mundanity is lit! (Just kidding; saying "lit" is so 2015.)
Stephen and I used the Usborne Big Book of Things to Draw (which I bought used for $3.79 ) to try our hand at drawing some cartoon characters. I think we each experienced the same level of excitement, challenge, and self-satisfaction by the end of it! (I have a 5-year-old skill level when it comes to art, puzzles, and many other things.)
This month we started again with homeschool, and it's been good! I decided that I need to do something simple to keep me organized (I googled "homeschool planning when you're an ENFP"), so we do. I know the subjects we're doing, so I have a list of hands-on ways to tackle some of them, and some literature-oriented ways to tackle the others. We just do the next thing each day. No written schedule or lengthy prepwork, but plenty of learning and fun. It works for us at this age and I love it.
What I Learned
I was getting to a place where I was losing patience with my kids and really struggling to enjoy them like I had in times past. I finally asked my sisters in my community group to pray for me, which I really didn't want to do; in my pride I want everyone to think that I'm just so great at motherhood and I always love it so much...but you can ask my kids and, sadly, they could tell you that Mommy's patience-fuse has shrunk. Anyway, my friends prayed for me and all of a sudden I found myself loving motherhood again and enjoying my kids greatly. That's not the first time I've seen much healing come from confession and prayer; James 5:16 is the real deal!
The solar eclipse was awesome! We weren't anywhere near the path of totality but still enjoyed looking at the sun with welding helmets! Someone named Luke Walker tweeted something I haven't been able to stop thinking about: "The sun will burn your eyes out from a distance of 92 million miles and do you expect to casually stroll into the presence of its Maker?" What a sobering and important reminder of the holiness of God.
Stuff I Enjoyed:
Soap Box Races! Oh my goodness. Soap box races. My husband is an extreme-sports junkie, so we are already very familiar with the RedBull.tv, but the soap box races are the best. They're a hilarious combination of creativity, lightheartedness, and non-dangerous but spectacularly destructive crashes. Plus the announcers are British, which makes everything so much better. We are almost certainly going to try to enter the race next year. You've got to watch them. It's all free to watch, and aside from a handful of inappropriately-themed soap boxes, it's completely family-friendly.
The kids and I finally finished The Rise and Fall of Mount Majestic, which is a whopping 339 pages! Jennifer Trafton is an extremely creative author and she writes with whimsical originality, silliness, and depth that's a rare gem these days. Plus, there was a masterful illustration by Brett Helquist (of A Series of Unforunate Events fame) in every chapter, so though reading this novel taught my kids to sit still and listen, the pictures sure helped.
I've been listening to Audrey Assad's album Inheritance a lot---and it's absolutely beautiful---but I also really benefited from listening to this talk she gave in 2015 about her past struggle with pornography. It's really helpful if that's something you've battled or if you're raising kids or just if you're a human being, because it's truly an epidemic (not just for men) and there are a lot of unhelpful ways to address it. Her talk was filled with honesty, humor, and hope.
This month I read John and Acts (I'm trying to finish the Bible by November, the two-year mark of my attempt) and I was really struck by John 13:16-17, "Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them." How could I ever think I'm more entitled to a comfortable and pain-free life than my Savior, who washed the feet of those who would betray and deny Him and was crucified for those who hated Him!? But this servant-King Jesus did not mope around the earth wearily; He was the happiest person to ever walk the planet. And He says "blessed [happy] are you" if we imitate His ways of love, self-sacrifice, and worship. So, even for the sake of my own happiness, I want to grow tremendously in my humility and others-centeredness.
Stuff I Made and Wrote:
How to Play Pretend with Bunk Beds (or Anywhere), Part 1
The Ugly Trend of "Bible Journaling"
Why Do Cousins Get Along? (Thoughts On My Flimsy Love for Other Christians)
Cute Kids Quote Translation Guide
My mom and aunt traveled to Europe and I wrote a devotional that attempted to correspond with what they were doing each day, so if you happen to be taking a week-long tour to Paris and London, let me know and I can send you the PDF 😃
I made a doable menu planner with popsicle sticks and Velcro. It's perfect since I don't like planning ahead, need a little bit of structure, and crave flexibility. I have popsicle sticks with my other meals in a cup nearby. That way I can remember what I actually know how to cook, ha!
Whelp, that was my month! Here are some final pics of our family! I really need to start using my real camera more, because the iPhone pics just aren't cutting it ;) I hope you have a wonderful September!
Here are some of the cute things my kids have said this year (they're ages 5, 3, and 1.) At the bottom is a translation guide I've been keeping track of for the past year...if you hear my kids tell you they saw a buffafo or they ask for some butter doo, you'll know what they mean. Enjoy!
Piper: Who drawed on the couch?
Me: Uh-oh. I don't know.
Piper: Hmm. I think it was me. Sorry guys.
"Florida! Why is you so bright? I'm gonna take your sun and replace it with wind. Or you know what, Florida? Maybe I'll leave you! Maybe I'll leave you alone. I am so happy I'm saying these things." -Stephen
Me: Evey, did you eat these chocolates?
Me: Were they yummy?
Me: So you ate them?
Me: What's your favorite thing to do with Daddy?
Piper: Make him smell my feet.
Stephen: Everybody makes mistakes, but some people make them all the time. I'm one of those persons.
Pappaw: Are Mammaw's pancakes as good as mine?
Stephen: Yes. They are 5% better. They COULD use more chocolate chips though.
Stephen picking at a sesame seed bun: Should we save some of these hamburger seeds and plant them?
Piper (giving me a foot/calf massage): Mommy, your leg armpit smells sooo good.
Me waking up from a long nap: Wow, I was asleep for a long time. What year is it?
Stephen: I think it's spring.
Stephen: You know the best time to be in a blizzard?
Stephen: When it's almost over. Or just don't be in a blizzard.
And here are some everyday words and phrases and the adorably odd way my children say them:
Corn Dog = Chicken Kabobo
Chicken Sandwich = Hamdigger
Alligator = Crocagator
Crown = Cake
Chocolate Chips = Chaka Choops
Little Bit = Wibble Yet
Glitter Glue = Butter Doo
Buffalo = Buffafo
Hot Air Balloon = Buffafo (yep, same word)
Can we? = Do we can?
Discipline = Dinpin
Snoopy = Scoopy-Doopy
Aquarium = Ataraweeyum
Lizard = Zizzard
Wonder Woman = Wonder Lady
Boys = Bezz
I don't know = Me no
Pretty Good = Peety Dood
Raccoon = Racktoon
Daisy Duck = Donald Goose
To close, here is a super-sweet and theologically rich song by Stephen, age 4 at time of authorship:
All our hearts are bad,
All our hearts are bad,
But Jesus saves them,
But Jesus saves them,
Jesus saves them forever.
All our souls are evil,
All our souls are evil,
And you and you and you
Don't want your souls to be evil
But now you and you and you
Can be happy.
When our firstborn was ten months old, we moved into a lovely little house and were soon greeted by some of our new neighbors, a family of nine (with eight still living at home.) The girls gave us fresh-baked banana bread, the boys mowed our lawn as a way of saying "Welcome", and the mom and dad made an effort to get to know us and love us. I had never spent a lot of time with large families before, so I was very intrigued and inspired by their lifestyle. I found it a great privilege to spend time with them, and I wish I would've spent more. That year-and-a-half of living there and learning from that family truly changed my life. Even if my husband and I never had any more kids, what I learned about parenting and daily life from that family convinced me that I wanted to maintain a large-family mindset.
I'll explain more about what I mean by large-family mindset, but first here's some background:
I don't think I ever thought too much about how many kids I wanted (if any), and even now I could never tell you "We're going to have ___ kids." Saying things like that feels presumptuous. Fertility is unpredictable, adoption is unpredictable, my own abilities are unpredictable, and the future in general (even what's going to happen today) is unpredictable. So I don't have a set number of children in mind. I don't know what I can handle as a parent. Every single time I've had a kid, I felt like I couldn't handle it...but God gave me grace each time He added a child to our family, and it feels like we've been thriving. So here we are expecting our fourth kid in five years, and I'm expecting Him to do the same. Maybe after four kids it will be clear that I could not do a sufficient job raising more children...or maybe---through birth or adoption---we're not even halfway to our family size. I really don't find it helpful to try to plan these things. But one thing I do know: I want to raise my kids to be hard-working and others-centered, and the large families I know are, by necessity, pretty good at fostering that kind of environment.
In light of that mindset, here are some thoughts I've been trying to keep in mind along the way, even when I only had one kid. Of course I'm not claiming to be a parenting expert, but I think there's a lot of wisdom in asking ourselves questions, and so far asking myself these questions has helped me make 10,000 little decisions that have really paid off. So here they are for you as well:
-Am I teaching my children they're the center of the universe?
This is the root issue I'm trying to confront. I don't want my kids to think they're gods of this planet. I believe that's their natural inclination (and mine too), so though I want to shower them with loving affection, I also want to teach them about reality. And the reality that this world is bigger than them is actually good news.
-Is doing this for my child a sustainable habit for either of us if we were to have more kids?
(Examples: Me doing all the household chores, constantly catering to child's preferences, etc.)
When we only had one kid, he could make a mess and I could clean it up. I've never been great at cleaning, but back then at least it was possible. Now there are six hands making messes; Lord willing, in a year there will be eight. I have two hands. That math proves that I can't keep cleaning up after them.
They have to learn to clean up after themselves...and that's so good for them. My son takes great pride in making his room look beautiful; he folds and organizes his clothes, lays out a towel as a welcome mat, and artfully places his things where he thinks they'll look best. If I always cleaned for him, he wouldn't experience that feeling of truly accomplishing something.
Picky eating is another thing that I have to figure out how to avoid; I can't just make six different meals for six different people; we all need to learn to be adaptive. This is an important skill regardless of family size.
Of course different children need different things---parenting is not one-size-fits-all. But if our children never learn to be adaptive or responsible, they will not be able to interact with a world that is full of complexity, change, and difficulty.
-Is this a long-term financial commitment that I'd be able to continue making even if we had more kids?
(Example: Saving for the kids' college.)
Who says that we have to provide the funds for our children to attend college? If they have to earn their way there (through scholarships, getting jobs, or both) they will probably get a lot more out of their experience. Or maybe they'll look at alternatives such as attending a trade school, becoming an apprentice, or starting a business.
My husband did a combination of these; he dual-enrolled at the community college in high school and thus completed a year of college credits for free, then he worked at RadioShack to help pay for his first year at college. As a student, he soaked up every minute of learning from his classes since he knew he was paying a pretty penny for them. He decided not to continue his college career and eventually started his own business. Since he started entrepreneurial endeavors at a young age---earning $1000 profit in one month when he was only nine years old---and worked hard his whole childhood, he was well-prepared with the life skills needed for being a successful business owner and an adult who was ready to get married and start a family by the time he was 20. He's passionate that we encourage hard work in the same way for our kids.
-Is this a luxury I'm holding onto too tightly?(Examples: Regular hair/nail appointments, daily trips to Starbucks, frequent travel, etc.)
If you're used to getting highlights every six weeks, you might need to reconsider whether that's something you want to continue doing for the rest of your life. If you have a bunch of kids, every appointment becomes a burden worth scrutinizing, and you'll have to drop many of them. But, whether your schedule allows it or not, sometimes it's good to reevaluate the things we've always felt we needed.
-Is neglecting this good habit "for now" sustainable if I find myself in a similar season many more times? (Examples: Isolating myself, ignoring Bible reading, wearing sweatpants all day.)
It's true that our lives and basic capabilities change drastically with the arrival of new children or through certain seasons with kids, so we need to show ourselves grace, but we also have to push ourselves to do the most important things and maintain a sense of stability. A friend with six kids once told me, "I can't quit spending time with Jesus just because I have a needy baby. I still brush my teeth, right?" We make time for the things that are most important to us.
-Would our schedule be able to handle this amount of busy-ness if we had more kids? (Examples: Major commitment to playgroups, sports, etc.)
There's great value in social activities, especially if you're homeschooling. But a struggle for parents is signing their kids up for everything because they feel it's most enriching for their children. It's been good for me to think, "Okay, if we had a bunch of kids, there's no way each kid can choose their own sport, hobby, and musical instrument. So how can I creatively integrate everyone to try a broad spectrum of activities over time?"
Maybe that means that we watch instructional ballet videos, then we whip out our art books and try to learn how to draw beetles. Then we might visit a museum together, where I can better gauge the kind of skills and interests to which each kid seems to cling. Sure, we'll sign up for soccer at some point and probably do piano lessons. But when I feel a sense of urgency to expand their horizons collectively---and mostly at home---it's amazing how much more we can accomplish!
Finding creative ways to un-busy our lives is a valuable pursuit whether you have one kid or ten.
-Am I accepting my new life with gratitude? Do I think motherhood is important?
(Example: "I can't wait for my life to get back to normal.")
Life with kids is different. I try very hard not to let my children dictate my life (resist the kindergarchy!), but in many ways parenthood necessarily does redefine how we spend our minutes and hours. In a large family, sending your kindergartener off to school doesn't mean you suddenly have all kinds of free time, because you probably still have other little people who aren't there yet. And, of course, when you're homeschooling, you're going to have that moment when you do the math and realize "I might not have time to myself until I'm sixty years old!" and you'll have to make yourself remember why you're doing all this in the first place. But that's important to do regardless of when you can retire from the full-time parenting thing. As parents, we need to learn to love our lives, even if we don't have as much freedom and privacy as we used to. There's a new kind of freedom in that, and it's empowering.
-Is this method of parenting sustainable if I had more kids?
(Examples: Helicopter/snowplow parenting, rewards-based parenting, etc.)
Hovering over your children's every move or plowing through any obstacles they might encounter is not possible when you have a bunch of kids...at least not if you want to maintain your sanity. But that's okay, because study after study is showing how bad it is for our kids if we do these things. Many parents might have been neglected or felt their parents were harsh or unkind, so they overcorrected by being so focused on and involved with their kids that it crippled their children from blossoming into well-functioning and independent adults.
Also, solely relying on rewards-based motivation proves itself to be a flimsy parenting method, especially when you poke it with the possibility of multiple children. One of my kids is motivated by snacks, one of them is motivated by privileges, and one of them is motivated by toys. It's exhausting and impossible to say "Stephen, if you behave at the store, we can go to Target afterwards. Piper, I'll buy you a new hairbow if you behave. Evey, I'll give you a cookie at the end if you're good." I just don't have the margin (or the dental budget or storage space) to reward each kid for every good thing. Plus, what does that teach them about the world and what does it teach them about God?
I believe we need to figure out how to parent our kids in a way that they obey us because they respect us because they trust us. They trust their parents so they do what they say. They obey at the grocery store because they know that's what's best for everybody. They don't run into the street because Mommy said it's dangerous, and they believe that she cares about their good. They don't lie because they know it hurts people and themselves.
As a Christian, I teach my kids that God's Word is the basis for all our morality. Because He is good, we know what is bad. And we'll never be good enough. Though we expect our kids to be obedient whether their hearts love God or not, we acknowledge that only Jesus was ever obedient enough to deserve a relationship with the perfect and holy God. And he offers this relationship to us!
We can address the ins and outs of what is going on in our kids' hearts when we deal with them as if they're complex people, not animals who are simply trained with treats.
No matter how many kids we have, it's good to evaluate our parenting philosophy with seriousness and humility.
In conclusion, having the "large family mindset" is helpful because it causes you to evaluate why you're parenting and what you want to teach your children about the world and themselves. It creates an urgency to find efficiency and simplicity in your daily life. It instills a sense of wonder that you don't know everything God has planned. It empowers you to find strength, resourcefulness, and skills that you didn't even know you had in you. (All of which, of course, is a gift from God.)
So, no matter how many kids you end up wanting or having, be encouraged, friend, that your job is mega-important and nobody can be you for your kids like you can!
4 Questions to Ask Before Saying Not Yet, No More, Or Never to Kids
How Not to Despise Parenting Little Ones
A couple months ago on our quarterly trip to Georgia, I was amazed watching my kids with their cousins. They were running together in a park, so sweetly in line with one another, and I couldn't figure out why they get along so well. Their ages vary widely, their interests and personalities are all over the charts, they live in different states and only see each other a few times a year, and they're not even that closely related; they're second cousins, the children of my cousin. But when they're together, they absolutely love it.
So why do they love each other so much?
That's how the dynamics of cousins usually seem to be for most families, right? You're matched up with people you don't see often and whose upbringings and DNA differ enough that they don't necessarily have much in common with you. There are always quirks about your cousins that you don't appreciate (and vice versa), and almost every family gathering has at least a little bit of drama, but they are your cousins. You love each other and you look forward to those gatherings when you see each other.
So I couldn't help but wonder: why don't I adopt this mentality of "you're my family so I love you and I'm going to spend time with you" when it applies to, say, my church family?
One of the tricky things about being in a large church is that if you encounter someone you don't like, you can just make sure you don't run in the same circles as them. There are plenty of other friend groups you can join so you don't need to interact with the people who rub you the wrong way. I did this for years, mostly without realizing it, and it worked. There were people my age I knew for ten years with whom I never had a conversation.
But then we joined a much smaller church where church membership is a big deal. If someone joins the church, they and the rest of the church make promises to each other. It's not in a weird cultlike way (I've seen some creepy Youtube videos of religious initiation ceremonies), but we do make a covenant with each other and to God, like in marriage. We promise to pray for each other, to love each other, to maintain unity with each other, etc.
If I'm taking this process seriously, I really can't continue in my old ways. I've been a member of our church for five years, and as I said earlier I already had a background of disliking and avoiding people, so there have definitely been some instances in which I had to face the facts: I don't love this person, and that's not okay.
So God has had to humble me. I've had to pray, awkwardly try to initiate friendships (or at least acquaintance-ships), and think a lot about the gospel. Everything that the Bible says about God's love for me also applies to this person that I don't love yet...so it's a really good thing that God isn't as stingy with showing grace to me as I am to others. I can throw myself into the glory of being personally treasured by God, but I'm not the only individual who is treasured by God; those precious scriptures apply to all who believe in Him. If I really believe that my deep-down, defining identity is "called, beloved, and kept" (Jude 1), then I need to believe that about other Christians too. I've done a terrible job at this so far---I'm a very prideful person---but I can't even describe how joyful it was to wake up one morning and realize, "I love this person. I am so grateful this person is in my life!" when that sentiment felt quite opposite only a few months prior.
So I can't do that thing anymore where I say "Yeah, I have to go hang out with this person from church. She talks way too much so hopefully it won't take too long." I can't gossip and snicker about people to my husband as if it doesn't actually hurt anyone. And I can't ignore that nasty place in my heart where I harbor feelings of bitterness towards other people. It's not just going to affect me or the other person, but it will effect the whole church. I don't want to be outwitted by Satan; I need to be aware that one of his primary flailing-against-Jesus strategies is to cause disunity in the church (2 Corinthians 2:11.)
I really appreciate that the Bible tells stories that describe human weakness so honestly and relatably; Peter and Paul had a sharp dispute. Paul and Barnabas split due to disagreement over Mark. There was drama all over the place, and no matter how solid a church is, there will be problems, because churches are comprised 100% of sinful people. But Jesus placed such importance on unity in the church that he prayed: "that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me" (John 17:21.) The reality of our relationships with other Christians---especially those in our local church---certainly feels far-off from the love and unity within the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but Jesus asked for our unity to reflect the trinity nonetheless. So we should take that really seriously.
There's no way I could predict the reward of forming friendships that didn't exist before. I'm free to start really enjoying relationships with other Christians in my church when I acknowledge that chemistry doesn't matter, common interests don't matter, age doesn't matter. They don't need to all be my best friends---that's not even possible---but I I can't maintain beef with someone that I'm going to spend eternity with. I need to love them and desire to spend time with them, as if they were actually my family...because, according to the Bible, they are.
Today my mom let me know that Lifeway Christian bookstore is offering a Bible journaling workshop, which they advertised as "a unique way of spending time in the Word through studying and memorizing scripture." Understandably, my mom assumed a Bible journaling workshop would teach students of the Word to journal about what they learn from the Bible. "Bible journaling" should look like the picture below, right?
Take a minute, go on Google Images and look up "Bible journaling" for a second. And then cry sad tears about what you find.
Because this is what women (and Christian bookstores) are calling "Bible study" nowadays: plucking out a verse (or even a song lyric!) and doodling it not just in the margin but literally on top of scripture, oftentimes with opaque paint that actually covers the text!
A lot of these artists are really good at what they do...I'm a fan of calligraphy and word art, and I'm quite jealous of the creative skill of these women. There is so much value in meditating on scripture, even if it's only a verse. But were they really so deep in their study of the phrase "be still” that they couldn’t find a sketchbook or even a piece of paper? Did they really need to cover up the words of the Bible? Is this empowering women to be theologians with robust faith?
The thing is, having the actual Bible as the background for your word art is just so very photogenic. Lifeway even recommends using the hashtag #noteworthytruth to “show us your journaling.” A quick search of #noteworthytruth shows you exactly how many notes are being taken on truth using this method of “Bible study”: zero. And much of this “truth” might consist of a phrase such as “I am an artist” or “from firm roots grow beautiful leaves.” I’m not seeing how legitimate Bible study would propel a person to cover up the words of the Bible to paint pretty flowers and inspirational phrases not even found in the Bible.
How could we have possibly made Bible study so much about us? And how could Christian retailers in good conscience feed this horrific trend? Is it really because they are more motivated by the profit from the sale of markers, paints, and wide-margin Bibles than by equipping women to be students of the Word? (I sent Lifeway an angry email about this.)
I think the vanity of Bible journaling is a metaphor for how mankind has always tried to use God as a stepping-stool to get what we want. And that’s convicting for me, to be honest. Though I might not smear acrylic paint all over my Bible so I can post a cute picture for Instagram, I certainly struggle with touting my Bible knowledge or subtly letting others know when I do something good. All of us in different ways abuse God’s Word for our own selfish means; that started in the garden of Eden. So maybe the yucky parts of Bible journaling aren’t so much of a recent trend after all.
But there is certainly great news. Yes, God sees our sinful self-centeredness, He hates it, and He will punish it. Romans 1:18 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” But this same Judge whose Word is not taken lightly is also the Justifier (Romans 3:26) who sent His Son to take that punishment for those who would believe. He rose again and we can have new and free life in Him.
Here’s some more good news: the reason "Bible journaling" is so ugly is because it sells the artist and the viewers terribly short of the beauty of true Bible study. Women who would rather paint over scripture than read it not only miss the heart of God, but they miss out on the richness of enjoying God through His Word.
In Isaiah 66:2, He says “But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
The joy of committing to scripture and uncovering deep layers of truth about God, speaking and singing to God about that truth, and excitedly talking with others about that truth…it’s incomparably thrilling.
Yes, studying the Bible is thrilling.
I’ve heard a pastor compare reading the Bible to “taking your vitamins”; it’s good for you but you're not always going to be excited about it. And I suppose that’s true some of the time; even as I write this I’m in a little bit of a funk with my Bible reading. But that problem is with me, not with God's Word. God's Word is always a feast; sometimes our bellies are just too full of junk food to notice.
In His presence is fullness of joy, and how could we know Him better than reading what He has so beautifully inspired people to write about Him?
Enjoy the feast of the Word, my friend! If your Bible-study career thus far has been limited to devotional books, random flipping, or even a heavy reliance on commentaries, I can't encourage you enough to sit with the Bible (just the Bible!), ask the Holy Spirit to give you understanding and joy, and behold your God through His Word.
And sure, make some lovely art about it. :)
Christians: Let's Study the Bible for Ourselves
Ten Years in the Word: How the Bible Shaped Me
The Real Reason We Don't Read Our Bibles
Our Obsession with "She"
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My name is Hope.
I'm 25, married to a former skater dude, and raising little people ages 5, 3, 1, and not-yet-born. I like lime green and sarsaparilla, and I wear my Crocs until they melt. (Florida problems.)
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Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today