If I had to sum up the past year in one word, it would very easily be this: humbling.
Me and humility have always had a pretty terrible relationship. I want to be humble, but I don’t want to become humble. In other words, I don’t want to see my weakness. I don’t want to be in a spot where I actually have to depend on God. In my dream world I’m this loving wife and brilliantly creative homeschooling mom with a clean house and I’m hospitable and I read books all the time and I’m always helping out others and I respond to negative situations with strength and grace. In this dream world, I do not cry and I am not sad. There’s plenty of Bible reading, sure. But there is no begging God for grace. I suppose that in my imaginary world of what I want to look like, I have no need to ask others for help. There is no confessing of sin.
There has been some amazing and wonderful stuff that's happened this year. When I went back through my photos to compile my annual Yearbook, I was reminded that I am so blessed to make such happy memories with my family literally every day.
However, there's also been a lot of painful stuff going on in the past several years (I hope to share a little more about it at some point but it’s not yet resolved) and I have certainly not embodied that resilient persona I had hoped to have by now. I think I respond to difficulties with even less valiance than I did when I was younger. Instead I just cry. A lot. Sometimes for hours on end. You’d think I’ve been taking notes from my 2-year-old.
For a couple weeks this year I even reached a point where I wasn’t sure if God was real. If He was real, I was almost certain that I didn’t belong to Him, because (by my wrong estimation) real Christians don't get doubtful or sad. Reading the Bible seemed to make me more upset, so I purposefully chose not to spend time in God’s Word because I was scared that it would send me off into a deeper bout of gloom.
So...is there a happy ending?
At risk of sounding like Eeyore: Not really? Not yet? Maaaajor weakness continues to abound and it's frustrating every time.
But here are a couple wonderful things that God has brought through 2016's highs and lows:
-Some people loved me really well. One sister in Christ committed to calling me on Tuesday afternoons so we could pray together for 20 minutes about the issue I’m struggling with. Another sister was always available for me when I called her sobbing and hyperventilating, and she prayed for me and told me true things until I calmed down. Our pastors have been helping me and caring for our family with gentleness and love. I experienced the healing James 5 talks about when I truly confessed my sin to another person. My church family has proven for me that God is real and Christ is alive I actually am one of His. Not only has He not forgotten me, but through His people—people I would never be friends with if they were not my family in Christ—I really do feel Christ’s love for me so tangibly. (So, yes, in case you were wondering, I'm more convinced than ever that God is real and I am His.)
-I’ve seen a huge connection between my physical discipline and my emotional wellbeing. I tend to be far more even-keeled when I’m eating healthy and exercising. This is shocking to me because I am the queen of quitting and I have never pushed myself physically until this year. But I really do feel much better when I’m making good choices. Frustratingly, despite all my hard work I haven’t slimmed down (and in a 3-month period when I was exercising the most, at least seven people still asked or assumed that I was pregnant; not appreciated, ha!) but regardless of my appearance I have found that I really need God to help me grow in my perseverance and stamina—in holding planks and in all things.
-God held onto me. My faith was tested, and I failed the test. But what happened anyway? God proved Himself faithful. He kept me. I’m ending a really hard year and guess what! I still love Jesus. He’s still showing me beautiful things through His Word every day and filling my heart with joy. My kids have learned from me as I learn from Jesus that He is truly everything. Peter and I are still married, still repenting, and still forgiving. The Lord can handle my doubt. His people have been forgetting Him and rebelling against Him for thousands of years, and He hasn’t given up on them yet. God has sustained multitudes of other weak people from all over the world and throughout all history. He’s not going to start giving up on me!
A lot of scriptures have been deeply comforting and sweet this year but these are a couple really defining verses I've found as I read through the Old Testament this year:
2 Chronicles 26:16. “But when he was strong, he grew proud, to his destruction.”
But then there’s this: “Before destruction a man’s heart is haughty, but humility comes before honor.” (Proverbs 18:12.)
Tim Keller has said "There's nothing more relaxing than humility." To be honest, I haven't really experienced that yet, but I know some older saints who have trusted God for decades, and I want the same peace and relaxation they have in depending on God for their troubles. If 2016 has taught me anything, it's that if my hope is in anything other than Jesus, it's a false hope and it's bound to disappoint me. So I'm grateful that He's using whatever He finds necessary to direct my hope to the only One who can actually hold me.
Overall, my heart is grateful and full of praise. I'm so happy to be His.
Last night in the car, I took a quick moment to explain to our kids why we don’t believe in Santa Claus. Afterwards 4-year-old Stephen said “What would happen if Santa Claus was real? Nobody would get presents! Only God.”
The amount of theology packed into that statement is incredible, and it’s something I never considered, but the dude makes an excellent point. Santa Claus offers us no good news.
One of the many reasons that Santa is a dangerous idea is because he teaches a completely works-based righteousness; rewards for being good and punishment for being bad. If a child really believes in Santa Claus, and sees good behavior as the source of presents, they are from a young age trained to be motivated by selfishness: “I want presents so I’d better be good.”
But the reality the Bible (Romans 3 especially) tells us is that “No one is good, not even one.” I suppose a nagging thought I always had about Santa was “How bad do you have to be to make it on the naughty list?” If I got A’s and B’s all year, didn’t say any bad words, but never cleaned my room or ate my vegetables, am I still going to get presents? Or am I not going to get as many presents as I would if I was more well-behaved?
I have the same questions for my friends who come from works-based religions (which is, as far as I can tell, every religion but Christianity.) Good people go to Heaven? How good do I have to be? I lie sometimes and I’m really lazy. Is that a deal-breaker?
If we find ourselves in the middle between a perfect person and a serial killer, how do we know if we’re “good enough”?
James 2:10 makes it really clear: “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
So, as my son so accurately pointed out, if Santa Claus was real, nobody would get presents. We have all sinned and continue to sin. To use a gross example, if we’re making brownies and only one ingredient is cow dung, the whole batch is obviously inedible. Even if our whole lives were perfect but we messed up one time, we are still guilty before a holy and perfect God.
But then here comes the good news that Santa Claus does not bring:
A Savior has been born.
Our badness has not gone unnoticed by our Creator, but He Himself became one of us and died in our place, rising again and welcoming us to eternity with Him. He’s both the Judge and the Justifier. (Romans 3 again.) On our good days and on our bad days, the perfect righteousness of Jesus is the only factor that determines whether we ourselves are deserving of Heaven. As Stephen suggested, Jesus is the is the only one who would make it on the Nice List, but all who believe in Him get a permanent spot on the Nice List too.
Let’s tell our kids the truth, because the truth is far better news than Santa Claus.
Image courtesy of The Graphics Fairy
Day 24 - The Birth of Christ
Read Luke 2:1-20.
Reflect and celebrate!
Day 25 - The Resurrection and Our Future
Read Romans 6:4.
In the past month, we’ve looked at several aspects of who Jesus is and how the whole Bible—not just the passages that mention “Jesus” in them—points to hope in Him. We’re so privileged to be on this side of the Old and New Testaments, so we not only have tiny little glimpses of hope into Jesus coming, but we have all kinds of glimpses from the Old Testament plus all kinds of stories of things He actually said and did. Sometimes we forget that Jesus is a person, not just a character in a story. When we pray, we’re not just sending a message to a recording machine but we are talking to a person! What a privilege!
The shocking thing about the story we’ve been reading this month—and hopefully now you’ve seen that it’s all one big story—is that God not only allows us but invites us to be part of this story! Jesus was born, lived a perfect life, died for sin, was buried, and on the third day rose again. And His death and resurrection actually affects us in every way, as we read in today’s verse. When He died, the sin of His people was on Him (even though we weren’t born yet.) And when He rose, it’s like we got a piggyback-ride into resurrected life as well, because now we get to have new life. Eternal life starts whenever we believe in Jesus, because Jesus said in John 17 that eternal life is knowing God. But once we leave our earthly bodies, things get truly great.
The book of Revelation shows us some really exciting pictures of what the people of God will be doing for all eternity.
Let’s read Revelation 21:1-5:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
Praise Jesus that He is the One on the throne making all things new, that our life forever with Him will be full of more joy than we can imagine. If you do not belong to Jesus, I beg that you think about it and truly pray and ask God to help you believe in Him.
Day 23 - Wise Men
Read Matthew 2:1-12.
We’re almost done! Tomorrow we will read about the birth of Jesus, but today we read about some of the people who saw Him after He was born. Wise men from far away somehow knew about Jesus, and when God revealed to them that Christ was finally born, they came as quickly as they could and even went to Herod himself asking him where the child was so they could worship him!
When they found Jesus (which, by the way, wasn’t on the same night he was born), they gave him really fancy gifts. You probably received gifts when you were born—some blankets, a rattle, a cute outfit with froggies on the toes—but have you ever heard of a normal baby receiving gold? Of course baby Jesus had no use for gold, but by doing this these men were showing that Jesus really is a worthy king.
A lot of people say that smart people don’t believe in God; if you’re smart, they say, then you would know there is no God. But in Psalms it says “The fool says in his heart, ‘there is no God.’” Jeremiah 8:9 says, “The wise men shall be put to shame; they shall be dismayed and taken; behold, they have rejected the word of the LORD, so what wisdom is in them?” If someone is not showing reverence to Christ, it doesn’t matter how smart or wise he is. He’s missed the whole point of the universe! He might be able to build a rocket ship or she might have earned enough money to buy a rocket ship, but if they don’t believe in Jesus, they have less wisdom than a five-year-old little girl from Tampa who isn’t too good at reading yet but loves Christ. These wise men prove that you can be really smart and important and study really hard and believe in Jesus.
In Matthew 11:25-26, it says “At that time Jesus declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.” Jesus was so excited that God revealed Himself to little children. Praise Jesus that He is a worthy King and that He has shown Himself to us!
Here are some sweet moments, cute pictures, and ponderous thoughts from the past month!
-At the beginning of the month our church had our annual Women's Retreat and it was incredible, as always. Being with my sisters---and enjoying a couple days full of rich conversations---always reminds me that Christ's kingdom is real and He is truly working among His people. This year we decided to really own our retreat, so all the leaders were from among us. My friend Jackey led the plenary sessions, I and two other ladies led breakout sessions, and there was no shortage of women who were perfectly fit for the task of leading discussion groups or worship through singing or all the other bits and pieces that go into making a great retreat. It was nothing short of heavenly.
-The next week, Peter booked a quick last-minute vacation to Disney's Ft. Wilderness Campground. I'm an enormous fan of this place and I've written about its greatness and economical value here: How to Have a Great Disney Vacation for $12/day Or Less. As I learn more about the joy of simplicity I discovered something shocking: visiting the parks was actually a distraction to making memories. Though we went at a relatively low-crowd time, it was still so busy. The kids were happiest when they were running around on a random patch of grass. So we made incredible memories at the Campground just riding our bicycles around and playing at the playground. It was so special. Also, in December some people completely deck out their campsite with Christmas decorations, so it was really fun looking at all the different lights. And at night, Peter and I ate snacks and watched The Office on a picnic bench while the kids slept. Lots of memories.
-I've just had great moments with the kids. We've been doing the Jesse Tree and it's been rich. I love these people.
What I Learned:
-It's been so nice being off social media. As a result of quitting Facebook, I don't think many people read my blog anymore, so that's been a bit of a bummer, but it's made me evaluate why I even write this thing and I'm reminded of how "viral" is not the same thing as "fruitful." Seeking platform is an empty goal. I suppose I didn't realize how discouraging social media is until I got away from it; the divisiveness of worldviews feels so brutal online but in real life it's not that big a deal and we can actually be friends.
-I spoke last month about how I've slipped into materialism. Ugh, it's gotten worse! I get at least one package in the mail every day, and I wish I could say these are all just Christmas presents. I shop online or look for travel deals when I feel restless. Spending money (or dreaming of spending money) is an escape. I never considered myself a shopaholic because I hate going to stores and I don't care about fashion or any of that, but here I find myself with an overflowing pile of cardboard boxes and I see that it's me. Totally humbling. I really hope the Lord helps me find joy in Him more than buying stuff. "More love to Thee, O Christ" is my favorite prayer and always the solution.
-Unto Us by JJ Heller. I typically don't like albums that take the words of Christmas songs and then butcher them however they see fit, so I really appreciate that JJ's album sounds very much like the classics but they're obviously infused with her style and warmth. Her original songs are great too, as expected. Plus, she changed the lyric on "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" from "If the fates allow" to "If the Lord allows" so she gets the highest kudos for that.
-Lowborn King by The Modern Post. I just love Dustin Kensrue's sound and lyrics so much. Who else would write a Christmas song called "This Is War"?! So awesome.
-Joy Has Dawned by King's Kaleidoscope. "All Glory Be to Christ" is the tune of Auld Lang Syne except amazing lyrics. We actually sing that song year-round at our church...because our church is awesome.
-Repeat the Sounding Joy by Citizens and Saints. I said I didn't like how bands reinvent Christmas songs, but I like it when Citizens and Saints does it. Props.
-Songs for Christmas by Phil Wickham. Fun fact: I quit listening to Phil Wickham when he got married because I was bitter ;) But now that I'm married too and I'm over my fangirling, and I can appreciate that this album is sweet. Plus it's free on Amazon Music so...can't beat that.
I finished the Old Testament, guys! I've never read through the Old Testament before. I sure didn't finish the Bible in a year like I hoped, but I got further than ever before and it's been rich all along the way. (I will admit, however, that I struggled through the Minor Prophets.) Many people have been pouring into me and reminding me of how crucial it is that I remain in God's Word even in a tricky season of life. I'm so grateful to God for these people because I am so quick to drift away. The joy of uncovering treasures from the living Word of God is truly unmatchable. I've forgotten how much it thrills me to the core when I actually make spending time "digging" a priority.
The verse that I've been thinking about most lately is Psalm 145:13b:
The Lord is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
I finally feel like God is helping me trust that He is kind in all His works. Reading through the OT exposed a lot of my wrong thinking; I try to shy away from or downplay all the verses about God's sovereignty because God's sovereignty brings about downright devastating circumstances. I tend to resign unfavorable events as "evil from the enemy", "unfortunate", etc. But I need to see God's kingship over all things and really trust that He is kind in all His works. This has been so good for me.
Whelp, that's all for now! Here are the articles I've written this month and some pics of the kiddos:
Jesse Tree Introduction and Day 1 (along with all the other 24 days)
Things I Love About Piper: Year 3
Oxen, Clean Bathrooms, and Me
When Year-End Reflections Are Disappointing
Thanks for reading!
Day 22 - Angels
Read Isaiah 6:1-5.
This is one of the coolest passages in the Bible because it shows us how great God’s glory is. These seraphim were a kind of angel so great and powerful that their voices made things shake. The Lord’s robe was so long and majestic that it filled the whole temple! And the prophet Isaiah’s response after seeing all this was “Woe to me!” because, after seeing the great majesty of the Lord, he saw his own sin. I’m pretty sure that here in this story, Isaiah and the angels were beholding Jesus, because in John 12:41 it says Isaiah saw Jesus’s glory and spoke about Him. So we can trust that angels have been celebrating Jesus for all eternity. Angels aren’t just the cute flying guys with halos that you might see on your Christmas tree. They are majestic and powerful. The description of heavenly creatures in Revelation is almost terrifying, and whenever we read a Bible story where angels meet people, the angel has to say “Do not be afraid!” because their presence is so unlike anything we’ve seen. So the fact that these magnificent beings are directing their worship towards something even greater than them really helps us see that Jesus is more glorious than we can even understand.
You know what else? As great as angels are—and as weak and fragile as we are—God has not chosen to love angels with the same love that He loves us. In 1 Peter 1 we read that angels “long to look” into our salvation. They’re very interested in God’s salvation of mankind. Angels were not made in God’s image, but we were. Angels did not need a savior to die for their sin, but we do. Angels do not become new creations and receive the Holy Spirit when they believe in Christ, but we do. What wonderful privileges we get to have if we belong to Jesus!
Angels celebrated Jesus on the night He was born. They filled the sky and proclaimed the greatness of his coming. We’ll get to that night later. But today we can praise Jesus that He is mightier than the mighty and fully worthy of praise!
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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.)
Quick links to some of my posts:
Articles I've Written on Other Sites:
Youth Ministry's Family Blindspot - Christianity Today