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    Fragile

    If being pregnant three times in four years taught me anything, it’s this…

    People say dumb stuff to pregnant women.

    I’ve heard my fair share of all the usual comments…

    “No, it’s not twins.”

    “No, I’m not ready to pop since I’m two months from my due date.”

    “If by ‘any day now’ you mean in eight weeks.”

    “Yes, I am quite large right now, and yes, I do have my hands full.”

    While many women get grossly offended by these comments, I simply laughed them off. I have come to realize the general American public does not understand human gestation at all. Statistically, it very doubtful that it’s ever twins. And even though bodies vary, a 30 week bump looks vastly different than a 40 week bump. If a woman is near near her due date, she is likely carrying a 7-9 pound human inside her uterus. It seems even older women, who themselves have borne children, have forgotten these facts.

    During my most recent pregnancy, I began to contemplate how women can be so fragile. Silly pregnancy comments infuriate us. Conflict on social media overwhelms us. Images on Pinterest make us jealous. A theological disagreement causes us distress. A mother who has different parenting methods is abrasive. And never mind healthy debate in an actual conversation. That’s too scary.

    On the one hand, I think God designed women to collaborate and seek consensus, and that’s a really beautiful thing. I am not advocating for conflict. I personally don’t like it very much. But when I look at my own heart and how quick I am to back out of conversation or justify my actions or cover up my shortcomings or pretend I have the right answers, I am bothered by my own fragility.

    It’s okay to dialogue, disagree, not have the right words, and laugh it off when someone else says the wrong words.

    I often see women who are so distraught over comments about toxins and homeschooling and breastfeeding and multi-level marketing that they don’t have time to talk about the gospel or they back out of conversation altogether because they are so easily hurt and frustrated by others.

    Women, let’s not spend our time proving our strength when we should be humble. And let’s not wallow in weakness where Christ has made us strong.

    Love can bear a thoughtless or critical comment.

    Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. I Corinthians 13:4-7

    As a sinful person, I don’t always say the right thing. Sometimes I speak rashly; sometimes I’m critical instead of merciful. Sometimes I say something funny and it comes across as harsh. Sometimes I’m downright rude or angry. So I can’t expect other people to speak flawlessly either. Proverbs 19:11 reminds us, “Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.” Friends, family, acquaintances, strangers on the internet… sometimes they are going to be harsh, judgmental, or rash. I am called to love them anyway. Only Jesus ever spoke perfectly on earth. And he has filled me with love that can bear an insult and endure a thoughtless comment.

    Engage in dialogue.

    Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. Colossians 4:5-6

    In my fragility, I am inclined to step out of conversations, ignore criticism, or justify myself when someone disagrees with me. If I post something on Instagram and get one negative response, despite 20 or 30 positive responses, part of me is tempted to remove the whole post. But I don’t think this passive, fearful response is helpful. The New Testament is clear that conversation is important. Perhaps a friend is pointing out my own sin by bringing a word of conviction. Perhaps a non-believer is opposed to my view, but responding to their critique gives me a chance to share the gospel. Although there are definitely reasons to be silent (with fools – Proverbs 23:9, with those who revile and attack the gospel – Matthew 7:6, in marriage – I Peter 3:1), the Bible tells us it is important to speak. Believers should regularly exhort and honor one another out loud. We must tell non-believers about the good news of Jesus. We should not be fearful people who back out conversations when they are difficult. We can be people who, by the Spirit, get better and better at speaking truth with love and grace.

    Examine yourself.

    When someone speaks, it might not be TO you. The internet is a broad platform, and for better or worse, it is easy to share a message with a lot of people at once. But not everything I say is intended for everyone who might hear it or read it. The other day I hopped on Instagram Stories and talked a little bit about consumerism. Over the years, I’ve been convicted of my relationship with Target and how my habits there reveal my sinful heart. I had to recognize that Target was a false place of rest for me and that my purchases were often unsatisfying and revealed poor stewardship of my time and money. I have a haunch other women struggle with the same thing, because I see too many pictures on Instagram of women filling a red shopping cart with clothing and home décor while drinking Starbucks at 9pm at night. Many women responded positively. They, too, have experienced conviction with their shopping habits and have repented by establishing boundaries and fleeing the temptation of loitering in their favorite stores. However, a few women chimed in to say they actually enjoy shopping at Target, especially without kids in tow. It’s a moment of rest for them. My response? That’s totally fine. If you are simply thankful for a kid-free evening, and you have the disposable income to buy yourself a latte while you shop, that’s not wrong. It is wrong to expect Target to fulfill your spiritual needs for rest, comfort, and approval that can only be met in Christ.

    This is why the Bible tells us to examine ourselves (I Corinthians 11:28; 2 Corinthians 13:5). While something (shopping, eating, exercise, viewing a film, drinking wine) might be sinful for one person, it might not be sinful for another. God is at work sanctifying everyone who believes in him, but he does so in different ways at different times. While I might struggle with consumerism, I have many friends who aren’t usually tempted while shopping. They can go into Target, buy their trash bags or laundry detergent, and walk right back out again. They have the freedom in Christ to grab a mocha or a bag of popcorn while they shop. I don’t have this freedom, because I need to fight the sin (of Target) that so easily entangles me.

    However, I see and hear messages all the time about the importance of reading Scripture. Studies show that fewer than half of Christians read their Bible on a regular basis, and this makes me sad. But when I hear a sermon or read a blog post imploring believers to study Scripture regularly, I don’t need to feel defensive or respond with self-justification. By God’s grace, I read my Bible every morning. Is this natural for me? No. It’s God’s Spirit at work within me. Because God loves me and is always sanctifying me, this is an area of life that is not a struggle for me anymore. Do I read my Bible perfectly? By no means. Sometimes I’m rushed. Sometimes it feels mundane. Sometimes I fail to apply the truth I read throughout the day. But if I read a message calling out Christians for their failure to read God’s Word consistently, I can quickly examine myself and praise God for how he has grown me to be disciplined in this area.

    When you hear a sermon or read a message online, you don’t need to feel condemned or get defensive. Test yourself and see how the words might apply to you. You might feel convicted to repent of sin or you might have an opportunity to praise God for the way he has visibly sanctified your heart in a certain area.

    Laugh at the days to come. 

    Proverbs 31 tells us that a godly woman is able to “laugh at the days to come.” The woman described in the passage has so much faith in God that she is not anxious about the future. However, I believe this principle of being able to laugh applies broadly to godly womanhood. I can laugh at a stranger’s comments about my round belly, because I know carrying a child is a gift, and a temporary one at that. I can enjoy conversations about essential oils or breastfeeding, because I delight in a God who gives us freedom in Christ to make personal choices about how to live and raise our families. I can laugh when someone gives me a label such as “too loud” or “too conservative,” because I know I am God’s child. I can even smile when a fellow believer speaks a word of conviction to me, because I am forgiven of all my sins, and I know God might be using a sister or brother to transform my heart.

    It’s time to stop being so fragile. In Christ, even when we are weak, we are strong (2 Corinthians 12:10). We are strong enough to bear an insult. Strong enough to disagree. Strong enough to speak the truth in love. Strong enough to help the needy. Strong enough to stand up to injustice. Strong enough to share the gospel. Strong enough to admit when we are struggling. Strong enough to repent of our sin.

    The Holy Spirit, who raised Christ from the dead, dwells in you. There is no need to be fragile when you are chosen, loved, and protected by the God of the universe.

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    Sabbath

    My first semester of graduate school, I had a paper due every Sunday at noon. This coincided with our first few months of marriage, and Micah watched me flounder through the homework routine each week. The course was an extremely difficult one on Shakespeare. I was rusty on academic reading and writing because I had been out of school for five years. The professor was kind, but tough. Our class met for three hours on Monday evenings, so we had a 2-3 page reading reflection due every Sunday before class. It was grueling. No matter what I did to tweak my schedule, I could not get a handle on the weekly paper. I would try to finish it Saturday, so I could get a break from school on Sunday. Oftentimes I would forgo any social plans on Saturday night so I could read and write, but even on my best weeks I would often find myself frantically editing and posting the response before or after church on Sunday.

    When I finally finished the semester, Micah lovingly insisted that I take a real Sabbath each week. “You need to take a FULL day off from schoolwork,” he explained. He did not want me to continue five more years of graduate school without setting aside a day of rest. I knew he was right.

    But then came the next challenge… figuring out what Sabbath looked like as a married couple. Since we were newlyweds, we assumed that our Sundays should be spent together. But although Micah and I have many shared interests (watching sports, eating steak, traveling, hot weather, hosting meals, theology),we found that we actually rest quite differently. During our first year of marriage, I was falling in love with blogs and wanted to spend my time on Sunday reading and writing for fun (rather than for academics). Micah was itching to be active on his days off from work. Since I have a more flexible job, I can usually exercise more that him during the week, so on the weekends I want a break from the gym and he wants to run ten miles. One time we went hiking on a Sunday after church. It was nearly 100 degrees out (October in Phoenix), and by the time we summited the peak of our short trek, I was crying. I was hot and tired and not having fun. But if Micah sat at home with me while I read blog posts, he was bored out of his mind.

    We finally realized that our Sabbath could be a mix of time alone and time together. Sometimes Micah would go hiking, running, or golfing, while I would stay home and read. Sometimes I would read magazines by the pool while Micah swam, and I would occasionally jump in also. We would usually eat lunch and dinner together, sometimes inviting other friends to share a meal.

    Of course, kids have made Sabbath more complex. It takes more planning to make sure rest happens, and one of us will often take the kids for a few hours while the other one has some downtime. Today, Micah went surfing for a couple hours in the morning while I stayed home and made breakfast and did art with the girls. Then, he took the older girls to the beach for a few hours while I hung out around home. Now all three of our girls are napping, and I am blogging while he watches football.

    Sabbath is an Old Testament command (Exodus 20:8) turned into a New Testament gift (Mark 2:27). While the early church debated whether on not it was required to set aside one day of the week as holy (Romans 14), the Bible is pretty clear from start to finish that God intended for his people to rest. Rest allows us to model God’s design set forth in creation (fully resting after working hard all week), and it reminds us of our dependence on our Savior. We are not gods, and the world will continue to spin even as we rest. Rest shows humility before God and trust in his provision. Rest is also a gift. Jesus says he made Sabbath for man. Rest should lead to worship and worship should lead to joy.

    1. No work. This might sound silly, but many people (myself included) need to be reminded that the Sabbath should exclude work as much as possible. If you are doing labor related to your job or schooling on Sundays (or whichever day you set aside for rest), you need to repent and rearrange your schedule. As people who love control and self-sufficiency, it’s so easy for our fallen hearts to start justifying work on the Sabbath. This sounds like… “Sundays are my day to catch up on all my homework, and I feel SO rested when I get done.” Or “I just check in on my work-email on Sunday nights before I go to bed, so I feel more prepared for Monday morning.” Or “I meal plan, shop, and prepare all my meals for the week ahead on Sundays, and it feels so great.” Or “I come home from church and get my whole house cleaned.” You know what all activities sound like? Work. And of course, work often feels good. We are commanded to work, and you should feel good when you accomplish tasks, but the positive feeling of accomplishing labor is NOT the same as rest. I am not arguing for hard and fast rules about what constitutes rest for you, but generally speaking, your Sabbath should probably look fairly different than your other days of the week and should probably NOT include tasks related to your job, your schooling, or even home management, as much as you can help it.
    2. Pray and discern. God created us all uniquely in his image and for that reason we each find different things restful. Micah runs half-marathon distances for fun, and I write blog posts. Before we had kids, I used to go grocery shopping on Sundays. There was something semi-peaceful about going to the store by myself and stocking up on food for the week. But then Micah questioned it… “Is shopping really the MOST restful way to spend your Sunday? It seems a little too much like work. Could you move it to another day of the week and do something more restful on your Sunday afternoon?” I finally acquiesced, and now I shop on Mondays. It definitely makes my Mondays a bit more grueling, but since Monday is a work day, that’s fine. I rest hard on Sundays and work hard on Mondays and that’s a good thing. I also don’t make extravagant meals on Sundays, unless we are hosting a meal for guests. But I know other couples who LOVE cooking together, so Sundays may mean spending all afternoon in the kitchen. For them, it’s the ultimate at-home date, not a chore, and I love that God created them that way.
    3. Don’t be a Pharisee. While rest is commanded, it’s so easy to add our own laws to God’s. While we should try to abstain from work, we also need to be flexible. There are meals to be made and dishes to be done, even on Sundays, and while we can try to keep meals simple, they still require a bit of labor. Kids make messes and require lots of work, even on the Sabbath. I can’t stop nursing my baby one day a week. And while I try not to do laundry on Sundays, if my preschooler has an accident on Saturday night, I’m not going to let her dirty bedding sit around until Monday. I’ll throw her comforter in the washing machine with freedom, grace, and joy. While I don’t shop on the Sabbath, someone else might take joy in culinary preparation. And while I love writing on Sundays, a full-time blogger might want to shut down the computer for the day.
    4. Rest is not lazy. The goal for the Sabbath should ultimately be communion with God and delighting in the ways He has uniquely designed you. The Sabbath should not be mindless and selfish. The Sabbath should me mindful and sacrificial. A lazy Sabbath might look like watching TV all day long. Ordering take-out and sitting home alone, instead of sharing a meal with a neighbor and friends from church. Letting the kids watch shows all afternoon, so you can disengage from parenting. I am not against watching football on Sundays, ordering take-out, or letting my kids watch shows. I just think it’s easy to slip from restful to lazy. If I’m not careful, I can let my Sabbath swing from worshiping God to worshiping myself.
    5. Worship. I often find that I don’t rest well when I get entitled. Rest is a gift from God; it’s not something I earned. When I set up extra-biblical rules about the Sabbath (see #3), I get mad when someone else requires me to break those rules. For example, if I make it a law that I don’t do laundry on the Sabbath and one of my kids wets the bed on a Sunday morning, I find myself annoyed at them for making my break my own laws when I throw a load in the wash. Likewise, if I tell myself I am going to have a peaceful afternoon with iced coffee and a good book and those plans get interrupted by poor naps or friends stopping by after church, I can grow bitter when rest doesn’t look the way I planned. But if rest is about worship, then the activities of my Sabbath won’t dictate the attitude of my heart. I can worship God by blogging and drinking coffee for his glory. I can praise God by turning on some worship music and singing while I whip up a quick dinner on Sunday night. I can honor God by investing in the friends who stop by after church; I can laugh with them and enjoy their unexpected company that changed my plans for the afternoon. If my plans for rest are making me bitter, than I’m not actually resting. I am serving myself by orchestrating a schedule that revolves around my own comfort and convenience.

    The Sabbath exists to help us worship our Creator. We should make a legitimate effort to set apart a day each week that is free from work and the usual hustle of life. But we should also be careful not to craft a “me-day” centered on selfish wants or laziness. If I am worshiping God and my Sabbath goes according to plan, I will be filled with joy that comes from a quiet day spent doing the hobbies God crafted my soul to enjoy. And if my plans change unexpectedly, I will worship God by trusting that He ordained my day and and equips me to have joy in every circumstance.

    I can have joy while I cook, while I read, while I host friends, while I clean up my kids’ messes. I can have joy while I weep with a church-sister during an unexpected crises, and I can have joy when I finish an excellent novel. Follow the command and receive the gift, because there is great joy in being loved by the Lord who created us to rest in him.

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    Not Afraid

    Today is the big day. Election day, that is. After months of argument, agony, and astonishment, today the nation will elect the next President of the United States of America.

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    I have my list of candidates and the propositions I plan to vote for or against tucked into my purse. I spent the last week doing research on laws, policies, and politicians in this new state of ours.

    I will go to the polls today and fill out my ballot with patriotic pride, thankfulness, and prayer…

    And then I will go to work, and I will pick up my kids, and I will make dinner, and I will watch the election results roll in on the local news channel, and I will not flinch or flutter…

    because I am not afraid.

    This election has been founded on fear. Corruption. Terrorism. Sexual assault. Drones. Refugees. Russia. Racism. Computer hacks and Wikileaks.

    We have been told that if we don’t vote the right way (be it for HRC, Trump, or a 3rd Party), America may never be the same.

    And you know what? That might be true.

    We may see our liberties disappear as a far-left government annihilates our constitution. We may see hatred and suffering increase under the hand of an authoritarian-style far-right dictator.

    We may just see a mediocre presidency that lasts for the next 4-8 years.

    I have no idea.

    But I can tell you some things I do know:

    1. America is probably not going to be “great” again, no matter who our president is… at least from a spiritual perspective. While I love that voters have a passion for progress and reform and revitalization, my favorite history book (The Bible) tells me where we are headed. Whether quickly or slowly, whether we get “good” supreme court judges or “bad” ones, we are headed toward the End Times. We are going to see a rise in secularism and a more culturally acceptable hatred for God, His Kingdom, and His people. I’m not an end-times prophet by any means, I’ve just read the New Testament a time or two.
    2. As Christians, we have the Bible (the very word of God) to tell us what’s right and wrong no matter what laws or policies our government dictates. We have new opportunities to serve our neighbors and share the Gospel as our society changes politically. Animosity growing toward immigrants, Muslims, and refugees? Invite your Muslim neighbor or the refugee family from church over for dinner and show them the kindness and hospitality depicted time and time again in the Bible. Tired of your “pro-choice” friend questioning your “pro-life” rhetoric? Stop talking and start serving. Find a crisis pregnancy center or an organization that helps teen moms and love these women and their children with your time, attention, and provision. While elections bring out false accusations and condemning language from so many, Believers should be the first to practice Matthew 7:5… always looking first to our own sin (the log in our own eye) before we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye. Lots of lies are thrown around during election time, but sometimes there is truth in the mix. Christians should be the first to humbly inspect themselves and ask how they are falling short of loving their neighbors as the election brings up issues of injustice and need within our communities.
    3. We know the ending to this story, my friends. We know it will get worse, before it gets better. The conclusion is this… redemption, reconciliation, renewal. A glorious inheritance for all eternity. We have a God that promises to always work for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28). No election, no candidate, no proposition can thwart God’s power. I am thankful this election has asked me to test my own beliefs and anchor myself in Christ for coming trials. Why should I be afraid when the ruler of the universe has already died to save me? What can man do to me?

    I’ll leave you with a prayer I prayed with my students yesterday…

    Lord, please guide our country tomorrow as its citizens head to the polls. Help Believers everywhere remember that You are in control and we can trust in You. May our words and actions reflect the truth that You are good and You are sovereign to our neighbors who don’t know You. We are not afraid, because Jesus is our mighty King.

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