This Body…

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We are about to celebrate our TENTH wedding anniversary. We always trade off years of planning and organizing our anniversary that way it isn’t always one of us doing that part alone. This year is my year, and I’m so excited about every part except one. I am not excited about finding something to wear. 

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I really can’t wait to celebrate with my husband, but:

  • This body is not the same as it was on our wedding day ten years ago. 
  • This body fit beautifully into my dress where you could tell all those mornings of working out gave me the look I wanted to have. The small waist. The curves. The toned arms. I earned those things. 
  • This body has since grown and delivered three babies in less than five years since that day. 
  • This body is different, and has stretch marks and other “leftovers” from pregnancy. 

I have read all the posts about a momma tiger earning her stripes, and I want to own that. Here’s the truth, there is insecurity in me about this. There’s an insecurity in looking back on that day knowing that it will not be as easy to find something to wear that makes me feel confident as it was back then.  

I am confident in the person I am. I am confident in the love my husband has for me and his attraction to me, but that doesn’t mean I have to pretend that going dress shopping not knowing what is going to fit or how it’s going to fit or how I’ll feel once I stand in front of a mirror with something on to be judge and jury for myself is an exciting prospect. 

I have been working hard. I’ve been disciplined in eating well, drinking water, and being accountable to my step goals. I am seriously trying to find a way to workout. I love to workout. Anyone who has known me probably knows I was a competitor for most of my life. I was always a runner. I have put miles and miles and miles behind me, but now as I pursue my education and raise my babies, it’s hard to find the time and space for that. I’m left with this body as it is until I can do that. 

I really am not near the weight or size I was post-birthing 6 months ago, and I get to be proud of that. I also have earned the right to be honest with myself. I will go dress shopping. I will probably have to go to several stores before I find anything I like and I feel good in. That will be hard and frustrating, but this heart has earned the right to celebrate no matter what I wear because the last ten years have been incredible.

No matter how much I  not excited to be reminded of all that is different about my body as it is today, I am excited about how far we’ve come. I am also thankful for my babies. The things I hate so much are a remnant of what made me a momma. It’s what had to happen did those babies to come into this world, and I’m thankful for them. I will always be more thankful for them than sad about what it did to my body to get them here. 

So here I am. Fingers crossed and hoping that there’s something out there that I can feel beautiful in for one incredibly special occasion. Here I am, trying to love where I’m at, despite all the imperfections that replace what I once had to fight so hard to love. I had years of struggling with find beauty in myself so this is not a foreign battle to me. This time I’m hoping for the grace to do that on some level. I’m hoping to remember what finding that was like- in this body. 

Lauren Prays

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We just went on our whirlwind trip back to the place I call home this side of heaven: Texas. Texas is where I was born and raised, and it’s where a good bit of our family and friends are. I have been looking forward to scooting across Texas for months, and it really was a blessing to be there. One of my favorite moments of the whole trip was something I could have never have seen coming, but I will tuck it close to my heart forever. 

This year has been a year where I have come to hate cancer more than ever. I deeply hate it. Over the course of this year we have prayed for a baby girl named Hadlee who passed away, a little girl named Olivia who we found out passed right as we got settled in San Angelo, and for Ms. Carol, the sweet mom of a friend who has become a friend. All three have been battling cancer, and we have prayed for them each day. I try to be very intentional about praying with our kids and explaining to them why that’s important. 

This trip, Ms. Carol was in the hospital so we went up to visit because we wanted to let some cute babies put a smile on her face, we wanted her to know that she’s loved, and because we wanted to pray with her while we were there and could. 

We all laughed while visiting, and she learned way more about Moana than she probably ever intended to! It was such a sweet time to just get to be with her. When our visit was winding down, I asked if we could pray with her, and the second she said yes, Lauren stepped forward in complete boldness and said, “I’ll pray!”

Her prayer wasn’t long. Her prayer wasn’t searching for “the right words.” It was the most sincere prayer I have probably ever heard. It overwhelmed me to witness this. My five year old daughter stepped out in authority and confidence to intercede out behalf of someone. She immediately stepped up to serve and bless Carol by just talking to God in a way that reflected an ease in communicating her heart to Him. I will never stop being blown away by how beautiful that moment was. 

So often as grown ups, I think we forget prayer is just supposed to be that easy. It’s not about anything but that. I am thankful for that reminder. I am thankful for God growing and developing seeds in the lives of my children that are paving a path for how they will walk with Him all their days. I hope she always holds onto the beautiful ease of talking to God like her closest friend. 

After she prayed I said that no one could have said anything better than that, and that was the truth. Carol prayed over us, and we said our see you laters. I wanted to go in so this visit could be a blessing to Carol, but I was stunned by God’s grace to me in giving me a moment like this to hold onto. 

Two years ago Lauren wasn’t verbal enough to do this. I can’t tell you how many tears I have shed watching her struggle to express herself. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking that experience has been- with both my oldest babies. To see her just step out and clearly communicate her thoughts is something that God made possible through putting Lauren exactly where she needed to be, and by giving her people who could help her get to this place. I could never express my gratitude for the people who have helped her in this season that’s been so hard on my momma heart. 

Sometimes it feels like we are spinning our wheels. Sometimes it feels like some of the things we are teaching our kids aren’t getting through. Hold fast! Continue in the good work you are doing! When God raises them up in moments like this you will know why you were called to love and parent like God loves and parents you. 

I hope you all find encouragement here to stay in the good fight and to know that someday the harvest from your work will really begin to bloom! 

Marriage Is…

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Beautiful. I recently wrote a post about how marriage can be very hard. On the other side of hard, there is a beauty and joy that make the hard more than worth it.

There is joy in deciding to be fully known by someone. In being fully known, you are given this wonderful freedom. You are free to be vulnerable. You are free to need your husband or wife. You are free to be forgiven. You are free to be loved, whatever comes. 

This person has seen you at your worst and decided to love you anyway. There’s also a lot of responsibility in that. There’s responsibility to always be working to be better. To be more considerate. To pay attention to how they need to be affirmed. To pray for them. To work on your own heart and to own your walk with the Lord so you are continually being transformed into the likeness of Christ.

There’s a weight and an importance in seeing the heart of Christ as the goal for your life in knowing that pursuing Him is how you become like Him. I recently was talking with a friend and they said that trying to be like Jesus seemed like too high a goal to attain. I want to say this plainly: if you want your marriage to work and display Christ and His love for His bride, there’s no one else to try to be like. You don’t need to try to be like your parents (or not like them) or like a pastor you admire or like some famous blogger. If you want to make your marriage work, you have to ever-fix your eyes on Jesus as the goal of your life. That’s also bigger than marriage. If you want to be who He has called you to be, look to Him. 

There is joy in this work. The fruit that develops between a husband and wife who are constantly doing the hard yards of walking with Jesus while loving each other produces a depth of love and appreciation that is sustaining. It’s sustaining for when you do hurt each other’s feelings, because you will. It’s sustaining for when one of you messes up and pride keeps you from owning it. It’s sustaining to know that you will be forgiven when you seek it. It’s sustaining for a day that may come when you want out. 

Marriage has been filled with beautiful things I would have never known without my husband. I was twenty when we were married so we always say we grew up together as a joke, but when I look back on it, we did in a lot of ways. The truly funny thing is for a lot of my life I thought I would maybe never want to be married, and I knew without a doubt that I would never get married young. We all have ideas like this, but it’s always fantastic how what God has for us is always better. The minute that blue-eyed boy with the great hair and smile started teaching me guitar I was done for! 

We came into adulthood like people who don’t get married at the age we did, but we did it having nothing to hold onto but the covenant we made with God and each other. We knew we were young, but we also knew that any seconds we spent not being husband and wife would be wasted. We didn’t do that without caution or without knowing it would be hard. 

Even the hard stuff had joy in it. If we had gas in our cars, stuff for dinner, and more than $5 the day before one of us got paid, we always celebrated with a $0.99 movie rental at Hastings. I remember not having cable and reading and doing homework together. I remember the nights of dinner being whatever we had. That led to great discoveries like THE potatoes. I remember moving to our first “us” apartment, and being thrilled to have two bedrooms so all of Rob’s guitars had a place while knowing we were going to have to really stick to our budget if we were going to be able to pay $600 a month to live there (bills included).

I remember working and going to school and having days where we didn’t get to see each other a lot, but knowing that finishing school with excellence would make those days worth it. We cared about each other’s dreams. 

In those times where all we had was each other, we began to build appreciation for each other. Sometimes it was learned through messing that up and knowing really fast that’s not who we wanted to be for each other. Out of every misstep and mess up, we each learned something, but the bigger thing we learned was that we really were all in, no matter what. 

With my husband one of the most beautiful things is seeing who we’ve risen up to become. I know without a single doubt that God blesses me through Rob every day. There is this way that under his love I can feel strength and grace being drawn out of me. That is a blessing to me and our children. I am a better person all the time because of Rob. He prays for me. He prays over me. He holds me when I hurt. He laughs with me. He encourages and supports me. He is for me. It is a beautiful thing for me to know I am loved in this way. It instills a confidence in me to know that there’s always someone who will never stop loving me. I am free more and more all the time under his love. 

We’ve walked through so much together. College graduations, first “real” jobs, disappointments, moving apartments, traveling, late night concerts and road trips, Valentine’s Day and anniversary surprises, losing loved ones, finding out we were pregnant each time, buying homes, buying cars, going back to school, difficult pregnancies, babies who never slept, moving across the country, longing for a church home, date nights, new experiences, learning to parent, literally 10 million loads of laundry by now, and looking back I know my life could have been different if I would have stuck to my “plan.” I never would want it to be now. 

Rob, thank you for ten beautiful years. I know that because God was with us in all the good and all the mess, we didn’t just survive the last decade, but we thrived individually and in our marriage. I am thankful for everyday since the one that you pretended you wanted to teach me guitar! I will forever be thankful for being your girl. I will forever be thankful for the man you are. I am thrilled looking back at how far we’ve come, and I’m excited for whatever God has in front of us. Thank you for the beautiful life I have filled with love and fun and joy! I love you deeply. Always. No matter what. 

Ashamed & In TWO Bras…

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This is not easy for me to write. As I write, it takes me back to a time that sort of acts like a mirror. I hold it up in gratitude for how far I’ve come, but I also look on it with such desperate sadness for any girl who feels what I felt. I’m going to share some things here that are more personal than I am usually comfortable sharing, but if I’m going to be honest in this, I have to. 

I was very new in my faith when I went to college. I chose the college that I did because I wanted to travel with a ministry team. I worked in the preschool at a church. I was surrounded by believers who loved me, but I was very new to “Christian culture.” One feeling I quickly became familiar with was being ashamed. 

I was 95 pounds, tanned from a season of track and field, toned from hours of running and weightlifting, and had a large bustline. Being in Christian culture for the first time the message I received most was I needed to be sure that I didn’t make my brother stumble. This was a correct encouragement (in some ways), but looking back on it, I can see where seeds of shame started to be planted. I also see where the way this was presented to me was well-intentioned but poorly handled. 

In my life I had worn crop tops and super short shorts, but those things were thrown out before the message of “cover up” was given to me. I knew really quickly after I accepted Christ as my Savior that wasn’t what I wanted to be noticed about me. I wanted to be noticed for who I was for the first time. It was the first time I had really begun to like who I was. I had this conviction that was easy to follow, but the expectations from people were the thing that didn’t feel right. 

When I got to college I started wearing two bras. One was for support and the sport’s bra on top was meant to flatten my chest as much as possible so that I was not “making” anyone look at me inappropriately. Yes. I thought if someone was noticing my body, it was my fault. It meant it had done something wrong. I know now that being dressed in a way that made me comfortable that showed respect for myself was all I needed to be worried about because if I was doing that, I was doing what was right. 

The truth was that even in jeans and a t-shirt years of being an athlete had given me a trim figure, and I knew my responsibility was to respect myself enough to not have everything hanging out as my own conviction. That’s not why I wore the two bras though. 

I wore the two bras because I was ashamed that I got attention. The message I received over and over was that it was wrong on my part in some way if anyone noticed anything about me that was attractive. It made me feel ashamed to look how I looked so I covered up as much as I could so no one would notice I was pretty or attractive. 

After I started dating my husband, I felt a little more comfortable in my skin. I guess I felt a little less conscious all the time because he took interest in me for who I was. 

That was undone some when we went to a seminar to do some premarital counseling. I had on a t-shirt that had a saying and a verse on it. One of the ladies there told me she liked it, and another said, “It’s still drawing attention ‘there.’ It looks a little tight too. Maybe you should buy larges so your shirt won’t be so tight ‘there.'” I won’t lie, that immediately hurt me. I felt like I couldn’t even get it right in a “Christian t-shirt.” I usually did buy sizes much larger than I needed that were uncomfortable because they were so loose. 

“Shame. Be ashamed. Don’t like your body. Cover it up. Hide. Don’t be beautiful. Don’t draw attention. Modest is hottest. Modest IS hottest. Modest IS HOTTEST. MODEST IS HOTTEST!” Was this really the message God wanted me to receive? If modesty was so right, why did it make me feel so bad about things I couldn’t control?

That day I learned something. I learned that no matter what I did, someone was going to have a problem with it. I also remembered this, “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”  – Psalm 139:14-15

Verse fourteen has graced many coffee mugs and bumper stickers and is used often in women’s ministry, but do we really treat other women this way? Do we acknowledge that God built each of us, and just because someone is built in a way that gets attention, no matter what they are wearing, do we tell them they were also fearfully and wonderfully made or do we simply say “Cover up busty sisters?” God didn’t make a mistake when He made me, and He knew what I would mature into. This was the day I stopped wearing two bras. 

It may seem like a ridiculous example, but I remember around this time seeing Jessica Simpson in an interview where she said she really wanted to sing praise and worship music, but she was told (in regular blue jeans and a turtle neck sweater) that she was basically “too sexy” to sing in that genre. I connected with this in the saddest way. Why? I connected with it because that message wasn’t just sent to her. It was sent to a lot of girls I knew. It was sent to me. 

Here’s the real problem with this mentality: it has nothing to do with grace and very little to do with what modesty actually means.

I was already convicted about not wanting to wear stuff that I felt was inappropriate. I didn’t need others to pile their opinions about what that meant on top of the legitimate convictions I had. I didn’t wear anything that was inappropriate, but honestly, there’s nothing I could have worn that could have covered up the fact that I had curves besides a garbage bag. 

Modesty is more about what’s internal than what you put on. Modesty has more to do with how you present who you are than what you are wearing. You don’t have to be wearing an XL t-shirt, cardigan, scarf, and loose fitting jeans to be modest. Modesty reflects the beauty in a person’s heart. 

There was very little to no grace given to anyone I knew with this struggle. The message was clear. “Wear your clothes this way or you are helping the enemy make your brother stumble!” That’s simply not the truth. I was not dressed like a stripper. I could not control how large my bustline was, and if my brother stumbled when I had done what I needed to in order to be respectful of myself and everyone around me, that said something about his walk and not about mine. See, in my constant pursuit of Christ, my eyes were fixed on the right standard- Jesus. I needed to pursue what He had for me, not what people expected of me. 

I have a beautiful five year old, and we talk about this already. We talk about the fact that how beautiful her heart is matters more than the beauty of her face because that beauty is not fleeting. Make no mistake, I tell her she’s beautiful all the time because she is. I never want her to be ashamed of her beauty. I just never want her to think that’s the most important thing about her. People tell her she’s pretty all the time, but I always also tell he she’s smart and funny and kind and a wonderful helper and a great friend and many more things. I want her to be modest where it counts! 

That isn’t to say that we don’t talk about respecting her body by dressing appropriately. At five, I already have to scour clothing sections for shorts that aren’t so short they are underwear and bathing suits that aren’t string bikinis. She understands more and more why we buy the clothes we do, and I hope that instills in her respect for herself.

I really hope that women can stop being where the buck stops here. The more I consider this, the more I see the weight of responsibility not just in how I raise my daughter, but also in how I raise my sons. I hope they get a real picture of modesty in a way that matters. I hope they do not stumble and fall into looking at women as objects of pleasure. I hope they know that what a women looks like isn’t the part of her that they will partner with in a marriage or  raising a family. Her heart is what will raise any children they may be blessed to have. I hope they own their responsibility for how they walk before the Lord, and I sure hope they never blame any stumbling on the clothing choice another person makes. 

God Spanks!

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I’ve struggled with this one. I’ve struggled for the right words, but I’ve also struggled with how to walk this out in my life. 

I love my babies. I love them fiercely. I love them deeply. There’s not a single thing I wouldn’t do or sacrifice for their good. In the midst of this deep love, I’ve also had to learn to be tough in discipline. I think in some ways we think that disciplining and being loving are opposites, but they are really two sides of the same coin. 

I have seen the results of children not being disciplined at two extremes and in areas in between. I volunteered at a place where we ministered to at-risk youth for almost three years. Most of these kids didn’t have parents actively involved in their lives in any way. For the most part, their first brush with discipline was handed down from a judge. A good number of them had never had any real consequences for their behavior. The ones who did, had never known loving correction that hoped to push them to what was better. They knew physical abuse. They didn’t respect discipline or take it seriously. 

I’ve seen the other end of the spectrum for people who were never disciplined who atrophied in their ability to grow up. I don’t just mean not spanked; I mean never made to take responsibility. If you never have to work for anything or never learn to accept correction, you won’t hear it from anyone, including the Lord. This looks a lot like someone just being bratty in the way you associate it with a child who didn’t get THE cup they wanted. This looks a lot like someone growing up depending on people instead of Jesus. This looks a lot like someone who will struggle to accept the truth of God when it doesn’t suite them. This is the place I’ve struggled in disciplining my own children. 

For me, as a parent of two kids with language delays, I had to realize that I was so excited when they could ask for things or when they could communicate a need, I just wanted to give whatever I could to them because I was so proud. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is not necessarily a good thing either. I had to pay attention to the fact that I could not get on the train of giving them their way all the time. No matter the challenge they are facing, they needed me to love them through discipline. Every child has a challenge. Every child is a sinner who needs to be trained up to know which way to go. 

If you’ve ever been with any child long enough, you will see their bend to many things which will not build good character or godliness if not corrected. One example is selfishness. “Mine!” “That’s my toy!” “Those are MY goldfish!” WE DON’T HAVE TO TEACH THIS! They are born knowing how to be selfish. It’s our job to point them in the right direction. It’s our job to discipline out that behavior. 

I don’t just mean spanking either. I do spank my kids, but I do it as a last resort. Before I spank them, I speak to them in the language of repentance. I talk to them about what they did. I tell them why it was wrong or not okay. I then ask them to turn from it and to make a better choice and to what is right and good. That’s a picture of repentance- it’s not just knowing something is wrong, but it’s turning from and abandoning that sin to move onto what is right and pleasing to God. I speak to them in the language of repentance now so that when God does, they will already know how this sounds. I also require that they make amends when they’ve hurt someone. I think that’s huge. I think that requiring a child to look someone in the eye and say they are sorry for biting/knocking down their blocks/hurting their feelings/or whatever, builds humility and character in them that teaches something important- the willingness to own up to their wrongdoing and to try to make it right. Especially in the world filled with anonymous bullies hidden behind devices who feel like they can say anything, I think this is important. 

I hear the sentiment and statement a lot that, “Kids are mean!” How about we as the global parenting community do something about that? Fixing this starts with me. Fixing this starts with you. 

I can’t scream these values into my children. I can’t yell at them enough for them to get these things. I can’t verbally or physically abuse them and expect them to believe I love them. “Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?” – Romans 2:4

In kindness and love we have to discipline, but that doesn’t mean not stepping into the mess and seeing these behaviors as what they are. They are sins. I know a pastor who used the illustration of his daughter playing in the dog’s bowl of water. Everyone thought, “That’s funny!” when they heard the splashing and found her soaked head to toe. They’d never really told her not to do this because as any parent knows, there are words you don’t think you’ll ever have to say. He looked at her and told her to stop. She made eye contact with him, slowly raised her arms over her head, and then slammed her fists into the water again. It was in this moment where everyone else laughed that he realized her choosing to rebel against her father was her first act of defiance that was intentional. He realized that is was also enough to separate her from God forever. Do we take these places of our kids sinning so seriously that we would consider it that way? If we did, I think that we would not let so many things go. I think we would see their sin as a bear that we were determined to kill before it could kill them. Would you let a savage bear run full steam at your kid ready to devour them without stepping in the way and fighting it off anyway you could? 

“My son, do not despise the LORD’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the LORD reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.”  – Proverbs 3:11-12

God spanks. He spanks because He loves us, and because He’s calling us to something greater. I am praying for the wisdom all the time to love my children enough to discipline them well. If I don’t, I’ve seen the end results and possible outcomes for undisciplined children, and I want more than that for them. I won’t and can’t abandon them in their sin. I love them too much for that. Also, do any of us want to raise self-indulgent jerks who only think of themselves, who don’t take responsibility for their actions, who treat others poorly, and live with a deaf ear and fist raised at the throne of God? I don’t want to raise those people, and I don’t want my children marrying them. I hope that parents everywhere can agree on that.

Love Each Other Deeply!

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Today is one of my favorite days. It’s Easter. As a believer in Christ, everything about celebrating the death and resurrection of Jesus sends my heart soaring. As a little girl I remember my mind and heart connecting to how special this day was years before I was on my face seeing what the Cross accomplished for me. 

There are so many things that flow from that place. There are so many things to love that flow from that place and these verses were lived in my life this weekend: 

“So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. – 1 John 4:16-19

One of the things I’ve taught my kids  is that we know God loves us because Jesus was on the Cross. It’s in that place we see the depth of God’s desire to be in relationship with us at the cost of His Son, and we see Jesus and His love for His Father as well as His love for us that held Him on the Cross until death was swallowed up in victory. Praise Jesus! 

This weekend I was reminded of something so precious as I considered Easter. I was in Texas to help with a baby shower for one of the dearest people in the world, my friend Lauren. As we were working and setting up, feeling the ease of our friendly banter and teasing among all of us felt like home.

I watched two of the best ladies I know who have been friends for years laugh and tease like sisters all while loving each other and serving with ease and joy. The depth of their love for God and everyone around them made it look like ease. Thank you Debbie and Carol. You both inspire my heart and show what life-long friendship looks like loving with the depth we were given because of Easter. 

Then I got to see one of the most humble people I’ve ever met do what I’ve always seen him do- Ronnie worked to support everything going on as invisibly as he could with the most willing spirit that never calls attention to itself. Ronnie and Debbie seamlessly served and worked for everyone else’s comfort and enjoyment as such a solid husband and wife team. They never made it look like work, but it really was. I hope I learn to walk in such graciousness. 

It’s no wonder Alissa is who she is when you know her momma and daddy, Debbie and Ronnie. She was up early each day to work and get things ready to celebrate Lauren and the friendship they’ve had their entire lives. She did everything she did because of the deep love and friendship with joy in her heart to serve and bless Lauren. She even hosted me at her house while we worked to get everything set up there! We bicker like sisters and we always tease that we’re stuck with each other, but the truth is neither of us would have it any other way. 

Seeing Lauren walk in with her sweet Baby Callon bump and hugging her for the first time in so long right along with seeing her momma and getting such a wonderful hug and “I love you!” from Diane was the gentle reminder of the depth of God’s love for me and all of us. We all gathered to celebrate Lauren and her husband Lance and the sweet baby God is knitting together inside her. 

Then I consider my sweet friends I got to see all weekend. From grabbing lunch with Jaime, to cleaning and visiting, to having dinner made for me at Nana’s house, hanging out with Jan, my family driving over just to see me and eat with me, and then seeing everyone at the shower, my hearts swells, my eyes sting, and I can hardly speak passed the lump in my throat. I’m especially thankful to my husband who wanted to keep our three babies so I could have time to go and help while having a bit of time to myself in a crazy season before I start school. 

On this Easter weekend that purchased my salvation and defeated satan, I was reminded that our ability to know love from others and to love others deeply was also won this day. I sent this text message this morning as I got on my plane and was praying:

“I woke up this morning with deep appreciation for what this day means, and I prayed in thanksgiving realizing that one thing we learn today is how to love each other the way Christ did. My heart is eternally thankful for the friendships we have and the love God has given us for each other. I’m so glad that has held us all together, no matter the miles or time that passes.”

While we arranged food, teased over folding and saving tissue paper and gift bags with Ashlee and Lindsay, and talked sassy to each other, I realized that it’s been about half my life now that God has made these friendships a part of our stories.

We have walked with each other through the sunshine and through hurricanes. We have seen each other at our best and worst, and none of it changed an ounce of how much we love each other. That kind of love is a gift from God. That kind of love never fades. That kind of love was won and displayed on Easter. 

I’m thankful that these friendships have taught me so much over the last almost 15 years. I’m thankful that love like this has created friendships that feel like ease. No matter how long we’ve been apart we truly pick right back up. I think it’s because in that time apart we are always encouraging and praying for each other. How incredibly special is that? If you’re ever blessed with those kind of friendships, never stop nurturing them. 

I’m thankful at Easter always because it is the day to know that the body of Christ was broken for me. His blood was shed for me. It’s deeply personal and deeply real in my mind and heart, always, but it’s especially remembered today. 

The shirt I wore on the plane home said “Love each other deeply” 1 Peter 4:8. I had no idea how timely a reminder that would be when I packed it, but I am thankful today for the Cross and it teaching us just how to do that. 

Marriage Is…

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Hard. Marriage is hard. I’ve been looking back on what has been what feels like just a few moments, but in reality, it’s been ten years. Just about ten years ago Rob and I were married, and in that time, I’ve learned so much that I will surely not remember to say it all here. This will probably become at least a two part series. 

One of the foundational things I’ve learned is that God is not concerned about my happiness in marriage, but He is infinitely concerned about my joy in marriage. Those are not the same thing. 

Happiness is fleeting. It’s a feeling that ebbs and flows. Happiness can be shattered by a stubbed toe or being cut off in traffic. Happiness is cheap compared to joy. God is concerned about my joy in marriage – just like He is concerned about my joy in every other place. 

Joy is not so easily shaken. Joy reaches deep down into my roots and stabilizes me in those deepest of places. Joy that is that deep keeps me from being blown about when the storms come. The storms have come in our marriage and they will surely come in the future. Without that deep joy anchoring us, we wouldn’t have made it through. 

Our joy being found in Christ is what has helped us through the storms and back to steady seas. Those seas have been turbulent at times. We are not perfect. We are both sinners. Remembering that has honestly been a big help. Even when we sin differently, we are both in need of the grace all the time. Remembering this reminds us to extend that grace- even when we don’t feel like it. 

“Love is an act of the will, accompanied by emotion, that always acts on behalf of its object.” Dr. Voddie Baucham gives this definition and it’s one of those treasures that has served as an anchor. This is a different definition than most people would use because most “love” is driven by feelings. “You did this and made me feel that!” “You only think about yourself!” “You hurt me!” “You don’t make me happy anymore!” Love lived that way is fleeting. Loved lived that way is selfish. Love lived that way is conditional. Love driven by emotion is being on rough seas with a hole in your boat that you are both too mad to plug so you sink and drown together instead of setting aside your pride to get to what caused the hole in the first place. 

Marriages fail. Marriages fail all the time in and out of the church. Marriages end before the exit. Marriages don’t even have to be nullified by divorce to be over. Marriages begin their end long before anyone walks away. Marriages fail when the way we love is more concerned with happiness than deep joy. Marriages fail when we are in it for ourselves. Marriages fail when we can’t get our eyes off ourselves enough to see that we have been wrong too. It’s easy to think, “If he/she would just not do X and get her/his crap together, we wouldn’t have these problems!”

How do we get there? How do we thrive and come out of the storm together? Well, it’s not in the rough seas. It’s too late to pack a life jacket if you didn’t do it before you left the shore. It’s in everything you did before the seas got rough. “Train for the trial you aren’t yet it.”- Levi Lusko. It’s what you do everyday before that makes or breaks you. It’s how you abide in the Lord. It’s how you pray. It’s how you pursue God’s heart. It’s a lot like sanctification. 

Sanctification does not happen over night. You have to do the hard yards of walking with Jesus. Marriage is an overflow of that. As you pursue God’s heart you see marriage for what He says it is, not what your feelings say. It is always to be a display of His splendor and love for His church.  

In this I would also say that there are probably submission issues at every level. If the husband isn’t properly submitting to the Lord in how He’s operating in his marriage, he won’t love with a self-sacrificing love. If a wife is not being loved well, the usual default (not correct one) is to neither respect or submit to her husband. This lack of submission is often what keeps the fight going because it’s not living marriage God’s way. It’s about power and winning. Here’s the truth, there is no way one person can when this fight. Either you both win or you both lose. There’s no other result. 

That’s a heavy responsibility. It can’t be blown off. It can’t be ignored because you don’t feel like it today. It demands the laying down of self and the honoring of who Christ has been. Unconditionally. No one deserves that kind of love. We all mess up, but how much better would life be if we could always strive for this?

I’m writing this ten years in. If you’re just starting out and are ready to throw your hands up, hear me: JUST LIKE SANCTIFICATION, THIS WILL NOT HAPPEN OVERNIGHT! 

Begin each day by training for trials that will come. Seek the Lord and shelter yourself in His promises and the love He has for you. He should be your first counselor. He has also given you people to walk with. Don’t go it alone if things get rocky. Seek wise counsel from people who love you and the Lord who will only take the side of your marriage. That is very important. 

You will both see your own side clearly. Get passed that and onto the side that says I have to be for US and never just for ME! It’s never just about you again. 

I have so much more to learn, but the things I know after a decade as a wife it’s that marriage is serious. Marriage is hard. Marriage requires me to press into God so that I can love and forgive like He does. Marriage is also the second best gift I’ve ever been given. 

I look back on adventures that included being excited about having sandwich stuff, gas in our cars to make it to work and school, and $5 left the day before one of us got paid. I look back on traveling and seeing things and places I always dreamed of. I look back on pushing each other to be our best and reach our dreams. I look back on feeling baby kicks and watching our children take their first breaths. I look back and realize that there is so much that lies ahead. I am thankful for it all, and I can’t wait to see what’s next! 

Love you Rob. Always. No matter what!


The Body, Not the Building 

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Conviction has fallen hard on my heart lately. Maybe it’s because after over two years here, we are without a church home still. In that, my eyes have been opened and my heart pierced at a deep realization: the body of Christ isn’t about who you sit in a building with on Sunday. 

The body of Christ is ALL believers everywhere. We are not called to love and serve those whose seats sit alongside us on Sunday mornings, but instead, we are called to love and do life with and serve whenever the opportunity is given, to both believers and non-believers. 

I never didn’t get this before, but I get it now. Differently. Deeply. 

This doesn’t mean we will always agree on everything. There are certainly open-handed things that we can differ in our thinking on that should not divide us. We should be able to lovingly disagree. There are things that should be closed handed like things that reflect the heartbeat of the gospel’s truth that will certainly in wisdom require we not be united in. They reflect an honoring of our way over where God and the authority of scripture have taken a stand, but if we can’t lovingly disagree among ourselves and serve each other after, how will we ever be able to serve a broken world?

This is something that has been made clear to me over the last 10 plus years I’ve served in ministry. People are really good at building up their own kingdoms- even inside the walls of a church. They are in control. They give the final say on the way they think things should be. They own the spotlight. They bathe in it and need the adoration that comes in their own kingdom and they lay up their treasure in their kingdom. We are all guilty of this to some degree. We have to get our eyes off of ourselves in order to see that what we think and prefer doesn’t matter. What God says matters. What the gospel says and how we relate that to how we live with and value people – not just what they can give or contribute – that reflects where our treasure is being built up and how we value what the physical body of Christ was actually broken for. 

“Death either takes you from your treasure or to it.” Levi Lusko said this in the sermon I shared a link to in my last post. In considering what the body of has been called, I realize more and more that it’s not about making a clubhouse of people who only want to engage each other in comfort. We are to challenge and spur each other on to good works. We are to love each other, no matter what. 

That means honoring the Lord and His word first so that we never see people through the filter of our opinions. If we can’t do this for those who are already our brothers and sisters in Christ, how will we ever do this for the world that doesn’t know His love? How can we ever engage them if we just look at people and think about what is different from us and what we think and want? That’s one of the places the truth of the gospel is so important. Our way doesn’t matter in it. 

What would your life look like today if whoever shared the gospel with you looked at you and thought, “I don’t like that this person (sleeps around/is so arrogant/lies/has a temper/insert your own sin struggle here),” so they walked away and never shared the gospel with you? If we can’t love the whole body, no matter where we go on a Sunday morning, how are we ever going to love and therefore reflect the gospel to a dying world because they sin differently than us? If we can’t love those already belonging to the body of Christ, we will never love those outside of it who desperately need to know God’s love. We will also never know how to relate to them. If we sit in our kingdoms and just assume what the world thinks of us and gather up reasons to not engage those right in front of us, we have failed to see people as God sees them. I think sometimes it’s easier to travel to a different part of the globe and see the need for lovingly living the gospel than it is to do the same thing at the grocery store or at a restaurant or at a nail salon. That time in the mission field feels set apart. We operate differently in it. I wonder how we would relate to the world if we lived like there is a priesthood for all believers and our greatest ministry was how we lived and loved each day?

So much in what divides many of us is vanity. It’s appearance. It’s preference. That is sin. That is honoring what you want over what God actually says. Francis Chan said something once that gave me a new lens of perspective: “No matter how you feel about your sin compared to others, it still killed Jesus!” We sit and look at ourselves through filters that make us forget this. When we forget this we forget that we need the gospel beyond the moment we accepted Christ. We need it everyday. 

This is why it’s so important to see the bigger picture. “‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.'” – Matthew 22:36-40.

If we are deciding that we only want to do life with those who sit in the same buildings, have the same preferences we have decided are right which are valued with greater authority than the word of God, we are not loving God first, and we are certainly not loving our neighbors as ourselves. 

The good news in this is that every breath is a second chance. Every minute is an opportunity to get passed ourselves and on to loving someone else deeply and well. People don’t have to think like you, be in the same religion, love God, or even like you in order for you to be loving to them. It’s actually more a reflection of the gospel lived by Christ through persecution, scourging, mocking, and crucifixion if we can love people who treat us badly or blow us off or say false things about who we are. 

I pray for the grace to keep my eyes open to the bigger picture and off of myself. I pray I don’t get my eyes so much on myself that I neglect the gospel in the tunnel vision of my preferences or wants. I pray for opportunities to serve others anywhere and everywhere, no matter where we attend on Sunday morning. I pray that we would push down the spiritual walls of our churches and see the body of Christ as so much bigger than the physical walls that divide us week in and week out. 

Loss

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It’s hard to know where to start when staring down something so heavy. It’s hard to explain how you can grieve deeply someone you never knew. I think part of that comes, at least for me, from having my own babies and from prayer.

For the last several months I have been praying and have been teaching my kids to pray for a little girl who had brain cancer. She passed away last week, and we stopped praying for her comfort and prayed a prayer of thanksgiving for her life. You do not have to have a lot of birthdays to change the world. Hadlee taught me that. 

I learned her story through social media. Several of my Facebook friends shared her story, and right then I added Hadlee and her family to our daily prayers. You don’t have to know people to pray for them, but it’s been my experience that praying for someone will move your heart to love them. 

I talked to my daughter about her and we prayed for her. I prayed for her and her parents and her siblings. Lauren is old enough now that she understands these kind of things quite a bit better than Ethan. 

I have written about the difficulty in watching my children struggle with expressive language delays, but I can’t begin to think what it would be like to watch your toddler battle cancer. I know the pain I feel in the challenge my children have because I never want to watch them struggle. That seems so small comparatively, but as a pastor I listen to once wrote, “Pain is pain.” His point is there is no point in comparing. The worst thing you’ve ever lost or experienced may not be as “bad” as someone else, but he says that doesn’t matter because it’s the worst pain you’ve ever known. This is important coming from Levi Lusko. He writes about this in his book Through the Eyes of A Lion where he discusses a loss Hadlee’s parents now know; the loss of a child. He lost Lenya to unforeseen tragedy. It’s an incredible book, and I would encourage anyone to read it. 

That’s honestly the worst thing I can imagine. It would be living a nightmare. It would destroy my heart. It would wound me in ways and places that would probably not ever fully recover. Something would always be different. I think most parents feel that way. I love my children deeply and the thought of losing one of them is so devastating it makes me feel sick. 

It would be a nightmare. It would change me. I would learn to live with it and pray for healing in those places. It would be something I would never want anyone to go through. It’s why I’ve been praying for Hadlee’s parents so much. It’s a pain they know. It’s part of their story. It’s part of who they are, but from what I have seen, so is Jesus. 

As I was praying for them the first time after learning of Hadlee’s passing and I remember thinking, “God I don’t know what to pray besides be their comfort.” As soon as I thought this, I remembered or had a revelation or was given this and I stopped and typed it into a note on my phone right then:

We serve a God who endured separation from His child. We serve a God who predestined this pain of searing loss from before time so that I would know His love. He chose to love me and He made a way for me to know that love at great cost to Himself. The depth of His love for me was greater than the depth of pain in crushing His Son so I could know Him and enjoy Him forever. He lived what I consider a nightmare to love me. 

This is something I knew before, but it’s something I know differently now. The depth of love He feels for me is more real to me in the sense that I think differently about what it cost God to have it. For me. For you. 

I’m thankful that Hadlee taught me how to teach my kids about praying for others. I am thankful that Hadlee taught me something incredibly beautiful about God’s love for me that I hope never leaves me. I am thankful for the privilege of praying for her, and I will pray for her family everyday. 

I will close by sharing a link to a sermon from Levi Lusko. 

Lingerie 

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The words have been hard to sort out in my mind for this one. I think it’s because I’m a momma. I look at my daughter and see a sweetness in her that shines. I think about the kind of woman I hope she will be.  I look at my boys and know the importance of the role I have in the kind of men they become. Both of these things will be affected by what we teach them about so many different things and what we make sure the world doesn’t teach them first. As of this last weekend, I know one of those things is lingerie. 

I was shopping at Victoria’s Secret. This is normal for a thirty year old, married mom. No one blinked an eye when I walked in to the semi-annual sale. As I was looking around I noticed these two young girls. They were probably somewhere between 8-10, and they were getting plenty of side eye. I could not really tell if they were alone or not. That was part of the problem. They were kind of in the eye line of two older women who could have been their moms. They were talking and visiting and the girls were across from them…looking at lingerie. They were across from where I was, but I could still hear them. 

They were holding stuff up and saying things like “how cute” and “that’s pretty.” They giggled and they looked through the racks and moved on to the PINK section where I was, where one explained to the other what a crop top was. I just kind of stood watching. Thinking. Realizing. 

First I was watching to see if they were in fact alone. I just wanted to be sure they were safe. As I asked an employee a question they moved on and I didn’t see them again. I didn’t see those women who they seemed like they could be with. That made me hope they saw these young girls looking at the stuff the way they were and thought better of having them in the store. I really, REALLY hoped that. 

I can’t make someone raise their child a certain way, but if we wonder collectively as a society why our children are becoming so desensitized to sex and graphic things, I think we have to consider what we expose them to.

During my time volunteering in ministry it was completely common for a girl to tell me that boys regularly asked them to send them naked pictures. I remember thinking, “Are you serious?” The anonymity of being behind a screen made these kids feel like that was okay to do. 

It’s not okay for a teenage boy or girl to ask a girl or boy  for pictures of her breasts or his genitals or any other body part. It’s not okay for a girl or boy to think he or she has to send them to be accepted. 

Technology has changed the landscape of what kids get exposed to. There was never a time in the lives of people my age that someone COULD ask them for naked pictures in a text in middle school. Your parents didn’t have to say no to this. Your parents grew up in the days of homes having one rotary phone that was kept in a space where every conversation could be heard. If someone wanted to ask someone else to go on a date, they had to walk up to them or call their house. They had to muster the courage to risk rejection. They couldn’t just hide behind a device. 

In this detached reality, there’s often no consideration for the person on the other side of an anonymous conversation. We are becoming less concerned about the inherent dignity and worth of other people. 

These two girls were probably doing what many others their age do. In my mind I would like to think that they were with their moms having a girls day at the mall, all as friends. That’s a great thing. I can’t wait to have those kind of days with Lauren. What’s not great is that they were either with these two women and they took them into a store that deals in very personal items. Adult items. If they were alone, they thought it was cool to go look at lingerie and talk about how “cute” it was. 

Before I walked in the store, I was with my family. My husband took our kids to the Disney store and I went in alone. This was a conscious choice. I don’t want my five year old having images of women in bras and panties burned into her mind as either expectation of what she has to look like or that it’s normal for women to have their pictures taken that way. I don’t want my sons to see these women, who decorate the walls, as just objects there to fill the space with flat tummies and large breasts. 

The world is going to teach my kids about these kinds of things if I don’t. At 5, almost 3, and just a few months old, I can shield them from it at the Disney store, but I know this conversation will have to happen not long from now. I wish it was going to wait, but I know that as long as other little girls browse at Victoria’s Secret, Lauren is going to hear things that I would rather her know our perspective on before she gets someone else’s. 

I hope the global community of parents will become more aware of what we expose our children to, and I hope we also take the initiative to talk to them about what these things mean so that doors aren’t opened for them to be shaped by pressures and influences that will lead them to wanting to be sexy at 8 and 10 or down darker trails to pornography. 

It all matters. It all matters for their hearts and souls. That is what we do day in and day out- shepard hearts and teach souls that will exist for eternity.

It also matters in regards to what kind of wife and the kinds of husbands they will become. I have to think about other parents because they are raising people who will one day become the spouses of my children if they get married. I don’t want my daughter having to measure up to porn that her husband may have been exposed to. I don’t want my sons to see their brides as anything other than the women created in equal dignity, value, and worth that they are meant to display the way Christ loves the church with- not bodies to be used for pleasure. 

It all really matters today and for eternity. Please consider these things. Change starts in our homes. Change starts in our hearts being committed to parenting in the hard places, and remembering that the world will show up. It won’t beat our influence if we don’t let it.