Thankful Thursday

ThankfulIt’s a season of contrasts and surprises. We said goodbye to dear friends who moved far away. The kids are growing fast, and things are changing fast. The kids are reaching big milestones, and I’ve never felt more like I’m walking a tightrope without a net. (The launch to adulthood is scary, but when I get glimpses of the adults they are becoming, it’s exhilarating—and still scary.) And then there’s the usual stuff: unexpected repair bills, scheduling challenges, general busyness.

So today I am thankful for…

  • Friends who pray for me and remind me of the truth on the days I forget
  • A husband who makes me laugh every day
  • Reminders like this:

Suffering for the Christian is neither the result of God’s punishment nor a sign of his rejection. The word discipline is used to indicate training, growth, improvement, advancement. It is for our good, an essential part of the continual redirection of our hearts away from our own me-first path and back onto God’s you-first path. Those who have been born anew into Christ’s kingdom must take up their crosses and die daily to their me-first hearts, following the one who took up his cross and “learned obedience through what he suffered” (Hebrews 5:8, see also Luke 9:23-25, Hebrew 2:10, Philippians 2:8).

We must endure—and by grace we can and will endure—whatever means God may choose in order to do us good through discipline. Part of the wonder of our salvation is that for each of us there is a unique and foreordained plan (the farthest possible thing from a series of random or pointless circumstances) by which God is committed to seeing us live a cross-shaped life (Hebrews12:3-7a). [1]

What are you thankful for?

[1] Jimmy Davis, Cruciform: Living the Cross-Shaped Life, p 101.

Links I Like

Laptop Work

Our ‘Downton Abbey’ Theory Will Blow Your Mind – I am a Downton Abbey fan. And though I didn’t like this season quite as much as some of the others, I like this idea.

15 Things You Didn’t Know About Dachshunds – I love my dachshunds. Cute dachshund photos are included.

The Gospel According to Pinterest – My partner at Out of the Ordinary, Melissa, talks about how the good ideas we see on Pinterest can make us forget where our true worth lies.

When a Mother Sins

Light Mistakes

I was sitting with a group of moms, talking about motherhood and kids, when a younger mom spoke up from the corner of the room.

“But, what can you do? I mean, how can you be sure you’re pointing them on the right path? How can you know they’ll follow God?”

We all understood the cry of her heart. All mothers who follow Christ share this burden. The fact that our little ones are sinners—coupled with the reality that we cannot guarantee their salvation—often overwhelms us.

As mothers, we call the shots in so many things. We control mealtimes and TV watching. We can surround our kids with Bible stories and good teaching. It is our responsibility to do these things, to ensure that the seeds of the gospel are planted and watered. But in the end, it’s God who makes things grow (I Corinthians 3:5–7).

We did our best to remind this young mother of this truth. But a year or so ago, as I was tearfully apologizing to one of my children for a mistake of mine that had brought him hardship, I realized that I really only believed half of this truth.

You see, while I readily acknowledged that only God could save my children, I had come to believe that I could somehow undo any good that God had done.

It was time to apply the whole of the gospel to my children’s lives. The promises of Romans 8:28 and Philippians 1:6 that I so readily run to when it came to the trials of my own life are relevant to my kids’ lives, too. As my children learn to follow God, he uses all things for their good and his glory. As he sets their feet on the path to his truth, only he can he can see it through to the end.

I’m very happy to remind others of this, and I’m certainly glad to cling to it when my own trials come. I would even give it nodding ascent when trials came into my kids’ lives from other people. But what about when it was my mistakes and sin that caused the problem? Does this still apply?

The answer, of course, is yes. When the Bible promises that God can use all things to accomplish his purposes in my kids’ lives, the “all things” certainly includes their mother’s sin. And like the gospel, though it first brings sorrow, it ultimately brings peace and joy.

My children are sinners, and so is their mother. I’m so grateful that God’s grace and mercy are sufficient to overcome all of our sin.

This post originally appeared on the now defunct Domestic Kingdom blog.

Photo credit: Pensiero / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

Riding the Pendulum

My oldest sister left for college when I was four years old. I remember that, as well as one of her first visits home a few weeks later. She was bringing friends home, and I was instructed by my mother not to show off for her guests.

But here’s the thing—I honestly didn’t know what “showing off” meant. But, because I was a four-year-old living in a house full of adults, I usually understood these things. I had also already internalized a lesson I grew to appreciate as I got older: when you don’t understand something, keep quiet about it. If you start asking too many questions, they may decide you’re too young for the conversation and send you out of the room. The best information comes when they forget you’re there and start talking freely.

So the friends arrived. They fussed over me for a little while, then got distracted by talking to each other. Desperate to swing the conversation back over to ME, I grabbed a toy off my bed (which was, ironically, a pillow shaped like a hot dog on a bun), and walked casually through the living room. My second-oldest sister pulled me aside and informed me that I was showing off. It was truly a light-bulb moment for me. Oh, so THAT’S what “showing off” means. I remember then hiding in my room in embarrassment. I’m sure, though, my humiliation was short-lived, and I regrouped enough to display further brattiness over the course of the weekend.

I hope to have a more developed post on this idea up at OOTO on Monday, but I’ve been thinking about how our lives swing between wanting people to look at us, then hiding in shame when they do.

Besides that, you can only fit so many anecdotes into one blog post, so this one is going here.

I have a lot of other examples of this. Some of them aren’t that interesting; many of them can’t be shared. There are times when I have embarrassed myself so badly I thought it would be fatal (or perhaps just wished it would be fatal). There are times when I have been too timid for my own good. Some of those things had serious consequences. In others, circumstances arose that prevented me from creating too much of a disaster.

We are determined to mess up our lives. We are either scrambling for attention or hiding in shame. But God is in ultimately in control. He is sovereign over all. And even if his intervention might not mean a lot to the world at large, it often means a great deal to us personally.

Mourning With Those Who Mourn

During college, I worked at a large hospital in the city of St. Louis. The neighborhood seems better now, but at the time it was one of the most dangerous in the city.

Late one night, I was heading for my car in the parking garage. I stepped on the parking garage elevator as a man was stepping off.

The doors were just starting to close when the man whirled around and wedged his body between the two doors. Terrified, I cowered against the back of the elevator and gasped. I was too scared to scream. In less than a second, I imagined all sorts of awful outcomes.

The man instantly realized how his actions appeared. His face softened. “Sorry,” he said. He backed out of the elevator and let me continue alone.

Once I calmed down, it became clear what had really happened. He had simply forgotten something in his car and needed to go back. He had no plans to harm me. When he saw my distress, he kindly chose to wait for another elevator so I wouldn’t be frightened.

And before I write further, I should probably mention that the man in this story was white.

With the news out of Ferguson, I’ve been thinking a lot about my seven years in St. Louis. I’ve wondered about several of my former coworkers who lived in the North County suburbs. When I later worked for a retail chain, I even filled in a few times at a store in Ferguson. It was a quiet there then, nothing like what’s being portrayed in the media.

While I was still working at the hospital, a black coworker mentioned she would be stopping at a nearby grocery store after work. I warned her to be careful. A friend had been loading her groceries there one afternoon when a man got in her car with a gun and told her to drive. She was lucky that all he wanted was a ride. My coworker shook her head. “I’m safe there, because I belong in that neighborhood. You and your friends don’t.”

Another time, another coworker and her husband were looking for a house. I mentioned a new subdivision I had driven by in the south part of the county. She laughed. “Me, live down there? That’s hilarious.”

And that was the thing. We worked together, ate lunch together, laughed together, and discussed our lives together. But after work, they would drive north, and I would drive south. Unless your workplace was integrated, you could spend most of your days interacting with only those of your own race. I’ve seen a lot of racism, and most of it started with ignorance. We can’t cure ignorance if we’re not interacting.

I think of another friend, white, whose son was murdered. Yes, his own bad choices had put him in that place on that night, but that’s not what we talked about. I didn’t shrug because he wasn’t making a valuable contribution to society anyway. I mourned the loss, both of life and potential. I could be that grieving parent. That’s what we do when something happens to teenagers who look like my son. We aren’t so quick tell ourselves that it won’t happen to our kids, because we know it could.

The gospel requires us to take an honest look at the evil we harbor in our hearts. Becoming a follower of Christ means we set aside our self-righteousness and trade it for the only thing that can make us right with God—the righteousness of Jesus Christ. That great exchange discussed in 1 Corinthians 5:21 has implications for all of eternity (1 Corinthians 15:19), but the change it effects, that future perfection that we long for (Romans 8:23), begins here (Romans 6:4–5). It begins imperfectly, and we still fail, but it begins. So, how should the gospel inform our thinking about Ferguson?

We Can Be Honest About Sin

The gospel strips away any hope of self-justification. Self-justification is the only hope of the non-believer, but we have something better—something that actually works. We don’t have to be afraid when sin is exposed, because that’s when the light can shine in (Ephesians 5:13–14, Psalm 112:7).

What sin am I referring to here (i.e. Which “side” am I on)? All of it. The sin of racism. The sin of violence. The sin of injustice. The sin of using a tragedy for personal gain. The sin of half-truth. The sin of covering up. We should rejoice at the truth, even if it hurts our “side” and forces us to rethink our position on certain issues.

We Can Be Honest About Death

Death is the enemy (1 Corinthians 15:24–26). Our society often tries to sugarcoat it by saying “it’s a natural part of life” or mock it by making it entertainment. But when death separates us from the ones we love, we mourn. We don’t need anyone to explain that this shouldn’t be so, because we feel it in the wrenching of our souls. When a believer dies, we do have the comfort of knowing they are with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8), but even then we still grieve.

We Can Be Honest About Our Unworthiness

We don’t deserve our salvation. We can’t do anything to earn it. We can’t make ourselves worthy of the grace of God. That unworthiness then affects how we view others.

Sometimes, like in the story of the Good Samaritan, it means helping the hurting at personal cost. The Good Samaritan didn’t evaluate if the injured man deserved his fate. He didn’t weigh whether the injured man would properly appreciate his help. He just helped. Helping someone is a journey of many steps; the first is not looking away.

Michael Brown was created in the image of God. That alone makes his death a tragedy. His death is a tragedy whether he was an honor student or a criminal. Measuring a person’s worth by their contribution to society is the same evil that gave birth to eugenics and Nazism. It’s the same evil used to justify abortion and assisted suicide. Mourning the death of Michael Brown doesn’t automatically condemn the officer’s actions any more than mourning the murder of my friend’s son celebrates drug deals made in back alleys.

I think back to the man on the parking garage elevator. I jumped to the wrong conclusion that night. But it was a conclusion based solely on that man’s actions, not his race. As long as white people are hitting the locks on their car doors just because a black man is walking by, we still have a problem in this country. As long as we have groups of people who have been silenced so often that they expect it, we have work to do.

The problems in St. Louis started generations ago. They won’t be fixed in a day. But we need to stop looking away. We need to stop telling ourselves why it won’t happen to our kids and realize that it’s only by the grace of God if it doesn’t. Then we need to weep with those who weep.

I’ve decided to keep the comments closed on this one. Thanks for understanding.

Review and Giveaway!

Picture PerfectToday at Out of the Ordinary, we’re hosting a giveaway of a very helpful book on perfectionism, Picture Perfect: When Life Doesn’t Line Up. This giveaway ends soon, so hop on over there to enter.

When trials surprise us

Out of the OrdinaryIt’s my turn at Out of the Ordinary today:

I was talking with a friend about various trials we sometimes encounter. “It’s the surprises that get me,” she said. “The things that come up when you assumed everything was fine, only to realize they weren’t.” I knew exactly what she meant. Such trials feel like a punch in the stomach, and I’m often sent reeling and gasping for breath.

Join me over there as I talk about When Life Leaves You Reeling.

More Than Just the Here and Now

Out of the OrdinaryIt’s my turn at Out of the Ordinary today.

But I am still far too invested in the here and now. Things like home repairs, college costs, and taxes loom large in my mind. So much so that I can even forget that our testimonies are not just stories for this world, but part of God’s eternal glory.

Join me over there!

Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl

BoyCrazyGirlHello. My name is Staci, and I used to be a boy-crazy girl. So was Paula Hendricks, but she has taken her story and done a great service to young Christian girls.

Part personal account and part gentle encouragement, Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl explores the struggle many single women have: how to desire the good gift of a husband without letting that desire rule you. Drawing often from her own journal entries, Paula tells of times when she thought she’d found The One, only to have her hopes dashed—and how she had to learn afresh to trust God in all things. Her story is honest and real, and I saw a lot of myself in it.

This is a hard subject to keep in balance, and you can fall off the fence on either side. Some writers, trying to communicate that Jesus is sufficient, wind up remaking Jesus in our image. Rather than depicting him as our Savior, he becomes an ideal, imaginary boyfriend (a subject my friend Persis recently tackled so well). This teaching borders on blasphemy, and it’s time to put it to rest. I am so glad Paula didn’t go there.

And while she emphasizes that God is sovereign—even over our love lives—she doesn’t verge off into stoicism. Marriage is a good gift, and women are not ungodly if they want this. Women are free to ask God to fulfill this desire; the struggle is not allowing it to consume them.

What I also appreciated about Paula’s story was how it doesn’t end with how she finally let go and God sent the perfect guy. She is, in fact still single (she might not appreciate that quite as much as me). Although it does sometimes happen that way, it can imply that Mr. Right will come if you just stop wanting him to. As a result, rather than encouraging honestly wrestling with God in prayer, it becomes a reverse psychology mind game. This leads to a low view of God and his goodness.

And that’s Paula’s story: turning back to God over and over again. Realizing afresh how easily her mind can dart ahead to an imagined future with a guy she’s only just met. It’s a common tendency among women, and one that men don’t seem to understand.

This book will mostly appeal to young women college age and younger. I also wouldn’t hesitate to hand it to younger teenagers, and I think it could trigger some great conversations between mothers and daughters. I would like to mention, though, that at one point in Paula’s story she had to explore her position on marriage after divorce. Her conclusions might differ from those of your church leadership. If your daughter is younger, you may want to be ready to have that discussion (which we should be doing anyway).

I highly recommend this book. There is a lot of bad teaching on this subject, and it’s a great joy to see it handled so well.

I also have a sign copy of Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl to give away. To be placed in the drawing, please enter your name and email address in the form below. I will draw the winner a week from today on February 21, 2014.

For more information about Paula and Confessions of a Boy-Crazy Girl, visit her webiste.

I received a copy of this book for review purposes. This review reflects my honest opinion.

Our Identity…and Downton Abbey?

Highclere Castle

I love Downton Abbey. I love thinking about our identity in Christ even more. In my latest article on the CBMW Women’s Channel, I’m talking about them both.

Photo credit: JB + UK_Planet / Foter / CC BY