Book Club

MoM: A Mother’s Heart for Her God

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Last week, we established that women are divinely designed, especially equipped, and completely and confidently called to pursue life-giving activities including motherhood. Which is beautiful and comforting and even inspiring to learn about, but what in the world does it mean for real life living and mothering? How do I maximize my divine design and employ my especial equipping 🙂 as I confidently and completely live out my calling??? What does it look like to have an undivided heart on a daily basis, at 3am or 3pm or anywhere in between?? Where do I even start?

And while I have yet to find the Motherhood for Dummies book that I think should answer these questions step-by-step :), Sally does a wonderful job at summarizing what she has learned from her own motherhood adventure to encourage us and give us practical ideas of just that. In the next four sections, she will have us journey through the facets of our undivided hearts, focusing on what mothering looks like in connection to our heart for our God, our heart for our children, our heart for our home, and our heart for eternity. Are you ready to dive in with me??

A Mother’s Heart for Her God

To maximize our life-giving calling as women, it makes sense that the place we should start would be at the source of life itself: our God. While we may not have step-by-step instructions specifically geared towards mothering, we do have an amazing instruction manual for living the Christian life through scripture, and I love that Sally uses the same principles we learn for living out our faith as ways to make the most of our mothering as well. She summarizes these principles into 3 core concepts that we can apply to others as well as our children to help them get to know our God: serving, discipling, and teaching.

  • Serving:  As we know from some of the previous books we have read, one of the main components of our faith involves serving others. This service involves humbling ourselves and putting the needs of others first out of a purposeful choice, not our of a lack of self or forceful obligation. It is an intentional decision and can take a variety of shapes and sizes from making meals to washing feet to paying a bill to cutting grass; if there is a need someone has that you are willing to meet through time, effort, or finances, then you are living out your call to service. One of the great and yet sometimes overwhelming things about motherhood is that there are endless opportunities to serve our children on a daily basis within our own home. Now before you balk at this suggestion, hear me out. I am not a proponent of co-dependent mothering, where the focus is always the children and whatever they want goes at the detriment of the mother, or spoiling children by giving in to their every desire and not teaching them about the concepts of “no” or “later,” but somehow over the years, the idea of a child needing a parent or serving our children as Christ served His disciples has become confused with these unhealthy parenting styles. Giving our children our time and sharing with them our lives is exactly what parenting is all about, as Christ modeled for us on multiple occasions (His time with the disciples, serving them through foot-washing and feedings, and inviting children to interrupt and spend time with Him throughout his ministry).  Recognizing their needs based on their current level of development and seeking to meet them even if it means less sleep or not getting to watch the latest episode of my tv show or having to put my phone down for a moment so I can pay attention to his knock-knock joke for the 50trillionth time is exactly what I should be doing right now. And is it really that bad if I go beyond that and actually try to serve them beyond their needs and just set out to love them?? A resounding NO. Our God went way beyond our needs when He not only saved us from an eternity without Him, but also created an opportunity for us to live an abundant life in relationship with him and we are encouraged to do the same with those around us, but even more so to the little audience we have right within our home. One important note here: Service with strings attached is not service at all. While Sally shared an intense story of a mom who apparently did not really want to have children in the first place and was resenting their pull at her own life, I have found that many moms (myself included) have small amounts of resentment boiling under the surface that grows with every need or request or service for her children if not confronted. Could you imagine if Jesus said, “I guess I will wash your feet because I have to, but you better realize what a big deal this is for me.” If that were the case, I know it would change my entire perspective of His gift and His love for me. And yet, I do this all the time in my head and sometimes to their faces with my littles: Do you know how hard I worked to get that meal ready that you will not eat? Do you know how many nights I haven’t slept because you needed me? Do you know how many of “my” moments I have missed because I had to be with you? Do you know how long I was in labor to have you? They sound horrible in writing them out, but the raw reality is that we are human and these thoughts and feelings are real reflections of having to sacrifice our selfishness and choose to serve our children wholeheartedly as we mother them. While we can still teach them appreciation (mommy worked very hard on dinner so even if you do not like it, it is kind to say thank you), our service should come from an unconditional and giving place that does not involve resentment. When we show them what this true service looks like as we live with them each day, we give them a glimpse into how Christ loves and serves them as well.
  • Discipling:  Another component of living out our Christian faith is following the Great Commission, or going and making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28). Again, this commission applies to all of us regardless of gender or parental status, but we are given a unique opportunity to implement discipleship within our homes when we seek to make disciples of our little ones. As Sally shares, discipleship goes beyond just teaching morality, but is truly about shaping hearts to love and grow in knowing the Lord (p. 80).  To do this, there are three practices involved: instructing, training and guarding.
    • Instructing actually means imparting knowledge, so that our children know the basic tenants of our faith and values and have a foundation from which to grow. Just like we teach them letters and numbers and colors, there are spiritual truths we can impart as the basics of faith that they can them recognize and apply to the world around them (the grass is green; God loves me and has a plan for me).
    • Training is showing our children how to apply this knowledge in our actions and everyday circumstances. This means looking for opportunities where the above-instructed truths apply. The example from our family that comes to mind is in combating night-time fears for my oldest son. We have always taught Him that God is our protector and takes care of us, but at night when he is scared, we have opportunities to live out this truth through praying with him, reminding him of God’s promises, and encouraging him that he can pray too when he is scared (and he does LOL).
    • Finally, guarding means using your current authority (based on your children’s ages; if they are adults, this aspect may look more like making sure you are not being a stumbling block through your own choices) to protect your children from unhealthy influences, such as harmful forms of media, people, and circumstances. I love the word picture that Sally uses in this specific instance, where she envisions her and her husband guarding their children’s fountains, making sure that nothing gets in to poison or taint the waters (p. 94). Especially when children are little, this type of guarding is so important as their minds and hearts are still soft and easily influenced by anything they see, hear, or experience. By intentionally guarding what they come into contact with as well as teaching them how to guard their own fountain as they age is an important part of helping them grow in the faith.
  • Teaching: As noted above, to effectively disciple those around us, and especially our children, we must teach them important life lessons and values to provide the foundation of how they see their own lives and values. When someone initially becomes a Christian, they want to know all they can about the Christian worldview, faith, and practices.  Similarly, our children look to us to learn everything about life, from how to eat with a spoon to how to speak to how to interact with others and especially how to understand faith and life and the world around us. As we seek to make the most of these teachable moments, Sally imparts that we can focus these lessons on four main principles: teaching basic morality and what is considered right versus what is considered wrong, teaching basic theology and the foundational knowledge of God, teaching wisdom and how to critically think about life from God’s point of view, and teaching faith and how to trust God when we cannot see Him or feel Him everyday. Covering these four areas in teaching our children, as well as others, will provide them with a basic understanding for how they can view and live out their own lives as they move into adulthood.

When we serve, disciple, and teach our children (as well as those around us), we live out the calling God has for us as both women and mothers, and we truly become “life-givers” in every sense.

How does this apply to me?

Regardless of if you do or do not have children at this point in time, we are all called to serve, disciple, and teach others about Christ in meaningful, life-giving ways. It is amazing to me that mothering is truly an in-home/in-family version of who we have been called to in Christ anyway. So, how does this become personal and practical outside of the obvious?

For me, it truly deals with the heart of the matter (pardon the pun). Often, whether in my interactions with others but especially in my interactions with my children, I feel ill-equipped and inadequate to serve, disciple, and teach. While we addressed the equipped concern last week, I also need to challenge my insecurities and inadequacies when it comes to these spiritual dimensions of my mothering. From gleaning all that I can from Sally’s sharing, two points really stuck out that I want to apply as I move forward (besides all of the above LOL). Maybe they will resonate with you too!

  1. All that I can be is who I am… and that is enough! I just need to be intentional about being me! 🙂 As we determined last week, I am exactly who I am for a reason. God was not careless when He gave me Gavin and Liam; He was purposeful and intentional and specific. And the same goes for you and your own children or the special people that you have in your life. There is a divine reason you are in relationship with them, and this means God intended for YOU to be there with all of your strengths, weaknesses, and quirky components. Children and adults of all ages learn best by being shown, and so just by being me, I can teach my children so much about life and love and most of all, my God. But this means I have to be intentional and purposeful about sharing my time and my life with them; my shining and not so shining moments, and letting them see the real me even when I am unsure. When I do this, I give them the freedom and confidence to try it out too, to embrace who they are, and to use who they are in service, discipling, and teaching others. All just by being me. And just by you being you… just by being who you were created to be and sharing yourself with your children and the people around you, you can truly make a lasting impression with the unique gift of who you are.
  2. I need to trust God’s decision to use me and also to fill in the gaps between who I am and what they need! On p. 83, Sally shares a quote that I have underlined and starred and plan to post where I can see it all the time: “All that God requires from any of us is a desire to serve Him and a trust that He can make up the difference for the things we lack.” What a relief!!! Not only did He want me to be in the lives of my children on purpose, but He is also aware that I will never be perfect, and He already factored that in! This means I can do my best and trust that He will make up for anything I am missing (and then some). Which means I can rejoice in my amazing mothering moments, where I feel like I hit the mark right on, and trust that the not so amazing mothering moments, where I am weak or even hurtful, are being redeemed by my God who is bigger than me and an active participant in our lives whether we acknowledge Him or not. I do not have to waste the precious moments I do have (which are quickly flying by) on my inadequacies or my screw-ups because it does not do any good for anyone and He already has it covered (yay!!!). All I really have to do is try… or the cheesy cliche that is truly one of my favorites: Do your best and God will do the rest!!! 🙂

Our Challenge:

For this week then, our challenge is two-fold. First, I encourage you to take a look at those three areas Sally shared with us that portray our heart for our God to others and our children: service, discipling, and teaching. Choose one of them to focus on in the next month, to really be intentional about as you interact with those in your life.

For me, this is the training aspect of discipling. Since teaching comes naturally to me and I grew up in a house where servant leadership was the norm, it is really taking all of God’s truth and purposefully applying it in front of my children (out loud) that is something I am lacking. I definitely want them to take the biblical principles we read about at night or learn about in church and apply them to their lives, but I have not been super intentional about modeling that for them at their level. Even in the couple of days after reading this, I noticed multiple opportunities throughout the day (a sibling interaction, or a whining reaction to parental instruction, or even an entitled moment) where I can present truth and then follow-up with practicing the truth as well. How neat it has been to watch this step in action and I am excited to see how it continues as it influences my life as well as theirs!

Second, I encourage you to follow-through with at least one of the amazing ideas Sally provides at the end of each chapter to act upon what was discussed.

Whether you have children or not, these ideas are fantastic in promoting the love of Christ and sharing it with others. For instance, my mom and I discussed having a family-wide foot-washing on our next vacation to serve one another and build the love and intimacy that comes when we humble ourselves and care for one another in this way. Other ideas include starting a family devotional time with your children, using the ARTS acronym to strike up conversations about learning and applying biblical truths (this is so cool!!! p. 105-106), or look for an opportunity to willingly participate in an activity that is not your favorite, but is the thing your loved one always wants to do.

Then, above all else, have fun with it!!! Remember, by sharing ourselves and our time with those around us, especially our children, we not only invest in them, but we do so in life-giving ways that share the most important part of ourselves: our heart for our God.♥

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MoM: A Mother’s Calling aka “What are you made of??”

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Sugar and spice and everything nice right? 🙂 At least, this was the cutesy answer told to us in a nursery rhyme when I was growing up. And while it technically was focused on little girls and what they are made of, we all know there was some intent for this memorable line to be used to develop grown-up women into sweet, Betty Crocker housewives that cooked for and supported their husbands (who are getting dirty and working hard as grown-up versions of snips, snails, and puppy dog tails; I know there is a note of cynicism here and I am not against the cute nursery rhyme, I just know there is more to being a little girl and a woman then it portrays). However, now that I am actually living out being a “grown-up” (SCARY), I realize there is so much more to being a woman then the nursery rhyme wisdom imparts, especially when it comes to being a mother.

In fact, I have observed both personally and professionally that there is an overarching confusion in our current American society over what it means to be a mom. As our culture moves toward a unisex understanding of life with non-traditional gender roles and multiple gender identities, even the biological aspects of the female sex are being challenged and re-defined before our very eyes. And with all of these changes it makes sense that the foundation of who we are as women is becoming unstable and unknown as we search out true meaning and understanding among a multitude of competing perspectives.

Fortunately, as Christians, we can find a firm foundation in our Creator God and in the truth of our creation as both woman and mother described in His Word. I love that Sally challenges the current confusion by searching out God’s mission for motherhood and begins our journey with a rediscovery of the calling to be a mom that is first understood in light of creation as a woman and what we are truly made of.

What are you made of?

If you were to ask me this question point blank, I could give you a variety of answers. I could focus on the physical and  describe that I am made of skin and bones and muscle and blood (gross). I also have a mind and a spirit that work within this body. I could focus on the psychological and that I have a tenacious and strong personality that is often more serious than fun but has some crazy moments mixed in to keep everyone guessing ( 🙂 ). I could give you my heritage from a regional or ethnic perspective, or begin to recount the challenges I have had to overcome that has shaped who I am today. Honestly though, I probably would not go back to the original creation and determine what I am made of in light of God’s creation. Which is why I am so grateful that this is exactly where we start in this posting.  As Sally discusses in detail, Scripture is quite clear that we were created to work in tandem with man but with distinct abilities and giftings based on our biological and emotional differences. The implications of our creation are many, but I am going to discuss the two highlights that really stood out to me in reading through this first section:

  • Divinely Designed and Especially Equipped:  From the very beginning, God had a specific purpose in mind when he created women. Our female bodies and characters (even with all of their diversity) reflect a divine design that is especially equipped to give life and nurture life (p.27). The original female (untainted by sickness and death and our fallen world) had the capacity within her womb to grow and birth a new human life as well as sustain it with her body during those first formative years. She was also given specific character traits, such as being innately more relational, more nurturing, and often able to better simultaneously complete multiple tasks when compared to her male counterpart. I love that Sally points out that being a woman as well as being a mom (being fruitful and multiplying) was a part of the PERFECT core design in creation (p.21). I had never really caught on to this part in all my readings of Genesis, but had always gotten distracted by the whole “pain in childbirth” section of the curse. And unfortunately, this is often where we find ourselves today as over the years, sin and human nature have distorted this original creation through infertility challenges, personality differences, and relational difficulties that cause us to doubt and question our roles as women and moms. However, I truly believe that we as females still closely resemble Eve in much of our design and how we are equipped to inspire and nurture the lives of those around us (whether biologically related or not). By recognizing and maximizing this resemblance, we find a deeper sense of focus and purpose that resonates with our design and our Designer.
  • Confidently Called and Completely Committed: Embracing our divine design and the special attributes we have as women leads right into understanding that we have thus been called to actually use them and commit to actually using them!!! This means recognizing that our bodies and characters, with all of our similar as well as unique components, have been constructed specifically to complement our calling: to influence this world in light of eternity and work towards building a life-giving spiritual legacy (p.13).  Please know this does not necessarily mean staying home, having babies, and never getting out of the house again except for church. It means taking all of you, your female body and your personality and your gifts and your abilities, and using them for God’s work in the lives of others. This includes your children (if they exist), as well as the children and adults you come into contact with both within and outside of your family. You being you was not an accident, and God knows both your strengths and your weaknesses as well as your circumstances and still calls you to influence those around you for His kingdom.  When we really understand and employ this, we grow not only in our calling, but in our confidence of our calling. We are also challenged to commit wholeheartedly to this calling, which I think is one of the biggest difficulties facing women and mothers today. Are we completely committed to anything these days, but especially our God-given calling as women? I truly believe this is why we have a stress epidemic sweeping our nation among women (and men too for that matter) as we are trying to “have it all” and end up only doing lots of things half-way. This was never God’s intent (a house divided will not stand; you cannot serve two masters), and instead, wants us to have healthy priorities and filters for how we live out our calling. This means looking at our priorities and ensuring that first things come first. If you have children and your family and home are not your first priority, you will constantly be struggling with an inner conflict (you may become desensitized to it over time, but it will still be there).Even if you do not have children but are a Christian and are not putting your calling first, you will experience this distress as well. When things are in their proper position, we experience the freedom and peace of knowing what is most important, and being able to filter out the things that drain us or take away from that which is priority. We can give our best to what is most important, and no longer fret about what is not. God wants us to give all of ourselves to Him, to use the innate abilities we have been given and live out our callings with undivided hearts, so that we can experience the confidence and freedom that He divinely designed from the very beginning.

So, what am I made of? I am a divinely designed female human known as a woman who is especially equipped both biologically and psychologically to cultivate and nurture life around me. I have been called to wholeheartedly use these attributes to influence the lives around me in light of eternity and build a spiritual legacy that will last for generations to come. Well, when you put it that way… 🙂

How Does this Apply to Me?

The above imparted truths are incredibly near and dear to my heart because I have always struggled with the concept and calling of motherhood for myself. It always seemed better suited for someone else, but not for me. For those of you that did not know me growing up, I was the least likely of all my friends to be predicted to be a mom one day. I was not the typical “girly girl” (I am still not); I was never really into babysitting, never sought out opportunities to be around babies or children, and focused more on my academics and career than anything else. So when I found myself desiring a family for the first time in my life and then actually getting pregnant, I also found myself having to face a multitude of fears and insecurities that I had kept locked away for years.

Maybe you were the exact opposite, and have always been drawn to children and babysitting was and still is your favorite thing to do. Being around littles ones has always been easy and fun for you, but now that you have children of your own, there is a different weight and pressure that was not present when you were babysitting. These little ones look to you for everything, and you cannot give them back to their parents because you are the parents! All of a sudden, mothering looks different than you expected, and there are fears and insecurities and challenges that surface that you were unaware of as well.

And your story may be a combination or nothing like the two above, but the fears and insecurities attached with motherhood and being a woman are real and experienced each day as we press on. This is why we need to move beyond just recognizing the truths above, and actually living them out and applying them to our daily lives. For me, this looks like the following:

  • Written Reminders: This is a big one for me, especially when it comes to mothering. When I first became a mom, I was plagued with stress and pressure and guilt that were at times overwhelming. In addition to not having a clue of what I was doing, I so badly wanted to do it “right” that I forfeited much of the joy that comes in actually just experiencing it. I finally had to combat the thoughts that were holding me hostage, such as “I’ll never get this right” or “Maybe I am just not really mom material” and for me, the best way to do this is to write out truth and put it around my living area where I can see it multiple times a day. In my journal, I began writing out truths, like the ones we have read about this week, that I am actually intrinsically divinely designed and especially equipped to be a mom, even if my mothering looks different from someone else. I was created from the very beginning to be the exact mom that I am -just like you were created to be the exact mom that you are- and our mothering can look different and still be ok as long as we are both seeking the Lord for guidance and direction on how to use all that He has given us. I will never mother just like you, nor you like me, but that is obviously what God intended for our children to grow to be exactly who they are supposed to be. After writing this in my journal, I also wrote out similar truths for my desk, posted pictures reminding me of the importance of my perspective and heart position in the kitchen, and even created a graphic of written truth for the wallpaper on my cell phone. These written reminders keep me grounded in these truths throughout the day, and provide confidence and encouragement to recognize and live out this truth!
  • Meaningful Meditations: Building upon the written reminders described above, I have learned that I must move one step further and actually integrate the truth into my core being. I have to go through and confront the negative lies deep within my soul, and this means taking the time and effort to meditate on the truths I am reading and experiencing around me. Much like taking the time to allow tea to steep and infuse into the surrounding waters, I take the time to meditate on these truths and let them work their way into both my heart and mind. Often, I pick one theme or truth that I am currently learning, and that becomes my meditation focus. These past few weeks, it has been the concept of a “gentle and quiet spirit” (1 Peter 3:4). After reading this verse during a quiet time, I realized it was an aspect of both being a woman and being a mom that I had not been experiencing and had not been promoting among my family. Since then, not only have I created written reminders to prompt reflection throughout the day, but I have made special time to reflect upon, apply, and meditate on this concept as I begin my day, interact with those around me, and complete my day. There have been moments where I have been the complete opposite of gentle and quiet, but the meditation has revealed these instances in ways I had not noticed before and also inspired different courses of action that I had never considered. I am a living testimony that meaningful meditation is a must for moms!
  • Powerful Prayers: Writing and meditating, while great, are both me-focused and occur in my own strength. And while there are days that these work, they will have absolutely no power if I do not plant them in God’s truth and promote them with powerful prayer. There is nothing that has brought me to my knees more than my marriage and my mothering, crying out on behalf of my self, my husband, and my children. When I discover a truth that God has revealed to me, I have learned that submitting it to Him in prayer is by far the best thing I can do. For instance, when I first became a mom, I tried to do it all; be a stay-at-home mom, carry a full-time teaching load, continue counseling part-time, and volunteer in ministry. Sometimes I could pull it off, but most of the time I was running from place to place, exhausted, overwhelmed, and wanting to give my best to each thing but really only able to give partial because it was all I had left. The disservice of this quest really hit me when my son started struggling with naps (aka Mommy’s time to work) and all of a sudden, my anger was uncontrollable. I “needed” this time and now I was not getting it because my toddler had decided not to nap. I remember telling my mom and my husband: “if I did not have work to do it would be just fine, but every nap he misses is more work for me later.” My heart was obviously divided, and I was torn between two masters of work and home. After I read Sally’s description of wholehearted mothering, it changed everything about my life. It was the truth I had been searching for, and I decided then and there to pursue an undivided heart. I was no longer torn about what needed to happen because I knew God had called me to love my family first, and all else would get what was left. This meant changing my priorities, guarding my time and not taking on too much (limiting my course load and counseling), and making myself completely available to my children, even during nap time. This change has not been easy, and there are still struggles, but this is where prayer has been so powerful. Many days throughout the week, I start the morning with a prayer version of Sally’s words on pg. 45, asking for an undivided heart and that I would “see my children’s care and nurture as God’s best will for my life” and begin “treating each day as sacred.” I will also prayerfully consider anything I add to my plate, from what courses to teach to whether or not to attend a certain event, and let God filter what I give my time to. By submitting these requests to God, I have truly seen His power at work in and through me and my family.

Our Challenge:

I love being reminded of all of the above, because to be honest, I feel like I often need someone screaming it at me! In the midst of living life and getting caught up in the challenges and struggles of family, friendships, ministry, work, finances, chores, AND mothering, I lose sight of my divine design as well as my calling and end up beating myself up for not being able to do it all, be it all, or even consider myself somewhat successful based on my own distorted sense of accomplishment. And when I lose sight of truth, I lose sight of my mission as a woman and as a mom, and as Sally describes, when we lose sight of our mission, the important people in our lives, especially children, are easily seen as “a time drain, a monetary expense, a career impediment, and a curtailer of personal freedom” (p.33).

With this in mind, I challenge us to take a true inventory of our current heart status. What does your heart look like? If you made it a pie chart of your heart, what would it look like? Would it be divided into multiple, competing sections, complete with different colors and drawing from you in different ways?

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Or are you willing to commit to wholeheartedly seeking what God has for you in this time, setting your priorities according to His best will for you? There may still be different areas of your heart that require time, effort, and energy, but when completed under one master and with each area in its proper place, it can promote a sense of unity, freedom, and peace.

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My prayer for myself and for you is that we would search our hearts and rid ourselves of any divisions that are causing division and pain.  May we embrace wholehearted living and  celebrate in our divine design and the ways we have been especially equipped to confidently and completely commit to the call He has on our lives… to truly enjoy and employ all of the wonderful and amazing things we are made of. ♥

May Book Club: The Mission of Motherhood

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“As I look to the needs of children today, I am convinced they need the same things from their mothers that I needed… They need not only the gentle touch of a mother’s hands, but her focus and attention on a daily basis. They need a champion and a cheerleader, someone who has the time and energy to give encouragement along life’s way and comfort in dark times. They need a directive voice to show them how to live. These needs are not frivolous demands. They’re a part of the way God designed children” (p.2).

In honor of Mother’s Day, I thought it might be fun to read a book about mothering for this month. I’m not sure if you’ve noticed or not 🙂 , but being a mom is not exactly easy. Sure, some women have more natural nurturing then others and can make it look easy, but there is not a mother I have met that has not found mothering difficult at some point in her life. I know for me I often describe it as the best and worst thing I have ever done… because it truly is!!! As the quote above describes, children are designed to have genuine, distinct, significant needs that are best met by their mothers, but this puts intense pressure on those of us who have been honored with that role.While living out this role and fulfilling those needs is incredibly rewarding and I am reminded of its blessing with every little smile and sweet memory, it is also the most difficult thing I have ever attempted when it requires losing sleep, constant self-sacrificing, mounting insecurities, and daily challenges of my will and sanity 🙂

I am not the first mother that has ever struggled nor am I alone (there is some comfort in that) but I find that our current society has a tendency to either overplay or underplay motherhood. Either you have to be perfect at it (Facebook fake it right?!) or just do not talk about it often seems to be the standard. And God forbid you reach out and ask for help!!! However, this does not work for me (and I am guessing it probably does not work for you either)! I need other moms in my life, and I need to be able to share the real struggles we are experiencing so we can learn from, commiserate with, and encourage one another along the way.

I especially need moms that are a little farther ahead of me, so that they can give me hope and wisdom as I confront things they have already experienced. Many of these women are available in our churches and local communities, but for some reason (another posting), we do not always get the time or opportunity to connect, which means generations of moms, like you and me, are missing an important part of our own development and support.

Fortunately,there are amazing women like Sally Clarkson, author of this month’s book, who have gone before us and now have all of this mothering wisdom to pass on to those of us that have just begun the journey. Since her experience has been recorded and published in book form, we can tap into her many mothering lessons without having to find a time that works for both of our schedules or confirm childcare :). I am so excited to share this experience with you, and grow in our own mothering as we learn from hers!

Why I Chose this Book

When I found this book, I was in my fourth month of second motherhood (I had added my second little guy to the mix) and I was somewhat on the edge of losing it. I had decided to take even more time off from my career due to childcare conflicts as well as personal desires, and while this time off may sound lovely, it was also a struggle. I have always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom but there is this looming pressure from the outside world to do more, be more, achieve more and not let your career go to waste while you are taking care of your children. So, if it isn’t always looking for another side job to still be “successful” there is always the method of over-booking, over-busying, and over-analyzing myself to make sure I am still being all that I should be and more (even though it is miserable).

At this particular time, I was trying to be particularly discerning about what I kept in my life and what I let go as I left the newborn-maternity-leave phase and re-acclimated to real life with but not completely focused around my children. And to be honest, I was completely lost. What should I do? What does it look like to be a mom with all of the other things screaming for my time? How should I answer? Can I really be all things to everyone and wear all of these hats and should I even try? How can I best maximize my time with my children and make the most of my mothering while still maintaining me and some semblance of sanity?

I longed for answers and encouragement and this book was like a warm hug from a sweet friend with a cup of hot tea attached 🙂 As I started to read, Sally spoke straight to me heart, to my concerns, my fears, my insecurities, my struggles, my desires… it was as if she had read through my unspoken thoughts and questions and then sat down to write me a personal letter. As I read her insights and understanding about motherhood as a mission, I felt many pieces of my own life and heart falling into place as I realigned my vision and focus with the calling before me. And ever since, it has been so refreshing to view mothering as a part of my life mission (and not just a biological obligation) that gives meaning to even the most monotonous of moment and allows me to maintain motivation, focus, and challenges me to view the miraculous among the mayhem. My guess is that it can do the same for you!

*One unique thing about this book versus the others is that I have not actually read it all just yet (I only made it through the first couple of chapters). So with that in mind, I will give the caveat that unlike the books prior, there may be some controversial material that I am not aware of (yay topics like mothering) or a stance on mothering that I or you do not agree with. I hope we can dialogue about that if it arises, but also view this as a learning point which means we still need to filter everything we read through God’s Word and truth and not just take it at face value. I will share my thoughts as we go along; please feel free to share yours as well!

Tentative Schedule

I am not sure that this section should really be published anymore, since I have yet to keep to one in the past couple of months 🙂 However, it does give me a goal to work towards and at least gives you an idea of what I will be attempting 🙂 So with that in mind, here is my hopeful plan for how I will be reading and writing through this book:

Part One: A Mother’s Calling                                               May 12

Part Two: A Mother’s Heart for Her God                          May 17

Part Three: A Mother’s Heart for Her Children             May 20

Part Four: A Mother’s Heart for Her Home                    May 25

Part Five: A Mother’s Heart for Eternity                         May 29

My Hope for Our Experience

With each book we read, my overarching hope is that we will be encouraged and challenged to keep moving forward and to not just survive this life (although there are moments when this is all we can do), but to truly THRIVE. For this book especially, my hope is that those of us who are currently moms will be renewed and refreshed when it comes to our motherhood journey to benefit both ourselves and our families. For those of you who are not yet moms or do not plan to be, my hope is that you will still join us this month as a learning experience (possibly for the future) about motherhood and how we can best support the moms in our lives right now since it is often a difficult and lonely calling. Regardless of your current situation, I affirm Sally’s hope as well: that we will experience a “rediscovery of the traditional mission of motherhood [and] a rediscovery of what God had in mind when he first designed families” (p.2-3). ♥

***PS: I know we still have postings on the Strategy of Satan; I have not forgotten; they are in draft form at the moment and will be appearing soon!!! 🙂

 

Purpose Driven Life Finale: Your Mission Should You Choose to Accept It…

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Here we are at the finale of the Purpose Driven Life (I know right?! FINALLY!!! :)), can you believe it?? In the past 40 days (and a little bit more given some lovely outside circumstances), we have explored the answers to the important question of “What on earth am I here for?”and discovered that there are five specific purposes God has for us in this life. So far, we have discussed four of these purposes in detail and how we have been created to make God smile, to be a part of God’s family, to become like Christ, and to serve God and others. And while all of these purposes are wonderful and essential to fully experiencing all God has for us in this life, there is one more purpose to add to the fold before we are finished: we were made for a mission (should you choose to accept it 🙂 ).

Your Mission… Should You Choose to Accept it

I love this saying, as well as the Mission Impossible movies that go with it (surprise surprise). No matter which rendition you watch, the plot is the same: there is some seemingly impossible mission sent out from an important authority to a group of select agents, and these agents have to determine if they are going to accept the job and attempt the impossible. Could you imagine if Tom Cruise and the other characters thought about the mission and said, “Nope, this one is too hard and I am tired from the last one so I am going to sit this one out. A nice nap or vacation sounds much better right now. Thanks for asking though!” Of course not! Then there would be no suspense, no action, no investment in the movie and there would be no reason for any of us in the audience to get excited. No one would want to watch because it would be pointless and boring.

The same goes for us with our lives!  As we end our purpose driven journey, we are  given a similar choice with a challenge to move beyond ourselves and our relationships with God and other Christians to truly reach out to those around us who do not know Christ and do not experience truth and wholeness as we do. As Rick shares, when we determine in our hearts to follow Christ and live out the other four purposes summarized above, we are also called to the mission of telling others about Christ and spreading the good news we have found to be true. Much like in the movies, we are a group of select agents, equipped with exactly what we need to be successful, and we have to choose if we are willing to risk it all to complete the task before us. Yes, you get to be a super special secret agent, which means all of a sudden, your life gets to be a little more exciting and a whole lot more purposeful :).

In other words, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to share your story with the world and look for opportunities to tell them about the life and hope you have found through Christ. Rick calls this story our Life Message (Day 37), and explains that it consists of four components that give us a platform for sharing with others:

  • Our Testimony: This is the story of how we came to know Christ. It includes what life was like before becoming a Christian, how we came to know Him as our Savior, and now what our life is like afterwards. Humans are innately drawn to stories (hence our love of books and movies) and so it makes sense that this would be one of the best ways we can share Christ with others.
  • Our Life Lessons: These are the important truths we have learned over the years, also known as wisdom, that other people might benefit from knowing. Things like “learning not to worry about tomorrow” or “unforgiveness really only hurts the one holding on to it” or “you really can do anything you put your mind to” all fall into this category. Humans are always looking for answers to life problems, so we can use our own life lessons to shed light on these issues from a godly perspective.
  • Our Godly Passions: These are the things that we really care about and that get us energized. There is a wide range of what you might be passionate about: it may be a specific cause or a people group or a food group or a sport or an art or anything else in between. These passions often give us something in common with others and provide a connection to be able to relate in other areas, like life questions.
  • Our Good News: This is the hope we have in Christ because we have a reason for living in getting to know Him and the God who created us. People everywhere are searching for meaning, for a reason to live and thrive and do more than just breathe and eat and live till we die. The Good News that we have to share is that there is someone bigger than us with a bigger plan that we get to be a part of: we have a Creator who loves us, intentionally created us, and has specific purposes for us to experience and enjoy throughout all eternity.

For some of us, this may truly seem like a mission impossible sequel as sharing ourselves with anyone, much less strangers in another part of the world, sounds completely crazy. But I encourage you, especially if you are feeling stale or stagnant or bored with where you are in life and you feel like the other four purposes are right on, that you are probably at the place in life where a little risk and an attempt at an impossible mission is exactly what you need. The nice part about God is He will never force us to take on any mission (although there may be natural consequences for saying no… Jonah and a whale comes to mind :)), but He will invite us to join Him and the adventure is totally worth it!

How Does this Apply to Me?

If this mission seems a tad overwhelming or daunting, I promise, you are not alone. Sharing with others about Christ is a big task, but much like anything else, we can still bring it home with a personal, practical application that starts with smaller steps instead of trying to take on everything at once. One way we can do that is by being intentional about living out the five purposes we have covered in this book each and every day.

To do this, Rick encourages creating a life purpose statement (Day 40) that sums up what the five purposes mean for you in a clear and concise way. This statement can provide focus and direction for all that you do in a meaningful way without requiring the reading of an entire book everyday 🙂 . He describes that to create this statement, we can ask and answer these 5 key questions (p.314-316):

  1. What do I want at the center of my life?
  2. What kind of person do I want to be?
  3. What do I want my contribution to be?
  4. What do I want my communication to be?
  5. What do I want my community to be?

Compiling the answers to these questions, we should be able to create a simple life statement that reflects who and what we want for our life and gives us the direction we have been looking for. While Rick shares several examples on page 317 that are comprehensive and directly describe each of the purposes and answers to the questions above, I found that they were a little too wordy and formal for my current stage in life. So I encourage you to really search out and develop a statement that fits who and how God has created you to me.

For me, I can answer all of the above questions: I desperately want Christ and His love at the center of my life, I truly want to be an inviting and loving person where people can experience grace and acceptance while at the same time being encouraged and challenged to grow and achieve the best in life, I want to be able to leave a legacy where those I teach can then teach others and the people around me have more hope and understanding after having known me, I want every thing that I do and every word that I say to reflect all of the above, and I want this to be evident to those both within and outside of the church. And while I love these answers, it is way too long for me to call to memory in quick moment, so I have summed it up in this simple statement that I actually have posted all around (including as the wallpaper on my cell phone):

Love Generously with an Undivided Heart.

If I can do that, if I can seek to love those I come into contact with (especially my husband and children) generously (unconditionally) with a heart that is not divided (because a house divided cannot stand), then I will be living out my purpose on this life… and will experience an amazing peace and joy that wells up from within regardless of the external circumstances. And when I fall short, which happens all the time, I still have a goal to work towards and a direction with which to guide whatever efforts I have left 🙂 And I have an awesome purpose that infiltrates and radiates all that I do!!!

Our Challenge:

With all of the above said :), there are a variety of challenges we could take from this segment (and the book as a whole) to apply all that we have learned. Feel free to choose working on your Life Message or creating your life purpose statement, as these are both incredibly important. However, for this finale, I want to focus on Day 39, where Rick describes the importance of finding balance in our lives. As a counselor, this lesson is near and dear to my heart, as I have personally experienced as well as professionally worked with burnout and compassion fatigue and all of the adverse consequences that come from an imbalanced life. God never intended us to operate in an imbalanced state, but wants us to truly thrive by looking to Him and putting into practice the healthy steps to maintain and achieve balance. These steps include (but are not limited to):

  1. Walking through life with a spiritual accountability partner or small group. This means being real and honest with someone(s) outside of your immediate family (not a spouse either) and inviting them to speak truth into your life in both an encouraging or challenging way. I have a specific set of people that I have asked to hold me accountable, to pray for me, and to challenge me when my life seems out of balance from their perspective and I am forever grateful for all of the times they have come through for me!!! If you do not have an accountability/prayer partner or a small group, I STRONGLY encourage you to be on the lookout.
  2. Writing down your progress in a journal. To be honest, I am horrible about this but I really am trying to get better. There is something to be said about cataloging what God is doing in our lives and recording the good, the bad, and everything in between. Most importantly, I have loved recording answered prayers to be able to look back and see what has been answered and revealed over the years. Plus, if you are out of time or energy to journal on a regular basis, it can reveal an imbalance that you may not have noticed just yet. If you do not journal, I recommend trying it out, even if just for a season, and see the depth it can add to your life and faith walk.
  3. Passing on what you are learning to others. Humans have a tendency to learn better when they teach something to others. This is probably one of my favorite things about being a professor, as I learn my craft better and better each time I teach it to a group of new learners. There are even specific topics that I feel like I have come to almost master, recognizing there is always something new I can learn, because I have taught it so many times. The same goes for spiritual concepts; we learn them more when we share them with others and explain how we have learned them so they can potentially learn it too. It can also provide us a new perspective on what we have been learning, which could reveal any blindness we have been unaware of or confirm the truth we have uncovered. And who knows: maybe the one you are sharing with can benefit from the lessons as well. Again, if you find that you are out of time or energy or even people to share with, then it is probably a sign that imbalance has occurred and it may be time to re-evaluate and re-calibrate!

Our challenge then is this: Looking at the above options, what is one thing you can add to your life to move towards balance today??? For me, it is getting back to journaling. I have definitely been imbalanced in the past month, and I know because my journaling and writing (obviously) has not happened. In seeing this as I finally have time to write, I realize that I need it back in my routine to really cement the lessons I am learning and help ground me for the week. Hence I am back at it today… and will hopefully be able to keep it going in the days to come.What about you? Do you need to find a someone to support and challenge you and vice versa? Do you need to take that step to share with others what you are learning? Do you, like me, need to break open that journal and review, renew, and refocus (from Ordering Your Private World by Gordon MacDonald and the January Book Club)? Whatever it is… I encourage you to do so!

And just in case you need a little extra motivation… I am going to end with this statement from Rick that I cannot seem to get away from 🙂

“God wants to redeem human beings from Satan and reconcile them to himself so we can fulfill the five purposes he created us for: to love him, to be a part of his family, to become like him, to serve him, and to tell others about him. Once we are his, God uses us to reach others. He saves us and then sends us out” (p.282). This is my mission and THIS IS YOUR MISSION too… should you choose to accept it. ♥

 

Week Five: Shaped for Serving God aka “You might be a servant if…”

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Confession time: I obviously am familiar with a certain country comedian, Jeff Foxworthy, whose fame skyrocketed when he introduced a comedic line “You might be a redneck if…” as a segment on one of his shows that later turned into a book, comics, and countless internet memes and spin-offs. And while some of the additions have not been incredibly tasteful and even offensive at times, the majority of the descriptors associated with this phrase are actually quite funny, especially for those of us who grew up and take pride in being from the country (like myself).

So, although not a song, this one liner came to mind as I was reading through the fourth segment of this book where Rick focuses on our fourth purpose for living: being shaped to serve God and others. Much like the redneck predecessor, Rick takes the time to paint a picture for us of what being a servant truly looks like, and how we can know if we are operating from a servant’s heart or just waiting around to be served.

You Might be a Servant if…

One thing I love about Jeff Foxworthy’s comedy on rednecks is that his witty one-liner allows listeners to determine whether or not they would be considered rednecks based on the respective descriptors and just how much they do or do not have in common with such a group. I remember listening to many of the things Jeff would mention, like “your mother has ammo on her Christmas list” or “you have ever mowed your grass and found a car” and laugh because I knew it was a perfect description of the way I grew up and my Southern roots. Other times, I would find myself laughing because it was in no way descriptive of me, but I definitely knew someone that it fit right on. Regardless of if it fit me or not, it was both funny and helpful to use his little “test” to determine where I stood in terms of my own redneck status.

Although not as humorous but much more important, I can imagine Rick walking on stage with a thick Southern accent and starting his own segment of “You might be a servant if…” Much like Jeff, he would present descriptors of being a servant that we can apply to our lives as well as those around us to determine our own servant status. As he noted in this week’s reading, you might be a servant if:

  • Your Actions Say So (Day 33): As we all know, our actions speak louder than our words, so whether or not you call yourself a servant really does not matter if your actions do not say it as well. Actions you can be on the lookout for to let you know that you are truly operating from a servants heart include: being available to serve, being attentive to areas of need/opportunities to serve around you, doing your best with what you’ve got, being dedicated to the task at hand no matter how big or how small, being faithful to the finish and completing the task no matter how big or how small, and being ok with being in the background versus the spotlight (and vice versa depending on your comfort level; I hate being in the spotlight but have ended up there on several occasions as a part of my service).
  • Your Thoughts Say So (Day 34): While our actions are helpful in determining our servant status, they do not give a complete picture when it comes to fully understanding the servant heart. I think all of us have met a few people out there who serve with their actions, but the rest of them would really like to be elsewhere and they have no problem letting everyone know about it. Instead, you know you are a true servant if: you intentionally put others ahead of yourself both on the inside and outside, you seek to steward and not own the resources you are given (open, not closed hands), you intentionally focus on your own work and choose not to compare yourself and your work to others, you intentionally base your identity and worth in Christ and not the actual service, and you intentionally see service requests as opportunities, not obligations.
  • Your Weaknesses/Limitations Say So (Day 35): As Rick encourages, it is important for us to maximize our strengths in serving, but sometimes this is not possible and regardless, due to our lovely human condition, we will always be faced with our limitations. Like other things though, it is really how we deal with our weaknesses and limitations that shows our true colors and helps us determine our servant status. In this case, you might be a servant if: you readily acknowledge and admit your weaknesses instead of trying to hide or deny them, you find contentment in recognizing you are not perfect and that God can often show Himself more in our weaknesses than in our strengths, you intentionally seek to share your weaknesses with others as a means of encouragement and testimony when appropriate, and you intentionally view your weaknesses as an opportunity to watch God work and give Him the glory (when I am weak, He is strong; 2 Corinthians 12:10).

If you have ever been around a true servant, you can tell that their actions, thoughts, and use of their weaknesses are aligned in such an incredible way that it leaves a lasting impression. There is no doubt in your mind that they might be a servant… YOU KNOW THEY ARE. I am confident this is what it was like to be around Jesus, the ultimate servant, as He spent time continuously investing in the lives of those around Him and humbling Himself even to the point of feeding them and washing feet without grumble or complaint. What an encouraging and yet challenging role model!

How does this apply to me?

Once again, while this is nice material and yes, I can ask myself all of these things to determine my servant status, I still get stuck when it comes to the practical application and actually acting out my ministry and finding my niche for service. What does that look like? If I have determined that I am not currently a servant (and my answer to “you might be a servant if…” is a definite NO), what do I do? How do I determine where I should be serving so that I can move towards embodying all of those wonderful descriptors above?

Once again, I am so thankful for Rick and his practical, purposeful (pardon the pun) approach. In this case, he presents us with the SHAPE acronym (I LOVE ACRONYMS!!!!) to figure out how we were shaped for service and what that looks like. Let’s take a deeper look at what our SHAPE consists of:

  • Spiritual Gifts: These are the “special God-empowered abilities” (p.236) given to us for His service and are to be used in acting upon the spiritual world around us. They typically are spiritual in nature and there are some great spiritual gift listings and assessments out there that can help you determine what yours might be (but you might want to check with your pastor or spiritual leader on this one). We often have more than one spiritual gift, although there might be a primary one, but none of us has all of the spiritual gifts. For instance, I know that I am called to evangelize through the Great Commission and I do seek to do so, but it is not one of my natural giftings. In contrast, I am drawn to and passionate about discipleship, and love walking through life with others teaching them and encouraging them in their faith. This is definitely one of my gifts, and I feel like I am on fire when I get the chance to do that.
  • Heart: These would be the “bundle of desires, hopes, interests, ambitions, dreams, and affections you have” (p.237). In other words, they are the things you like and want to do instinctively; sometimes you do not even know why, you just know that you love it!! I know this might seem crazy to some, but God actually created us to LIKE serving Him and others! So, if you are dreading your current service or begin serving in a ministry and absolutely hate it, it might be that it does not fit the desires of your heart and it is outside of what your creation is. When I read this, I think about serving in the children’s ministry, which I currently do on a monthly basis. To be quite honest, and not because of anything specific to the ministry (I love our children’s ministry), I dislike my role in it. I was not meant to serve in children’s ministry, and although I try my best to make it fun for the kids and be as useful as possible, it is draining and I dread it each month. If there was not a substantial need for safe volunteers, I would not be doing it, but sometimes the need trumps our desires and I do like being able to help. In contrast, my husband and I have served in youth ministry in some capacity ever since we were youth ourselves. This is totally in line with my heart’s desires and I get energized hanging out with teens and walking through life with them (again, discipleship 🙂 ). I would hate not being able to be a part of this ministry, and this confirms for me that it is a part of God’s specific heart and service design for me.
  • Abilities: These are the natural talents we have that can be used to act on the physical world around us (p.241). Just like the spiritual gifts, there is a wide variety of abilities available to humans, and we typically have a sampling of many although one or two may be primary and no one has all of them. These abilities often influence our career or hobby choices, such as being able to sing, build things, work with words, fix things, work with blood or medical issues, dealing well with heights or water, being athletic or academic, etc. For me, this one is obvious. I have never had athletic abilities (I am very good at watching sports, but anytime I try to play I usually get hit by something in the face :)) and I get queasy at even the thought of blood. However, I have always excelled with academics, loving to learn and write and teach. These are my natural abilities that have been maximized throughout the years, and now I can use them both for my career as well as my ministry.
  • Personality: These are the unique character traits that would be used to describe who we are, such as introverted or extroverted, and that often fall in line with what we like to do (p.245). Again, there are a variety of personality traits available, and each of us has our own unique combination that makes us exactly who we are. While we might have things in common with one another, I am the only me that exists and you are the only you. When looking for ministry opportunities and figuring out what service looks like for us, we should consider our personality and what is or is not a good fit for us. For me, I tend to be more introverted than extroverted, and so I flourish in service opportunities that allow me to be one-on-one with others or even serve all by myself 🙂 I still participate in big group ministries that are great for extroverts, but this is on a limited basis and more due to need than preference. Again, as you learn more about your shape, you will be able to determine a good service fit.
  • Experiences: These are the moments and events that create your history and have influenced your unique life story. Rick categorizes these into six specific types: family, educational, vocational, spiritual, ministry, and painful (p.246). When we look back on these experiences and glean from them any lessons we can learn about ourselves and our likes/dislikes as well as how we can relate to God and others, we can use all of this information in our service. Specifically, we can share these experiences as a testimony or use these experiences to open doors for further ministry. The main thing that comes to mind for me is my educational and vocational experiences that have allowed me to serve on mental health missions trips to both India and Africa. When working with these cultures, I was able to help train medical staff and missionaries as well as provide counseling services to people with leprosy or who are HIV positive because of the training and credentials God has orchestrated in my life. I love being able to use my education and training for Him and see the doors that have opened because of them!

When we take a practical look at each of these elements, it gives us a great starting point for finding our own ministry/service outlet as well as confirming that we are or are not in the best ministry for who we are. I love the way Rick says it: “Using your shape is the secret of both fruitfulness and fulfillment in ministry. You will be most effective when you use your spiritual gifts and abilities in the area of your heart’s desire, and in a way that best expresses your personality and experiences” (p. 248).

Our Challenge:

With all of this in mind, the challenge this week is two-fold:

  1. Determine one thing you can do to experiment with your SHAPE in the coming month. I love that Rick encourages us not to try to discern our perfect ministry from the very beginning, but to just get out there and start serving and then see what works and what does not. I am all about this trial and error process, and have tried out several different ministries to get to know where I really thrive in serving (youth versus children). What is something that sounds like fun? Would you like to be a greeter? Would you like to sign-up to make meals for someone who is sick? What about serving as a small group leader or a Sunday school teacher or a nursery worker? The local church is full of ministry positions that need to be filled, so I challenge you to get out there and try something now.
  2. As you are experimenting and/or if you think you have found your ministry niche, use the above information to take inventory and see if there is legitimate alignment. Is your current service in alignment with your shape (round peg in a round hole)? Can you see the descriptors of a servant’s heart active in your life? Why or why not? And if why not, what is something that needs to change?

As we continue on our service journey and living out our shape, I do not believe any of us will really “arrive” this side of heaven, but I do believe that we can find our God-given place in His body, experience the amazing fit when our shape and service aligns, and pursue the servant’s heart we have seen in Jesus. Then, we too can laugh and smile when we hear “You might be a servant if…” because we know that we are. ♥

 

***PS: I know we are SOOO BEHIND!!! I am working on catching up! 🙂 I have one more posting for Purpose Driven Life in the works and should be posting my first posting on the Strategy of Satan ASAP 🙂 Thanks ya’ll!!! :)***

 

 

April Book Club: The Strategy of Satan

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“You are not fighting for victory, but from victory, for Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan!” (p.x-xi)

Ever feel like everyday life is a struggle? That you are fighting an uphill battle? That you just seem to get a footing on solid ground and BAM!; something else happens and smacks you in the face or even knocks you completely out.

Sometimes, I do believe that this is just “life” and that yes, bad things happen everyday to both good and bad people. But sometimes, I also believe that there is a very real enemy waging a very real war against us and that compilation of relational, financial, and health struggles that you have been facing are a concerted attack on his part. This “him” would be the devil a.k.a Satan, who we do not regularly talk about (the church answer is Jesus right?!) but should be aware of since he is the one attacking us. Which is why getting to know him and how he attacks, or as Warren Wiersbe describes it, learning his strategies so we can detect and defeat him, is so very important.

 

Why I Chose this Book

I know that talking about Satan is often a taboo subject among Christians (weird, right?!). We can talk about God and Jesus and heaven all day, but begin talking about Satan and hell and everything gets quiet. No one wants to be the fire and brimstone pastor or the crazy Christian, and since we do not physically see demons all around us, I think sometimes it is easier to just avoid this part of our faith because it can be scary, a little out there, and not as loving or fun as everything else. However, scripture is very clear that Satan is real, that there is a legitimate spiritual battle taking place each and every moment, and that spiritual beings like angels, demons, and Satan himself are indeed real and active. Just because we cannot see them, does not mean they do not exist. And we not only need to be aware of their presence, but we are instructed to get our armor on and be prepared for this battle (not avoid it or flee from it; thank you Ephesians).

Honestly, this spiritual battle and the spiritual realm of Christianity has always been extremely intriguing to me. I used to love reading every fictional book I could on the topic (some of my favorites are Ted Dekker, Frank Peretti, and Bill Meyers) because it helped me be able to envision the spiritual reality taking place all around me and provide the motivation to be equipped and armored as instructed.  So, it was no surprise that after falling in love with Warren Wiersbe’s writing, that I would be drawn to a book about Satan and how to both detect and defeat him in spiritual war. And as usual, I was not disappointed.

This book, while no doubt of a more serious nature than the others we have read thus far, is still amazing and powerful.  As the quote at the beginning imparts, the beauty of spiritual warfare is that we already know the end result.  We already know we have the victory, even though it may not seem like it in the moment. For me, this is like being OK during the unpredictable part of a movie because I know the main character cannot die (there is a sequel LOL); I still watch it and enjoy the story, but I do not have to fret because I know he survives into the sequel. Same with this “fight” we’ve been enduring as we live under Satan’s attack; even though things are horrible and hurtful and devastating in the moment, we can hold to the hope that we already know the ending and are fighting FROM victory instead of FOR victory.

However, holding to the hope and still being a part of the fight requires understanding and strategy of its own. Thus, this book “is a manual of arms for the Christian soldier” (p.ix) that explores the truths in God’s Word in a practical and applicable manner for our fight. Much like a playbook or plan of attack, this book will help you understand why and how Satan is intruding upon your life as well as the weapons you have been divinely given to defeat him. If you have ever felt spiritually “attacked” at some point, possibly even now, then this book will make so much sense and be incredibly helpful. If you have never felt attacked, then I would say this book is a must-read, because as you continue to grow in your faith, I can guarantee the spiritual battle will affect you!

Tentative Schedule

Since we are already halfway thru April (yay Purpose Driven Life; yes, we still have 2 postings to go on this book as well), I am planning to read this book on a daily schedule. There will also be a unique posting plan, since the chapters are not naturally grouped together like in previous months. For now, my plan is to read a chapter a day starting April 15th (although as we have seen… it does not always happen 🙂 ). I will also (at this point) only be posting twice: once around April 26th to summarize and reflect on Chapters 1-4 and and once at the end of the month to speak to Chapters 5-10.

My Hope for This Experience

It has been a long time since I last read this book, but its timing could not be anymore perfect for me (surprise surprise… it seems that these books were divinely chosen for this year of my life). I am surrounded by reminders of spiritual warfare everyday: watching the struggles and trials of my loved ones, the injustices occurring all around, the crazy acts of terrorism that are happening more and more, and the lies I see plaguing both Christians and non-Christians alike. If there was ever a time to pick up a book on waging spiritual war, the time is now.

With that in mind, my hope for us as we embark on such a serious topic is that we will not do so lightly, but with a sense of the weight that comes with waging spiritual war and the focus to remember that above all else, we already have the victory through Christ. As Warren encourages, I hope that we will not try to speed-read through, but really pause, ponder, and pray through each of these points as we are reading. I pray that our eyes will be opened to the reality of spiritual warfare and the importance of understanding what that means and the part that we play. I pray that we will utilize this book and the truth it relays to equip us, empower us, and truly allow us to best utilize our armor to detect Satan where he is present and defeat the strongholds he has in and around us. May we not be overcome with fear, but press on in the hope and strength that we have access to through the Lord. “Onward Christian soldiers…”♥

Week Four: Created to Become Like Christ aka “You are What You Eat”

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Have you noticed all the choices that we have today? From what to watch to what to wear to what to eat, it often seems like the possibilities are endless. When I was growing up, we had only 2 grocery stores to choose from, cable only had 50 channels tops, and there were only really 3 restaurants in town. Now there are more than 5 different grocery stores within 20 minutes from my house, cable/satellite TV has over 900 channels (really??), and there are new restaurants opening  faster than I can count (even my parents are getting a Tropical Smoothie Cafe within 10 minutes from their house).

And while all of these options are great and definitely have their advantages, there are some distinct disadvantages that come along too. For instance, sometimes all of the choices can be overwhelming (where in the world are we going for dinner or what in the world should we watch) and lead to conflict if everyone does not agree. Additionally, not all of these options are best or healthiest for us. Included in those 900+ channels are several that I wish I could delete from everyone’s televisions because their content is both damaging and destructive. Included in those countless restaurants are fast food chains that are definitely fast, cheap, and easy, but as the picture above describes, the food does not have any true nutritional value for our bodies. We may feel full and our hunger may be momentarily satisfied, but in the end, we have not really increased our health. If we are not careful and vigilant, these disadvantages can take over and greatly decrease our health and quality of living.

The same principle applies to our spiritual lives. We have so many options for what we are going to focus on, who we can become, and what we can choose to allow to influence who we are. And while many people get lost or overwhelmed among the chaos, and some choose hurtful influences over their healthy alternatives, we as Christians are given a filter to discern and provide guidance among our options. Rick calls this filter our third purpose: becoming more like Christ, and living from this perspective allows us to evaluate each event/decision we encounter and determine the best course of action. Much like choosing a specific diet or eating lifestyle (LOL) that gives us parameters for what is best to eat as well as what not to eat, focusing on becoming like Christ gives us guidelines for how to protect and promote our spiritual health. In other words, regardless of the countless choices available, when it comes to both our physical and spiritual health, you are what you eat.

You are What You Eat

OK. So I realize that my catch phrase for this section might be a bit of a stretch, but at least it is not a song, right?! 🙂 Honestly though, the more I have pondered the “you are what you eat” mindset, the more I realize it really does resonate (at least for me) with this week’s readings. As this saying implies, what we choose to eat or the diet we maintain determines a lot about our physical health and quality of life. While the occasional fast food stop is not going to cause a heart attack or severely disrupt a healthy lifestyle (and yes, I do eat fast food and am not ashamed), a consistent fast food diet has been proven to be detrimental. In contrast, if we want to have a healthy body, then we need to watch what we ingest on a regular basis. If our normal diet consists of primarily fresh foods with a variety of meats, fruits, and veggies, this will result in a healthier body and a healthier you.

As noted above, the same principle applies to our spiritual lives: If we truly want to become like Christ, than we need to be intentional about what we “eat” or allow in to our minds/souls.  This means getting to know what a healthy spiritual diet looks like so you can make the most of the “food” that is available to you. Rick does a great job of breaking down the components of a healthy spiritual diet, which consists what I will refer to at the 3Ts: large amounts of TRUTH, moderate amounts of challenges aka TROUBLE, and as little TEMPTATION as possible. Let’s explore this spiritual diet plan a little bit further:

  • TRUTH: This is our spiritual protein, and should be one of the main components of our spiritual diet.  Not only does it satisfy our hunger, but it helps us grow healthy and develop strong spiritual muscle. And fortunately, we have a wonderful, endless supply of it right at our fingertips with the Bible, now forever in my mind as spiritual steak. Since we regard the Bible as the Word of God (or steak of God :)), it is not just a an airy feeling or empty belief, but a thick, heavy absolute that we can use as a foundation to build and grow upon. Our Bibles are filled with these proteinous (pretty sure I just created that word) truths that we can name and claim for every situation we encounter. So, as Rick describes (p.190-191), we need to be intentional about taking in and digesting as much truth as possible through memorization, meditation, and application (I feel like we’ve heard this before 🙂 ).
  • TROUBLE: In addition to spiritual protein, we also need a variety of spiritual fruits and veggies, which in this case involves the challenges or troubles we face in life. While not typically the favorite of the food choices (especially the veggies) for our physical diets due to their many textures, tastes, and seasons, fruits and veggies are actually good for us and contain helpful nutrients that supplement the proteins noted above. While a person may still survive without ever eating them (I know a lot of kids and adults that try), their physical health will surely suffer without these nutrients and the benefits associated with these plant-based foods. And as we have seen before, the same principle applies to our spiritual health: although not typically the favorite and occurring on a continuum of duration, severity, and seasons, we need the important lessons and byproducts of trouble to truly grow. If nothing else, trials can produce a sense of appreciation and value (for what we do have and when we overcome) that would not be available without some sort of risk/challenge. Because trouble tests us, it allows our true nature to be revealed, refined, and redeemed. So, how do we properly digest our troubles (all I can think of is with cheese on top, just the way I like my broccoli LOL 🙂 )? Rick tells us that we can embrace our trouble and do the following: remember God’s overall plan is good, rejoice and give thanks (yes, even in the midst of the trial) as much as possible, and refuse to give up/persevere (p.197-199).
  • TEMPTATION: These are the spiritual sweets and I am not talking fruits.  I am talking the high sugar, high fat, high yummy “treats” that taste absolutely amazing in the moment but have no nutritional value whatsoever! Often they look the best (hmmm… beautifully decorated cupcake or a brown banana??), smell the best, and sometimes even taste the best, but in reality do not promote our health at all.  And what does that mean in light of both our physical and spiritual diets? It means that if we really want to maximize our health, we need to stay as far away from them as possible (unlike sweets in the real world, where it is ok to have a piece of cake every now and then, temptations are pretty much never ok). So why is it still included in our discussion of spiritual foods? Because much like the luscious culinary treats that exist all around us (cakes, cookies, doughnuts, lattes, YUM), we are also surrounded with spiritual temptations that look like treats: a “romantic” extra-marital affair, just “one” celebratory drink ten times over to help us relax, a little multiple hour long “downtime” with our favorite TV show, and the list goes on. We can try to pretend that they do not exist by not talking about them, but the reality is that if we really want to be healthy, we need to confront and conquer their existence. The beauty of this category is that while these temptations are ever present in our lives, it is actually in the saying no and choosing something else (like a healthy helping of truth; chicken anyone??) that we find victory and empowerment.  It is this choice, and what we choose to do with these “foods” that will either complement or detract from our health. As I am learning in my own physical health walk, I can be eating a healthy diet of proteins and fruits and veggies, but if I am also ingesting a large amount of sugars, I will never be optimally fit and healthy. Same with our spiritual lives, if you really want to be at your best in becoming like Christ, you will look to limit and even remove as much temptation as possible from your life. How can we do this? As Rick shares (p.204-208), we can refuse to give up or be intimidated (just because you indulged yourself with a doughnut yesterday does not mean you have to again today), recognize where your weaknesses are (mine are sweet tea and chocolate; and speaking truth not in love and trying to control instead of trust), and request God’s help (grab an extra helping of truth to satisfy any hunger/craving). I would add to this to enlist others to “eat” with you to provide encouragement, accountability and support!

Recognizing the power of these 3 T’s combined is like understanding the power of actually eating a variety of proteins, fruits and veggies, while limiting sugars as much as possible: you will experience the amazing results of a healthy, fortified physical body that can withstand sickness, physical labor, and feels energized and ready to go. When we harness their power and purposefully ingest large amounts of TRUTH, understand and embrace moderate amounts of TROUBLE, and limit our intake of TEMPTATION, we will see similar results: a healthy, fortified spirit that can withstand difficulties, maintain motivation and focus, and has an energy and effectiveness in all that we do. I don’t know about you, but I get excited just writing/thinking about it. Somebody sign me up!!! 🙂

How does this apply to me?

Wow. I will repeat and capitalize for emphasis: WOW. This section’s reading could not be more applicable to me and the season I have been in for a while now.  Not only have I been on a physical health kick and getting back to both working out and trying to eat right (which means bye bye fast, cheap, and easy 😦 ) but I have also been on a renewed spiritual health journey (ditto).

At the end of last year (which I have shared about in previous posts), I noticed that I was definitely spiritually showing what I was eating: on the regular, I was either running on EMPTY or on the verge of CRASHING!  Instead of feasting on the truth and gleaning what I could from the troubles I was experiencing, I was alternating between starving myself (too busy, too tired, too behind to try again) or giving into my temptations (things like too much TV or too much sleep or anything else to keep me distracted) for that temporary high only to experience the crash that follows. I was caught in an unhealthy cycle, a spiritual eating disorder if you will, and it became obvious that something desperately needed to change.

Fortunately, as Rick describes, GOD WILL ALWAYS PROVIDE A WAY OUT of unhealthy patterns, thoughts, and behaviors. No matter what you or I am facing, there will always be a way to rise above, to flee from temptation, and to overcome in victory. This way out always starts in our minds (we have to think it to act on it), especially when it comes to our spiritual health. The thoughts in my head at that time were all negative “I’m tired and just need a break (sometimes this is legit, but mine was over and over and over again)” “I’ll try again tomorrow (knowing that I wouldn’t; I was just procrastinating)” or “I’ll never be able to get where I want to be, so why even try (total lie here).” I am pretty sure that if you take a look at your own thought life, you could point out a few negatives that are not helping your spiritual health (maybe physical too) as well. If I chose to continue to listen to these thoughts, I would be in the same place I was then, but thankfully, I looked for a way out and God was right there waiting (same goes for you 🙂 ).

For me, this meant getting my head (my mind) back in the game. I had to take a real, honest look and evaluate my current spiritual diet, which was severely lacking in the major food groups noted above. It also meant I had to do some intentional “meal planning” for the new year, and set myself up for success by setting goals, boundaries, and enlisting the prayer and support of trusted others.

Specifically, I started by making my times with God and in His Word a non-negotiable priority that was to occur first thing in the morning. This does not always mean that I get to read an entire chapter of scripture or pray for hours (although that sounds lovely), but I want to and do my best to start my day with the Lord. I have also made it a point to surround myself (my desk, bedroom, kitchen, bathrooms) with scriptures as my helping of truths that I can snack on throughout the day. These provide the positive thoughts to replace the negatives I shared above: “In my weakness, He is strong,””Make the most of every moment/do not put off for tomorrow what could be done today,” and “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13).”  I have also sought to eat my veggies/embrace my current troubles (my husband’s crazy work schedule, sleep deprivation with my littles, illnesses that tend to strike at the worst times, my mayhem in general) and surrender them to the Lord in prayer with thanksgiving (at least he has a job, my kids are healthy and alive at night, all of the illnesses thus far have been temporary and not life threatening, and there are miracles among the mayhem). Finally, I got serious about setting boundaries to protect and limit those temptations (no TV after 10pm unless special occasions, alarm on my phone to wake me up for quiet time in the morning, people in my life that would confront, challenge, and pray for me). It has not always been easy, and there have definitely been some hiccups along the way, but it has been completely worth it to see my spiritual health improve!!

Our Challenge:

There is so much about these readings that stands out to me, but one of the biggest takeaways is that much like becoming physically fit, becoming like Christ does not happen by accident nor is it automatic. As Rick explains, “It takes an intentional commitment. You must want to grow, decide to grow, make an effort to grow, and persist in growing” (p.179). This would be the essence of our challenge this week, consisting of the following steps:

  1. Take a look at your current spiritual diet. How would you describe it? How does it describe you? Maybe you are right on track, with healthy portions of proteins, veggies, and no sugars and are enjoying the benefits. Maybe, like me at the end of last year, you notice that you are spiritually starving and looking to those empty carbs to fill you up, when in reality you are crashing and lacking energy. Wherever you are, this becomes your starting point for the challenge.
  2. Take a look at your thoughts associated with your spiritual diet. Is your head in the game? Why or why not? If you are experiencing spiritual health, take note of the truths that have been most relevant in providing motivation, affirmation, and freedom and keep them to encourage yourself during difficult times and/or share with others that are struggling. If you are stuck in a mundane or unhealthy place, write out those negatives that are keeping you down (like I did above) and seek out some meaty truths to confront and conquer them.
  3. Take a look at the 3 T spiritual food groups described above. Is there anything missing or over-represented in your diet? Choose at least one thing you need to increase or decrease in your spiritual life right now to move towards greater spiritual health (more steak anyone) and share that with someone. Commit to including or excluding this thing for the next month, and then re-evaluate using these questions again.

Embarking on a new diet, whether physical or spiritual, can be intimidating at times, but I also find it can be exciting and refreshing when you are primed and ready for a change. I know it was for me, and I am praying it will be for you too! Because remember, when it comes to becoming more like Christ and really growing in this third purpose for our lives.. we are what we eat (is anyone else hungry??)! ♥