Posted in Marriage Monday, Repost

Wishfulness or Certain Hope?

This is an article I wrote for Family Magazine last year. To try a free sample of Family, click here.

Once upon a time, little girls had hope chests.

Some were fancy, while others were just plain wooden boxes. No matter what the construction, each chest held items made and collected in anticipation of that “someday” when the keepsakes would be used to turn a house into a home – a home the grown up little girl made with her brand new husband.

Although occasionally we may run across a young woman with a hope chest in today’s culture, these keepsake boxes seem to have become a thing of the past. Nowadays, the collection of items for a new home waits until the engagement has been announced and the wedding date set. Wish lists are created through gift registries, and new houses are turned into homes by friends and families who shower the happy couple with gifts.

Have We Lost Something?

On the surface, the change in tradition is just a cultural shift. But, a deeper look reveals a more critical change – a shift in our symbols.

The hope chest was aptly named, because it was a tangible symbol of hope. A girl and her family took action on the hope that one day she would marry and have a home of her own. It was faith in the unseen.

Wedding showers and engagement celebrations, on the other hand, represent a faith in what is seen. A relationship is present, and, unless something unforeseen happens, a marriage will ensue.

Were it just about the hope of a husband and family of her own, this shift in symbols might not be all that big of a deal. The tragedy lies in the fact that this shift reverberates into marriage itself. Our hope lies in the tangible of circumstances and actions rather than in the intangible nature of God himself.

We have replaced certain hope with wishfulness.

Because life itself is so continually uncertain, how we face that uncertainty represents what we believe about biblical hope, whether it be as young girls looking forward to the “someday” of marriage or as women clinging to the “someday” of answered prayer within marriage.

What we should believe is visible in Hebrews 11:1.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.

Or perhaps we can flip over to 1 John 3:2-3.

Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.

Oswald Chambers has this to say about the certainty of our hope in Christ:

Certainty is the mark of the common-sense life; gracious uncertainty is the mark of the spiritual life. To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation.

Hope Is Not Common Sense

Precious friends, there is absolutely no certainty in any aspect of our common-sense life, including marriage. A marriage that is trucking along nicely right now may be blindsided by a financial crisis, illness, depression, temptation, or spiritual laziness. It could even be that what you believed to be true and certain was actually a lie.

The opposite could also be true. A marriage that seems to be in the full throes of failure and without hope could actually be right on the verge of complete restoration. What appears to be a long, dark tunnel with no end in sight might in reality just be a short stretch, with visible light and healing blocked only by that sudden turn you cannot see ahead of you because of the darkness.

Common sense tells you to trust in what you can see. Common sense keeps you trapped in fear that what is good might sour and what is bad may never change.

But hope is not common sense. Instead, hope is certainty in something much more solid that what you can see. Hope is certainty in Christ himself, the Almighty God who not only sees the unseen, but controls it.

When I think of those old-fashioned hope chests, I picture a young lady caressing each treasured item in breathless expectation of the unknown. For years, she has collected piece after piece. Some have been passed down from generation to generation. Some have been fashioned by the hands of her mother or grandmother. Still others she has lovingly prepared herself. She is uncertain of the future, yet each item represents her certainty in a promise. True, the occasional fear will tickle the back of her mind. What if these treasures never find a home? What if the hoped for future never materializes? Yet, the items themselves remind her to not lose hope in the future laid out for her.

How much more powerful is our hope in Christ? That is all the certainty we need.

This article was originally published in Family Magazine, 2016 Issue 2, then on WellPlannedGal.com.
Posted in Friday Faith Nuggets

An Unexpected Word

Are you ever surprised by a word in Scripture? You’re reading along in a familiar passage, and suddenly you realize it doesn’t say what you thought it said. This happens to me a lot. Usually, it is because I’m reading the familiar passage in a less familiar translation, and the shift in wording makes me pause and rethink the passage.* Recently, though, something stood out to me that I only thought was different in that day’s translation.

The verse was Luke 12:12:

Whenever they bring you before synagogues and rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how you should defend yourselves or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what must be said. (Luke 12:11-12, HCSB, emphasis mine – read all of chapter 12 for better context.)

The word that jumped out at me was “teach.” For some reason, I had always perceived that word as “give.” I grabbed my NASB to see what it said, since that’s the translation I read most frequently. It also said “teach.” Next, I went back to translations I would have read as a child: KJV and NIV. Guess what? They both said “teach” as well. So did ESV.

For some reason, my brain had always processed a word that wasn’t there at all in any translation I’d read. So where did it come from?

I started skimming through the rest of the Gospels, and I finally found it in Mark:

When they arrest you and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say, but say whatever is given you in that hour; for it is not you who speak, but it is the Holy Spirit. (Mark 13:11, NASB, emphasis mine)

Both “teach” and “give” are correct. Both are biblical. But, I’d completely missed “teach” because my brain automatically inserted “give” into both verses.

So, what’s my point? Well, I’ve mentioned it before, but this incident just reinforced the truth: I can never exhaust a passage. No matter how familiar, there is always something I have missed or was not yet ready to learn. The Word of God is so rich and full that I can never ever exhaust its depth. Never. That’s the general application here.

But, there is a specific one as well. It’s easy to look at these particular verses and think, “Oh, I don’t have to worry about that. The Spirit will dump it into my brain when I need it.” But that’s not what is being said in either verse, whether we are talking about the Holy Spirit teaching us or giving us the right words.

The key here is that we do not worry in advance about a specific incident because we are to be constantly sitting at the feet of the Holy Spirit. Day in and day out, in every experience, with every prayer, and through every reading of God’s Word, we are to be both learning and receiving from the Holy Spirit. This is an on-going reality. We don’t worry about the moment in which we have to make a defense because it is to be no different from any other moment. In all situations, we are to receive the teaching and gift of the Word of God through the Holy Spirit.

An unexpected word drove home that truth.

I love being startled by God’s Word. Jolted into an understanding by something I’d never paid attention to or noticed before. When is the last time that happened to you? I pray that your understanding of God and His Word may be deepened today because of an unexpected word.

*It’s a good idea for your primary study translation to be one that is considered a literal translation, such as NASB or ESV. But, reading in multiple translations is very beneficial to study as well, as little variances between translations can help reinforce the scope of what the original language was communicating.

Posted in What I'm Learning

One Sentence at a Time

Sometimes a great idea for organization or structure or time management flows through my mind. I try it. It works. I begin to implement it and see the difference. I share it here. Then something happens to derail that wonderful thing.

April was a month of derailment. Looking back, I accomplished one single thing: I finished my large, annual writing project. But, in the process, just about everything else fell apart. And I mean everything. Almost no grading was accomplished in the month of April. Writing, other than that one project, was nonexistent. Discipline went out the window, as did motivation and inspiration. I pulled off a column, two blog posts, and a book review in April, but little else. May was even worse.

My husband looked at me recently and said, “You’re struggling because you’re not writing.” He’s right. Every area of my life is a challenge. But, every time I sit down to write, the blank screen or blank notebook page mocks me. Even writing for work has been a challenge. How in the world can I get past this? How can I improve when the one thing that will help me just won’t come?

By writing just one sentence at a time.

I intended to give a blog post a go on Monday, but fear of the blank screen caused me to avoid it. I had no accountability. So, that night, I told my husband I would write a blog post the next day. At some point, I’d just sit down and do it. I’d make myself write one sentence. Then another. Then another. Accountability. One stage of discipline and one small measure of motivation.

Maybe the sentences, when compiled, would make sense. Maybe they wouldn’t. But at least I would be trying.

One sentence at a time.

You see, I’m a finisher. I like to see a project through to its completion. But I also struggle when the project is huge and finishing seems so far away. Small, manageable tasks that I can check off are helpful, but often I have trouble breaking the big picture down into small manageable bites. So, I get easily overwhelmed by the big picture.

And lately, even a single article has felt like too great of a project.

So, as I sit down now to write, I choose to break it down. One thought. One sentence. Word by word. I can do that.

And just like that, I have over 400 words. Not the greatest blog post in the world. Not worthy of publication anywhere other than my own blog – if even there. But it’s a start.

And right now, that’s what I need. A start. Choosing to actively work to put discipline, motivation, and inspiration back into place.

One sentence at a time.

Posted in Reviews

Too Deep for Words

Sometimes I slip up and agree to review book two in a series. With A Note Yet Unsung, I managed to pick a book that stood on its own, despite references to the previous book in the series. This time, though, was a different story.

The book is Too Deep for Words by Andrea Boeshaar, and it is the second installment in the Shenandoah Valley Saga. As I began to read, I picked up hints very quickly that the back story being referenced was not just flashbacks or gap filling. It was references to a fleshed out story – one entitled A Thousand Shall Fall. Allow me to start my review of Too Deep for Words by encouraging you to go ahead and read A Thousand Shall Fall. No, I have not read it yet. But, if book two is any indication of the flow of the series, I can assure you that book one will be good, too!

Set in the Civil War, the Shenandoah Valley Saga series delves into both sides of the conflict. Readers get to know Union and Confederate characters, with a mixture of good and bad character on both sides of the line. In fact, the balance is one thing that drew me into this story. Andrea Boeshaar beautifully handles delving into the strong convictions held by good, godly men from both the North and the South. In Too Deep for Words, newly married Carrie Ann Collier is devastated to learn that her husband, US Colonel Peyton Collier, is missing and presumed dead. But Carrie refuses to believe the latter, and she will not rest until either he returns safely or she receives conclusive evidence of his death. Whether strong or wavering, this hope stands as the driving force behind her interactions, her choices, and her actions throughout the novel.

Too Deep for Words is well researched, intertwining historic characters and events with the fictional Colliers, Carrie’s sister Margaret, and their companions. Interspersed throughout the novel are news clips and journal entries tying war events into the flow of the story. And, the story truly flows. Little surprise events throughout the story keep it from falling into predictable patterns, and there are enough little loose threads to draw readers back for an upcoming book three in the series.

One thing I noticed in reading Too Deep for Words, though, was my lack of connection with the characters. I am typically drawn to a book by the characters more than the plot, and if I don’t connect with the characters, I don’t usually enjoy the book. This time, though, the plot held its own quite strongly. I do wonder if that will change after I read the first book, because frequently book two in a series rests on the solid character development of its prequel. The fact that I enjoyed Too Deep for Words enough to go back and read A Thousand Shall Fall to hopefully build that connection with the characters definitely speaks volumes for Andrea Boeshaar’s storytelling ability.

Bottom line: I would recommend the Shenandoah Valley Saga series. Just don’t make the mistake I did and start in the middle!

This book was sent to me by Kregel in exchange for my honest review.

Posted in Reviews

Welcome to College

My best friend’s oldest daughter starts college this fall. My own daughter is just two years away from this new journey. She has taken her first stab at the ACT, and we’re getting ready to find out how to proceed with other tests and scholarship applications. College is definitely on my mind.

College can be overwhelming to a young person’s personal management, interpersonal relationships, and spiritual growth. Years of working with and speaking to college students have proven this truth to author and speaker Jonathan Morrow. The updated edition of Welcome to College is his effort to place a resource in the hands of college students to help them process through these overwhelming challenges in a way that keeps them grounded in their faith.

The advice and theological content found in Welcome to College are both very solid and sound. So many young adults drift away from their Christian upbringing during the college years, many of them never to return. This drift is often because they process through high school without hashing through these concepts, then get to college and find that they have no solid foundation of understanding to stand on. Welcome to College helps students process through these concepts, establishing a firm footing.

My question is this: would you have read this book as a college freshman? Or even during the summer before starting college? The chapters in Welcome to College are short, but with forty-three chapters, four appendices, and a total (including notes) of 410 pages, this is not exactly a quick, light read. The strong, weighty content makes this a book that should not be read quickly, either. It is too much to absorb in a quick, summer read, and it is unlikely that the information would truly be grasped were a student to try to read it in the midst of all of the new experiences of the freshmen year – if they even got it read at all.

In short, despite the solid content found in these pages, I would not give Welcome to College to my best friend’s high school senior as a graduation gift. Despite the fact that she is a studious, responsible, diligent young lady who would gladly embrace the advice and information in this book, she does not have the time to pour through it.

But that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t recommend the book. If Welcome to College were to be handed to an incoming freshman, I would encourage it to be done as a part of a mentoring group planning to work through it slowly. The chapters are short enough to read one a week and be prepared to talk through it in a group, even with a full school load. But an even more ideal situation would be to suggest that Welcome to College be backed up a couple of years. I know it is written to college students, but I see this filling a need for students pushing through their last couple of years of high school. Students like my own daughter who is finishing up her sophomore year. Thanks to the discussion questions in the back, this book would be a great year-long mentoring or small group study for high school students, helping them process through the content and allowing them to ask questions of people they know and trust before they hit the chaos of college.

Yes, Welcome to College holds a great deal of solid information and is one I would recommend. But, even better would be to not let our students get to college without having these concepts worked out before hand!

Posted in Marriage Monday

He Doesn’t Need Me

So, I meant to publish this two weeks ago. Then last week. Both weeks, I realized on Wed that I hadn’t published it! So here it finally is…

I have to chuckle sometimes at the comments I get from church members, and have gotten in every church we have ever served.

“You make sure to make him behave!”
“It’s a good thing he’s got you to keep him in line.”
“Keep him out of trouble, now.”

It’s all in good fun, and I always make sure to respond in fun as well. But, usually not quite in the expected way.

“Behave? Well, that’s no fun!”
“Oh, he keeps me in line!”
“I’d just get him in more trouble!”

There is a reality to our marriage that I am reminded of with each of these conversations: my husband does not need me.

It’s true! My husband is one of the most capable, reliable, sufficient people I know. He can handle himself everywhere he goes. If he doesn’t know how to do something, he knows how to get help. He does not actually need me.

Now, the reality is that Doug and I rely on each other. I am more comfortable in certain roles than he is, and vice versa. Also, the demands of our jobs, ministry, and life in general mean that certain tasks naturally fall into my hands or his. Were he to have to do the things that I usually do, he would struggle to keep it all balanced. But that is more because, between the two of us, we do more than can fit into the scope of a 24-hour day. So, we do heavily rely on one another. And that’s the way it should be. But true need is a different concept entirely.

The Real Need

We have all probably met someone who desperately needs to be needed. They often create situations of codependency because of this need. If we’re honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have at least a small bit of that tendency within us; we all desire to be needed by others. But, that is not how God created us. Yes, He designed us for community, but as individuals, He intended that we have only one need: Himself!

That’s right, our real need is Christ and Christ alone. He fills us. He supplies us. He is all-sufficient.

So, where do relationships fit in? God chooses to use us to meet the needs of one another within the community. But the provision still comes from His own hands. He grants us different gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses so we will choose to divide and conquer, work together, and be a beautiful example of love for this world. Not because we need one another, but because we rely on one another as we express our need for Him alone and let Him fulfill our needs in any way He chooses – through community or through some other form of intervention.

That is not less true in the marriage relationship. We need Christ. Period. As we rely on Him, He then uses each of us to meet the needs of the other. But He is our only real need.

It is actually quite freeing to know that Doug does not need me. That his real need is for the Lord Jesus Christ, and that I just get to be the Lord’s vessel. It is not always easy to step aside and let that truth reign in our marriage, because I do share that desire to be needed. But, when I do step aside, our marriage is so much more powerfully fulfilled.

May you, too, know the freedom of not being needed!

Posted in Family, Wednesday Work, What Works for Me

Table Talk

If you pick up any parenting guide, read any family focused tips, or seek advice on strengthening or restoring family cohesiveness, you will see “share meals regularly” as a common top recommendation. I’m going to admit something that I’m just now coming to realize: I rebel against that advice. Not because I don’t make a habit of sharing meals with my family. I do. Although there are always exceptions, our goal is to sit down as a family for at least one meal every day. Because that is our goal, we are quick to find alternatives when the goal is thwarted. It’s that important to us.

So, why do I balk at the advice to eat as a family daily or a certain number of times each week? Let me answer that question with a brief trip down memory lane.

An Aspirin a Day

Decades ago, my grandparents were told by their doctor to take a “baby” aspirin every day to ward off heart disease. Now, my grandparents were both very healthy right on up into their nineties. Although there were illnesses involved in their deaths, the honest truth is that they died of old age. Their bodies had degenerated too much to fight off normal diseases.

I remember multiple times when my grandmother told me that she was so healthy because of that daily aspirin. So-and-so was having heart or other health issues, and if they would just take an aspirin every day, that would solve their problems!

Truthfully, though, my grandma was just healthy. Or maybe it was just that she was too stubborn to get sick! Either way, the aspirin was just a tip. A suggestion for dealing with a potential underlying issue. It was not a cure-all, but advice based on contemporary medical wisdom.

And that, my friends, is exactly what the family meal suggestion is. It is one method of combating relational distance. Just one method.

Our Talk Time: Table Talk

My family loves sharing a meal together because that is the easiest time to just sit around and gab for a few minutes. Some days we talk, and some days we don’t. Sometimes we have serious conversations and other times a fly on the wall would run away in terror because of our insanity. Sometimes we just so happen to eat multiple meals together in one day, and other times we can barely coordinate sitting down together three times in a week! We might have interesting discussions every day one. week and none for the next two weeks.

The key is that meal time is the most opportune time for us to converse in a spontaneous manner, without pressure or topic orchestration. And, honestly, that’s probably true for the majority of families. Sharing meals as a family has a reputation for being one of the greatest single components of a healthy family, and consequently tends to be the greatest single recommendations for restoring or building family health: because it’s an opportunity to talk.

It’s not about the meal. It’s about the natural interaction and the relationship. It’s about the talking. It’s about the relaxed interaction and communication.

What’s Your Talk Time?

For your family, it might not be table talk. It might be car talk if you are all in the vehicle together at least one to three times a week. Perhaps you have weekly game night or enjoy regularly watching sports together, so it’s game talk. The key is not the meal. The key is finding a time when everyone in the family is together and relatively relaxed so the relational conversation – whether serious, funny, or outright weird – just naturally flows.

Yes, mealtime is what works for our family. And I love that time together! My prayer is that you find the “talk” time that works for you. You won’t regret it!