MOTHERHOOD – VISION = MISERY

I was never really the type to get depressed.

Until I became a mom.

Since then, sadness and an overall sense of “blah-ness” is something I fight on a fairly regular basis. Not every day. Not every week. But often enough to be annoying . . .often enough to affect my life . . . often enough to make me ask the question, “What in the heck is wrong with me?” more than I ever thought I would.

My husband recently had blood drawn to test for anything that might be causing some fatigue and sluggishness. After I expressed to him that I feel the same way most of the time, he suggested I have some tests run too. My response:

Oh, I don’t need tests. I know what’s wrong with me. I have a really severe case of – “Overwhelmed and exhausted mom–itis.”

It’s actually a very common condition affecting 99% of moms. Symptoms include strong urges to sleep any time/anywhere, routine fantasies about running away to remote tropical islands, a strange affinity for anything chocolate, an intense desire to lock oneself in the bathroom, and regular attempts to cope with life by walking around Target with Starbucks in hand.

One of the first posts I ever wrote was on the “misery factor” which I defined as the gap between our expectations and our reality. Never is that gap so wide than in the area of parenting. You bring that first baby home from the hospital looking all cute and cuddly, thinking about how “complete” you are now and how fulfilling the days ahead are going to be.  Then you have your first night of sleeping in 2-3 hour stretches. Followed by another night of that. And another. And another. Until you start to feel like a zombie who might need to be committed to a mental hospital if the sleep situation doesn’t improve . . .like. . . NOW.  Then, that sweet bundle of joy sleeps for a whole 6 hours straight.

Hallelujah!!!!!!!!!!

You text it, Facebook it, Tweet it, and tell everyone you see. You feel like a new woman! But, alas, it’s just a joke. A cruel, cruel joke. It doesn’t happen again for weeks. All the while, those island fantasies of yours get more and more vivid by the hour . . .

I never thought that motherhood would be easy, but I had no idea how challenging it could be. How mundane. How exhausting. How humbling. How monotonous. How frustrating.

It’s not always like that, of course. Please don’t think that I don’t like being a mom. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! My son has enriched my life more than words can even express. We have a lot of fun around here! My heart is wide open to God blessing us with another child.

But I’d be lying if I said that I always like it. Most days I have to fight for joy in my role as a mom. I know that motherhood is vital ministry, but if I’m not careful it can lead to misery. I can get depressed. I can start to long for a “bigger” life. I can get sick and tired of making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and crawling around on the floor pushing matchbox cars.

When that happens, there’s one thing I know for sure: I’ve somehow lost my biblical vision for motherhood. Because here’s the thing:

MOTHERHOOD – VISION = MISERY

It’s a proven fact. It’s a sure as 1+1=2. If we don’t choose to see beyond bottles, diapers, car pools, homework, time outs, laundry, and all the other stuff that makes up our mommy lives, we’re in trouble. We’re headed straight for “blah-ville.” Before we know it we’ll be sitting on the floor in our bathrooms, stuffing our faces with chocolate, and trying to figure out why in the world we’re crying so hard when we have so much to be thankful for. In those moments we have to choose to see the bigger picture. We have to trade our “in the trenches” perspective for God’s “I’m working all this for your good and My glory” perspective.

Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained.” That is so true in my life. More specifically, where there is no vision, my emotions are unrestrained. When it comes my role as a mom, the only way to move from self-centered misery to Christ-centered ministry is to renew my mind with the truth of God’s Word. I have to regularly “marinate” in what God says about parenting and motherhood. I have to ask for new eyes to see the majesty in my mundane, the big in my small, the order in my chaos. Here are the core truths that make up my vision from motherhood:

  • My child is a blessing, not a burden.

I am fully convinced that one of the most subtle ways that worldliness creeps into our lives is in our perspective on children. Though some really great things came out of the feminist movement (I’m glad I can vote, for instance), it has propagated a lot more lies than it has truths. One of those lies is that children are a burden. They are living, breathing speed bumps that keep us from using our talents and honing our passions to the best of our abilities. They are seen as life-choice menu items that one selects whenever it’s convenient and financially feasible to do so.  Motherhood is something you squeeze into your life if or when there’s a little extra space. Don’t believe me? Just walk through a store wrangling more than one kid and take note of all the “pity stares” you get.

God’s has a very different perspective on children. Psalm 127:3-5 says, “Behold, children are a gift of the LORD, the fruit of the womb is a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior, so are the children of one’s youth. How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.” Scripture does not sugar-coat parenting nor does it glamorize family life. But from cover to cover it practically shouts at us that children are to be treasured and seen as precious blessings, not burdens.

When it takes me 2 hours to run 1 hour worth of errands; when I have to say “no” to the fun ladies lunch date because I can’t find or afford a babysitter; when I have to go for a walk around the block in 98 degree weather when I’d rather be blogging; when I have to leave my favorite store in the mall to deal with a tantrum; when I am awakened from a much-needed nap by a toddler who doesn’t feel like sleeping anymore; when I have to exchange my beautiful coffee table centerpiece for a train track; when I look in the mirror realize that my stomach (among other things) will never, ever look the same; when I have to say “no” to the speaking engagement or teaching opportunity . . . when motherhood feels so incredibly burdensome; I have to remind myself again and again that my son is a gift. He is a reward. He is a blessing from a good God who delights to give good things to His children. I don’t have to wait until my kids are grown and the “mommy fog” has lifted to believe and act on that truth! I choose to do it now!

  • Motherhood is missional.

I can hear you asking, “What in the heck to you mean by ‘missional’?” The word is defined as “relating or connected to a religious mission.” The “religious mission” we undertake as moms is HUGE! It’s the shaping of our children’s souls; the preparing of their hearts for the seeds of the gospel; the cultivation of their appetites for what is good and right; the imprinting of their consciences with the truth of God’s Word; the exposing of their need for a Savior; the formation of their identity and sense of purpose; the protecting of their impressionable little minds from the filth of this world; the fostering of an all-consuming desire for the world-wide proclamation of the gospel . . . and that’s just the short list!

When I yearn to be on a platform teaching the Bible . . .when I look longingly at the list of short-term mission trips my church is offering . . .when I wish I had the time to do more with this blog . . .when I get envious of other female Bible teachers who are really “doing ministry” . . . when I start to wonder when it will be my turn to make a “big” impact for the kingdom . . . I have to remind myself that motherhood is not a hindrance to ministry – it is ministry. It is not a hindrance to doing missions – it is missions. It is not keeping me from kingdom building – it is kingdom building.

The body of Christ has hundreds and hundreds of Bible teachers, but my son has one mommy. I’m the one and only woman who God has appointed with the primary task of shaping his soul and shepherding his heart. Though it doesn’t always feel like a high and holy calling (like, when I’m covered in throw-up for instance), it is a high and holy calling.

  • My son is making me more like Jesus.

Every single believer has been predestined by God to “become conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29)  In other words, at any given moment – whether you feel it or not – God is as work to make you more and more like Jesus. This lifelong process is called sanctification. And nothing, I mean nothing works us over quite like motherhood. It is a journey to selflessness and sacrifice like no other. We can go kicking and screaming, or we can go in willing submission, but go we must. The second that stick turns pink, it ceases to be an option.

As we engage in the journey we can be certain of one thing – God is using every diaper, every tantrum, every spilled glass of milk, every disastrous trip to the mall, every act of rebellion, every sink full of dishes, every crayon-marked wall, every sleepless night, every mountain of laundry, and every “can I please just ship them off to grandma’s” moment to empty us of us so that we can be filled with Him.

This “daily grind” of mine is not just about Shepherd. And it’s not about me. It’s about making God known and bringing Him glory. Motherhood increases my capacity to do that. And no matter how bad a “mommy day” I am having, that precious fact is a wellspring of joy.

The next time you get depressed, start running for the chocolate stash, escape to the bathroom for a good cry, or fanaticize about being anywhere but your house with anyone but your kids – check your vision. Chances are, it’s way too small.

It shouldn’t be that way.

Because what you do as a mom is really, really big.

“Who can measure motherhood? Who can measure the long-term effects of nurturing helpless infants, supervising wandering toddlers, discipling self-willed children, and counseling self-absorbed adolescents? Of family outings planned, traditions built, memories made, books read, songs sung, Scripture taught? That’s why motherhood belongs under the heading, ‘Engage the World’; no one shapes generations or fashions cultures more than mothers.”(Jeff Purswell)

Why That “Verse of the Day” Is Not Changing Your Life

“Mommy, mommy, mommy, what’s for dinner?”

“When is dinner going to be ready?”

“I’m huuuuuungry!”

“I’m staaaaarving!”

“I’m going to die!”

Tear open the box . . . crank open the can . . . peel back the wrapper . . . just add water . . . microwave on high for 3-5 minutes . . . fix it and forget it . . . freezer to oven . . .work a 20 minute miracle with “cream of” whatever soup . . . use as few pots as possible . . . better yet, no pots sounds good . . .

Yep, no pots (and no clean up!) sounds really good . . .

Welcome to McDonalds, may I take your order?

Go, go, go. Busy, busy, busy. Rush, rush, rush. Late to school, late to work, late to practice, late to ballet, late to church.

Pretty much late to life in general.

Swim, swim, swim – gasp for breath. Swim, swim, swim – gasp for breath. Swim, swim, swim – gasp for breath.

Am I the only one who feels that way? If only we could breathe under water! Maybe then our blinds would be dusted and our closets would be organized.

Naaaaah!

Whether we like it or not, the pace of life has made us slaves to convenience, and we don’t have to look any further than what we eat to prove it.

There’s no shortage of medical studies, news reports, documentaries, public service announcements, and articles detailing how processed, sugar and sodium-rich “convenience” foods are literally killing us. I’m talking about facts people. Scientifically proven facts.

And yet I still have enough boxes of Kraft macaroni and cheese in my pantry to feed the Duggar family. I could blame a “buy one get one” sale, but the fact is, we love the stuff! In light of my three-year-old’s picky eating, it makes our dinner table a much happier place.

Out of the box/bag/can food is fast, easy, and usually delicious. It’s certainly better than nothing. It’s okay to have once-in-awhile. But it’s not what God intended us to live on. It’s not the “fuel” that makes our bodies function at their highest, most productive capacity.

Quick? Yes. Healthy? No. Worth the time savings? That’s debatable, but probably not.

But this post has nothing to do with food.

It’s not about clean eating. And lest you think I’m one of those “I would rather die than eat something that’s not certified organic and all-natural” food snobs, I happen to love a wide range of processed food and routinely crave just about every kind of fast food known to man. My favorite sandwich on the planet is a Big Mac. Classy, right?  If you see me eating a salad, it has a lot more to do with my desire to fit into my jeans than my passion for clean eating. Just keepin’ it real here.

So what’s the point of all this food talk? I promise it has nothing to do with the fact that I recently watched Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead on Netflix. Promise. Nothing to do with that. 🙂

Okay, time to get serious. Here’s what’s been heavy on my heart lately: Our fast-paced lives have actually led to something far worse than dependence on processed food.  Our crazy, non-stop,  gasping-for-breath lives have led to dependence on processed truth.

Let me give you a few examples of what I’m talking about . . .

  • Most “Bible studies” today are glorified book clubs. There’s a lot of talking, a lot of reading, a lot of practical wisdom sharing, but not a lot of actual Bible studying. It’s way too easy to find “Bible studies” these days that don’t even require the use of your Bible. I think reading through a Christ-centered non-fiction book with a group of believers can be a very enriching thing to do. Just don’t call it a “Bible study.” It’s a book club.
  • Most people who write devotionals don’t intend for them to replace the reading of Scripture. But isn’t that what happens? We read a little blurb in a devotional, say a little prayer, and move on with our day. We may or may not open our Bibles. Usually not. By lunch we don’t even remember what the devotion was about!
  • We treat the Bible like it’s a book of quotes or a spiritual encyclopedia. We choose a topic, find a verse that seems to apply (without any regard for the actual context of the verse), Facebook it, Tweet it, blog about it, and come up with “Six Easy Steps” to living it out. Of course, soon enough we find that there’s nothing “easy” about living it out. So we don’t.
  • We package God’s Holy Word as a glorified self-help book, reducing it to one-liners about self-esteem, being the best “you” that you can be, and seeing all your dreams come true. The result is that modern day preachers and Bible teachers sound more like life coaches than faithful expositors of God’s word. If we can’t hang it on our wall, we usually aren’t that interested. I mean, when was the last time you saw James 4:9 on a coffee mug?
  • We are obsessed with Bible study celebrities. If it weren’t for Kay Arthur, Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer and the resources they provide, we’d be up a creek spiritually, or so we think. We come to our Bibles like a bunch of lost puppies if we don’t have some kind of workbook to guide us. We hardly know how to have small group Bible study without popping in a DVD. Are workbooks and DVD’s bad? Absolutely not! I praise God for resources like that a feel called to provide them! But when they cripple us from being able to study the Bible for ourselves and diminish our belief that God is fully capable of speaking to us without the help of our favorite teachers, there’s a big problem!
  • We filter the Bible through the sieve of cultural relevance and what feels good. We fit God’s Word into the mold of our lives instead of fitting our lives into the mold of God’s Word. We hear what we want to hear and see what we want to see. I’m convinced that’s why we prefer topical studies over in-depth Bible studies. As long as we aren’t going too deep into God’s Word, we can get our divorces, watch our filthy TV shows, hang out at our favorite bars, show off our cleavage, mess around with our boyfriends, waste our money . . .  and never really be confronted about it. Studying the full counsel of God’s Word forces us to see our sin as sin. It calls us to radical repentance. It utterly disrupts our cutesy “God is love. The end.” view of the Christian life. The “you can start living as soon as you take up your cross and die” message of the Bible messes with us. It stings. It crushes parts of us that don’t want to be crushed. So we gobble up the highly processed version of that message, which sadly bears little resemblance to the original. Nor does it have the same power to change our lives.

I have been guilty of every single thing that I just listed, so please know I am not pointing fingers. I am not singling out particular churches or Christian authors/speakers. I am not on some kind of soap box right now. I prefer to think I’m sitting across the table from you at Starbucks, pouring my heart out about my desire to see women wholeheartedly embrace everything that God has for them in the Scriptures, and my desire to teach them how.

I suppose you could say that I want to be the spiritual equivalent of Forks Over Knives and Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead in your life. I want to challenge you to stop getting by on over-processed, imitation, man-made, nutrient-deficient “truth”; and start feasting on the real, satisfying, straight-from-the-mouth-of-God, life-changing truth that is gleaned from intently studying the full counsel of God’s Word.

Psalm 119:11, 14-16 says, “Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against you . . .I have rejoiced in the way of your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts and regard your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; and shall not forget your word.”

Treasure . . . rejoice . . . meditate . . . regard. . . delight . . . remember!

But if you are not regularly doing those things as you interact with God’s Word, don’t expect your life to change a whole lot. Don’t expect to be kept from sin. Don’t expect to feel peace in the chaos. Don’t expect find joy in suffering. Don’t expect to live a life that matters for eternity. If change does occur, don’t expect it to last very long.

There is nothing wrong with subscribing to a “verse of the day.” I rather like seeing them show up on my news feed. There is power in a single verse, for sure. But growth and godliness demand more.

If you want God’s Word to really change your life from the inside out, you can’t just read snippets of it. You can’t just quote it. You can’t just Tweet or Facebook it. You can’t just decorate with it. You have to “marinate” in it – all of it – until every single part of you is flavored by it and saturated with it.

But Aprile, that’s going to take a long time!

I hear ya girl! Yes, it is. A lifetime, in fact. And that, precious sister, is the beauty of it!

 

What I Preach to Myself about Beauty

Physical beauty. Oh how I have longed to forget you, shove you to the side, put you in the “doesn’t matter” category in my brain, and write you off as the impossible standard that you are.

But the truth is, I care about you. I want you. Some days, just a little. Most days, way too much. My desire for you has filled my closet, filled my make-up drawer, and filled the back of my bedroom door (where I have my ever-important full length mirror). Ironically, it has also left me empty and plagued me will a nagging void . . .

. . . because I will never look like the Photo shopped models plastered on every billboard, magazine cover, and TV add;

. . . because my full-time-mommy life doesn’t lend itself to hours and hours at the gym;

. . . because I don’t have the money for all the treatments that comprise our modern day “fountain of youth;”

. . . because I happen to really like carbohydrates;

. . .  and because I know the truth about the girl under the layer of Lancôme cosmetics,  carefully selected wardrobe, and professionally color-treated hair. She’s a lot more insecure than she looks.

I suppose my love-hate relationship with beauty started around the time it starts for most girls – the “tween” years. Though my mom thought I was “as cute as a button,” I assure you, I was not. At least I didn’t see myself that way. I was awkward, had way too much hair on my legs, was a teensy bit chubby, had no idea how to dress my changing body, and wore my hair in a side pony tail with a giant scrunchie 70% of the time.  I still cringe every time I see pictures!

Most women first mourn the appearance of stretch marks an adult because of pregnancy. Try dealing with them as a middle school girl whose skin just wasn’t quite ready for all the changes that season of life brings. Agonizing, to say the least.

I was a late bloomer, for sure. But even “post-bloom” I’ve had my fair share of beauty setbacks. The veins in my legs have officially declared war against me. No, you will not be seeing me in shorts this summer. And yes, laser treatments are in my future, Lord willing. (Lord, PLEASE be willing!)

And then there’s the whole post-pregnancy body change thing. I’ve lost the weight, but nothing is quite the same. For years, I didn’t understand why in the world anyone would elect to undergo major surgery to enhance her figure. In fact, I’ve been down-right judgmental of women, especially Christian women, who’ve made that choice. But here I sit as a mom who exclusively nursed her son for a whole year and I have to say, I finally get it. I’ll never do it, but I get it. And I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it for at least minute or two (or maybe longer, but I’d never admit it on a public blog).

And the trends these days don’t make it easy on a girl. Skinny jeans? Really?! I’ve reluctantly embraced the trend, but I still think it’s a sick joke. For anyone out there who has been brought to tears by jeans shopping – oh girl, I feel your pain! ATTENTION ALL FASHION DESIGNERS: Some women actually have a butt and like to eat once in a while. Please keep that in mind!

Okay, enough rambling about my beauty woes (Lord knows, I could share more!). The point is, not a day goes by that I don’t face the temptation to make too much of my outward appearance. It’s an idol that doesn’t die easy, for sure.  The good news is that there is a way to overcome it. That way is truth – God’s truth. Most of what we hear and see about beauty is built on a whole bunch of lies. So it should come as no surprise that every ounce of victory I’ve experienced in this area of my life has been gained through intense and intentional “marinating” in what God says about it.

One of the most important things I’ve learned to do in life is preach God’s Word to myself. Yes, I have literally stood in the middle of an Ann Taylor fitting room and thrown down some truth with such passion that I thought I might need to extend an invitation to myself (as any good Southern Baptist girl would.) I exaggerate a little, but only a little. So, with that incredibly weird picture etched in your mind, let me share what I often preach to myself about beauty . . .

1)      It’s not going to last.

Proverbs 31:30 tells us straight up that “beauty is fleeting.” Even in our world of state-of the art skin care science and cutting edge beauty treatments, we’re fighting a losing battle when it comes to preserving physical beauty. Surely, no matter how old we get we ought to take care of ourselves and seek to do the best with what we have. But let’s face it – there are no bikini contests in nursing homes. There will come a day when my skin will be wrinkled and saggy beyond repair. Body parts will have moved south for the winter, and no amount of Spanx in the world will be able to put them back where they belong. My hair will be gray, my shoes will be “comfortable,” and all of my pants will probably have elastic waist bands. Concerns about the season’s hottest trends and how to conceal the hormonally induced zits on my face will be replaced with concerns about blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and when I get to see my grandkids again.

That won’t be a problem (truth be told, I’m actually quite looking forward to the elastic waist band thing) . . .  unless I’ve based my worth and value on what I look like. If I currently base my identity and sense of satisfaction on how well I attain to this world’s standard of beauty, I’m in for a whole lot of heartache in the future when I’m physically unable to even barely measure up.

The wonderful thing about aging is that what we lose in the beauty department; we gain in the wisdom department. I want that to excite me! I want to look forward to all the years God has for me. But I can’t do that if I fail to remember and act on the truth that beauty is fleeting. If my outward appearance is my main focus, I might as well be chasing the wind. A wise woman sets her heart toward more permanent treasures.

2)      A beautiful face and figure is a complete waste unless it’s accompanied by a beautiful heart.

Biblically speaking, there is nothing wrong with being beautiful. Though it doesn’t ever belabor the point, Scripture tells us that Sarah (Gen. 12:11-14), Rebekah (Gen. 24:16), Rachel (Gen. 29:17), Abigail (1 Sam. 25:3), Esther (Est. 2:2), and Job’s daughters (Job 42:15) were very attractive. In Esther’s case, God used her physical beauty to ultimately bring about the deliverance of His people. So don’t get the idea that God wants us all walking around with no make-up in our frumpy dumpy house clothes.  The Bible doesn’t condemn beauty, but it does condemn beauty that is not accompanied by godliness. Proverbs 11:22 says is best: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout so is a beautiful woman who lacks discretion.” Who in the world would waste a gold ring on a pig?! Well, in God’s eyes beauty is wasted on women who do not walk in His ways.

In 1 Peter 3:3 and 4, we are told that our “adornment must not be merely external,” but should rather be “the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God.” This same truth is echoed in 1 Timothy 2:10 where we are commanded to “adorn [ourselves] with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments (the kind of things that the wealthy and fashion-forward of Paul’s day paraded around in), but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness.” These verses do not prohibit accessorizing or being fashionable. They prohibit fashion decisions that are motivated by a prideful desire to draw attention to ourselves. We are to be about the business of drawing attention to Christ.

Let’s go ahead and rack up those points on our Sephora Beauty Insider cards and chase down that “free gift with purchase” at the Clinique counter; let’s hit up the sales at our favorite clothing stores; let’s get that pedicure and eyebrow wax; let’s cut down on the carbs and hop on the treadmill. But we must never let those things distract us from what really matters. We exist to magnify God’s beauty, not our own. If our beauty is merely skin deep, we’ve missed the point and we’re wasting our lives.

3)      My longing for physical beauty reflects a deeper longing that Jesus has already satisfied.

Though the definition of beauty changes from culture to culture, women long for it and men are attracted to it no matter where you go. It’s a pretty important part of human sexuality, and I believe God has hard-wired it into us in order to point us to a much bigger, eternal reality.

God desires for His creatures to be beautiful. He wants us to clothe ourselves in fine, clean garments of righteousness (Rev. 19:7-8). He desires for us, His bride, to be “all glorious” for Him (Ps. 45:13).  Unfortunately, sin makes that impossible. We can’t make ourselves clean, or holy, or lovely in His sight. We fall short of His glory and are therefore unworthy of His presence.

But God, in His infinite goodness, has made provision for us to be beautiful in His sight. The message of the gospel is that God has made a way for sinners with wicked, ugly hearts to put on the beauty of Jesus. It’s not something we have to work for, strive to attain, or hope we might one day achieve. It was achieved for us long ago on a cruel Roman cross where Jesus died to wash away our ugliness and clothe us with His beauty. We receive that by placing our faith in the one and only Savior, Jesus Christ. Because of Him, our heavenly Bridegroom can look at us and say, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (Song of Solomon 4:7). Whether you know it or not sweet sister, that is what you’re really longing for. That is the ultimate reality that all this beauty talk is really pointing to. Don’t miss it!

When it comes to physical beauty, we have options. We can worship it, resent it, reject it, manipulate others (particularly men) with it, use it, abuse it, flaunt it, hide it, define ourselves by it, and/or try to ignore it. But if we want to be biblical and God-honoring, we really only have one option: We must let Christ and His glory eclipse it so that the substance of our life is not a pretty face or well-toned figure, but a heart adorned by the true, unfading beauty of the gospel.

“Charm is deceptive and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised” (Prov. 31:30).

“Just Call Me Bitter”: When Adveristy Won’t Relent

“When it rains, it pours.”

Ever heard that? Ever lived that?

I’m talking about those times when one trial is followed by another trial, which is followed by another trial, and so on. Or better yet, those times when multiple trials fall on you at the same time like a ton of bricks, shattering those idealistic, cutesy, just-believe-and-it-will-happen, “the best is yet to come” theories about life into a thousand different pieces. Fact is, life is not a Thomas Kinkaid painting.  And in most cases it looks nothing like the pretty picture we paint of ourselves via status updates, mobile uploads, and Tweets. Those who say that Jesus came to help us “live our best life now” are sadly mistaken. Last time I checked, the promise was that we will live our best life later, when all of our sin-junk is dealt with for good and we get to see our Savior face-to-face (Rom. 8:18-30; 1 Peter 1:6,7; Rev. 21:3, 4). In the meantime, pain is inevitable. Adversity is guaranteed. And sometimes it sticks around for a lot longer than we bargained for.

Enter Naomi.

You may or may not be familiar with her story, which is contained in the Old Testament book of Ruth. (If you have time, stop and read it! The entire book is only 4 short chapters and it’s anything but boring. You will LOVE it!) Naomi was from the small town of Bethlehem in Judah. Her name means “pleasant” or “lovely” and the response of the people of Bethlehem when she returned indicates that it was a fitting description of her (Ruth 1:19). She seems to have been much-loved by those who knew her. I picture her as the fun-loving, outgoing type who was known for her warm smile and glass-half-full perspective on things. She had a strong faith in God who had richly blessed her with a husband and two sons (1:1, 2). No doubt she was a grateful woman, committed to heartfelt worship and adoration of YHWH.

But those were the good ole days. As pleasant as Naomi and her life may have been at one time, she was no stranger to hardship. In fact, I don’t know of any character in the Bible aside from Job who experienced more loss and adversity in a relatively short amount of time than Naomi.

In the five short verses that introduce the book of Ruth, Naomi experiences famine (literal and spiritual) in her home town, moves to a strange pagan land, loses her husband, marries her boys off to Moabite women (which would NOT have been the heart’s desire of any devout Israelite mama), and then – right when we think it can’t get any worse – loses both of her sons as well.

Feeling a little bit better about your life right about now, aren’t ya?

The part of Naomi’s story that gets me every time is when she returns to Bethlehem. Ruth 1:19 says that “all the city was stirred” when she arrived and the women of the city said, “Is this Naomi?” Her response to them is heart wrenching:

“Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why do you call me Naomi, when the Lord has witnessed against me and the Almighty afflicted me?”

Ugh! [Hand to my heart.] Can’t you just feel the deep anguish behind those words?

We aren’t given a lot of information about the pre-Moab Naomi. But one thing we know for sure – she returned to Bethlehem a different woman.

A grieving woman.

A broken woman.

A needy woman.

A woman who knew all-too-well the soul-searing pain of loss. Some are made to drink from a bitter cup. Naomi was handed a gallon-sized jug and was pretty sure that it came with free refills.

I haven’t experienced Naomi-sized adversity first hand, but I have witnessed it enough to know that a good percentage of the precious people who read this blog know exactly what it’s like. Us church folks hear a lot about walking through “seasons” of hardship, which implies that there is a definite starting and ending point to the pain. But what do we do when that’s not the case? What happens when we have come face-to-face with the terrifying possibility that the bitter waters of adversity may keep on flowing through our lives for years to come? What if there’s no end in sight?

Our tendency is to bust out our “go-to” verses and act like everything will be okay in the morning. But we can’t just throw Jeremiah 29:11 at the grief-stricken and move on. Scripture offers us so much more than that. I believe Naomi is a beautiful example of how to deal with long-term trials. Here are some lessons she teaches us:

1)      Don’t be afraid to see God’s hand in your pain.

Yes, all pain is in some way, shape, or form rooted in the fact that we live in a fallen world. What took place in Genesis 3 is, at the most basic level, the reason why “bad things happen to good people.” But nowhere, and I mean NOWHERE in Scripture is it even remotely implied that God sits idle by and watches His people walk through hard stuff all the while thinking, “It’s too bad I can’t do anything about that.”

Like Job, Naomi understood that it is the Lord who gives AND who takes away. (Job 1:21; also see Lam. 3:38) She understood that God is sovereign over everything, and every circumstance – even the ones that cause His children a great deal of pain. I love what John MacArthur says about her “Just call me bitter” speech: “In calling herself ‘Mara,’ she was not suggesting that she had become a bitter person; but (as her words reveal) that Providence had handed her a bitter cup to drink. She saw the hand of God in her sufferings, but far from complaining, I think she was simply acknowledging her faith in the sovereignty of God, even in the midst of a life of bitter grief” (Twelve Extraordinary Women).

Why is this important? Well, Deuteronomy 32:4 says, “[God’s] work is perfect, for all His ways are just; a God of faithfulness and without injustice, righteous and upright is He.” Psalm 25:8, 10 says, “Good and upright is the LORD . . . all the ways of the LORD are loving and faithful.” Lamentations 3:22 says, “The Lord’s lovingkindnesses never cease. For His compassions never fail . . .great is [His] faithfulness.” Ephesians 1:11 says that God works “all things after the counsel of His will.”

In light of the love, wisdom, faithfulness, righteousness and mercy of our God, what would happen if we dared to see all of our circumstances – even the downright horrific ones – as part of His plan? I know, I know. Insert clarification about the difference between God’s perfect and permissive will here.  Sorry, not going to go there right now. I’m a simple girl who likes to cut to the chase. Here’s the bottom line: God’s is sovereign . . .over everything . . .including our pain.

There’s just something about seeing every circumstance as the will of an all-wise, all-powerful, all-knowing, infinitely loving, perfectly just, totally sovereign God that makes it bearable. There’s an indescribable peace that comes from knowing deep down that that a good, big-picture-seeing God is in complete control of my life, including my anguish. Naomi knew that peace.

2)      Move on in faith.

Widowed, destitute, and still grieving the loss of both of her sons, Naomi had to move on with her life. While some would be paralyzed by such devastating circumstances, Naomi  “moved on” with a steadfast, unwavering faith in the God who had “afflicted her” (Ruth 1:21). In fact, she is the one behind the bold plan for Ruth to basically propose marriage to Boaz –a plan that I believe was rooted in a firm conviction that her God would provide a redeemer to rescue them from their hopeless, impoverished state. (Oh what a GORGEOUS picture of Jesus the book of Ruth paints!!!)

I remember when I was learning to drive and I experienced my first Florida-style torrential downpour behind the wheel. It went something like this: “Should I pull over, mom?” “No honey, it’s more dangerous to stop. Slow down, but keep going. You’ll eventually drive through it.” I believe the same advice applies when we find ourselves holding the bits and pieces of a life shattered by one heartache after another. Slow down, but keep going. You will eventually drive through it. And as you do, God will provide for you every square mile of the journey just like He did for Ruth and Naomi. Promise.

3)      Anticipate restoration.

As you may already know, the book of Ruth has a very happy ending. Boaz redeems Elimelech’s land (and Ruth along with it) and God blesses Ruth with a son (who ends up being David’s great grandfather!). Interestingly enough, Scripture records what the women said to Naomi upon the birth of the child. “Blessed is the Lord who has not left you without a redeemer today, and may his name become famous in Israel. May he also be to you a restorer of life and a sustainer of your old age; for your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Then, we are told, “The neighbor women gave him a name saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi!”

Um, wait a second. Isn’t Ruth the one who had the son?

I’m sure they said a lot of wonderful things to Ruth as well. But what the Spirit preserved for us to see is that the woman who went out full, but came back empty was full once more! In fact, she had gained far more than she lost, and the neighbor women were beyond ecstatic as they traced the hand of God it in all.

There’s no shortage of Scriptures that point to God’s faithfulness to bring beauty out of the ash-heap of a life ravaged by trials (Is. 61:3). Here’s just a small sampling:

“You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have loosed my sackcloth and girded me with gladness.” (Ps. 30:11)

 “Those who sow in tears shall reap with joyful shouting. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.” (Ps. 126:5, 6)

 “When I said, ‘My foot is slipping,’ your love, O LORD, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought joy to my soul.” (Ps. 94:18-19)

 “You who have shown me many troubles and distresses will revive me again, and will bring me up again from the depths of the earth.” (Ps. 71:20)

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28)

The woman who once declared, “Call me bitter,” was finally given sweet water to drink – buckets of it! The God who had afflicted her for reasons far beyond our understanding, chose to do “exceedingly and abundantly more” than anything Naomi could have asked or imagined (Eph. 3:20). HE IS ABLE TO DO THE SAME FOR YOU. And I dare say, He is willing. I don’t know how and I don’t know when and it’s very likely it will happen in a way you don’t expect (and may not have chosen), but based on the authority of His Word, God will prove Himself faithful in your life. I have more confidence in that truth than I do my next breath.

Wait for it. Count on it. Expect it. Embrace it. And when it comes, make sure you use it to reflect to beauty and worth of the glorious Giver. Because ultimately, that’s the whole point.

According to Webster’s, relentless is defined as “showing or promising no abatement of severity, intensity, strength, or pace.” That may very well describe your pain. But it also describes the faithfulness and goodness of your God. When adversity won’t relent, neither will His love.

That, sweet sister, will get you through some trials.

The Misery Factor

It happened around 8:20 this morning. I had just dropped Shepherd off at preschool. My husband was leaving as I was walking into the house.

I gave him a half-hearted kiss goodbye, stepped inside, and then I slammed the door. That’s right, folks. Slammed it . . .really hard. Like, the windows rattled a little. Not my finest moment.

Husband comes back in: “Did I do something wrong? Are you mad?”

Me: “No, I’ll be fine.”

And I am. Well, almost. Give me about five more minutes and another cup of coffee . . .

What could make the sweet, emotionally stable, fun-loving, Holy Spirit indwelt “me” slam a door on a relatively uneventful Wednesday morning?

One word: EXPECTATIONS.

I once heard that the gap between our expectations and our reality is our “MISERY FACTOR.” We have a picture in our minds of what our lives – and the people in them – ought to look like and act like. When that doesn’t happen, well, doors get slammed (and other “too-shameful-to-mention-on-this-blog” kinds of things).

This morning was supposed to be nice and simple. The plan was to wake Shepherd up, get him dressed, feed him breakfast, watch a few minutes of Barney, strap him into his car seat, and head to school. We would get there right on time and he would be all smiles entering the room. And since I got up early today and had an incredible quiet time, I would have the perfect Christ-like attitude. Most days, that’s how it is (with the exception of the “perfect Christ-like attitude part” – that’s always a work in progress!).

Not today.

Today was “refuse to get into the car” day. Coupled with “I’m going to run away and laugh when mommy says to stop” day.  So there I was, ready to go, ready to get him to school so I could get back home and enjoy the few, short hours of quiet. But instead, I had to take him into his room and discipline him. Ten minutes later, I had to wrangle my child (who was still sobbing) into his car seat and drive him (still sobbing) to school.

Did I mention that once we got to school it was “I’m not going in there” day? Yep. Fun times. By the time I walked out the door of the school, hot tears were reaching the surface. I was angry, frazzled, and most of all, sad. I get absolutely no pleasure out of disciplining my child. The results are wonderful, but the process is heart-breaking. Always.  Every time. Never. Gets. Easier.

The question is, how did I go from the refreshed, joyful, full-of-Jesus woman who just had an amazing time in the Word; to a frustrated, moody, door-slamming grump who could barely kiss her husband goodbye?

The answer: Expectations, reality, and the simple fact that this morning, the two did not match. I experienced the “misery factor” and chose to wallow in it. Has that ever happened to you? I’m sure it has. There about a thousand different things that can do it. . .

Expectation: The hubby will help get the kids fed, bathed, to ready for bed.

Reality: He’s glued to the TV watching a “very important”  ball game.

Expectation: Since you read all the parenting books, that bundle of joy you’ve been carrying for 9 months is going to be a piece of cake to care for and make your life 1,000 times better.

Reality: Your baby did not come into the world having read “the books” and, therefore, could care less that he or she is SUPPOSED to “feed-wake-sleep” in in a perfectly scheduled pattern. Oh, and the combination of sleep deprivation and hormones makes you a crazy woman. Life is actually a lot harder.

Expectation: Your child is going to be the model Christian, because you love Jesus and  “trained your child in the way he should go.”

Reality: Your child wants nothing to do with the Lord right now. He’s “in the world” and loves it.

Expectation: Family devotions are going to be a sweet time of connecting with each other and growing closer to Jesus.

Reality: Chaos.

Expectation: All the healthy eating and working out guarantees that your favorite jeans are finally going to fit.

Reality: They must have shrunk in the dryer. Right? Please tell me they shrunk in the dryer!

Expectation: Romantic date night Saturday night!

Reality: The babysitter cancelled. The night is spent watching House Hunters re-runs. Bow-chicka-wow-wow . . .NOT!

Whether it’s a little thing (like a morning that doesn’t go as you planned) or a big thing (like a marriage that is so NOT what you dreamed it would be), the expectation-reality gap can infect our hearts with discontentment, anger, resentment, and all sorts of other sinful attitudes (that may cause door-slamming). So what do we do? How do we fight the misery factor? Here are some things we have to know . . .

1) Most of our expectations are tainted with selfishness. For example, at the heart of my expectation for a “perfect morning” was a selfish desire for an easy day and as many minutes to myself as possible. At the heart of my expectation for my husband to be and do “this” or “that” is almost always a selfish desire for him to do things how I want, when I want, and the way I want. And my expectations for Shepherd to always listen and obey are in-part rooted in my desire to be perceived as an amazing, godly parent who has it all together. It’s so embarrassing when he acts out!

My expectations are manufactured in the factory of my own selfish heart. They are naturally byproducts of how Aprile wants Aprile’s life to be – often with little regard for others. So, the only way to “refine” them is to intentionally peel my eyes off of myself and fix them on those around me. Philippians 2:3, 4 holds the key: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves. Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.” I have found that the more I am focused on the needs and feelings of the people in my life, the more selfless (and realistic!) my expectations become.

2) Our expectations are often flat-out unbiblical. Here’s the thing – I’m a sinner, who married a sinner, and then gave birth to a sinner. That’s three sinners living under one roof. I don’t have to go any further than the Scriptures for a crystal-clear explanation as to why THAT is not pure, uninterrupted bliss! I am convinced that most conflict both in marriages and parent-child relationships is due to the fact that one or both parties is demanding from the other something they just can’t deliver. Because of Jesus, the penalty and power of sin have been dealt with for good (Romans 6!). But the presence of sin in our lives is something that is dealt with over time, as we grow and walk with Jesus.  Almost every conflict in my marriage stems from me expecting Greg to act fully sanctified, when in reality, he’s a work-in-progress just like the rest of us. Same thing with my son. Scripture says that foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child (Prov. 22:15). Why, then, do I get so bent out of shape and take is so personally when Shep acts foolishly? Duh, Aprile!

Have you ever stopped to think about why the Bible talks so much about forgiveness and reconciliation? Could it be because God knows that we are sinners who, though saved by grace, are still wired to disappoint and sometimes even wound each other? Why does it take us so long to get this through our heads? One of the biggest ways we fight the “misery factor” is by lining up our expectations alongside the Scriptures and adjusting those areas that don’t match up. This doesn’t mean we go through life expecting everyone around us to sin all the time, but it does mean that we lighten up a bit, choose grace,  and allow love to cover a multitude of sins. (Ps. 103:8-14; 1 Peter 4:8).

3) Our reality is under the sovereign rule of God. Truth is, sometimes our expectations aren’t selfish or unbiblical, yet life still doesn’t measure up. I’m thinking of a friend who expected to grow old with her husband, but ended up attending his funeral barely a year after their wedding. I have another friend who expected to be a stay-at-home mom, but has had to get a job and put her kids in day care to make ends meet. Then there’s the beautiful, godly 30-something woman who longs to be married and have children for all the right reasons, but is STILL waiting for God to supply the man. I am part of a church body that expected to grow and impact the community under the leadership of a much-loved pastor and music minister, but experienced the one-two punch of losing them both within months of each other in tragic, unexpected deaths.

How do you deal with the “misery factor” then? How do you handle the gap between what you want and what actually is, when what you want is good and God-honoring? You have to surrender your desires on the altar of His perfect will. You have to replace the “why this, why now, why me” questions with the truth that our God – though unpredictable and often impossible to understand – is good, and that ALL His ways are good. He is ALWAYS faithful, and you – sweet sister – are not going to be the one exception. One of my favorite verses is Deuteronomy 32:4: “He is the Rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”  When there is a gap between good expectations and a hard reality, the way out of our misery is always trust in the perfect, loving, all-wise, sovereign hand of God.

Maybe slamming doors it’s your thing. You may like to express your misery in more civilized ways. But I know you feel it sometimes, because I know you’re human. I know that there are things about your life that are so different than you expected – not in a good way.

Emotions are what they are, but you get to choose whether to stay miserable or not. Focus, truth, and trust – that’s how you get your smile back. That’s how you stop slamming doors, call your husband and apologize for being so rude, and go on with your day. That’s how you enjoy your reality – however different it may be from your expectations.

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