Thursday, March 27, 2008

Thankful Thursday, Take 71

Thanking God this week for...
  • my parents' visit
  • their generosity
  • Steve's parents' visit
  • their generosity
  • Elijah's smiles
  • good nights of sleep
  • Steve's promotion! so proud of him!
  • the way he works hard to support our family
  • the fact that he's not a workaholic
  • a date with him tonight
  • barbecue sauce
  • Girl Scout cookies
  • long walks
  • warm weather
  • good books
  • new blogs
  • the promise of life
  • His defeat of sin, satan and death at the cross
  • making me more than a conqueror

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Dying is Not an End

Not long after I spent some time thinking about dying, God reinforced the lesson through a fantastic little book called A Gospel Primer for Christians. The author, Milton Vincent, writes (hyperlinks are to the Scriptures footnoted in the book):

God is committed to my dying every day, and He calls me to that same commitment. ...When my flesh yearns for some prohibited thing, I must die. When called to do something I don't want to do, I must die. When I wish to be selfish and serve no one, I must die. When shattered by hardships that I despise, I must die. When wanting to cling to wrongs done against me, I must die. When enticed by allurements of the world, I must die. When wishing to keep besetting sins secret, I must die. When wants that are borderline needs are left unmet, I must die. When dreams that are good seem shoved aside, I must die.

...Thankfully, the gospel teaches me that dying is not an end, but a beginning. For after Christ took up His cross and died, God raised Him from the dead, exalted Him to the highest heaven, and drew Him into His bosom. These facts surrounding Christ's resurrection stand as proof positive that God will not leave me for dead, but will raise me similarly, if I would only allow myself to die. Indeed, on the other side of each layer of dying lie experiences of a life with God that are far richer, far higher, and far more intimate than anything I would have otherwise known.

In God's economy, death is the way to life.

This book is worth EVERY PENNY of the $10.95 it costs here (shipping is free--and there's also a dramatic quantity discount). It is an invaluable resource for preaching the gospel to yourself!

Monday, March 24, 2008

A Delightful Discovery

A new favorite blog, unusual in its poignancy: Exercises in brevity, each post exactly twenty-two words. Impressive and inspiring to wordy me.

You Must Die

I've been thinking a lot about dying lately. Not physical death--rather, what we mean when we say, "a part of me is dying," or "die to self." One night as I lay in bed, Colossians 3:3 came sharply into my mind. It's a verse I've never intentionally memorized, but God spoke it into my heart clearly, unmistakably:

"For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God."

More than once over the last year or so, I've uttered the phrase "a part of me is dying/has died." It has recently struck me: Why do I consider this a mournful thing? Scripture speaks over and over about how we have died, how we must die--how life comes only through death. Over and over God speaks of my dying with Christ--so that I can be raised with Him to something better. So I must trust that if "part of me has died," it is His mercy, making way for a new, better, holy me to truly live.

I realized after I started this post that I blogged about this very thing a few months ago, saying, "it's in death to self that I am most beautiful, because it's here that I look most like my Savior--the One who died that I might live." But I'd forgotten all about that. Thankfully, God is patient with this slow learner. And so I pray yet again:

Give me the grace to die to self, Lord--to accept and even embrace the death of a sin-soaked me so that a grace-soaked me can live, and live abundantly. Teach me to set my heart on things above, where You are on the throne, where Christ is seated (because His work is FINISHED!) at Your right hand. Teach me to embrace my death, to look with hope toward glory, toward real, abundant, forever-life with You.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

Elijah wants to wish you all a happy Easter :)
Christ is risen indeed!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Blessed Birthday

It was an ordinary birthday, in many ways unremarkable. A day spent at home caring for Elijah as usual; a few birthday cards in the mail, a couple of phone calls from friends and family; dinner out with my wonderful husband while a friend cared for the little guy (taking him to a restaurant is not my idea of fun). And yet my 26th birthday was also extraordinary.

In response to my post, I got a wonderfully encouraging and surprising email that expressed it quite eloquently--so much so that I wanted to quote it here (with her permission). I described God's work in my heart on Tuesday as "severe mercy"; she concurred, and added:

But the severity is quickly overshadowed by the intimate and kind hand of God to give you something you could never get on your own; nor could ever receive from mortal man--illumination, of your heart and of the truth. ...I can't help but celebrate the reality that what you most desire moved that much closer to you today--one day saying, without hesitation, "whom have I in heaven but you, and on earth what do I desire besides you?" ...I don't know what the other 25 birthdays looked like, but from this vantage point, today's topped them all!

Interestingly, Steve and I had talked about this very thing over dinner Tuesday night. Our hearts are so flawed, our affections so warped. There's such a chasm between what our minds know to be true and what our hearts experience and delight in. This discourages me, but it provokes Steve to hope in heaven. His perspective reminds me to look forward to the day when my heart will always respond appropriately to who God is and what He's done. And though I'm far from that right now, that deep desire of my heart did move closer to me on Tuesday, thanks to my heavenly Father's "severe mercy."

Scripture says that the truth sets us free; I believe I experienced that to a certain degree on my birthday. The clarity God brought in helping me understand and acknowledge the sin in my heart, in opening my eyes to see His truth--it was freeing, even joyful. And so a birthday that began with me feeling pensive and brooding ended up being, in some strange way, perhaps one of the best birthdays after all.

Thankful Thursday, Take 70

Thanking God this week for...
  • dinner out with my hubby
  • our cookie-baking experiments together last Friday night
  • fun and thoughtful birthday presents
  • cake and frosting
  • birthday cards and phone calls
  • encouraging emails
  • a soft bed to sleep in
  • opening my eyes
  • enlightening my heart
  • the grace to understand my sin and His glory more deeply
  • His justice, love, power and wisdom on display at the cross
  • the empty tomb
  • the promise of my own resurrection

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


At what point do I officially become too old to get those candy decorations for my birthday cake? I'm 26 today, and still eagerly applying them to the top of the cake. Steve thinks they're disgusting; I think they're a wonderful tradition from my childhood. So I just eat his :)

I've been doing a lot of introspection today, about the huge expectations I place on my birthday and how the day itself typically brings a little letdown. I'm not sure why birthdays are such a big deal to me, but for as long as I can remember, I've had this big buildup of anticipation leading up to March 18, only to be disappointed most years when my birthday doesn't quite live up to my soaring hopes. It's not that the people closest to me don't do a great job of showing their love; they often do. It's mostly just a case of unrealistic expectations...or, looking at it more deeply, idolatry.

I think this is the first year since I started this blog that I'm posting about my birthday on the actual day. In previous years, I've purposely avoided doing so, I guess as some sort of manipulative "test" to see who "really cared" about me. Because birthdays are so important to me, I've always made a point of remembering my friends' birthdays. I'm big on sending real cards, or at least email wishes, to let people know that I remember their birthdays. (I'm human, so I do still forget occasionally--but I try my best.)

So it follows, naturally, that I expect all those people to whom I've sent cards throughout the year to remember me, too. And in my twisted brain, wishing me a happy birthday because you saw it on my blog wasn't good enough; a "real" friend would have remembered all on her own. Of course, some of them may be terrible with dates; others might remember but just don't do the card thing. Birthdays might not be a big deal to some of them, and some might simply forget--which doesn't make them lesser friends by any means. But try telling that to the self-absorbed birthday girl.

So as I turn 26, I find myself finally asking: why the self-absorption? What is this intense desire to be remembered?

Today it has occurred to me that this birthday disappointment is God's "severe mercy." Each year, my merciful Father tries to teach me that I cannot pin my hope on people. This is not a pessimistic message; it's a call to anchor my heart to the Rock. He persists, however painful the lesson may be, because it is a vitally important one: only He can satisfy. So when I depend on humans or circumstances to bring me joy, to satisfy the desires of my heart, I will be left empty and still wanting every time.

And there's another lesson for my prideful heart, I think: The inevitable disappointment each March signals to my narcissistic self that a world which revolves around me, even for one day, is a world that's far too small--a world far inferior to the one I was created for. So in His severe mercy, my Savior topples this god of self I want to worship, this broken cistern, and redirects my wandering heart to the spring of living water. And though it isn't the celebration my sinful heart craves, I think this clarity of understanding is the most loving birthday present after all.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thankful Thursday, Take 69

Thanking God this week for...
  • the process of journaling--helpful, therapeutic, clarifying; sometimes better for processing my thoughts and emotions than a public blog, or even a conversation with a friend
  • grocery coupons
  • sausage sandwiches reminiscent of our hometown fair
  • 70-degree days this week, enabling me to break out the flip-flops before my birthday! yay Tennessee!
  • forgiveness
  • hugs
  • the scent of coconut
  • sunglasses
  • my Ergo carrier
  • shoe shopping from home via Zappos and Endless
  • a bathtub that actually drains, thanks to my handy plumber husband and his hard work replacing the drain last Saturday
  • quotes from other people that give me perspective or make me think
  • humility in other people
  • propitiation--"taking His own loving initiative to appease His own righteous anger by bearing it His own self in his own Son when He took our place and died for us"*
  • redemption--paying (BEING) the ransom price to set me free from sin and death
  • justification--bearing the penalty for my law-breaking so that I could be declared righteous before Him
  • reconciliation--making His Son sin for me so that I could have peace with Him, access to His presence and adoption as His child

*quote from The Cross of Christ by John Stott

Monday, March 10, 2008


Several years ago, I was asked to make a list of things that "empty my well" and a list of things that "fill my well"--in other words, the events/situations/tasks that drain you and the ones that make you feel energized and excited.

One of the top items on my "empty" list was "situations in which I don't know what I'm doing." I was thinking specifically of the part of my job description that summer which I most hated: helping to fix lunch for about twenty college students. At that point I had little experience in the kitchen, and being shoved in there with the responsibility of feeding that many people (the students, plus five interns and a smattering of other people who might be around) was a prospect I dreaded every time my turn came up. I felt completely inept, inadequate, stupid.

It wasn't until a few years later that God showed me how that item on my list wasn't simply a matter of personality or preference. It was a clear display of my top besetting sin: pride (mixed in with a liberal dose of fear of man). The truth was, I didn't like kitchen duty--or other "situations in which I don't know what I'm doing"--because I was afraid others would think I was dumb. I felt uncomfortably self-conscious, and I hated the idea of other people seeing me as bumbling, unsure, ignorant. I've been that way my whole life; just ask my parents. I've always resisted doing things I'm not good at (make that instantly good at), because I want to excel--I want to be the best. And so I avoid any situation in which I might fail.

It's slowly dawning on me that that experience and subsequent revelation was preparing me for the crucible of motherhood. Raising Elijah is the ultimate "situation in which I don't know what I'm doing." And so once again, my prideful, sinful heart resists. I don't like this, I think to myself. Because I can't do this. I'm not good at it.

I have no idea what I'm doing in this new life as someone's mother. I feel hopeless when I can't get him to sleep, can't make the crying stop, can't control my own ugly emotions. I'm not the mother I hoped to be (even, arrogantly, thought I'd be). I wasn't cut out for this, my "empty" self laments; he would be better off if I were not his mother.

All this, I think, is emptying me after all--just as God intended. Not in a self-aware, "this is the way my brain works," personality-preferences kind of way, but in a "emptied of pride so He can fill me with His grace" kind of way.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thankful Thursday, Take 68

Thanking God this week for...
  • friends with strong marriages
  • mushy blog posts about husbands (or wives--I've just only seen husband ones this week!)
  • the satisfaction of a decluttered space
  • the scent of friendship bread baking
  • a husband who's brilliant
  • deep conversations with that brilliant husband
  • pretty patterned paper
  • new CDs
  • ibuprofen
  • clean drinking water
  • hugs
  • sending His Son to absorb the wrath I deserve
  • being slow to anger
  • His patience with me

Monday, March 03, 2008

Building Cathedrals

Via Crunchy Con, this excerpt from Nicole Johnson's book The Invisible Woman: A Special Story for Mothers. May it be an encouragement to all you moms today!

One night, a group of us were having dinner, celebrating the return of a friend from England. Janice had just gotten back from a fabulous trip, and she was going on and on about the hotel she stayed in. I was sitting there, looking around at the others all put together so well. It was hard not to compare and feel sorry for myself as I looked down at my out-of-style dress; it was the only thing I could find that was clean. My unwashed hair was pulled up in a banana clip and I was afraid I could actually smell peanut butter in it. I was feeling pretty pathetic, when Janice turned to me with a beautifully wrapped package, and said, "I brought you this."

It was a book on the great cathedrals of Europe. I wasn't exactly sure why she'd given it to me until I read her inscription: "To Charlotte, with admiration for the greatness of what you are building when no one sees."

In the days ahead I would read - no, devour - the book. And I would discover what would become for me, four life-changing truths, after which I could pattern my work:

  • No one can say who built the great cathedrals - we have no record of their names.
  • These builders gave their whole lives for a work they would never see finished.
  • They made great sacrifices and expected no credit.
  • The passion of their building was fueled by their faith that the eyes of God saw everything.

A legendary story in the book told of a rich man who came to visit the cathedral while it was being built, and he saw a workman carving a tiny bird on the inside of a beam. He was puzzled and asked the man, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it."

And the workman replied, "Because God sees."

I closed the book, feeling the missing piece fall into place. It was almost as if I heard God whispering to me, "I see you, Charlotte. I see the sacrifices you make every day, even when no one around you does. No act of kindness you've done, no sequin you've sewn on, no cupcake you've baked, is too small for me to notice and smile over. You are building a great cathedral, but you can't see right now what it will become."

"As mothers, we are building great cathedrals. We cannot be seen if we're doing it right. And one day, it is very possible that the world will marvel, not only at what we have built, but at the beauty that has been added to the world by the sacrifices of invisible women."
--Nicole Johnson, The Invisible Woman