Monday, May 20, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 284

Thanking God this week for...

4993. the book of Galatians
4994. a sunny but cool day to go to the zoo
4995. His patience with me in spite of my harsh impatience with my boys
4996. easy access to a nice greenway
4997. Elijah riding his bike with pedals!

4998. Jude picking up his feet and balancing!
4999. Steve's patience with Elijah's extreme perfectionism...oh is he ever his mother's son :/
5000. Jude somehow just barely stopping himself before crashing down into a culvert
5001. Steve home for lunch, a rare treat
5002. Elijah letting me wear the giant ring he got out of the preschool treasure chest

5003. shiny mirrors and sinks
5004. a friend driving a long way to hang out with me
5005. her example of engaging with her kids and with strangers at the park
5006. coconut chicken nuggets
5007. flyswatters

5008. grace to workout even when I'm tired and don't feel like it
5009. diapers and sheets hanging on the line
5010. first mosquito bites not until mid-May, compared with late March last spring
5011. hair long enough to put in a ponytail
5012. Jesus, who is Truth

5013. sore muscles
5014. opportunities to encourage others
5015. boys eating banana nut porridge and pretending to be bears
5016. blackberry vinaigrette dressing I invented
5017. Elijah's unsolicited compliments, especially at odd times (like when I've just gotten out of the shower and he's all, "I like your hair, Mom.")

5018. garbage pickup--the highlight of our Friday mornings :)
5019. a place to pick strawberries less than 10 minutes from my house
5020. six quarts of *unsprayed* strawberries!! for only $12!
5021. Steve and the boys working out with me
5022. Steve's job and his hard work to provide well for us

5023. Elijah's consistently cheerful, thankful heart at mealtimes (a huge change from what once was)
5024. snuggles in the rocking chair with both boys first thing on a Saturday morning
5025. fresh lettuce
5026. time to be crafty with some friends
5027. a leak in the upstairs bathroom discovered and fixed

5028. my grandma's afghan--chevron 40 years before chevron was cool, in 1970s rust, mustard, coral and avocado :)
5029. five quarts of homemade chicken stock
5030. the way our pastor preaches with humility + conviction
5031. clothes fitting again
5032. awareness that my body size is 100% grace

5033. grace to talk to people about things I've put off too long
5034. seeking me "when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God"
5035. loving me when I was unlovable and nothing in me compelled Him
5036. continuing to love me even when I insist on going my own way
5037. setting me free

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Book Review: Christ in the Chaos

Kimm Crandall is wild about grace, obsessed with pointing desperate moms to Jesus. Again and again I've printed off posts or copied quotes from her blog to preach to myself. So when I found out she had a book coming out this spring, I knew I would want to read it.

Christ in the Chaos isn't your usual guilt-inducing book about motherhood. Instead, it's oxygen for the soul--and it's not just for mothers.

Kimm begins by helping readers root our identity not in motherhood, but in our place as His beloved daughters. A mom of four, Kimm doesn't pretend to have it all together; she knows she's desperately inadequate and isn't afraid to shout out that truth. Like the Apostle Paul, she gladly boasts in her weakness so that Christ's power can rest on her. And as she hides herself in Him, she brings something heavy to her readers: not the burdens of guilt and shame, of "should" and try harder and do better, but the weight of glory--the reassurance of love and holy welcome and finished work to rest in.

As Kimm explains, whether we are consumed with guilt and despair over how we have failed our children, or whether we are patting ourselves on the back for being Awesome Moms, our love for our kids is tainted with selfishness and pride. Chaos reigns when we are worshipping self, focused on our own abilities and successes. Our chaotic, sin-tainted hearts need the good news of the gospel--that we are beloved; that our identity, our righteousness, is in Christ.

Kimm sets out to dismantle our idols, to point readers away from themselves and toward Jesus. We’re often so focused on doing better, trying harder, but Kimm exhorts, “The key is Jesus. The key is not in somehow ‘being better,’ because being better is all about our invariably sin-tainted performance. ‘Being better’ is all about me. ...We must trade in our performance obsession...for a SAVIOR obsession.”

She acknowledges that readers may be looking for some concrete guidance on how to live in light of the gospel. But she outlines the dangers of providing a “Godly Motherhood Checklist”—in short, pride when we live up to it and despair when we don’t. Instead, Kimm writes,
“my desire is that God would use this book to free you to rest in Christ's outrageous grace, love, and mercy for you--not to motivate you to try harder. Freedom from the stain of sin. Rest from our strivings to be worthy in ourselves. Love that never changes. Mercy for all our failures. Grace that saves eternally. These are things that Christ lived, died, and rose again in order to give us--precisely because we can't get them any other way.” 
She continues:
“Are you walking the Christian life because you want to get to a place where you can think, Finally! No more chaos in my life. I’m so glad I learned to get all of that under control? If so, you are merely using the Bible as a stepstool to glorify yourself. If so, you want the rules of Christianity to help you become self-sufficient so that you no longer need Christ. Is that really what you want? If I said, ‘Follow these steps to find Christ in your chaos!’ I would be saying there is a way to live beyond the gospel. A place we can get to on our own that nullifies our very need for Christ. But this is…about living in the gospel, not beyond it.” (emphasis original) 
All this talk about grace can make some people twitchy: Are you saying obedience doesn’t matter? But Kimm's heart is clearly to see you walking in obedient trust. She simply believes that grace *must* be the foundation, the motivation, the air we breathe whether we succeed or fail.

Though I was encouraged by what I read, I found myself squirming a bit uncomfortably a couple of times. I’m not honestly sure if that’s because Kimm’s words were actually off-base or misguided in their emphasis, or simply because grace is so counterintuitive and I have lived so much of my life on the basis of my performance. It may be some of both. I do struggle with a performance orientation and need to humbly lean on grace…yet I also believe we can’t ignore the *transforming* nature of grace. The grace God gives us is grace that enables us to change, not only grace that forgives and covers our failures.

Right after reading this book, I read a challenging article by Dr. David Powlison in the Journal of Biblical Counseling. In “How Does Sanctification Work? Part 1,” Powlison argues against overemphasizing the doctrine of justification to the neglect of other beautiful, life-changing truths in Scripture. He contends that for certain types of people with certain struggles (like Kimm, or me), the constant reminder of justification might be exactly what is needed—but for others, other messages (built on the foundation of justification, but not exclusively about it) may be more timely and helpful.

I then read a friendly debate between Tullian Tchividjian (who shares Kimm’s perspective) and Kevin DeYoung on the role of effort in sanctification. I’m still processing all this, and eagerly awaiting part two of Powlison’s article. Powlison knows how to apply the gospel and keep it central as well as or better than anyone I’ve learned from, so I can’t dismiss his concerns.

In the end, I do wholeheartedly recommend Christ in the Chaos. Kimm’s courageous honesty about her weakness and inadequacy does exactly what she hopes it will do: points readers to what a great Savior she has and the beauty of His mercy and grace.

[full disclosure: Cruciform Press provided me with a complimentary e-copy of this book to review--but the Kindle edition on Amazon is only $5.78!]

Monday, May 13, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 283

Thanking God this week for...

4954. Steve's ability to speak into my frustration and see what the boys need
4955. our pastor's heart to equip the church for the work of ministry
4956. my sweet friend's sacrificial love for her mom
4957. appreciation from my husband
4958. tiny stray kitten chasing the boys around

4959. pansies that remind me of my grandmother
4960. prayer with dear friends
4961. azaleas in bloom all over
4962. healthy, nourishing lunches to pack for the boys
4963. the opportunity to provide tangible, needed help

4964. vivid paint on little kids' hands
4965. Jude's Mother's Day Out teacher working hard to bless us with Mother's Day projects
4966. a phone chat with a friend
4967. the ability to take video on Steve's new phone
4968. Steve taking the boys to the greenway to ride bikes

4969. pedals for Elijah!  
4970. my peonies in full bloom!
4971. Elijah bringing me a bouquet

4972. grace to engage with the boys on a rainy Friday
4973. opportunity to listen and pray with a friend over the phone

4974. homemade "Laraballs," especially "Pistachio Heaven" (OK, they don't look all that appetizing, but I promise they are SO DELICIOUS)
4975. Elijah, sponaneously "I love you, Mom."
4976. fresh, local lettuce
4977. time to catch up with a dear friend and meet her sweet new baby
4978. the relief of finally finishing a project I put off WAY too long

4979. time to talk with Steve
4980. Mother's Day presents Elijah made at preschool, including one of those hilarious "My Mom Is..." worksheets that someone interviewed him for :)
4981. a sweet card from my husband, and his making me breakfast
4982. a pre-church photo with my boys

4983. His sovereignty and goodness in preserving Scripture for us
4984. Jesus' zeal for God's glory
4985. Jesus' compassion for the lost
4986. responding to our idolatry with mercy and grace (like at Mars Hill) rather than destruction and judgment (as at Mount Sinai)
4987. a new Whole30-friendly spice rub for chicken

4988. pastors who care for our souls
4989. our pastor's wife caring for our children
4990. Steve's teachable heart
4991. grace to be honest about my sin
4992. Jesus' blood, which cleanses and purifies us so much more completely than the OT rites and sacrifices could

Friday, May 10, 2013

Ten on Ten: May 2013

I love the *idea* of Ten on Ten, but I've only managed to participate three times now: November 2011, April 2012...and today. It was a perfect day for capturing the very ordinary...a Friday, so Elijah is home all day after three mornings of preschool, and a rainy day, so we were cooped up inside. God provided grace for me to engage with my kids and be productive, for which I am very thankful. Without further ado...a few more than 10 photos of our life today, because it's my blog and I can :)

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Happy Birthday to Me: S'more Cake!

I took all kinds of pictures of my birthday cake, wanting to blog about it, and then never got around to it for almost two months. Better late than never, right?

Steve always offers to make my birthday cake, but I actually *like* to bake. The part I don't like to do is frosting/decorating. So I said, I'll make the cake, and you can do the frosting. All his other awesome qualities, and my husband is a cake decorator extraordinaire, too? Oh yes, folks. Every time there is a birthday around here, I am the one with the big ideas and Steve is the artist who can actually execute them. That's the only way the boys' birthday cakes end up looking like this instead of ending up on a blog of Pinterest fails :) At any rate, Steve got more excited when he found out that my birthday cake would involve the use of a blowtorch...

S'mores are probably one of my all-time favorite desserts. So when I saw a recipe for a s'more layer cake in The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, I knew I had to try it. Elijah helped me make the cake; I made (and repeatedly sampled) the milk chocolate filling; and then Steve tackled the frosting (the seven-minute kind I hate making) and assembled the cake.


Is that fun or what? A toasted marshmallow effect.

My verdict upon tasting it: if s'mores were a cake, they would taste like this. But s'mores are meant to be eaten as s'mores, not as cake. The cake had a graham flavor, but I prefer lots of other flavors of cake. The milk chocolate filling was delicious, but never thickened enough (even overnight in the fridge) to work well as filling. It squeezed out the sides as soon as you stacked the layers, so we ended up just having to drizzle it over our cake slices. And the frosting was indeed marshmallow-y, but not my favorite frosting by a long shot. I've made seven-minute frosting once before where it gets this kind of crystallized crust the next day. This one didn't do that--it kind of disintegrated/dissolved (as you can see on the photo below, which I didn't remember to take until a couple of days later). I much prefer a substantial frosting.

So I won't be making a s'more layer cake again, but it was definitely a fun experiment :)

Monday, May 06, 2013

Multitude Monday, Take 282

"The gospel reminds me first that what I actually deserve from God is a full cup churning with the torments of His wrath. This is the cup that would be mine to drink if I were given what I deserve each day. With this understanding in mind, I see that to be handed a completely empty cup from God would be cause enough for infinite gratitude. If there were merely the tiniest drop of blessing continued in that otherwise empty cup, I should be blown away by the unbelievable kindness of God toward me. That God, in fact, has given me a cup that is full of "every spiritual blessing in Christ," and this without the slightest admixture of wrath, leaves me truly dumbfounded with inexpressible joy. As for my specific earthly circumstances of plenty or want, I can see them always as infinite improvements on the hell I deserve." (Milton Vincent, A Gospel Primer for Christians)

Thanking God this week for...

4919. Steve's patience and compassion when I'm in a funk
4920. dinner outside
4921. over a hundred kindergartners dressed to the nines and dancing the tango
4922. boys forgetting about candy and getting excited about grapefruit
4923. neighborhood totally leafed-out and green

4924. birds singing in our backyard
4925. house refinanced, interest rate cut by more than half
4926. property tax decrease
4927. Brussels sprouts chips
4928. clean kitchen floor

4929. boys cheerfully helping empty the dishwasher
4930. homemade Larabars
4931. photo book of May-August 2012, and the time spent looking through it with the boys
4932. slow internet forcing me to give thanks instead
4933. time to verbally process in my journal and move from angst to prayer

4934. phone chat with a friend
4935. fun and exhausting workout
4936. one-on-one time with a dear friend
4937. getting to hear her life story
4938. His hand preserving her life and drawing her to himself

4939. sore muscles
4940. a walk with a friend and her girlie
4941. Elijah picking his feet up, balancing on his bike for a long time
4942. Grammy sending squirrelly kids on a scavenger hunt while we skyped
4943. Steve's opportunity to spend time with guys

4944. fan blowing fresh air in our window all night
4945. friends fighting to trust in the midst of their grief and pain
4946. leeks
4947. memories of three-year-old Elijah "reading" My Lucky Day from memory
4948. boxes of old cards and letters

4949. having His Word written down and preserved for us
4950. access to my own copy in my first language
4951. the ability to read and understand it
4952. His Spirit who illuminates it for me
4953. cinnamon sweet potato fritters--Freaking. Amazing.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Sanctified In Spite of Me

As you've guessed from my recent posting, my Bible reading plan has had me in Leviticus recently (actually a few weeks ago, but I'm just blogging about it). I have to admit it was a struggle. God met me in the first couple of chapters and opened my eyes to see the gospel, but after that it was mostly plodding. One morning I opened my Bible purely out of duty, not hunger. To be honest my thoughts were, "I really should read now so I don't fall behind on my reading plan, but ugh, Leviticus. I'm tired of slogging through all these regulations about skin diseases and offering specifications." I arrogantly thought, "what is there to gain from reading all this? It's just the same point over and over: God is holy and we are not; costly sacrifices must be made. OK, OK, got it."

Isn't it just like God in His mercy and grace to meet me there in spite of my cynical attitude and my lack of expectation?? He once again opened my eyes as I was reading chapters 21-22. I kept noticing the phrase "I am the LORD who sanctifies." Don't do this, for I am the LORD who sanctifies you. The priest must not do that, for I am the LORD who sanctifies him. They shall not do such and such, for I am the LORD who sanctifies them.

I realized that in the midst of this litany of rules about holiness and purity, it is so easy for me to fall into the mindset that you make yourself clean. You follow the guidelines, you obey the laws, you perform the rituals, and that's how you make yourself acceptable to God. But He inserts over and over--it is *I* who sanctify You. Your rituals and your obedience are not making you holy; I make you holy.

This is so integral to who God is and what He does that it's actually a name for Him: "Jehovah Mekoddishkem" is parallel to names like "Jehovah Jireh" (the LORD who provides), "Jehovah Rapha" (the LORD who heals), "El Roi" (the God who sees)...He is "The LORD who sanctifies." He is absolutely committed to making us holy, so much so that it is part of His name. Gives a whole new meaning to the phrase in Scripture, "for Your name's sake!"

It's not that we make ourselves holy and acceptable, not that we perform the sacrifices and avoid the taboos and then God declares us holy. No, exactly the opposite: God makes you holy, now act like it! He is the LORD who sanctifies you; because you are sanctified, start behaving in a way that reflects that reality. Still a shadowy, dim reality here in Leviticus under the Old Covenant...but now, in Christ, we *know* we have been declared righteous. Jesus' perfect record has been imputed to us; we are now holy! So--become what you are. Be holy in practice as you already are in standing.

So amazed that God condescends to meet me and speak to me even when I have such a crappy attitude about His Word. Truly He is the LORD who sanctifies me--not because of anything good in me, but because of His grace. He doesn't declare me holy after I fulfill His requirements; He declares me holy in spite of myself, and then sends His Spirit to dwell in me and make it so.