Trivial Arguments Among Christians

Joshua came to me crying for the fifth time the other day. Ethan had pulled his hair. Again. They were fighting over some toy and Ethan, being the toddler that he is, was determined to get his way the only way he knew how: going for Joshua’s beautiful curls.

IMG_5363
Just look at that hair!

As their mom, I am starting to get annoyed by all these small fights. I sometimes wish they would be able to get through a day without a trivial fight. My joy is that these fights do not define their relationship and that, in spite of these moments, they are best friends; if this were not the case, I know my heart would be broken to see the two boys I love more than anything in the world not get along.

We, as Christians, are unified under the blood of Christ and are all welcomed into the House of God as His children. I have witnessed many (and have been involved in several) arguments over trivial issues in my life as a Christian. Sometimes, I wonder if God is annoyed by our fighting or if we’ve gone right to breaking His heart whenever we prolong an argument about who is right in the faith.

I wanted to write an entire piece on this subject, but sometimes, all you need is a chapter from the Bible and no additional commentary is necessary. This is part of Paul’s letter to the Romans. I think that he covered everything that that, if you’ve ever witnessed or have been a part of any such argument, there’s something in here for you to think about.

Romans 14

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

10 You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. 11 It is written:

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

12 So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

13 Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. 14 I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love.Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.16 Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, 18 because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.

19 Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification. 20 Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother or sister to fall.

22 So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

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Learning to Dream

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”‭‭Proverbs‬ ‭16:1‬ ‭ESV

This October will mark four years since I found out I was pregnant with Joshua. It will mark four years since I realize no matter how much I plan, God has the final say.

Roland and I were newlyweds at that point. We were young and excited to embark on life together. Things were not always easy, as anticipated, but we made sound plans for the future. We planned foreign excursions, budgeting, home ownership, and eventually a family. But that October afternoon was when I realized that God had a completely different plan for our lives at that point, one for which I was not quite sure that I was ready.

That season in my life changed my view on life and planning and living for the future. I decided that I would not make such a concrete life plan for myself or our family. I would devote my future to God’s hands.

I would still have goals — reachable goals — in my heart. I would still go after them. But I would not tie myself down by setting such specific goals so that I could allow room for God.

And that’s great and all, but

My goals were too reachable. My goals did not make me wonder how I could make them happen. They were small enough that they didn’t seem impossible and low enough on my priority list that my world wouldn’t be shattered if God stepped in again and messed up the plans.

But I heard God speak the other day. “Why are you thinking so realistically? Don’t look at the numbers, just dream.”

The truth is I was putting my goals and dreams inside of a box just small enough for me to still have some sort of control over them (or to keep what I would potentially have to give up to a minimum). As such, I was putting God in a box.

All these years, I never realized it. I thought I was being a good Christian by allowing my future to be so open-ended, enough for Him to freely play around with it.

My thought process was not bad. A “Lord, guide me” approach requires faith that God will take you where He needs you. Acknowledging that His ways are higher than mine (Isaiah 55:8-9) is biblical.

But I also let fear get in the way. For a short while, I was angry with God that October four years ago. I didn’t understand why or how He would take the dreams I had and not allow me to live them out as I had planned. I wanted my future to play out a certain way and it did not. I was scared that I would dream up another future that would also not happen.

The truth is, four years ago, I did not see where I would be today. In some senses, I am where I swore I would never be and in others, I’m in a better place than I could have imagined then. No matter the dreams or goals that I have today, no matter the plans I make, however detailed, I still will not be able to see four years down the line, let alone forty.

In the meantime, God is placing dreams in my heart. In some areas of my life, I feel more of a burning desire to just go out and do and in some other areas, I still have some apprehension as I wait for God to speak. Some of the dreams He has placed in my heart seem completely impossible. Some seem hard but I have a heart that is ready. None seem easy.

And yet, I have a promise in Proverbs 16:3.

I mentioned in my last post that God has created me (as He has created you) for special purposes. I trust that the dreams that He puts in my heart are things to further His kingdom, ways for me to live out that purpose.

There is nothing wrong with dreaming. There is nothing wrong with planning. But God’s ways are so much higher. His thoughts are so much higher.

I cannot continue to keep God in a box by dreaming small, by having goals that I can easily attain in my flesh. If I do, I don’t have a reason for Him to be in my life.

 

Four Truths About Self-Confidence

Throughout my public school education, I had gone to five different schools in three different towns. For all but one of those schools, I came into it not really knowing anyone. Yet, somehow, by the time I left the school, I had grown deep friendships which I still look back on fondly. I don’t remember ever feeling truly lonely throughout those years.

Yet, between starting college and where I am today, there was a change in how I related with people. It was no longer easy for me to create such deep friendships.

I had friends move away to different parts of the world.

I commuted from home to a state college, where I was hardly involved in anything besides my classes.

My church was small and growing smaller, and there weren’t many people my age.

My one job was a babysitter, so I had no co-workers to get along with. My other job was a math instructor at a company, and it seemed like everyone knew each other but me.

There were many times that I broke down, sometimes angry with God, that I felt so lonely in life. My husband had been with me through all of this time, but aside from him, I erroneously felt like nobody wanted me to be their friend. I felt like I wasn’t good enough.

This line of thinking showed up in other aspects of my life. Looking through my college transcripts, I realized how my grades dropped in relation to the seasons in my life and how I felt less and less like I belonged somewhere.

Things started to shape up after Joshua was born. At that point, motherhood had given me a new sense of purpose. But, still, I found myself wishing that I would belong in other parts of my life.

At the beginning of the year, I realized that all of these things stemmed from my own lack of self-confidence.

I wasn’t good enough.

Nobody wanted to be my friend.

Everyone but me has it together.

Nobody sees what I do and compliments me.

I was filled with self-pity as a result of my lack of self esteem.

The more I thought about this, the more I realized these things:

1. It comes from myself. 

For years, I had been looking for someone to validate me. I wanted someone to call me their friend so I could feel good about myself. I wanted someone to see what I had accomplished and be genuinely amazed by it. I wanted to know that I was good enough in the eyes of others.

Yet, self-confidence has nothing to do with anybody else. It begins with me.

Looking back, I realized that I did have many opportunities to get connected with others at work or school. There were skiing trips and lunches with the staff at my job (albeit, they were on Sundays during church). There were oodles (oodles?) of clubs at my school. I had even joined one for a semester. But I found it hard to go back. I saw plenty of familiar faces at school each day but did nothing to further the relationship.

These things were all out of my comfort zone.

I remember thinking “I’m a nice person. I’m a good friend. Why don’t people see that?”

I realized I had to step out of my comfort zone for the first step of confidence. If I believe that I was nice and a good friend, I had to show it, regardless of what the other person might say. Chances are, it would make them feel pretty good, anyway. 

Once I took that first step into the unknown, to be the first one to reach out to someone instead of waiting for them to guess that I’m a nice enough person to get to know, I realized how much fuller my life could be.

2. I don’t need to advertise it. 

Sure, stepping out of my comfort zone was a conscious decision. Sure, I had to choose to be confident in the person I was. But I didn’t need to read a thousand encouraging quotes on it, let alone post them all on social media within an hour.

I didn’t have to tell everybody, “oh hey guys, I’m choosing to embrace who I am, so watch out world!”

No, I simply exuded it.

I know it did because of how my relationships with others grew. There wasn’t a switch that was flipped, but I know that allowing myself to be the person I was helped for people to be able to connect with me, and it’s made a world of difference.

It was only after making that conscious decision to not be afraid to be friendly that I realized people did see me. They did compliment me. They told me things that I had wished I heard for years before that. Whether or not people saw that I was trying to be more outgoing, they saw me approachable enough to encourage me in many ways.

3. It does not mean I am not broken.

I think the biggest realization that I’ve had about self-confidence is accepting every part of me, flaws and all.

Back when Ethan was born and nursing all the time, I would scroll through Pinterest to pass time. There, I was able to easily find perfect pictures from perfect blog posts about perfect moms and their perfect schedules for their perfect kids. It crushed me.

But I had realized one day that no matter what it looked like, we are all human, and I doubt that those moms feel like they’re perfect. I know that because I felt far from perfect. I felt very broken and I knew I couldn’t be alone.

And yet, in the midst of that brokenness, I found I was able to accept the person I was. That is what made me confident. My ability to go through a (very occasional, perhaps hypothetical) day with no tantrums and with a clean house and dinner on the table by 6 makes me feel accomplished, but it doesn’t lend to my self-confidence.

4. It does not make me self-sustainable. 

If you are reading this as a self-help post, please stop. This is not a post how developing self-confidence has made me such a happy person.

The truth is, it’s still a conscious decision to step out of my comfort zone. I have flaws and I certainly don’t have it all together.

In fact, through this whole process, I have realized all the more how much I need to rely on Jesus.

For so long, I had looked to other humans and have quietly sought affirmation and validation. My first step was realizing that I didn’t need any of that to be confident.

But after I realized I did not have to be dependent on people, I was able to depend on my God.

He is the reason why I am here today. He is the reason why live where I do with the precious family I live with. He is the reason I am able to accept my flaws. He is the reason why I rejoice, because it is not my lack of self-confidence that defined me or the dirty dishes on my sink that defines me. He saw who I was in my lowest points. He died for me because somehow, when I didn’t think I was worthy enough, He knew that I was. He reminds me that no matter how I feel, we are all His creation and I should never feel less than because I am not.

As I said before, I don’t have it all figured out. I am not perfect nor do I claim to be. But God has created me for special purposes and I will not let a sense of false humility stifle me from doing my part to shine. It is because of Him that I know my validation is so far beyond what others think of me. For that, I am confident.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

‭‭Ephesians‬ ‭2:8-10‬ ‭ESV‬‬

http://bible.com/59/eph.2.8-10.esv

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing to Fear, Nothing to Overcome

Worry. 

It’s something every mother, at any stage, is familiar with in some way. It’s a type of worry that is so incessant that only grows with your children. 

When you first see the positive pregnancy test, it’s what you feel when you wonder if you’ll be a good enough mom. 

For some, it’s what you feel when you wonder how you can possibly raise and provide for an unplanned child. 

It’s the feeling you get when you wonder if this one will stick. 

It goes away temporarily, at the first sound of a heartbeat. 

But it comes back when you suddenly feel a different kind of pain. 

It happens when you realize that you haven’t felt a kick in only God knows how long. 

It happens when you wonder if your baby will be born with something that isn’t considered to be perfect. 

It’s what you feel when you realize how close your due date is approaching and you wonder if you’re ready. 

It’s the feeling you get when you go into labor — far too early or even past your due date. 

Some moms don’t feel this at all, but they feel it when they wonder if the adoption process will go through, if the child who did not grow inside her will love her and if she could love this child with all of her being. 

But worry doesn’t stop at birth or when the adoption process is completed. There suddenly becomes so much more to worry about. 

It’s suddenly what you feel when you wonder if you’re feeding baby the right thing. 

When you wonder if you’re putting him to sleep the right way. 

When you don’t know if you should let her cry it out or rock her until she’s asleep, yet again. 

When you see the news and there’s another shooting, another kidnapping, another lost wandering child, another incident where a toddler is harmed in any way. 

It’s the thing that keeps you up at night wondering how you can protect your child from this world. 

It’s the feeling you get when you let your child ride the bus for the first time or walk home with a friend. 

It’s there when you turn around in the grocery store and don’t see your child right there. 

It’s what you feel when your teenager is not answering the phone that you have him in case of emergencies. 

It’s the feeling you get when your child drives alone for the first time.

It happens when you wake up in the middle of the night and your child isn’t home or when you are suddenly woken up by your child calling you.

It’s what you feel when you watch the news about another college rape and wonder how your daughter is doing so far from home. 

It happens when you wonder if your son is making the right choice about his career choice. 

It’s there when you wonder if your child is really happy in the relationship she’s in.

It’s when you hear that your about to become a grandmother and the cycle starts all over again. 

As a mother, there are so many opportunities for worry. So many things have paralyzed me in fear, especially when you hear about unjust shootings. I don’t feel safe almost anywhere these days, but moreover, I don’t know how to kee my kids safe. 

I could choose to keep worrying. I could choose to lose sleep over all of this. But Jesus said something that has stayed in my head for so long:

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” (‭‭Matthew‬ ‭6:27‬ ‭NIV‬‬)

I realize that I, as a mother to the children that God has entrusted to me, have so much to worry about. I don’t want anything but the best for the babies who grew inside me, and it kills me that I cannot ensure that to them. I hate that there is so much evil in the world that I cannot protect them from. It pains me to know that my children will have to live through their own pains one day. 

But what will worrying do for me? What will worrying do for them?

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

‭‭Philippians‬ ‭4:6-7‬ ‭NIV‬‬

http://bible.com/111/php.4.6-7.niv

Guys, I’ve felt that peace, the one that transcends ALL understanding. It’s the most unexplainable, amazing feeling I’ve ever had. Worrying, on the other hand, kind of makes me feel like garbage. 

I’m not promised that everything in life will turn out the way that I want it to or that I and my loved ones will remain safe from all harm. But I am promised that wonderful peace if I surrender my worries at the Cross. It’s an amazing trade off. 

“The truth is we have nothing to fear and nothing to overcome because He is all in all and we are more then conquerors through Him.” (Oswald Chambers, Approved Unto God, 4 R.)

Trust

I’m not one of those moms who is too busy or tired to shower on a specific day. I don’t care how tired I am, or how much has to be done, I shower every day. (I do give credit to my husband here for his help in the evening so that I CAN shower!) It’s my favorite time to unwind at the end of the day. It’s my favorite place to think. 

One Friday night in the shower, my mind went to all of the medical bills that we have to pay and all the things we want to save for and student loan payments and credit card payments and wondering how to hold a job without sacrificing family time at night and without sending 2/3 of my paycheck to childcare. I was particularly stressed, and no matter how hot the water was, it did not soothe any of it. 

I got out of the shower and opened up My Utmost For His Highest (my favorite devotional book). The verse stood out right away — “come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Immediately, I prayed, I worshipped, I felt peace.

In an instant, I didn’t have the weight on my shoulders. But I still could not get the thoughts about money out of my head. I thought, “God, if we could just make $xx,000 then I wouldn’t worry.” 

That’s when I heard it. 

If you made $xx,000, you wouldn’t need to trust me.

Whenever I hear people talk about hearing God’s voice, I always wonder how they know it’s Him. I always wonder what it’s like. I always wonder how they can be sure. When I heard that, I knew it was Him. 

I’m not called to have everything together. I’m not supposed to do everything by myself. Life is definitely not perfect and there are dreams that I want to attain that I don’t know how I possibly could or would. I just have to trust, even if it means my plans will mess up. 

My year started out with this word too. On January 2, my son Ethan (who was 7 weeks old at the time) was rushed to the ER because he was sick and could not eat and was very dehydrated. It was the new year and I just wanted to spend time with my family as a whole, and my newborn baby had just been diagnosed with RSV. But the ER visit turned into a night at the hospital and then a middle-of-the-night ambulance ride to the PICU at another hospital when he was fighting for his life because he was working so hard to breathe. In all, we spent almost a week at the hospital, but it was on day 3 that I realized that I have to surrender my wants and focus on God and worship all that He is. I had to trust that this happened for a reason, that my helpless son was in the best place to get better, and that my God was in control. I had to trust that we were going to come out the other end and think “wow, I cannot believe that happened. And look how far we’ve come!”

Ethan’s very first smile on his last night in the hospital.
I knew at that moment that the timing was not a coincidence. I don’t know why my baby had to fight for his life, but I understood that 2016 started like that for a reason. I knew it would set the tone for my year. And I truly believe that the reason (or one of them) for me being there was to refocus on God and His plan for my life.

I have a plan for my life. I have a timeline for when things could/should happen, for everything to work out as ideally as possible in my human mind. But, as a friend reminded me the other day, and as I have seen in my own life, God laughs at our plans. He doesn’t laugh because they’re funny or silly, but because we’re so simple minded. We can only see so much and therefore cannot fathom all there is to go through in this life. 

There WILL be troubles, but even with what I picture to be an ideal circumstance, God has a plan for me that will blow my mind. 

His ways are higher than mine. His thoughts are higher than mine. 

I choose to trust Him. 

Worthless Gold

I love the book of Exodus. I love reading about the stories of Moses and watching them come alive for me. I love that every time I read something in that book, something new jumps out at me. The entire Bible is filled with great messages that make me think about my own life, but I’ve always especially loved Exodus.

I chuckled when I read the midwives’ defense of not killing the Hebrew baby boys when they were born: The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive” (Exodus 1:19). I wept as I nursed my first son and read that Moses’s mother gave him up to save him but she still got to share the most tender moments with her son as his nurse (Exodus 2:7-8). I counted how many times Moses refused to go where God sent him (five times – Exodus 3, 4) and pondered how many times I’ve done the same thing.

But I realized something else this weekend. I taught Sunday School yesterday and the lesson was on the golden calf. As I read through Exodus 32 to familiarize myself with the lesson, I read something that I never noticed before. After Moses saw what the Israelites had done to make this idol, verse 20 explains that he took the calf the people had made and burned it in the fire; then he ground it to powder, scattered it on the water and made the Israelites drink it.

He made the Israelites drink it.

The Israelites were just rescued from captivity in Egypt. They just witnessed the Red Sea split so that the ground was dry beneath their feet as they crossed it. They were eating manna that literally fell from the sky as they waited for Moses who was with God on Mt. Sinai. They saw all the power and glory of God.

But they didn’t trust God. In fact, they seemed to trust only in Moses (who God was working through). They freaked out when Moses still hadn’t come down from Mt. Sinai and said to Aaron, “Come, make us gods who will go before us. As for this fellow Moses who brought us up out of Egypt, we don’t know what has happened to him” (32:1). For whatever reason, Aaron complied. He told everyone to gather all the gold that they own. Precious gold. Then, using their most valuable earthly possession, he made the golden calf who the Israelites then worshipped.

All of their precious, valuable gold went into this golden calf. Moses burned it, crushed it, threw it into the river, and as if that wasn’t enough, they drank it. Their most valuable possessions were gone with now completely worthless, all because they thought that they could make a god who would guide them.

How many times have I done that?

How many times has God taken me out of difficult situations?

How many times has He led me through impossible roads?

How many times has He provided beyond my wildest dreams?

And yet, how many times have I put my trust in my possessions, however valuable, only for them to become completely worthless? Why do I do that?

Do you do that? Do you thank God when he rescues you but quickly forget that He’s the one who saved you to begin with? Do you easily lose hope? Do you put your trust in things that cannot do anything for you when it was God who held you all along?