Me and Sanctification: A Love/Hate Relationship

I have a love/hate relationship with sanctification.

(If you’re wondering about “sanctification,” here's an in-my-own-words definition: It’s basically the life-long process that the Lord walks us through where he makes us more like Him, day by day, struggle by struggle, learning point by learning point. It’s basically learning to live our faith out through that whole fear and trembling thing.)

The thing is, when I look at all the moments that have sanctified my heart up to this point, I love it. In hindsight, I can see how God was lovingly chiseling and melting and molding my heart when he walked me through some of those hardest points in my life. There were times when I cried and wondered how I was ever going to make it through. Times that left me flabbergasted and shocked at what the Lord was letting happen. There were times when I found myself on me knees again and again, praying and pleading for a certain prayer, which felt like it was never going to be answered.

And yet, in every one of those situations, I was able to walk through and watch them get resolved. I saw the Lord work in every single one of them and truly bring beauty to each one, even those piled up with ashes. I saw him answer my prayers in ways more wonderful than I could have ever anticipated. I saw him teach me about stepping out in true faith when answers took longer to come by. I saw him take care of me and bring blessing and never let me falter. I saw him always act, always love, always be there for me.

But when I’m in the midst of those places? When I’m in those deep, dark times when I’m being stretched and feel splintered and scarred and scared? When I’m in the throes of those hard times—the ones that sanctify us the most, the “refiner’s fire” that we sing about—I hate the process. I try to wriggle free of it. I hate it because it’s hard. Even though I know in my head that it’s all going to work out, that God is going to take care of me, that God is true to his promises and will never fail me, I still wrestle through the hard times.

The thing is, those hard times are always going to keep coming, no matter how much I love them or hate them. They are a part of this life that Jesus has promised to us. The key is for me to remember that the hard part is only but a season. The fruits that grow from it, though, are sweet and will flourish without end as they prove to make me more and more like him, one day, one struggle at a time.


Letting Go the Grip of Comparison in Motherhood and Discovering Grace

I wrote about the epiphany I had about the bitterness my heart had been harboring toward the suffering I’d experienced when Claire was a newborn and the jealousy I had toward women who were blessed with “easy” babies who slept and didn’t cry and were happy from the get-go. I wrote about how, upon realizing this place of bitterness seeded in my heart, I knew I could only do one thing with it: I needed to confess it. And upon doing so, I wrote about how the Lord proved himself faithful in that room as we each poured out confessions about the ugly parts in our hearts.

On the drive home afterward, I thought about this tendency of ours to compare ourselves to one another. Because we do it when we feel others have it better than us. But we also do it when we feel others have it worse than us. Sometimes we can justify the latter because it is supposed to make us feel grateful—that things could be worse for us. And surely they could. But, as I rounded the bend onto the highway, I realized I don’t even want to do that.

I realized I needed to release this urge to compare completely, because when I did it, it was always in a way that always ended up looking back upon myself: I would look at others’ good and see my own hardship. I would look at others’ hardship, and see my own good. Instead of it being about others or God, it was always about me. And that’s where the bitterness crept in, that’s where things turned ugly.

As I increased speed, I thought back to the stories we have of Satan, the one who takes truths and twists them. And I realize that is what he has been doing to me. These stories of people who have easy children should be source for me to celebrate, to see God's goodness and be encouraged. Even though I did not experience that for myself does not mean it is any less good. I must untwist that lie that makes me think that their experience is an attack on me and straighten it to see the beauty in it. Because if we untwist it, we can always see the goodness that lies beneath. Because in this world, God is always doing good. We must just sometimes have to work harder to find and see that.

The truth is that when others have gone through good, I want to rejoice with them. There is freedom in rejoicing with them. I want to look at those stories and--instead of seeing my own lack, my own I-wish-that-would-have-been-mine story--I want to see the joy of it, the hope.

When I hear someone say, "My child sleeps half the day away, without any effort on my part," I want to say, "Wow, what a miracle! God is good! He can do great things!" Because since that was not my reality, that truly is a miracle in my eyes.

As I realized those things, I felt God straightening things in my heart, untwisting the lies I’d been believing, the tangled lies where bitterness and jealousy lay. Joy, real joy, began to creep into my heart. I thought of the women I know whom I'd previously harbored jealousy for in regards to the way their newborn experiences were. I thought of them and, for the first time, I felt a sense of peace. I felt freedom from comparing myself to them. I could smile for them and say, "Wow, what a miracle. God is good."

I drove the rest of the way home and my heart felt light but full. It felt free.


Hello, I’m a Mom and I’m Jealous of You

I’ve written a lot about what a struggle Claire’s infancy was for me, dealing with a baby who was constantly demanding with cries and forever fighting sleep. She never seemed happy and frankly, neither was I much of the time.

I’ve also written that the Lord has done a lot of healing since then in these past months. Things with her have gotten so much better. She is an incredible joy and she seems to be making up for all the happiness that seemed lacking at first. She practically bursts with joy! And it isn’t just that my circumstances have changed, though the relief that has come with that has been a balm to my soul. But I can even look back and be grateful for the hardship I went through during Claire's infancy and be proud of how the Lord sustained me, proud of how he saw fit to give me that struggle and knew I could withstand it. I can honestly say those things now. I mean them.

But recently, I realized that in spite of my ability to feel grateful, I was still harboring bitterness about all I’d gone through. I realized this when I heard other moms talk about how easy their children were, how they were sleeping through the night effortlessly or barely cried and were always content. My jaw would drop, unable to imagine those scenarios. And then a bitterness, a jealousy would well up within me.

Because it felt wholly unfair that they would not have to suffer as I suffered. Wasn’t that part of the newborn experience? Wasn’t that the kind of initiation every mother should have to go through—at least to some degree? I would never wish my experience on anyone else, but come on—just a little?

Misery loves company, and I am sad to say that it was true even for me. I did not want to be alone in my suffering, even though it is now fully in the past. I resented that others were allowed to skip over that. To try to pacify myself, I’d whisper, “Well, someday they’ll suffer. When the child is a toddler or a teenager, then they’ll know hard times. Someday they’ll suffer like I did.”

I realized this, and I knew that I needed to repent of it. Though I’d been feeling these things for months, I hadn’t yet named them, I hadn’t realized that they came from a place of bitterness and jealousy. “Confess your sins and pray for one another and you will be healed,” the book of James says. I truly believe that, and so at that moment, I resolved to confess them at my weekly Bible study.

So a few days later, when the time came, I was at our Bible study. The teacher was wrapping up her lesson just before we broke into our small groups and she finished the lesson by talking about the importance of confession. With that, I knew it was God confirming that he wanted me to do this. He pressed onto my heart that I should make my confession first thing, rather than waiting until the end when we go around and do prayer requests.

When I walked into our small-group room, there was a new face in there. She was a woman I’d met before but who didn’t yet know my heart in the same way all the other women in my group did. I hesitated. But then I remembered another verse: “If you love me, obey me.”

So when the leader nonchalantly asked me how my week had been, I opened up and told them I needed to make a confession before them all, in hopes that God would be faithful to his scriptures and bring healing to this place in my heart. Then, the words spilled out and I confessed this ugly place in my heart.

When I was done, everyone else opened up in confession about the ugly things that were going on—right now, this moment—in their lives that they knew needed confession as well. And you know what? They were all about jealousy, about looking at other people’s circumstances and feeling slighted because theirs were better than their own.

It was proof that God had orchestrated all of this. Beautiful, peace-giving, lovely proof. And so I had to trust that what he had begun, he would finish. That he would bring this healing he had promised in His word. I knew the confession was something he wanted of me, and so I had to trust the healing would come. For me, for each of us. And we each left there feeling a little more free, a little closer to each other and a little closer to Him.


Childbirth: A Window into Motherhood

When I was still pregnant and looking forward to having a natural childbirth because I felt like it was what God wanted for me, it only made sense to me to mine the Scriptures for truths that would translate to this calling, to this experience.

I went through and found a dozen or so verses that spoke to me about this task ahead. They called me to trust God, to have strength, to be patient, to not give up or worry, to remember that God was with me in this task.

One of the verses I came across that stuck to my heart was James 1:2-4: “Whenever trouble comes your way, let it be an opportunity for joy. For when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow—so let it grow! For when your endurance is fully developed, you will be strong in character and ready for anything.”

While I might not jump to categorizing childbirth as “trouble,” it certainly falls under the heading of “difficult,” making it fitting for my childbirth-readiness repertoire.

As I meditated on and memorized this verse, I was struck by the last few words: “…you will be ready for anything.” And as I began to mull on that, in the context of childbirth, I began to see how childbirth itself can be a microcosm of motherhood, a snapshot of the next decades that await us in those few hours leading up to the start of the thing itself.

Think about it: Typically, labor is difficult. It’s uncomfortable and as soon as you find a position that feels right, something changes and you have to readjust. It causes some women to scream, to grunt, to roar. You become emotional. There’s pain, and sometimes you just don’t know how to deal with it. Sometimes it causes you to writhe, to act unbecomingly, to even tear your flesh. Invariably you are going to want to give up, throw in the towel, escape from the hardships of the process.

But that isn’t all it is. Because at the very end, all of that pain ceases and is replaced with utter joy as you look at the human being you’ve created and cared for all this time. You finally get to see who this person is and, for the first time, you’re getting to see them for who they really are. You loved them before, but now, that love seems overwhelming.

That’s childbirth, but isn’t it also motherhood?

Like labor, motherhood itself is hard and I’m faced, again and again, with those same temptations and emotions of distress, discouragement, difficulty and pain. But we know that is not all there is to it. When Claire was a baby and crying all the time and I admitted to folks how difficult this task was, they all told me a truth to which I can also attest today: It will get easier, it will be worth it, even though right now it may feel like that may never come.

So, in those few hours of labor, perhaps God is giving us a glimpse into the journey that awaits us as mothers over the next years? Perhaps, in the weak moments of motherhood when I feel like I can’t do it anymore and I feel like giving up and like the pain is going to overwhelm me, I can look back at childbirth and be reminded: If I could make it through that, then surely I can endure motherhood. I need not despair or lose confidence or give up hope when those times come. Like the verse says, God has prepared me to be “ready for anything.”

And so I began to see childbirth not as just something to “get through” or something one chooses because she wants to prove herself or even reap positive health benefits. Instead, it became a window into motherhood. Certainly an epidural or a C-section doesn’t rob you of that vantage point, either, but because I felt called to forgo those options for my own reasons, I saw the beauty and gift of the process all the more.

Now that I’m deep in the throes of motherhood, I surely do not “feel” like I’m “ready for anything” in this journey of parenting my daughter, but I turn to this verse and cling to that, reminding myself that I in fact am. That I am ready—like with everything else—by the grace and help of God.

This article first appeared on iBelieve on June 21, 2013.

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Dear Claire: 10 Month Update

(I've been writing monthly updates to my daughter, Claire, documenting all the changes that come with the passing weeks. You can catch up on past letters here.)

Dear Claire,

At 10 months, I know you’re still a baby. But when I look at you and watch you and describe you, you feel like a toddler. Part of that is probably because now you are, in fact, toddling around. You are officially a walker, having taken your first real set of steps about a week before Christmas. Now, two weeks later, you walk about as often as you crawl, but you’re getting more and more adept with the walking and bolder with every step. You also proved (while we watched on) that you can readily climb an entire set of stairs unaided. Oy. You keep us on our toes!

{ some of your first steps, captured on film }

You also are saying “mama” and “dada” and sometimes “hi,” with a little wave that looks more like opening and closing your fist. And you will sometimes clap along with us (see photo below for an example). Leaps and bounds all around, little one! What a difference a single month can make, huh?

You are still long and lean, weighing in at just 17 lbs. when I took you in for your 9 month appointment; that’s keeping you at 25th percentile for weight and 75th percentile for length, which is where you’ve been for most of your life. Your hair is growing long and shaggy, no longer a cute, purposeful pixie cut that it had been for months and months. Now it can get pretty wild and messy, which your Mimi likes to refer to as your “Harriet Potter” look. We now have to pin your bangs back with bows and barrettes to keep them from getting in your eyes. Along with tracking your physical growth, you have four teeth: two on top (which broke through this month, in time to have your two front teeth for Christmas!) and two on bottom (which I think broke around six or seven months?).

You are not really too into specific toys right now; preferring the new over anything familiar. For instance, right now you are “playing” with a travel size bottle of lotion and your toothbrush. Boxes of toys you have and everyday household objects you prefer. Already rushing to grow up, it looks like to me.

That’s the case even when it comes to feeding time. For awhile I thought you were protesting being fed, spitting out and pursing your lips at many of the foods you’d previously lapped up. But recently, I realized I think it’s that you want to feed yourself. I can put a bit of your food on a spoon, hand it to you and you’ll instinctively put it into your mouth and eat a bite or two. I put a handful of cereal on your tray and you squeal with delight at being able to feed yourself.

So, that’s why when I look at you, I no longer see a baby but a person who just happens to be small. And while you might be small on the outside, I can already see that on in the inside, you’re larger than life.


Why I Didn't Pick "One Little Word" For the New Year (But What I'm Doing Instead)

A year is a long time. A year ago, I was still in the ignorance-is-bliss stage of expectant motherhood, with three months to go before I was to give birth to Claire. A lot can happen in a year.

And so, when I read about people selecting and choosing a single word to hang as a banner over the coming year, at first I find it beautiful, the idealism of it all. But then I remember how long a year is, and I find it overwhelming. For me, right now in this season that is ever changing, it seems too much. Committing to living out a single word for an entire year just seems too much, no matter how beautiful it seems right now, with the rush of the holidays just boxed up and a calendar full of pages spread before us.

No, right now, I find I must live in seasons. While committing to a whole year seems daunting, committing to a lesson for a single season seems right for me, whether that season lasts a week, a month or a decade.

So while others are picking and plucking a single word to hang over this coming year, I am settling on a single idea to hang over this current season of mine. And right now, for me, it is this: Learning to hold things loosely.

(Written on paper, it sounds idealistic, too, doesn't it?)

And yet, for me, it feels right. Right now I feel the Lord pulling me to loosen my grip on things: money, possessions, frugality, circumstances, stress, people's reactions, emotions.

They are the things I must stop trying to control, stop trying to cling to. And so, I must learn to hold them loosely. I must learn how to wield them without letting them turn and end up wielding me instead.

Already, only days into the new year and this new lesson of mine, I can feel the Lord working, the Lord helping me let go of some of these things that would have previously riled me up and rang emotion out of me and given me nothing but stress.

It is not one single word for a single year, but it is what the Lord is calling me to right now. It is the banner that he is lifting over this season of mine. And that is beautiful.

My 3 New Favorite Study Bibles

I’ve found that one of the key elements when it comes to reading through and understanding the Bible has been to have a good study Bible that is filled with helpful footnotes, explanations and cross-references. (Here's a review of the study Bible I use, as well as a review of the study Bible that my husband uses.)

This past year, I got the chance to receive a handful of study Bibles to add into my quiet times, so that I could share my thoughts and experiences with you this year. There are a ton of different study Bibles out there, and my hope is that by getting to compare a couple, you might be able to find the perfect one for you (or at the very least, a good addition to your Bible-study library!).

Here's a look at three of the new study Bibles that I got to try out this year that I loved the best:

Chronological Life Application Study Bible (NLT): I have always wanted a study Bible like this, particularly after doing my chronological Bible reading plan for the two previous years. Essentially, the entire Bible is organized in a chronological pattern based on the order the events are believed to happen (rather than the order they were written or recorded). This is especially helpful when reading things like the Gospel accounts about Jesus, to see side-by-side how the different writers recorded Jesus' sayings and actions.

Interspersed throughout are really in-depth profiles, illustrations and explanations about things like specific characters (Hezekiah), places (Solomon's temple) or even just interesting details, such a photograph of the Appian Way, a main highway during the days of Paul that he likely traveled. It pulls in lots of archeological facts, information, full-color photographs and maps that really help you wrap your head around the history of it all. (I should point out that I loved the fact that this Bible was printed in full color; the pages are heavier to accommodate that, so you don't feel like you're going to rip them with every turn.)

Then, along the top of the pages runs a timeline, showing you during what Biblical "era" (such as during the Birth of Israel or its Exile or once its Return & Diaspora) the section you are reading occurred. Finally, as with any study Bible, littered along the bottom of the pages are specific insights about specific verses. It is not exhaustive—there were still times I was left wondering about what a certain passage meant—but it is very helpful.

The biggest drawback is that it is not a Bible friendly to flipping through (so probably not good for Sunday morning services unless you'll only be staying in one spot in Scripture); the passages are scattered about depending on the chronology so it's harder to locate a passage without going to the directory in the front of the Bible. That being said, I loved this Bible (it was my hands-down favorite of the three) and think it is incredibly handy and insightful for bringing the historical and cultural elements of the Bible to life during your daily quiet times.

NIV Essentials Study Bible: This Bible takes six different resources (the NIV's Study Bible, Quest Study Bible, Archaelogical Study Bible, Student Bible, Great Rescue Bible, and Essential Bible Companion) and weaves them together to utilize the best of each one. There are built-in devotional sections that prompt you to "Reflect and Respond," pulled from The Great Rescue Bible. Or a section answering hard questions like, "Does God Choose Some People and Reject Others?" that comes from the Quest Study Bible. There are character profiles, maps, and archaeological insights, as well as your standard study-Bible call-outs for specific Scriptures at the bottom of every page.

Even though it pulls from all these different resources, it doesn't pull everything from each one; so it isn't exhaustive and you'd still likely find yourself wanting to purchase one of the specific ones to get it's full benefit. That being said, if you don't know what kind of study Bible you want, this can be useful to gauge that or simply to provide a variety to your studies. I do think it provides more in-depth info and call-outs than your standard study Bible, making it a solid resource.

Compass: The Study Bible for Navigating Your Life: This is the "lightest" of the study Bibles and I don't know that I would really call it a study Bible, in the truest sense; there aren't the call-outs running along the bottom of the pages that you would typically be expecting. Instead, the call-outs are integrated into the text. That is what sets this Bible apart and what made me really like it: They collaborated not only with Biblical scholars but also writers and artists to create a Bible translation ("The Voice") that is written in a way that translates not only word for word but also the tone of voice and intentions of the original text.

So sometimes a word may not be in the original text and would have been implied, but in our modern texts we'd leave it out since it wasn't there; The Voice will add it back in to aid comprehension, but in italics so that you're aware of the addition. I found that this really did help me understand a text, in context, without having to jump around or stop to read footnotes.

Another element of The Voice is that any dialogue is written in screenplay format that identifies the speaker but then eliminates the repetition of things like "then he said" that can clutter up a text. It took some getting used to, but I did find it made larger dialogue texts much easier to follow along with. Finally, they integrate additional explanatory text into the text as sidebars; so for example, in Proverbs, there's a call-out that explains that many of the proverbs are written in a Hebrew poetic form known as parallelism.

At first I didn't think I would like how everything was integrated into the text directly, but I have found that it really does make reading and understanding the text much easier when you don't have to jump around for explanations and insights. The only drawback is that other study Bibles (such as the other two I've reviewed here) are able to incorporate more information and details. Still, I oftentimes find myself reaching for this one first when I'm reading a text to get a really solid understanding of the text first, and then using the others to provide additional insights that bring the text to life even more.


My Busy-Mom Bible Study Plans for 2014

Last year when I started my own Bible study plan I had good intentions. The goal was to slow down and go through specific scriptures at a more indepth pace so that I could really get to know the passages. However, the truth of the matter is that with so many distractions at my fingertips—from a crying then crawling baby to a big cross-country move—this approach made it all too easy for me to slack off or ignore daily quiet times entirely.

Fortunately, once I moved and we found a new church, I was able to join a women's Bible study. I discovered that the structure and accountability that this Bible study offered me is especially important in the season now with Claire. Every week, we work through a workbook of questions on particular passages and then we meet together to discuss those portions. Knowing that I had to report back to them every week really challenged me to make sure that I completed each section of scripture entirely. Also, the guided questions helped me stay on track during the short bursts of time I had available in the midst of watching and parenting Claire when it would otherwise be too easily to skim through and shut my Bible without digging in deeper.

Fortunately, this coming year are Bible study will continue. We've already decided that we will be studying the book of Judges. So that will guide my Bible study efforts for the first part of the year. And I've already decided that during the times when our group is taking a break, to work my way through similar Bible study workbooks (similar to the ones by Beth Moore or Priscilla Shirer that I've completed in the past). I find that right now I need those kinds of prompts to help me stay focused and really dig into scripture. It's all too easy to get distracted. (By the way, if you have any workbooks like this that you'd recommend for solo use, please let me know!)

I've also asked my husband if he'll watch Claire for me for 20 minutes or so each morning so that I can intentionally study the Word in this way. There's plenty of accountability in this, too, as I want to be faithful to the task, knowing that he's giving up his little free time to aid me in this endeavor. Sure, I could read during her naps or when she's playing independently, but I find that I get too easily distracted or pulled to take care of other tasks. This arrangement helps force me to seek out Scripture, and right now I think that's (sadly? honestly?) what I need: to force myself to dig in.

So for now, that is how I'm retooling my Bible study plans for this coming year: Taking advantage of the community and resources available to help maximize my efforts and time. Because let's face it, even though Claire is no longer crying and colicky, she is now crawling and cruising and getting into everything, which means that it's still hard to find large blocks of time to committed to Bible study. My lazy days of curling up on the couch with a hot mug of coffee in hand and casually spending an hour or so on Bible study feel long gone! But I know that God honors and multiplies our efforts and gives us grace in this season of our lives. So, I press on and learn from the past and look forward to what awaits in this new year of ours.


The Only Resolution That Really Matters

Happy New Year! I hope the holidays treated you and your family well.

With this new year of ours oftentimes comes new plans and goals and all varieties of resolutions. While I’m not much of a resolution maker, one of the things that I have marked the new year with the past couple of years has been to use this fresh start to settle on a Bible reading plan that will guide me for the following months.

For a couple of years, I used a chronological Bible-reading plan that takes you through the Bible more or less in the order that the events written about are thought to have taken place. (For more on this chronological Bible-reading plan and to download a copy, go here.) The goal of this plan is to walk you through the Bible in a year, which makes it not for the faint hearted because it does require a considerable amount of dedication to sit down with your Bible for an hour or so a day.

But by reading events that are grouped together—say the Old Testament prophecies along with the historical records in Kings and Chronicles that explain what was going on at that time—I was able to really wrap my head around how all those stories and segments fit together and think that is by far the greatest strength in this reading plan.

Last year, though, I knew I was going to be more time-strapped, so I decided to slow down and really dig into different Scriptures and to linger with them longer than I was able to when reading through them for this previous plan. My aim was to pick a few books or topics that I could back up and chew on, slowly and intentionally. I pulled commentaries from the library and downloaded some online resources to get more perspectives on these writings. The goal for this slowed-down method of Bible study was to really know them.

Then, I had my baby and much of those good intentions flew out the window and I would grab scraps of Scripture here and there, whenever I could. Honestly, it was not especially fruitful and I am certain I could have been more disciplined and, after awhile, let my role as "a new mom" become an excuse at lazy Bible reading. Which is something I want to change when it comes to my Bible reading goals and plans for this coming year.

So, along that vein, I want to spend the next week or so exploring this discipline of Bible reading: I’ll be sharing some more Bible-study thoughts and resources, as well as more about my goals for my own Bible study plan for this coming year. Because I don't want to just my resolutions to be about losing weight or saving more or spending time better. I want to remember that which is most important: getting to know God better by committing to reading more of His Word.

Are you starting a new Bible reading plan this year? What kind of approach do you use for reading the Scriptures? I'd love to hear more in the comments!
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