Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Pink Pants, Purple Pencils, and Who I Am in Christ

I've been having a very minor identity crisis lately. Blame it on my abrupt attack on nearly every area of life, but my generally introspective, perfectionistic self is in hyper self-examination mode right now. My hair, my clothes, my priorities, my diet, my time management, my spiritual life, my habits, my dresser name it, and I'm thinking about how it is, how to make it better, and how it makes me who I am.

Strangely, we tend to define ourselves by things that can change: our looks, our hobbies, our preferences. I find it interesting to realize how mine have evolved through the years. Ten years ago, I had just rebuilt my wardrobe of flare leg jeans after a few years of wearing gigantic (and by most standards, ridiculous looking) wide-leg jeans that dragged on the ground. In the past few years, I have been wearing skirts pretty much all the time. In recent months, I discovered yoga pants, and now I don't want to wear anything else. (My mom will tell you that I have always been this loyal to my own fashion and hairstyle trends...just ask about the turtlenecks of 5th and 6th grade!)

5th grade, year of turtlenecks and big hair bows

I grew up being the girl who liked blue while my little sister had everything pink. In my teen years, I realized that I liked green just as much, and blue and green together were the best. This Crayola-combination is still one of my favorites, but recently, I've been a little obsessed with pink. Having a baby girl or two certainly helped, as did the gift from my husband of a distinctly girly pink-and-black gun. Then I requested a pink and black tool set, in hopes that Don would not steal (and consequently lose) my tools. (I was totally wrong about that, by the way - he always uses my tools now, because they come in such a handy and convenient tool case. He does put them back though!) Since then, I have acquired a bright pink camera, blow dryer, bow and arrow, tote bag, and bathrobe for my expanding collection of fun and feminine items. Oh, and I have two pairs of pink yoga pants!

I could go on and on about how my quirks have changed to fit my husband's preferences and my own evolving life. Ten years ago I wouldn't touch red meat; now our favorite place to go is the Longhorn Steakhouse for the Flo's Filet. I ate a bowl of Breyer's every night until last summer, when I got hooked on Shakeology and haven't bought ice cream since. I thought guns were scary; now my husband suggests a date to the gun show and I respond with enthusiasm. I thought exercise was taking the stairs instead of the elevator; now I do hour-long workouts and lift heavy weights. I loved snuggling other people's babies. Now I still love babies, but I'm usually too busy holding my own to pick up any others.

This isn't my gun...not yet, anyway. ;)
I was scoping out pink weapons at the gun show,
and this AR was pretty cute!

It is tempting to find my unique self-worth as a girl who loves pink (or green, or blue), and skirts (or jeans, or turtlenecks), and babies (yours, mine, or the unknown orphans in a foreign country). But I thank God that though the world sees only these external things, they are not what really count. Who am I to the Lord Jesus? He doesn't put me in categories like "homeschool mama," "wife who works out," or "pink girl." My value is not in my possessions or preferences or even my performance. It's in Him.

Studying Ephesians has been really helpful with understanding this concept. I have a color-coded system (yes, another quirk) for how I underline verses in my (pink) Bible, and purple is the color for verses that answer the question, "Who am I in Christ?" Ephesians 1 is chock full of purple verses. I recommend that you read this whole passage, because if you are a believer, it applies to you too:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment—to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession — to the praise of his glory.

In Christ, I am chosen - predestined to be one of His own since before the foundation of the world. In Christ, I am forgiven - every ugly thought and word and deed is wiped clean. I was a slave to sin, but I am redeemed by His blood. I am not alone; I am adopted into His forever family. And in Christ, I have confidence, because I am sealed with the Holy Spirit.

As fun as they may be, my pink pants do not make me special. I am special to God because He chose me to be His own. My true identity lies not in the colors of my wardrobe, but in the purple-lined verses that remind me: I can only find my true worth, satisfaction, and peace in the perfect love and saving work of Christ Jesus.

My favorite pink things

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Sunday, January 22, 2012

Bass Pro Shops and More to Come

...I will build you with stones of turquoise,
your foundations with sapphires.
I will make your battlements of rubies,
your gates of sparkling jewels,
and all your walls of precious stones.
All your sons will be taught by the LORD,
and great will be your children’s peace.
In righteousness you will be established:
Tyranny will be far from you;
you will have nothing to fear.
Terror will be far removed;
it will not come near you.

Isaiah 54:11-14

It was a good weekend. A long ride on snowy roads with new tires and functional brakes. A trip to a new store that dazzled us with interesting items and decor. Children sleeping soundly in their beds. A great meal that I didn't have to cook or clean up, or (thanks to a gift card) even pay for.

Intermixed in the adventures were many potential moments for conflict and distress. Frigid weather. Potty trips with fussy babies in tow. Being separated in the store with no working cell phone. Hungry children who still hadn't eaten dinner at bedtime. A waitress giving Donny's milk to Hayden - and the ensuing dash to find Benadryl at the closest convenience store. Sawing open the Benedryl liquid capsule with a Swiss Army knife. Huddling around a small table at Dunkin Donuts for a dinner of bagels instead of the family dining experience we had planned. Attempting to get to church on time. Rescheduling the dining experience only to have it interrupted by a crying baby. Baby crying all afternoon.

But overall, I am counting this a great weekend. As we cruised along the quiet, snow-covered highway, Don and I actually got to talk without being interrupted, distracted, or interrupted again. We soaked up the delights of Bass Pro Shops in Foxboro, MA as gleefully as our children did. We came home with presents and pictures and memories. And I fell in love even more with the husband and father who handled the medical emergencies and interrupted meals and continual demands of four little people with grace, calmness, and self-control.

What really amazes me is that every good thing on this earth - cute camo shirts, singing children, smiling babies, tasty bowls of guacamole, digital cameras, new strollers, helpful husbands, great conversations, answered prayers - they are just a shadow of what is to come. God has so much in store for us. Heaven is going to be amazing in a way that puts our modern over-use of the word to shame.

When we walked into Bass Pro Shops for the first time, it was overwhelming just to look around - in every direction there was something to see. Bears and foxes on the walls. A moose in front of us. Fish and turtles in the pond. Endless racks of camo gear. Giant boats and an enormous whale (which the boys insisted was probably made of cement) suspended from the ceiling. Knotty pine and spotlights everywhere.

Under the whale

Will we win this? Not likely!

Donny took this one:

But heaven is going to be made not of pine and fur, but of gold and jewels! No one will cry, no one will go hungry, no one will be cold, and no one will be allergic to milk. Like children in a candy store (oh yes, they had lots of candy at Bass Pro Shops too!), we will be awestruck and delighted in a way that our feeble human minds cannot comprehend. I can't wait.

I am so thankful for these little snippets of family fun that we can piece together into a collection of sweet memories. I am thankful for healthy children and a wonderful husband to raise them along with me. I am thankful for peaceful sleep whenever and wherever we find it. But most of all, I am thankful for the hope that there is so much more than this. Looking past the skyline, I can't see clearly, but I know there is something big and beautiful and infinitely beyond description or definition. We will have nothing to fear; there will just be peace. And it will be great.

(View out the window)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Lavished with Grace

It is a busy season here, with so many new routines and activities. But as I say to the strangers in the grocery store who exclaim, "You're busy!" when they see my cart-full of children, "Yes, but it's a good busy." And I am so thankful that one of my new busy things is the Good Morning Girls group. Besides the wonderful (albeit virtual) fellowship with some dear sisters in Christ, I am finding precious blessings in making time daily to dig deeper into God's Word, pulling out each jewel of Scripture to examine it and delight in its beauty.

The Ephesians study is perfect for me, because I actually started memorizing Ephesians a few years ago. I learned through somewhere in Chapter 2 before, sadly, I neglected my resolution. This year, I am hoping to resume memorizing one of my most-underlined books as I study a few verses each day and reflect on what God wants to say to me. Having His Word in my heart always yields blessings!

Today we looked at Ephesians 1:7-10:
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace, which he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. And he made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment -- to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

In these verses, I am struck by the luxury: the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. According to, the Greek word translated “lavished” is perisseuĊ, which can mean “to exceed a fixed number of measure, to be left over and above a certain number or measure” or “to make to abound.” It is used in Matthew 14 and 15 to refer to the basketfuls of bread that were left over after Jesus fed the crowds. A sub-definition of the second meaning is “to furnish one richly so that he has abundance.”

When I think of words like this, I tend to think of material possessions, or even the blessings of health, family, and fellowship. But God says that what He lavished on us was grace - the forgiveness of sins that we have through the blood of Jesus. He didn't just give us what we need, carefully measuring a cup of grace for each sin. No, He poured it out, burying even the vilest of sinners in a shower of incredible forgiveness. What incredible luxury!

The word is used several more times throughout the New Testament. For example:
- Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (Luke 12:15)
- How much more did God's grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! (Rom. 5:15)
- the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God (2 Cor. 4:15)
- their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity (2 Cor. 8:2)
- And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. (2 Cor. 9:8)

Abounding, overflowing, lavish grace: that is what the Lord God extended to me. Like silks and jewels overflowing a queen's treasury, I am blessed with so many riches that I simply cannot count - or contain - them. God's grace fills me, leaving an abundance left over to share with others. His forgiveness, His love, His joy, must trickle out from me as I realize how blessedly rich I am in Christ.

Practically, how can I extend this grace to my children? How can I discipline when it is warranted without ceasing to pour out grace? How can I show them the great and amazing forgiveness of the Lord? How can I overcome headaches, tension, exhaustion, and sibling battles to overflow with goodness? Second Corinthians 9:8 promises that I will abound in every good work. Raising my children, loving my husband, keeping my home, studying God's Word - these are the good works He has given me in this season, and His overflowing grace WILL supply all that I need. I am so thankful for this refreshing reminder that I am a blessed recipient of the amazing, abundant, luxurious grace of God!

And as one who has been forgiven with unmeasured grace, my role is to let it overflow, spilling and spreading God's beautiful grace all around me. May we all be overflowing vessels as we realize that our redemption through Christ's blood is the ultimate gift from a lavishly generous Father.

Friday, January 13, 2012

All Things New

“Forget the former things;
do not dwell on the past.
See, I am doing a new thing!"

Isaiah 43:18-19a

Happy New Year! I hope to be able to blog more in 2012, but so many new things are keeping me busy that I rarely have a spare moment at the computer. There's the new baby, of course, who has been keeping hands occupied for three sweet months now. And Don starting a new job meant more transitions for our family. Since he can set his own hours, he has been leaving home extra early in order to beat the rush hour traffic. The trade-off for his pre-dawn disappearance is that we get to spend time with him in the afternoon. Of course, now that he is working outside the home and I have errands and children's activities to get to, we also needed a second vehicle.

For a few weeks, we pondered the many options: an expensive new commuter car, a cheap old car that may break down, a bigger family vehicle so that Don could take the van (which we own), buying him a truck that could also be used for trash-hauling and hunting trips, leasing something, and so on. Meanwhile, our dear friends were also in the process of preparing for a new job. Jared's new position as a youth pastor at a church in Kansas meant that he and Laura would be moving halfway across the country, and they didn't want to drive both of their vehicles out there, so they planned to sell their Chrystler Sebring convertible. Though we didn't know much about the car, it seemed like a clear sign to us that we should buy from our friends who needed to sell - the transaction would benefit both of our families as the husbands started their new jobs. As it turned out, Jared and Laura needed to use the car up until a certain Friday, and the very first day that Don needed to drive to work was the following Monday - AND we were already going to Jared and Laura's house for their going-away party that very weekend! As if that wasn't enough, we expressed interest in buying the car before we knew how much it was worth. Meanwhile, Jared had prayerfully set the price tag at $2000. Ever since Don and I paid off our van, we have been setting a certain amount of money aside each month in an ING account called "New Car Savings." In December, we had over $1900 in the account, and on January 1st, the total would have topped $2000! I love when God works things out right to the last penny to answer our prayers. And even though it's not a brand new pickup truck or gas-saving hybrid supercar, Don is actually enjoying his new vehicle. My cold-hating husband was even caught driving home from work with the top down on a 50 degree December day!

There have been changes at home, too. Now that we no longer need to use one bedroom as an office, our growing family can fill our three bedrooms instead of cramming into two. While in the process of changing the office to a girls' room, we ripped out the nasty old carpet and had new carpet installed. The night before it arrived, when excess furniture and miscellaneous stuff was cluttering every room in order to leave the office completely empty, my husband (after chatting with his mother) suggested an even better idea: the newly carpeted room could be our room. The girls could have the boys' room. And the boys, and all of their toys, could have the oversize room we've been using as a master bedroom/nursery. We just hit the three year mark in this house (twice as long as we've lived anywhere else!), so it was fun (though temporarily chaotic) to change things up a bit. We are all very happy with the new set up, so when I get a chance, I'll share some pictures. I also got, after a long wait for the rescheduled delivery and a few frustrating phone calls, a brand new front loading washer. It may seem silly, but after having a very basic washing machine for five years, I am so excited about all the different cycles! It is especially nice for washing diapers. Instead of running up and down the basement stairs three times to prewash, wash, and rinse, I can just set a long sanitize cycle and forget about it until everything is clean. What a blessing!

The household rearranging was completed just in time to start our new school year this week. Since we started First Grade last January and finished in November after schooling straight through the summer, it is time to move on to second grade. I am excited about using the My Father's World Adventures curriculum since we have had such good experiences with their Kindergarten and First Grade programs. This year we will be learning about the 50 states, American history, and the names of Jesus related to our science studies. We're looking forward to a great year! In addition to homeschool, visits with grandparents, and continuing to get together with friends for Lego building time, we will also be making weekly trips to the gym. Hayden had his first gymnastics class last week and loves it already! His gymnast Daddy is thrilled, of course, and Lydia can't wait until she is big enough to join a class too!

Don and I are keeping up our own physical fitness with a brand new workout program called P90X2. Beachbody's P90X extreme fitness program is well known for yielding great results, so we hope that this sequel will do the same. Don has done P90X a few times, and I completed it myself at the end of 2010 (one of the reasons I wasn't blogging then - it's very time consuming!). It is difficult to squeeze in hour-long workouts with a new baby and three loud children who alternate between wanting to join the workout and sabotaging it with their demands ("Can I please have one raisin?"), but I love the results of a challenging exercise program. Don also wanted to follow the diet program, so I have been carefully meal planning and calorie counting for him. (Since I'm nursing and don't need to lose weight, I am not worried about the number of calories I eat, but I am trying to avoid the pile of Christmas candy in the cupboard!) And between buying new workout programs and Don and I both drinking Beachbody's Shakeology® daily, I concluded that it was worth signing up to be an Independent Team Beachbody Coach, both to get a discount ourselves, and to be able to share these products with others. We were already telling people how much we love certain products, and now we can send them to my Beachbody site to learn more about the workout programs, nutritional supplements, and online tools that Beachbody offers.

Finally, I had been thinking and praying about finding a group of other women with whom I could meet for prayer, encouragement, and accountability, when the Lord graciously introduced me to Good Morning Girls. Since Good Morning Girls is a form of online accountability for having daily quiet time, it is perfect for moms like me who may not be able to get to Bible studies and prayer groups outside of the home. A group of my local young mom friends and I have committed to hold each other accountable to grow daily with God, and we'll be emailing each other every weekday to encourage one another and share what we are learning. I am looking forward to getting to know these wonderful ladies better, and to see how God will use our group for His glory! I will also be participating in the free Ephesians Bible Study offered by Good Morning Girls. If you don't already have a daily time set aside with God, I encourage you carve out a few minutes of your day, join me in this study, and invite others to hold you accountable. I know God will bless us for being faithful to Him!

And lest you start to suspect that I am some kind of wondermom, able to embark on a myriad of new adventures without batting an eye, you should know that there is a basket of clean laundry that has been sitting in my bedroom for so long that the boys have been shopping for clean clothes in there every morning. There are piles of clutter resulting from the bedroom switcheroo (and ensuring closet switcheroo) that are driving me crazy, and I haven't baked bread (which I used to do weekly) for a year. I can't do it all, but I can do that which God has given me for this season with His help and His grace, and I am so thankful for the many new blessings and opportunities He has already given me this year. By His strength, I am excited to dive into 2012!