Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Positive Side of Affliction

 If someone did a poll asking how many people like to experience affliction, the results would be rather lopsided. This is America, after all. The land of dreams come true. The home of health, wealth, and prosperity. (At least that used to be true.)

But the psalmist writes, "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes" Psalm 119:71. He understood the truth that affliction is what draws us back to God. When life is going smoothly, we forget about God. It is the hard times that bring us scurrying back to study His words.

I understood this after I had my baby. Postpartum is had for all women, but for some of us it is significantly harder than for others. I couldn't sleep. My hormones were going haywire. Worst of all, I wasn't bonding with my baby. I felt so depressed and guilty. How could I love my child so much before he was born, but feel nothing once I held him in my arms? What was wrong with me?

I was drowning--physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Yet it wasn't all negative. During that time, like never before, I turned to the Scriptures. I devoured the Psalms. I memorized Isaiah 40:28-31. I read and reread the sheet of verses my mother left for me. "It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes."

Nothing lasts forever. I began to sleep again. My hormones steadied themselves. I bonded with my adorable little boy. But as I grew more confident in my new role, something else slipped away. I began to rely more on myself and less on God. I began to rely on my wisdom instead of His word. I don't yearn to be afflicted again, but I know it needs to happen. I need to be afflicted again, and again, and again--to be reminded to turn to God's statutes.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

"No" Isn't Always an Acceptable Answer

One of the first words we learn is "No." We learn its meaning and its consequences long before we say our first words. That does not, however, make it any easier to accept its meaning.

I hate being told "No." I will beg, plead, manipulate, or do whatever it takes to try to change "No" to "Yes." Often I appeal several times. Sometimes I am successful, but often the answer stays unchanged.

I don't think it is wrong to appeal--provided it is done in a respectful manner. As a matter of fact, Jesus told a parable about a woman who wouldn't accept no for an answer (Luke 18:1-8). She pestered the ungodly judge until he gave her the verdict she wanted just so she would leave him alone. Jesus commended her persistence: "Men ought always to pray, and not to faint (v. 1).

It is important to keep in mind, though, that the woman  had a just complaint--she was being persecuted (v. 3). The judge was an ungodly man (v.2). He didn't have a good reason for refusing her request.

Too often we give up asking for the things that really matter (someone sick and in need of healing, salvation of lost relatives, etc.). Those are the things for which we shouldn't just accept "No" as an answer.

Instead, we give up on the important things and focus on more trivial matters. We pester God and those around us for material things that will not matter in a short while. I remember begging my dad for weeks to let me wear earrings. Why don't I beg God like that to save my relatives and friends?

Sometimes the answer is "No." But what if, like for the woman in the parable, the answer would have changed if I'd persisted just a little bit longer?

Monday, January 27, 2014

Finding Fullness of Joy Through Rejoicing in the Sovereignty of God

I am a realist (not quite a pessimist, but close!). That is what I always tell people. For many years I've used "realism" as an excuse for being discouraged and depressed. I'd say, "I'm just not one of those people who always thinks everything is going fine when it isn't." I would read Philippians 4:4 and puzzle over what my response should be.  It would be hypocritical to pretend everything was fine when it was not. How could I rejoice over bad things?

Yesterday Quentin fell asleep during Sunday School just in time for me to go downstairs to hear the answer to those questions.

As my pastor taught from Philippians 4, the Holy Spirit convicted me. There is an answer to my dilemma. I can, and must, choose to rejoice in every situation.

Philippians 4:4 says, "Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say rejoice" (ESV). The key phrase is "in the Lord." We are called to rejoice in the Lord, in His sovereignty, in His control. Even when life is difficult, God is in control. We can always rejoice in that fact. He knows what is best. He has a plan for each of us.

I don't have to be hypocritical while obeying God's command to rejoice. He knows when I'm struggling. He wants us to come to Him on our knees. We should be broken and dependent on Him. But even in the darkest of circumstances, we can still rejoice. When we choose to look at God and not our circumstances, when we choose to rejoice in His control and not fight against it, and when we lay our fears and struggles at His feet, we will be able to find true joy by rejoicing in Him.

Friday, January 3, 2014

New Year's Resolutions

I've never been one for making resolutions at New Year's. It is too discouraging to make a resolution only to have it fall apart a few weeks (or days) later.

Some resolutions, though, are worth making. I know I won't succeed in a resolution to exercise more--at least not during a New England winter! I won't succeed in a resolution to avoid chocolate. I just won't; there's no point in trying. I won't even succeed in a resolution to be a better mother. At least, I won't succeed in that one on my own.

I've been thinking about the big responsibility I now have. I have a baby to raise. He will learn his first lessons about love, trust, and God from me. Psalm 22:9 haunts me: "But thou art he that took me out of the womb; Thou didst make me trust [when I was] upon my mother's breasts." That is a staggering thought. As I nurse my baby, cuddle him, play with him, and walk with him, he is learning lessons about trusting God. Is he learning to trust God more or less through my example? Am I showing him the importance of daily devotions (yes, I know Quentin is only 4 months old), of spending time in prayer? Is he learning that God always keeps His word, that Mommy and Daddy trust God to provide for their needs? Through my parenting is he learning that God always hears our prayers--our cries to Him?

I can't raise my baby the way I should. There is no point in my trying to keep the resolution of being a godly mother in my own strength. This is one resolution, though, that I will make. I will make it because I know God will give me the grace to keep this resolution.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Youngest Teacher

When Quentin was born, my mom told me God gives us babies to smooth out our rough edges. She was right. Each day with Quentin I become more aware of aspects of my personality that need to change.

I never knew I was a self-centered person until everything stopped centering around me and started to center around a little 7 pound, 6 ounce little boy.

Until I lost my full night's sleep.

Until I had no time for my hobbies, let alone taking care of my physical appearance.

Until the accomplishments of each day were based on the needs of my baby, not on the list on the counter.

Until I had to ask God for the strength and wisdom to make it through each hour.

Until I had to care for someone even when he wasn't acting loving, even when I didn't feel loving.

Then I realized that everything I did was done because I enjoyed doing it. That even when I helped others, I only did it because I wanted to--it made me feel good. It was all based on self-centeredness. Isaiah was so right when he said, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags (64:6). Even the good I was doing was for self-centered purposes.

I am trying to learn. It is slow going learning to love others more than oneself. There have been many teachers in my life. I never expected to learn how to love selflessly from the youngest person in my life. Who knew a 9 week old baby could be my youngest teacher! That instead of me teaching him, he is teaching me.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Encouraging Reminders from the Psalms

When Quentin was born, I was was in the middle of reading through Leviticus. While dealing with sleepless nights, nursing difficulties, and not feeling well, the rules and regulations of the Old Testament sacrificial system didn't offer much encouragement, so I switched to reading through Psalms.

David's struggles, vehement ventings, and outpourings of praise were the source of encouragement I needed:

"I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God; incline your ear to me; hear my words. . . . Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings" (Psalm 17: 6, 8).

"I sought the Lord, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. . . . This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him. . . . Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34: 4, 6, 8).

"The steps of a man are established by the Lord, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the Lord upholds his hand. I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread" (Psalm 37:23-26).

"The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; he is their stronghold in the time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him" (Psalm 37:39-40)

"I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. . . . May all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, "Great is the Lord!" As for me, I am poor and needy, but the Lord takes thought for me. You are my help and my deliverer; do not delay, O my God" (Psalm 40: 1-3, 16-17).

And He does listen to our cries for help. I am so thankful for all the lessons He taught me during the last several months. It is true that trials are never pleasant, but God does give the strength to go through them.

Friday, August 30, 2013

No Expectations

The learning curve of a new mom is steep. No one tells you what the first few weeks are really like--crazy hormone fluctuations, no more than 2 hours of sleep at a time, struggling to read the baby's cues, exhaustion like never before experienced, and having one's expectations dashed again and again.

No expectations. That is what I'm learning.

Don't expect things to stay bad--because they won't always be bad.

Don't expect things to stay scheduled and perfect--because babies don't operate on schedules at the beginning. They aren't machines and they don't come with user manuals.

Some nights start out rough and end great. Some start out great (like last night) and then the baby gets a gas attack at 5:30 a.m.

Some days all I want to do is sleep. I cry for no reason. I call my mom and tell her I can't do this; I'm not meant to be a mom. The problem is . . . I am a mom!

Some days I feel better. I enjoy nursing my chubby little baby. I think I can keep going.

Some days people criticize how I take care of Quentin. That hurts. I'm trying so hard to take good care of him.

People let me down.

But God never lets me down.

If I allow negative expectations to rule my life, I will get stressed and bitter.

If I base positive expectations on other people, I will be disappointed.

There is only one person I can base my expectations on--Jesus Christ. He is my positive expectation. He will never let me down. He will always guide me. He will never leave me. He will give me the strength I need.

"But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me." (II Cor. 12:9)