Thursday, December 31, 2009

Questions about Suffering?

If you go to this link and scroll down to the first sermon listed by John Piper called "Subjected to Hope" it will blow your mind. In it he unpacks why we experience suffering even though our hearts have been freed by Christ and explains what was part of the curse of our sin verses how God uses suffering for His purposes. It is well, well worth 45 minutes of your time. I have three little kids and a short lunch "break" each day and I am so glad I sat here on the couch, listened to this and took notes. This sermon was given to the Matt Chandler's church, The Village, in Texas.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Part 2: Our Two Yr Olds are Dating

I mentioned in the last post that our daughters are not going to date, at least in the terms most of us think of, until they move out. I was completely serious.

I hear the initial criticisms flowing so I’ll just list them because five years ago they would have been mine too: 1. You are sheltering your kids. 2. You need to give them independence to make their own decisions. 3. You can’t protect your kids forever. 4. If you do that, when they move out, they will rebel against your strictness and be worse than if you had let them date earlier. 5. They will just do it anyway.

Well. There’s a lot stacked up there. I understand. However. We’ve got to dig deeper and not live in fear. We also don’t want to make a list of rules and regulations for no reason or because we want to be controlling or to show that we're in charge and they’re not.

If you peel away all the layers and intentions, there is a passionate, deep love for my daughters under there that Jesus himself put in my heart for them. THEY ARE NOT MINE. I have been graced with the infinitely wonderful responsibility of being their mother. But I can’t hold them too tight. And I also, more importantly, we cannot withdraw from good, intentional parenting which comes from listening to the day to day decisions from the Holy Spirit. I have someone to answer to for their little hearts, their little lives, and the things I give them over to. I answer to a God who MADE them! Who knit them in my womb and wrote their lives into existence. He has intentions and plans for them and His ways bring life and peace and hope and joy and FREEDOM.

So with that in mind and with that as the deepest layer on the bottom of this regenerated heart, Jason and I make decisions like this one…our girls are probably not going to date at 12 or 15 or even 17. We don’t know exactly how this is going to work. We don’t know what we’re going to do when they like someone and they come home angry with us that we don’t get it. I don’t think it’s all going to work out perfectly. I know there will be some struggles and some misunderstandings. I know that our children may not know our hearts until they are forty. I know their hearts might rebel from our parenting. But we do not answer to them. We answer to the Lord, whose hearts are His. And after a number of conversations over the years about raising girls, I just don’t have a peace about the world’s ways of dating. It seems pointless and futile and selfish and lustful and ultimately wounding…and a lot of recklessness for a parent to endorse willingly.

I had a friend who once said to me that she didn’t regret having many many dating relationships with men because it taught her what she did and did not want to look for in a husband. I do not buy the lie. I believe that lie led her not to wisdom, but to a long walk through wounds and scars and visually cruel memories for her to sort through over years to come.

I used to have a bumper sticker that said “Kill your television.” Now I laugh about it because I love the food network and the Disney channel. I know that sometimes as Christians we go to extremes and say things like “If you smoke or use curse words you must not be a Christian.” I’ve been wrong and legalistic about countless things. This dating issue with our girls might sound like another one of those things like the television where we throw our hands up and say – There are so many evil things on tv! Let’s ban it! You may hear me saying about dating – There are so many evil things that can happen! Let’s ban it! I’ll just say your thoughts before you think them.

What we really really, from the heart, are trying to do is not just accept cultural norms for our family. What we would like to do with everything lately is to step back from the ever-rushing movement of culture, which is stumbling towards who knows what. We want to be intentional about the ways we are choosing to go and how we decide to live our lives as individuals and as a family. Sometimes the easiest ways are not the wisest ways but the world likes to criticize a step outside normal bounds.

Jason loves kayaking. There are these little pools on the sides of rivers called eddies that you can “catch” and you are completely out of the rush of the current. You can sit there to rest or wait before you pull back out into the river. Jason would tell me about how he would catch the eddies right before he was about to go into the next segment of the river so that he could rest before a more difficult rapid or maybe even pull his kayak over to the side to scout out what was coming up by walking along the river. Certain more difficult class rapids require knowing exactly where to take the rapid, otherwise you can end up caught under a rock or in a “hole” or something else dangerous. It’s the perfect picture of pulling out for a time from what everyone else is allowing themselves to be carried along by, even most Christians, in order to wait and pray and consider what God might have for our family. We know that what is coming down the river is going to be difficult and it would be foolish to make rash decisions in the midst of the rapid.

We know that Jason “dating” our daughters is part of us scouting out a rough rapid ten to fifteen years down the river. We also know that the way that most people take that rapid is the same – let teenagers choose who they will date, how they will date, where they will go and how late they will be out. Um, no. I actually remember being thankful for my curfew (sometimes – he he) because when my friends wanted to take me places that I was scared to go or scared to be a part of, I had a safe “out” and could go home. I was mad at my mom a lot for her rules but I also know it provided a safe house for me and ultimately I know her rules saved me from a lot of wounds that I would have willingly taken.

I think what we will probably be “about” will be our girls building relationships in the context of groups and community. We will make our home hospitable, a place they will want to bring their friends, and although I am well aware our “coolness” will have worn off by then (probably already has!) I will pursue our kids’ friends as much as they will let me. And although I don’t know the details of how this will work, if a boy does take an interest in one of our girls (undoubtedly) then he will certainly have to get to know us and he can expect that we will want his friendship with our daughter to be in a community context and to be within our eye sight. I don’t the exact convictions we will have for them but I know it won’t look like a 16 year old boy showing up at our door, barely telling us his full name, and then watching my daughter get into the car with him to goes who knows where with him for hours on end and then coming home at midnight. My girls can forget that. That makes me want to bite off all my fingernails and toenails.

As far as we can scout out the teenage years now, we are. Mostly by treasuring our daughters, loving them well, and pointing them to an identity in Jesus Christ – who created them by love and for a love relationship with Him first and foremost. In this rooted identity they will always know who they are as they enter womanhood and look towards marriage. Our great hope for their sweet futures is that they create sincere and deep relationships with friends, that they are mentored by older women in their community, that they experience healthy relationships with young men in the context of friendship, and that they grow in wisdom and maturity in their relationship with the Lord so that they would know what He would have for them in regards to being a wife and a mother.

You can either believe in testing out your life with trial and error to find what is right or you can be led by wisdom and maturity when you cannot give yourself that gift. I pray that my girls will allow the second path for their lives and that their hearts would be submissive to the wisdom they do not yet possess for their own hearts and lives. In the meantime, I recognize continually that I, too, need to stay submissive to Christ. I do not know or see or understand or have anything apart from the Vine. I am just a branch. I will abide in Christ and ask and pray that my children choose to abide in Him as well. This is not about me and my great wisdom or plans for our children. This is about Jesus. He loves them and his best for them is greater than mine or theirs. Thank goodness He loves them. He will show us what to do. We will open up our hands, where they rest, and keep surrendering them.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

My Two Year Olds are Dating

My two year olds are dating.

Since about the time they were born we have been saying that they are not going to be allowed to date until they grow up and move out of our house, but lately we’ve decided to make exceptions. No, they didn’t meet any three feet tall perfect gentlemen who’ve won our hearts for our girls. (Sorry Elias, Caleb, Hudson and James – maybe one day but you’ve got a lot of proving yourselves to do buddies). No, I’m talking about the girls going on sweet, special dates with their gentleman of a daddy.

Jason has been taking the girls on dates for a while. He takes them to Starbucks and Top Pot for doughnuts and chocolate milks and they do stickers or color or play with their little calico critters. But this time of year they get a very special Christmas date and I will just let Jason tell all the details of what he planned for them and all the curious and cute details of how it all went down. Please definitely visit his blog for that.

About two months ago, Jason and I spotted the perfect Christmas date dresses for them at Costco. I was so excited because they have the most beautiful little girl dresses there for like $16 and they start in size 2T, which the girls can wear now. Kanah picked out a shimmery blue one and Grace picked out a pink one with a great big bow. They would not keep their hands off of them throughout the store and they hung up in their closet waiting for the special day.

I got them ready before each of their Christmas dates and after about a hundred pictures, sent them off with their daddy, who had also dressed up in something just like what he wore on our Christmas date.

What’s unique about my angle is that I am the mama of these gorgeous little beings. I love them with a mother’s heart that knows the hearts of women, knows what we long for, what we look for and treasure and desire. I know that even my little two year old girls desire to be captivating, to be honored, to be noticed, to be treasured, to be known and to have time spent with them. They are little, but they are little women nonetheless.

And God designed us to look to God for all of this. It’s a God-relationship desire in their hearts, and God has called Jason to take care of those little hearts as He would and to pursue Him as the Father in heaven will pursue them all their lives. Jason will be teaching them that God wants to know their hearts as he sits across from them over pancakes and stares in to their little faces, forgetting to take a bite. He will be teaching them God wants to know their thoughts and concerns by taking their hand when they walk and asking them little questions like “Do you want to bring Ella with you? Do you want Daddy to carry you?” He will be teaching them that God sees their getting up and their lying down and all of their happenings in between when they prance around in their dresses and Jason says, “Grace! Kanah! You are so beautiful, I can’t even believe it! Daddy is so blessed!” They will know their Father in heaven’s heart because their Daddy’s heart is becoming more and more like HIS for THEM daily. God is making Jason’s heart more and more loving as Jason keeps giving his life to Jesus.

Isn’t this beautiful? My daughters, my little crowns, my delights, are already getting to know what God is like because of Jason loving them well. What a gift to a mommy who has known the joy and hope and delight and gratitude in my heart to get to follow Jesus, my Savior, and to see that my children are understanding the GOSPEL because her husband is putting it on display daily: That God loved us so much that he sent his Son Jesus into the world to love us and die for us and resurrect from the dead so that we would be free from sin and be free to live in a love relationship with the Lord and to have eternal life with him. This gospel is seen as Jason constantly enters my little girls’ worlds, caring about what they care about and spending time with them on their level, giving his life away for them so that they can enjoy relationship with him.

And in all of this he is pointing to our Father who has done this on a grander level, with a greater love, pursuing us so that we can enjoy a life with him both now and forever.

What is also beautiful is that we live in a community of belivers, mostly from our Mars Hill church, who also believe daddys should “date” their daughters and love them well. I love hearing about our friends’ kids daddy dates because it gives me such great joy for all of these children that they are being loved so well and that through the love of these mommys and daddys, we hope that these children will see that God placed a love for them in all of our hearts that is FROM GOD and that it is a demonstration that they are being pursued by a loving, gracious God who made them for a close relationship with Him. What a community!

Check out Jason’s blog in the next few days for pictures and all the hilarious and adorable details for Kanah and Grace’s dates. And hopefully by next year we will also be posting about Salem’s mommy dates! He’s got to work a few more months on opening doors and Jason has got to buy him a wallet and I’ll be ready to be picked up for MY date! More to come…

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Intercessor's Heart for Matt

I can’t stop thinking about them.

I don’t know them. I have seen pictures only a couple of times. But the daughter’s face sticks in my head like no other this week. I cannot get them out of my mind ever since we heard the news about Matt. I was devastated to hear that his tumor was malignant and not encapsulated. But I don’t even know him.

Probably a year ago some friends told us about Matt Chandler, a pastor from Village Church, in Texas. They were listening to his sermons online and I joined in on the hype to see what he was all about. Recently Jason and I were driving to Cannon Beach for the second year in a row in the month of October and as we came along a certain stretch of highway I said to him, “Hey, this is where we were when I first heard a Matt Chandler sermon last year.” He must have made an impression. Because my memory is atrocious.

Why am I so attached to this family’s story in their struggle? Because I have three children too? Because we are about the same age? I know there’s more. There are a handful of influential pastors in this country who I respect with all my heart because they are first and foremost in love with Jesus and the authenticity of the Bible. I wish I could replicate who they are and how they teach and place them in every church in America.

I was also struck by the truth that the gospel has so become the central love and gift of my life that anyone who raises up the gospel of Jesus with all sincerity and truth is a hero of mine. Matt is one of these. Though I don’t know him. Many withhold true words about the gospel and Jesus. But he does not. And I treasure his ministry for this, just as I treasure our church and our Pastor Mark Driscoll. This is a testimony to the gospel, the truth that Jesus came to save me, and that this is what I believe with all my heart and what matters to me most. And out of this comes a gratitude unsurpassed for the pastors in my life, including my husband, who speak truth into my life and point me to Christ to find my identity and all of my hope.

I was so consumed yet again this morning with the faces of his family. I was praying for his children this morning, as they had asked, that they would know how to process and that their hearts would not become embittered. I especially prayed that their little daughter, whose face cannot escape my mind, would be a great joy to them because of her naivity in being able to comprehend what is happening to her father.

I couldn’t help but ask the Lord why in the world he would have this happen to this particular man. I still have some false theology in my heart that rises up when things like this happen and say, “But HE is one of the GOOD guys out there!” I want to convince God of Matt’s goodness and that he doesn’t deserve this. I think of countless other pastors who I’d rather this happen to. (I know, I didn’t say these thoughts were godly). But the truth remains that none of us were righteous without Christ, not one. Romans 3. But with Christ we have all been made right before God and are in perfect standing with him. And even if someone does not know Christ, He is patient with them for salvation (2 Peter 3:9) and he still pours the rain/blessings on the righteous and unrighteous alike because of his loving common good. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous” (Matt 4:45). And he allows trials to come into our lives for purposes we may not be able to understand. “In this (the living hope through Jesus) you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” (1 Peter 1:6-7)

It’s so crazy to read that last verse because that is what Matt talks about in his video. He held up one fist and said praising God when life is good is one thing. Then he held up his other fist to represent his new life, saying that it’s a whole other thing to praise God in the middle of something incredibly difficult. And he counts it an honor to praise God in this. Ah! Who says that? Jesus you have made this man a new creation, a glory for your praise. It’s crazy wonderful.

My soul is settled with these verses somewhat though I am sad and prayerful and ALSO HOPEFUL for a miracle. I am praying that God’s purposes are to display him for his glory in this trial but to sustain his life for ministry and for his sweet family.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Like a Dance

I read a post recently by Wendy Alsup (the link for Practical Theology for Women on my list to the right). She was talking about what to do when her children were having trouble obeying and she finally realized that she could literally help them obey when they had no idea how to even begin how to do that on their own.

I related as a parent but I instantly also related as God’s child. I have the most difficult time obeying God sometimes. It feels like a literal impossibility! Ask me to open the door for an elderly person and I’m on it. Ask me to be kind when the other party isn’t treating me perfectly, and I’m dragging my feet like weights. I literally need God’s help to obey! He moves our hands and feet and mouths towards obedience when we cannot. I have to believe he can do that. That he can cause me to do what I simply cannot without the will and determination and pure heart of the Holy Spirit. In the moment of my aggression or fleshly tendencies I need to believe. Cast my faith on him. On his stronger arms. His stronger will. Psalm 51:12 says “Restore to me the joy of your salvation AND UPHOLD ME with a WILLING spirit.”

When Jason and I got married a great friend of mine gave us dance lessons so we could learn something more than a slow dance sway at our reception. It was a little daunting but also well worth it to have a choreographed routine. But throughout the lessons Jason teased that I was hard to lead. I was too tense or wanting to be the decision maker for what move was next or trying to give him cues. I needed to be a little looser with my limbs and more willing to wait for what cues he set forth so I would know what we were doing next.

Geez, it couldn’t be a more perfect word picture for my problem with obedience. I’m tense with what I am determined to do and I’m not leaning on the Holy Spirit and I’m certainly not waiting for any leadings besides my initial promptings. If you put a tag line on my behaviors, unfortunately it might look like “follow your heart” more often than “follow the Holy Spirit.” Yikes. Because Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things; and desperately sick.” Uh oh! Doesn’t seem like a good compass to follow.

After pondering that wise post on how Christ can help me obey, I was continuing to read Ephesians in my time in the Word and it gave such great instruction but again it all felt so out of reach so I began to read it more as a prayer for his help. Reading and praying Scripture this way gives me hope, increases my faith in what Christ can do in me and helps me to ease into this dance with the Lord, which he leads. Here is how I prayed:

Ephesians 4:22-32 selections

Jesus HELP ME put off my old self.
Jesus HELP ME to be made new in the attitude of my mind.
Jesus HELP ME put on the new self.
Jesus HELP ME believe that this new self was created like God in true righteousness and holiness.
Jesus HELP ME to only let come out of my mouth what will build others up.
Jesus HELP ME to know my family’s needs so that what I say to them will benefit them.
Jesus HELP ME to not grieve the Holy Spirit by sinning.
Jesus HELP ME to get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander, and all malice.
Jesus HELP ME to be kind and compassionate to my family, forgiving them just as you forgave me.

I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday. I’ve known her since I was fifteen, which is really sweet to my heart. She made me a homemade Christmas card and on the inside, in a handwriting I would recognize from a thousand different people’s scribbles, she wrote Zephaniah 3:17 from her Bible’s translation which said, “The Lord your God is in your midst, a victorious warrior.” I cannot think of a better word of encouragement to my fragile heart as I contemplate my heart’s deepest, most true desire to live the life worthy of the calling I have received, but feeling the vast impossibility of it without the HELP of Christ all at once. I must allow my spirit to be encouraged:



Monday, December 14, 2009

Traditions not to stumble on

I love feeling Christmasy. I know it’s not a word. Yep, there goes Microsoft Word’s red squiggly line beneath it, reminding me I need to fix my spelling. Really it IS the most wonderful time of the year. The smells are glorious. The pictures from families and friends on my fridge make me feel all happy. The music is lovely (although I am glad this aspect is not all year long). Having the nativity out is a constant reminder of exactly Who I want to always have on my mind. I just love Christmas and more and more my heart has been growing around the passion that I want to create traditions for our little family that point to the beliefs that we hold, treasured in our hearts about Jesus Christ and his coming into our lives.

When we first got married we bought a Christmas tree about two feet high. I’ve got my fingers crossed I can dig through and find the photo of us next to us and I can post it right here. We didn’t do much those first two or three years besides show up for our families’ Christmas get-togethers for whatever they had planned for us to do. It took us a good chunk of time to realize that traditions are not just things you fall into or show up for, but that traditions are expressions and celebrations of what you hold close to your heart that you repeat year after year.

I think sometimes at first I fell into other people’s traditions wanting to replicate what looked like good things to do. Nothing in particular is wrong with this because there are so many godly people paving the way for how to have godly traditions around Christmas (please read Traditions by Noel Piper), though a lot of times for me the root issue was either competition or laziness (not listening to what the Lord wants us to do but instead just replicating others’ habits). I found that it was important to find out how others are “building their houses”, in other words how the Lord has instructed them to celebrate Christ. And it was also important to take those ideas, and instead of trying to replicate all of them right away, to then pray about how Jesus would use our family, with our particular community and personalities and giftings to glorify him. In this way, the laziness and competition can be rooted out.

Pastor Mark Driscoll was preaching on Sunday about John the Baptizer. Many people came down to the Jordan river to add one more “tradition” to their religion so that it could be added to their holiness. John called them a “brood of vipors” because they were being baptized, not as a display of what Christ had done in their hearts, but as a display of one more holy thing they had done to make themselves look exceptionally religious. This was a disgust to John.

My wheels were spinning in my head about homemakers and stay at home moms and wives and women and general. We compare. A LOT. We see what other women are doing and if it makes them look good or right or accomplished, we either praise what they did and want to compete by doing the same or else we despise them in our hearts.

I was thinking of this in regard to Christmas traditions. I originally was just going to write a little blog post about how we formed our traditions over our eight years and then list our traditions we currently like to celebrate. And then I got this thought in my mind during the sermon that many women are tempted to turn their traditions into religious “credits.” Just like Mark said as he stood in the Jordan river, there is a tendency to let religion creep in to what is a good act in and of itself. But add the heart to the matter and then there is the possibility for religiosity and not for it ALL to point to Jesus and what he has done.

Here’s the big point in case I am rambling: I DO NOT mean for this to cause any other woman, wife, mom, whoever, to stumble. As women, whether in person or on blogs or through watching each other’s lives, we share what Christ is doing in us and what we are doing in response with the purpose of encouraging each other and displaying the glories of Christ. Period. And in all of that, we MUST be careful to not cause others to stumble by taking any glory or by putting on display a false sense of our own greatness. I am guilty of this in times of weakness. But because of Christ, we are able to REJOICE in the evidences of God’s grace in other women’s lives and ENJOY the works of their hands, which are meant to bring glory to Jesus, not themselves. And personally, I GET to glory in Christ by saying, “Look! Christ has changed my heart! And this is how we GET to celebrate him as a family! I am blessed indeed.”

So, with that word from my heart to yours, here are some of our traditions, some simple and some more involved:

Christmas dates. Jason always takes me, Kanah and Grace on separate dates. We all get a new dress and we all have A BLAST. For the girls, part of their dates are to go pick out a children’s Christmas book. The purpose for Jason is many fold but certainly to show Christ's love to the ladies in his life and to show Kanah and Grace specifically how a man should love them.

Advent. I am 31 and have been married 8 years and I have never understood or celebrated advent until about three weeks ago. Call me clueless. It’s a mystery but it’s true. Anyway after reading Noel Piper’s book I learned that Advent simply means “coming” and it signifies the days prior to Christmas, which was the coming of Christ into our world. We look back, at the prophesies pointing to his coming, we look to the present and how he has come into our lives, and to the future when he will come again. We do this the five Sundays prior to Christmas, one of which we did an Advent dinner party with friends.

Family dinner and ornament shopping. Each child gets to choose one ornament each year with hopes that I can box them up one day to give them for their own family tree.

Christmas letter and picture. Usually Jason writes a letter to our friends and family to tell them what we are thankful for that year and some of our family happenings. We usually write something that has struck us anew about Christmas that year or something the Lord has put on our hearts to share with believing and non-believing friends and family alike. Also, this is the only one I completely hassle other wives into doing. You have got to "make the fridge"!!

Treat bags to neighbors. The girls help me make and put together treat bags for the neighbors and then we load up the stroller to go deliver them and say merry Christmas! Truthfully I am not the best at loving my neighbors. I am hoping to grow in my love for them and to be more about missional community.

Kids’ Christmas Craft Party! The girls have become so interested in doing activities at home, particularly crafts, and so it was easy to realize that having their friends over to share this fun with around Christmas would be the best! So we did it and I think everyone had a great time. My mom read all the kids two Christmas stories and we had a few crafts to choose from and each mom brought a plate of treats to put in the dining room so that the mom/child could make baggies for neighbors or teachers or the homeless or whoever.

Homeless Bags. It has been difficult to figure out how to get OUT of my house to serve with my difficult pregnancies as well as these days with three little ones under the age of three. It seems like it has been light years since my days of showing up to do this or that for the community. However, slowly with grace, I feel like the Lord has shown me little ways to stay missional with the poor and the community. So this year he impressed on my heart to put treats, socks, $5 McDonalds cards, and a card with 2 Corinithians 8:9 written in it. We finished them so we’re going to keep in them in our car and if we see someone, I can give it to them. *I’d like to say to other moms that with precious little ones in my car, whom have been entrusted to my watchful care, I am not intentional driving into areas that would put them into danger. I am waiting and watchful to see who the Lord puts across our paths, even if it takes weeks of errands to give them all away.

Kids nativities. We bought the girls a nativity for each of them that are kid friendly and that they can act out Christmas with. They have been their favorite toys lately.

Ladies Craft Night. Sometime prior to Christmas, I try to do a soup dinner and craft night for some ladies in my life. This year I invited the women from my community group but next year I’d like to open it up again to all women from walks of life so that I can use this for missional living to display Christ. Most women make something around Christmas, at least Christmas cards, so it’s a way to do it together and further community.

The POOR. Remembering the poor at Christmas and throughout the year sometimes seems like the most daunting choice. There are so many needs. This is why we have to listen to the One who sees all. Psalm 68:19 says, “Praise be to God, who daily bears our burdens.” If God bears all the burdens and needs, then certainly he knows best how to take care of all of them, by using the body of Christ, if we will only pay attention to how he places these burdens in front of our eyes and on our hearts. That’s a beautiful thing. This year we continue to be loving on our foster girl in Spokane. And we joined in with our community group’s desire to care for a local family through the Food Bank.

Yearly Scrapbooks. One beautiful gift of Christmas I’d like to start incorporating this time of year is a family book from the year to give glory to God for who we have become individually and as a family. Psalm 78 says, “Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth! I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old, things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us. We will not hide them from their children, but TELL TO THE COMING GENERATION the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done…(vs 6) THAT the coming generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God…”

Little mentionables...tree cutting, tree decorating, Christmas eve service, Jason and Kelly Christmas wrapping on the eve to a movie, helping kids shop for each other, etc. (More to come on a future blog about the things we don't celebrate...)

Lord may we be faithful to honor you this season, not puffing ourselves up with “goodness” or reputation or religiosity. I know my heart Lord. It is true that it is deceitful beyond all cure besides your touch. Lord, let your name and YOUR RENOWN be the desire of our hearts this beautiful Christmas season. We love you and hope with all sincerity that many will SEE you this season and glorify you with their mouths and hearts and ways. Thank you for coming Lord. It is actually amazing you did that.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Sooo thankful for...

The sound of Jason coming through the garage door.
Wise insights from friends.
Kanah wanting to get in bed with me in the morning.
My daughters’ curls.
Jason reading the Bible with the girls and seeing them mimick David doing his slingshot and the people singing hosanna and adam eating the apple.
Grace saying sweetly “that’s fuuuuunny” with a huge smile on her face.
Kanah asking me to sing Snow White in the dark at night (I make a different one up each time b/c I can’t remember the last tune I did) and then her pleased little giggle afterwards.
After-nap snuggles from the little ladies.
The book of Ephesians.
Random conversations with my hairdresser.
My husband's prayers over me.
Salem on my shoulder snoring before bed.
Having a son. What an insanely wonderfully amazing surprise to my heart.
My son crawling in high speed towards me with a hissing, excited-noise (you have to hear it) grin all over his face.
Unexpected doors to talk about being a Christian. Lights up my day.
Facebook homepage. Love listening in on so many lives.
Jeans that fit in a size I could stick with.
Our live-in family (as Grace said tonight – “Shawn Cowan, Kalle Cowan, Pearce Cowan”).
Morning snooze snuggles.
My toddlers teaching me they can handle memorizing Scripture “Be kind and compassionate to one another.”
$1 Large sweet tea from McDonalds.
When no one is in the house but me.
When everyone is in the house with me.
Salem loving playtime in his crib for thirty minutes every morning.
My kids liking church.
The Holy Spirit wanting to talk to me all day.
Helping my kids reconcile from the “I’m sorry for _” to the “Will you forgive me?” to the “I forgive you” and then laughing as Kanah runs away from Grace who wants to end it all with a kiss and a hug.
The rain setting on my sound machine, perfectly muted with two layers of clothing over it.
Lipstick notes on my mirror.
A clean floor.
Community group in my family room.
Posted comments, especially from my husband, on my blog.
My publisher online books.
The City (online network for churches).
How kanah exclaims “mommy!” if someone else has been watching her for me and she sees me for the first time in hours.
Grace’s trust for me.
Salem’s little legs wrapped on my left hip.
Writing night.
Piecing together overlapping tidbits and lessons and insights in my life and to see resolution.
Divine moments.
Moments I am convinced, by their actions or words, that I am loved by someone.
A look from my husband or friend from across a room that speaks volumes.
Sticker books with stickers that can be moved around.
Velcro shoes. Not for me, people.
Days I don’t have to wake up until 7:00am. (the college version of me would be so confused why I’d be thankful for that…)
Text messaging. Oh what a nice surprise. Shouldn’t have stayed stubborn so long.
Family. (I can’t believe I haven’t written that one yet).
Christmas cheer. The more obnoxious the better.
Forgiveness. I’m wrong so much, I don’t know how I’d live without it.
Scripture TRUTH running through my head.
Our marriage retreat.
Wednesday mornings. (me time)
Wednesday nights. (me and Jason time)
When someone tears up at something that means a lot to you.
Being heard. Being noticed. Being understood.
Being rooted in Christ’s love.
Hearing my mom’s voice when she answers.
Intentional gift giving.
People loving on my kids.
GRACE (=undeserved gifts from God).

Friday, November 20, 2009

"I believe" Retreat

Jason decided that we would go earlier this summer. I cried. I really wanted to go. We had the location. The season. The help with the kids. Inside of three years my heart handled miscarriage, waiting, a difficult hospital bedridden twin pregnancy, preemie difficulties, transition to mommy life, a surprise baby with two toddlers in tow, and many other toted burdens and heartaches from friends and family on this intercessor’s heart.

A marriage retreat was in order.

I’m selfish about sleep. But the idea of waking at 6:30am to get on the road didn’t make me cringe a bit. Popped right up. Stopped in at the bucks to get a breakfast pairing, made a second stop for Jason’s treats of choice and then got on with our four hour drive.

The plan was simple, but packed. We wanted to give each other individual retreats for a half day. Then we wanted to come together, share what the Lord said and what we had meditated on and then visioneer together about our marriage and family life. We needed to sit with Jesus, to know him better and to listen to him closely. I had many things I had been wanting to pray about and ask the Lord to minister to in me. I felt a near desperation to know for certain that the Lord would be able to root out certain sin issues in me, and to be completely transparent I’ll go further to say, most of which revolved around emotionalism – extreme sensitivities, reactiveness, defensiveness, and idolizing human relationships over my identity in Christ. I felt overwhelmed…by my own self. I needed to hear from the Lord and I hardly knew where to begin.

I was so looking forward to the alone with Jesus part. I’m a melancholic on paper. Melancholic mommies like to sit during their kiddos’ nap times. We think it would be nice if we had to go to “time out” . We like music but we also really like silence. We like to stare at things and think a thousand words. We don’t love in the moment questions or icebreakers because we know that to come up with our most sincere answers, we’d need some quiet time. We like to pull our little shells up over our heads and ponder. When my husband talks to me, I respond with lots of interesting comments in my head and think it’s all outloud until he says, “Do you have anything to say about that?’ I tease one of my friends, who is the truest version of this personality type, that when we had a lot of people over to our apartment in college, her favorite place to be was in my bedroom closet.

So with those tendencies of me in mind, envision my happiness in my lovely little shell thinking and writing and meditating and creating, and then contrast that with me in my family room with two toddler girls attempting to “share”, one crawling ankle muncher perched under the bottom shelf of the coffee table, dinner going on the stove, a re-heated cup of coffee in my hand, me ignoring the phone, and very frequent words of instruction and discipline and direction flowing off my tongue. Basically, although melancholics love to be at home, learning to take on the God given gift of mothering three children under three kind of means lots and lots of grace and a large learning curve.

So, needless to say, the alone part sounded like Christmas and birthday all wrapped up with a big bow!

Jason stationed himself at the “Sleepy Monk” coffee shop, since he loves people and action for his inspiration. Whereas I bundled up in my shell and a down vest, tucking essentials like my ipod, small Bible, and moleskin into various small pockets. It was super windy outside and kind of freezing but I could not wait to just walk and walk. Although I missed the little ladies and baby sa almost as soon as we pulled away, it was nice to not have to think about who needed a nap next or what I needed to cook for dinner in a few hours.

Jason had set this time aside for me to talk to Jesus. For me to hear from him about the deep things stirring in my heart, the convictions I was feeling, and to respond to him in praise and prayer. I am actually not great with free time. I kind of freak out about it and waste it a lot because there’s all this pressure on how to spend such a precious gift. So I thought about it before we had even left.

I started down the beach and happened upon David Crowder. The guitar picking began, starting my heart. I set my intent on just listening. Listening to someone else lead me in worship, teaching me the words of praise. Instructing my heart to just start saying to God the most simple and full truths I could muster myself to say. I was coming into this time with mostly thoughts in disarray. Confessions in a pile. Questions in phrases not yet legible. And thoughts scattered like puzzle pieces on a table, waiting for order. The Holy Spirit inside of me confirmed that this is where I needed to begin.

In the car on the way down I came upon Isaiah 43:19-21. He spoke to my heart and said, “Forget the former things. Do not dwell on the past. See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up, do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.”

The relieving message that rested on my heart was this: you do not need to conjure anything up or desperately figure anything out or set out to strategize the perfect plan. My work is to praise the Lord. I knew I had wastelands in my heart that were relieved to know that he would be sending a stream my way. Instead of seeing myself standing by that stream, I remember distinctly that I saw myself standing there and the stream came rushing towards me, where I had previously been standing on a dry place. I just had to stand and look towards Him. My work is to look to Jesus. To praise him. That word is so old sounding. So southern gospel sounding. How can it feel closer? Praise really isn’t much work besides stopping everything else and extending my thoughts to a humble place before Him. We mostly want to experience God and see Him work around us and then praise Him. But I think we are to lead with praise. Because then it’s about who He is and not just about what He does that pleases us. I was formed for the work of praise.

And let me just say…it’s like everything in me knows that when I do it! I was walking and praising and not worrying about my words or what to figure out or to sort through and I just felt a pleasure in enjoying God. I passed faces and groups and individuals talking and searching for shells and looking out into creation like I was and I could barely contain my silly smiles and sweet stinging tears. I wished for a beach for just me and Jesus so I could run with arms high and laughter all around. He would gift me with something of the like the next morning. But for now, walking and walking without time or concern but for what to praise next.

I sat for a long while on a huge piece of driftwood. I was so cold on my walk but I had found myself secluded from the wind and almost warm sitting there with my prayer journal. There were many people walking but I felt tucked away there, and unnoticed. I found such joy in reading Scripture over each of our children and then over various burdens I had for Jason in a moleskin I lovingly call “Jason 101” (an idea from the Song of Solomon series). I read the Scripture, placing their name within the verses. I read slowly and deliberately, so that though it was me reading, I would listen and meditate even more closely and intently upon the truth and life and grace I was praying over their sweet lives. These were not just words but the words of God breathing life.

I eventually found my way back to the Sleepy Monk, having no idea how long I’d been gone. We traded journeys, with me taking some time on the laptop to write while he checked in our room and then went on a walk. And then the remainder of the evening we ended our alone time and enjoyed a conversational journey back through all God had done.

When I woke up in the morning it was raining sideways but I was compelled again to go out. I walked into the wind bundled from head to toe for a total of about ten seconds, my flared pant legs blown tight against my ankles like skinny jeans, and my giant down, furry hood blew right off of me. As far as I could see up the beach I counted maybe three other determined combers. The music beat loudly in my head and I could barely see with the stinging rain on my cheeks. I relented and spun around the other way and stopped for a moment and my hood blew straight up again. I didn’t move. I felt God still me right there in that spot. Sometimes the most strange, anti-cultural thing we can do is to be still and stop the moving and spinning and clamoring and all of the noise.

I looked. And before me was a spoken word from the Lord. The sand was whisping past my feet, making quick zig zags all along the beach. The waves were ferocious and with each whip of the wind, the crest of the crashing waves blew wildly up into the air a few feet. The impressive Haystack rock sat unaffected by the sea, determined to be unshaken. The morning fog set itself over the scene and the backdrop of it all being a muted gray-blue sky, the dramatic contrast like that of something in an artsy movie. The strength of the wind and the fury of the ocean and the might of the rocks and the presence of the skies all felt so chaotic and untamed and wild. Yet there was order. And I just saw this as God’s word picture to me. The Holy Spirit whispered to me that God was greater, so much greater, than all of this, and though it appeared wild, the truth was that there was order in all of this. And to the unsettled places deep with in me that seemed to rule my entire being, which felt too big for God to order in me, he spoke that they were under His greatness. He could order them. He was enough. And in that moment my heart simply said, I believe you.

I needed belief. And he gave it to me. More than a formula or a deep study with numerous interesting revelations, I needed faith that God was bigger than all I was feeling overwhelmed by in my heart. This wasn’t a quick fix. I also felt him say more to me and confirm in the following days:

Confess these full truths to other believers. Lean on them. Let them minister to you. Let yourself cry. Break. Bend. Humble yourself. You need Truth. You are lost in lies. You must allow other believers to place truth on your mind. And I will give you the strength and courage to keep asking for it and accepting it. You need phonecalls with prayer, you need verses, you need checked on, you need accountability. You need to pray outloud almost constantly, even just one sentence at a time. You must read the Truth, the Word of God. It is your Life. You need to be laid low. Stay low. Stay on the ground. Stay out of fire. Lay at my feet. I will fight. I will place truth on your head. Lay the lies down. Let others lay them down when you cannot. Ask them to lay them down. Do not pretend you do not need help. Confess all weakness. Do not mind passing judgment even from those who love you. You must only take pride in the I Am. Not in who you are. Your biggest battles are believing I AM ENOUGH. I Am. Believing I am your Savior even in this. I Am. Believing I am the God who drives out despair, disappointment, hate, strife, jealousy, depression, fears and discord. I AM.

After my movie like moment on the beach under those muted blue skies, when I found my land legs again and began to walk, I looked down within just minutes and found a sand dollar. I love beach combing. And I especially love finding little treasures when I am not looking for them. That’s the best because it’s a gift instead of a clamoring. It felt a lot like the way I had found faith that day. I simply turned around and there was the faith before me and it all fell on me. I could not have wished it to be or made myself believe. I was given the faith and I was given the sand dollar when I didn’t even know to look for them. I picked up my little treasure, finding an inside pocket to stash it away in. And I immediately decided that this would be an “Ebenezer” for the faith God gave me to believe in him that day. And Ebenezer is a tangible reminder of what God has done in your life. The Lord put it on my heart right there that I should start a box of ebenezers, with each one labeled with what God did for me so that I could praise him in the coming years and with my children and their children.

Jason and I packed up our things when I returned. I put my tote together, which held a few Christian inspiration books, my calendar, my journal, my laptop and some pens. I don’t think I hardly touched any of them. It turned out that what God wanted to do was set me right in the midst of the magnified version of the unfettered places in my heart and demonstrate to me his loving power and might over them. God stilled me. I believed Him. And just weeks after a total meltdown over these very words I am about to write, I knew in my heart Jesus was enough.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

She Speaks: Too much broccoli, more prayer

So it turns out that there's always something difficult going on for everybody. (Boy, will this be a bummer post, you're thinking. Well maybe not...)

Rocks hit our windshields. Traffic takes up our days. All our manmade stuff breaks. Even our God made stuff, like our gardens, get weeds and grow knarly and out of control. Our bodies and other people's bodies always have breakdowns going on, whether temporary like the flu, or ongoing like lupus or heart disease.

And then there's the bigger stuff that is kind of just continual. The jobs we were relieved to get or be promoted to get all wacky with discontent or demotions or a quirky co-worker or disillusionment with purpose in general. More serious disease or illness that weakens the body over time and steals life from not just one person but all who want that person to stay around to enjoy life with. Then there's the below the surface, hard to brush off, truth that every single relationship we are in is a good dose of hard work, whether it's simple forgiveness that they used an off tone or more devastating messes that consume every ounce of existance between two people.

I'm not even going to get into the worldwide crises of hunger, abortion, rape, genocide, disease, torment, abuse, slavery, or tyranny.

We are consumed with brokenness. Agreed? It's everywhere. If it's not for you, then somehow you must be playing that hop scotch game of life, avoiding the most dangerous squares, even though all of us at some point or on some days is inevitably going to be just that.

FYI. My gift is discernment. I'm doomed to write like this, though if you can make it to the end, there's always LIGHT. Can't help it ;). It's a gift, if you're willing to see it that way.

So on to my processing.

I had a friend over recently who is going through quite a lot. I actually admire her going through it. A lot of people stuff the kinds of things she is mentally and emotionally navigating and I know she'll come out on the other side of this or even just moment by moment in LIGHT instead of darkness.

My question for her was this: How do you live? How do you continue with life even though this difficult thing is consuming for you, understandably? How do you keep it from becoming an idol?

I ask for two reasons. One, I just think it is hard to function when incredibly hard things are happening. But two, even the things we hate, abhore, or want to resist with an outstretched arm can become our idols: our obsessions and ultimately what we "worship" b/c we think about them all the time and give all of our thoughts and efforts toward them.

I like what she said she'd learned. You get 20 minutes a day to process outloud. It's too hard to not talk about it so you must. But twenty minutes is enough to acknowledge it, work through a piece of it and then let it go again.

And to that, we added prayer. "Let it go" is a joke, right? I mean if it's really pain. If it's really sorrow. If it's really depressing. Then "letting it go" sounds kind of ridiculous. I mean, most of us are violently, wildly shaking and tossing our arms about trying to get this "thing" that is so difficult to un-stick on us, so just "letting it go" doesn't even seem like an option.

But then there is prayer.

If prayer is a piece to this puzzle, then this step of processing might just possibly bring a bit of freedom. Just this second as I am writing this I paused to try to think how to possibly sum up and capture what benefits to prayer there are when it comes to being able to let something go. And immediately came to mind a verse I just read the other day super randomly, maybe just possibly for this moment now.

Psalm 68:19 "Praise be to the Lord, to God our Savior, who daily bears our burdens."

I think that might be one of the most beautiful pictures of God that I can imagine. The other night at community group (you know who you are!) the husband of my sweet very pregnant friend picked up their toddler and then she went to get the pack n play and he insisted on carrying that too. On Sundays at church, Jason almost always makes it a service to me to lug the kids around so it's easier for me to mingle with friends and so that he can keep a close eye on them. Even in little ways, when someone carrys our burdens, it is such a demonstration of love and we feel such gratitude and freedom for it. So in some spiritual, emotional and maybe sometimes physical sense this verse is suppose to relieve us as it becomes a reality. This verse says that is what he does. Do I have an exact explanation of what that means or feels like? No. But I bet you he longs to demonstrate that to each of us and to ask him to show us personally what that means and should be like for us.

Also, as far as what our little family is going through personally with trials, it is actually a pure waste sometimes how much we talk about things and resist "letting them go" or relinquishing them through prayer. Sometimes we can talk and talk and just circle like vultures but after some time (well maybe after 20 minutes!) we just are kind of over indulging. We're idolizing. Something we say we don't like we find ourselves obsessing over and it doesn't make sense. We're eating our broccoli (or whatever food you don't like). Then another helping. Then another. Then another. And soon we're stuffed with broccoli and want to throw up. (I happen to like broccoli but Jason would definitely be the one throwing up after one bite in this! He he).

So Jason and I's resolve and conviction lately is this: To pray. To not think too much of our chatterboxing that we can solve everything by talking or dialouging or counseling till our brains bleed. We need to encourage more by praying more. And figure things out more by praying more. And in this not only am I putting the burden back where it needs to be (on Jesus' shoulders) but I am letting my heart be transformed to the place it needs to be at the same time. So much happens in prayer. Aligning our heart with God. Talking it out with him. Giving up. Taking on the right heart. Letting him speak. Understanding. Growing. Confessing. Thankfulness for gospel. Trusting. Loving. Being loved. Letting gooooooo.

Less broccoli servings. More praying. Meal done.

Monday, October 26, 2009

She Speaks: My Thing

I've been a little silly on my evening outings with friends lately. Put my kids in bed and get me in a room full of women and I get a little naturally tipsy, no alcohol necessary.

Most recently I was out for an evening baby shower for a lovely, glowing pregnant friend of mine. The beauty who hosted it loves to paint and as I went from living room to kitchen to bedroom, she had wall after wall decorated with her own paintings. That was definitely her "thing." Painting. I thought it was sweet how she could make her whole home beautiful by her very own hand. I went over at some point to grab an appetizer and was admiring all the cooking another friend had done to make the night special. I was scared to pick them up they were so cutely done. In fact, I did end up dropping one as I picked it up too timidly. *Sigh*. Cooking is definitely her thing and thankfully she's moving in with me for five weeks soon ;). You know who you are. Anyhow, above each little treat on the table was a cute little tag with a description of the food underneath a personalized design for the shower. My friend who made them would like to do designs for every aspect of parties like this, from tags to invites to thank you notes. She's good at it and it is quickly becoming her "thing".

So you see a little pattern forming, right? I got to joking with some of my friends at the party, as I admired all the handiwork. And even as we joked, I realized every single person I was talking with that night had a noteworthy signature "thing" that everyone knows they are good at. Personal training, sewing, photography, homemaking, you name it. My silliness at this point all became directed at how hilarious I found it to be that literally everyone's "thing" was obvious except for mine. Especially as shower gift after shower gift unveiled more gifts and talents of each woman in the room. (My gift incidentally was $ towards the group gift). Thankfully, with a lot of sarcastism, I enjoyed letting my jaw drop each time, each "thing" topping the next in awe and excellence.

When in laughter I pressed my friends for what could possibly be my "thing", they finally declared one for me. Scrapbooking. NO. That is stupid. Okay then, Legacy. "Legacy?" you ask. I asked too. Because I like do things that point to legacy - scrapbook, take pictures, journal, teach, write, and create traditions and memories for our family. In and of themselves, these things are not "wow" and unique but altogether they are certainly an expression of the deepest places in me. I haven't been able to dismiss this label since then and Jason confirmed it as well when I got home.

So there it is! I have a "thing"!

Today I was trying to figure out what it is that got to me, underneath all of the joking around about it all. I mean, it was funny. But also there was a heart issue going on in me. I do want my life to be special. I want to stand out and do big and wonderful and noteworthy and awe inspiring things. But is this okay? What's that all about anyway? Isn't that me trying to "find" life when the Bible says that whoever wants to find life must lose it? This means that I have to let go of all I'm wanting in order to find what true life looks like in the eyes of God. I think even Christians, for sure, get very much caught up in being on top, in doing big incredible things and we order and arrange and elevate what we think is GREAT. We all want to be great.

There's a story in Matthew 20 where the mother of two of the disciples comes up to Jesus and basically wants to know if they will be greatest in heaven. Reading it, I'm sure we're all like, Geez. That was bold...and ridiculous. I can't believe she asked that. But basically she's saying, Hey my sons are great right? And I think we all kind of want other people and also Jesus to say that about us.

I mean, when I am jealous that other people have "things" or envy that they do xyz amazingly, I am that mother of the sons of Zebedee coming up to Jesus saying, Hey can you make say that I'm the greatest one?

But here's how amazing Jesus is. Check out his thoughts a few verses later in Matt 20:25-28 "But Jesus called them to him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. IT SHALL NOT BE SO AMONG YOU. BUT WHOEVER WOULD BE GREAT AMONG YOU MUST BE YOUR SERVANT, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Wooow. I was randomly letting my mind wander around today and thought 'hey i might write about the whole "my thing" idea i was thinking about at the shower' and then i sat down to read the Bible and journal and was reminded of this Scripture and it just all came together. This is what Jesus has to say about greatness.

Do I want to be great? Do I want to be first? Then although it sounds wildly crazy and impossibly ridiculous...the way to greatness is humilty and laying down my life to be THE LEAST OF THESE. Jesus, you defy everything I know in this world. You are so OTHER that I barely know how to wrap my mind around your truth, though when I encounter it like this, my Spirit declares THIS IS SO TRUE AND I AM IN AWE.

To me, Jesus declares "Be not jealous. Do not seek to be above. To compete. To top. Lay down your life, becoming the least of these. Serve. Become a slave for the benefit of others. And this will be your greatness."

My mind is blowing. And yet my Spirit is rejoicing and soaring. With or without a "thing", I run in the path of your truths for you have set my heart free.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Mrs. Speaks "My Mud Pit"

I think i generally avoid books on marriage.

I'm not proud of this. I mean, I've got a ring on my finger, I love my husband, and I want to grow with him over time. It's just that the thought of opening one of them feels ho hum. However, my mother in law recently bought a bunch of copies of a great one she is reading and gave me one. It's called Sacred Marriage. And I'm realizing it's been a little too long since I've been counseled on marriage. My accountability group would certainly concur that this does not mean that I haven't been wrestling like a contestant on survivor in the mud pits over worthy battles in my marriage though. My relationship with Jason is constantly on the forefront of my mind and the Holy Spirit won't let me wrestle free from his refinement for me in this sin area. So it's funny that I've avoided certain written counsel over it.

So the question I'm putting on the table today is something I've been chewing on the first three chapters:

Isn't it ridiculous to look for something in humans that only God can provide?

This is the constant shove I feel from the Holy Spirit on my heart concerning Jason. I have a feeling that my writing on seeing Jason as an idol in my life - so much more than what to expect from a husband - will be a topic on my blog for a long time. Not because I am not dealing with it, but because it's actually the biggest root I have ever had to weed out of my life by the power of Jesus in me. My decisions, my reactions, my hurt feelings, my pursuits, my love withheld, my expressions, and my sighs all say:

I am in this to benefit from you.
I am in this to experience a perfect relationship with you.
I am in this to be served by you.
I believe I can find fulfillment from you.

Does this ring a bell, wives? Or maybe you just read that and go, "Wo, she's got issues." That's fine. I think I do ;) But I bet some of you do too. And if you don't, keep reading so you can understand your friends' hearts who struggles like me.

The headline under the title of this book says, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" True. But I've heard that statement so many times it's kind of bug to read it again. I have this super judgmental place in me that hears something like that and immediately my inner eyes begin rolling and tisking. But as I read the first three chapters the Holy Spirit began to unravel my irritation and started pouring grace in my hands for this probably over used Christian chatter. I heard, It IS true. So let it be true and don't let your heart be seared from it just because it has been said a thousand times.

So I kept reading. And the discussion behind that statement ministered more and more to me. The main thesis is this: "...we use our marriage to explore God. If we are consumed with highlighting where our spouses are falling short, we will miss the divine mysteries of marriage and the lessons it has to teach us." There are two main ways to view marriage - as a way to be fulfilled by that person (happiness) or as a relationship which God can use to show us about Him no matter what amount of benefit it brings to us (holiness). Our relationship with God will outlive our marriage and will carry into eternity, so therefore that earthly relationship is what this author would call the "penultimate rather than the ultimate reality." The "end" is to get to God as we enjoy, struggle with, pursue this earthly companionship.

There was a section that talked about in earlier church history there was seemingly an unofficial stance that married Christians were a sort of second class Christians who had comprimised integrity, as opposed to nuns and monks. "Most of the Christian classics were written by monks and nuns for monks and nuns. The married could at best feebly try to simulate a single pursuit of God; the thought of pursuing God through marriage wasn't really given serious consideration; instead, the emphasis was largely on pursuing God in spite of marriage."

I was so surprised to read this because prior to marriage I thought I was actually pretty great and since marriage the Lord has done nothing but reveal more and more layers of who I really am apart from him. The author goes on to say:

"If you want to be free to SERVE Jesus, there's no question - stay single. Marriage takes a lot of time. But if you want to become LIKE Jesus, I can't imagine a better thing to do than get married."

My goodness. Amen to that. Although I certainly would give myself no credit for being like Jesus since unlike Paula Abdul, all it seems like I do is take continual three steps back, I can feel in my core that at least I am learning the truth about myself. And anything good happening out of that truth is the Holy Spirit claiming ground.

I am learning to see marriage like this. But I've gotta tell you, it's not like a sweet little Bible study early in the morning light with a cute coffee mug and happy Christian music blistfully playing as I close my eyes and my spirit soars with Jesus. (Well, the coffee part is usually true). It's more like a tug of war and every morning I get tears in my clothing. I read these chapters, underline, agree in Spirit, and then ten minutes later I'm selfish, annoyed, grasping, irritable and crying out from the fountain in my heart, "It's about me!!!" Ah. Sin nature. So lovely!

Thank goodness for grace: God's unlimited unconditional patience for this looong journey of learning the humility of being like Jesus. Jesus does with me exactly what I begrudgingly withhold from my marriage - he covers me in grace, keeps loving me, keeps pursuing me, and never gives up hope for what he wants to see in me. Jesus you are teaching me who to be. How is your love so great?

And Jason, my love, I'm meditating, I'm thinking, I'm praying, I'm constantly relinquishing these over the top expectations rising up in me and if Jesus Christ is who we believe he is, this WILL get rooted out. Keep believing in Him in me. Join in that tug of war on behalf of me. I love you.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

She Speaks

I'm changing up my blog a little bit because I find myself thinking, living, experiencing, learning, and being transformed in four different categories of my life all wrapped up into Kelly Chandler Cowan. I'm a 31 year old woman, who feels girlishly young enough to still be grasping at what that word means as I gain years on my age. I'm a wife of eight years who has walked with a faithful husband through a move across country, job changes, babies, constant decisions, and a never ending journey gifted by the Holy Spirit for us to refine one another for His glory. I'm a mama of three who's finally enjoying that crown on my head. And I'm a believer in Jesus' testimony to be God who came down to us in all humility and grace to save us from ourselves and to show me how to live like he did. Woman, wife, mama, believer. I generally find myself living, moving, and having my being in each of these four pieces of me. And I see that I write out of these parts of me as well. So I think for a while when I post, I will speak from the viewpoint of woman, wife, mama and believer as you continue to track with me as I meditate on this life gifted to me.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


I hate to wake up early in the morning. It must have been the thought of being alone on an adventure while all the little ones slept soundly that got me up and going. It might have been the empty streets, filled with a slightly hazy, humid air with the light just starting to think about breaking it into a clear day. Or maybe all those shots I had already put a box around in my mind and wanted to bring into reality onto my photo card. For all of these and more I nearly bounced out of bed with quiet cat like feet, into my black stretch pants, a tank, and some tennis shoes to take off for a early morning photography adventure.

I closed my door and started the Honda, wishing I could have put a sound buffer even on those noises, wincing a little with a glance in my rearview at the windows at the condo above. It was 6:45am and Kanah, Grace, and Salem would probably rest another hour if not interrupted. It would be best for me mentally if they were asleep while I was gone, so I didn’t have to think about what mothering roles might need doing. I stopped quickly at the little market and got a coffee with creamer and dashed back to my car to be on my way. Even just being in a Honda Accord brought me all kinds of nostalgic happy feelings that my husband would laugh at me for having. Given a “would you rather” car scenario I would take an Accord over any of his Road and Track indulgences any day ;).

My mind quickly scanned through all the images in my mind I had preserved as stopping points for my drive. I tried the highway bridge first but chickened out when I realized there was not a very safely designed pedestrian walkway. Every time we crest this bridge, which links the mainland to the beach islands and crosses over breathtaking green grassed marshes, I breathe in the delights of east coast beach vacationing and instantly feel happy. I have always wanted to stop at this point and capture it. Hit with that small defeat, I wondered if this was all a bust or if I was cut out for photo adventures. But looking towards Sullivans Island I picked up my pace again and soon found myself wandering along the marshes, practicing changing my f stop to make either the foreground or backgrounds blurry. I had a series of obsessive shots of the lock straight docks that lead over probably a hundred yards of marshy grassy land before ending with a drop into the canal. I was back in a stride and forgot my disappointment completely.

Feeling satisfied, I stopped next on the small neighborly bridge to Sullivans, enjoying cropping the swerves of the coastal surf below and capturing the rising light hitting only certain parts of the picture. I was patient, wishing away little details from my mental box, like runners and frolicking dogs and the like. I began to wish to be down on that quiet beach, so I drove into the adjacent neighborhood and cruised slowly, passing alluring double decked screened in porches with whirling ceiling fans and rows of rockers. Palm trees and twisted oaks leaned and craddled the shapes of the homes. As my eyes took in each dwelling with a curious joy, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been off on a journey like this one. Searching for a pathway to the beach and enjoying each moment along the way felt like a freshness I had missed from years ago. I finally saw a sandy walkway, drove up closer to make sure it was for the public, and parked my car next to a house where a lady with curlers sat staring at me from her porch chair. I felt slightly intrusive and brave all at once and parked my car to sneak through the dunes.

I walked through what felt like my very own “wardrobe” through the dunes and landed on a very desolate area of beach. Even at 7am, the heat hit me hard and I wished for a rubberband, but quickly decided to not care, as the beauty and isolation welcomed me for my little adventure.

I developed a small obsession right away for the orange colored seaweed clusters that had lined themselves up along the beach, probably from that morning’s high tide. Like from the hands of flower girls down an aisle, they lay dropped one after the other as far as I could see. Crouching and lining up my lines right and searching for new angles, I felt so free to enjoy capturing. I am truly a Capturer. It sounds like such a princess word or something, but I find utter DELIGHT in capturing expressions and beauty and moments and scenes that make my heart flutter and click with connection. It was a moment like that as I stood under the dunes and walked along the seaweed and peered out at shrimp boats and let my eyes measure the almost silly enormity of the southern style pillered and multi-porched beach front homes.

I let my tennis shoes get wet as I got closer and I found myself begin to pray outloud. Praying outloud might possibly be the most therapeutic and joyous and comforting and revelational thing I do, whether around my kitchen or there in that perfectly isolated spot. I talked to Jesus about my marriage, my heart, my kids. I felt very small. I felt humbled. I felt keenly aware of my faults and my tendencies for making big emotional and relational messes. We talked about all of that as my treads went along, sticking lightly to the muddy sand beneath fingernail deep waters. It didn’t matter how heavy the sentence that flowed off my lips. As soon as it was spoken it seemed to feel lighter and seemed to return to me from the Lord in grace, in an undeserved word of hope.

And then there were the starfish. They were alive. I found one, then another, then another. When I came upon the first one, my heart stopped and I crouched down above it. I thought it might be dead and then as I waited I saw that it was moving with an ever persistent, yet seemingly still pace back towards the ocean, which was reaching its long arms from stretching and thinned out waves only a few feet away. Then the starfish reached up one of its legs, curling it up into the air with slow control, like a graceful dancer, and I decided to help it. I picked it up and it began to curl itself backwards over my hand, and fighting my every urge in my creeped out being, I set about tossing it as far as I was able back into the waves. And then I did the same with the next and the next.

And about that time the Spirit inside of me seemed to speak about those starfish. See how they are on the edge of this ocean. Alive and crawling ever so slowly towards something great. And they are creations, given life and strength and everything they need to live and move and have their being by their Creator God. And God made it so that they could enjoy this big and beautiful ocean, far bigger and greater than they. And they are crawling. And I felt myself realizing that I am crawling with God. The things I had prayed about myself and who I am felt so heavy leaving my lips, like I had prayed these things about change a hundred million times. And to see all of those little legs on the bottom of that starfish moving ever so slowly and beautifully towards that great ocean felt like my walk with God every single day. And that’s what it’s supposed to be. I wish for God to pick me up and toss me into his greatness, that would be a lot easier. But he gave me these little legs to make little strides, with him, by his strength each and every day and to seek his vast greatness and glory before me.

I stood facing the ocean, thankful for the starfish. For our talk. For the picture of myself that gave me peace about what to do with where I am and who I am. I knew my adventure was felt complete that morning. With all I had taken in and discovered and enjoyed, it was there looking at those starfish that I myself felt captured up. God found me there and I let him show me what he saw about me. And I believed him. With that peace, I knew I could go away from this morning journey and get back to my life, crawling and inch towards my big and great God and enjoying the many more adventures he has planned for me.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

I'm in the South

It's not like the scenery is even much to take a picture of here in the flat Piedmont, but when I am here it feels like it must be my favorite place in the world. Not favorite like a resort on Kannapali beach on Maui. Not favorite like the beach house at Wild Dunes. Not favorite like travels to Europe and Asia that we always dream about for down the road. More like favorite because it feels so good. Favorite because home is more special to me than most anything.

This is the longest amount of time I have spent here in a very long time, and not having been here in over a year, I am filling each day with as much southern bliss as I can. I have taken a lot of pictures and want to share what has been going on so far.

Mom and I arrived Friday night with all three kids after a much needed layover in Chicago for a happy meal, ring around the rosy (until Grace threw up) and changing lots of diapers.

Saturday we spent most of the day hearing shrieks of "Cassie!" and "Pepper!" although they mostly prefer to refer to both dogs as Cassie. The girls visited with Pop and Uncle T (my brother Travis) a while that morning and then we took the girls to my favorite park, Freedom Park, just across the street from the Geneva Court house I grew up in. It's not the closest one to my parents' house now, but it's the only place I wanted to bring the girls.

Sunday brought a slew of family members: Grandma Doris, Aunt Ruthie, Aunt Becky, and Uncle Pace. The girls were angels, which was a little confusing since they usually take a while to adjust, but I'll take angel over handful for sure.

Monday morning we all went to play at Granddaddy and Gram's house, the highlight being the kitty cat and the yoga exercise ball in the backyard. The lowlight being the 10 or so quarter sized mosquito bites I got on my legs. This pic is of Kanah playing with an old set of doll furniture at Grandmother Chandler's that I used to play with. These are the kinds of flooding memories and feelings I like to be surprised with when I come here. And to watch them play with something I played with is mesmerizing. I also got to go out with my super busy little brother Travis, aka Uncle T (you can see me making a T with my two forarms, like we do for the girls when he's around).

Tuesday Salem and I headed to Grandma Doris' place. She drowns me in refreshments when I come over, which I love. We had good conversations about most of our family members, what she is doing these days (mostly making visits to people at church), and a good dialogue about the concept of "dropping in" in the south. NWers just don't do that. She rolled around on the floor w/ Salem and I got some great shots. I mostly just liked listening to her accent and anticipating her next question - she is greaaaat at questions. (Which you know I love).

Tuesday evening I got to hang out with some of my favorite people in the world: Robbi, Janet, Ali and Rian Fischer. I don't even know what to write about them b/c it will fall short. Let's just say I felt incredibly blessed that they let me come over and just banter back and forth for a while. xoxo to them.

And today...Jason got here!!! Yay! He's glad to be here. I like to see him on vacation b/c he's a different person. He's only three hours into his trip and already he's off having lunch w/ a friend. It will be a continual worldwind but we love it.

More to come...!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I am the Lord's servant

So I'm in Luke. The book of Luke in the Bible, that is. I realized as soon as I wrote "I'm in Luke" that that is such a Christian thing to say but sounds so normal unless you have no idea what the Bible is all about. Anyhow, I just got going and it seems every time I am reading there's a one liner that sidetracks me for like seven days. So I'll tell you about two of them and they are both about the ever popular Ms Mary, who I have really become a big fan this week.

I have to tell you, quickly, how I generally have felt about Jesus' mother Mary up until now. She was a teen virgin from a small town with not a lot going on until this crazy important job of being pregnant with God was given to her. I have always respected her and admired her response to this overwelming responsibility but I also have kind of kept my distance from her. It annoys me big time how the church freaks out over her. All the statues and paintings and hail marys, yada yada. I think if she were here today she'd kind of be embarrassed actually. There is a church near my house called Mary Queen of Peace. I don't get it. One time I stopped a church in Florida called Mary Queen of the Universe just to go in and see how wacky it was. It totally baffles me how a story that is so awe-inspiring about how Jesus who was GOD decided to humble himself from all of his glory on a throne and become a man - even more, a baby - so that he could live among us, give his life away, and then die undeservingly to give us a way back into reconciled relationship with him -- how, that story then got twisted to become about Mary being God's mom who has special powers is DISTORTED and actually more directly, Satanic. Okay. Slight tangent. Big picture: I think in being so annoyed with Christians who are strangely all about Mary, I have avoided paying much attention to her at all.

All that said, here are two amazing revelations I got while studying Luke's story of Mary...

When Mary found out that she was chosen for the honor that no one else in human history would ever be charged with - being the mother of Jesus, who was God - she responded ultimately with a line that stopped me from casually reading steadily through the verses. She said in Luke 1:28 -


And then she said "May it be to me as you have said." I know I have read that story like a zillion times. Everyone has pretty much. But this time it feels like God read it outloud to me because I kind of got chills.

Mary is looking at her sovereign God in the face and saying, Okay. I know that you ordain my life and all my days and this is what you have decided for me, and I am your servant, so I accept what you have for me and I will do it. It is just such a crazy amazing response to God! It immediately made me look at my life, jot down one liners of little things that are hard or overwelming or seemingly impossible in my life that he has allowed into the responsibility of my hands and then after each one I wrote in response "I am the Lord's servant."

I have three children under age three...
I don't really have any free time to myself but...
I am a stay at home mom, which doesn't get much glory but...
It is very difficult to have good character with the relational stress I am under but...
I am tempted to only be graceful and kind when it is returned to me but...

My list could go on with a hundred things. I tend to make so much of my life about what works for me or what is beneficial to me, but when it comes down to it, I am the Lord's servant. That is my first duty. And not out with rolled eyes and dragging feet or out of obligation. I GET to be the Lord's servant. I get to know him and be known by him, which is the greatest relationship of all. Words can't do justice to what that means to me.

A little bit later in the chapter after Mary visits Elizabeth, there is a song that starts off, "Mary said:". Yes just those two words stopped me. In response to all of this news, the pregnancy, the sharing of news with Elizabeth, the probable ridicule from some of the people in her life, Mary SPOKE. She had a SONG on her lips. And her words were praise and glory to the Lord.

I was telling Jason this today on our date and was relating it to our lives and he said, "I wonder what people would say our song is for our lives right now." When people ask how we are doing or when they see our kids and say silly things like, "Wow, you have your hands full," what do we say? What is our song that we chant? Do we say things like, "Yeah it's wild, I'm hanging on" or do we use our words, the song of our lives, to reflect praise to the God that gave US life and our children life and brought into existence this beautiful family that we get to love and raise and enjoy for years and years to come? What do we say?

What is the song on your lips that you sing about your life? I'll have to watch and think about my own. I don't want my song to be a series of complaints and disdainful comments about the precious blessings in my lives. I want to have a song. Lord put it on my lips. Let me sing it for you. My one request is that it not be insincere, but full of truth in my heart as I say it. When I think about my life and what you have done I want to also say,

"My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant."

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I never thought I would be into

Lately I seem to be thinking and/or saying "I didn't USED to think I'd be into ___ but now I totally am" so I started making a list...

Here are some things I never thought I would be into...

1. VANS. This has to be number one. My friends who went before me in the kid arena totally fell for it and I was their biggest critic. When the girls were on the way I got over it in about five seconds flat when I realized what rough traveling road was ahead. Automatic doors, low seating, movable seats and rows, and a jet engine none of your cars can beat at a stoplight overturned my stubborn ways. Odyssey, here's to you. (Kalle and Shawn - you are so going to give in one day. Keep saying no way and I'll keep smiling).

2. CROCS. They have GOT to be the ugliest shoes known to man. UGLY. But two things overturned my ways. One. They came out with a babydoll version and my friend Jamie had some and I fell in love with them on her. She bought me a pair and I couldn't take them off. Secondly and more convincingly I am now obsessed with them b/c this summer they have been the easiest and most versital shoes to throw on the girls' feet. Playground, water day, or long walk - they work for everything. And the girls love them. Thank you UGLY CROCS!

3. HIGH HEELS. Staying on the shoe newly bought high heels are the social envy of my closet. I can't really even glance at my other shoes b/c they are all shiny and fancy free sitting there on the floor and the rest of my shoes are kind of a shameful sight. I buy a pair like once every six months and I am kind of a grandma about them being comfy and friendly to my arch. In case some of you were wondering from my other post about these one hit wonders in my possession, here's a pic of them being worn by Grace.

4. CAR DVD PLAYERS. I was suuuuuper judgemental about this one. I was that mom who was all about not having a dvd player going in the car, even on long road trips, because I was just going to tell them no and they would play happily with something else! Haaaaaaa!!! Three kids later and loooots of tears and tantrums later I have realized that it is very very very difficult to entertain an antsy toddler in the car, from the front seat, while keeping a seat belt on and being carsick free (since you are looking backwards so much). So. We bought a portable dvd player with a bar that hangs it between our seats in the front. Life got a LOT better. For those of you having those same judging thoughts right this minute...I've got lots of grace for you and it totally doesn't bother me at all b/c I can remember why I felt that way. We'll just have to disagree ;).

5. MCDONALDS. I really think McDonalds was a divinely inspired deal. The food. The playgym. The icecream (well that's for me). Oh and now they're geniouses and have sweet tea. I could go to a McD drive through JUST for the sweet tea now, even if all my kids were totally over being in the car for five more minutes. Also, eating out with kids turns out to be a huge nightmare. One baby...not so bad (when we take Salem on vaca with us, we feel like we're kid free). But all three - crazy crazy hilarious (if you let yourself laugh) nightmare. I am a realist - no sugaring this one. So McDonalds is nice - it just always works. And I just don't want to know what's in the nuggets, fries or dips. Tell me in ten years.

6. SUNSCREEN. When I was younger I remember my hatred for this. I would ask my mom for the lowest number she could find. The sheer act of rubbing a slimy texture all over me totally grossed me out - that part kind of still does. But now I am slightly obsessed with dousing my kids and also the funniest part is that they wear like #60 and instead of searching for the #30, I just use theirs too. I literally have no care in the world for a dark suntan anymore. I have never been to a tanning bed and it will NEVER make this list. Promise.

7. KIDS CDS. I smile big time writing this. I currently have about 5 cds in my car dvd player. I think one of them is Hillsong - a Christian band. The others include Wee Bible songs and cds that go with books on counting and colors. I totally don't mind them. In fact if it gets rough in the car, I blast them and sing along. I can't believe it doesn't bother me. Never saw that one coming.

Okay...those are just a few. I know there are a zillion more because as years go by and different things become important to you, you change what you're okay with and what you like. However I must say I should probably come up with another list b/c I think there must be a pretty long "Stubborn List" of things I will never ever change my mind about ;)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Scripture Meditation Proverbs 22:15

"Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him." Proverbs 22:5

I have been including Proverbs in my Bible reading throughout the year and I just read a few verses until I come to one that pulls on my heart. I then stop, meditate on the words and allow the Lord to kind of unveil and break down the verse for me. He usually does it by bringing to mind other supporting Scripture for me to go read alongside of it or by forming the verse into a practical word picture in my mind, so that it's easier to chew on. This particular verse came in my reading at just the right time, considering what's going on in my household.

My girls are now two years and 4 months old and we're well into the days of whining, manipulation, rebellion, stealing, and just plain old ugly behavior. I wrote recently that I have also been slowly reading Don't Make Me Count to 3, in which the author encourages readers to not be shocked by a child's sideways behavior, because they are sinners, so of course sinners sin! But on days when I roll out of bed and we're well into a wild breakfast with two two year olds while I am carrying a fussy baby around on my hip, it's easy to be shocked and irritated by sinful behavior.

This verse actually stirred up something different in me about this sinful behavior in my girls.

It says that folly is BOUND UP in the heart of my child. Something that is harmful for their well being and for their relationships with others is caught, bound, stuck in their hearts. They are prone to sin because it's what is bound in them. Seeing folly, or sin, as something that is bound up in them, is a word picture that aroused great compassion in me for them as I thought back on their behaviors. It made discipline feel less like a chore and more like a rescue. God is using me to "unbind" this harm with discipline. And, as if with a rod, I am driving it far from them. It's like I can see this harmful sin that was bound in their hearts in that moment, being driven away as I correct them, encourage them towards repentance, and help them to experience the grace of forgiveness.

As I was reading this, the Holy Spirit reminded me of Hebrews 12 which talks about fathers disciplining the ones they love and then goes on to talk about how it feels to be disciplined. The last part of it says,

"God disciplines us for our good, that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

Disciplining my girls is NOT PLEASANT. I know, Lord! I think his wording could not have been more right on here, because for sure it is not pleasant but also it is PAINFUL. Not just for the one getting the discipline, but also for me giving it! It is a really painful process to unbind the folly in my children's hearts.

But to consider the alternative is so devastating. The alternative would be to avoid this painful, sometimes altogether unpleasant process and to lazily avoid the reality that sin and folly is bound up in the heart of my child. To unresponsibly allow that sin to remain in my child without any attempt to drive it out, as with a shepherd's rod, is simply selfish and unloving. I think that may be one of the most profound ways parents today show their children that it's just too hard to love them well and it's just easier to float on by.

What I am anticipating is that promise for LATER ON. When we go through disicpline, LATER ON it produces a HARVEST of righteousness and peace. What a gift! I want this so badly for my children. I want them to be blessed with a harvest that I am helping them grow now, though they have no idea they are in the middle of a field. Living by the Word, by the ways of the Lord is not a religious obligation with no reward. It is life and peace and that last word righteousness means that we are like Jesus and that is a gift he himself gives to us as we lay our lives in his care.

And I am not above my own children. I am living this process as well. In some ways I am experiencing the "later on" harvest now, from ways the Lord has already disciplined parts of my heart. And in some ways I am going through the painful and unpleasant discipline of stubborn, hard headed places deep in my heart. Some of them are taking just years and years for the Holy Spirit to chip away at in me but I look to the promise of LATER ON and am willing to keep on, anticipating a harvest from all of Jesus' work in me, as well as my children. To God be the glory.