“I just could not go to sleep tonight not knowing.”

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11173553_825895712719_1560621178_nSo my little family—all three of us—have all been sick this past week. Sore throat, fever, runny noses, dry coughs, achy bodies. I’ve never much cared for being sick, but being sick while breastfeeding and therefore unable to take meds was like living in a Chinese torture camp rather unpleasant. I started feeling sick last Monday and finally started feeling like myself again on Saturday, as did baby Ezra. My husband, however, started feeling sick on Friday, so was pretty ill on Saturday. Our dilemma, of course, was trying to decide whether we should attend worship services Sunday morning (Ben was scheduled to preach at both morning and evening services).

After a lot of thought, we decided we would try to go. Ben would still preach, and we would just sit in the back and leave as soon as services were over in attempt to not get anyone sick. That morning, Ben announced that our Q&A session (a monthly service we have in which members can submit Bible questions ahead of time for Ben to answer with scripture) would be that night. A sweet 16-year-old named Lauren was there that morning, heard the announcement, and decided to submit the question, “How do I know if I’m saved?”

That night, her question was answered. She, along with everyone else present, heard the truth about how we become saved and remain saved. She heard about how we are to repent of all sins in which we are involved (Luke 13:3, II Peter 3:9), be baptized to wash away our sins (Acts 2:38, I Peter 3:21, Mark 16:16), and continue walking in His light (I John 1:6-8). She heard about remaining faithful to the Lord’s Body (Hebrews 10:24-26) and truly seeking first the Kingdom (Matthew 6:33).

Her soft, open heart was touched by God’s Word, and she responded to the invitation. She said she had been baptized a long time ago, but not for the right reasons—not to wash away her sins and be added to the Lord’s Body. After studying with her for a little while, it was clear that she was ready to put on Christ in baptism. She called her family members, who do not come to worship, and asked them to come witness her surrender her life to Christ. She was asked to “wait until next Sunday when everyone can be there.” But Lauren understood something that her family didn’t. She understood that until she was baptized and cleansed of her sins, she was in a lost condition. She left to go home in tears and worried about her soul.

The rest of us left feeling the weight of Lauren’s burden and prayed the Lord would give her enough time to follow through with her intention to be saved. By that point it was late, and we were exhausted, but hadn’t yet had anything to eat for dinner, so we drove 25 minutes to our exit and ran in and bought a foot-long Subway sub to take home and split. Upon getting back in the car, the phone rang. Lauren couldn’t do it. Just as the Philippian jailor couldn’t wait, even if it meant risking his job and his life (Acts 16), she couldn’t wait another moment before washing away her sins. We knew then that she was ready for this commitment. If she had been okay with waiting a few days, that would be a pretty good indicator that she didn’t understand what she was doing. Lauren understood, however, that she could leave this life and meet the Lord at any moment, and she wanted to be ready to meet Him.

Our hearts rejoiced as we called one of our elders to meet us at the church building to be there for Lauren. In the car on the way there, we ate our sandwiches and it was, indeed, one of the happiest meals we’ve ever had as we rushed back to the building. While Ben drove and we ate, Lauren was texting me. With her permission, I’m sharing with you some of what she said:

“I just want to make sure if I die tomorrow I am going to heaven. I just could not go to sleep tonight not knowing…If I would have left [church services early] tonight like I do most nights I would have left not saved and could die this week and go to hell. But God kept me there for a reason and now I know why.”

That hug after sweet Lauren was baptized by my husband was wet, sloppy, and one of the happiest, most wonderful hugs I’ve ever gotten. Her smile from that moment until we all left the building was the very definition of the song I sing with my son every night—“This little Christian light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.” Lauren was radiant, calm, and blissfully clean within and without. I daresay she slept better than ever before that night.

The next day (yesterday), she texted again and said, “God is so good and I am so happy I am your sister in Christ and one day we will get to rejoice in heaven together.”

I am so happy, too. Lauren’s excitement and zeal reminded me of the zealous gratitude and reverence we all ought to have in reference to salvation. I think sometimes we Christians get caught up in the day-in-day-out routine of Christianity and worship and we forget the pure magnificence of what is taking place when we accept Christ as our Savior and become one of His sheep. When we truly realize the weight of eternity, it doesn’t matter if it’s 10 p.m. or 3 a.m. Our plan to avoid people due to our sickness was suddenly irrelevant. Because when it comes to making sure we are right with the Lord, none of those earthy things matter at all. We realize that nothing else matters when we see that Someone died in order to take us to a place where there is no sickness, no pain, no dying and no tears (Revelation 21:4).

I want my heart to be more like Lauren’s, for she, like Mary, “has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:42)



Whoosh! A Comment Tsunami!

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A-comic-balloon-with-an-exclamation-mark-T-ShirtsA few days ago, my blog post (http://www.theheartofhannah.com/2015/02/02/a-stay-at-home-mom-five-hot-button-reasons/) was about the reasons I am, and love being a stay-at-home mom. Lots of you read and many commented and I am grateful for that. If I learned anything at all from this, it is that there is certainly a culture war going on about this subject. Whatever the outcome, the spoils of the war will go to or be taken from the children in our culture. Today I will share with you just a few of the comments from both perspectives. (Next up: Was the Proverbs 31 woman a career woman? I hope you can read that one, too!)

“Ugh. I thought the “Mommy Wars” were over. You made a choice; good for you. Other Christian women make a different choice; good for them. Stop trying to convince yourself that your choice is more “Godly.” Different things work for different families and it’s incredibly insulting for you to tell working women that they are blaspheming the word of God. If that is what you truly believe, fine, but keep it to yourself. You say you’re not trying to be judgmental but you’re still doing a pretty [word I don’t use-HG] good job of it. This whole post is smug and self-righteous whether you intended it to be or not. Basically, get over yourself. You’re not that special.” 

“Excellent post. For me, this job is sooooo much harder than I ever thought it would be. Sometimes do I think I’m not cut out for this? Yes. But, I know that this is where my children need me to be. It’s where I’ve always wanted to be and where God wants me to be. When I became a mother I had to learn to put my child’s needs ahead of my wants. It’s a hard job, but it’s so worthwhile.”  

“conservative evangelical Christian? Check. white middle class American woman? Check. Taking scripture out of context to prove your point and make other people feel inferior or less then you? Check. looking for an echo chamber of people who agree with you and not letting outside voices in to disagree or point out flaws in your otherwise perfect life? Check”

“A beautiful article. With some minor exceptions, before we decided to home school, I have been a SAHM for almost 23 years. My only full time job lasted 4 months because I just knew I was not where I needed to be, so I quit. I will never, ever, ever look back and wish I had spent more time “at work.”’

“Just read the comments:  

https://www.facebook.com/stuffchristianculturelikes/posts/10153692329013782

…Maybe you’ll learn that your God is bigger than you think and that what you so self-righteously proclaim is probably driving away more people from God than pulling them near Him. Oh, and get over yourself.”  

“I praise the Lord that you are wise beyond your years in knowing that this time will in fact be over in a flash! I am speechlessly thankful the Lord gave me an awesome man of God, allowed me to have my children, and to be able to stay home and to home school them. They grew up so quickly and left our nest. My baby boy is 21 today and my sweet girl is 22. They both love the Lord and they both are incredibly awesome adults – to God be all the glory! The goal was to be the example of Jesus and reflect that every day in my marriage and as a parent. You know – some days worked out better than others, but I kept the vision that I would in fact one day lay my head down at night after they were out of our home and KNOW that I did the very best I could and that I would have NO REGRETS. No, “what if’s”. And the Lord has allowed me that knowledge and that incredible peace. Thank you for your words. I want to encourage you that every single bit of it is worth it. God bless you and your sweet family!”

‘”I’m not writing this to be harsh or judgmental….”  Excuse me, but you said at the first of your list that you thought this was the biblical way. Whenever you proclaim something as biblical and imply that it is a sin to go against it, you are kinda being judgmental.”

“Being a mom is hard. I needed to read this today. Mine are 7 and 11 and I still need reminding of the true reason I am home and keep from getting caught up in what society thinks I should be doing. Thanks again.”

“after reading this, i am glad that i have abandoned the bible. anything that judges me so completely for making my own choice and not relying on words and men-shaped men to tell me how evil i am is something i think belongs in the trash.”

 “I greatly appreciate this article. My husband and I always knew I’d stay at home with the children. I don’t miss the almost 6 figure salary I could be making now. That salary won’t give me precious time with my children and husband. It won’t buy our way into heaven. I truly believe as you stated that God wants us at home teaching and training our children. It is so surprising the number of Christian women who don’t believe this. Unfortunately, I see their households and families suffer because of this. The money and time away from the family are not worth losing our children to the world. Thank you so much for writing this.”

 “these ideas somehow make it seem as though my personhood begins and ends with my submission to a husband person, with my being a mom, and nothing more. to want more is to be selfish and damn our entire household to some sort of spiritual hell. i am tired of carrying the life and spiritual safety of our entire family on my decisions. we each are people, we each have value. how that is expressed is between us, not some deity-shaped idea and a book of words.”

“After reading the other posts, I must add another thought. As a former worker-outside-the-home, I do not find this article to be any sort of attack. Also, I am saddened by some of the comments that, pardon the term, almost boast of how their homes are clean, kids are dressed, and they can even do other things. The whole point is to get our children to heaven. I mean this lovingly- if you choose to work outside the home, the goal would be to still make the time to train your child up in the Lord. Your home, clothing, and activities are irrelevant.” 

‘”The whole point is to get our children to heaven.” What a powerless god they serve, and how little they understand the theology of their own religion. Addiction is ugly, and they’re gonna seriously [mess] up their kids. No, I think the whole point is to raise the kids in a safe, loving environment…where they don’t ‘get to heaven’ anytime soon.”

“I’ve been a working mom. Busy focusing on a job and hustling around in the evenings to get bottles washed and packed back up for the next day when I would drop off MY child at daycare and cry myself to work. It was tough and I missed so much of John Michael’s first 2 years of life. I regret not working harder to find “things” to sacrifice to make a stay-at-home life work. I can’t go back and undo it or get that time back now. We decided when baby 2 came that I would stay at home. We began planning and sacrificing, finding ways to make a little here and there to help in any way. It was tough. Well, that’s an understatement. BUT, we have been living on 1 income for 2 years and our God has provided our EVERY NEED. As I look at my boys faces I sit back and say to myself “I’m thankful I gave up “X” for YOU!” I’ll never get the time back that I missed with JM. My heart really longs for that time often. I can’t go back for it. It’s too late. So for now I choose to make the most of everyday with my sweet boys, from the present onward! “ 

“After reading this, I am abundantly thankful I have walked away from religion; especially religion that tells says you’re a bad mother and living an un-biblical life if you work outside the home and don’t have a desire to fully stop. Also, what are single mothers supposed to do? How are they supposed to live “biblically” while staying fully at home and being the sole “breadwinner”? (IMO) To have that much pressure upon oneself simply to insure that you’re living according to g-d’s word would birth load of depression, stress, unworthiness, etc.”

 “Loved this. I’m hearing a lot about “choice” lately and doing what makes you happy (some people like to use the words “fulfilled” or “sane”) and I think it’s really sad. We shouldn’t make our choices based on what we think will make us happy (or fulfilled or sane). We need to base our choices on God’s Word alone. Something I’m SO glad Hannah found out much earlier than I did. It’s hard to express these feelings to people without making it sound like you are condemning them for their “choice” but I do think more moms need to be encouraged to make choices that line up with what God wants for us and not just what they think will fulfill them. One thing I’ve learned for sure in the 7 years I’ve been at home with my kids (and the 8 1/2 years of being a mom, 2 homeschooling) is that God uses motherhood to help sanctify us, He uses every bit of it. Every diaper change, every unwarranted temper tantrum, every spill, every scraped knee, every accident, every long long story, every Lego presentation, every late night feeding, everything, everything! And if you’re missing 3/4 of that time every day… You’re missing a lot.” 

“I love how she uses fake sweetness to judge and shame other mothers. Nice.”

 “I am not married or even out of school yet but I have had people pressuring me about being a working mom. Almost all my life I have wanted to be a mother and good wife, one who will teach her children about God’s word and help her husband to be a good Christian. I have never worried about money for as long as I can remember, I had always in my mind the thought that if we were faithful and good Christians the Lord would give us a way to obtain the things we needed. Your post really touched me. Many of the people around me don’t agree with my desire to be a stay at home mother, so all that you said has been very encouraging to me. I really appreciate your putting this post out.”

“Kinda concerned for that little guy. It’s not really healthy to grow up with someone hanging their entire existence and self-worth on your ability to prove they’re a good mom. Hint to hipster Christian mommy: you really need to back off a tiny bit.”

“We can try and believe that kids don’t need the same things they needed before America put women in the work place in huge numbers, but they still need the same things. I know that there are some who can work outside the home for a limited number of hours and perhaps still be keepers at home and Deut. 6 moms. I just do not personally see how a mother could ever choose to work full time, put the kids in day-care and still think she was giving the home all the spiritual benefits she could be giving it were she there more. That kind of thinking just has never made sense to me. If you chose to put only ten hours into your full time job, your boss would fire you or at least cut your wages because you can’t be as productive in ten hours as you can be in forty. I don’t get why we think that logic does not apply with the most important job. We can’t do the same thing with a few hours a week as we could with a larger quantity of time. That just has to be true.”

 Again, here are the two key passages:

“Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.” -Titus 2:3-5

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” -Deuteronomy 6:4-7



A Letter To My Unborn Son

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cribMy Dear Son,

You’ve been growing inside my womb for more than 39 weeks now, and the doctor says that any day now you’ll be making your appearance and I’ll finally be holding you in my arms and experiencing motherhood for the first time. I can’t wait to touch you and smell you and hear your first cry. I can’t wait to finally see what you look like. I can’t wait to see what your father’s face looks like as he holds you for the first time.

Let me tell you a little about your parents since you’re about to be spending a whole lot of time hanging out with the two of us outside the comfort of this womb to which you’ve grown accustomed.  Your dad and I met and fell in love at Freed Hardeman University a little over four years ago. I was a goofy blonde RA majoring in English. I was passionate about travel, reading, writing, and midnight Taco Bell runs with all my crazy friends.  Your dad worked as a youth minister at the Independence church of Christ and as a manager at a sporting goods store most of his time at Freed, but at school, he was mostly known for his skilled, over-the-top pranks. We’ll tell you all about these soon (I think my favorite was when he walked around campus in a hazmat suit putting caution tape and signs on classroom doors canceling classes due to an outbreak of swine flu—he got in a little trouble for that one!).

I know this sounds crazy, but we both thought about you on that first date at Besso’s coffee shop at that little table in the corner (I went back and got that table from the owners 3 years later—it’s in our kitchen now). Even on that first date, we both thought about what it would be like if this worked out and we one day raised a child together. Neither of us spoke about that for many months to come, but even then, as we talked about everything from our families to homeschooling to mission work to cookie dough gelato, I was thinking about what it would be like if Ben was the future father of my child….if he would be your daddy.

We dated for about a year after that, and all the while, the question I was asking myself was how I would feel about it if you turned out to be just like your dad. When I realized that I would be overjoyed if you one day followed in his footsteps of humble servitude and righteous bravery, I knew he was the one I was going to spend my happily ever after with on this earth.

When your daddy asked me to marry him, we were thinking of you then, too. I’ll never forget how I felt when I said yes, agreeing to put my whole future (that includes you) in the hands of this wonderful, Godly man. The only bad thing about all this was that I knew my future last name and yours, too, would be one we’d have to slowly spell out every time anyone asked for our name for all of our time on this earth. Sorry about that, Son. I tried to get your daddy to just take my name (Colley) instead of his, but he had other ideas. 🙂

We were married on July 15, 2011.  Your daddy took me to the south of Florida and also Savannah, Georgia on our honeymoon. On the last full day of our two-week honeymoon, we went to Tybee Island and your mom had a wreck on a motor bike. For about an hour afterwards, I wasn’t thinking about you, your daddy, the wedding, or anything else besides how badly I wanted to get back on the bike and ride some more. This was due to a concussion, during which I forgot who your daddy even was!! Don’t worry–I remembered shortly thereafter while at the hospital and you returned to being a happy little twinkle in my eye again. 🙂

As soon as we returned from the honeymoon, we began our work with the Riverbend church of Christ in Dalton, Georgia, where your dad was the associate minister. We lived in Dalton for just a little over a year. During that time, I worked with high school special education students at the high school by our house. I was involved with community theater in Dalton. I also taught Bible class at Riverbend and we had many people over to our pretty little home surrounded by huge pine trees. It was the preacher’s house that belonged to Riverbend and we were so blessed to get to live in it. We had so much fun decorating and making it ours. We even had a “Wall of Shame” in it where we framed and hung mementos of your father’s school pranks, including the large framed black and white photo of your dad PhotoShopped to look just like the formal pictures of former FHU presidents in Old Main (It hung on the wall in all its ridiculous glory in Old Chapel Hall for months before someone caught it). Your dad stayed busy in Dalton with preaching, teaching, visiting, woodworking in his A-frame workshop and updating his new blog called “Plain Simple Faith.” I also started a blog called “The Heart of Hannah.” We spent lots of fun, quiet evenings playing board games or watching movies while we cuddled on the couch, both of which we still enjoy doing together!

In October of 2012, we moved to Louisville, Kentucky to work with the Cedar Springs church of Christ, where your dad was the pulpit minister. We lived in a beautiful white house that belonged to the church and sat in the church building parking lot.  Daddy and I were both very active at church, where we both taught classes, organized events, and helped to start the Lads to Leaders program, which we had no idea would affect our lives in the way it has now! I worked as a nanny to little children like you, and thought about you all the time as I got in lots of “practice” that would prepare me in some pretty great ways for my dream of being your stay-at-home mommy one day. Your dad and I loved date nights in the city.  Your dad was ecstatic to live in a city with Skyline chili. We made some very dear friends in Louisville that we love very much and we made a lot of happy memories there. We even got to take an incredible vacation to NYC while we lived there! My favorite memory of Louisville, however, is the day I found out you would be entering our lives in about 8 months. I sat on the bathroom floor and cried and cried with pure, overwhelming joy and excitement. You, my forever dream, were now a reality, a human being—an eternal soul–growing inside me. I’ll never forget the look on your daddy’s face when I gave him the news. His eyes filled with tears and he kissed me and held me and we laughed at the very idea of us two kids becoming parents! The responsibility was overwhelming to us, but so exciting. Your grandparents (both sets) and Uncle Caleb cried when we told them, too. A lot of happy tears have been shed over you, sweet boy! Piedaddy said we should name you Hootie Monroe when we told him. You’re going to love him and his hilarious, silly sense of humor. I can’t wait for you to experience Christmas at his house this year (it was at his house for Christmas when I first wondered if I might be pregnant—I couldn’t eat Christmas dinner! I knew something was up then).  Your other great grandparents (my dad’s parents), Great Grandma Garner, and Great Grandma and Grandpa Giselbach are also super excited about your arrival!

When your mom was a little past 20 weeks pregnant, your grandparents (my parents) hosted a gender reveal party at their house in Maysvillle, AL. This is when we found out in the presence of our family and closest friends that you were a son and not a daughter! My parents got up at that party and read the letters they had written to me right before I was born—just like this letter, but a lot older. 🙂 I pray that I will be half the parent to you that your grandparents were to me. I feel woefully inadequate as a mother, but I can’t say that I haven’t had amazing examples of what godly parenthood looks like. Your grandparents (both my parents and your dad’s parents) are incredible people who love the Lord and I know they’re going to teach you wonderful lessons both with words and their examples.  Never forego an opportunity to learn from them.

A few months after we found out we were having you, your daddy was offered a job working for Lads to Leaders. As passionate as your dad and I are about preparing young people to grow up and lead the Lord’s church toward heaven, this was an opportunity we couldn’t resist, and so we packed up and moved to Montgomery, Alabama when your mom was 7 months pregnant. Your dad also got a part-time job preaching for the Lightwood church of Christ in Marbury, a wonderful congregation that seems almost as excited about your arrival as we are! We lived in a lovely house we rented for two months from our friends Moises and Kimberley Pinedo, and it fit our needs perfectly until we found a house to call ours in Millbrook. This is going to be your house! That’s right–your crazy parents packed up and moved one last time before your arrival while your mama was almost 9 months pregnant! We’ve been living in this house for five days now, and we finally just got hot water! It was quite an ordeal house shopping, signing, and getting moved in (the moving truck broke down on the way, we realized we wouldn’t have running water for three days, we couldn’t find a non-smoking hotel room to stay in until then, among lots of other adventures!), but we are just so excited to finally have a place that belongs to us where we can make a home for you, sweet boy. Your grandmother (my mom) just left yesterday, but she stayed a few days to help us get your nursery all ready for you, and while the rest of the house may be a disaster right now, your room is ready and already filled with love and happy anticipation of you being in it! So many people have given us such beautiful gifts to help prepare us for taking care of you. You can feel the warmth of their love along with ours in your sweet little nursery.

That brings us to the present–September 12, 2014—just four days before your due date. I know that so many more blessed adventures await us in the future, and I know I’ll look back on this letter 20 years from now amazed at just how brand new and naive we were in so many ways. Things are going to be so different once you’ve been born. The beautiful thing is that it won’t just be me and your daddy anymore—we’re a family now, and I can’t wait to experience life as a family with you.

We are praying for you every day, Son. We’re praying that you will be raised in a home filled with love and laughter. We’re praying that you will be healthy and happy and responsible. We pray that you will learn to be strong but gentle, confident but humble, independent but sensitive to the needs of others. But more than that, we’re praying that you will be successful, for we know with all our hearts that true success doesn’t have anything to do with material wealth or earthly satisfaction, but that true success is living your life and going to heaven. We pray that God will give us enough strength, courage, and daily determination to be the kind of parents that will instill in you a deep love for God and for His church, above all else. The only thing that matters in life is making sure you’re going to heaven and bringing as many people with you as you can. We are going to teach you about God’s Word before you’re even able to understand what we’re saying, and will continue to do so until you have a family of your own one day, but don’t just take our word for it. Study on your own, and if anyone, including us, ever teaches you something that contradicts God’s Word, make sure you obey God regardless of what other people say.

We are also praying for the little girl you’ll marry one day, and for the parents who are going to be raising her. Choosing whom you will marry is such a hugely important decision, second only to deciding to put on Christ in baptism and live for Him daily. You will have to face so many big decisions in your life, but as long as you get those two right, God is going to bless you immeasurably.

I can’t wait to see your precious face. I can’t wait to see your little personality develop as you grow. Every time I walk in your sweet little nursery, I can’t believe how richly blessed I am to get to be your mother. You won’t understand this until you’re a parent, too, but it’s the most wonderful and the most terrifying feeling all at the same time. Some days I panic when I wonder if I even have what it takes to take care of myself, much less a human soul God has placed in my care. I am, and will always be, weak and mortal, and on some days, kind of an airhead (Sorry).  I will make tons of mistakes as a parent, and I apologize in advance for those. I will be completely and totally dependent on our God, the perfect Parent, as I make decisions that affect you. As inadequate as I feel, I know I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Phil. 4:13), and that includes being a good mom.

While I can’t promise you that you’ll have a perfect mom (or anything even resembling that), I can promise you a few things. I promise to shower you with hugs and kisses all day long for as long as you’ll let me. I promise to bend over backwards, even if it means looking ridiculous in public, in order to make you laugh. I promise to love you forever and ever, even when that has to be tough love. I promise to put your needs before my own. I promise to love your daddy and do my very best to show you what Godly marriage looks like. I promise to do my very best to truly “seek first the Kingdom” (Mt. 6:33), making Christianity not just part of us, but all of us—everything we are—so that you will hopefully grow up wanting to do the same.

I love you, my sweet boy. See you soon.

Love,

Mom

 



Why I Believe in Santa (And My Kids Will Too)

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coke santa It’s my favorite time of year. No really, I’m obsessed. I love all of it—the music, the movies, the Christmas trees, the ornaments, the wrapping paper, the bows, the giving, the parties, the games—everything. But what I love most of all about Christmas is the magic. I love seeing families reconnecting, reminiscing, and reminding one another through gifts and hugs and words of the love that exists between them. Nothing brings me more joy than seeing expressions of wonder and ecstasy on the faces of children drinking in the mysteries of Christmas.

And Santa Claus. I LOVE Santa Claus. I love him because he is jolly and kind and patient and rosy and magical. But mainly I love him because he is a shining representative, or token, if you will, of all that makes Christmas so wonderful. I still write a letter to him every year, thanking him for the joy he brings to every little boy and girl who are allowed to believe. Occasionally I come across articulate articles saying that parents shouldn’t “lie” to their children about the mystery of Santa Claus.  While I disagree with them, I genuinely admire their sincere pursuit of righteous judgment. I’m here today to offer you an alternate opinion on the subject.

You see, I not only believe it’s okay to encourage your children believe in old Kris Kringle. I think it’s important–necessary, even–for them to believe in Santa. Gasp! Hannah Giselbach! Are you suggesting we LIE TO OUR CHILDREN?! Calm down. Give me a minute to explain this. Here are 3 reasons why I believe in Santa (and my kids will too):

1.    It’s Not A Lie.  

Waiting for me to admit I know he’s not real? Don’t make me do that. I love him too much. But okay, for the sake of argument, let’s say he’s not physically real. I know there are TONS of well-meaning parents who passionately believe it’s wrong to tell their children stories about Santa because they think that’s lying. They’re afraid their children would perhaps grow up with a broken trust in them because they didn’t immediately dispel the Santa myth right away in the name of loving honesty. But for those of you who believe it’s necessary to tell your children Santa doesn’t exist, have you thought about whether you can really be consistent with being so literal about everything?  If you’ve told you’re children Santa isn’t real, you should also tell your little girl when she plays with dolls that the dolls are not REAL little girls…They can’t REALLY talk. When you take your kids to Disney world, you should tell them that each character they hug is not REALLY Snow White or Cinderella or Peter Pan. They’re just young adults with really cool internships. And while you’re at it, you should tell them that none of the stories behind the characters are true, either (well, maybe Pocahontas but the Disney version doesn’t count). When you take them to a play, you should lovingly remind them that none of the people on stage are who they’re claiming to be, and the story is made-up. You should tell them they shouldn’t play with action figures unless they understand they’re made of plastic and can’t really save the world by defeating evil.

You get where I’m going with this. The thought of having an intervention every time your children use their imaginations is ill-advised and rather silly. Why, then, are we so afraid to let our children imagine and pretend when it comes to Santa Claus? Pretending isn’t always lying. One very sad and dismal day, your children won’t play with dolls anymore. They won’t run, elated, arms flailing when they see Mickey Mouse at Disney World. One day, your children will grow up and understand that all the things they used to play with and pretend with are not actually real. I beg of you, don’t take away that magic prematurely. It will happen when it happens. And I’ve never once met an adult who felt betrayed by their parents who “lied” to them about Santa when they were children. Not once! I have, however, met adults who feel deprived of a major part of childhood because their parents felt the need to dispel their belief and encourage their questioning doubt at a very young age.

Let me remind you of a heartwarming moment in America’s history. In 1897, a little girl wrote to the New York Sun asking if there was a Santa Claus. This was the reply (Go ahead, grab a box of tissues and read it all):

“DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old. 
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. 
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’ 
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

 VIRGINIA O’HANLON.
 115 WEST NINETY-FIFTH STREET.

“VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.
You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.”

Let your kids be kids. There’s plenty of time for them to be grown-ups once the fairies have danced away and your backyard swing is still. And please stop mixing up pretending and lying. There’s a big difference.

Also, from a spiritual standpoint, keep in mind that God (as our Father) has often revealed Himself to us in METAPHORICAL terms that are not literally true (shepherd, fire, rock), but these terms stand for things that are literally true. Santa Claus (we shall admit for argument’s sake) is not literally true, but he stands for things that are literally true. “Father” itself is a metaphor for God. God, in His divine wisdom, revealed himself to us in our own HUMAN language, which is capable of expressing at best a rough approximation of God’s nature. That language is true and helpful nonetheless. Santa Claus is a great way for kids to learn generosity, faithfulness, joy, kindness, and a myriad of other wonderful qualities.

2.    It’s SO Much Fun. I was one of the lucky kids whose parents made the choice to make Christmas the most magical, most mysterious, most wonderful thing in the world.  My brother Caleb and I would write letters to him together, go to the mall to get our picture taken every year (even while I was in college), set out cookies and milk on Christmas Eve, and thought of him every time we even considered disobeying or talking back. It was exciting and mystifying and merry. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without that magic. I cherish those memories and always will. I always pity children who despairingly look up at me with sad eyes when I mention Santa and say, “I know the truth. My parents told me.” Christmas can still be fun for them, but never to that magical degree of happy, hopeful believing. Let your child be one of the delighted, rather than one of the deprived. There is very little fun left in the world that is not accompanied by some kind of trade-off–some disappointment–or sin. Even sports, while fun, involve disappointments. Believing in Santa Claus in theory, involves pure fun with no drawbacks. The more you believe, the better the experience. The same is true with belief in God, which brings me to my next and final point…

3.    Your Children Need to Know They CAN Believe in Things They Can’t See.  Kids are so smart. They soak in every little thing. So when you tell them (or imply, even) that they shouldn’t believe in things they can’t see, things that seem unrealistic, or things that are magical, you run the risk of messing with their belief in things you WANT them to believe. While I understand there’s no scientific evidence Santa exists—as opposed to the hundreds of scientific evidences proving the existence of God ( see www.apologeticspress.org )—when children are struck with the understanding that magic like Santa doesn’t exist, they’re probably not going to be able to make that distinction quite yet. When they feel all grown up now that they debunked the magic of Santa, they’re going to have a hard time believing in God when peers or even adults tell them that God is no more real than Santa. They might start to piece together logic (however flawed) like this: If it’s impossible for Santa to fly all over the world and deliver toys to every child in one night, surely it’s impossible for this whole world to be created in just 6 days. Or…If I can’t believe in Santa’s sleigh because nobody’s ever seen it fly, why should I believe in God? Nobody’s ever seen him.

Instead, children need to live in homes where the idea that incredible things can and do happen is allowed to thrive and grow…because, in all reality, God’s miracles are the most mysterious, most wonderful things in the universe. Your children don’t need to hear that amazing, impossible things can’t happen. Christians are necessarily believers in miracles—not just that God exists. We believe that incredible, magical things like the Virgin Birth, the flood, dead people being raised again, and all kinds of other phenomenon actually happened, and will happen again when the miracle of Christ’s return occurs. God is living proof that wonders can happen, and hearing otherwise will put doubt in the hearts of your little ones before they’re able to see the difference between real wonders and imagined wonders.

I’ve rambled on long enough. I’ll leave you with this small portion of the defense speech from the courtroom scene in the film Miracle on 34th Street (1994) which I think suitably expresses the beauty of giving children the permission to believe:

“Your Honor, a lot of people believe in Mr. Kringle. Including millions of children. If you rule against him, you won’t destroy anyone’s belief but you will destroy the man they believe in. Mr. Kringle is not concerned for himself, if he was he wouldn’t be here. He is in this regrettable position because he is willing to sacrifice himself for children. To create in their minds a world far better than the one we’ve made for them. If this is, as Mr. Collins suggests, a masquerade then Mr. Kringle is eager to forfeit his freedom to preserve that masquerade–to subject himself to prosecution to protect the children’s right to believe.”

There’s my two cents. Please understand this is all merely my opinion and it is not my intent to bind that opinion on anyone else, and please don’t misunderstand me to have said it’s a sin not to do Santa Claus in your home or any other such nonsense. Merely an opinion. But even so, you better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout….well, you know the rest. Merry Christmas!



Things We Say That God Never Said

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Shut Mouth

Christians say a lot of junk we shouldn’t say sometimes. We don’t mean to, but sometimes we say things to comfort or convict others that we think come from God, but they simply aren’t in the Bible. Here are five things many of us mistakenly believe are scriptural concepts.

Things God Never Said:

1.     “Listen to your heart.”

 See yesterday’s post for my thoughts on this little booger.

 2.     “Everything happens for a reason” (or, “I’m sure it’s all part of God’s will”).

This is probably the worst thing you could ever say to someone who is grieving or facing stressful trials. And it’s not in the Bible. I do not believe that natural disasters and chronic illnesses happen because it’s God’s will. I do not believe that you trip on the sidewalk and bloody your hands and knees because it’s God’s will. I don’t think it’s God’s plan when your skirt flies up embarrassingly while your arms are full and that huge gust of wind hits you. I don’t think it’s our place to say whether it’s God’s will when an innocent person dies because of someone driving under the influence. I think sometimes things just happen because God allows nature to take its course.  And sometimes things happen because there’s sin in the world. I DO believe, however, that for the Christian, all things work together for our ultimate good (Romans 8:28).

3. “You should accept Jesus into your heart.”

The concept might be true, because that’s obviously what’s taking place when you believe, repent, confess, and are baptized into Christ, but that phrase isn’t in the Bible, and neither is the common connotation that accompanies it—the idea that ALL we have to do is say a prayer and we’re saved forever.

4. “Take your time. Do things in your own time.”

I heard a well-meaning man say recently that if you have a problem with a brother, you should wait until you’re completely over the hurt feelings, the anger, and the frustration before you go to that brother to try to resolve it—even if that takes years. Actually, God pretty much said the very opposite. He said that if you have a problem with your brother, you should go and resolve it before you try to offer Him worship (Matthew 5:23). Otherwise, your worship will be in vain. God never said, “Wait till you’re ready” or “take your time”. We simply aren’t promised tomorrow, much less years. If you have something you need to say to someone, do it now. Don’t let the Lord come back when you still have unfinished business left to do.

5.  “If you decide to follow God, your life will be so much easier.”

God never said this. As a matter of fact, he said life could be harder if you follow Him. II Timothy 3:12 promises persecution to those who live godly in Christ Jesus. So, if you aren’t suffering some kind of persecution for the stands you make as a disciple of Christ, you probably aren’t a true disciple.

How about a little comfort for your day? You see, while God didn’t say those things you might have thought He did, the things He DID say are even BETTER. Here’s another list:

Things God DID say (and I’m paraphrasing):

 1.     Don’t Worry. I got this.

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

“Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9).

…And while you’re at it, please take a minute on your own to read Matthew 6:24-34.

2. When you’re sad, I will comfort you.

“The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:18).

“Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness” (Isaiah 41:10).

3. I care about you.

“Cast all your anxiety on Him for He cares for you” (I Peter 5:7).

“As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him” (Psalm 103:13).

4. I’m not going anywhere.

“It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not leave you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed” (Deuteronomy 31:8).

“I am with you always, even to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

6.     Nothing can separate you from My love.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Don’t get caught up in the common phrases. Feast your mind on God’s Word, and let His words of comfort be your words of comfort.



Don’t Follow Your Heart

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 heart cage

Our modern society is saturated in the self-serving motto, “Just Follow Your Heart.” It’s pretty much the theme in every Disney movie ever made. It’s in all our popular music. The words are heard by thousands all over the world lying on the office couches of professional therapists and sitting across tables from dear friends offering counsel. It’s a lovely, appealing concept because it feels good. It feels good because it basically just means, “Do what feels right.” That’s why so many apply it to their own lives and decisions.

Everyone has done this sometime in life.  Every devastated teen who finds out she’s pregnant unexpectedly after thinking no one would find out. Every woman who finds herself in an abusive marriage because she chose to ignore the signs before the wedding. Every man who can’t believe he’s inadvertently traded a loving spouse, a home, a family, for a reckless fling that meant little or nothing.  Every celebrity who compromised Christian values in order to obtain his or her dream of fame. Every political leader who chooses what he knows will be the most popular rather than what he instinctively knows is right.

Indeed, I remember times in my own life when I “followed my heart”.  Like the time when I impulsively jumped in the Mediterranean with all my clothes on while in Greece (okay, that wasn’t so bad). Times in college when I chose to sit with friends in my comfort zone rather than pushing myself to sit with those who were alone.  Times when I chose to go out with the popular guy rather than the godly guy (obviously, I chose right in the end on that one!). Times when I found myself believing I could help to change an abusive boyfriend.

But “following our hearts” isn’t just a modern mistake people make. Its billions of deceived go back to the very first man, who followed his heart when he listened to the beguiling voice of his dazzling wife as she advised him to eat the forbidden fruit with her. That same faulty state of mind was inherited by Adam’s firstborn as he reasoned, “surely God would accept my gift, since it comes from my heart.” That same reasoning is seen in so many other Biblical figures who believed God would accept anything from the heart, such as the “strange fire” created by Nadab and Abihu, and the impulsive jerk reaction of Uzzah when he reached out to steady the Ark of the Covenant with his hand. Most people today use the same logic (or lack thereof) when they reason, “Surely God will accept the worship that comes straight from my heart. The minute details aren’t what matters.”

Did you know that the Bible says an awful lot about following your heart? For instance, when the world says, “Go with your gut,” God says, “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered” (Proverbs 28:26). When the world says, “Do what feels right,” God says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Obviously, the heart is a faulty source of direction for our lives, however right it may feel.

You see, God never intended for us to be led by our hearts (our feelings). He wanted us to be led by His Spirit—the will and testament He left for us when he sacrificed His Son on the cross (Romans 8:14). God made it possible, through that sacrifice, for us to be led by divine wisdom rather than fleshly emotions. Focus on these words from Galatians 5:24-25: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” But I have such passion, such deafening profundity in my feelings! Am I to just disregard how I feel about everything?! Fortunately, God gives us an alternative—an answer for what to do with our misleading hearts. He doesn’t tell us to ignore or disregard our feelings. Instead, He tells us to redirect our feelings toward Him, allowing Him to form them.

My favorite solution for this quandary is found in Proverbs 4:23, where the inspired author writes, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” If we value our dreams and earthly desires more than we value what God has in store for us, we can easily be led astray from what truly matters. Jesus knew this when He said, “…whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). Our Lord made the ultimate sacrifice on the cross—He gave His everything for us, and He expects us to, in turn, make ourselves living sacrifices for Him. I have to remind myself: If God asks me to give up something that I care about, it’s because He has something better in store for me.

I may not be all the way there yet, but I believe that, as I grow older, I will, with God’s help, also grow in wisdom. With that growth, I believe that what’s in my heart and what God has planned for me will grow more and more one in the same—that my feelings and God’s plans will become more aligned as I learn to trust Him more. That’s my prayer anyway. May it be your prayer as well—as you face the tough decisions with which all of us female soldiers are faced every day.

And remember to follow your heart  do what feels right  “trust in the Lord with all your heart,
and don’t lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and He will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

 



Why I Don’t Have a Full-time Job (…and why that’s okay)

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I am 26 years old. I have a Bachelors degree. I have a somewhat hefty job history. I suppose I have an average amount of talent and skill. So why, you might ask, am I not employed full-time? Here are four reasons:

  1. I like to be able to spend time working alongside my husband in the Lord’s service.

One of the reasons we chose for me to not work full time is because my husband and I purposed for me to have the time to assist him in his work and to spend more time in the Lord’s service in general. Because I’m not working full-time, I’m able to teach a mid-week ladies Bible class, go visiting with my husband and others, use our home for frequent hospitality, and focus on my writing. My husband and I are currently writing a book together, and while it might be possible, it would be very difficult to make decent progress on that project while focusing my time and attention on a consuming career. And because of the flexible nature of my part-time job, I’m able to travel with my husband for speaking engagements, seminars, lectureships, and mission trips, like the African one we went on last month.

When I was teaching full-time, I felt constant frustration due to the all-consuming nature of the job. Lesson plans, grading, deadlines, parents, students, meetings, and other school related stresses were all I could think about. In the shower, in the car, while I was out with friends, when I was on a date, and while trying to sleep at night, I was constantly stressing over work. My house was usually a wreck, my meals were usually microwave dinners, and my eyes always had ugly dark circles under them. Now, that was only my first (and only) year of teaching, and I understand that it would likely have gotten easier, but I know enough long-time teachers who agree that it’s a job from which you don’t get to go home and escape.

I love the blessing of being more free to work in other areas of my life.

       2. We can live without the extra income.

Before you go thinking we are rich by the world’s standards, let me explain. My husband and I sometimes struggle to make ends meet. We don’t live luxuriously by any means. There are lots of times when we’d like to do something fun or eat out, but we just don’t. We buy our clothes at thrift stores and yard sales. But, thanks be to God, we have plenty to eat and we are able to pay all of our bills with Ben’s income as a preacher. We understand that we could live a lot easier with two incomes, but we like being able to live on just one, because…

     3. We are preparing for our future family.

You might be thinking: Well, that doesn’t make any sense. How do you prepare for your family by choosing to make less money than what you could be making?

Here’s how: My husband and I long ago—long before we even said “I do”—decided that, Lord willing, I would be a stay-at-home mom once we have children. We believe that if your circumstances at all allow it, it’s the very best plan because it’s God’s plan (Titus 2:5). It’s so important to us that we would share one car, never eat out,  and live even more simply than we do now if it meant I could stay at home and raise our children myself, rather than handing them off to a daycare or someone else who would be raising them. We also decided early on that if I were to work before that first little one comes along, we would do our best to save that money rather than spend it. We knew that if we got used to living off two incomes, it would be very difficult to adjust to living with just one after having kids.

     4. I don’t have to have a career to feel valuable.

I understand that in today’s culture, what I’m saying sounds ridiculous and rather archaic, even. This is because we’ve convinced our women today that if they don’t pursue a professional career, they are lazy and worthless. I am not given to this persuasion, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not affected by the people who are. It’s hurtful and frustrating when people make statements insinuating that you’re not working if you’re not “working” (hope you caught what I meant there!). I believe God designed women to feel fulfillment in being keepers at home, in loving our husbands, in raising our children in the Lord, and in using our skills and talents creatively to enjoy life and influence people in His name.

As a disclaimer, I want you to know that I didn’t write this to condemn anyone who views this topic differently than I do. Please do not say that Hannah Giselbach says that you’re going to hell if you’re a mom with a career. You can say, however, that I believe and am making my own decisions as if it’s a lot easier to get your family to heaven if you love the Lord and spend massive amounts of time every day putting Him into the hearts of your kids. (I got that directly from Deuteronomy 6.) I think it’s God’s design for husbands to be the breadwinners and for wives to use their talents for domestic work, for hospitality, for personal evangelism, and for child-rearing. (I got that from Titus 2 and I Timothy 5.)

I’m happy with my part-time nanny job. It’s preparing me for motherhood in more than one way—I’m learning a lot of parenting skills while saving money for the time when it’s my turn. I’m also happy with it because it’s fun, I enjoy it, and I know it’s a temporary occupation until I’m able to focus all of my attention on the most amazing job of all: Full-Time Motherhood!

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. I look forward to your feedback!

 



God Blessed The Work Down In Africa

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jennyWe got back from our two-week trip to Iringa, Tanzania after midnight last night. Despite my jet-laggy exhaustion and disorientation, I wanted to give everyone a quick update of how the trip went.

As a team, we spent most of our time conducting personal Bible studies and inviting over 2,000 Iringa locals to the three-day seminar we conducted downtown. I personally spent quite a lot of time at home with Magan and her three precious girls (our hosts for the two weeks) helping her as much as I could with cooking, dishes, and laundry as she became acclimated to life there (they’ve only been living there as missionaries for a month), as well as helping her with the overwhelming task of hosting four additional people besides the five you care for all the time! When I wasn’t helping Magan, however, I was out with the guys handing out flyers, accompanying them on Bible studies, or holding precious Tanzanian children, as you can see in the picture. On the day before we flew home, we got to go on a real African safari, which was pretty remarkable, to say the least.

Here are a few things I learned (or was reminded of) while in Tanzania:

1.    America could learn a thing or two about sincere, open-minded truth seeking.

As is the case with most third-world countries, we were amazed and refreshed to find just how many people were starving for Biblical teaching and guidance. The work to be done there is overwhelming, but not in a how-can-we-ever-get-people-interested kind of way, but a how-can-we-find-time-to-study-with-all-the-people-who-want-to kind of way. In America, it’s surprising if you find a non-Christian who wants to have a sincere, truth-seeking Biblical discussion with you. In Africa, it’s surprising if someone doesn’t want to soak in whatever Biblical truth you ask to share with him or her. We were amazed, in a good way, at the receptiveness of the area. We were also amazed at the crowd’s behavior at the seminar we hosted in the city library. The seminar lasted around 3 hours every day, usually with no break. When a break was offered, no one moved, but rather asked that we continue, so that they could get as much Biblical teaching as possible during the allotted time. These were non-Christians we’re talking about, people! Just awesome. Every single attendant actively took notes and asked thought-provoking questions that revealed a genuine desire to learn rather than a hard-hearted agenda to prove a point or to attempt to be “right.” It was all about what the Bible says and what we’re supposed to do about it. We had several denominational leaders in the community show up, and their humble, open-hearted questions reminded me that this is the attitude we should all have when presented with an opportunity to search the scriptures, as the Bereans did (Acts 17:11).

africanbereans

2.    We’re just so rich.

 According to American middle-class standards, my husband and I don’t seem wealthy in any sense of the word. We’re that couple that shops at Goodwill and yard sales exclusively and doesn’t get to eat at nice restaurants unless we have a great coupon.  But when you get home from being with African families who live in mud huts with no bathrooms, no heating and cooling, no internet, no nice clothes, no security systems, no showers, no running water, no clean drinking water, no car, no insurance, little money for medical help, and no assurance that there will be food to eat each meal, you realize just how rich you really are. I think most of us here in America could use a good wake-up call once in a while—I know we needed ours.

africanhome —>A typical Tanzanian house

3.    Women, as a general rule, are not treated with respect in Africa.

 One of the most heartbreaking things for me to observe was just how pathetically women were treated there. Women are expected to work extremely hard making just enough money to feed their children while, in many cases, the fathers of those children are either nowhere to be found or too lazy to provide for their families. Women, never men, are told to stand up if all the seats on a bus are full and a man steps on the bus and can’t find a seat. Oh, and the reason you always see pictures of women carrying large heavy items on their heads is because you rarely see the men carrying anything heavy—always the women, and no one offers to help them with that load.  And don’t even get me started on what women have to go through to deliver a baby over there. And once that ordeal is over, daddy is never around to help with those children. It’s just really sad. I wanted to hug and comfort every woman I saw, because I know each one of them is fighting a horrendous battle just to survive.

Tanzanian Woman Barrel

4.    Children have to grow up super fast in Africa.

One of the things that shocked me the most was how many precious little children I saw having to do very adult things, like constantly care for younger siblings all day long. Even more than that, it was shocking to see the hundreds of children we saw running around all day with no parent in sight. We’re talking 2 and 3 year olds who may or may not have an older sibling nearby, but no parents. Once babies can walk, they’re pretty much turned loose and taught to fend for themselves. I never once heard an African baby or child cry or whine. They are taught to be extremely tough and self-sufficient in order to survive. And as a total side-note, I was fascinated by how small they all are. I saw so many 4 year olds that looked like 2 year olds, and 16 year olds who looked like 12 year olds. Growth is stunted there, so I was always surprised when I discovered the ages of tiny children.

africankids

5.    American women need to study African culture for a lesson in modesty.

One of the biggest culture shocks I experienced was not in Africa, but when I came back to America. This is because ALL the women in Tanzania are always covered from their necks to their ankles. It’s considered immodest to wear pants there, or to reveal your knees at all. Extreme or not, it was so nice to see a culture completely untouched by the immodesty that saturates our culture here in the states.

womenafrica

6.    Africans (even the ones who speak English) do not understand sarcasm.

It’s a completely foreign concept to them, so adapting to their humor was a challenge, especially for me.

charleslaughing

7.    When people wave at you like this, they are not really waving at you, but asking you to come toward them. If you want someone to come to you, you should definitely do it like that, instead of like this, since that would be a major insult, considering they only summon dogs that way. I learned all of this the hard way.

8.    America is really a wonderful place to live.

America is the land of job opportunities, air conditioning, safe evenings out, malaria-free mosquitoes, clean tap water, clean public restrooms with toilets (as opposed to the choos like this that you’ll find in Africa), ice, free refills, convenience stores, smooth roads, and so many other things people take for granted. My husband took me to Logan’s steakhouse for lunch today, and we felt almost guilty for all the food, napkins, rolls, and drinks we got—things most people don’t really think about. They also never have sweets over there. I had to teach most of the children I met how to open the Tootsie Rolls I gave them, as they had obviously never seen wrapped candy before. Another thing I love so much more about America is that it’s so much easier to get things done quickly, whereas, in Africa, it takes much longer to do anything. Everything is a process, whether it be due to lack of technology or lack of education. We made daily comments about how something that would take us 20 minutes to accomplish in the states was taking us several hours to get done in Africa.

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9.    Overseas missionaries deserve your respect and your support.

 People like our hosts, the Evans family, sacrifice all the luxuries and comforts of home to share the gospel with people in areas of the world that most Americans avoid. They face struggles every single day that most of us will never face. They need our daily encouragement and prayers more than anyone. The missionaries you know are most likely the bravest people you know. Treat them as such—with tremendous admiration, love, and support.

evans—>The Evans Family

10. Primitive Christianity works.

One thing I’ve noticed about the church in Tanzania is that it’s really no different from the church in America. It’s as though God tailor-made the church to work in every single culture and every single age. I guess that was the point. And that’s awesome. His plan for the church, and the example he gave us of that church in Acts 2 is timeless, flawless, and profoundly effective, yet beautifully simple. When you go beyond the Biblical pattern, there are so many adjustments you have to make, depending on the culture and region.

churchafrica

This list could go on and on, but it’s finally bedtime here, and my jet-lagged mind and body are so ready. But before I sign off, let me just say, in closing, that the trip was, I believe, a tremendous success, as many seeds were planted and many doors were opened for further church growth in Iringa. I believe I’m better for having gone, and my fervent prayer is that souls were and will continue to be brought closer to God because of my having gone. Thanks so much to everyone who kept us in your prayers!

Sleep well, friends! Or in Swahili….Lala Salama Marafiki!

zebrababymonkeybabygiraffeelephant

 

 



ARROGANCE: Jerk A Knot In It!

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man-in-mirror

According to Dictionary.com, the verb form of the word “jerk” means to pull, twist, move, thrust, or throw with a quick, suddenly arrested motion. If you struggle with arrogance, it’s time to pull, twist, move, thrust, or throw that characteristic right out of your heart, and quick! And, as fate would have it, the noun form of the word “jerk” is “a contemptibly naive, fatuous, foolish, or inconsequential person,” which, as a matter of fact, is exactly what you are if you behave arrogantly. A naive, fatuous, foolish JERK. GASP! You know it must be bad if I use that word. I mean, were YOU allowed to call someone a jerk when YOU were a kid? I sure wasn’t. But let’s be honest: One of the most nauseating, most abhorrent things to me is a haughty, cocky attitude. I think self-confidence is a winning personality trait toward which we should all valiantly strive, but you know as well as I do that there is a definite line between confidence and narcissism.

God says this about arrogance:

“Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” (Proverbs 16:5)

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2)

“For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Galatians 6:2)

“Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (Proverbs 16:18)

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.” (Proverbs 27:2)

There’s a reason God hates pride so much. The following are characteristics of arrogant people:

They brag about themselves. This is the one that comes to all of our minds first. It’s the obvious one. If they’ve done something good, they want you to know about it.

90% of all conversations you have with this person are about them. They’re not so very interested in what’s going on with you.  Brian Regan describes this so eloquently as the “Me Monster” in one of my favorite comedy bits EVER (probably because it absolutely rings with truth). You can watch that (and consequently laugh hysterically) here: http://youtu.be/vymaDgJ7KLg

Out-of-context name-dropping is one of their favorite hobbies. We all know name-droppers. People who LOVE to nonchalantly mention all the big, cool people they know personally. I daresay there are some preachers who struggle with this. It’s way cool if you’re friends with some big names in the brotherhood, but you don’t have to make sure everyone is aware of that every time you open your mouth.

They don’t look at you when you talk. Arrogant people will always be looking for someone more interesting than you in a crowd. They will only be truly focused on your conversation when they’re talking about themselves. They’ll also frequently interrupt while you’re talking.

Their body language is always dominating. When they walk in the room, they want everyone to know they’ve arrived. Especially if they walk in late—they will swagger on in without a hint of an apology.

They have an answer for everything. An arrogant person rarely uses the phrase, “I don’t know the answer, but I can find out.” Since arrogance is compensation for insecurities and weakness, they never want you to think that they might not know everything.

Nothing is ever their fault. They will always blame other people for anything that goes wrong.

They take credit when they ought to give credit to God. I don’t care if you wrote a bestselling Christian book or are the top speaker on the Christian speaking circuit or inspired the world when you fed the homeless. If you’ve done something great that has directly or indirectly led others to a relationship with God, keep in mind that God did that. He used the talents He gave you to work through you to execute His will. You were just a tool He chose to use because you allowed Him to use you.

I’m sure you could add to this list. I’m sure that no one reading this has EVER struggled with ANY of these things. For me personally, I’ve never ever ever struggled with pride or arrogance because I’m perfect in every way, of course (Ha ha). But just in case you sometimes find yourself struggling with pride at times, here are some things you can do to work through that temptation:

 1. Avoid Always Taking Credit. Practice deflecting light off of yourself and on to others.

2Praise Others. Instead of involving yourself in destructive gossip, look for GOOD things to say about others. Don’t pass up an opportunity to compliment others.

3Help Others Succeed In Meeting Their Goals. Nothing attacks the ego as much as helping others meet their goals. Selfless people help others and expect nothing in return.

4Admit Your Mistakes. Saying you were wrong is definitely one of the hardest things to do, but your humility and grace will shine through when you’re willing to bite the bullet and do it.

5Learn From Others. Take notice of the good attitudes and good works of others. Acknowledge that they are better than you, and use the humility gained from that admission to better yourself.

6Go Last. Let someone get in front of you during heavy traffic, or during a weekend rush hour at Walmart. It will do you good.

7Thank God Frequently. Make yourself spend time in prayer everyday JUST thanking God for specific, daily blessings in your life.  It will make you ever aware of how small we are and how dependent we are on God.

8Accept Criticism With Grace. Ask yourself if the accusation is true. If it’s true, thank the person for bringing it to your attention, and commit yourself to improving. If it’s not true, thank them anyway, then toss it in the trash bin of your mind.

9Laugh At Yourself. Really. Instead of getting your panties in a wad because of your frequent human faux pas, let yourself laugh. Learn from the mistake and then move on. Don’t let it ruin your whole day.

10When Others Offer You Advice, Listen. Especially if it’s someone older and wiser than you. Take a few tips from people who have been around the block a few times. If it’s ungodly advice, throw it in the same place you threw the false accusations. But if it’s something that will help you in your walk with God, make sure you put your listening ears on.

 

What would you add to this list? What can help us to become more humble? 



“Sorry” Seems To Be The Hardest Word

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im-sorry

I think everyone has a little bit of a pride problem. No really—everyone! The reason I think that is that I’ve recently realized that I don’t know a single person who finds it easy to say these two little words: I’m sorry. It’s hard, isn’t it?! Even if you KNOW you’re wrong, something in you chokes the words in your throat, willing them to stay inside like an indestructible force. Pride has us convinced that everything is always someone else’s fault, so the last thing we ever want to say is that we were wrong and we’re sorry about that.

But sometimes, when we’re very brave, we do the right thing. We swallow that beastly pride and force the words out like a champ. But then sometimes, even then, we still get it wrong. I think in our minds we think, “Okay, fine, I’ll apologize and just get it over with,” and then we’re so proud of ourselves for being big enough to say it that we don’t check to make sure the apology was made in the appropriate way.

Here are a few reminders to help you make an acceptable apology when necessary. And at least a few times in your life, it WILL be necessary. We all goof sometimes, but the apology is the difference between hurt feelings that last forever and a little mistake that everyone’s long forgotten.

1.    Don’t say it unless you mean it.

Don’t be one of those jerks that only ever apologizes like this, “I’m sorry IF I hurt your feelings,” “I’m sorry YOU took it that way,” or “I’m sorry, BUT if YOU hadn’t done what YOU did then maybe I wouldn’t have….” You get the idea. You’re only making the situation worse if you continue to play the blame game by attempting to incriminate the other person instead of just offering a clean “I’m sorry I was wrong.” Make the apology as humble and clean-cut as possible. Try not to ramble on about why you did what you did or said what you said.

2.    Don’t say it until you mean it.

Don’t allow yourself to, in a fit of rage over being criticized or rebuked, yell or whine, “I’m SORRY, OKAY?!” Don’t apologize until you’ve had time to reflect on it calmly and rationally. And if the person you’ve wronged wants to talk about it, by all means, let them talk about it and listen humbly. Otherwise, your apology will seem cheap and insincere.

3.    Remember that you don’t get to make the rules.

If you’re the one who’s in the wrong, and you realize you need to apologize, remember that you don’t get to make the rules about how the other person should respond to that. If you’ve hurt someone unnecessarily, you don’t get to scold them for not receiving your apology exactly like you think they should. When they don’t feel like joking and laughing and being your BFF again right away, you don’t get to be angry at them and say something like, “I SAID I was sorry!!!” Sometimes it takes people a while to stop being upset, especially if you’ve insulted them or betrayed their trust. You don’t get to put a time limit on how long they’re allowed to be upset. Sometimes, you just have to apologize, and then give the person time and space to try to get over it. If you want to make the situation a million times worse, you’ll get this one wrong by telling the other person how they ought to respond to you.

4.    The size of the apology should reflect the size of the mistake.

Your apology should be as big as your blunder. For example, the way you apologize when you bump into someone on the sidewalk should be a lot different than the way you apologize when you’ve accidentally run over someone’s cherished pet with your car. If you’ve deeply hurt someone, don’t shortchange him or her by offering a half apology (e.g. “Sorry for whatever I did wrong”), and try not to do it over the internet, if you can help it. If it warrants an in-person apology, do it in person, so they can see the sincerity in your eyes and hear the genuine tones of your voice.

5.    Blink first.

My dad always taught me that in conflict resolution, you should remember how as kids we used to have staring contests to see who could keep their eyes open without blinking the longest. Then he would always say in reference to conflict with adults, “when both of you are wrong, and both of you should apologize, you blink first.” In other words, don’t be so stubborn that you can’t admit your own faults before the other person admits his or hers. Blink first. If you try to wait until they ‘fess up first, you could both be waiting forever, and your relationship will never be the same. Take the high road. Blink first. Almost always, the other person will make things right when they see you’re willing to do so on your end.

6.    If you’ve sinned against another person, remember you’ve sinned against God.

Even if you’ve made a stellar apology full of genuine sincerity and humility, you’re not done until you’ve made it right with God. Make sure you ask His forgiveness if you’ve wronged someone so that the matter can truly be mended—at least as far as you’re concerned. You can’t change the other person, but you can always do something about you. In Romans 12:18, God said through Paul, “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.”

We’ve all received chintzy apologies before, which is why I think this article will resonate with a few readers. I hope this article helps you think through what you’re about to say when you realize you owe someone an apology. It’s no small matter, and it’s something we should never take lightly. If you’ve messed up, go make it right today. Truly right.