Note to Self: You don’t need to finish

Somewhere along the way, I picked up the idea that if I’ve started something, I might as well finish it.

As in, “I resisted the temptation to eat my emotions for a while, but now that the bag of potato chips is open, I might as well finish the whole thing.” Or “I know I’m not supposed to yell at my children, but now that I’ve got the TIRZAH MAE!!!!! out, I might as well finish my tirade.”

Sure, I feel guilty afterward. I swear that I’m NOT going to do it again. But then the staccato (and much too loud) “LOU-IS!” springs forth from between my clenched teeth and there we are again. I started, so I might as well finish.

Tirzah Mae

But I’m coming to realize that’s not at all true.

In fact, if I want to have any success at not starting, I need to start by not finishing.

The “BETH-ELLEN!!” bursts out. I feel immediately guilty – and I stop. I take a breath, check my tone: “I’m sorry. Mama shouldn’t have yelled. Beth-Ellen, you may not…”

The more practice I get at stopping and repenting, the sooner I remember to stop. The sooner I remember to stop, the less frequently I start. I get into the habit of obeying the prompting of the Holy Spirit instead of ignoring him.

And my home becomes more and more peaceful, reflecting the fruits of the Spirit: peace, patience… gentleness, and self-control.

Mental note: just because you started, you don’t need to finish. In fact, it’s much better that you don’t.

Lest I Get Cocky

Going from four children to three (in a good way) is a strange experience.

In a life that generally just gets harder and harder (as we add new children and new developmental stages), things suddenly get that much easier.

The kids all fit in one row of the Expedition, allowing me to enjoy the full back for groceries. The number of children is only one more than my number of hands. It’s that much easier to coordinate nap times.

I start to feel like I’m on top of it all, like I’ve got strength in myself to handle anything, like I don’t need anyone.

And then we do weekend respite for a two-month-old on the same weekend Daniel was volunteering for something and we were having people over and have a Sunday night meeting at church.

I’m exhausted.

And I’ve been disabused of any secret thoughts I’d been harboring of my self-sufficiency.

“I need Thee, oh, I need Thee;
Every hour I need Thee;
Oh, bless me now, my Savior!
I come to Thee.”

The Habit of Contentment

It’s easy to think that contentment is a function of our circumstances.

If only I had x or y, I would be content.

But when x or y arrives, we find that something new is necessary for our contentment.

When we find ourselves in difficult circumstances, we might be tempted to think that if only we had done something differently we could have been content. I could have been content if only I’d chosen a different major in college, not taken out the loans I did, taken this job offer instead of the other. I could have been content if only I hadn’t married when I did or the person I did. I could have been content if we’d have chosen to buy a different house or to build instead of buy (or vice versa). I could have been content if I’d have had fewer children farther apart – or more closer together.

But Elinor Dashwood’s reflections upon Mr. Willoughby’s character in Sense and Sensibility should be instructive.

“‘At present,’ continued Elinor,’he regrets what he has done. And why does he regret it? Because he find it has not answered towards himself. It has not made him happy. His circumstances are now unembarrassed – he suffers from no evil of that kind; and he thinks only that he has married a woman of a less amiable temper than yourself. But does it thence follow that had he married you, he would have been happy? The inconveniences would have been different. He would then have suffered under the pecuniary distresses which, because they are removed, he now reckons as nothing. He would have had a wife of whose temper he could make no complaint, but he would have been always necessitous – always poor; and probably would soon have learned to rank the innumerable comforts of a clear estate and good income as of far more importance, even to domestic happiness, than the mere temper of a wife.'”

A discontented heart finds something with which to be discontented regardless of circumstances.

A contented heart learns to be contented in all circumstances.

I am challenged as I look at my own life, at the woes I pour out upon my husband each day when he returns from work. No matter how good a day may be, I always can find something to complain about. My heart is too often a discontented heart, considering whatever I currently lack (whether it be sleep or a clean house or quiet children or chocolate) to be of far more importance than any of the many things God has granted me.

If I get all the sleep I desire, but am not content, I will still be just as crabby as I am now. If I had a clean house, but not a contented heart, my soul would be just as shabby. If my children were quiet, but I was discontent, the clamor of my own heart would be enough to disturb the peace.

Because contentment is not a function of my circumstances. Contentment is a habit of the heart. And contentment is learned through practice.

So when the laundry overflows the hamper and I despair of ever catching up, I must turn my eyes upward and declare “With this, I am content.” When all four children want my attention at the same time and all I want is quiet, I must calm my soul and declare “With this, I am content.” When the day draws to a close and I still have thirty undone tasks on my to-do list, I must turn off the screen and declare “With this, I am content.”

And slowly, perhaps, I will begin to be able to say like Paul:

“I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
~Philippians 4:11b-13 (ESV)

In Christ’s strength, I can learn the habit of contentment.

To the mothers who called me superwoman

You saw me juggling my four little ones at the library and you were in awe. “I could never do it,” you said. “You’re superwoman.” And when I acted embarrassed, you doubled down. “No, really.”

I’m pretty sure that you intended it as encouragement. You see how obviously hard parenting lots of littles is and you’re trying to tell me I’m doing great. (At least, I hope that’s what you’re saying.)

But to call me superwoman implies that somehow I have innate, superhuman powers that enable me to live with the circus that is our little family.

I don’t.

Far from it.

When I had one child, newly home from the NICU who screamed and screamed and screamed, that ear-splitting Nazgul scream many times larger than her body…I could never do it. When she only slept lying on top of me but never relaxed into my arms. When the sleepless nights stretched month after month throughout the whole first year…I could never do it.

Yet somehow I did, by the grace of God.

And then I had two children. Another infant fresh from the NICU, this time with a toddler as well. They tag-teamed sleeping, except when neither would sleep. I learned the definition of touched out…I could never do it. Now that I had a toddler, I couldn’t keep the infant away from colds. So we got one after another after another, stretching my body to what was surely its limit with lack of sleep…I could never do it.

Yet somehow I did, by the grace of God.

And then I had a third child and my pelvic floor collapsed. The prolapse came with unrelenting pain when I sat, stood, or lifted – tasks a mother of three cannot avoid. Therapy was long and hard and took time I didn’t have….I could never do it.

Yet somehow I did, by the grace of God.

And then child number 4 arrived with a schedule to make home-loving me flinch. And my grandpa died so we took an emergency trip to Nebraska. And then the kids got sick. And then… And then… And then… I could never do it.

But somehow I am, by the grace of God.

You see, I don’t have any innate special abilities that enable me to do this task you think you could never do. In reality, I’ve cried out in desperation with every stage. “Lord, I can’t do this.”

But this, at each stage, is the task God set before me. Refusing to do the task is not an option. My only hope is to trust God.

And that, I think is what you miss.

Unbelieving woman, you think I’m superwoman because you recognize this task requires superhuman strength. It definitely does. But that strength could never come from me.

Sister-in-Christ, you may think I’m superwoman because you are terrified that God might call you to such a task – and you want to believe that only the specially gifted or the especially patient (let me tell you what, that’s NOT me) can handle such a task. But God gives grace for the tasks he gives during the task, not before.

Sister, this task of mothering, of fostering, is not for superwomen. It’s for women who could never do it, but somehow do, only by the grace of God.

Family worship (or, quit complicating things so much)

We knew even before we had children that we wanted family worship to be a thing in our household.

We also knew that the thought of family worship was overwhelming and intimidating. We knew how hard it could be to be consistent in personal devotions – and how many times we’d stopped and started at attempts to spend devotional time together as a couple. How on earth could we do family worship?

It just so happened that we have children who don’t do a great job at sleeping – and I started reading Tirzah Mae a Bible story from The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor (which my mom gives a story a baby shower gift) every night before putting her to bed.

Then, last Advent, I got out the Advent wreath and we made a point to light the appropriate candles and sing a Christmas hymn after supper each evening.

As we got ready to put away our Christmas decorations, it struck us that we’d been complicating the idea of family worship overmuch – and that we were missing out on a great opportunity to train our children as a result.

We combined the Bible story I’d been reading with the hymn we’d made a habit of singing, added a time of family prayer at the end – and now we have family worship almost every evening.

It turned out to be that simple. We get the kids in their jammies after supper and then choose a hymn to sing. We read from a story Bible (we’re actually reading through The Ology by Marty Machowski right now, having gone through the Old and New Testaments in story form twice now – we plan to alternate going through the storyline of Scripture and doing something more theological/doctrinal like this.) Finally, we pray together – Tirzah Mae and then mama and then papa (Louis isn’t quite talking yet.) Then it’s kisses and toothbrushing and off to bed.

Simple and totally doable, now that we quit complicating things so much.

Repeating my Father’s words

One of the most fascinating parts of being the mother of a verbal toddler is having a window into Tirzah Mae’s thoughts.

Her internal dialogue is external. She speaks whatever is on her mind.

When she’s debating whether to follow my instructions or not, she repeats my common refrain: “You have a choice” and congratulates herself with my own “good decision.”

And then there are the dogs. Tirzah Mae is terrified by dogs – and our next door neighbor has three or four large ones that bark often.

When Tirzah Mae sees or hears them, she often runs to me in fear pronouncing “Doggie woof-woof!”

I’ll remind her that the doggies are behind the fence, that they can’t hurt her. And I’ll let her hang on to my leg as long as it takes before she resumes whatever she was doing.

But after dozens or hundreds of reminders, Tirzah Mae has started reminding herself. She’ll be outside playing and the dogs will bark. Then I’ll hear her reminding herself “Behind the fence, can’t hurt you.”

Hearing her childlike trust in my pronouncements, hearing how she is constantly reminding herself of the truth that came (originally) from my lips, I am challenged.

I’m challenged because, while I’m not afraid of dogs, there are plenty of other things I’m afraid of. And I debate obedience more often than I care to admit.

Will I respond with the irritation I feel or with the soft answer I know God desires me to use? Will I dwell in the fear-world that says I’ll never have friends in this still-sometimes-strange-seeming-place or will I continue to reach out to people? Will I believe the inner voice that says I deserve [a bath, a plate of nachos, to not be touched for just a few minutes] or will I believe that serving my family is a privilege? Will I let myself be lured into self-pity over not having time to blog or will I trust that God has called me into this time and season and that it is good, even if I’m not blogging all about it?

Tirzah Mae’s internal dialogues spoken out loud challenge me to reframe my own internal dialogues.

Instead of running over my own words again and again and again, I would do better to repeat my Father’s words. He is trustworthy.

I need to remind myself of the truth of God’s word.

When I want to respond with irritation, I can remind myself of God’s patience with me. I can remind myself that I want my words to “bring grace to all that hear” (Eph 4:29). When I feel alone, I can remind myself that Jesus was rejected by those he came to serve – and I can remind myself that I have been given the “Helper, to be with [me] forever” (John 14:16). When I want to tell myself that I deserve my own comfort, I can remind myself of Christ who “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant” (Phil 2:6-7). When I am tempted to self pity, I can remember that “for those who love God all things work together for good” that I might be “conformed to the image of his Son” (Rom 8:28-29).

Like Tirzah Mae, I can repeat my Father’s words, reframing my internal dialogues to conform to the truth as He has revealed it.

Lord, help me to do so, day by day.

The Christian and Clinical Depression or Anxiety

In recent years, I’ve seen an increasing number of articles for a Christian audience about clinical depression and anxiety. Most have sought to explain why “just get over it” is unhelpful advice (amazing that needs explanation!) and why having clinical depression or anxiety does not mean that one is unspiritual. More than a few have derided the use of Philippians 4:6 “Be anxious for nothing” or Psalm 42/43 “Why are you downcast, O my soul? Put your hope in God” when talking to someone who is experiencing clinical anxiety or depression. These articles have served a necessary role of educating believers on the psychological conditions many believers suffer with. They have helped believers become more understanding of the multifaceted aspects of anxiety and depression. They have hopefully helped believers understand the benefits of physical and pharmaceutical approaches to managing depression and anxiety.

But I fear these articles have had an unintended (at least I hope it’s unintended) consequence of allowing believers suffering from clinical depression and anxiety to justify disobedience to God.

Now, lest anyone mistake what I am saying, I am not saying that using medication, talk therapy, or a variety of stress management techniques is being disobedient to Christ. I use medication, light therapy, and a variety of lifestyle management techniques to manage seasonal affective disorder and have used medication and lifestyle management techniques to deal with bouts of major depression. I do this with a clear conscience, seeing no Biblical evidence that using these tools to manage my depression is wrong.

But I fear we can easily take the leap from “clinical depression and anxiety are biological with biological cures” to “clinical depression and anxiety are biological therefore I don’t need to be obedient to God’s commands regarding my thoughts and attitudes.

This, friends, is a lie from the pit of hell.

Just as a broken leg doesn’t exempt us from our call to “not neglect to meet together” (Heb 10:25), even though it makes assembling with other believers more difficult, neither does depression or anxiety exempt us from our call to “take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor 10:5), even though it does mean that there are perhaps more and more persistent thoughts to take captive.

You may need more than just taking thoughts captive to help you manage clinical depression and anxiety, but you certainly don’t need less.

When I am in the throes of depression, my thoughts often take a terrible turn. I contemplate my lack of energy and think “I’m worthless, I never get anything done.” I contemplate my seclusion and think “No one loves me.” I contemplate my thoughts and think “I’ll never be free of this depression.”

But I must not allow these thoughts to take over my mind. As fast as the arrows may volley forth, I must not surrender to them. Instead, I must take them captive to obey Christ.

When my thoughts say “You’re worthless. You never get anything done.”, I reply “My worth is not dependent on my accomplishments but on Christ’s, for ‘God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved [me] even when [I was] dead in [my] trespasses, made [me] alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4-5).'”

When my thoughts say “No one love you”, I reply “but God shows his love for [me] in that while [I was] still [a sinner], Christ died for me. (Rom 5:8)”

When my thoughts say “I’ll never be free of this depression”, I reply “Who will deliver me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! (Rom 7:24-25)”

Most of all, when depression turns all my thoughts inward – to myself, to my own shortcomings – I must turn my face resolutely toward God. I must say with the psalmist:

“Why are you cast down, O my soul,
and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
my salvation and my God.”
~Psalm 42:11 (ESV)

For those of you who suffer from clinical anxiety, this does not negate your call to “do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. (Phil 4:6)” It probably means you have a lot more anxieties and requests to make known to God than I have, but just because it’s harder for you to be obedient doesn’t mean that you’re excused from that call.

Now, are you starting to feel like I’m bullying you? Placing a burden on you too hard to bear? Are you feeling the need to escape to one of those articles about the biological basis of anxiety and depression?

At various times in the midst of depression, I would be tempted to feel that. But this is not bullying or a burden.

Have you ever heard of cognitive-behavioral therapy? It’s the best proven form of therapy for anxiety and depression. And you know what it is, basically? It’s identifying untrue thoughts and unhelpful actions that contribute to anxiety and depression and replacing them with true thoughts and helpful actions.

You know what that sounds like to me?

“Take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience.” (2 Cor 10:5-6)

So to you, dear sister or brother who suffers from clinical depression, take every physical means necessary to deal with your condition. Take the medicine, go to therapy, get your rest, exercise, do any one of the myriad of things that can help you manage. But do not neglect to take your thoughts captive. Do not neglect to turn your eyes to Christ.

2016 Goals in Review: Prayer

The primary goal in my “relationship with God” category was to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life”. I resolved to do this by 1) establishing daily times of prayer, 2) establishing a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer, 3) experimenting with prayer “styles”, and 4) reading books on prayer.

I was helped along greatly in this goal by our Tuesday morning women’s Bible study, which happened to be going through D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul during the spring semester. Having my “public” Bible study and teaching correspond with my current spiritual goals kept me focused and provided both tips and accountability. For example, my Bible study discussion leader mentioned the “PrayerMate” app, which I looked up and found to be helpful for objective 2, which was “to establish a method for recording prayer requests and answers to prayer.” Also, although I wasn’t required to, I read Carson’s book (rather than just the discussion guide) along with our study – allowing me to complete just one book on prayer this year (objective 4).*

So Tuesday Connection helped me with objectives 2 and 4 – but what about objectives 1 and 3?

I never did end up doing anything with objective 3, unless you count using Paul’s prayers as a model for prayer. I didn’t do any prayer walking or praying published prayers or following specific formats (Adoration – Confession – Thanksgiving – Supplication, for example). It just didn’t seem to fit this year. And that’s just fine.

Objective 1, to “establish daily times of prayer”, got off to a good start. I resolved to pray consistently with Tirzah Mae before our meals and snacks and before her bedtime, to pray during my personal time in the word, and to pray while doing dishes. At the beginning of the year, Tirzah Mae and I were eating 3 meals and 2 snacks daily (pregnancy while breastfeeding is a doozy!), affording me plenty of opportunity to pray. Dishes were a convenient “peg” to hang prayer on – they’re something I have to do daily and they’re a rather mindless activity, which allows me plenty of opportunity to pray.

But then Tirzah Mae got older and started “helping” with dishes. What was once a relatively solitary and mindless activity (for me) became a busy activity, requiring all sorts of brain work as I attempt to keep Tirzah Mae from dumping all the dishwater on the floor or from putting dirty dishes in my rinse water or from transferring muck from the dirty dishes onto the clean dishes drip drying in the drying rack. That prayer time, where I had been making most of my petitions and praying over the requests (recorded in PrayerMate), disappeared. It took me most of the second half of the year to find a new rhythm – and this year I’m picking up my intercessory prayer during my after-breakfast and after-lunch cleaning times (Tirzah Mae only helps with segments, allowing a little more time for prayer!)

So what is the state of my goal to “cultivate confident dependence on God by establishing a vibrant prayer life?” I certainly wouldn’t say that my prayer life is vibrant at this point. But I also wouldn’t say that all has been lost. Establishing the habit of prayer (even though part of it, daily petitions and intercession, fell by the wayside for a significant portion of the year) has indeed served to help me cultivate confident dependence of God.

One of the reasons I chose prayer as my spiritual goal for the year was because I was noticing in myself a significant tendency towards self-reliance. I felt that I could do things on my own – and, when I couldn’t, I despaired. That wasn’t what I wanted though. I wanted, and still want, to live a life of dependence on God – a life that recognizes my need for Him and hopes in Him. Last year’s focus on prayer has helped in that. Where once I went to my phone to text my husband in despair or to Facebook to write a frustrated post or where I once gritted my teeth and cleaned the house/parented/pounded out the letter/whatever with a bad attitude, I find myself more and more turning to God, breathing those little Nehemiah prayers “So I prayed to the God of heaven.” (Nehemiah 2:4b ESV).

By the grace of God, this was a good goal – with a good outcome. I pray God would help me continue to grow – both in dependence and in prayer.

*While D.A. Carson’s Praying with Paul was the only book on prayer I completed last year, I did read about half of Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare and was greatly encouraged by Spurgeon’s reflections.

Set forth Thee: A Prayer

Lord, grant us calm, if calm can set forth Thee;
Or tempest, if a tempest set Thee forth;
Wind from the east or west or south or north,
Or congelation of a silent sea,
With stillness of each tremulous aspen tree.

Still let fruit fall, or hang upon the tree;
Still let the east and west, the south and north,
Curb in their winds, or plough a thundering sea;
Still let the earth abide to set Thee forth,
Or vanish like a smoke to set forth Thee

~by Christina Rossetti

Calm or tempest.
Wind or stillness.
Fruit falling or remaining.
Stillness or wind.
Remain or disappear.

What makes this antonymous collection not only bearable but desirable?

That God might be glorified.

“I know how to be brought low,
and I know how to abound.
In any and every circumstance,
I have learned the secret
of facing plenty and hunger,
abundance and need.”
~Philippians 4:12 (ESV)

Lord, bring me low, if dejection set forth Thee;
Or cause me to abound, if abundance set Thee forth;
Teach me the secret of contentment
whatever my circumstances may be

Let my home, my heart, my hands be filled with plenty
If plenty lifts You high.
If hunger makes You great,
may I never eat again

Still let this earth, and I, abide to set Thee forth,
Or vanish like a smoke to set forth Thee

He will deliver thee

I’ve been slowly reading through C.H. Spurgeon’s Spurgeon on Prayer and Spiritual Warfare after my morning times in the word – and this week, his text has been Psalm 50:15 “Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee.”

The morning before we were admitted to the hospital, I read the following words:

“I write this with all reverence: God Himself cannot deliver a person who is not in trouble… The point is, my reader, your adversity may prove your advantage by offering occasion for the display of divine grace… When you are in adversity, then call upon God, and you will experience a deliverance that will be a richer and sweeter experience for your soul than if you had never known trouble.”

I did not know the trouble that would come – but I knew the trouble I had experienced in the past, and I knew that it was indeed an occasion for the display of divine grace. While I would never choose adversity for myself (would any of us?), I know indeed that God’s deliverance does prove a richer and sweeter experience for my soul than had I never known trouble.

I remembered those words as we entered the hospital with a pregnancy in trouble again, rejoicing that my God is present, inviting me to call upon Him, willing to deliver me.

Yesterday morning Spurgeon reminded me of God’s promise: He will deliver me.

“Hear Him say, ‘I will deliver thee,’ and ask no more questions.

I do not suppose that Daniel knew how God would deliver him out of the den of lions. I do not suppose that Joseph knew how he would be delivered out of prison when his master’s wife had slandered his character so shamefully. I do not suppose that these ancient believers even dreamed the way of the Lord’s deliverance. They just left themselves in God’s hands. They rested on God and He delivered them in the best possible manner. He will do the same for you. Simply call upon Him, and then ‘stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord’ (Exod. 14:13)

…God may likewise subject us to many trials. Yet if He says ‘I will deliver thee,’ you can be sure that He will keep His word.”

And that is the promise in which I can trust – not that I know God’s means of deliverance or the timing of his deliverance or any such details. In fact, I am reminded of Hebrews 11:36-38

“They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated – of whome the world was not worthy – wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.” (ESV)

In this life, these saints, commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.

But in the life to come?


Today, that great cloud of witnesses – the ones who received their deliverance in this life and the ones who received their deliverance in the next – urge me to look to Jesus, the truest testimony that God will deliver me.


“He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?”

Romans 8:32 (ESV)

He will deliver thee.