If you read one thing this year…

I’ve written before about my [relatively new] reading strategy, and as is usual for January, I’m charging ahead with guns blazing because there are no gardens to distract me.

But what has gone without saying, but actually needs to be said, is that the first (and often last) reading I do each day is the most important, the most life-changing, and non-negotiable. I’m talking, of course, about the Bible.

I’m writing this because I have been recently prompted by the Holy Spirit to start taking in the Word as quickly as I can, and I want to say it is so good. I’m writing this because I see and hear a generation completely divorced from a godly anchor trying to piece together a scaffold of truth based on experience and feeling. I’m writing this because we make excuses — we all do — but it’s all just silly when compared to necessity of knowing and walking according to His Word.

The Word of God is for all seasons. I don’t just mean that its truth endures to all generations — which it does. I mean it’s for your seasons. I’ve done read-through-the-Bible plans in high school. I’ve spent months poring over the Psalms. I’ve spent months with the same 3×5 card in my back pocket, a snippet of Scripture scribbled on it and committed to not just memory, but meditation. I’ve washed dishes with a card taped to the window in front of me. I’ve taken forever to just get through the New Testament with a new baby and toddlers but giving up wasn’t an option. I’ve studied one word or topic for weeks, mining for meaning and truth to stand on. I’ve read in quiet and I’ve read amidst chaos. I’ve read my trusty, falling-apart NASB, and I’ve read every modern translation and paraphrase. I’ve quoted the same two passages of scripture every single morning for months and months. Taking in the Word of God may look different from season to season, but take it in.

It is daily bread. Have you read through the whole Bible — ten years ago? Did you memorize entire books — 15 years ago? Do you know that scripture because you heard it once — somewhere in some sermon? Yes, we build upon those things, but we don’t stop there. The Word is meant to feed us, shape us, transform us. That happens day by day, as we yield our souls and circumstances to its scrutiny, allowing it to the standard by which we live.

You need to know the Word to live by the Word. This seems so basic, but as we were memorizing Psalm 119:105 last week (Your Word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path.), I pointed out that that verse challenges us to a heart posture toward the Word, but it also leaves an obvious implication: we need to know the Word. We are bombarded by ideas and worldviews (and much of that we invite via our phone, only to then make excuses about how we don’t have time to read the Bible), but are we equipped to “[cast] down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ”? We make decisions all day long about our actions, words, feelings, thoughts, and use of time. Is His Word really the lamp that illuminates those paths?

You don’t need to be a scholar. I bet you won’t understand everything you come across in scripture. Some of it will leave you with questions, and some of it will just leave you not even sure you were reading in English. Sometimes you’ll read something that just plain old rubs you the wrong way. Don’t stop reading. As I read recently, “Even if you don’t know what to do with the Word, the Word knows what to do with you.” Remember, it’s living and powerful. It will not return void. It is life-giving seed.

Here’s a challenge I embraced last summer that absolutely blew me away: Set a time for ten minutes. Morning, noon, evening — whatever is your jam. For those ten minutes, read. Don’t check your notifications. Don’t wonder how hot it will be today. Don’t jot down to-dos. Don’t add to your instacart order. Just read for ten minutes. (If you’re like me, you will suddenly realize that you severely lack discipline. WOW.) In one month, you will be astounded by how much scripture you have consumed! It’s very fun and very motivating.

Another challenge: next time you’re wanting to learn about something, don’t buy a book on it. Do a Bible study on it! There is every tool you could possibly need, available for free on the ol’ internet. Not sure how to start or what to do? I’d be happy to help get you started. I’m no expert, but that’s the point: you don’t have to be!

Last: some scripture, which puts excitement in my soul and conviction in my heart. We need to know the Word.

Thus says the Lord:
“Heaven is My throne,
And earth is My footstool.
Where is the house that you will build Me?
And where is the place of My rest?
For all those things My hand has made,
And all those things exist,”
Says the Lord.
“But on this one will I look:
On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit,
And who trembles at My word. (Isaiah 66)

Your word is a lamp to my feet
And a light to my path. (Psalm 119)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19)

Your words were found, and I ate them,
And Your word was to me the joy and rejoicing of my heart;
For I am called by Your name,
O Lord God of hosts. (Jeremiah 15)

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (James 1)

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. (2 Timothy 3)

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. (Joshua 1)

repentance: a gift

Repentance is a gift.

I’ve been thinking about that lately, after praying with several carrying the weight of failure on their shoulders.

Falling short — that’s something we all do. We know, deep in our hearts, the standard of a holy God. Made in His image, our hearts imprinted with a moral code we did not write, we struggle in our brokenness to hit a mark light years beyond our own ability.

Individually, we pledge to not raise our voices so much. Say no to that cookie. Read more books out loud. Compost and recycle. Look better, do better, be better. Corporately, we convince ourselves that if we just rewrite the penal code, if we just hand out more tax dollars, if we just add one more layer of accountability, if we just outlaw this, that, and the other…

And still, we’re a mess.

Because yes, we fall short.

Enter: the gift of repentance.

Romans tells me that, for me, one who has believed in Christ, been purchased with His blood, whose life is hidden in Him, there is therefore now no condemnation.

And it’s not that there’s a free pass to sin. Nor is there a promise that I will now have a sinless life. But rather, my failure no longer can torment me with the whispers and weight of condemnation. It does not own me. I can repent. I have access, in every moment, to the throne room of God, and when I lift my eyes and my heart, I find grace to help in time of need.

The enemy of my soul wants to make the most of those failures. Hold me there, convince me that not only have I failed, but that failure is my name, my identity. His whispers become shouts in my soul until I’m carrying the weight of not only my failure, but condemnation, too, and I am convinced there is no way out.

Not true. There is repentance.

I will stumble. I will. I will raise my voice, I will snap under pressure, I will eat the stupid cookie, I will cave to selfishness and pride. The things I don’t want to do, I will find myself doing. (Romans 7.) But in those moments of failure, I can find immediate freedom through repentance. I can name the sin, repent, and turn away — and be free.

Condemnation has no place operating in my life any longer. I am not condemned; I am redeemed.

Today, find freedom — not in perfection, but in repentance. Grab a hold of His hand, reaching out to you in every moment, drawing you further along in the good work He began and has promised to complete.

“to love their children…”

I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how much my heart bursts with love for this baby.

Or any of my babies.

Because isn’t that natural? Regardless of how “good with kids” any one of us may naturally be, don’t we love our own with a fierceness that is unparalleled? I’ll give any Mama Bear a run for her money ANY day in my love for my kids.

So, then, I have to wonder, why is “love their children” listed among the things that younger women are to learn from older, God-fearing women?

Is it possible that God is calling us to love our children in a deeper, more profound, more godly way than we ever could apart from His help and instruction?

Possible that our selfishness, humanism, and general environment of “you’re okay, I’m okay, we’re all okay,” leads us astray? Instead of pressing into greater grace and selfless giving, we decide that if our natural wellspring of maternal love is dry, then either we’re not really cut out for this kid thing after all, or at the very least we deserve a break to commiserate with our girlfriends.

And maybe, too, it’s possible that our love is needing to be refined, submitted, to Jesus? That as Augustine said, we have a case of disordered loves, or idolatry? A Mama Bear identity that leads into all sorts of trouble — the trouble of prioritizing them over Jesus. Taking up offenses, coming up with excuses for sin, moving ancient boundaries in an attempt to keep our kids inside the pasture… oh, it happens so easily.

Yes, my heart bursts with love for these children. The moment my first baby was laid in my arms, I exploded with feelings I didn’t know I could have, and it’s happened seven times over! But we are called to even more than just what may (or may not!) occur naturally. We are called to learn a holy, God-fearing love that ultimately surrenders our hearts, and our children, to the hands of an all-sufficient Father.

2020 book list and a request for recommendations

Keeping a book list in the back of my planner has helped tremendously with my reading the last few years. I create the list in January, and then add or change it as the year progresses. If I read only a handful of books, I’ll be happy — but somehow, making a list and knowing what’s going to come next (and being able to get a hold of them promptly) means reading many more than that! Also, it’s awfully fun to remember what I’ve read, and the score I gave them on a scale of 1-10.

So, here’s what I read in 2020:

The Measure of Success (completed), 4/10

A Girl of the Limberlost, 8/10

Coddling of the American Mind, 10/10

In the Garden of Beasts, 9/10

Of Whom the World Was Not Worthy, 9/10

In My Father’s House, 8/10

The Grand Escape, 8/10

Stop Calling Me Beautiful, 6/10

The Green Glass Sea, 10/10

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, 7/10

The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood, 8/10

Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, 9/10

We Were the Lucky Ones, 10/10

The Book Thief, 8/10

Bomb: The Race to Build–and Steal–the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon, 10/10

The Spy and the Traitor: The Greatest Espionage Story of the Cold War, 10/10

In the Enemy’s House: The Secret Saga of the FBI Agent and the Code Breaker Who Caught the Russian Spies, 8/10

Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling, in progress

What should I read this year? Let me know your recommendations!

Christmas memories, 2020

A post of photos, so I can remember the year when three children sang like angels and siblings burst with joy over gifts exchanged and Percival matched his brothers and Ryan actually had no idea what I bought for him (!!) and the beef was a fiasco and we stayed in slow-mo for days afterward playing games and wearing nightgowns and good heavens, we all needed a solid nap.

the gift of today

I’m always so sad to see December coming to a close, although (let’s be honest) probably this little afternoon ritual of coffee and cookies will be the hardest thing to see go. The salads promised by a goal-filled January will be great, I’m sure, but nothing like these buttery morsels.

This December also meant saying goodbye to 4-year-old Cecily, and that reality gave pause to both Ryan and me on the eve of her birthday — “December nineteenth!”, always declared with a wide grin — as our eyes grew wistful and full of memory. The little years of Cecily Anne have been truly delightful years, full of belly-laughter and deep-down joy.

But when our 4-year-old disappeared that night, we found in her place an equally delightful 5 year old and the hopes of a year yet to be lived.

And so it is, really, with all of the wonderfully rich days already enjoyed. They end, we turn off the light with a deep sigh, but the sun rises and invites us to embrace yet another day, made by and planned by and inhabited by God Himself. Can I do that? Can I release, with thankfulness, the gifts of yesterday and open my hands to what He will give today?

We chatted today, amidst pots of Sopa de Albondigas and rising orange-scented sweet dough and the beef tenderloin I wanted so badly to not mess up. We talked about finishing strong, and I reminded the boys of the human wonder names Usain Bolt who, among other obvious gifting, is capable of seeing a finish line and not slowing down at all. He runs right through that marker and leaves his opponents in the dust. We talked about how everyone’s inclination is to see the end and, in relief, slow their pace. “I’ve got this,” we think to ourselves, and then slow down. Usain Bolt and Caleb remind me of each other, in their ability to finish strong, and I am challenged. I’m only 39, and already I can start to understand the temptation to begin coasting. Entanglements, weights, sorrows, or just plain old, “I’ve got this.” Enough days of packed away treasures, enough mornings of waking to a more frail body, another disappointing circumstance, and we start to slow.

So I’m looking at a month of pictures, of memories, of days with my kids right here with me. Growing, happy, innocent, with me. It’s easy to sigh and have the echo of so many kind strangers ring in my mind: “These are the best days of your life.” And I know what they mean, and I’m smart enough to understand, but tomorrow, no matter what else it may bring, is full of the promise of purposes of God, and He invites me to live it strong, live it fully, live it with hopeful expectation.

Emmanuel, God with Us — today, tomorrow, forever.