During my second year of studies at Beeson, I began intentionally praying about what was next. "God, what do you have for me? God, I trust you with my calling, but I still do not know what comes after seminary or where you are leading me." As I was praying about what was next, God brought to my mind young women he was calling to ministry. The thought was unexpected, something that had never crossed my mind on its own. And the more I prayed, testing these thoughts about mentoring and helping young women called to ministry, the more my thoughts drifted to them and the more passionate I became. God was planting and growing in my heart a desire to help young women–15-year-old Kristens–discern a call to ministry so they didn't feel alone or have to go at it alone and so that they would be able to live out the calling faithfully.Read More
Monday marked one year since Philip started bleeding rectally. He was four.
Anniversaries are a funny thing. On the one hand, you are thankful for how far you’ve come. On the other hand, those anniversaries bring back to mind those dark days, and it’s almost like you can taste the worry and anxiety that you once felt.
When Philip started bleeding we were very concerned. Perhaps we would not have been so concerned had not just two weeks prior (the first week of December), I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis. A week and a half before my colonoscopy, I woke up and saw blood when I went to the bathroom. Following my colonoscopy, I remember groggily getting into the car with the help of a nurse and looking at Osvaldo as soon as the door closed. I could tell then he was sad. He told me I had ulcerative colitis, and I cried. Receiving a diagnosis, even if it isn’t cancer, makes you feel vulnerable, fragile, and aware of your mortality.
But it wasn’t just my recent diagnosis that made us worry that December Monday. Osvaldo had been suffering from ulcerative colitis for 12 years! What was so strange was that our gastro doctor said our colitis was identical—in the same spots of our colon. I didn’t know whether I should be angry with God that we both had an identical disease or laugh because what are the odds! I told a friend, rather sarcastically, we should just be called, The Colitis Family.
When Philip began bleeding, we were concerned but it was difficult for us to believe that it was related to colitis at first. It would be too coincidental that he would start showing symptoms for colitis three weeks after I did.
That week was not only the longest week of our lives to that point but it ushered us into a very dark time. I’m crying even now remembering.
Four days before my bleeding began, I gave two talks on Matthew 6:25-34 at my church for its Fall Coffee event. In this passage Jesus addresses anxiety. “Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life … Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?” I told the women who had gathered for coffee that Thursday morning that circumstances change in our lives but our faith is in One who doesn’t change and who loves us. God is a good Father who loves us even when our circumstances might try to tell us otherwise. It’s interesting that the appeal to not be anxious comes after the Lord’s Prayer. I argued that it is within the context of prayer that we are able to be strengthened when worry and anxiety overcome us. “For your Father knows what you need before you ask him” (Mt. 6:8). Little did I know how much I would need this sermon, this reminder that God is good and He loves us no matter what our circumstances would have us believe.
A year ago Monday began a long journey and one we are still on. That week in December took us down a dark internal journey as well. As parents you love your child more than anything in this world, and when something abnormal begins to happen it triggers the fear of every parent—that of losing their child. Coupled with that fear is the fear of your child suffering, of your child not developing, of your child being left behind, etc.
This Sunday we will mark one year when we took him to the ER because the bleeding had increased. Next week will mark one year that Osvaldo and I were convinced that Philip had colitis and when we finally got Philip an appointment with Children’s of Alabama Pediatric Gastroenterologists for early January. This Christmas Eve and Christmas will mark a year when, as we were in Texas, Osvaldo and I were so troubled in spirit that it cast a shadow over the holiday. We hardly could put forward a smile or sing happily along with carols without crying. We were tense as we both dealt with worry and sorrow differently. We remember those nights in Texas as Philip lay asleep looking at him with worry about what lay ahead.
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’ … Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me?” (Ps. 42: 3, 5a)
A dear friend put it so well: “I was afraid of not knowing and I was afraid of knowing.”
We lived for more than two months of not knowing. I will never forget the first doctor’s appointment with Philip’s gastro doctor. Philip knew something was wrong with his body. As he sat on the paper-covered office table waiting to be seen, his face became worried and his lips began quivering. He was scared. I held him, and he cried. We all cried; we were all scared.
It would take an hour and a half for his colonoscopy to finish in late February. When the doctor came in to see us, he broke the news that Philip had colitis. But given the location of his colitis, they felt like it was behaving more like Crohn’s Colitis. Prior to the exam, we had come to terms with a colitis diagnosis but worried about Crohn’s. Colitis is much easier to deal with than Crohn’s. Colitis only affects the colon; Crohn’s affects the throat all the way down to the rectum. When we heard the word Crohn’s, we were crushed. Osvaldo and I held each other and for the first time sobbed deeply. Relieved to finally have a diagnosis, we also broke down under its weight.
Anniversaries are a funny thing. They not only bring up the memories of that one day but they set into motion remembering what follows that day. Perhaps because Monday’s anniversary marked a new way of living for our family: giving Philip medicines three times a day, hospital stays for complications, change in diet, pain management, etc. Monday’s anniversary reminds us that Philip has an incurable disease.
But we have a lot to be thankful for. Monday, on his one year anniversary, Philip is not showing any signs of blood. He’s gaining weight; he’s growing. He’s happy, and doing well in school. He’s alive. There are many medicines on the horizon for Crohn's and colitis and much research is being done. Who knows? Perhaps one day his disease will be curable! We also recognize there are many parents whose children receive a diagnosis that ends in death. We remember that many parents will be celebrating Christmas this year without their child. Osvaldo and I pray for these parents often.
It’s been a difficult year, but what I said on Nov. 13 is still true, even--or perhaps especially so--after our diagnoses. Even while we walked through the valley of the shadow of death, God was with us. His presence sustained us. His Word was our food. The psalmist responds to his own question, Why are you cast down, O my soul, not with a because. Like me, perhaps the psalmist knew exactly why he was cast down. But he answers with what will lead his soul out of the place of deep sorrow. “Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.” Hope in God. That’s all we could do. All we could mutter to God in prayer was “Have mercy.” But it’s not what we were able to do this past year but what God did. He sustained us. He held onto us. He enabled us to hope. He enabled our feeble prayers. He did not let anyone snatch us out of his hand (John 10:28). And He was with us and will continue to be with us on this journey. Thanks be to God.
Dear Heavenly Father,
You make all things new. In you alone is life, light, peace, and all things good. And yet you give these things to us to share in -- life, light, peace, goodness; what a gift! You are a good Father, compassionate, slow to anger, abounding in love, and patient. Your mercies are new everyday, and I stand in awe of you. I, who am created in your image to look like my Father, am in awe of that relationship with you. I pray two things for my life: that the name of the Lord Jesus may be glorified in me and that the Word of the Lord may go forth as a light to the nations.
Forgive my many sins, those things that break your heart. With each passing day may my sins decrease until the day I see you face to face and they are completely gone.
I know you are with us and have brought my family to this place. May we draw so much closer to you and simultaneously draw closer to one another. Protect us from bodily harm and from spiritual attacks. You alone are good and your mercies they fail not.
I submit to you. Conform me to your likeness, and give me ears to listen to your voice.
In your precious, most Holy Name, my Father and Savior Jesus Christ,
There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.
The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.
What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.
Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.
One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!
My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.
When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.
While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.
Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.
What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.
What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.
The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.
Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.
This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.
I've heard it said, "That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you." For me, one of those idols was time.
The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.
Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)
We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.
Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.
As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.
As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.
Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.
You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.
Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.
Last night Philip, our 2 year old son, had trouble falling asleep; so he brought his blankets and lovies with him into the living room and asked if I would rock him. How could I say "no" to that? So I gathered him up as well as all his soft things into my arms and rocked him. He fell asleep within 5 minutes but I held onto him for much longer staring at his sleeping face and his little hands and long fingers.
It wasn't until I became a parent that I experienced the indescribable gift and blessing of a child. He's my son. I don't deserve him. Although he can drive me crazy at times and will do things to spite me, he is my great reward. Solomon says this in Psalm 127:3, "Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward."
Reflecting on this last night brought to mind another son I didn't deserve. "For God so loved the world (which includes me and you!), that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Rom. 5:6-8). "This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins" (1 John 4:10).
I am constantly reminded when I look at my son the great sacrifice God made so that we might find forgiveness of sins and reconciliation with Him, our Creator through the Son of God, Jesus Christ our Lord. Just like I don't deserve my son Philip, I don't deserve what God's Son did for me on a cross. Just like Philip is my great reward, even more so and greater is the reward I have in Jesus Christ.
I cannot imagine giving Philip up for anyone in this world. I simply would not. In fact, I would give myself up before giving him. So the truth that "God so loved us, the world, that he gave his Son" blows my mind. It's an even greater love than I know personally through being a wife and a mom. It's a sacrificial love. And it's a love that Scripture tells us that Jesus agreed to as well. Philippians 2 says that Jesus humbled himself by leaving the throne room of heaven to become man so that "for our sake" he would be made "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21).
Christians have used this time of Lent historically as a time of preparation for Easter. We remember our sins that cost Jesus Christ his life; we repent and reconcile with our brothers and sisters; we spend time in reflection and meditation on Scripture; and we fast. God has given me a gift in Philip for many reasons too numerous to list here. But one of the best gifts is that Philip serves as a daily reminder to me of God's sacrificial love in sending his Son for me as a propitiation for my sins.
I have been given the gifts of two sons: One who died for my sins and who is the Son of God and one who I get to hold and comfort in my arms at night. During Lent I want to encourage parents and non-parents alike to reflect with me on God's Son, on our sins which he came to take away, and on the great, sacrificial love of God.
I want to mention that I was honored to write a blog post for Mommybites.com, which will eventually also be featured on Happy Family's website, that went live today. I don't write much on the topic of motherhood, so it was a joy and a challenge to reflect on something deeply personal and to share it with the world. It was in writing the blog post for Mommybites and reading a post by my very good friend, Leslie Ann, called 5 Things Parenting Taught Me About God, that encouraged me to reflect on my own experience as a mom and what God is teaching me about Himself through this experience.
When our friends the Beardens, my husband and I drove away from our home on February 4 for my 31st birthday dinner, one of the first things they mentioned were my 30 for 30 goals. Oh accountability how I loathe you! Especially when I have missed the mark. After running through my list, we determined that I accomplished about 66.6 percent of my goals (only later did I realize it was more like 56%). This percentage, they reminded me, would be considered a failing grade in school. I never failed at school. In fact I never made less than a B. So to fail at something is pretty embarrassing for me (which is one reason I hate setting goals and New Year's Resolutions in the first place). But that's what God gives us good friends for. To keep us accountable, humble us and then laugh with us at our mistakes and failings.
One reason I did a 30 for 30 list was to have something fun I could do all year. I set some goals that were silly and easy to accomplish. But I also set some unrealistic goals or goals that I would have to try really hard to do.
So here's my 30 goals again and my final report as to whether I accomplished each one or not. (Not in the way of an excuse, but two things happened last year that did hinder some of my goals. One, my grandmother died on March 1. I was very close to her and her death really affected me. I was in Texas during that time for almost 2 weeks. Secondly, I went to the doctor 11 times for a sinus infection/bronchitis last year. I see an immunologist and this is something we are working to correct this coming year.)
30 for 30 final report:
- Run a 5K. (I was so close. At one point I was running 2-3 miles, but never actually ran a 5K.)
Get a massage. Publish a second Bible study. Take Philip to a museum.
- Read and work through the Greek of one New Testament book. (I started 1 John with my husband but never finished.)
Take a trip to visit friends outside of Birmingham. Read Lord of the Rings trilogy.(This is one I am most proud of!) Tell someone new about Jesus.(The one with the most eternal significance!)
- Lose one pant size. (No comment.)
- Speak at an event, retreat or conference.
- Blog regularly. (I blogged more last year than the previous year but not enough to call it regular.)
- Learn to sew. (Got a sewing machine for Christmas! Maybe this year?)
Go on a weekend "date" trip with my husband.
- Finish mine and Osvaldo's wedding scrapbook.
- Consistently update Philip's baby book and scrapbook his first year.
Have an international over to our home for dinner. Do a jigsaw puzzle. Paint one room of my house. Take a trip with my Supper Club friends.(Thanks to my friend Kaylie for getting married, we went to the beach for a girls trip prior to the big day!)
- Go to a college or professional football game.
Go to some place new that I've never been before.(We went to Pine Island in Florida this summer.)
- Learn Spanish. (Shamefully no since my husband is fluent.)
- Volunteer with a ministry in town.
- Play Settlers often with friends and husband. (This should have been a gimme goal but no.)
Make a new friend.
- Get out of debt.
Take lots and lots of pictures of Philip. Teach Philip a new truth about God. Give lots of kisses and hugs to my husband and son. Have a big 30th party -- which is up to my husband.
Thank you to the faithful few who follow along with me as I blog and who have encouraged me in these goals. Thank you to the ones who helped make some things on this list possible and made doing these things much more fun and enjoyable than had I done them by myself. And a big thank you to my husband who I cannot imagine doing life without. God is good.