Author Archive

In Christ Alone My Worth Is Found

Attachment-1

Sometimes it’s the people we barely know who end up having the biggest impact on our lives.

Often it’s a negative impact: a snide comment that sticks to our heart for years like gum under a desk. A leader’s decision that trickles down and alters everything. A careless action that they “didn’t mean,” but to you, who cares? It meant everything.

Oftentimes, however, it forever changes our life for the better. Words from authors we’ve never met and never will can rattle us, shifting our entire perspective. Random acts of kindness of complete strangers can forge some of the most unforgettable memories. Even a scripted line delivered by an actor in a movie can pierce us to the core.

About six months ago, someone I barely knew made this kind of impact on me.

I had decided to take a class for the second time, a class that I had first signed up for five years prior but never finished. It was a free class at the seminary where my husband has been pursuing his masters degree, designed to equip women for the unique role of being a minister’s wife. The first go around I was a newlywed working as a teacher, was not yet a mother, and quickly grew annoyed by several guest speakers talking about things irrelevant to me at that time… so I lost interest, and dropped it.

This second time I was in a completely different season of life. After nearly six years of marriage under my belt, I was a full time stay-at-home young mother of four, with a husband nearing graduation and preparing to enter full time ministry. I was still reeling from the recent completion of the adoption of our eldest, and sleep-deprived with a still-nursing newborn.

Postpartum had been a struggle with a capital ‘S’ and we were all still adjusting to our not-so-little family of six. I felt perpetually exhausted, overwhelmed, and like a shadow of my former self. To top it off I was daily fighting unshakeable feelings of inadequacy, feeling like I had morphed into an inattentive wife, grumpy mother, bad friend, poor housekeeper… never good enough at any role, always striving but always failing. 

Sound familiar?

A couple of friends were going to take the class and invited me along, and while it sounded crazy at first to add something to my already overflowing plate, I decided to join them. It was only once a week, in the evening, and TBH? It meant one night a week of NOT HAVING TO DO BEDTIME. All the praise hands.

That’s where I “met” her.

She hooked me on the first day with her warmth and genuine spirit. She was “just” a mom and a professor’s wife, co-teaching the class with another professor’s wife. She was kind, engaging, and humble, and I bet the majority of people would take one look at her and write her off as being simply a sweet lady, with nothing more to offer than a smile and a casserole.

They would be wrong.

This woman had PASSION.

After the first half of the class was spent going over the syllabus and getting to know one another, her co-teacher sat down and she calmly took the podium. And for a solid hour, she laid it down. She explained that she wanted to make clear from the get-go exactly what this class was NOT intended to be…

…and in doing so, she made clear what had been muddied in my heart and mind for months.

Our primary goal was not to learn to be the best wife we can possibly be. It was not to learn to be the best mother we can be, or the best friend or anyone else, because our worth is not defined by our relationships with each other. Neither is our worth defined by how “well” we’re doing… at anything.

Before we do anything else, we are simply to love and be loved by Jesus, because our worth is found in Him alone.

Let me say that again:

Before we do anything else, we are simply to love and be loved by Jesus, because our worth is found in Him alone. 

That reminder practically slapped me in the face, waking me up from my fog of relentless striving for some hypothetical “best version of myself.”  I felt freed, and calmed, and loved hearing those words. I’d no doubt heard them countless times before, but they burst with fresh significance in this desert season.

But here’s the thing: she didn’t stop there. She got practical. She got specific. And she got excited!

She began to dive into helpful strategies for better understanding the Bible, His love letter to us. She tackled head on the lies that the enemy uses to try to keep us from opening it at all: that it’s too complicated for us to comprehend, not worth our time, outdated, irrelevant, unnecessary. She enthusiastically reminded us that our culture and generation has more resources for understanding the Bible, and by extension, learning about our very Savior, than ever before in history… and gently reminded us that we also have more distractions than ever, too.

“For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Romans 15:4

She recommended dozens of tips and tricks, websites and books, resources galore to help us with our one, simple, fundamental purpose in life: to love Jesus, which we are only able to do because He first loved us. She then stressed that it is worth the time and effort we pour into loving Jesus, because we will not find our worth in any other role than as His forgiven and beloved daughter. And it is only after we have found our identity in Him, after we have been taught how to love by first experiencing His love, that we will ever truly be able to love others.

“And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world… We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:14-17,19

She went on to remind us that we love Jesus, because He alone satisfies. Not our professions, not being the perfect wife, not prepping the most Pinterest-worthy cute and healthy lunch boxes for our kids. He alone brings peace. He alone restores our soul. No one else, no other role, nothing we have or can do compares to the satisfaction we find in His love for us.

And with every word my love for her grew like wildfire, because with every word I could see: she believed, with everything in her, that she was imparting truths that could save us. Truths that could save not only our actual spiritual lives, but restore joy where there was despair, and bring peace where there was chaos.

She was not there to teach, not really, though she was an excellent teacher. God used her that night and many thereafter to personally encourage me, and show me that I was not alone. That pursuing my relationship with Jesus could no longer come second to pursuing my relationship with my husband, kids, and others… that it had to come first. Because when it doesn’t, it’s like putting clean clothes on, day after day, but never showering. You can only hide the filth for so long before everyone suffers.

I breathed easier on my walk home that night from class. I mentally crumpled up the to-do lists that had been running on loops through my head. Love Him. Spend time with Him. The rest would get done. Loving Him had to come first. I would love my people better afterwards because of my time with Him.

The Father used someone I barely knew to speak directly to me that night, and I doubt I will ever forget the impact made by that woman after God’s own heart, a woman I am honored to call my sister in Christ.

The truth is we never know who might be listening to us, and how God might want to use us to help another, even if we’re not aware of it! Let us always make sure, then, that our “speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that [we] may know how [we] ought to answer each person.” Colossians 4:6 And may “no corrupting talk come out of [our] mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Ephesians 4:29

Thank you, Mrs. Karen Yarnell, for loving Him and His Word with such passion. 

5 Questions I Ask Myself Before Getting on Social Media

I tend to be all-or-nothing with things.

When I buy a new CD (yes, I still actually physically do that from time to time) and I like it, I play it on repeat for three weeks straight until I have every lyric memorized. (Sorry, Stud. Blame Adele.)

If I realize we’ve been consuming too much sugar lately and our family needs to be eating more nutritiously, I go into a blind panic and raid the kitchen until everything I’d be ashamed for my doctor to see peeking out of my purse has been tossed into the trash. (Sorry, Stud. Blame Whole30.)

I either wake up with a spring in my step to conquer my to-do list and get so much accomplished by the end of the day I’m giddy-high and completely spent…

or I stay in my pajamas and get off the couch periodically only to walk around aimlessly wondering what it is I’m supposed to be doing that day… what day is it again?

All or nothing. Told you.

In light of this, it’s no surprise that I’ve majorly struggled with maintaining balance with the beast we call social media. I’ll get into ruts and keep my phone in my back pocket 24/7, pulling it out constantly at the slightest sign of a lull, and essentially spend the day scrolling, clicking, stalking, pinning, liking, sharing, and posting like it’s my job (and while it actually is for some, it most certainly is not my job). Then I’ll suddenly realize I’ve let myself become addicted to my apps, and I’ll delete them all and go on a social media fast for a week, month, 40-day lent period, whatever.

There are clear problems with either extreme here. When I let social media be my immediate go-to throughout the day, I find myself feeling distracted, untethered, self-doubting, and dissatisfied. When I retreat from social media entirely, I end up feeling like a cross between an ostrich and a monk, and miss out on major life news, prayer requests, and opportunities to keep up with friends and family.

Where the tarnation is the in-between?!

Slowly, clumsily, I’ve started to find that illusive middle ground. It’s taken a lot of prayer, a lot of accountability, and a lot of trial and error. A breakthrough came one day when I opened up the “notes” app in my phone and started cultivating the list below. It’s not rocket science, but it has been hugely helpful to me, and I hope, will be for you.

5 Questions I Ask Myself

Before Getting on Social Media

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1. Would it be better to be fully present right now?

This one usually stops me in my tracks. Often I never even get to questions 2 through 5, because this is all I need to set my phone down and move along.

For me personally, in this season of life as a stay-at-home mom of four, my days are full, to say the least. There are always sticky fingers to wipe, sibling brawls to break up, books to read, boo boos to kiss, and sandwiches to fix. It can be overwhelming, and the temptation to retreat into social media can be great, to feel a little more “normal” for just a few minutes.

The problem is, a few minutes quickly becomes an hour, and usually by the end of that hour my kids feel neglected and restless, the house is a wreck because the kids were unsupervised, and immediate regret for that wasted time kicks in. Top that off with a heap of jealousy at so-and-so’s vacation pictures, and sprinkle on some anxiety about all the ways I could be better (thinner, craftier, more spontaneous or witty or organized)… and there you have a recipe for a crappy attitude and a day that is quickly snowballing out of control.

The day is redeemable, of course, but most of the time if I just stop and ask myself in the first place, “would it be better to be fully present right now?” the answer more times than not is “yes,” and I can save myself the detour by focusing on the here and now.

But when they’re napping, or in bed for the night? I absolutely love catching up with friends on Facebook. Or when I’m Sabbath-ing and taking a break from the housework and just want to insta-stalk for an hour or two? I go for it, guilt-free. With intention and in moderation, I can enjoy it guilt-free.

2. Am I getting on social media because I’m procrastinating something?

There’s not too much to elaborate on here… let’s just say the answer is a resounding “YES” 99.9% of the time, and when I’m real with myself and get whatever “it” is done first, I save myself from a future panic attack, and that is just a good thing for e’rybody.

3. Am I getting on social media in an especially emotional state?

You know how sometimes, when you’re scrolling away on your newsfeed, a post leaps out at you? And your stomach turns because “wow is that person clearly feeling very _____ (angry, sad, spiteful, confused)… and man are they going to regret saying that tomorrow”?

Well I really, really, really don’t want to be that person.

I have before and I’m sure I will again. But God has given us a whole other way to live, and it looks like this:

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” Galatians 5:22-26

I just love that, that mental image of keeping in step with the Spirit of God. It’s so much more purposeful than simply letting my actions be driven by the rollercoaster of my emotions. So I do my best to make sure that I don’t get on social media until my emotions are under His control, or else I know that those last lines, “provoking one another, envying one another” will become true of me.

4. If I get on social media right now, can I practice Philippians 4:8?

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Philippians 4:8

Here’s another beautiful and convicting passage that can be applied to social media in so many ways. I replace “think” with the technical vernacular… “tweet these things,” “post these things,” “comment these things,” and have the perfect yardstick for whether or not my time online is being spent to His glory.

5. If I get on social media right now, can I handle the people?

“…he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth…” 1 Timothy 6:4-5

I fully realize this passage is specifically talking about false teachers in the time of Christ, but as we enter an election year, I can’t help but feel like this is straight-up prophesy for the comment sections of articles about the presidential candidates of today. UGH. Y’all, I’m sorry, but most days I just can’t handle it.

People can get ugly online, shielded by their screens and tricked into thinking their words don’t make that big of a difference amongst the masses… well, they do. Words are powerful. Proverbs 18:21 says that “death and life are in the power of the tongue,” and Matthew 12:36 tells us that “on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

So if I log onto social media, I have to recognize that in doing so I’m about to be bombarded with people and their words. Yes, a lot of them will be my friends and my family, and many of their words will be inspirational and loving. But a lot of them won’t be, and a lot of them won’t be. I can choose to give grace or I can choose to hold back, but as a believer, I will not join the “constant friction.” I must cling instead to those fruits of the Spirit, those “whatevers,” and if I know that I can’t? I LOG OFF. Simple as that.

This particular post is one that is near and dear to my heart, because these self-posed questions have brought me so much freedom in the last couple of years. Social media is not inherently evil or good. As much as I prefer things in black and white, my favorite apps and blogs are neither things to cling to nor flee from. They’re simply tools. When used with carelessness or evil intent? They can destroy. When used properly, with intention and in moderation? Social media can connect us, inspire us, and bring us great joy.

A Simple Way to Remember

Is this day going the way you’d hoped?

Because if it isn’t, I can guarantee you, you are not alone.

Perhaps it’s the home you’re in. Maybe you’re in your own home when you’d rather be at your parents’, but money was too tight this year to travel. Maybe you’re at your in-laws when, let’s just say it, you’d rather be celebrating with your side of the family. Maybe you’ve recently moved and you’re “home.” But this “home” doesn’t feel like home just yet, but rather a collection of empty walls reminding you of the pictures you haven’t hung because the people in the pictures are far away now and it just hurts too much.

Or maybe it’s not the place, but the people. Maybe relatives are arguing and you’re trying to play peacemaker but your words fall on deaf ears and loud mouths and is it really going to be like this every year? Or maybe you’re the one starting it, the snipping and the passive-aggressive jabs, because you’ve been working yourself into the ground making sure the baking/decorating/shopping/wrapping are all done just so, and for heaven’s sake, you’re TIRED.

For those of us with little ones—maybe you’ve done everything right! You’ve kept your cool through the frenzy of this week, clung to simple, tried with everything in you to lower your expectations and just enjoy this season. But because life is life and motherhood is motherhood, the baby woke up screaming at 4 am and the toddler’s running a fever and your older two are fighting, and everything you did to foster peace today is running like sand through your fingers.

For some of us, our hearts are simply aching this Christmas.

Maybe you’re mourning the recent death of a loved one, or still missing one who passed long ago.

Maybe you’re pushing with all your might through an impossibly difficult time financially.

Maybe you’re facing illness yourself, or carrying the burdens of those who are fighting for their lives.

Maybe the news has haunted your dreams as of late. The weight of the world and the millions in it who are suffering today is on your shoulders, and how can you celebrate? What’s fair about that?

Here’s the simple truth, the bare bones of the Gospel: this is why He came.

Two thousand years ago, the world was exactly as it is today. Maybe not externally, sure, but internally? People were the same. Struggling, burdened, aching. Discontent and restless. Searching for answers to questions too big for their own logic.

The Father looked at the world, and out of His incomparable love for it, for us, He said to Himself: it’s time.

And a precious baby boy was born in a filthy stable, and flipped the whole world on its axis.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” John 3:16-17

He came for those longing to be home… and longs to give them an eternal home beyond what they can imagine.

He came for the angry arguers… and fights to become their ultimate Peacemaker.

He came for the little children… and craves for them to call him Father.

He came for the broken, aching, hurting, hopeless masses. He came to heal, comfort, restore, and bring Hope—BE Hope—for each and every one of us who needs Him. And let’s face it. We ALL need Him.

So if this season of Advent has gotten away from you, or if this day hasn’t gone as you’d imagined, may I offer a suggestion?

Instead of shrugging it off and vowing to do better next year, let’s do something about it. Let’s take twenty minutes to reorient our hearts. Let’s stop and remember that He is the Light that the darkness will never put out. This candlelight drama is simple, short, perfect for all ages, and is one of our family’s favorite ways to push pause and remember.

Remember that whatever you are facing, you are loved by a Father who gave his only Son for you and for the world. Remember that He came not to condemn but to save. Remember: you are not alone.

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A Christmas Candlelight Drama

 Preparation (takes 5 minutes!): gather all the candles in the house. On a table arrange three candles to represent Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, respectively; a group to represent the shepherds; a group to represent the wise men (doesn’t have to be three, the Bible doesn’t specify); and a group of the tallest candles to represent the angels. Then distribute copies of this script, a candle each for every person in attendance, and designate roles: someone to lead in song, someone to light the candles, and the narrator roles.

(everyone sings a cappella)

O Come, All Ye Faithful

O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant

Come ye, O come ye to Bethlehem

Come and behold Him, born the king of angels

O come let us adore Him

O come let us adore Him

O come let us adore Him, Christ the Lord

Narrator 1: And it came to pass in those days, that a proclamation was made by Caesar Augustus that the entire inhabited world should be registered. This was the first census undertaken while Cyrenius was governor of Syria; and everyone went to the town of their birth to be registered.

Joseph (light Joseph candle) went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to the city of David, Bethlehem, in Judea, because he was a direct descendant of David, to be registered with his future wife Mary (light Mary candle) who was pregnant.

O Little Town of Bethlehem

O little town of Bethlehem

How still we see thee lie

Above thy deep and dreamless sleep

The silent stars go by

Yet in thy dark streets shineth

The everlasting Light

The hopes and fears of all the years

Are met in thee tonight

Narrator 2: And while they were in Bethlehem, the time came for her to be delivered. She gave birth to her first child, a Son (light Jesus candle). There was no place for them inside the inn, so she laid Him in a manger.

Away in a Manger

Away in a manger, no crib for His bed

The little Lord Jesus laid down His sweet head

The stars in the sky looked down where He lay

The little Lord Jesus, asleep on the hay

Narrator 3: There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields (light shepherd candles).

The First Noel

The first Noel, the angel did say

Was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay

In fields where they lay keeping their sheep

On a cold winter’s night that was so deep

Noel, Noel, Noel, Noel

Born is the King of Israel

Narrator 4: Suddenly, an angel of the Lord stood before them, the splendor of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror stricken. But the angel (light tallest angel) said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy that is for all the people. This very day, in the city of David, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ the Lord. Let this prove it to you. You will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.”

And suddenly there appeared with the angel a vast host of the armies of heaven (light all angel candles). They were praising God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace among those with whom He is pleased!”

Hark! The Herald Angels Sing

Hark! The herald angels sing

Glory to the newborn King

Peace on earth and mercy mild

God and sinners reconciled

Joyful, all ye nations rise

Join the triumph of the skies

With angelic host proclaim

Christ is born in Bethlehem

Narrator 5: The shepherds said to one another, “Now, let us go straight to Bethlehem and see this thing which the Lord has made known to us.”

So they went as fast as they could and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in the manger. And when they had seen this sight, they told everyone what had been said to them about the little Child.

Go, Tell It on the Mountain

While shepherds kept their watching

O’er silent flocks by night

Behold throughout the heavens

There shone a holy light

Go, tell it on the mountain

Over the hills and everywhere

Go, tell it on the mountain

That Jesus Christ is born

Narrator 6: Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, saying, (light wise men candles) “Where is He that is born King of the Jews?”

And now the star, which they had seen in the east, went in front of them until at last it shone immediately above the place where the little Child lay.

The sight of the star filled them with indescribable joy. So they went into the house and found the little Child with His mother, Mary. And they fell on their knees and worshiped Him. Then they opened up their treasures and presented Him with gifts – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

What Child is This

What Child is this, who laid to rest

On Mary’s lap is sleeping?

Whom angels greet with anthems sweet

While shepherds watch are keeping?

This, this is Christ the King

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing

Haste, haste to bring Him laud

The Babe, the Son of Mary

Narrator 7: Then, since they were warned in a dream not to return to Herod, the wise men went back to their own country by a different route. (Extinguish wise men candles.)

And the shepherds went back to work, glorifying and praising God for everything they had seen and heard. (Extinguish shepherd candles.)

And the angels returned to heaven. (Extinguish angel candles.)

            And many years later, Mary and Joseph, being flesh and bone, came to the end of their earthly lives. (Extinguish Mary and Joseph candles.)

But the Light that began in Bethlehem was life. And this life was the Light of all humanity. The Light still shines in the darkness and the darkness has never put it out. (Light first person’s candle from the Jesus candle, then begin passing the light.)

And it all began on a silent, holy night, long ago….

Silent Night

Silent night, holy night

All is calm, all is bright

‘Round yon virgin Mother and Child

Holy Infant so tender and mild

Sleep in heavenly peace

Sleep in heavenly peace

(Everyone’s candle should now be lit.)

Joy to the World

Joy to the world, the Lord has come

Let earth receive her King

Let every heart, prepare Him room

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and nature sing

And heaven and heaven and nature sing!

3 Things I Thought I Needed to be Ready for Motherhood… and What I Really Need Instead

Like many engaged couples, my husband and I had the perfect 5 year plan for the beginning of our marriage.

The plan included me pursuing my master’s degree in counseling, getting the majority of my hours towards licensure completed, then starting to try for a family. Depending on how long that took, we’d hopefully either be pregnant or have our first baby by our 5th anniversary. By then we’d be stronger, more financially stable, and much more spiritually mature before we dove into parenthood.

Because we definitely needed to be stronger, more financially stable, and much more spiritually mature before we dove into parenthood.

Instead, shortly after our 5th anniversary last year we had four children: our eldest whom we’d just adopted, two toddlers, and a newborn girl.

first fam of six pic

February 2015, married 5 years, 1 month, and 23 days

So, yeah. Sliiiiiiight change of plans.

I’ve reflected a lot this past year as I’ve held and mothered my fourth child, who was “supposed to be” my first according to my timeline. I can’t say for sure how different a mother I would be if our 5-year-plan had panned out, if I’d been older and more prepared. I can say for sure, however, that I’m glad my plans didn’t pan out. The Lord knew that my prerequisites for motherhood were bunk, and He flipped them all on their heads.

Here are 3 things I thought I needed to be ready for motherhood… and what I really need instead.

  1. Instead of personal strength, I need strong friendships.

 I’m not even talking about family here. You can’t pick your family. As my kids know by heart and recite at the dinner table, “you git what you git and you don’t throw a fit” (forgive the drawl, we live in Texas.) Hopefully, like I do, you have a whole heap of supportive relatives that are there for you to share in the joy and hardships of becoming a mom for the first time. Maybe not, though; or maybe, like mine, they’re spread out and not necessarily there for the day in and day out of raising your kids.

Thankfully, as the Proverb says, “there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother,” and they’re just waiting to be found (Proverbs 18:24). So join a church if you haven’t yet and pick a life group or Bible study to plug into. Find a MOPS group or young mom’s group equivalent in your area to connect to other moms in the same season of sleepless newborn nights and disgusting potty training days. And then throw yourself out there!

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I am not being dramatic when I say that my friends have been LIFE-GIVING to me. One friend and I regularly give each other heaps of grace for mothering our boys in particular; our beautiful, strong-willed, can-drive-us-to-the-brink-of-sanity boys. Another friend has adopted six times now and even though we’ve actually only hung out a handful of times, her transparency and perseverance inspire me daily to better love my own adopted son. I have one friend I’ve known all my life and can call anytime, who will speak Truth without a trace of judgment, like she did one night this past summer when I was staring down postpartum depression and could barely breathe through the tears.

Trust me, we don’t need to be “strong” to be good mothers, and we definitely don’t need to attempt to do this alone. Our DIY culture tells us we can do anything we want to all on our own, we just need to dig deep and work hard and muster up enough strength. We cannot allow motherhood to fall under this banner. We need each other! We need strong friendships with kind and brave women. We need women who can relate to us but also challenge us; women with whom we can be vulnerable and real even on our darkest days; and we need to be that woman for our friends. I am determined friendships are worth the time and effort to cultivate, and have a greater impact on our mothering than we can possibly imagine.

  1. Instead of financial stability, I need simple priorities.

Before I became a mother, I dreamt of shopping for cute little matching outfits, taking my kids to a new play or exhibit every week, enrolling them in music lessons, signing them up for their favorite sport, and planning trips so they’d grow up with a broad worldview.

Instead, 95% of what my kids wear are hand-me-downs from dear friends, they’ve never been to a museum, and the idea of enrolling them in expensive classes of any kind makes me flat-out laugh. And you know what? They’re some of the happiest kids you’ll ever meet.

Here’s what I’ve learned about money and toddlers: they really don’t need much to be content. Spending tons of money isn’t necessary to give them a great childhood. I’m slowly letting go of that picture-perfect version of my children in my head, and I’m realizing that simple priorities are what it’s all about. The hubs and I have a constantly changing, ongoing list of “things we really care about as parents” and “things we just can’t care about right now.” On the first list are things like feeding our kids healthy food (ours react very poorly to poor food choices, so the higher grocery bill is worth it), visiting family (no matter the current gas prices), and spending money on experiences vs. stuff (family days at the zoo or the movies throughout the year vs. lots of toys at Christmas).

Things that don’t matter so much to us right now? Birthday parties (they’re not my thing anyways, and until they’re old enough to actually have friends and long-term interests, I’m letting myself off the hook), memberships (until I’m no longer pushing a double stroller, at least), or classes (when they no longer change their mind about their favorite color every day, I might be able to trust them to choose a sport or instrument to stick with for a season!).

We do, however, go to the park every morning and know every playground in the area. We dance like crazy to music every afternoon and they’re learning to play the bowl drums with wooden spoons like champs. My 2 year old has one heck of a kick and I let them play soccer in the dining room (*gasp*). We read a ton of books (the library is free!), make a mess of art projects, and they love to help me mix things up in the kitchen.

They’re perfectly satisfied. I’m the one who struggles with being content. We as parents want to give our kids the best of the best, don’t we? What the Lord keeps showing me is that whatever He provides for us, is enough for them. Luke 12:22-34, do not be anxious, is one of my favorite passages when I’m tempted to worry about “enough.” Whatever’s in the bank account; whatever Christmas presents are under the tree; whatever is in the fridge or in the closet, it’s enough. He loves my children more than the sparrows and the lilies. He loves my children more than I do! He will provide for them.

Even so, some days it’s really hard. Raising small kids on a small budget takes intentionality, creativity, and sacrifice. But it’s doable, and has actually been less stressful in many ways. By sticking to a few simple priorities, I’m not constantly rearranging our schedule or worrying about the kids getting too worn out. Financial stability is something my husband and I will always strive for, of course, and we work hard for what we have; but having a large savings account is not the prerequisite for motherhood I always thought it was.

  1. Instead of spiritual maturity, I need daily direction from Him.

When I had my first daughter, I let my quiet times completely fall by the wayside. I think a lot of new mothers do. I could barely function in those early newborn days, and as a result spent way less time reading my Bible and writing in my prayer journal than I had in years.

It was easy to excuse it away. I had the best excuse in the book, after all: a new baby! God understood! Articles I read and even well-meaning friends encouraged this train of thought: “Don’t be so hard on yourself! Long quiet times are simply a thing of the past. Read when you can, pray when you can, and let yourself off the hook. It’s just a season of life.” So I clung to this idea that my personal spiritual growth had to take back burner for awhile.

And I suffered because of it.

An advent devotional I’m going through this month worded it perfectly:

“We can’t just take one deep breath and hold it, right? We can’t just breathe in the Lord and run fast. But that is what the holiday season looks like for so many of us. We take one deep breath at church on Sunday, or one deep breath if we had a good family moment, and then we run hard through everything else—shopping and lists and to-dos and crafts and all the other things, and we forget to breathe in again… I think we want to breathe in every day, I think we want to take time every day to stop and say, ‘God, how do you want to change me? How do you want to grow me? What do you want me to do? What do you want me to NOT do?” (Jess Connolly, Videos, Week 1 Advent Teaching, http://www.makeroomforadvent.com).

Substitute “holiday season” for “newborn season” and “shopping and lists” for “diapers and feedings” and you have exactly how I felt in those early motherhood days… like I was holding my breath and running hard, never stopping to take a breath. The thing is, as a mom, I need more time with the Lord than ever, not less! I need His wisdom all the more because my responsibility as a mother is all the greater. I need His grace all the more because I fail all the more often.

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

The truth is I get this motherhood thing wrong far more often than I get it right, and daily fight temptation to be lazy, stressed, and ungrateful; to complain, yell, and ignore. If I’m not coming to His throne of grace daily, minute-by-minute even, and asking His forgiveness, then odds are I’m wasting time stewing in denial or guilt. And then when my kids behave the same way, I am so much harsher on them. But when I’m actively receiving His grace regularly? It becomes that much easier to extend grace to them.

Four years into motherhood with four “excuses” running around, and I need His Word, His grace, and His direction more than ever before in my life. One quiet time in the morning doesn’t even cut it, because my tank isn’t just empty by the end of the day—it runs dry midmorning, when my eldest throws his third fit of the day. Then it runs dry again at 4:45 pm when they’re done with me and done with each other and I’m at my wit’s end and where the heck is your father?! Sometimes it runs dry in that witching hour between dinner and bedtime and I have to excuse myself to the bathroom for just two minutes of prayer.

We can’t rely on our supposed storehouses of spiritual maturity from years past of spending time with God to get us through the draining days of motherhood. We need more time in the Word as mothers, not less. Sure, it may look less like hour-long in-depth uninterrupted Bible study, and more like some Bible reading here, a praise CD there, some Scripture memory during naptime, and some prayer in the evening. The logistics don’t matter, as long as we remember: He can only fill us up if we come to the table.

I believe He wants to guide us to life-giving friendships. I believe He can help us simplify our priorities and find contentment. I believe He will heap on our heads grace upon grace when we are failing and breathless on this journey of motherhood.

So come to the table. Breathe in. He has all you need.

3 Ways to Fight for Gratitude When Your Heart is Heavy

day 5

I of all people should have no trouble coming up with a post on the topic of gratitude.

My life is filled to the brim with more blessings than I could ever deserve. This year our family has completed the adoption of our eldest son and welcomed a healthy new baby girl. My husband and I have a solid marriage, four beautiful children, and an incredible family, group of friends, and church body. We’ve been able to pursue great educations, we have our health, and there is always enough food on the table.

So it’s been puzzling me why, in light of all these and countless other real and wonderful blessings, I’ve been having trouble getting into the holiday spirit this year.

I normally count down the days! I usually can’t wait for these weeks to come, when we gather together with our loved ones to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the New Year. The recipe-making, gift-shopping, decorating, singing, eating, resting… it’s a busy season to be sure, but one that typically fills me up with joy.

“What’s wrong with me?” I’ve been wondering. “Where’s my enthusiasm? I have so much to be grateful for, this year of all years. Why am I not more excited than ever to celebrate?”

Then yesterday afternoon, during a rare quiet moment of overlapping naptimes, I began scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed and it hit me.

The world is deeply hurting.

And I can’t help but hurt on its behalf.

On an international scale there has been devastation of all kinds in recent months. Acts of terrorism. Fatal natural disasters. A massive refugee crisis. And these just name a few. Across the globe innocent people are being attacked and murdered, while thousands more die of starvation, dehydration, and treatable diseases. People are aching for help, for hope. Many will die without receiving either.

On a national scale, even right here in my city, there is immense suffering too. Families who have endured years of horrific conditions in refugee camps and are finally arriving on American soil, are having to start all over with a new language in a new land surrounded by terrified people who do not want them here. Others have lived here all of their lives but are living paycheck to paycheck, just one bill away from eviction and homelessness. Still more are just kids, innocent and confused, holding the hand of their assigned social worker back and forth between parental visits, court appointments, and nights spent in a home not their own while they wonder, “what did I do wrong?”

guy fog download

And in my own circle, amongst my own people, there is confusion and sadness, anger and grief. I have loved ones battling cancer; struggling with addiction; waiting with aching hearts for the blue double lines to finally appear. Many have had curveballs thrown at them and are trying to regain their footing. Most know that God is near and He is good, but at the moment, it doesn’t feel like either is true.

So last night as I tucked my children into their warm beds in spacious separate rooms filled with more toys than they could ever play with, I couldn’t help but think of the mothers across the globe that were rationing out the last of the rice, unsure of what they were going to eat tomorrow. It felt so unfair.

After having mulled over these things all day, stuffing down the emotions they brought, that thought undid me.

I collapsed onto the couch next to my husband and just began weeping. The kind of weeping that is ugly and uncontrollable, that takes over your body and your mind until the emotions that you’ve pent up for so long have swept through you from head to toe. It felt like I’d been carrying around a weight of all my sin and unworthiness, coupled with the pain others were enduring and my inability to control any of it… and I finally let it crush me.

I might be wrong, but I’m thinking surely, I’m not alone. I’m thinking you, too, have probably been carrying around this same kind of stuff lately. Asking the same questions, “why them, and not me?” and “why would you allow that, God?”

My husband, in his kindness and wisdom, just listened and let me cry. He knew what we all know: that there are no easy answers to these questions, no neat-and-tidy solutions to the problems the world is facing. Then after giving me the comfort I needed in the moment, he gave me the space I needed to process afterwards. Below are three of the main things God showed me in the stillness of the night last night as I searched His Word for clarity and hope.

Here are three ways we can fight for gratitude when our hearts are heavy:

  1. Let’s grieve, and let our hurt prompt us to pray.

In times like these I’m tempted to retreat and quit watching the news altogether. I used to give myself permission to do this because my personality was hypersensitive/the news is biased anyway/what good would it do to get all emotional about it? But one look at Jesus and my pitiful attempts at self-preservation are exposed for what they are: selfish. He did not remain stoic or avoid emotional distress, but rather grieved when the situation called for it. Over and over again we see examples of this:

“When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. And he said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ Jesus wept.” John 11:33-35

 “And when he drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace!’” Luke 19:41-42a

“And he took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be greatly distressed and troubled. And he said to them, ‘My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.’ And going a little farther, he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him.” Mark 14:33-35

So let’s follow Christ’s lead and let our hearts be wrecked when others’ hearts are wrecked, however hard that may be. Then let us immediately go to God, giving thanks whatever the circumstances (1 Thessalonians 5:18), and asking Him to work and heal and move. In the same way we love for our children to come to us with every skinned knee and scraped elbow, our Father loves when His children cry out to Him with our needs, our hurts, our pleas. And God promises that when we refuse to be anxious, but instead go to Him in prayer and thanksgiving, that then

“…the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).

  1. Let’s remember that He gives and takes away, and let it prompt us to store up our treasures in heaven and not on earth.

“The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21b

If there were anyone who had an excuse not to be thankful, who had a free pass on the whole gratitude thing because of the immense loss he had suffered, it would be Job. Yet we see that immediately after he learned that he’d lost everything he held dear, his possessions and livelihood and even his ten children, his response was one of worship and recognition that God and God alone was in control of his life. We sing these words set to music in church on Sundays, but do we let the gravity of them truly sink in?

Everything we own, all that we see and feel and hold so dearly—our possessions, money, health, even our friends and family—belong to God (Psalm 24:1). He gave them to us and He has all the power to take them away if He so chooses. So instead of gripping so tightly to our things; instead of mourning what we may have recently lost; instead of making wish lists and stressing out about Christmas shopping, what if we shifted our focus to laying up our treasures in heaven instead (Matthew 6:19-21)? What if we regarded our things as what they truly are—just things—and gave our full attention to loving God and loving people (Matthew 22:37-40)? I think we would find that we’d be a lot more generous with our possessions, and a lot more content, as the early church was:

“And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” Acts 2:44-47

  1. Let’s give thanks for what cannot be shaken, and let it prompt us to tell others the Good News.

“Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken…” Hebrews 12:28a

I don’t know what you are going through as you read this. I don’t know what your Thanksgiving was like yesterday. I don’t know what’s been keeping you up late at night, what’s been dominating your prayers as of late, or weighing on your heart so heavy you think it might break.

But I do know this: if you are a believer, then you have hope. If you have trusted God with your life, then you have salvation from every sin that tries to ensnare you, and that salvation is found in the person of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit. No matter what this life may bring, we are promised an eternal life in the presence of God when we pass from this world to the next. His kingdom cannot be shaken!

We as Christians do not have all the answers to all the world’s problems. But we do have what matters most: the Gospel, the ultimate Good News, that Christ lived a perfect life, died for our sins, and rose on the third day conquering death. This trumps anything else we have to offer. Salvation through Christ alone is the only Truth that can change people’s lives forever.

So this holiday season, as I fight for gratitude with a sometimes-heavy heart, I will let my grief prompt me to pray for the nations.

I will remember that my things are not my own, and will be ready and willing to be generous with what God has entrusted me with to help others in need.

But above all, I will recognize that what matters most is the Truth that can change people’s lives, and I will share it with everyone the Lord puts in my path.


French Bread

(my momma’s recipe; can be made into rolls, loaves of bread, pizza crust, pigs in a blanket—it’s the simplest, best all-around homemade bread recipe you could ever find!)

1 ¾ c. warm water (not hot!)
2 pkg. dry yeast
2 T sugar
2 tsp. salt
2 T oil
4 ¾-5 ¼ c. flour

Combine warm water and yeast in large mixing bowl; add sugar and let sit for 10 minutes. Stir in salt and oil; add 3 c. flour with wooden spoon; stir in the rest and knead for 5 minutes. Remove dough and spray canola oil spray inside mixing bowl; return dough to the bowl; flip dough so that the top is thinly covered in oil; cover bowl with thin kitchen towel and let rise 1 ½-2 hours. Shape into whatever you’re wanting; let rise another 15-30 minutes for maximum softness; bake at 400* for 10+ minutes depending on shape. HUGE crowd pleaser and will go great with Thanksgiving leftovers!


Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author

SARAH TARLETON

I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

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Should Christian Women Join Multi-Level Marketing Companies?

I want to talk about this because it… because I…

…actually, honestly?

I don’t want to talk about it.

photo-1436262513933-a0b06755c784

It would be so much easier not to broach this subject, not to stir these waters. I wish I could close my laptop right now and go about my evening, all calm and quiet and kid-free, as ALL FOUR of our children are asleep and it’s not yet 8 pm (which is, let’s just say it, a miracle of God). I would so much rather crack open a new book, or Netflix Gilmore Girls for the twelfth time (can you say REBOOT *praise hands*).

The thing is, I have heaps of friends to potentially offend with this post.

And not just any friends. Friends whom I love and respect and admire. You, reading this, are more than likely one of them. I have been gifted with incredible friendships in all of my circles—church, MOPS, seminary, social media—and fully recognize that I am surrounded by some of the most kind-hearted, whip-smart, talented, passionate, amazing women this world has ever seen. You cherish Jesus, you love your families fiercely, and you teach me so much about the Gospel every single day. You have prayed me through some dark postpartum days; supported me through an adoption that knocked the breath out of me countless times; brought me meals, watched my kids, let me cry and vent and process. You have stayed my friend when I wasn’t being a very good one to you back, and I fully recognize what a gift that is. The last thing in the world I want to do, is hurt you.

Please hear my heart. Please don’t forget this as you continue reading. Please reread this last paragraph if you get the urge to wring my neck in a few minutes.

There’s just this nagging feeling in my gut, and it won’t let me close my laptop. The Holy Spirit won’t let me go on this one, so I’m diving into this out of concern for my sisters in Christ. I believe this is too important an issue, affecting too many women, for me to sit on my hands and say nothing.

So here I go.

Over the last few years I have been increasingly curious about all these business opportunities I’ve seen my friends join and promote on Facebook. Because that’s where it began for me, curiosity: “where’d she get those cute tote bags?” and “I wonder if those oils actually work?” and of course “DANG she’s lost a lot of weight, how on earth did she do that?” But because my husband is currently in seminary, and because we have several small children, and because I’m currently staying at home with them full-time (a true blessing that I am grateful for)… money is TIGHT. I’m talking Spanx, ladies. So I never signed up for anything, never bought any nails or candles, because no matter how cute they were or how persuasive my friend was, if I could barely afford diapers for my babies that week, I sure as heck couldn’t afford a manicure (even if it did promise to last for weeks!). I’m just being honest here.

Over time, I admit, my curiosity grew into annoyance. My Facebook feed became flooded with pictures of neon lettering over products and hefty claims, even promises, that drew out my inner skeptic. I just wanted to see how their Christmas was, ya know? Wanted to check up on those cute kids of theirs, or see if they’d graduated yet. What I didn’t want was another thing to say “no” to.

Then I discovered the “unfollow” button. Cue sunbeams shining through the clouds accompanied by angelic harmonies here. I could keep all my friends and even stalk check up on them when I wanted to, without any bother to them or me. Simple. Harmless. Click. Done.

Except it wasn’t “done.”

I still got private messages and invites to groups and parties on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. And I couldn’t shake my questions about MLMs (Multi-Level Marketing, or Network Marketing, which I’ll just refer to as MLMs from now on for simplicity’s sake). How did they really work? I casually Google-d around a little and got massively conflicting info. Were my friends actually making money, or was it just a hobby? I asked a few and got generally positive, but always vague, responses. Was I missing something here? Was I missing out by not joining in? Was my skepticism unfounded?

One dear friend and I talked about it for hours one trip this summer, just two girls pro and con-ing the night away, swapping stories and our limited understandings. One of her friends had recently made legitimately large amounts of money after signing up and becoming a distributor through her chosen company, one that specialized in health products including supplements that my friend had personally tried and liked. “That’s it,” I thought, “I’ve got to get to the bottom of this. I’m tired of being confused.”

So I started researching. I read huge chunks of books full of business terms I could barely comprehend. I listened to hour-long podcasts of conversations between finance experts. I stayed up late digging through dozens of articles and documents on websites both proclaiming the “opportunities” and the “dangers” of MLMs, respectively. I even posted a status on my personal Facebook page in order to test my theories and better understand my MLM-loving friends’ points of view. And in order not to leave a stone unturned, I specifically did research on the MLM that had most intrigued me personally, and on supplements and probiotics and gut flora and immune systems, even talking to my doctor and getting her take on the whole thing.

I’ve listed my strongest sources at the end of this post, but here’s the bottom line of what I’ve found:

  • Less than 1% of MLM participants make a profit. That means over 99% end up losing money instead of making it. This doesn’t even factor in the number of hours worked and effectively wasted by lack of compensation.
  • This is because MLMs are inherently flawed by design to purposefully over-hire salespeople, who then attempt to recruit even more salespeople, all selling the same products to a quickly over-saturated market. They are designed to exploit vulnerable people to become buyers and distributors so that those in the far upper tiers make the money while those in the bottom tiers work with little to no success… because most likely, by the time they sign up, the market is well past the point of over-saturation (in other words, people have long since heard about the product and are no longer interested).
  • And in order to keep over-saturation at bay, MLM companies continue to formulate new products for the express purpose of stirring up new interest and keeping their lower-tiered distributors from leaving. Most of the new products are unnecessary, untested, and/or overpriced, but people keep buying because of the newness factor and loud-but-unsupported claims and promises.

Now, I do not have a business degree, and I am no expert, not by any stretch of the imagination. I’m not pretending for one second that I have all the answers. But this fundamentally flawed business model, as limited as my understanding of it is, deeply concerns me, especially as a Christian woman. Especially as a friend to so many Christian women who have signed up to be a part of this business model, who are investing precious time and money. And while MLMs tend to target women’s emotions, Scripture is clear that the Lord desperately wants us to use the minds He’s given us to make wise decisions to please Him.

“Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance,” Proverbs 1:5

“Be sober-minded; be watchful.” 1 Peter 5:8

“Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord.” Ephesians 5:8-10

These are just a few of many, many instances in Scripture where we are told, commanded even to be wise. To be prudent. To be discerning, constantly learning, ever humble in our search for the truth in all things.

So instead of rattling off answers I do not have, may I ask you some questions instead? May I simply challenge you to think about this, really research and dig for yourself, perhaps for the first time? Whether you’ve been a part of an MLM for years or have never even really heard or thought about them, I believe you’re reading this for a reason.

As a Christian woman, is being a part of this MLM…

 …a wise investment of your time? Whether you’re a distributor, consumer, or have just been invited to a Facebook party to learn about a product, have you prayed about whether it’s something God wants you to spend your time on? As women today our time fills up so stinkin’ quickly with the many relationships and responsibilities we juggle. And as Christian women, our time is God’s, ultimately—so we should carefully consider every invitation, activity, and opportunity that comes our way.

…a wise investment of your money? Again, all that we own is the Lord’s. Scripture says we are merely stewards of everything He’s given us, including our money (Psalm 24:1-2). Have you researched whether or not the MLM product you’re already involved in or are interested in is worth the financial investment? Have you weighed whether it’s worth the financial risk? Have you asked God whether or not He’d prefer that money to go elsewhere? Perhaps you’ve found yourself wishing you could help a ministry, help fund a mission opportunity, help support a family member or friend in need, but are unable to do so currently due to the portion of your budget that goes toward the MLM. Or have you asked yourself if the product is all that it claims to be? Have you distinguished between your needs vs. desires?

…worth the risk of potential alienation of others? Have you thought about how many friends might have “unfollowed” you since you began network marketing, or will if you join? Are you willing to risk friendships because they feel you value their money and their network more than you value them? Have you thought about whether or not your involvement could potentially hinder your witness for Christ? Is it worth the risk of potentially alienating others when 99% won’t ever see a profit?

…worth the temptations it brings? Have you found yourself mentally spending the money you’ve been promised to make before you’ve actually gotten a paycheck? Have you found yourself simply concerned with yourself more? Have you experienced any guilt or doubts along the way? Have you gotten to the root of those feelings? Have you found yourself finding your identity in the MLM more so than in Christ? Are you making sacrifices for the MLM that you think you’ll regret?

…the best way I can help support my family financially? I know from experience how hard it can be when times are tight. Have you prayed about whether or not God actually wants you to help support your family? Have you asked Him whether instead He may want to grow your faith and teach you full reliance on Him to provide? If you know you do need to help support your family, is joining an MLM the best way to do that? Is it the most dependable, immediate source of income you could be bringing in? Is it income you can be proud of?

For me, personally, the answer is no; MLMs and the products they sell are not a wise investment of my money or my time; they are not worth the risk of alienating others, or the temptations they would bring me; and in this current season God has made it abundantly clear to us that my husband’s income, while modest, is sufficient for us to live on. I don’t believe MLMs represent an honorable business model. The vast majority of the products they market are unnecessary to my life, and the few that I would be interested in, I have found equivalents to elsewhere that suit me just fine.

After months of research and prayer, questions and confusion, I am grateful to finally have clarity and peace concerning my own decision not to join any MLM.

I am concerned, however, for my sisters in Christ. I am broken-hearted for the regret some of them have over what they’ve sacrificed. I am discouraged when I think of all their good intentions ending in frustration and waste. Yet I believe we are a brilliant, talented, wise generation of women that God has incredible plans for, and that He works all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

I genuinely hope you have clarity and peace concerning these things as well, whatever your conclusions. I pray you pursue wisdom and truth above all.

Recommended resources:


 

Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author

SARAH TARLETON

I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

When I’m Tempted to be a Drama Queen

I’ve been reading through the Gospels lately because I’ve been feeling an identity crisis coming on.

I get identity crises like I get colds: a few times a year, some worse and longer than others, and usually when the weather’s changing and I haven’t been doing a good job of health maintenance. I should totally see them coming by now, but I’m the world’s slowest learner so I can never connect the dots in time to stave them off. One morning it’s, “I don’t feel so great,” and by evening all the symptoms have set in and I just want to crawl in bed and cry because everything is AWFUL and I’ve NEVER felt this way before and I’m NEVER GONNA BE OKAY AGAIN.

(I’m clearly super calm in the face of crisis, and not a hypochondriac AT ALL, OKAY.)

You know what I’m talking about though, right? Maybe it’s set off by a comment someone made, a change at your job, a new baby (holla), an unexpected bill (ahem), or even just a lull in life when things aren’t awful but aren’t particularly great either, and you’re just getting through each week. Whatever prompts it, your sense of identity just gets shaken, and you start feeling more unsure of yourself. You begin to overanalyze and doubt your choices, are confused about your purpose, and, in general, are simply more insecure than usual about who you are and whether what you’re doing even matters.

I’ve learned that the best thing for me to do when I start to forget who I am, is to momentarily drop whatever Bible reading plan I’m doing and switch over to a Gospel.

I call it “stop, drop, and Jesus.”

(Not really, but I so will now.)

A college professor forever changed the way I read the gospels. I was taking an intro New Testament course at a small conservative school, and one of our first assignments was to read the four books in the following order: Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. We were to read them slowly and intentionally, taking notes chapter by chapter, specifically paying attention to the different author’s writing styles and unique observations of Jesus, then turn in our lists of findings along with a summary of what we’d learned.

Like all college freshmen I followed the syllabus to a T, paid close attention to the prof’s frequent reminders, and completed the assignment ahead of schedule with no stress involved whatsoever.

And by that I mean I procrastinated the entire thing and crammed all four books in one weekend.

But looking back, I’m so glad it worked out that way. The previous semester had been hard – full of changes and adjustments. I was 17, didn’t have a car or even a driver’s license, and was feeling homesick for my family who was an ocean away in Russia. I had chosen a college in a town where I knew no one, my high school boyfriend and I were doing the long distance thing (I’m looking at you, Stud), and I was trying to get plugged into a church and make friends and choose a major and go through culture shock all at once. Everything was overwhelming, even though almost all of it was good stuff, great stuff even. But I felt a little lost, and was constantly second-guessing myself.

Then on the perfect quiet weekend, I hid in a corner of the library to start the assignment I’d been putting off for weeks, and I started reading Mark. Themes like Jesus’ patience, especially in contrast to the people’s pitiful tendency to doubt and forget even the most remarkable things, kept popping up. Mark was action-oriented, unafraid of repetition, simply concerned with writing what happened as he witnessed it and oh, how much he witnessed! It flew by, and when I began reading Matthew I immediately felt the difference in pace. While they both covered many of the same stories, Matthew seemed so much more concerned with why Jesus said what He did. There were more and longer chapters, and he included more information about Jesus’ history than Mark did, including his genealogy, birth, and escape to Egypt.

The more I read, the more Jesus was becoming real to me, and less of a character of the stories I’d learned as a child. I’d been reading for hours by now, and had hardly noticed that the library was about to close. I headed back to my dorm room mulling over the details of the miracles and parables, and the next morning I opened up to Luke without even crawling out of bed first. I was hooked.

Luke was similar to Matthew in many ways, but I loved that he included unique details of Jesus’ origins like the beautiful visit of the pregnant mothers of Jesus and John the Baptist, and glimpse of Jesus as a young boy. By the time I got to John I thought I couldn’t love Jesus any more—and couldn’t have been more wrong. John read so differently. He wasn’t just a follower of Jesus, a describer of events—he loved Jesus with his whole heart, and that deep relationship was evident in every word. Stories the other three gospels included, John left out entirely, and in their place were longer monologues of Jesus, conversations we’d never know about if John hadn’t written them for us, and an entirely different tone in Jesus’ voice altogether.

I was profoundly changed by that project. I hate that it took an assignment to force me to really dive into the life of Jesus, but I will be forever grateful for it. I felt as if someone had re-introduced me to my Savior. All four perspectives gave me different things to appreciate about the life and words of Christ, and that weekend I felt a renewed sense of my identity. I was His disciple, saved by His gospel, and I no longer wanted to live my life overwhelmed by the world—I simply wanted Him.

I can’t recommend reading through these four books in this manner enough. Every time I do it the Lord reveals new things to me about His Son and His story. Details pop out in a way they never did before because I’m in a different season of life each time, learning new things and needing specific truths to pierce my heart and spur me on to action.

Please don’t get me wrong: 2 Timothy 3:16 is clear, “ALL Scripture is God-breathed” [emphasis added], and is timeless and true. None of its 66 books are more or less important than any other, and I personally don’t love when Bibles print Jesus’ words in red letters, because I believe that every word is valuable and true, useful and good. If you’re going through a tough time, God very well may have perfectly mapped out your Bible reading plan to include a word that addresses exactly what you need to hear on exactly the right day. I love it when He does that, and it happens to me often.

My point is simply this: all of Scripture points to Jesus already. So what do you do when that identity crisis creeps up? Or when the storms start to hit and your inner compass is shaky and you can’t find due north? Cling to Christ.

Because I don’t care if you think it’s a cliché, it’s true: Jesus is always, always the answer.

Remember His life, His humility, His compassion. Immerse yourself in the stories of His patience with the little children, with those maddening Pharisees, even patience with His own disciples who just didn’t seem to get it no matter how many times He spelled it out for them: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life.” Watch how He intentionally carved out time to pray to our Father, and laugh at His calm, wise questions in the face of those who would bring Him down (as if).

Let the saga of His brief, but perfect, life, undeserved murder, and glorious resurrection amaze you. Let it break your heart and heal it all over again. Let it remind you of your true identity: co-heirs with Christ. Dearly beloved disciples. Brothers and sisters of the Savior, who are promised both persecution and an eternal reward beyond what we can fathom.

“O righteous Father, even though the world does not know you, I know you, and these know that you have sent me. I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” John 17:25-26 ESV

 


 

Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author

SARAH TARLETON

I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

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Adoption Aftermath: Do I Have To Wait 40 Years in the Desert?

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Note: As you know, this week we’ve celebrated the first anniversary of GLOW: Live As Light! I am so proud of my friends and fellow contributors, and the faithfulness and vulnerability they’ve demonstrated week after week for a full year is truly inspiring to me. I am honored to be joining the team, especially in such an exciting season, right at the start of a fresh year. As this is only my second post, I don’t yet have memories to share regarding this beautiful corner of the internet—so I’m just diving on in to what God has laid on my heart this week to write about. And that is what GLOW means to me: a chance to use my gifts to encourage others by pointing to Him. After all, it’s only through Him that we can “Live As Light.” –Sarah

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A year ago our friend and children’s pastor Dave asked my husband and I if we would write something about our son Luc’s adoption story for the newsletter. We said yes! Of course! We’d love to! We’d be honored!

Then we promptly never wrote the article.

A few months later we apologized for our initial hastiness and asked if we could wait until the adoption was finalized, as things were still rocky and messy and the paperwork process grew more complicated by the minute. Emotions were raw and it was hard to see with any clarity what exactly God was teaching us, where this story was taking us, what the happy ending was going to look like. Then this past January, praise be to God, the adoption was finalized and our son, 4 ½ years old at the time, officially became Timothy Luc Tarleton. After having known and loved him for over 3 years, he is ours, legally and completely.

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But guess what? Eight months later, we still haven’t written the article. And it’s not that we’re too busy or too lazy. It’s that we don’t know what to say.

Because things are still rocky. Still very messy. Emotions still charge through this house every day with great force.

Yes, in one very real sense of the word we have gotten a “happy ending” in that Luc is ours forever after years of prayer and work. And we don’t take that lightly, I promise you, as we know many fellow adoptive families are currently enduring the agony of waiting to bring their children home. But in another, equally real sense, it is continually sinking in that with adoption comes great trauma, and that trauma isn’t over just because we stood before a judge and changed the name on our son’s birth certificate.

The hard work of helping him through the trauma is only beginning.

Y’all, it is hard. My husband and I agree without hesitation that adopting our son has been the hardest thing we’ve faced in our nearly six years of marriage. I struggle with what and how much to share, as I want to be honest and convey the depth of the difficulty that is adoption aftermath, while still respecting my son and his story.

Let’s put it like this: what has made adoption so difficult for us was not the years of praying confused prayers, wrestling with God over what on earth He had planned for that beautiful little boy’s future, wanting desperately for it to include us but not being sure.

It wasn’t the fight itself, either: the hard conversations with his birth parents, the hiring of the lawyer, the ugliness of the battle, the laying down our pride to raise funds and ask for help.

Nor was it his initial introduction and attachment to us, although that too took months of reading books, consulting seasoned veterans, even sacrificing time to take a nine-week adoption class to figure out how to best embrace and welcome him into our family.

That all was hard, but it doesn’t hold a candle to the aftermath.

On a daily basis we fight to keep composure through explosive tantrums, recurring nightmares, and constant refusal to obey our family rules. We continually question how to both discipline and give grace when there are recurring attempts to manipulate and lie to us. We have to be emotionally ready to answer whatever question pops into his mind concerning his past caregivers and homes, and just take it when he says he wants to go back. We are continually changing our schedules, our home, and our commitments to accommodate his needs. We repeat ourselves over and over, day after day, the same verses about loving God, loving others, and having no fear—because repetition is supposed to work with kids, right? We celebrate breakthroughs, but they are so fleeting, so few and far between, we sometimes look at each other and can’t help but wonder: will he ever get it?

What makes it so hard right now is the day in and day out of it all; the never-ending reminders we must give him in all forms that he is ours, and he is loved.

Showing our son unconditional love, gaining his trust, and helping him heal from past wounds: these are things that we will be wrestling with for the rest of our lives.

But oh, the flip side.

Luc is teaching us more about God’s love than we could’ve ever imagined.

One recent night in particular, I was thinking back on the difficulty I’d had that day to mother Luc well. Nope. That sounds too poetic. Reality? Adam was out of town, and by 8 pm I had barely scraped through Luc’s bedtime routine, and at 8:01 I climbed into my own—tears stinging, throat tight—and reached for my Bible in desperation.

I usually turn to a familiar passage when I need immediate comfort from God’s Word; Psalm 33, Isaiah 40, Philippians 4, something like that. But that night I opened to Genesis and just started scanning the headers and names as they leapt out. And let me tell you something, the Old Testament came alive for me that night.

All those Bible stories I’d learned as a little girl, with the felt boards and the coloring pages and the VBS songs… those roots had held, and I saw it so clearly. The nation of Israel never stopped pushing their boundaries, questioning and running from God. But God never stopped pursuing His people. Because we are His, and we are loved.

And suddenly, it was like a bag of microwave popcorn started popping in my head.

Abraham! Lies to Pharaoh about his wife being his sister in Genesis 20. After all that God’s done for him, he’s still unable to trust that God will take care of him, so he resorts to lying.

Jacob! Tricks his father Isaac in Genesis 27. He selfishly takes matters into his own hands, manipulating and deceiving to try and get what he wants.

 The people of Israel: construct a golden calf idol to worship in place of God in Exodus 32. Impatience. Arrogance. Quick disobedience despite clear instruction.

 The Israelites again: repeatedly complain to Moses they want to go back to Egypt as in Exodus 16 and Numbers 11. Back to Egypt? After all you went through? Really?

 David. Isaiah. Questions, questions, questions.

And God repeats Himself over and over, day after day, the same truths about loving God, loving others, and having no fear:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” Deuteronomy 6:5

“Love your neighbor as yourself.” Leviticus 19:18

“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

Obey my commandments. Be careful. Listen to me. Over and over He pleads with them.

Will they ever get it?!

I’m worked up at this point, flipping pages wildly, in awe of how similarly they behave, my relentless wild child and that stubborn bunch of Israelites. “I get it, God!” I proudly say aloud. “How frustrating to have to save them time and time again! How stupid, how arrogant they are!”

And then He lays down the hammer.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” Jeremiah 31:3

Luc is not Israel, and you, Sarah—you are not Me. There is nothing everlasting about your love. You ebb and flow. You have so much to learn about faithfulness.

YOU are Israel. I AM THAT I AM.

Humility floods over me. The Words pierce through my cloud of anger, and a vivid memory slices through of my yelling at Luc earlier that day. Of sharp words in place of kind ones. Of my own impatience. My own arrogance. My questioning, endless questioning, why did He entrust me with him? How does He think I can handle him? Why was I chosen to be his mother, when I fail so often, so badly?

And the Truth washes over me.

Because I am His, and I am loved.

No matter how much of an emotional train wreck I am. No matter how many times I fail. He will never stop pursuing me, loving me, fighting for my trust.

And I will never stop pursuing Luc.

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It was a gorgeous Saturday, and we spent all morning outside. Luc is in his element when he is out of doors. It’s like he breathes more easily; he can stretch and climb, run, yell, and explore to his heart’s content. Without the confines of walls and chairs and a million don’t-touch-that’s threatening to suffocate him, his big personality can finally shine. We came outside that morning with all this in mind.

But that day, he didn’t rush off in search for the perfect stick with which to explore, like he usually does. He didn’t jump on his bike, or bother with the chalk. He went to a bush, and brought me this little bunch of pink flowers.

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And then another.

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And then another.

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There are no perfect days, but there sure are beautiful moments. God has given me a unique chance to instill His love into Luc’s life. I choose to relentlessly pursue my son just as my Father relentlessly pursues me. No matter how long it takes.

 


 

Family of 6 portraitAbout the Author

SARAH TARLETON

I am a disciple of Christ, wife to a handsome M.Div. student who loves to preach, and momma to four 5-and-under precious, feisty kiddos who each have their own hashtag on my instagram (#nerdalert). The hubs and I actually met as MKs in Moscow, Russia, and the six years I spent living overseas in Europe and Asia gave me an unquenchable love of traveling, as well as a fierce desire to live my life looking at people through His eyes and loving them with His compassion. In this season of life my days are spent quizzing my husband with Greek flashcards, playing dress-up with my kids as a stay-at-home mom, cooking homemade meals for starving seminary students as dorm mom, and helping lead the MOPS group at my church in Fort Worth, Texas. In between I read a lot of books, take a lot of pictures, and constantly rearrange our furniture.

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