Category: God & Life

Opposite Day

I love the fruit of the spirit. In the Bible, we are given a list of characteristics that the Holy Spirit is supposed to produce in us. These characteristics are the Fruit of the Spirit. They are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.

I love this part of the Bible because it gives me a clear goal for what I should be working towards as a follower of Christ. I should be living in such a way, and inviting the Holy Spirit into my life on a daily basis, so that these traits are visible in my life.

But sometimes, I think it’s easy to see a list like this and think that it seems too unattainable. I’ll never be a person who embodies all of these traits all of the time. It can be somewhat discouraging.

One thing I like to do to combat that is to look at the opposites of these words. When I frame it in this way, as a list of things I should avoid being and doing, it can actually make it easier to pursue these traits in my life. For example, instead of thinking “I need to love everyone,” I can think “I need to turn away from hate.” It feels so much more attainable when I think of it in that way.

 

Love.
Fight against hate and apathy.

Joy.
Say no to despair and discontent.

Peace.
Reject fear and anxiety.

Patience.
Don’t be easily provoked, or impatient.

Kindness.
Refuse to be rude or inconsiderate.

Goodness.
Be an enemy of evil behavior and cruelty.

Gentleness.
Avoid harshness and violence.

Faithfulness.
Despise disloyalty. Don’t give up.

Self-Control.
Choose not to be impulsive. Do battle against addiction, rage, and laziness.

 

While opposites don’t convey the complete mission we are given with these Fruits of the Spirit, they are a solid place to start. These are the things I am working toward today, with God’s spirit working in me.

Judging Judges

Christians generally love to say that the Bible is a beautiful book, a love story, where Jesus is present throughout. And while I believe that it true in many respects, I also have to challenge the idea that the Bible is always encouraging and refreshing to those who read it. At times, it can be downright horrifying.

I’ve been reading through the Old Testament, and I recently finished the book of Judges. Throughout my time reading through this book and all of the previous books in the OT, I’ve struggled a lot with God’s Word. The fact of the matter is that there are a lot of horrible things in these books; truthfully, I have found most of it to be either horrific or pointless in terms of applicability to modern life. Trudging through these sections has not been easy.

I’ve read about hundreds of thousands of human lives brutally taken, often in battles over territory, greed, or personal disputes. I’ve read about the slaughter of innocent children, and animals. I’ve read about rape, women being forced into “marriage,” incest, and prostitution. Many of these events were seemingly accepted, condoned, or even ordered by God. Frankly, I find it impossible to swallow.

What am I to make of all of this violence and disgusting human behavior? What am I to make of a God who not only allows, but at times instructs his followers to do such things?

The honest answer is that I don’t know. The honest answer is that I don’t understand.

And yet, I have chosen to continue to have faith in my God. I choose to trust in Jesus, who lived a life of love, and who died for love of me. I choose to trust in a God who has protected, guided, and provided for me all my life.

Sometimes, it seems that the God I know and the God of the Bible are two different people. But I know that the harder truth is that they are the same God; He is just a God that I do not fully understand, because I am human, and he is so far beyond me.

A God that cannot be put into simple terms actually makes perfect sense. If God was a human construct, he would be understandable, easy to put in a box. But God is not created by humans on our terms, we are created by Him on His terms. Sometimes (often), that means we don’t understand him.

My prayer today is that God can work in my heart and mind to help me surrender to the not-understanding. As a logical, thoughtful, reasoning type of person, I find this incredibly challenging. I am challenged to be humble, to accept that I can’t control God, or force him into my parameters of understanding. I must learn to surrender to him fully, to let go of my pride, to let go of my control.

Perhaps, for me, this is the whole purpose of these books in the Bible. They bring me to a place of surrender to God, a place where I must admit that I don’t have the answers. This is the place where I have to simply close my eyes and trust him. When I do, I know that I will find peace in my savior’s love. This is exactly where he wants me to be.

 

What’s Your Golden Cow?

What is the most important thing in your life? What do you spend your time, energy, thoughts, and money on? If you’re a Christian, is your answer Jesus? I think all of us have room to grow in this area, me included.

As believers, we are called to put God first in our lives. But what does that mean, in practical terms? This is a question I have wrestled with for a long time.

I believe that God places us where we are in life for a purpose, and that we are called to serve him right where we’re at. We don’t all need to be missionaries, preachers, worship leaders, or charity presidents to serve Jesus. We each have ministry opportunities all around!

Putting God first means that we are intentional about noticing our ministry opportunities. It means that we treat our roles in life as ministries, doing them to the best of our ability to honor God. We can serve God in any role: as a significant other, spouse, parent, family member, friend, co-worker, boss, employee, customer, neighbor, volunteer, and so on. All we have to do is treat others with love and kindness, putting others before ourselves, and we are automatically pleasing God.

Putting God first means that we strive to see all of the people around us the way God sees them; with love, and with the desire to draw them closer to Him.

Putting God first also means that we take time to nurture our relationship with Him. There should be nothing more valuable to a Christian than our relationship with Christ. How we treat that relationship is a reflection of our spiritual health.

Am I taking time to plant seeds of truth, wisdom, and understanding– from God’s word– in my heart and mind? Am I taking time to talk to God and listen– to pray? Am I taking time to learn about the ways of God from those called to teach? Am I taking time to worship him, both through music and through service? Am I taking time to develop and strengthen relationships with other believers, so we can support each other spiritually?

It breaks my heart when I see people who call themselves Christians but don’t have any daily interactions with God through the Bible and prayer, who don’t go to church, or who have no spiritual support system. They may or may not be believers in their hearts, but they certainly aren’t living the God-centered life that they have been called to. That is the life where the most blessings are experienced, both in this lifetime and for eternity. That is the life God wants for all of us! One that is deeply connected to Him.

Putting God first in our lives also means we cast aside any idols, or things that we may be tempted to make more important than Him. In our modern world, it may seem like idols don’t exist. But just because we aren’t making golden cows or statues to bow down to doesn’t mean we aren’t worshipping idols.

Many things can become idols in our lives. Even well-intentioned things can become more important to us than God, if we let them. Our significant others or spouses, our children, our families, our friends; we are called to love others deeply, but never more than God. Our education, our jobs, our success, our money; we are encouraged and enabled to do our best work and to prosper vocationally, but never to the detriment of loving and serving our God, and loving others. Our bodies, our fitness, our outward beauty; we are called to treat our bodies as a temple, but never to replace our pursuit of the eternal God with pursuits of this temporary world. All of these things and more can become idols. So what’s your golden cow? Perhaps it’s time to put that cow in its rightful place.

Is it time for a spiritual checkup? How are you doing in your walk with God?

I’d love to be a part of your spiritual support system. I know I certainly need more people in mine! If that sounds like something you’d be interested in, send me an email to let me know. Let’s share prayer requests, pray for each other, share our questions and insights into God and his word, and share each other’s burdens as brothers and sisters in Christ. I am here for you!

Let’s support each other in putting God first.

Looking Back at 2017

This post is coming a little bit late, but such is the life of a mom. Writing and posting happen in stolen snippets of time! 😉

This year has been a big one for our family!

In January, we sold our travel trailer, which we had discovered was more work than it was worth for us. We also sold our truck later, and bought a small car for Cory to drive to work. I am still a proud minivan driver.

In February, Cory and I celebrated our ninth anniversary of being a couple. We have grown so much in the time we have been together! Since we were so young when we met, it really does seem like a lifetime ago. Becoming adults together has been a great adventure.

In March, we bought our first house and moved. In the process of moving, we had a terrible accident in which two of our dogs killed our three guinea pigs, Penelope, Clementine, and Amelia. While moving into our new house was exciting, this loss was a heavy shadow over that time.

In April, I completed my Hypnobabies Instructor training. Later that month, we adopted our cat, Luna.

In May, I graduated from the Christian Coach Institute as a Professional Christian Life Coach. This was a major goal of mine since before Cody was born, and I was very excited to reach it.

In July, I received my Hypnobabies Instructor Certification, and turned 25 years old. In August, Cory and I celebrated our sixth wedding anniversary, and Cory turned 26 years old.

In September, our daughter Abigail was born. We had a wonderful planned home birth. We have decided that she will be our last biological child, and we will wait at least three years but possibly longer until we pursue adoption.

In October, Cody turned three years old, and we celebrated with a small family gathering. At three, Cody is much more independent. He was weaned this year, and has started to eat more food slowly but surely. He can do many things on his own and doesn’t need constant direct supervision. He talks non-stop and is very active. He is small for his age, which makes sense because I am also quite small and Cory is thin. He is not yet potty trained, but we will get there when he’s ready.

In December, we adopted our puppy, Macy, who is now just under three months old. She is our fourth dog, and our last for now. Marley is approaching 13 years old, but in great health overall with the exception of his heart murmur. Sky is now seven years old, and Lila is going to be two soon, and both of them are in excellent health.
Anyway, financially this year has been tough. Buying and improving our home, our pregnancy and baby expenses, my career trainings, and the increasing healthcare expenses of an older dog (Marley) have all been expensive. Nevertheless, we have been incredibly blessed by God’s miraculous provision. As this year comes to a close, we have now paid off about half of our debt and we have a comfortable monthly budget.

Overall, this year has been wonderful. In 2018, my main task will be to continue to live this beautiful life I have been blessed with, serving the Lord as best I can in my daily life. I am excited to see what’s ahead for me and my family in the coming year!

Abigail’s Birth Story

Disclaimer: This is a birth story. It contains details about the birth process and my personal experience, which some people may not be comfortable reading. If this is you, please don’t read it! Otherwise, continue. 🙂

My birthing with Abigail was quite a journey. I expected to have her early, but ended up giving birth at exactly 41 weeks of pregnancy, longer than I went with Cody. The time I spent waiting at the end was very difficult emotionally, and as irrational as it was, I truly felt at times that I’d never have her. Of course, I did have her in God’s timing. Now that she’s here I am overjoyed!

Abigail MarlyAnne Westropp was born on Labor Day, Monday, September 4th, 2017 at 3:16 PM. She was born at home, completely unmedicated. She weighed 7 lbs and 12 oz and was 20 ¼ inches long at birth. Here is how it all happened.

When I was 36 weeks pregnant, I began to experience more frequent warm up pressure waves than I’d previously been having. I also passed a small amount of blood, which seemed to be the beginning of my bloody show. Over the next several weeks, I continued to experience more warm up waves, with some periods of prodromal waves. There were many times I thought my birthing time was beginning, but they all were false alarms. At 38 weeks, I began trying many natural methods of encouraging birthing to begin. I tried walking, sex, certain foods, and hypnosis. At 40 weeks, I began trying some more aggressive natural methods of induction, including nipple stimulation and acupressure.

Finally at 40 weeks and 5 days, on September 2nd, I tried the most aggressive option so far and had my midwife sweep my membranes, which led to my full bloody show. That night, I had a good pressure wave pattern for several hours, and was very hopeful, but then it faded. The next afternoon, I had an appointment with my doula to try more natural induction techniques. I was optimistic, since she’s never had a client who this appointment didn’t work for. We tried many things, but after over 5 hours, we still had not established a good pressure wave pattern, and we decided to call it a night. My doula, Lynsey, left my house around 10:30 PM, and I went to bed with my hypnosis track playing as usual. I felt discouraged and resigned when I went to bed.

At about 1 AM that night, on September 4th, I woke up because of strong waves I was feeling. I began timing them, while listening to a hypnosis track. They continued to be strong, about 40 seconds to a minute long, and between 3 to 7 minutes apart. After an hour, I called my midwife, Alicia, and we decided it was time for her to come over. She arrived around 3 AM, and I continued to listen to my hypnosis tracks and mellow worship music while using my hypnosis tools.

I’d already woken up Cory around 2 to tell him what was going on, and encouraged him to get more sleep. By 4, I was ready for him to start actively supporting me, so I woke him up. I also called Lynsey at this time. Shortly after, I decided that I wanted to move to the bedroom and start using my birth pool, so we tried to move our sleeping son Cody to the guest bedroom. He woke up and wouldn’t go back to sleep, so we called Cory’s mom, Marsha, to come take care of him. While she drove out, we set up the birth pool and I had some time with Cody in the pool. He helped me decorate the pool with submersible orange lights, which I’d chosen to help me envision my Hypnobabies’ orange hypno-anesthesia.

Around 6 AM, Marsha arrived. Although the timing is a blur, I know I spent this active birthing time moving between my pool, the bed, and my chair, while remaining in hypnosis and listening to my tracks out loud, and hearing birth prompts from Cory. At some point, my midwife’s assistant arrived, another midwife I’d met years ago named Jennifer. The midwives offered gentle support and otherwise rested and stayed unobtrusive. Cody was happy and busy with Marsha, and Cory stayed with me almost constantly. I started to have more bloody show during that time.

Around 10 AM, Alicia offered to check my dilation, and I agreed. Lynsey arrived while that was happening. To my great surprise and joy, Alicia said she couldn’t feel any cervix– meaning, I was completely dilated and effaced. I cried happy tears and hugged Cory and Lynsey, because I knew then that Abigail would be coming soon.

Alicia was able to feel that baby was asynclitic, and not quite fully engaged as a result, so we tried some belly sifting. From that point on, I spent time resting between waves on the couch or bed, and trying different positions in the pool. My support team kept me constantly hydrated, nourished me with light snacks, and reminded me to use the bathroom. Of course, they also kept hypnosis tracks playing for me and read birth prompts.

My pressure waves throughout this entire time were strong, and close together. I began to feel some exhaustion after the first few hours, and then began feeling a lot of back discomfort. Hours after being completely dilated, I still had not started to feel any pushing urges, and my emotional state started to struggle to remain peaceful. I began thinking that I couldn’t go on much longer.

Finally at about 2 PM, I broke down. Sitting in my pool, I told my team I couldn’t do it anymore, in tears. They rallied around me. They told me I was doing it, and they were going to help me. They told me it was time to start pushing and get the baby out. I said it hurt too much, and they told me I could do it, and to use my hypnosis. Finally, their encouragement broke through and I felt a sense of resolve, that I could do it and I would. I told Jesus that I needed his help.

On the next wave, I started pushing. At first, it increased the discomfort to be almost unbearable, but after just a second, it lifted. I took as deep of breaths as I could and then pushed while making loud, low, opening sounds. Sometimes I became very loud! Then I tried pushing after taking a deep breath, using the breath to bear down, and pushing several times during each wave. My lower back was in pain during my waves now, so Lynsey massaged it while I pushed. In between waves, I rested and took deep breaths, breathing oxygen to baby while my midwives monitored her heart rate. I moved between several different positions for pushing. Sometimes I squatted and leaned back against the wall of the pool. Other times I leaned forward on the pool wall, or simply went on hands and knees. I also tried Lynsey’s suggestion of squatting and pulling hard on a rebozo (scarf) that Cory held. I stayed in the pool the whole time. Cody and Marsha came in at some point to witness the process.

I pushed for a little over an hour, before I started crowning. I reached down and felt baby’s soft head and her silky hair. My midwives guided me to push more gently at this point, to allow myself to stretch naturally, and I did. I felt some burning, but it didn’t hurt. I told myself to stretch, and I did. Baby’s head came out into my hand, and I held her head, waiting for the rest of her to slip out. After what felt like only a few moments, but was apparently six minutes, suddenly there was some urgency I was vaguely aware of.

Everything snapped into motion as Alicia said she wanted me out of the pool, now, and my team basically lifted and dragged me out, straight to the bed on my hands and knees. Cory told me everything was fine. I was told to stop pushing. In my head, I had one thought, that Abigail needed to be okay. I was maneuvered into a runner’s squat position, and my midwives were doing things I wasn’t aware of, trying to ease baby out. There was no pain, just waiting, until finally they told me to push as hard as I could. I did and Abigail was born, finally, and I flipped onto my back and held her on my chest. She didn’t cry right away, and I rubbed her gently and talked to her until finally, she let out her first tiny cry. Her cord was short, so I couldn’t move her much, but I held her and kissed her warm wet head. She started looking for the breast quickly, and with just a little guidance she latched on like a pro.

Later, I learned that Abigail was having a hard time coming out because she had her hands up under her chin. The midwives had to reach in and push her hands down to allow her to come out. Although that may sound painful, I didn’t feel it. Through all of that, I only had a small tear that barely required two stitches. Although her birth was somewhat traumatic, both she and I came through it easily, thanks to my incredible and competent birth team.

After Abigail was born, we waited a short time for my placenta to be born. Unfortunately, I started to hemorrhage both before and after birthing the placenta, meaning I was bleeding too much. My midwives gave me a shot of pitocin and massaged my uterus, all with me still in hypnosis and using my tools for comfort. I continued to nurse Abigail, which is helpful for controlling bleeding after birth. After a few minutes, my bleeding had slowed but not completely stopped, so I was given another shot of pitocin. Finally, the bleeding stopped, and we rested.

After that final drama, things were calm. Abigail had her newborn exam next to me while Jennifer cleaned me up. Then we nursed some more, and Cory and I were left alone to bond with baby while the house was cleaned up a bit. Cody met his baby sister, a fascinating and strange creature to him. I cried happy tears again, thanking God for our daughter and sitting in awe of how lucky we are to have two beautiful children. Cory held Abigail and we took some photos.

After a little while, we decided it was time to cut the cord. It was still attaching Abigail to the placenta, which was lying wrapped up nearby. We were happy that we’d allowed every possible drop of blood to flow into baby before cutting the cord, but we were ready to have more mobility for Cory to hold her. He clamped and cut the cord himself. Later, I was stitched up while happily nursing Abby, and she got her vitamin K shot while still nursing. She let go to cry a two-second protest before going back to the breast.

After all was settled, my birth team said goodbye and left. I nestled happily in my bed with my baby girl, and my husband and son close by. Could there be anything better?

There are so many things I’m thankful for, looking back at this experience. First and foremost, a happy and healthy baby and mama, which is always the main goal. I’m also thankful for my midwives, who knew exactly what to do in a potentially scary situation. They saved our lives, really. I’m thankful for my doula, who supported me so well both physically and emotionally. She also managed to take photos and videos throughout my entire birthing process, which I can now treasure forever. My amazing husband and birth partner, Cory, was a superhero. He pushed himself physically to support me through his own exhaustion. He stayed calm always, told me frequently how I was doing such a great job, gave me hypnosis cues, and stayed by my side throughout the birth of our child. All together, my team was a formidable force. They held me up in so many ways when I was sure I could not do it. With them, I could. I’m thankful for Hypnobabies, without which I can only imagine the difficulty I would have had giving birth. Some women have easy births, but I apparently do not. And I did not have a painless birth, either, but with Hypnobabies, I was able to have a more easy and comfortable experience, and succeed in my dream of having a natural birth at home.

Most of all, I’m thankful to God. He kept me and Abigail safe. Jesus held me during the hardest parts of my birthing, and without his presence I can’t imagine how I would have coped. He is my savior, not only for eternity, but for my life right now. He enabled me with strength I would not have had on my own. And he blessed me and Cory with such an unbelievable gift, our precious baby girl, not to mention our son almost three years ago. We are so very blessed, for God is good.

I am so very relieved, proud, and satisfied with my birth experience. Knowing that I did this makes me feel empowered to do anything. I feel very lucky to have experienced both a happy hospital birth with Cody and now a completely natural home birth with Abigail. It’s wonderful experience to have as a birth educator as well! How very blessed I’ve been. <3

Welcome to the world, little Abigail. You are so very precious.

What the Fruit?

what-the-fruit

What does it mean to be fruitful and abundant? According to the Bible, it means that we display the fruits of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. It means that our lives reflect and prove God’s goodness.

All Christians are called to be fruitful and abundant. This is not only a gift from God, but a design for his glory. Our fruitfulness comes naturally when we seek God and allow him to change us.

God desires for us to live in complete surrender to him. That means we let him in, trust him, and follow his guidance through the Holy Spirit. When we do that, we are transformed and our lives are transformed. We become people who produce good things (fruit). The Holy Spirit produces these godly traits in us. Our lives are abundant and we are able to feed others with the bounty that God has created for us. In simple terms, we become better, our lives become better, and we can help others better. That is the meaning of the Fruit of the Spirit.

In John 15:5-8, Jesus said:

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”

The Bible describes the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23. It says: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

From these verses we can understand that the fruit of the Spirit is what we develop when we remain in deep relationship with God. Our abundance and our fruitfulness can then point others to God. Each of the character traits listed here has an important role in what it means to be a true follower of Christ, rather than just a “Christian” living outside of relationship with Jesus.

Love

Love is the reason for everything, the greatest purpose in life. God created us and the entire world so we could love him. When we failed to do that, he sent his son, Jesus, to sacrifice himself so that we could be reconnected with God and all of his perfection. Since the beginning of time, God has desperately loved us and wanted to be loved back by us.

In Matthew 22:37-40, we are told that love is our greatest calling. “Jesus replied, ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: Love your neighbor as yourself. The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.’”

Joy

Joy is not only a gift to us, but a gift to others. Joy is contagious. And I am convinced that we can never find true joy until we learn to delight ourselves in God, above all else. When we do that, we will also find that he gives us the desires of our hearts. God is a loving God who gives us great gifts! Yet contentment and gratitude with what we have now, and an intimate relationship with God, are keys to finding joy that can never be taken from us no matter what the circumstances. This attitude of joy is not one we can develop in our human power, but one that God creates in us through his power.

Peace

I have learned the hard way that God isn’t a genie. But he is a loving Father, who longs to care for us and bless us with great gifts, especially when we are living close to him. It give me great peace to know that God cares so deeply for me, and that he can be trusted to care for my needs. And even though it can be difficult for my human heart to accept it when God doesn’t grant my requests, ultimately I have peace knowing that he has my best interest at heart. It brings me peace to know that God will enact his plan for my life, not my plan for my life.

Patience

One of my biggest struggles in life, time and time again, has been patience. I become easily discouraged when I feel that things aren’t moving fast enough in my life. But God continues to remind me that I can accept where I am each day knowing that his timing is perfect, and he has me exactly where I am for a reason. He reminds me that he has good things in store for me, and that I have good things to enjoy today, too. That gives me patience to live in the moment.

Kindness and Goodness

I don’t know about you, but I need the Holy Spirit to be the one guiding my actions each and every day. On my own, I am human–often selfish, unkind, and weak. Yet in Christ I am perfect and whole and overwhelmingly good in God’s eyes, because when he looks at me, he sees Jesus. Knowing that just makes me want to live up to the person that God has shown me I truly am. The Spirit helps me to be this person. Through God, we have supernatural power to be good and kind in a world that is often anything but.

Faithfulness

Faith is a decision to trust. With God, it also means accepting that he is greater, and that his ways and his thoughts are far above ours as humans. The fact of the matter is that I will never fully understand God, at least in this lifetime. But I can choose to trust that he is good, that he loves me, and that ultimately, he has saved my soul for eternity. I can choose faith even when I don’t understand and I can’t see what he’s doing. God meets us where our faith is. If we trust him to save our souls, he will. If we trust him to provide for us, he will. If he trust him to heal us, he will. If we trust him to give us marriage and children, he will. He may not always work in the way or timeframe that we think he should, but he is faithful. One of the most precious ways that God helps us through his Holy Spirit is by giving us the gift of faith. Faith enables us to believe him in the face of struggles and disappointment. Faith is the root of our hope.

Gentleness and Self-Control

These traits require humility and trust in God. To develop them, we must learn to let go. When we let go of the things that we can’t control, we can focus on the things we can control; our own thoughts and actions. God can empower us to rise above what other people do or say, and reflect his mercy and strength instead.

 

The fruits of the Spirit and an abundant life are ways that God desires for us to be identified as his followers to the world. These should be the things that make us different, that make us into salt and light for the world. By these things, we can begin to fulfill our mission in this life, which God has given us. We are here to lead others into relationship with God, the only one who can heal the brokenness and satisfy the hearts of all humanity. We are here to build his Kingdom of love.

 

This is a refreshed repost of a series I did around three years ago, about the fruit of the Spirit. For the original series, click here. This will take you to a list of all 9 posts from the series. =]

 

Word.

word

The Bible. God’s Word. Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. However you tend to think of it, it is perhaps the most important tool that Christians have when it comes to living out their faith.

Believers know that the Bible has value. Many of us treat it with reverence. When we are confronted with a Bible verse that speaks to us, we know that we are communicating with God himself. Through his Word, we receive inspiration, correction, guidance, comfort, help, healing, relationship, and so much more.

And yet, so many Christians rarely open the Bible at all. How can this be? And why?

I think one major reason is that it can sometimes feel dry, or inapplicable. Reading the Bible can also feel like a chore, just one more thing to add to the endless list of things we need to do better. For some people, it is simply overwhelming to know where to begin.

Is it possible that we over-complicate the simple act of reading God’s word?

For me, the habit of reading the Bible became just that—a habit—when I learned a few simple things that I’d like to share with you now.

  1. Choose a time that is already a part of your day, and use it to read the Bible. I choose to read at breakfast most days, or lunchtime on days when the mornings are busy. Cody goes in his high chair, and I usually put a movie on the tablet for him to watch while we eat. Before I sit down, I grab my Bible.
  2. Follow a plan, use a devotional, or make your own plan. Just do something. If you don’t know where to start reading, take advantage of the multitude of Bible reading plans available on popular Bible apps for smart phones. Try as many as you like, for as long as you like. Or, buy a devotional at the book store. There are so many different ways to get into God’s word. You can even make your own plan. I follow a self-made plan of reading (in order) one chapter in the Old Testament, one chapter in Psalms or Proverbs, and one section in the New Testament. I keep track of where I am on a piece of notebook paper. Sometimes, though, I press pause on my plan so I can follow along with a church devotional email series. As long as I’m reading my Bible, I know it doesn’t matter what system I follow from day to day.
  3. Get into it. As I’m reading, I underline and occasionally take notes right in my Bible. I stop to think, evaluate, re-read, ask for clarity, and let it sink in. Sometimes, I write down my favorite verses in a note on my phone, to look up again later or add to my personal concordance. Please note that it will be hard to “get into it” if you’re reading through the Old Testament, and not complimenting that with any other parts of the Bible. The Old Testament has its purposes, but it can be very dry by itself. This is why I recommend more of a blended plan, or a devotional!
  4. Don’t get caught up on missed days. Sometimes, you miss a day, even when Bible reading has become a normal part of your life. That’s okay. Just open it back up again.
  5. On the other hand, don’t make excuses. I don’t believe anybody is too busy to take five or ten minutes to read the Bible every day. If you are, then it’s time to re-evaluate your priorities as a follower of Christ. Forgetting or having a chaotic day is one thing—not setting any time for God’s word is another. No judgment here, guys, just encouragement. You do have the time!
  6. If your Bible reading time is fairly casual, like mine, set aside a different time for more focused quiet time with God. Once I realized that prayer and reading the Bible don’t have to be at the same time, I became much more free and encouraged to do both. And one benefit of breaking your spiritual disciplines down into smaller pieces is that your mind is more focused on God throughout the day, not just for those 15 minutes in the morning. For me, I typically use the beginning of Cody’s nap to have some focused prayer time. When that doesn’t happen, I use those quiet minutes in bed before I fall asleep at night to talk to God. Sometimes I do both. And talking to God throughout the day is a good habit of relationship with him, too.
  7. Recognize the value of God’s word. If you don’t have motivation to read the Bible, it may be because you don’t really understand why you should. Simply put, the Bible is one of the main ways God speaks to us. It isn’t often that he speaks through a booming voice from the Heavens, but he speaks to us personally and frequently through the Bible, if we take the time to listen. We can’t have a flourishing relationship with God if we never listen to what he has to say. But if we do take the time to read his Word, we can learn so much about God’s character, his heart, his love for us, his desires for our lives, and his eternal purposes. There is nothing that can replace God’s Word when it comes to having a relationship with God.

I hope that you are inspired to read the Bible today, and make it a normal part of your life.

If you don’t have a relationship with God, but you’re interested in learning more about that, send me an email and we can chat!

How are you doing in terms of reading the Bible regularly? What things have helped you or hindered you? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

 

How to Get Through Hard Times

For the past six months, I had been doing a lot better in terms of depression. In fact, sometime around July I was feeling so good that I thought maybe I was done with depression completely. I was just about ready to proclaim that I was healed. But then, just when I started to feel free, it came back. It crept in slowly at first, until I one day realized I was in deep again.

I always have doubts about sharing these struggles with others, especially through a public forum like this. I worry that people will overreact, or react in ways that could hurt my feelings. But I also believe it’s important to be honest and real, and to share my feelings instead of hiding them. So that’s why I’m writing this today.

My depression is weird, in that it comes and goes on a daily or weekly basis. When I’m feeling bad, it may last for days or weeks, but almost never for a month straight or more than that. I might have a good week, then a bad week, then a good day, then a bad couple of days, and so on. It’s unpredictable. Another unique thing about it is that usually, I am able to function very normally even when I feel deeply depressed. I am good at hiding it, and I am able to keep it inside without letting it effect my behavior very noticeably. I suppose I’m fortunate that it doesn’t debilitate me, and I’m able to continue caring for Cody and our home.

Anyway, the couple of bouts I’ve had since my long stretch of feeling good have been caused by stress and boredom, two of my triggers. The summer where we live is extremely hot, and it keeps us indoors most days. There’s only so much to do indoors with a young toddler, so I have struggled with boredom and monotony. Cody is also going through a difficult developmental stage as he’s nearing age two, and he is likely struggling with boredom during the days as well, which makes him even more difficult. I’ve also been stressed about our new puppy’s behavioral problems, and juggling a lot of financial changes lately and having to rearrange our financial priorities. All of it together has caused me to feel pretty low.

There have been good days and weeks as well, this summer. There are days when I have activities to do, and social events, and quality time with my loved ones, and Cody’s mood is better, and I have more patience and creativity to offer him. Sometimes those days even turn into weeks that are enjoyable. And even when my weeks aren’t enjoyable, there are things that happen within them which I enjoy. My depression is not all-consuming, except perhaps for moments at a time. I still find joy even in the midst of depression.

I’ve written all of this to preface what I really wanted to share, which is my list called “How to Get Through Hard Times.” It’s a small list I made of five things that I find help me when I’m in the midst of a depression cycle. I think that these things could also help with other struggles that people experience.

  1. Notice the perfect moments.
  2. Thank God for the good, even if it’s only in moments at a time.
  3. Ask God for help in the bad moments.
  4. Declare victory over trials in Jesus’ name. Hold on to hope.
  5. Remember that THIS WILL PASS.

Noticing the perfect moments means that even when I’m stressed out and sad, I force myself to stop and see the good, because it’s still there. Even on days when Cody skips his nap, and I’ve looked at the clock a dozen times in the past hour only to find that only a single minute has somehow passed, and I don’t know how I will survive the day. Even on the days when I try to take Cody to the park, but he has a meltdown after five minutes and we have to turn around and go home. Even on the days when my puppy has had an accident, chewed through her collar, and barks every time I let her outside. Even on those days, there are good—even perfect—moments. I just need to remember to notice them. I’m talking about when I find myself enjoying a special moment with Cody, whether it’s laughing at his latest silly antic or getting a sweet snuggle or just being overwhelmed by my love for him as he falls asleep nursing. I’m also talking about the glorious moments of peace and quiet when he’s napping, moments of playing with Cody together with Cory, moments of enjoying the cooler evening weather on our family walks, and even moments of enjoying some delicious food or a special treat. It is so important to notice those good and perfect moments. Sometimes I will even say to myself, “this is a perfect moment,” and then just be in it.

I also need to remember to thank God for those perfect moments, and all of the good things in my life. Taking a moment to do that helps me to focus outside of the depressed feelings and focus more on the positive. No, that positive outlook doesn’t always last past “amen,” but it does do something good in my heart and in my relationship with God, and I have found that it helps me push on.

Asking God for help in the bad moments means that when I feel like I’m about to crack under the pressure, I pray for the Holy Spirit to intervene. It may be as small as saying “Jesus, help.” He knows what I mean, and what I need in that moment. Sometimes, the only way we can keep it together is through the strength of God, who is greater. Our strength isn’t always enough—and we aren’t called to be strong on our own anyway.

Declaring victory over my struggles in Jesus’ name… really for me, this just means that I cling on to the hope that Jesus is fighting for me and that he will win in the end, and that I will eventually overcome the difficulties that I’m facing through his victory. In fewer words, it means holding on to hope.

Lastly, and perhaps one of the most important for me, I need to remember that whatever hard time I’m going through will pass. Suffering is temporary. I will feel better at some point, Cody will become easier, I will find a solution, God will change my circumstance, or I will find that I can be joyful in midst of the challenge. If all else fails, I know that no suffering will exist in Heaven. And that’s eternity, y’all.

So that’s what I’m doing right now, working on doing those five things as much as possible. I know that this depression is not forever. I will get through it.

Faith in the Face of Disappointment

Over the past several months, Cory and I have been praying and believing for a particular thing to happen in our lives. I can’t say what it is just yet, but we’ve been really struggling with the process of receiving this thing from God.

For the past few years, I’ve been learning a lot about the power of faith. It was something I never really heard about growing up in church, but as an adult I learned that when we want God to work in our lives, we have a role to play in that, which is to have strong faith and to believe that he will do what we are asking. There are a lot of verses in the Bible that make some pretty strong statements about faith. Mark 11:24 says “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” That’s a bold statement, straight from the mouth of Jesus! And yet, I’m going to have to ask God to clarify some things when I get to heaven, because this verse has proved blatantly false in my life on more than one occasion.

Nevertheless, I still believe that the Bible is a source of truth, and I certainly believe that Jesus’ words are infallible. So there must be something I’m missing. While this may sound like a flimsy disclaimer, the truth is that I am human with an imperfect understanding of God and his ways. I have to choose to continue to trust God and his Word, despite the times when I feel that things aren’t adding up.

So as Cory and I have been asking and having faith that God will give us what we are asking for, we’ve done our very best to continue trusting him and waiting patiently for him to answer our prayers. A few weeks ago, my pastor taught us that when the Bible says “wait” on God, it means to “wrap yourself around” him and his promises. And so, we’ve wrapped our hearts around his faithfulness, and fervently believed that he would come through for us.

There have been about four times now in which we’ve come close to receiving our answer. Each time we’ve believed it would happen, and each time we’ve been crushed when it didn’t. It hurts each time, and we go through a period of losing hope before we gather our strength back up and re-wrap our hearts around the next opportunity. Today was the fourth time that we’ve been let down, and it hurts even more than the last three times, because this time we’ve decided that it’s time to stop trying for a little while. The disappointment is exhausting, and we both need a break from it.

Reflecting on this whole process and the role of faith in our relationship with God, I’ve come to a few conclusions.

First, I’ve learned that faith doesn’t guarantee that we will receive what we ask for from God. We can’t force God to do anything, obviously. Yet without faith, we are far more likely to not receive anything we ask for. Faith is what enables us to receive blessings from God—but again, it doesn’t force God to bless us.

Second, I still believe that God wants to bless us, and all of his children, in every area of our lives. I don’t believe that God ever chooses to leave his children in poverty or sickness or turmoil (or other, less dramatic forms of lack) because he thinks that’s what is best for them. No way. I believe that we live in a broken world, but that God is always working for our good. So despite our struggles, we can know that God wants to rescue us and bring us into something better.

Third, I can see more clearly than ever that often, God’s blessings face obstacles while they’re on their way to us. Sometimes, God’s angels have to battle spiritual opposition from the enemy. Sometimes, there are puzzle pieces that need to be arranged just so before we can receive what we are asking for. Sometimes, there are hearts involved that need to be worked on first. But no matter what is going on behind the scenes, we can know that God is working on it. Because he does answer prayers, and he does care about every area of our lives. It is our job to trust, and let him work. Hebrews 11:1 says “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” It’s not what we can see that matters, it’s our faith in God and our confidence in who he is.

While Cory and I are still feeling very upset and wishing that our hopes would be fulfilled sooner, we are standing strong on who our God is. Nobody ever said that you can’t be crying while you’re standing, though.

It will happen eventually, and when it does, I can’t wait to share all of the awesome details with all of you.

Why I’m a Rainbow Fish

This post has been a long time in the making. For many months now, I’ve felt that God has been asking me to write about issues of sexuality—homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender issues. This is such a controversial topic, especially in the Christian world right now, and because of that I have shied away from sharing my views. I hate seeing the division that these issues are causing among believers, and I really would rather everyone just be quiet about it. I don’t want to add fuel to the fire! But the more I sit around and stay quiet, the more I feel that one side of the divide is overly represented, while the other is treated as nonexistent. So it’s time that I say something, and here it is; I am a rainbow fish.

For those of you who don’t know, the “Jesus fish” is a symbol that Christians sometimes use to identify themselves as followers of Jesus. You can see the fish on bumper stickers, etc. And of course, the rainbow has become a symbol of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bi, trans) community. So a rainbow fish would be a Christian who supports the LGBT community—and that’s me. The rainbow fish is a rare species, it seems, but we’re out there.

I want to be clear about something. I believe in the Bible, that it is the inspired word of God and our ultimate source of truth and hope. Because I believe in the Bible, I believe in Jesus Christ; I believe Jesus is the Son of God who was sent to earth to live as an example and bring us hope, who died to bring us freedom from our sins and our overall separation from God, and who rose again to defeat the enemy once and for all. I believe that, like he said, he is the only true way to Heaven and eternal life. I believe in one true God who has three facets of personality—the Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit. Yes, I believe all of those things with confident assurance, because I have seen for myself that they are the only thing that makes sense. I also believe that sexual orientations other than heterosexual are not sinful, and if you stick around, I will tell you why.

As I said, I believe in the Bible as our ultimate source of truth. Although it was written by human beings, its writing was directed by God, and so we can trust that it is perfect and without error in its original form. Yet what we read today is not the original form of the Bible. It has been translated over thousands of years from languages that are no longer used into the languages that we use today. It’s inevitable that in the process of translation, the original messages can lose certain things and take on other things, especially as they pass through cultural lenses. We are fortunate to have a huge number of Bible translations available today—reading in multiple translations can help us get closer to what the original text intended to say. Not only that, but I’m sure God was well aware of the issues that language barriers would cause when it comes to passing the Bible down through generations of humanity. That’s probably why he had it written in such a way that the overall themes and most vital messages of the Bible are woven consistently and clearly throughout the entire text—although some details may be off here and there, for the most part the Bible corroborates itself very well.

In the area of sexuality, I am inclined to question whether the original messages in the Bible have been properly translated. There are reasonable alternative interpretations for all of the verses in the Bible which seem to condemn homosexual behavior as a sin. I won’t go into the details, because I’m not a Bible scholar and it would take up a lot of space here, but I will provide a link to a source I have found helpful at the end of this post. My point is that it is possible that the way most Christians view homosexuality (and other alternative sexual orientations) may be based on Biblical references that don’t mean what they think they do.

This seems likely to me for one main reason; consistency. As far as I understand it, every commandment that God gives in the Bible comes down to him wanting what is best for his people. He knows that the best thing for us is to be in a relationship with him, and that we would live our best possible lives if everyone treated each other with love. In Mark 12:28-34, Jesus taught that the two most important commandments are to love God and to love others. Romans 13:8-10 goes further, saying this: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law” (NIV).

The Bible is full of many guidelines for what to do and what not to do in life. But the underlying theme, as pointed out in these passages, is that we should love God and love others. When it comes to sexual orientation, I can see no way in which a consensual, monogamous, committed relationship between two adults of the same sex is in violation of God’s law. Sexuality is a gift from God, and enjoying it is not unloving toward him, in the proper context. (By proper context, I mean sex that is used to love and not hurt others—either physically, or emotionally.) Homosexual relationships also don’t hurt other people, except those people who choose to be “hurt” by it.

There are a few other reasons that I don’t share the typical “conservative” views on homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender issues. One is that I understand that sexual orientation is not a choice. I never chose to be attracted to my husband, let alone men in general—I simply was. Although physical attraction is just one part of what brings people together into romantic relationships, it is often the first step. I think God probably designed it that way for a reason. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be told that I must enter into a romantic relationship with a person I had absolutely no physical attraction to. Yes, love is a choice and love is what lasts in the end, and it is so much more important than attraction—but sexuality and attraction are still important. God gave us these gifts so that we could tie ourselves emotionally and physically to another person in a very special way. For a person who is attracted to another person of the same sex, and then told that it is wrong to pursue a relationship with that person, sexuality becomes a burden rather than a gift. I simply don’t see how God would want that.

Another reason that I see things a bit differently is that I can easily picture just how involved the enemy is in this war on sexuality. What better tool could the enemy use to divide people? All he has to do is convince the majority of Christians that the LGBT community is living in sin, and he’s got himself a convenient way to repel from God a huge population of individuals. I can only imagine how it would feel to be told that one of the most basic parts of who you are is not acceptable to God, and that you are therefore unwelcome in a church community unless you somehow change that part of yourself. It would be easy to stay far, far away from any part of that world, don’t you think? And as a result, there are billions of people who will never know God, because his representatives in this world have pushed them away.

Transgender individuals are even less understood, it seems. I often hear Christians say things along the lines of “You don’t get to choose your gender, God does!” Well, that’s actually kind of the point. Transgender people feel that they were born a certain gender, but that their sexual organs don’t match that gender. In their view, they aren’t choosing their gender at all. It would probably be easier and preferable if they could simply choose to be the gender that their bodies tell them they are. We don’t argue with the fact that some people are born with physical and mental defects—which I believe are attacks from the enemy, rather than anything that God wants for us—so why can’t we accept that some people may be born with defects in their sexual organs? Obviously, there are cases in which babies are born with both male and female genitalia. Christians don’t seem to have a problem when the parents of those babies choose which gender to assign their children. So why is it such a leap for transgender individuals to do what they can to correct what they deeply feel is a physical defect in their bodies? Personally, I have never felt that I was not female. Would that have been any different if I had been born with male parts? I simply cannot say, because I don’t know. And that’s the point—I don’t know how it would feel to be certain that I am a female without the reassurance of my female body. I cannot and will not tell other people that what they feel is not valid, or that it’s as easy as a choice. I didn’t choose my gender, so why would anybody else?

Probably the worst argument that I’ve heard Christians use against homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender people is a comparison between these alternative sexual orientations and pedophilia. It practically makes my blood boil. “If homosexuality isn’t a choice and should be accepted, why not also accept pedophiles as having their own sexual orientation?” they ask. And really, how flipping insulting is that. Pedophiles may or may not feel attracted to children by nature, I cannot say—but there is a huge glaring difference between them and people whose sexual orientation is not heterosexual. Pedophiles have victims! Children are not able to consent to nor fully understand sexual relationships. Perhaps that is why pedophiles are inclined to victimize them; it’s a sickness, and anybody who feels that way should receive psychological and spiritual help to overcome it. Homosexual relationships have no victims, when they are between two consenting adults in a monogamous and committed relationship. It’s the same as with any other sexual relationship. (Casual sex has victims whether or not it’s between a man and a woman, or two people of the same sex.)

But putting all of my thoughts and feelings aside, I think it’s very important for me to make one final point, which is that I could be wrong about all of this. I’m a human and my human logic and thinking is far below God’s way of thinking. I could be missing something. And if I am wrong, and the truth is that God’s best for all people is to either be in a heterosexual relationship or no sexual relationship at all, then I will surely find that out when I get to Heaven. But even in that case, I do not believe for one second that the typical Christian approach to interacting with the LGBT community is what God wants. Right or wrong, we are pushing people away from God. We are condemning them and telling them that they cannot follow Jesus unless they change something that they don’t believe they can change.

I would love to see a Christian community where sexuality is an issue that is left between each individual and God. Like any other sin (if it is a sin), it should be up to God to lead his children onto the right path, and up to us to simply encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to live their best for him. If we could start accepting homosexuals, bisexuals, and transgender individuals into our churches without the stipulation that they change themselves, how many people could we reach for Christ?

I would also love to see a Christian community that doesn’t assume that all of its members are anti-gay. I understand the assumption, because most Christians believe that the Bible condemns homosexuality and thus that all Christians should be on the same page. But there is an alternative interpretation, and I hope that someday more people know about it. The rainbow fish are out there, and I think that’s important for both conservative Christians and the LGBT community to know.

Lastly, I would love to see more separation of politics and religion. Yes, our laws need to be based on moral principles, and as Christians our moral principles come from the Bible. But our laws also need to be logical. Laws should be put in place to protect people from harm, not as a futile attempt to force non-Christians into adopting our worldview. When we fight the legalization of abortion, we are protecting people from harm—babies are the victims in that case. (Yet we can and should also remember that pregnant rape victims are victims too, and all women with unwanted or unplanned pregnancies need our compassion and support as well). Any issue that we vote for should be considered in terms of how it hurts or protects others, because as Christians, we are called to love others.

But the reality is that when Christians fight against legalizing gay marriage, we aren’t protecting anybody. We aren’t winning people for Jesus, but we certainly are building walls between gay people and Jesus. And for what purpose? If we want to protect the sanctity of marriage, why don’t we worry about our own marriages? The divorce rate among Christians is not something we can be proud of, and we have plenty of other issues to work on as well. Infidelity, abuse, sexual dysfunction, and anything short of loving one another the way that God intended for a husband and wife to love—these are the things that we need to focus on changing if we want our marriages to be examples for our children. You see, Christian marriage and secular marriage don’t have to be the same thing—in fact, they’re not, whether we’re talking about gay marriage or any marriage between two non-Christians. Our marriages are our business, and if we want to strengthen the institute of Holy Matrimony then let’s do that. Gay marriage isn’t a threat to the family any more than divorce is (in fact, I feel quite strongly that divorce is a much bigger threat, but then again I don’t see gay marriage as a threat at all), and yet we don’t see people trying to make divorce illegal. Let’s be logical, people, and think about why we’re doing what we’re doing in the political arena. We must protect people, not damage and ostracize them.

So that’s it. That is my very long explanation of how I, as a Christian, feel about homosexuality and other sexual orientations. Whether I am right or wrong is not as important as my calling to love other people and point them to Jesus. I hope that Christians as a unified church can come together in love and reach the LGBT community, because they need Jesus just as much as anybody else—and vice versa.

 

Resource for information about alternative interpretations of the Bible’s message on homosexuality:

http://whosoever.org/bible/