on Valentine’s Day

It’s Valentine’s Day, and my husband generously took the kids to his dad’s for the weekend to give me a little space. For nearly four months, my husband has been persevering through 60-hour work weeks. But despite his own exhaustion, he packed up the kids and gave me a weekend because he knows me and he loves me and if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my eight years of being a mom, it’s this: sometimes you just need to miss your kids.

So as I prepare for them to return and I’m feeling refreshed and productive and drinking a cup of coffee that is still hot, I’ve got some miscellaneous thoughts about marriage and this man of mine.

Feb142016_3049I browse the Valentine’s Day aisle, hoping that a card will jump out at me from a distance, since the crowd of carts and shoppers block any attempts to get close. I squeeze in to pick up a few, but they all fall short. I hate cards. I hate canned messages that are beautiful and poetic but impersonal and distant. How do I find a card with the words to sum up my love, our five years of Valentine’s Days: the pain, the chaos, the frustration, the joy? Wearied from the crowding and the little hands grabbing anything within reach of the cart, I call it quits. Empty handed, I head to the checkout. As I load my items onto the counter, a card catches my eye: the cover pictures two trees side by side, their roots intermingled, and an inside that reads, “I love how we grow together.” Five years of marriage summed up in a greeting card. I forsake my disdain for Hallmark and toss the card into my pile of purchases.

I’ve been thinking about tree roots ever since. Thinking about how, five years in, we still just look like little saplings, wondering how we’ll make it through the next wind storm. We wish we had more to show for our growth–better communication, fewer arguments, more understanding and laughter and fun. But some days we don’t laugh. We hurt each other and we mess up and we wish we could take it back.

I look at pictures from our wedding day and think of how little we knew. Bright eyed and wrinkle-free, we had barely sprouted and yet we felt like mighty oaks, our branches sprawled toward the sky, ready to take on the world.

I didn’t know myself when I married my husband. I thought I did–I was vocal, independent, and strong, but my new relationship with Jesus made me question if that was really okay. Maybe I was actually supposed to be quiet, submissive, deferring? 

For five years, instead of figuring each other out, I have tried to figure myself out. I have tried to protect myself, to prove myself, to assert myself. But in the end of all of that, I have felt only lost. I long for connection, for intimacy, for that sense of knowing and being known, and yet I cannot seem to know myself, and my demands for connection remain unquenched.

I’ve been trying to find my life, only to remember that it must first be lost. Not lost in the man who shares my life; lost in the Man who gave His up for me. The life of Christ in me offers the grace to lean into the mystery of oneness that is marriage, to let go of the fear and the self-preservation and allow myself to be enveloped by this man who sometimes feels like a stranger. And as I do, I find a self that is different than I expected yet more fully alive.

“It doesn’t mean being half a person; it means dismantling your person and rebuilding a kingdom together.” (CAPC)

These five years have been marked by trials. One after another, we have struggled to catch our breath. We look at our marriage and wonder, have we really gotten anywhere? But the roots. They give me so much hope. Our thin little branches hold on for dear life, but beneath the surface are roots spreading deep: anchoring, steadying. We don’t have the strength to reach to the sky but instead we’ve dug into the earth. It’s why we can “consider it joy whenever we face trials of various kinds”–because we have the promise of ever-deepening roots, of a God who is faithful to see that no moment is wasted; that His people, though weary and war-torn, are being shaped and molded and fashioned into the very image of His Son.

You learn a lot about a man by watching how he treats his mom. I’d heard that before, but never really understood until I watched my husband care for his dying mother. Watched him lean in and listen to her soft voice. Watched him tenderly lift her failing body–the one that carried and nourished his life. Watched him sing to her while her eyes lay closed, tears streaming. Watched him stand by her side while she took her last breath. Watched him lead his family in the Lord’s prayer at her graveside.

Respect grows in those unexpected moments, where you watch your husband just be who he is and you wonder how you ever got so lucky.

Deepening roots: unseen, unknown, whispered growth that takes a lifetime.

5 verses every woman should know

The Inner Crazy

Hi, I’m Kendra. And I am a crazy person.

Not always, of course (I think? Don’t answer that). But these past weeks, my husband has been under a deadline at work that’s required 55-60-hour work weeks. That translates into long days filled with noisy little people and quiet, often lonely nights.

I land right in the middle on the introvert/extrovert spectrum. Too much people time is overwhelming and draining; too much alone time makes me a crazy person. This is in large part because I’m an external processor. I have to get all.the.thoughts out of my head so some sane, outside party can hold up a mirror and let me see the crazy for myself and help me arrive at the truth. Usually Jordan is the lucky one to walk with me through this process. Family and friends sometimes get the privilege. Occasionally, my journal and blog fill in the gaps. But lately, due mostly to unfortunate and temporary circumstances, it often stays in my head.

My mom was visiting these past few days and as she was enduring all.the.thoughts, I couldn’t help but notice a look of alarm on her face. She discovered my crazy. Fortunately, she is one of my people and spoke the truth in a way that only Mom can. And while she did, she challenged me to fight the lies. She reminded me of what I know to be true but am quick to forget–that our mind is a constant battlefield and we must proactively, relentlessly tell ourselves the truth.

I try to do this by spending time in Scripture every day, but I learned early in my walk with Jesus that I needed to take the Scripture with me to engage the lies that raged as I walked away from my quiet time each morning. So I started memorizing passages to help combat my inner crazy. And despite my admittance that I haven’t been fighting a very valiant battle as of late, these passages I’ve memorized over the past few years often provide the words that the Spirit uses to bring grace and truth in the midst of hurt and confusion.

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Some Guidelines

When it comes to memorizing Scripture, we are drawn to the verses that tell us what we should do. These are what we write on notecards and hang on our bathroom mirrors in hopes that our behavior will begin to conform to God’s standard. We know many of them by heart; we wish they described our behavior more than they actually do.

But this is not the kind of Scripture memory I am advocating. I wholeheartedly believe in the power of Scripture to renew our minds; the Spirit uses His words to produce the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ in our lives, to the glory and praise of God (Phil. 1:11). But I am persuaded that alongside the imperatives of Scripture (what we should do), we need to know. by. heart. Scripture’s indicatives (what Christ has done). With my own need to be reminded of these things, I’m feeling a renewed sense of the importance of this discipline, and I thought perhaps I’m not the only woman I know who needs some help fighting to remember what’s true. And because I know sometimes knowing where to start is the hardest part, here is my list of 5 verses I think every woman should know.

But before I give you my list, you should know a few more things:

  1. I don’t actually think you should ever memorize just one verse. Taking the time to memorize whole passages of Scripture allows them to sink down deep as we meditate on each section and start to really understand how they all fit together. That said, I’ve tried to pick just one verse out of each passage that could serve as a starting point because I know a whole passage can be very intimidating. But I will also list the whole passage if applicable and challenge you to consider it.
  2. I don’t actually think that these are verses only women should learn. There is nothing “pink” about them. I just consider my few readers to be mostly women so I’m writing this to you. By all means, invite your husband, your children, your friends into the challenge. It feels so weird to recite verses to each other AWANA-style now that we’re grown ups, but I’ve found that the verses I remember are the ones where I’ve welcomed accountability into the learning process.
  3. I don’t actually think you “should” memorize these verses, as in you are sinning if you don’t. I do not believe you are condemned if you do not or cannot memorize Scripture. Nor do I believe memorizing these verses earns you any special favor with God. But I do believe God’s Word is a delight (Psalm 1:2), given to us for our good, the weapon the Spirit uses to fight on our behalf (Ephesians 6:17). So while you do not have to memorize Scripture, why wouldn’t you want to?
  4. I don’t actually think everyone is naturally inclined towards Scripture memory, just as I don’t think everyone is naturally inclined to run marathons or lift hundreds of pounds. If you want to do those things, you must train for them. It takes work and time and patience, and even then, passages I thought I knew by heart completely escape me. I’ve heard repetitive reading described as the lazy memorization method, and I think it’s a start. If you want to memorize something, commit to reading it every day. Or a few times each day. Or just memorize the reference and the general idea so that when you find yourself needing its truth, you know where to go in your Bible app. But at the same time, I think we ought to challenge ourselves. Even secular brain research supports our abilities to train and rewire our brains through discipline and consistency. How much more through Spirit-empowered discipline and consistency?

Okay, the list:

#1: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Romans 8:1

Condemnation creeps into our days, like a black cloud following us around trying to convince us how badly we suck. But this is the truth: No condemnation! Say it out loud! Silence the accusations with the truth that you are hidden in Christ Jesus. There is no one left to condemn you!

I would add to this Romans 8:33-35 and 8:38-39 as well. Let’s be honest, I would add all of Romans 8 but I’m trying not to be overwhelming.

#2: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved…” Ephesians 2:4-5

If I could pick just one to say, “You must memorize the whole passage,” it would be this one. Ephesians 2:1-10 or Titus 3:3-7. These passages tell the whole story of the Gospel, from beginning to end. You may have heard the phrase, “Preach the Gospel to yourself.” These passages give us the words. They remind us who we were apart from Christ, and then meet the glorious “But,” where Jesus took our mess upon Himself and lavished his grace and kindness upon us.

#3: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” Luke 12:32

When I first started memorizing Scripture, it was to intentionally battle anxiety. I spent months memorizing Luke 12:22-34 and 1 Peter 5:6-10 and as I worked my way through each passage, I found such comfort and rest in the God who is a good, good Father (Luke 12), the one who cares about our every anxiety and who will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish us (1 Peter 5). Anxiety is a theme among so many women I know and meditating on the goodness of a Father who promises us the kingdom lifts our eyes off of our present fears and onto the eternal glory that awaits us.

#4: “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32

Did I mention Romans 8? Up there with anxiety is the battle for gratitude and contentment in a world constantly trying to convince us we are not enough. Gratitude lists and counting blessings are good, tangible practices to help us to give thanks regularly, but this verse points us to our true source of gratitude. The God who gave us Jesus promises to give us everything we need.

#5: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” John 1:14

This is the runner-up for memorizing the whole passage. John 1:1-18 and Colossians 1:15-20 give us this glorious picture of who Christ is. Really, the Colossians one is my favorite but I couldn’t pick just one verse from it. The section is labeled, “The Preeminence of Christ.” Memorizing a passage that draws us to worship and delight in Christ feels like a tangible application of the call to “fix our eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1). It allows us to behold the glory of the Lord in the face of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), and ultimately it draws us to take our eyes off of anyone or anything else and simply follow Him (John 21:22).

Closing thoughts

Memorizing scripture isn’t magic. It is possible to do this good thing for the wrong reasons. It’s also possible to do it well and continue to struggle (hence the crazy person). So take this for what it is: a challenge and an encouragement, both for you and for me. If you decide to embark on the challenge to memorize scripture, I’d love to hear about it.

looking in the fun-house mirror: on body image & Romans 8

posted in: on being a captive set free | 1

In the spirit of post-Thanksgiving bingeing and pre-Christmas sugar overload, I decided a fresh diet-and-exercise start was in order for Monday. Nothing too crazy, just cutting back on sugar and eating out and adding in a little exercise. So I woke up early in the morning, worked out, had a shake for breakfast, and made an omelet for lunch.

By 6:00, I picked up Little Caesars on the way home. Because, snow. And screaming kids. And, well, pizza.

So I decided to try Tuesday, which would normally be against the rules but since it was the 1st, it was acceptable.

Exercise again.
Drive thru for lunch.

Usually this would be enough to send me into a funk of failure. But good things have been happening in my heart and mind these past months. So while more energy and focus from better food and exercise are good goals I still have (Here’s to Monday!), I am finally starting to just feel “okay.” Okay in my own skin. Okay with imperfect Mondays and try-again-Tuesdays (and Wednesdays, Thursdays, etc.). Okay in these pants that are bigger than I’d like, because I look at my babies-now-big-kids and think I’d rather have them than be able to fit into my college jeans.

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image credit: littlepeoplescove.com

The Fun-House Mirror

I remember the first time I realized my body image was distorted. A roommate offered to loan me a pair of her jeans. I looked at her and laughed out loud–she was obviously several sizes smaller than I. But she persisted, so I tried them on. They fit! And not in a squeeze-into-them-and-hope-they-won’t-rip way! It was shocking. I thought back to those eating disorder specials on TV in junior high. The girl looked at her reflection and it acted like a fun-house mirror. We saw that she was skin and bones, but her reflection screamed back at her: You’re fat! You’re disgusting! You’ll never be beautiful! No one will ever want you!

I don’t know why I was surprised to find my view so distorted. I knew the fun-house taunting all too well. When I was 12, the onset of puberty and a sudden growth spurt finally got me the attention I craved, and I determined to do everything I could to keep it up. The years that followed were marked by cycles of diets, exercise plans, and forced vomit. All the while, I looked in the mirror and heard those cruel boys shout: Whale in the swimming pool!

While those jeans were a bit of a wake-up call, issues with my weight and identity have lingered in the years since. Having a baby well before my peers only exacerbated the problem as I compared their young, unmarked bodies with my own stretched and worn one. And while the security of marriage and a loving husband helped some, it turns out having two more babies doesn’t do much for one’s figure. It has continued to be a struggle as I consider what it looks like to honor God with my body while also fighting the lies of our culture and the taunts of the fun-house mirror.

Romans 8 and Body Image

I’ve been studying Romans 8 for several months in preparation for a conference a few weeks ago. While I was there, someone asked the question, “What does Romans 8 have to say about body image?” It passed quickly without a thorough answer, so I thought perhaps it is worth revisiting here. Here are four applications I take from Romans 8 that relate to body image:

#1: God does not condemn you.

Beauty is culturally defined and therefore entirely arbitrary. Some cultures want child-bearing hips, ours asks for legs the size of toothpicks. The question we must ask ourselves is what is the standard I am trying to achieve and why? Scripture does not give us an ideal body type. But God does give us a moral standard under which we all fall short.

The desire to look in the mirror and like what we see is the fruit of a deeply rooted desire of the soul to be okay. The law of God is written upon our consciences and we are ever aware of our many failures to measure up. Extra weight, diet failures, missed workouts–in our fallen minds, these become more evidence indicting us. So we respond by trying to justify ourselves. We make a plan, start on Monday, and work to achieve some impossible standard of perfection.

Romans 8:1 says, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The reality of the Gospel is that, in Christ, you are okay. In your current physical state, whether you ate a made-from-scratch, organic, clean meal or ordered a greasy pizza, whether you ran 15 miles or sat at a desk all day, you are okay because the blood of Christ makes you okay.

#2: People cannot condemn you.

If we’re honest, we don’t necessarily want to achieve a certain physical state because we want to please God (though I think that underlies all of our efforts), we want to please others. We want people to think we’re beautiful, sexy, confident, strong, fill-in-the-blank. So while God’s law does not demand physical fitness, it has become an extra law that has been heaped upon our shoulders by ourselves or others.

But while Romans 8:1 assures us we are free from condemnation, verses 33-34 take that further, applying it to our fears: “Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.” There is no one who can condemn us! Because God has justified us in Christ, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

The beauty of God’s love for us is that it does not depend on us. It is not based on something within us or around us that may change; it depends upon God who never changes.

But the love of people is fickle. I experienced that in the form of teenage boys. I got skinny, they wanted me. I didn’t give them what they wanted, they didn’t want me any more. I did give them what they wanted, they didn’t want me any more. So I found myself trying to be skinnier and more beautiful and more available to try to earn their attention and acceptance. But it turns out I didn’t need it! I have all the approval I need because of Christ. If you think I’m fat, well, that’s on you. I’m not saying there are not heart and sin issues that may need to be addressed when it comes to food and exercise, but I am saying that achieving some ideal body type will not give us the satisfaction we crave. Feeling approved of by people will not give us the satisfaction we crave. It will never be enough. Only when we rest in the acceptance that is ours as God’s beloved children will we find the freedom to peel back the layers and address the issues beneath the surface.

By definition, body image refers to how we see ourselves. So it’s necessary to take this one step further. While I think a distorted body image flows from an assumption about how others view us, the reality is, we also want to please ourselves. We want to look in the mirror and like what we see. Yet even here, we have no power even to condemn ourselves. Christ’s blood trumps every accusation, whether from outside of us or from within. Whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our hearts (1 John 3:2).

#3: God is at work in all things.

In Romans 8:28-30, we see God’s promise to work all things for the good of those who love God; the good being the transformation of our character, that we would be more and more like Christ. I see at least a couple of implications to the discussion of body image.

First, it’s a matter of priority. God’s priority is our holiness. Achieving a certain body type does not necessarily make someone more or less holy. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4: “Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (v. 7-8). He does not say that physical training has no value, but he puts it in its proper place. The goal, the focus, the priority is Christ-like character, not a culturally acceptable body type.

Next, how God works. Since God is working to bring about our holiness, and since He is at work in all things, then it follows that your struggle in physical disciplines bears fruit in spiritual ways. Our struggles and successes related to physical appearance are a means God will use to expose our idols, root out our pride, challenge our selfishness, etc. This gives us hope in the struggle. When you blow your diet for the 354th time, you can have confidence that God will use even this failure to continue to shape you into the image of His Son. He has promised to finish what He started (Phil. 1:6).

#4: Our bodies are tools, not treasures.

When I was in college, I took a “break” to live in Los Angeles (because that’s what responsible people do). While I was there, my parents generously decided to give me a car. They flew me home, my mom drove the car out with me, and then she flew home. The next day, I totaled it. They may have been really angry, but in this case, they hid it well, because while I apologized profusely my dad said, “The car is just a tool. We’re glad you’re okay.”

Romans 8:23 says that we are groaning alongside the fallen creation, eagerly awaiting our adoption as sons and the redemption of our bodies. Our bodies exist in a fallen state. Death, decay, sickness–these things are all the result of the Fall, and we experience them in these bodies we inhabit. Why do we work so hard to preserve a fallen body that will inevitably die? We have the promise of future glory, of a resurrected body that will never experience sickness or death. But until then, we live in the “not yet” with bodies which might not cooperate.

It is a lie of our culture that the most important thing is our health. An article at Desiring God this week debunked this myth:

God clearly states, “You are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes” (James 4:14). When you are sick, Paul is there to remind you that your “outer nature is wasting away,” while your “inner nature is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

Is it really most important, given this brief mist of a life, to maintain pristine health? God thinks not. He is committed to the display of his glory (Isaiah 43:7) and invites you to embrace that mission as one of utmost importance (1 Corinthians 10:31). God did not think the most important thing about his incarnate Son was his health.

You may have heard the language, “Your body is a temple” applied to the pursuit of physical health and wellness. The verse is from 1 Corinthians: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (6:19-20). I have not studied this passage in detail, but even just a quick glance makes me think the application to physical fitness is a stretch. The context appears to be the way we use our bodies to engage in sin. Instead, we are to honor God with our bodies. Do we do that by exercising daily and eating organic? Or do we do that by laying down our lives for others? Paul uses similar language in Phil. 1:20 as he faces the very real possibility that he will lose his life for the sake of the Gospel.

Our bodies are tools that God has given us to accomplish his purposes on earth, by His power and for His glory. 2 Corinthians 4 says we carry the treasure of the gospel in jars of clay. We are cracked, clay pots. Why does God leave us in this form? Why doesn’t he transform us now into beautiful china vases that he displays on a shelf? Because as weak vessels, we “show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.” (2 Cor. 4:7)

A friend said to me once, “You gotta take care of your Earth Suit. There are people who depend on you.” Just like a car needs oil changes and regular maintenance, we ought to steward our bodies as the tools God has given us. Thinking in this way is a giant step towards a healthier body image. Our bodies are fallen, but while we are here, they can be more or less useful if we take care of them. But the goal is not form, it’s function. We want our bodies to be ready for whatever God would call us to in service to Him and others. But He intentionally made each of us unique. We are not meant to strive for an unattainable mold but rather to celebrate the Creator who didn’t use one.

The New Mirror

The reality is our physical bodies can serve to reveal the issues of our heart. Our relationship to food, our desire for the approval and recognition of others, the lie that achieving a certain weight or size will bring satisfaction–all of these are things worth wrestling with. Physical training is of some value. Clean, organic food might be better for you. I should probably not eat so much pizza. But the reality is, our bodies are groaning alongside creation. We are longing to be made new. That is our hope. One day, there will no longer be a fun house mirror. One day, these perishable bodies will be raised imperishable (1 Cor. 15:42). One day, our body image will no longer be distorted, because when Christ appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him as He is (1 John 3:2).

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