Abigail: Willing to Hold Ourselves and Others Accountable

But Abigail was more than a peacemaker. A peacemaker just negotiates a compromise. Abigail, in a roundabout way, confronted David’s sin. She held David accountable. Galatians 6:1-3 reminds us that each of us has a responsibility to watch over our fellow believers. If someone we know falls into sin, we are to gently attempt to bring him/her back to God. We also are to watch our own attitudes and actions so that we don’t become proud and fall into sin. None of us have reached the point where we are above falling into sin.

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a couple of lessons at our church’s women’s Bible study. We were finishing up a series on women of the Bible. I could think of no better woman to include in that study than Abigail–a bold champion of right.

* * *

Abigail’s story is told in I Samuel 25. David is running for his life away from King Saul. He and his 300 mighty men just had a chance to eliminate Saul. This seemed like the perfect way to fulfill God’s promise to make David the king of Israel, but David refused to take matters into his own hands:

The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the Lord’s anointed.” (I Samuel 24:6)

He recognized that life and death belong to the Lord. God had a plan, and it was not David’s place to rush it.

Once again, David proved he was merciful, trustworthy, and honorable. He left vengeance in the hands of the Lord. He proved he was a “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22) and worthy to be the next king of Israel.

Often when we have a spiritual victory, it is quickly followed by some sort of test. Full of confidence, or perhaps pride, we often fail the test. Unfortunately, this is what almost happened to David.

If it were not for Abigail’s confrontation, David would have mercilessly slaughtered Nabal, his family, and his servants. David would have had blood on his hands. And when it was time for him to become the king of Israel, the already divided country would have been more divided: stay with Ishbosheth, the weak son of Saul, or follow someone who had earned a reputation as being fierce and cruel—David.

As we meet our characters, I’m reminded that each of us has a reputation. Maybe it’s based on something we did or did not do in the past. Maybe it’s based on who our family is (and that is hard to change). Or where we live. Or our job. But we each have a reputation. As Christians, our reputations should reflect our savior, Jesus Christ. We need to be careful how we live our lives, because once we tarnish our reputations, it is almost impossible to remove that tarnish.

This story focuses on three main characters:

Abigail: Her name means “My father rejoices.” She is described as “discerning and beautiful” (v. 3).

Nabal: His name means “Foolish” Did his parents name him this or did he earn this nickname? Regardless, v. 3 says he was “harsh and badly behaved,” v. 17 tells us he was “worthless,” and v. 25 says he was as foolish as his name.

David: His name means “Beloved.” Up until this point he had a reputation of being brave, fearless, and honorable. He was God’s anointed future king of Israel.

Apparently Nabal was a supporter of Saul (or perhaps whoever would benefit him the most). I’m sure he’d heard of David. Even the surrounding countries knew about David’s defeat of Goliath. But Nabal was self-centered. He only cared about his own convenience and gain. Giving food to David’s men would not meet that goal. He didn’t care about God’s promises. He only cared about himself. And right now David was a hunted fugitive. Look what had happened to Ahimalech the high priest when he gave David bread—he and his whole family were murdered by Saul’s command (I Samuel 21-22). Supporting God’s anointed came at a price.

Meanwhile, the man who had just spared the life of King Saul completely lost it! He knew vengeance belonged to God, but now he was taking matters into his own hands. The stress of living in fear and hunger overwhelmed him. He had done something nice for Nabal, expecting something in return. Perhaps this is why Jesus (Luke 6:35) tells us to help others not expecting anything in return. We should be helping others to be a blessing to them, not thinking about what we can get out of it.

Nabal’s servants were supporters of David. Instead of informing on him to King Saul, they had developed a relationship with David and his men. It was meant to be mutually beneficial. David protected the sheep herders, and he and his men received food in return.

Abigail was put in a difficult position. She was expected to obey her husband. But his actions were foolish and wrong. If she didn’t take food to David, she and her husband would die. If she did, and her husband found out, he would no doubt make her life miserable.

Apparently Abigail was used to rescuing Nabal from his folly. While some would argue she was not being submissive to her husband, others could argue that what he wanted done was wrong. Besides which, she was saving his life! Acts 5: 29 reminds us that in a conflict between right and wrong, we are to obey God rather than whomever may be over us (husband, boss, political leader, etc.)

This was a life or death situation. Abigail did not even attempt to reason with Nabal (see v. 17). Instead she took matters into her own hands to stop David and save her family.

Abigail was a courageous woman. That does not mean she did not feel fear, but rather that she did not let it paralyze her.

Abigail was not afraid to plead for her life or to confront David’s sin. Nor did she try to pretend her husband was someone he was not. She was honest about Nabal and what he deserved. She was also honest with David about who he was and what his responsibilities were.

I find it interesting that she did not attack David. Nor does she rebuke him. Instead, she starts off by blessing David for withholding vengeance (v. 26). And then she reminds him of his character and responsibilities (vv. 28-30) and of God’s power. She concludes (v. 31) by showing him the positive end result of his prudence: no guilty conscience!

I’m impressed and convicted! Too often, I want to attack to wrongdoer and force him/her to acknowledge his/her crime. But when we attack people, they just get defensive. And once someone gets defensive, it’s hard to admit wrongdoing.

Abigail never told David he was wrong for wanting to kill Nabal. She didn’t run up to him screaming that he was committing murder. Instead, she reminded him of who he was. And she reminded him of the God he served.

By appealing to David’s character, she won his attention and respect. We all want to feel respected. She made it easy for him to change his plans without losing face. Abigail was one smart lady!

If she hadn’t confronted David, his reputation would have been ruined. And he would have murder on his conscience for the rest of his life.

David returned the blessing. He recognized and admitted he was in the wrong. And he praised both God and Abigail for keeping him from murder (vv. 32-35).

God is way better at vengeance than we are. Nabal paid for his selfish, uncaring, foolish ways. And it happened without David staining his hands and conscience.

And God blessed Abigail for her role in this story as she played the part of a peace maker.

But Abigail was more than a peacemaker. A peacemaker just negotiates a compromise. Abigail, in a roundabout way, confronted David’s sin. She held David accountable. Galatians 6:1-3 reminds us that each of us has a responsibility to watch over our fellow believers. If someone we know falls into sin, we are to gently attempt to bring him/her back to God. We also are to watch our own attitudes and actions so that we don’t become proud and fall into sin. None of us have reached the point where we are above falling into sin.

It’s not easy to confront sin. Often we aren’t sure how to do it. And often the response is not as positive as the one David gave Abigail.

It’s especially difficult when the person in error is in a position of leadership.

A lot of leaders, especially those in Christian circles, have fallen into sin over the years. David himself would sin again a few years later with Bathsheba. And Nathan the Prophet would come and confront him—leading David to repentance (Psalm 51). We are all capable of sin. And we all need accountability partners in our lives. I have heard over and over that all Christians should be both discipled by someone and discipling someone else. One of the reasons the Bible has so much to say about discipling each other is that discipling includes encouraging, teaching, training, and confronting sin if necessary. We all have areas where we need to grow and sin we do not realize. No one is exempt.

In Kay Warren’s book, Sacred Privilege, she devotes a chapter to maintaining our testimonies. She is concerned over the number of Christians who fall into sin and not only ruin their lives, but also tarnish Christ. Even though she is primarily writing to Christian leaders, there is much of what she says that applies to every Christian.

Model of Integrity

(from Sacred Privilege by Kay Warren, pp. 190-194)

1. “Aim for a clear conscience, seeking to live with holiness, integrity, and sincerity.”

(II Cor. 1:12)

  • Acts 24:14-16 (Paul before Felix)

2. “My audience is God.” (II Cor. 2:17)

  • I am not trying to impress anyone else.

  • I’m not trying to profit from serving God.

  • Everything I do should be for God, not men. (Col 3:23)

3. Serving him is a “sacred privilege,” so I “will get rid of secret, shameful sins.” (II Cor. 4:1-2)

  • Any role, ministry, or chance to serve that we have is a gift from God and should be treated with honor.

4. I will make every effort to have my private and public lives match—no hiding or

pretending.” (II Cor. 5:11)

  • I Samuel 16:7 – We can’t fool God. He knows our thoughts and the true intentions of our hearts.
  • Numbers 32:23 – The truth usually comes out; even if it is after we are gone. And that truth can ruin our testimonies and tarnish God’s name.

5. “I will keep in mind how easy it is to discredit the ministry [God’s work, my testimony, my church] by my behavior and lifestyle.” (II. Cor. 6:3)

  • Our lives should be our greatest testimonies. People notice hypocrisy. If we say one thing and do another, we show we are not a new creation (II Cor. 5:17).

6. “I will get rid of anything that contaminates my body or my spirit.” (II. Cor. 7:1)

  • Colossians 3:1-10 (esp. v. 9)–We are supposed to be changing from the inside out.
  • II Cor. 4:16

7. “Everything in my life—including my finances is in order. I will live with transparency and work hard to do what is right in the sight of God and others.” (II Cor. 8:19-21)

May we all seek to be like Abigail as we graciously confront, challenge, and encourage each other to be all that we can be as we serve the Lord.

When I am weak, then I am strong

Sometimes I notice things the first time. Other times I need to see them several times in order to recognize God put them in my life for a purpose.

Today was one of those days. First I saw the verses on a friend’s Instagram post, but I glossed over them. Then they were my Sweet Blessings scripture writing assignment for the day. I paid some attention this time. By the time I saw them a third time, their message was sinking in.

You see, life isn’t always what it looks like from the outside. On the outside, the house may be clean, the kids dressed, my make-up on, but inside there is a struggle. I feel so overwhelmed and inadequate so much of the time. (I think we all do!) The kids fight. I yell at the kids. I clean and cook and clean again. The kids fight some more. I run up the stairs to change another dirty diaper (while the kids fight–again). It’s mundane. It’s wearisome. It’s life-changing. Or is it? Yes, it is, but not in the “rescue someone from a burning building” kind of way.

It may not be saving anyone else’s life, but it is changing mine. Every hard day reminds me of my need for God. Every night I’m up and facing the exhaustion of another sleep-deprived day I’m reminded I need His strength.

So when I’m exhausted and weary heart and soul, I need to read, really read, II Corinthians 12:9-10: “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

Paul begged God to change his circumstances and remove the thorn. But when God told Paul that His’s power was evident through Paul’s struggle, Paul’s attitude changed.

Paul’s response overwhelms me: “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” When my weaknesses are overwhelming, that is when Christ’s power is displayed. The weaker I am, the stronger Christ becomes. When was the last time I wanted to appear weak so Christ could appear strong?

I’d rather appear strong. I get upset when I don’t feel or look that way. We all do. Christ is shoved in the corner, sort of like a magic genie–unnoticed until we need something. So I need life to be difficult–not all the time, lest I become totally weary, but often enough so that I’m reminded to look to Christ as my source of strength and not any accomplishments of my own.

And so I’m being changed–saved from my own self–every time I let go of my own pride and accept Christ’s power at work in my life. And his power is far and above anything I could produce on my own. That’s the amazing miracle of progressive sanctification. I’m saved once and for ever, but I’m being saved each and every day. I just have to step back, stop fighting, and let Christ work through me.

Rediscovering the Awe and Joy of Christmas

Have you ever gotten burnt out? I know I have! Just plain weary of doing the same thing year after year, day after day. I remember when I first got burnt out with Christmas. I thought it was exhaustion from finishing finals 3 days before Christmas. There just wasn’t time or energy to get into the Christmas spirit. When the burn-out continued post-college, I reasoned it was adulthood. I was a child no longer. This must be normal; it was one of those things—like sleepless nights with a newborn—no one talks about. It would change when I had kids. So I waited . . . and waited. And then Quentin came along. With kids, Christmas changed for the better. There was certainly a lot more excitement, especially on Christmas morning. But some things hadn’t changed– at least not in the way I was expecting.

You see, what I was missing was not the unconstrained excitement of a child ripping off wrapping paper. What I’d lost was the wonder and awe associated with the miracle of Christ’s birth. That excitement can’t come solely from Christmas carols, lights, and presents. Little children are amazed at the miraculous story because it is new to them. The story is no longer new to us, but it doesn’t have to be dull or routine. We reread or rewatch our favorite books or movies over and over again, never tiring of them. I recently rewatched The Scarlet Pimpernel. I can quote most of the movie. But it is still one of my favorite movies. I loved watching it again. Why? Because even though I know what happens next, there is always some new detail previously overlooked. Some expression explained. Some nuance revealed. The dialogue still makes me laugh. The suspense still excites me. So it should be with Christ’s birth. It is a story full of miracles, nuance, and meaning. A story that waited 4000 years to be told. A story full of awe and wonder and joy.

I’d like to look briefly at three women who experienced the awe and wonder of Christ’s birth first-hand. I hope they will prove an encouragement and inspiration for us as we seek to reclaim their excitement as our own.

The first component of rediscovering awe and joy is obedience. And the first woman we’ll look at is Mary: We cannot experience the awe and excitement of Christ’s birth if we are not living in obedience to His word.

Luke 1:26-38

26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

27 To a virgin espoused to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary.

28 And the angel came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women.

29 And when she saw him, she was troubled at his saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this should be.

30 And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favour with God.

31 And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus.

32 He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David:

33 And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end.

34 Then said Mary unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?

35 And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God.

36 And, behold, thy cousin Elisabeth, she hath also conceived a son in her old age: and this is the sixth month with her, who was called barren.

37 For with God nothing shall be impossible.

38 And Mary said, Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her.

God did not give Mary an easy task. She was young, unmarried, and would face horrific gossip and criticism from those around her. We look back and consider that Mary was given the greatest task and blessing any woman has ever received. But she might have been tempted to feel God was ruining her  life–that what he asked of her was too difficult. She could have said, “Why me?” She could have fought God’s plan. But she did not. Instead, she believed the angel and willingly accepted God’s role for her. The cost would be great. Her betrothed almost divorced her. No doubt family and friends turned against her for her seeming immorality. She would have the privilege of raising the Son of God, but she would also have to flee for her son’s life to a strange country. And 33 year later, she would experience the greatest sorrow a mother can know—watching the death of her first-born son. And yet she did it willingly. There is no indication that she fought God or even considered refusing His plan. Instead, she said, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” (Luke 1:38).

Is there anything God is asking us to do that we are holding out on? Are we fighting Him? We may not always like God’s plans for our lives. I know there have been several times in my life when I felt God had really messed up–again! I was not happy with His plan for my life, and I made sure He knew it. But there was no joy in the battle. God promises peace to those who focus on Him (Isaiah 26:3). And He guarantees “fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) for those who choose “the path of life” and seek His presence. No where does He say life will be easy. But He does promise to “never leave you or forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). The first step to rediscovering joy at Christmas is to stop fighting Him and accept His plan for our lives, whatever it may be.

The second component of finding awe and joy is worship. There are so many things to love about Christmas—the lights, decorations, music, gifts, and traditions. But sometimes we get so wrapped up in the extras we forget about the true purpose for Christmas. We’ve sung the carols so many times, we no longer pay attention to the words. We’ve read the Christmas story over and over, so we gloss over it and forget to stop and worship God for the great miracle that took place.

Elizabeth and Mary hadn’t seen each other in a long time. They had so much to tell each other. But they didn’t get sidetracked with the latest gossip. They immediately took the time to worship God for what He had done.

Luke 1:39-45

39 And Mary arose in those days, and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Juda;

40 And entered into the house of Zacharias, and saluted Elisabeth.

41 And it came to pass, that, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Ghost:

42 And she spake out with a loud voice, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb.

43 And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?

44 For, lo, as soon as the voice of thy salutation sounded in mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy.

45 And blessed is she that believed: for there shall be a performance of those things which were told her from the Lord.

When Elizabeth heard the news, she worshiped. So did her unborn baby, John the Baptist, who leaped inside her. She blessed the unborn Savior and Mary, His mother. She recognized the amazing significance of this miracle when she said, “And why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me” (Luke 2:43). She knew Mary was the mother of the Messiah. In verse 45 she also blessed Mary for her belief in the angel’s message and her willing obedience.

Elizabeth was not the only one to respond to Christ’s coming with worship. Mary also worshiped the Lord in her Magnificat:

Luke 1:46-55

46 And Mary said, My soul doth magnify the Lord,

47 And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.

48 For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden: for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.

49 For he that is mighty hath done to me great things; and holy is his name.

50 And his mercy is on them that fear him from generation to generation.

51 He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.

54 He hath helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;

55 As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever.

In the midst of doubt and uncertainty, Mary recognized the great miracle being done in her. She was not grudgingly fulfilling God’s plan for her. She acknowledged God as her savior and praised Him for His power and mercy. She recognized what was happening was the fulfillment of prophecies and promises given generations before. I love her comment, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away” (Luke 2:53). She’s not talking about physical goods here, but of spiritual satisfaction. If we seek God, He will fill us. He is our source of satisfaction and joy. Possessions do not satisfy. This is something we need to teach our children, especially at Christmastime. Giving gifts is a wonderful tradition and a great way to show our love to others. But if the focus of Christmas is the presents, the joy will be brief and the let-down that comes after will be depressing. Only the joy that comes from a vibrant relationship with Christ will last after Christmas Day is over.

The third component of rediscovering awe and joy is sharing or giving. For this I want to look at Anna. Luke describes her as someone “who did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:47). She was obviously a very godly woman. The whole focus of her life was worshiping God and waiting for the Messiah. Of course, as an elderly widow she did not have the constraints on her time that some of us have. We can’t leave our children and husbands to fast all day and pray all night. But our desire and goal should be to make spending time with God a priority every day.

Luke 2: 36-38 (This is when Mary and Joseph took Baby Jesus to be dedicated at the temple.)

36 And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity;

37 And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.

38 And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.

Verse 36 tells us Anna was a prophetess. There are two kinds of prophecy: foretelling and forth-telling. We don’t know if she did any foretelling, but she certainly did some forth-telling. She was so full of excitement over Christ’s birth, she just had to speak of Him to everyone she met. I’ll admit I am too often afraid of people and what they will think of me to speak of Christ to everyone I meet. Anna is a challenge to me. One of the purposes of Christmas is to share the good news with others. Anna fulfilled that purpose. She was so full of excitement and joy, she couldn’t keep quiet. We should be full of that same unconstrained excitement.

We often hear that Christmas should be about giving. Usually this is in reference to gifts. And gift giving is a wonderful way to show love to others. But if we are really filled with awe and joy about Christ’s birth, we should want to give His story to others, too.

Christmas is often a time when people are more open to listening. I know there are many ways to share the joy of Christ’s birth. A simple one is making sure any Christmas cards or letters we send out clearly express our faith in Jesus Christ and His gift of salvation.

Often people are willing to come for a Christmas service, even if they never set foot in church the rest of the year. Visiting neighbors, inviting others into our homes for a Christmas dinner or tradition, and being willing to talk about the real reason for Christmas are other ways we can share Christ. It is easy to do this when you have kids! Everyone wants to know what Santa is going to bring them. I’m purposing this year to be more bold than ever before in gently explaining that we don’t celebrate Santa, but instead celebrate the birth of our Savior. It may make people uncomfortable, but it is what Anna would have done.

If we are feeling burnt out, worn down, or discouraged, maybe this is the year to reevaluate the Christmas season. Maybe it is time to take a new look at the traditions and activities we are involved in. Are we allowing friends, family, Hallmark, or Pinterest to tell us what we must do to have a special Christmas? Are there things that are distracting us that need to go? And once we’ve removed the distractions, we then need to find some ways to add Christ back into Christmas–to obey, worship, and share His message.

One new thing I’m doing this year is Scripture writing the prophecies and stories of Christ’s birth. There are so many prophecies about Christ’s coming. It is amazing! Isaiah is full of the news of Christ’s birth. How could anyone read it and not know the Savior has come? Writing Scripture has been a great way for me to slow down and really pay attention to Christ’s birth in a worshipful manner.

So let’s find some ways to rekindle that excitement. Whether it is creating a Christian Advent calendar or Jesse Tree with your kids, or doing random acts of kindness, or baking for your neighborhood, or going Christmas caroling, or just spending some serious time studying the story of one of God’s greatest miracles, let’s rediscover the joy of Christ’s Christmas miracle. It is a far more amazing story than any Hallmark movie!

The Joy of Hospitality, Part 2

Aren’t you glad God is creative? As humans made in His image, we get to participate in that creative spirit. And one of the ways we get to be creative is with hospitality!

Hospitality means “love of strangers” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible). With that definition in mind, there are many ways to show love to one another. The definition also reminds us that we are to show hospitality to everyone–not just close friends and family.

When people think of hospitality, they usually think of having people in their home for a meal or overnight. And that is a wonderful way to show hospitality. It is an especially wonderful way to get to know people one doesn’t know well.

But what if your home is too small or under construction. Or perhaps you work crazy hours. Or maybe there is a new baby or a sick child. Does that mean we cannot be hospitable? Of course not! There are many creative ways to show hospitality (love) to others.

Here is a list of some of the ways I’ve practiced hospitality or had hospitality shown to me:

  • Have someone over for a meal
  • Open up your home for someone to spend the night
  • Take a meal to someone who is shut-in
  • Invite someone over for lunch or tea or dessert–this would be easier than planning a whole meal (especially if you just serve brownies and ice cream).
  • If you have the money, take someone out to eat
  • Go on a picnic, hike, and/or play date at the park
  • Invite someone to go with you to a play, concert, or museum
  • The options are endless. What matters is you are spending quality one-on-one time with someone.

One of the ways I’ve made it easier to have people over for lunch is by having a set menu. I’m not kidding. It may seem a bit cheesy, but if you come over for lunch, you will probably have chicken and grape salad sandwiches or taco salad. They are two of our favorite lunches, easy to make, and I usually have the ingredients on hand. Knowing what I’m going to make takes the stress out of planning a meal, especially if it ends up being spontaneous.

I know some people have a set hospitality menu for dinner as well. I’m not consistent with that, but Friday night is always pizza night at our house, so if you are invited over on a Friday night, it will be pizza. (My husband is devastated if I serve anything else on Fridays.) And if we need to come up with a dessert in a hurry, we always make brownies with his grandma’s peppermint frosting or serve ice cream in my cute mini glass trifle bowls.

It may sound strange to have a set menu, but most people don’t care what you serve. They are just thrilled to have someone show an interest in them. A couple of weeks ago we had a couple over for Friday night supper. It was just pizza and salad, but you’d have thought it was lasagna or a roast beef dinner. They were so appreciative!

I used to think my house had to be spotless. No one could come over unless I’d dusted and vacuumed everything. I still try to have my house clean. People should feel comfortable, and it’s hard to feel comfortable if you are tripping over toys or have to move laundry in order to sit down. But I’ve relaxed a lot. If I wait for the perfect time, the spotless home, or the Pinterest-inspired dinner menu, I’ll never have anyone over. If that happens, my family will be missing out on one of God’s greatest blessings and commands.

 

The Joy of Hospitality, Part 1

And that is the wonder of hospitality. It doesn’t matter whether you serve roast turkey or pizza. It doesn’t make a difference if you use china or paper plates. People are starved for meaningful relationships–for communication that goes deeper than texts and Facebook and a “How are you,” “I’m fine” exchange on Sunday morning.

One of the greatest blessings in my life is sharing our home with others. Sharing a meal, a conversation, or just some dessert, or a walk in the park. No matter how we do it, hospitality is a blessing–one I’ve learned to love sharing with others.

But I didn’t always think of it as a blessing.

Initially it was scary. I felt vulnerable. What would I say? What would we do? What would they think of our home, the food, the conversation. What if they were bored! I made excuses. I put it off. I even made my husband make the invitation! Hospitality terrified me.

(I’m shy. I really am. Okay, maybe I’m just insecure!)

But we kept doing it . . . and doing it . . . and doing it.

And then I realized something. And it was revolutionary!

I hate parties. I’m horrible at small talk. I get that horrible pit-in-my-stomach feeling in large social situations. But in my home it is different. It is smaller, more intimate, more personal. I can relax. I’m okay in small groups. (In fact, I prefer them.) In the right setting, small talk gives way to something deeper–true, meaningful communication. And that is what my soul craves.

Yes, I have to make it through the first few minutes of pleasantries. But my husband is there. He is the master of small talk. Of asking questions. Of making others feel at ease and important. I’m so grateful for him.

I can tag along. Gradually I start to relax. The conversation becomes deeper. The fellowship more meaningful. And instead of feeling drained, I find myself being filled.

And that is the wonder of hospitality. It doesn’t matter whether you serve roast turkey or pizza. It doesn’t make a difference if you use china or paper plates. People are starved for meaningful relationships–for communication that goes deeper than texts and Facebook and a “How are you,” “I’m fine” exchange on Sunday morning.

It doesn’t even matter if my house is clean. (I’m still working on letting that truth sink in; it may take a while!) When I open up my home, I’m opening up myself. I’m showing someone s/he is important to me. And everyone wants to feel valued.

Perhaps that is why Peter mentions hospitality in connection with brotherly love:

“Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

Show hospitality to one another without grumbling.

As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another” (I Peter 4:8-10a).

Hospitality is an act of love. Love is an action, remember? It grows as I act on it. And love is serving. As I serve, I show I care. As I care, I learn to love.

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

(Stay tuned. Next week, I’ll talk about some simple ways to show hospitality you can implement no matter how crazy your life or home is at present.)

 

 

God is Enough

“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you . . . covetousness, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5

I am familiar with images of idols–be they Hindu, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman.

I am also familiar with less traditional idols. The idols that are talked about in Sunday sermons–sports, celebrities, money, fame–anything that becomes more important than God. A baby, a spouse, a beautiful home, a much-desired job promotion. Or, for me, a library full of books. A place to lose myself for a few minutes; to escape from life.

But though all of those things can be idols, none of those are what Paul is referring to in Colossians 3:5 when he talks about idolatry.

Of course I know coveting is wrong. After all, it is the 10th commandment: “Thou shalt not covet.” But recognizing coveting as idolatry–a substitute for God–makes me view it differently.

It isn’t about greed, or about me becoming dissatisfied or discontent with what God has given me.

It isn’t about me damaging my relationship with someone because I covet what she has.

It is about God.

It is about damaging my relationship with Him–devaluing who He is.

It is me saying, “He isn’t enough.” He, who gave EVERYTHING for me, is not enough.

I have to let that sink in for a while.

He, who gave everything for me, is not enough.

No wonder Paul says I need to put it to death. Covetousness is a relationship killer. If I want a vibrant, joyful relationship with God, I have no choice but to choose to be content with what He’s given me. I have no other alternative than to kill it. And kill it again. And ask God to help me, because I can’t kill it on my own. Because I choose Him and fullness of joy.

Staying Above Water During PPD (Or Any Other Rough Time)

During the worst of it, it took everything I had to get out of bed. Even feeding my baby seemed overwhelming. I wasn’t sleeping. I couldn’t eat. High levels of anxiety and random panic attacks stalked me throughout the day. And it went on and on. I would panic thinking how could I possibly make it through one more day, let alone one more week, absolutely not one more month. I did. I survived, not once, but twice. Not everyone does.

There is more than one way to get through Post Partum Depression–or any other hard time in one’s life. But there is no magic, immediate answer, just a lot of little, gradual fixes.

I was desperate for a quick fix. But they doesn’t exist for things like depression.

So I was forced to immplement a lot of little fixes. Some of them worked better than others. Some of them may well have been placebos, but they all helped. Maybe some of them will help you:

Do one thing for yourself each day. I know this sounds crazy, especially if you can barely get out of bed, but you need to do this. Even if you don’t feel like doing it, do it anyway. You have to push yourself. Walk around the yard 1 time, smell a flower, listen to a favorite song, read a page in a book, watch a movie, something! Seriously, sometimes walking outside seemed too much, but I was always glad I made the effort. It did help.

Dress better than you feel. Don’t give in to the urge to stay in your pj’s and forget the hairbrush. Force yourself to do more. Some days I succeeded better than others. Some days jeans, a shirt,  and a ponytail was a huge effort. At least I was dressed and my hair was brushed. Looking terrible only makes you feel worse! Some days I could add some mascara. Some days not. But I always pushed myself. It was worth it!

Do one household chore a day. If you are a task-focused person like me, sitting around unable to clean my house or care for my family only added to the feelings of failure and depression. At the same time, doing all those things was unthinkable! I made it my goal to do one thing a day. Sometimes that meant folding a load of laundry. Other days it meant putting a few dishes in the dishwasher. It was hard. It was overwhelming, but I felt better afterwards. Eventually I was able to do more. I started helping my husband make dinner. I added another item or two to my to-do list. I started making dinner by myself. I got out the cloth diapers again. The progress was slow, but I felt like less of a failure when I actually accomplished something–anything. After all, I’m supposed to be a mom, right? I’m supposed to care for my family.

Find friends/family to listen to you. You need someone to listen. Some days you just need a shoulder to cry on. Be careful, though. You don’t need criticism, to feel judged, or to have someone try to “fix” you. Find safe people who will listen, encourage, and care. I’m so grateful my mom made me a priority during that time. She has 6 kids, works part-time, and home schools my youngest sister. She is one busy lady. But she would answer my calls or texts any time of the day or night. It meant so much to me! Several other friends were also so helpful and encouraging. I couldn’t have made it through without them. It can also be helpful to find a good Christian counselor to talk to.

Hopefully you have a spouse who is caring and supportive. My husband literally put his life on hold to care for the kids, make meals, listen to me cry, and remind me over and over again that I was not a failure. Jonathan gets up at 2:45 in the morning to go to work, but during that time he regularly stayed up praying with me or caring for  Elena so I could try to sleep. If you don’t have a husband who can do that, find a friend or family member to come stay with you. You need that 24/7 support.

Spend time in God’s Word. This is a big struggle for me. I think it is a struggle for most moms of little children. I was so thrilled to discover swtblessings.com. She puts together daily Scripture passages for her readers to copy out. (That first month just happened to be on anxiety and fear.) I started doing Scripture writing before going to bed each night. Then I would meditate on that passage/verse while I tried to fall asleep. I also began to journal a sentence or two at the end of each Scripture writing–just how I was doing and any ways I had seen God working that day. And we prayed, and prayed, and prayed!

There are many other great strategies you can try. If you can find a medication that works for you, it can be very helpful. But most antidepressants take 2-4 weeks to take effect, so they aren’t an immediate fix.  Also, if you are breastfeeding, that makes taking prescription and over-the-counter medications more difficult. Hormonal supplements, especially bioidentical Progesterone, help some women. So does taking a magnesium supplement. I started drinking a cup of tea every night–first chamomile and later catnip. (I know it sounds weird, but it tastes like mint, and it actually acts as a sedative for humans.) I don’t know how much the tea helped my insomnia, but at least it was relaxing and enjoyable. My mom also bought me a diffuser. Certain essential oils, such as lavender and orange, help improve one’s mood. Exercise is huge, too. We began taking daily walks together as a family after supper. I noticed it did temporarily improve my mood–as I said, there is no magic cure, just a lot of little ones.

Recognize there is no magic cure, but anything that helps even a little is worth it. Find what works for you. The little things add up.

I hope this list is helpful to anyone who is going through PPD or knows someone who is. Actually, I’ve permanently implemented many of these strategies in my home. They help even when I’m not struggling with Post Partum Depression. After all, everyone has bad days now and then!

 

Finding Joy

Perhaps it is a journey. A path one follows. A life direction. Choices. Habits. Thoughts.

Joy–It’s a deep hunger–my greatest desire–a desperate passion.

What is this thing I seek so passionately? Is it something that is found, like a sea shell? One moment I’m joyless; the next moment my life is flooded?

Or is it more like love–creeping up on one, until “I was in the middle of it before I knew that I had begun” (Pride and Prejudice chapter 60)?

Or perhaps it is a journey. A path one follows. A life direction. Choices. Habits. Thoughts.

But what choices? What thoughts? What habits?

If life is path, what path do I follow? Success? Money? Prestige? Do those paths lead to joy?

Or is there another path–narrow, deserted, and hard–less appealing than the others. The path to life.

“You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy.”

Joy. An “Intense and ecstatic or exultant happiness” (The American Heritage Dictionary). Happiness taken to a whole new level. Ecstatic. God has promised that kind of happiness when I seek His presence.

He doesn’t promise it will be easy. There are no guarantees of success, or fame, or money. In fact, it may be downright hard!

But when I seek his presence–through prayer, worship, or meditating on His Word–I will find “fullness of joy.” It’s a promise. Joy will come!img_6815

 

 

 

 

Prayer Board

Too often in the futile search for the perfect time, I end up doing nothing at all.

As any mom of young children can, I’m sure, attest, it is so difficult to find a consistent time of any length to spend in prayer.

Too often in the futile search for the perfect time, I end up doing nothing at all.

For some time, I’ve been brainstorming a solution to the problem.

Here is part of the solution. It’s not perfect. However, I can guarantee I spend a considerable amount of time in front of the sink doing dishes EVERY SINGLE DAY!

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Quentin made this simple dry erase board at a Home Depot workshop. It is the perfect size. I can prop it up on the window sill and easily update it with prayer requests. At the very least, it is a reminder of who needs prayer.

I’m really hoping this helps me remember to pray for some of you more often. Even if it is only 2 minutes at a time, it is better than nothing, right? At this stage of my life, every 2 minutes counts!

Do any of you have any strategies that have worked for you? If you have any you’d like to share, please leave a comment below. I’d love to hear them (and try some, too!).

Separation Anxiety

When was the last time I literally freaked out if I didn’t get some time alone with Him each day? When was the last time my world fell apart because I just had to be with Him.

Some days I almost wish she loved me less. Okay, not really! There is nothing more precious than a little girl who is desperate to be with her mommy–even when she wakes up in the middle of the night to find me.

Which reminds me . . . there should be nothing more precious than a believer desperate to be with her Savior.

Wow, when was the last time I felt that way about God? When was the last time I literally freaked out if I didn’t get some alone time with Him each day? When was the last time I was more desperate to pray than to sleep, read a new book, or find some chocolate?

Some of it is just a phase. When you have a toddler and a 6-month-old, lengthy periods of time by oneself are a rare luxury. It is not that I don’t want to spend more time studying the Bible or praying. It is just hard to find time with out interruptions: Mommy, I need  a diaper change; Mommy, I’m hungry; Mommy, Elena took my toy; Mommy, look at that dog outside (interspersed with crying from the  nonverbal member of the family), etc.

But some of it is a choice. 

Some days I choose to clean my house, go on a walk, call a friend, or read a book. I choose to do those things first. I intend to spend time with God after that, but then the baby wakes up, the toddler needs disciplining, supper needs to be cooked. . . . It is not intentional, but by not choosing to put Him first, I choose to give God the leftovers. He gets the fragments at the end of the day.

Maybe it is time I  choose to be more of an infant–let go of some independence and develop some healthy separation anxiety.