Thursday, December 19, 2013

Race Recap - Texas "Whine Not" Another Marathon

After the craziness of the cancelation of the Dallas Marathon less than two weeks ago, I scrambled to sign up for a new race as soon as I could. I didn't want to travel very far, but it was looking like that would be inevitable, since most of the races that still had space were further away. My other option was waiting until February or April to run, but I wasn't sure that I could train for another few months. A friend of mine sent me a link to a race here in Dallas. It was the following weekend. The race was called the Texas Whiner Series Marathon. I had never heard of it, nor had I heard of the race location: Bachman Lake. On a whim, after Chance's encouragement, I signed up for it. 

As the days dwindled down to race time, I began to get really nervous. After all, I had completed some pretty unconventional training. I used the Hansons Marathon Method to train for this race: my first full marathon. My longest run had been only 16.5 miles. In comparison to most training plans, which have you run at least one 20-miler, this training plan capped at 16 miles for its longest run. I ran 6 days a week, incorporating strength, speed, and tempo workouts. It was hard, but so much fun. 

The night before the race, Chance and I were in the kitchen talking. I asked him, "So, how do you think I'm going to do tomorrow?" I was hoping for some major ego boosters as I was really starting to get the pre-race jitters. His response: "Well.. I know that if anyone can do it, you can." Um, not exactly what I wanted to hear, but I'll take it! He went on to explain that 26.2 miles is a reallllllly long way to run and since I had only run a few 16-milers, he wasn't 100% sure I'd be able to finish. Yikes. Now I wasn't so sure either...

Race morning! I didn't sleep well the night before (big surprise!) but still got up at at 5:30 to eat and get ready. Downed some gluten-free waffles, a bit of coffee, and got dressed. It was 32 degrees outside. Chance and Hudson took me to the race start where a group of about 60 other people were gathered. 

The race was so low-key and non-intimidating. I liked that a lot. The woman, who was giving instructions about the course, asked if anyone was a first-time marathoner. A number of other people (including me!) raised their hands. This was it, no backing out now! I was so ready to start running. At 7:00am the clock started and all of us runners were off.

The sun started to come up just after 7:00, and it turned out to be a beautiful morning. There was no wind, which was amazing. The course was eight 3-mile-long laps around Bachman Lake and then a short out-and-back about 3/4 mile to the finish line. I thought that going around in a circle would get monotonous, but it actually wasn't bad at all. 

I got near the front of the "pack" with about three other runners ahead of me. I was going to try to maintain about an 8:12 pace for the whole race. My first few miles I found it difficult to even out my pace, but once I got into a rhythm I was much more steady-going. I began talking to a woman who was running right behind me, who was shooting for a similar finish time. We were both trying for BQ's (Boston Qualifying times - 3:35:00). I was more or less just doing that for fun, to see if I could actually get close to that time. My actual goal time was 3:40:00.

At about the halfway point, I began to feel some soreness in my legs, but not too bad. As I got closer to that 16-mile mark, I was getting excited because I still felt really good. After I passed 16 miles and finished 17, 18, 19 miles I was pumped because I hadn't run that long... ever!

Around mile 20, I went to grab some gummies from my running belt and to my horror realized that I had dropped my phone (or so I thought). I spent the next two laps trying to remember whether or not I had actually taken it with me. When I saw Chance and Hudson pull up in the car, just as I passed mile 23 (still feeling somewhat fresh!) I was relieved to discover that Chance had my phone the whole time.. whoops. It was a nice distraction, anyways. 

I yelled to them, "Last lap!", and kept on running. I decided to push my pace a little bit when I got to mile 24, so my last two miles were under 8:00. Throughout the whole race, I had passed by other runners who cheered me on, or yelled things like "You're killing it!" That was truly helpful! Thank you, other runners! 

When I got to the turn around to make it back to the finish line, I thought that I might just make the 3:35:00 mark. As I sprinted to the finish, I looked at the clock which read "3:36:14". I  couldn't believe it! I had finished my first marathon, and had done it UNDER my goal time of 3:40:00. I didn't really care that I missed a BQ by about a minute. I was just thankful to have been able to run this race, cheered on by some other wonderful runners and my two biggest fans: Chance and Huddy.

Hudson after the race. He was just too excited to take his morning nap.

At the finish line, the race volunteers told me my official time (3:36:14) and told me that I had finished first female overall. Now THAT was a huge surprise. Granted, there were only 60 people in the whole race (not exactly the Dallas Marathon) but still! Overall, my first marathon experience couldn't have been better. I am super happy that my training**, as unconventional as it was, paid off. After three days, I am beginning to feel much less sore, and can't wait to get back out there logging more miles. 

Happy Running! 

[**I would definitely recommend the Hansons Marathon Method to anyone looking to train for a marathon. Whether it's your first or tenth, HMM will push your expectations and help you to achieve beyond what you think your body is capable of.]

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Post-[What Would Have Been My First]-Marathon Reflections

On Wednesday afternoon, I went out for a slow, four-mile run down Swiss Avenue, enjoying the beautiful 79 degree weather. I thought, "Surely tomorrow's forecast for freezing rain is a little farfetched." This picture can attest to how I could have rationalized that thought. 

On Thursday morning, the temperature had dropped to just above 32 degrees, and the clouds which hung in the sky looked unpromising. Unfortunately for me, I guess the weather man got it right. The plan was to have two friends and one family member of mine, from out of state, fly in the next day. We were all supposed to run the Dallas Marathon on Sunday. On Friday, I got the news that my friend's flight had been canceled. Then the truly unexpected happened...

After more than twenty-four hours since getting the news that the Dallas Marathon was canceled, I am still experiencing a whole gamut of emotions. I am frustrated, disappointed, and sad. I had such high hopes for myself, especially since this was to be my FIRST full marathon. My goal was to run under 3:40:00, having completed the Hanson's Marathon Method Beginner Program. 

As I said in my previous post just a few days ago, I learned a lot from my training; discipline, thankfulness, amongst other things. I still believe God's goodness and sovereignty despite this major disappointment. My theology is working for me! 

But disappointment is an interesting beast. We get most disappointed when our expectations are the highest. After four months of hard work, I had set high goals of completing this marathon and doing it well. Naturally, my disappointment is not minor. In the grand scheme of eternity, this is so insignificant. 

In the last day, I have even felt silly for crying about the circumstances surrounding this disappointing weekend. But at the same time, we are human beings created with very real emotions. It is all about how you control those emotions that determine whether or not your response to your circumstances is correct or not. 

By the grace of God, I believe that I have kept my perspective on eternity and my emotions in check (for the most part). Nevertheless, I am bummed about not running [what would have been my first] marathon. L

Perhaps, God is teaching me humility. Or maybe he is reminding me that He is God and I am not. Shoot, He desires to teach me all these things and in the midst of it, remind me of His grace which I do not deserve. I am reminded of what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6, that bodily discipline is of some value, whereas godliness is valuable not only in this life, but also in the life to come. 

That truth stings my flesh as I try to rationalize how important running this race was to me. On the one hand, finishing this marathon was going to be a great blessing and accomplishment; on the other hand, if my hope is bound up in just completing a road race, then I need to get my priorities straight. Talk about a reality check!

It has been helpful for me to write these thoughts down as I reflect on my unmet expectations. From here, I don't know what my running schedule will look like. I am not sure when I will run a marathon: next weekend, in the spring, or next December, perhaps. Whatever happens, I am confident that God will get the glory. He controls the details of our everyday lives and has proven to me [again] that His ways are not my ways, nor are His thoughts my thoughts (Isa. 55). 

Whether you are in the midst of disappointment, as I am, or you can look back retrospectively at disappointment in your life, rest assured that God is the same. Hebrews 13:8 says, "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever." When life doesn't go according to plan, like I've experienced this weekend, we can trust that God has it all under control. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Pre-Marathon Reflections

After four months of training for my first marathon, I am compelled to take the time to think back on what my training has taught me. 

First, I am thankful. I have been able to run six days a week, for the past four and a half months. That is astonishing! My body has held up (for the most part), I have been injury-free, and I have been given both the time and ability to train. 

I am thankful for Chance and his self-sacrifice on my behalf. I am thankful for his support and love. I am thankful for him as Hudson's father, who loves to care for his son. 

I am also thankful that my runs have been times of prayer, reflection, and meditation on God. I love being able to go outside and enjoy God's creation while at the same time enjoying the benefits on exercise. What a gift. 

Second, I have developed a deeper desire for discipline in my life. Marathon training requires consistency, perseverance, and sacrifice. In a word: discipline. I think that my personality tends to gravitate toward routine and self-discipline anyways, which is one reason that I love have a training schedule. I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to have daily set goals (amount of mileage) then setting each day out to accomplish those mileage goals. It has been an rewarding and satisfying experience for me.

Lastly, marathon training has revealed to me the truth Jesus spoke of in Matthew 6:21, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." I have valued marathon training. Sometimes I have valued it too much, though, and when my plans don't go accordingly I become irritated. God has shown me the ways in which I can make running an idol if I am not careful to guard my heart. This is all a part of my sanctification. Running can be be both used for God's glory and abused to my shame. 

Well, the countdown continues as I wait for race day. I'm sure there will be plenty more to write about once I cross that finish line. Dallas Marathon 2013, here I come! 

(Stay tuned for Post-Marathon Reflections!)

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Life of A Seminary Wife: Part 3 - Solutions

After observing some of the struggles that seminary wives experience, I now want to suggest some possible solutions for dealing with these issues. 

At the outset, it must be noted that although difficulties are a part of life, there are both godly and ungodly ways to respond. I believe that God has given us His Word for the purpose (amongst many other reasons) of directing us to him when life gets tough. 2 Peter 1:3 says that we have been given everything we need for life and godliness. That's an all-encompassing promise. Through God's Word, we can be directed, helped, encouraged, exhorted, reproved, taught, enlightened, and changed to walk in obedience to God and his commands. That being said, I want to give some biblical wisdom addressing the unique struggles mentioned in Part 1 of this series. 

1. Redeem the time - Ephesians 5:15-16 says that Christians are to "look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil." Our days are numbered. I am reminded of this every night when I go to sleep. It is sobering to think that if the Lord chooses, I could not wake up the next morning. James 4:14-17 concludes that we do not know when our lives will come to an end, therefore we should not assume that our plans will always go accordingly. In light of eternity, the four years (or perhaps more...) that you spend at seminary are really just a blip in time. 

However, we are called to "make the best use of the time", in whatever season or circumstance of life God has put us. In seminary, you have an abundance of resources at your disposal: the library, opportunities to audit classes, seminars, seminary wives' ministries, like-minded women living next door. The list goes on. There will not be another time in your life, as you eventually go out into the ministry, when you will have all of these resources so readily available. 

Likewise, seminary proves to be a fruitful time of learning for both student and spouse. I can attest to the fact that I have become more disciplined in reading books, studying the Scriptures, and listening to sermons while being at seminary. Why? My husband is always talking about this subject or that biblical text, which sparks my curiosity (and challenges me!) so that I go after answers to tough questions. I also realize that this is a time of ministry preparation for me, as well as for Chance. After we leave seminary, we will likely be in a church or other ministry context where I will not have the opportunities for training, mentorship, and theological growth, like I have right now. All that to say - don't waste this time!

2. Repent of bitterness; be thankful - Ephesians 4:31 says "You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk." (NET) This verse cuts to the heart. If we are mulling about with resentment and bitterness toward our husbands, we are sinning not only against our husbands, but against our God. 

Bitterness tends to grow most rapidly in those who only focus on the negative aspects of life. If a wife complains about the city she now lives in, the church she now attends, the people she is meeting (or not meeting), and the job she now works at, the seed of bitterness has already blossomed; the root of it is very deep.

However, if a wife has a mind set on thanksgiving, her attitude will be one of gratitude rather than bitterness. Paul explicitly says in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, "give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you." Elsewhere Paul says to make your requests known to God with thanksgiving, and that we should give thanks "always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Eph. 5:20). Lastly, Colossians 3:17 says "And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Clearly, the Scriptures teach that our response to the circumstances that God has put us in, whether easy or difficult, should be thanksgiving. 

God has blessed you with a husband who desires to (1) learn the Bible, (2) serve the Lord, and (3) provide for his household. God has brought you to seminary for his sovereign purposes, and it would be a shame to waste the time by being bitter or resentful. God will bless the time if you obey his commands. When we are tempted to become bitter, remember God's will for you: give thanks in all circumstances. 

3. Remember, you aren't alone - The privilege of learning at an institution like seminary cannot be overstated. Moreover, the opportunity to learn and grow alongside like-minded believers is an enormous blessing. There have been many days, however, when that reality has not been on the forefront of my mind. 

Too many times I have forgotten that I am in the same boat as many other wives! My exhortation to wives who are experiencing loneliness, is to first remember that you aren't the only one going through this. Secondly, remember that you aren't meant to do this alone. Third, you will remain lonely if you are always alone, so join a community. 

On the last note, whether it is a women's bible study at your church or a ministry directed at seminary wives specifically, you will do well to intentionally surround yourself with other seminary wives. You need them and they need you. 

Lastly, "seek the Lord while he may be found, call upon him while he is near" (Is. 55:6). God has a purpose for you in the midst of your loneliness. He wants you to draw near to him and find your comfort in him. 

I hope that this series has been helpful for those current and future seminary wives. It is my desire that as you go through seminary with your husband, you will never lose sight of the goodness of the Lord in putting right where you are. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Life of A Seminary Wife: Part 2 - Surprising Graces

Last week we looked at the struggles a seminary wife faces. This week I will write about some of the lessons that God has taught me during our time in seminary.

Prayer - While I was out running this morning, I was also praying. This is not abnormal for me, being that it is one of the few times I get to spend by myself. I love to utilize this time in order to meditate on the Lord and beseech him on behalf of myself, our family, and especially my husband. The Lord has been teaching me about prayer over the last year. Through various books on the topic, a study of the Lord's model prayer (Matthew 6), and my own personal study of the Scriptures, prayer has been a huge focus for me lately. 

Not only am I convinced of my need for prayer (personally), I am convinced that the single most important way that a wife can serve her husband is to pray for him. As I mentioned previously, seminary has unique challenges. I have often felt that I do not have the right answers to Chance's theological questions, nor the correct counsel in certain situations. However, I can always take his burdens to the Lord in prayer. 

I have been profoundly impacted to learn the necessity and privilege of prayer through the study of the Word of God. Although no where in the Scriptures are wives commanded to pray for their husbands, what other person do you know more intimately than your mate? Who does your husband share his burdens with? Who knows his propensities and struggles with sin more than you? A wife is called to a life of service alongside her husband. The best way a wife can serve her husband is by interceding for him.

Study - Over the last two years, God has impressed upon my heart a desire for the study of theology. When I became a Christian in college, I was very intimidated by ministry majors (i.e. Chance and others) who seemed to know everything there was to know about the Bible. I had very little head knowledge, and I was put off by the arrogance of some who were zealous in their studies. 

However, God has completely renovated my way of thinking about theology. Chance has impressed upon me, over and over again, the great blessing that learning is. He has challenged my thinking by asking pressing questions and picking my brain about my convictions. We have wrestled through a great many theological topics together. I have been his sounding board, as he works through issues in Scripture; and he has been mine.

I have grown in my confidence to be able to study theology on my own. He has been the greatest encourager in my walk with the Lord, convincing me to read [many] books that I insisted were way beyond my intellectual level. I have come to a deep appreciation of extra-biblical books and theological studies. God has used the avenue of my mind to deepen my walk with Him, and God has grow me in ways I did not think possible. 

Circumstances - Bible reading, prayer, journaling, and quiet times: these are all wonderful graces that God uses to grow Christians in their walk with him. However, I have learned that God also uses our circumstances to sanctify us. 

After Chance and I had been in Dallas for 7 months, the Lord took us out of a ministry that we were a part of. It happened rather quickly, and we did not at all expect it. Our plan was to begin trying to start a family once Chance was in his last year of seminary. But, after our ministry plans fell through, we began to reconsider our timeline for our family. 

About two months later, I got pregnant. I hadn't even been working at my job for a full year! I was nervous about what kind of sacrifices this would mean for us and whether this was the wisest decision. But, we knew that this was the direction the Lord was taking us, although it would mean some serious life change (especially for me). It was not at all what I had expected would happen when we moved here the previous year.

In a matter of months, I went from full-time executive assistant (without children) to stay-at-home mom. It was a drastic change, and I struggled for a few months to get the hang of being at home all day with a newborn. God used those first few weeks of adjustment and difficulty to cause me to depend on him in a way that I hadn't before. I was suddenly very aware of my selfishness, impatience, frustration, anger, pride, and autonomy. But I also saw God's patience, kindness, love, sovereignty, forbearance, and faithfulness more clearly than I had before having Hudson. 

The past two and a half years of our seminary experience have been a roller coaster ride. Though, I am so thankful for how God has blessed us and for what he continues to teach me through this time. He has surprised us in many ways, but God never withheld his great grace in the midst of every circumstance. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

The Life of A Seminary Wife: Part 1 - Struggles

When you decide as a family to attend seminary, you choose to sacrifice. The difficulties that accompany seminary may be because the wife came with a set of expectations that were unmet, or because her husband is stretched too thin. Nevertheless, all of us must admit that seminary is taxing for both student and spouse. 

To begin this series, I want to first look at the struggles that so many wives face when they come to seminary.

The Situation

Your husband is in class. You are either working full-time outside the home to support him, working inside the home by caring for your children, or a combination of the two. You hear the word "busy" more often that you can count. You may feel like you see your husband only at mealtime and bedtime. You are both working hard to utilize the time that God has ordained for you while in seminary, but sometimes working, taking classes, serving at the church, and caring for your family gets overwhelming. What results is tough questions about what you are doing here in the first place. 

Can you resonate with any (or all) of these? I can. When Chance and I first moved to Dallas, we jumped right into our church and began serving, while also participating in a ministry outside of the church. I started a full-time job at a financial management company, while Chance took a full load of summer classes. I hadn't known what to expect, but I figured it would take some time to adjust to our new schedules. 

In the midst of all that, I was trying to build new friendships and find time to invest in those relationships that I hoped would last a lifetime. This was all new. As I attempted to navigate the waters of seminary life, I realized that I could go through this whole experience feeling overwhelmed

The Struggles

"I'm just here for him!" If you are at seminary with your husband, it is [hopefully] because the Lord has specifically called him to be trained for ministry. However, God has called your husband and you to the ministry. One mistake that I believe many wives make is that they come to seminary for their husband, rather than with their husband. What I mean by this is that wives will say that they are just here while their husband gets his degree, yet they do not see the unique opportunity that they themselves have to get trained to be in ministry alongside their husband. 

At the opening event for DTS's seminary wives, I heard the advisor to SWIM (Seminary Wives In Ministry) say very pointedly that both you and your husband are getting that degree. That clicked for me. I began using the phrase "we are in seminary" rather than singling Chance out. This was due to her exhortation that my husband was not going to get through this experience without my support. 

Both Chance and I, as a married couple, have been called to a life of ministry. As his wife, I am to fully support my husband no matter what, as long as he is obeying the Lord and living according to God's Word. I am here with my husband. I am not against him. I am not just tagging along. I am really with him in seminary. 

Loneliness - At a place like seminary, the most ironic thing is that everyone is going through much the same experience as you are, yet oftentimes you can feel very alone. If I gathered 10 women in a room and asked them what their biggest struggle has been while at seminary, I would guess that 9 out of 10 of those ladies would confess to feeling isolated and/or lonely. 

Here you are in a place amongst other Christian women, all preparing alongside their husbands for ministry, and you feel like you can't connect or that you are weird for feeling alone. This is understandable because, as I mentioned previously, your husband is in a season where his time is stretched thin. He has a load of responsibilities that he is trying to balance. That means that he's probably not home every night of week, and you may not be able to go on date as often as you'd like. 

Wives can accept the fact that this is a temporary experience, and do their best to help their husbands balance their time wisely. Or they can become embittered and resentful. The latter is the worst option, because, as unrepentant bitterness fosters, your unity with God and your husband is jeopardized.

Unmet expectations - Lastly, many wives comes to seminary with a set of expectations. The expectation that we wives are going to build great community, as soon as they walk on campus, is common. Or wives expect that their husbands will gain crystal clear insight as to his future ministry within the first semester. 

For those of us who have been at seminary longer than a year, we can attest to the fact that things often don't pan out how we expected. Relationships can take a while to form,  rarely appearing out of thin air. Even amongst Christians, long-lasting friendships are built through time, intentionality, and selflessness. Accepting this up front will be of great value to you in the long run. 

Additionally, a husband who has sensed a calling to pastoral ministry may decide to pursue a further degree instead of going straight into the ministry once he graduates. Likewise, another man who was confident that God wanted him to go to overseas, may instead choose to become a shepherd to God's flock in the local church context. Whatever direction God chooses to take your husband, having set expectations (that you feel MUST come to pass) may damage your perspective on how God wants to use both of you to further his kingdom. 

These are simply three ways that I have observed (and experienced) struggles in my time here at seminary. Thankfully, God provides us with everything that we need for life and godliness in his Word. In the next post, I will relay some of the tremendous ways that God has used this period of time to grow me and cause me to see his grace in my life. 

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Life of a Seminary Wife

After two years of being here in Dallas, at this place of theological study place (otherwise known as "seminary") I have begun to think and reflect on my time as a seminary wife. This year I have the privilege and opportunity to coordinate Dallas Seminary's "Seminary Wives in Nurturing Groups" ministry (better known as SWING). This position has had it's challenges and blessings, but it has also given me some major insights into the mind of the average seminary wife. My desire is to write a series of posts addressing the unique challenges and common struggles of being a seminary wife, as well as discuss the profound blessings and enormous encouragements that I've experienced in this season of life. Stay tuned for this upcoming series!

"I therefore, a prisoner for The Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Still in Training

It is week six of my marathon training plan, and I am right on par with my weekly mileage, pacing, and workout schedule. It has been kind of daunting to be running every single day (except one rest day) each week. But I have thoroughly enjoyed being able to work toward this goal: running my first marathon. Ever since I had the idea to run a marathon in the same year that I had Hudson (first baby, first marathon) I have been excited to pursue it. The more that I have thought about these two things, the more I realize that this journey as a mom has been much like my marathon training. 

On most days, I am excited about getting up early, going outside, and logging mile after mile on the road. But some days, I am sleepy, sore, and not terribly thrilled about completing another 5-miler at a 10:00/mile pace. Just like being a mom, most days I am looking forward to seeing what the day has in store, what new milestones I will witness, and hearing that sweet boy call my name "maaaaaa ma". But, there are other days when I am just exhausted from the night before and from the many hours of time alone with my infant son. 

The common theme here is that both of these "tasks" take work - hard work! I am not alone when I confess that motherhood, in my opinion, is the hardest job on the planet. However, it is also the most rewarding. Training for a marathon is also rewarding, but in a more temporal, physical way. The joys of motherhood far outweigh the difficulties of it. I am learning to treasure every moment and not take for granted the precious time that God has allowed for me to be the mother of my son.

So as I resume my training tomorrow morning, hoping to complete an easy 6 mile run, I will also commence my duties as Hudson's mother and full-time caregiver. Although I won't earn any finisher medals for the latter accomplishment, I know that my Heavenly Father sees my every move and will one day reward my labors, with a crown that far surpasses any race memorabilia this world has ever seen. 

Friday, July 26, 2013

Food on Friday: Company Cafe

So last night, Chance, Hudson, and I went on a "family date" to The Company Cafe on the Katy Trail. It's a gluten-free, local/organic (high quality) restaurant with a bunch of amazing menu items. Chance and I both opted for the free range beef burger with fries - sweet potato for me, and regular for Chance. They were AMAZING. Chance must have said how good his burger was about 200 times. We have a stuffed portobello mushroom for an appetizer, which was equally delicious. And for dessert: strawberry cake. Oh, so good. 
We would highly recommend this place-great, casual atmosphere, spectacular food, and high quality ingredients. Plus, you can eat outside at picnic tables and get lightly misted by water-spraying fans while you enjoy your meal. That was Hudson's favorite part :)  

Friday, July 19, 2013

Better Than A Million Quiet Times

Oftentimes when I think about my sanctification I have a cookie-cutter view of how God should conform me to Jesus' image. I think that godliness is akin to having hour-long devotionals and solid daily prayer time. However, God is challenging my thinking in significant ways by doing some serious heart work on me in this season of life. 

I love routine. I thrive on consistency, scheduling, and to-do list accomplishments. But recently I think I have come to love my schedule a bit too much. Since having Hudson almost six months ago, my daily plans have been consistently foiled. As I have mentioned before, Hudson is not a good sleeper. It has taken me a while to embrace that fact (and it is still a hard pill to swallow). He just does not sleep well, plain and simple. He has flucuated in his sleep difficulties from no naps, to multiple night-wakings, to breaking free of his swaddle, to rebelling against napping. All of this has been a serious source of frustration for me. Just this morning, after about a week of inconsistency and new changes to his sleep "style," I thought that I had had at least some success in his morning nap. I was proud of my seeming "success." As a result, I felt encouraged and joyful. But when he woke up after just 5 minutes of sleep, all those feelings went right down the drain. Why was I so frustrated all of a sudden? Why was I so surprised that he was awake? Why was I suddenly grumpy, irritable, and upset? I know why; the problem is my sin! 

Recently, I listened to a sermon by Tullian Tchividjian about his book "Glorious Ruin" that discusses the gospel in terms on the suffering that we all experience in this life. He talked about how unmet expectations are a very real part of daily suffering. I think that this pointedly describes one root cause of my frustration with Hudson's sleeping--my desire to control my circumstances. Since I function so well when I have consistency in my daily life (which is NOT bad!), I can become dependent upon my expectation that things will go "my way," and base whether or not I have a good day in accordance with how my expectations pan out. God has shown me, through my son, that God is the only one who is sovereign and in complete control. When I attempt to force control on my circumstances and become upset when my control is thwarted, I am in effect trying to be God. God is not pleased when I do this, because He alone is omnipotent and I am not.

Moreover, I have an idol of my schedule, and God is revealing that to me by forcing his hand of providence to intervene with my set plans. When what I did not expect to happen (e.g. Hudson waking up from his nap) happens, I end up getting frustrated with Hudson; I am really bowing down to my schedule/routine and making what I want to happen in my day the ultimate factor of a "good" day or "bad" day. This is idolatry for two reasons: 1) I am worshipping what is not God, and 2) I am basing my joy on what is not God. 

Thankfully, I have a good, sovereign, and gracious God who will not allow me to stay in this state of sin. Though I am discouraged when I see my sin so richly on display in my anger and frustration, He graciously reminds me that He has given me everything I need for life and godliness. God is so kind to not let me worship my schedule, my circumstances, or myself. He is too good and knows exactly what I need. For me, in this season of life, God is choosing to conform me to the image of Jesus by not giving me what I want (my perfect schedule!). He does this for my good and for His glory. I love him for his faithfulness and am thankful that He is so patient with me. 

I know that I recently written A LOT about this subject, but such is my life right now. I am learning the way in which God is choosing to sanctify me doesn't have to be through those lengthy Bible reading sessions or uninterrupted times of prayer. But since God is infinitely wiser than I am, I trust that this way of sanctifying me is better than a million quiet times. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Food on Friday: My Take on Lentil Soup

When Chance and I first got married, I started making a staple dish of "lentil soup". Over the months, through additions and experiments, it was converted to more of a lentil stew. Recently, I began adding some greens to the stew to make it a heartier, healthier, and more colorful version. It has become one of our favorite go-to meals! I hope you enjoy it as much as we do. If you make it for yourself or others, please let me know!

1 cup (or a little more) lentils
1 onion, diced
1-1 1/2 cups of minced carrots - I do this in the food processor
1 bunch red swiss chard (or any other chard - I like red for the color)
1-2 cloves minced garlic
1 can Italian stewed tomatoes
1 tsp. dried oregano
2 or more cups organic vegetable or low sodium chicken broth
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

Saute onions, garlic, and carrots in olive oil until softened and onions are slightly translucent. Add oregano, salt, and pepper at this point. Add lentils, tomatoes, swiss chard, and broth. Cook on medium low heat for about 20-25 minutes. The lentils should be soft and not chewy when the soup is finished cooking. The soup (or stew) will have absorbed a lot of the broth, but if you like it more soupy then just add more broth to your liking! Bon appetit!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Food on Friday: Grillin'

So my dear husband, Chance, has been perfecting his skills on the grill lately. His very first grill experience was just a few weeks ago, as he mastered the art of Rib Eyes. It was risky business for his first time at the barbecue! Thankfully, the steaks turned out perfectly and our meal was a success. 

Yesterday, we went with the classic (chicken) hot dogs and bell peppers, for the Fourth of July. Tonight, we invited a friend to join us for grilled sausages, zucchini, and corn on the cob. We added some broccoli and sweet potatoes to the menu as well. To top the night off, Chance grilled some in-season peaches which we enjoyed with [lactose-free] ice cream. Needless to say, it was the perfect end to a beautiful summer evening. 

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sleep-Deprived But Not Theology-Deprived

The past few days were tough--I mean really tough, as far as sleep goes for the Sumner household. Hudson has learned this new trick where he can roll from his tummy to his back. This would be great, except for the fact that he still needs to be swaddled to sleep. This means that whenever he rolls around in his crib, he oftentimes gets himself too worked up and looks like a fish out of the water (minus the fins!). He had also decided that he didn't want to be put down in his crib without WAILING first for about 20 (or more) minutes...which made for some very confused, frustrated, and exhausted parents. 

Just yesterday, I prayed that the Lord would help me to see his goodness in light of his sovereignty in this situation. I also prayed that he would help me to fight my sins of frustration, anger, selfishness, and irritability, which were rearing their ugly heads as I listened to my screaming son. Helpless though I felt, I was comforted by the fact that God is in control of all circumstances and, in fact, he had ordained this for my good (Rom. 8:28). Not a few hours later, though, I was in tears as I attempted to put Hudson down for nap number two, while fighting the feeling of abandonment and loneliness. Where was God in this mom's sleep-deprived, exhausted, and tear-filled circumstance?! My perplexity led me back to what I had written in my journal just a few hours prior to that moment. The thoughts that I had written down were a reflection on the unchanging character of God. This bore fruit in my thinking in light of what I was experiencing. My theology brought stability to my troubled heart.

I wrote, "Although I am perplexed about Hudson's difficulty with sleeping lately, I have been able to remember a few things about God's character that have been truly comforting:
  1. He is good; he is always good (Ps. 119:68)
  2. He cares for me, and wants me to cast all my anxiety on him in humility (1 Pet. 5:6)
  3. He is my hope--not my circumstances (Rom. 8:25)
  4. He loves me (Rom. 5:5)
  5. He is at work in my heart, using my circumstances to conform me to the image of his Son, which is my ultimate good (Rom. 8:28)
So where was God when I couldn't see beyond nap time? He was with me and near me. Psalm 94:19 brought immense comfort as well. The verse reads, "When worries threaten to overwhelm me, your soothing touch makes me happy" (NET Bible). 

If you find yourself in unforeseen circumstances that threaten to steal your joy or cloud your view of God's goodness, ask yourself these questions: "Does my theology work for me or against me in a situation like this?", "Is God really in control of whether or not my son takes a nap this afternoon?", "Does he have a purpose in what is so seemingly mundane and inconsequential?" I believe that God governs every detail of our daily lives and uses them to mold our character to the likeness of Jesus. When I am sleep-deprived and teary-eyed, I should let what is true about God work to shape me into the image of Christ.

I hope I can live this out when it comes to bed time...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Food on Friday: IT'S BACK!

As you may know (or maybe not..) I am
not that gifted of a baker. However, I do very much enjoy to bake sweet breads and muffins, most often incorporating either a vegetable or fruit to the batter. Well this week I made an attempt at baking Gluten Free (Dairy Free) Zucchini Bread for my women's bible study. I am proud to say that the [first] effort was not all that bad! The bread turned out a little more moist than I would have liked. Zucchinis hold a lot of moisture, so next time I would use fewer wet ingredients like one less egg or less oil. I also added some dairy-free (allergen-free) chocolate chips, instead of nuts. Overall, it was dellllicous, but I will take another crack at this recipe in the near future. Enjoy! 

  • 1 cup dairy free chocolate chips (or chopped walnuts)
  • 1 1/2 cups freshly shredded zucchini
    • 1/2 cup vegetable oil (I used organic coconut oil instead, which was a good choice for this bread)
      1 cup sugar (I used organic unprocessed sugar)
    • 2 eggs
    • 2 teaspoons vanilla
    • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
        • 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
        • 1 1/2 cups GF flour mix (I used Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Flour)
        • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum for each cup of flour (so for this recipe it was 1 and 1/4 tsp)
  1. Shred the zucchini and chop the walnuts in a food processor and set them aside.
  2. Use a mixer to beat the eggs and add the sugar, oil and vanilla. Add the baking soda, cinnamon, salt and baking powder. Slowly pour in the flour and xanthan gum until well mixed. By hand, mix in the zucchini and chocolate chips (or nuts). Pour in greased & floured loaf pan and bake at 350F degrees for 75 minutes. Let cool.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

A Different Kind of Full-Time Job

Last night I was thinking about my days as an executive assistant and office manager just a few short months ago. I worked at a financial management company by day, and was a housewife by night. Well although my role as full-time career woman came to end when Hudson was born into the world, there are many interesting parallels between my job as an office manager and my new job as a stay-at-home mom.

When I worked at the financial management company, my day began promptly at 8:00 am, while here in the home I might be beckoned out of my slumber by a crying baby anywhere from 6:30 to 8:00 in the morning (not to mention in the middle of the night!). My attire at the office was very professional: button downs, pencil skirts, and kitten heels. Nowadays, my outfit of choice is a pair of Nike running shorts, a tech shirt, and flip-flops (you can pretty much forget about the make-up). At the office, I had the same routine every morning: log onto my computer, turn on all the lights, fill the Keurig, and check my e-mail. At home, my routine begins by "silencing my alarm" (a.k.a getting a sweet, crying Hudson up out of his crib) and then spending the next hour in my pajamas on the floor, while Hudson plays to his heart's content. Some mornings at the office consisted of answering a slew of phone calls and e-mails, while at home most of the conversation that I am engaged in is responding to the giggles of a five month old. 
I was always on "lunch duty" at my office, taking orders from my boss and co-worker and running out to pick up their requests. At home, I am on breakfast, lunch, and dinner duty (as well as morning and afternoon 'snack' duty!) -- that's just the nature of nursing! My compensation as an office manager was an annual salary that Chance and I could easily live off of; whereas now my compensation is in the form on priceless smiles and unforgettable milestones like rolling over. I can't say that the latter actually pays the bills, but in the long run I am sure that going out to eat a little less will be well worth it. 

As Jesus taught his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, he exhorted them not to be like the Pharisees who practiced their righteousness "before other people in order to be seen by them" (Matt. 6:1). He reminded the disciples that the Father who sees them in secret (or saw their deeds done in secret) will reward them. Paul, in Colossians 3:22-24, told the believers in the church at Colossae who were working as slaves, that they must not make it their goal to be people-pleasers, but to instead work as unto the Lord "knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward". I have often thought of these passages in reference to my role as a homemaker, wife, and mother. This job requires a lot of behind the scenes activity, which rarely gets acknowledged by the outside world. Most of day is spent in the home, caring for our son, and managing the affairs of daily life--all behind closed doors (literally). I have been discouraged when I think that as a homemaker my gifts of teaching and speaking are going to waste and I am not able to bless those around me. However, when I read these verses, the Lord reminds me that in whatever I am doing that I can do it heartily and for Him, knowing that it is from him that I will receive my reward. Jesus said that the Father sees both the motives of my heart and the things that I do on a daily basis that no one else sees--and He is pleased when I do them with the aim to glorify Him. Although, I should seek to bless others with the gifts that God has given me, my main objective should be to serve my family and in turn honor the Lord in that endeavor.

 Today, as I contemplate both my former job as an office manager and my current one as stay-at-home mom, I can be confident that the Lord will bless me in any job I am doing. So whether you are a career woman, a single lady, a housewife, or a stay-at-home mom, whatever you do in the private sphere "as unto the Lord" should be done not for the praise of people but for the glory of our great God. He has prepared for you good works from before time began, so that you would walk in them (Eph. 2:10) and in doing so, please Him and bring glory to His name.

"For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen." -Romans 11:33

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Blogger's Block

I have been wanting to write something for the last few weeks, but have been at a loss for what to write about. I read recently that blogging should only be done when you have something worthwhile to say, and I couldn't agree more! Who wants to read something inarticulate and jumbled when there is so much material out there that is way better to read? So, as I write this train of thoughts, I am praying that God brings something to mind soon that I can actually make worth your while to write about. Until then, enjoy the rest of the blogosphere and come back soon for that post I can't quite seem to put my finger on yet..

"Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts toward God." -Colossians 3:16

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Brought to God

I just started reading Glimpses of Grace by Gloria Furman last week. The book is about living for the glory of God in the mundane circumstances of life, especially in the home. I am about halfway through the book, and as Gloria writes about the magnificence of our Great God, a statement she made about 1 Peter 3:18 jumped out at me. The verse reads, "For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit." She underscored the fact that in the death of Jesus, not only have we been forgiven of our sins, we have been forgiven of our sins so that we might be brought to God. As sinners, we are considered offensive to God because he is holy and cannot tolerate sin in his presence. Therefore, God sent Jesus into this world, on behalf of sinners. Jesus lived a perfectly obedient life and was therefore able to be the perfect substitute for us. When he died on the cross, he took upon himself the iniquity of us all, so that while he became sin for us, we became his righteousness. The Scriptures say that all who place their trust in Christ have been "clothed" in Jesus' righteousness and "reconciled" to God. Jesus' atonement makes it possible for sinners, like myself, to stand in the presence of God and be considered acceptable and pleasing to Him! Not only does Jesus' sacrifice and atonement free me from the guilt and condemnation of my sins (Romans 8:1) but Jesus' suffering on my behalf brings me to God (1 Peter 3:18) so that I might enjoy Him forever! That is the point that Gloria made in her chapter on "The Power of Parables" and in discussing how God uses the mundane in our lives to conform us to the image of Jesus. These are some powerful and glorious truths that I bless God for allowing me to meditate on today. I would encourage anyone who is struggling with their purpose in the seemingly boring or monotonous circumstances of life, to read Gloria's book and to hope in the God who brings us to Himself through faith in His Son!

"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.." (Ephesians 1:3) 

Happy Father's Day! 

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Motherhood Thus Far

So today marks my very first Mother's Day since giving birth just three months ago. It has been a whirlwind of a journey to say the least. Just a week ago, I celebrated my 24th birthday, which began with a 6:00 a.m. wake up call from the little one. I quickly learned that birthdays as a mother are significantly different from prior birthdays. Birthdays, and all other days, are now characterized by constant selflessness and care for another. Though there are many things that I have gleaned from these past few months, five things stand out that I would like to mention on this Mother's Day.

I am currently sitting by an open window, enjoying the quiet of an apartment occupied only by myself and a sleeping baby. Chance is at work, while I stay home and care for our sweet Hudson. But soon, the quiet will be broken by a waking child who needs his mother. While I might want to continue writing or reading or simply enjoying a quiet afternoon, I will have to put those desires aside, because I am needed by another. The very first and most obvious thing that I have begun to learn, in motherhood, is selflessness. It--caring for the needs of another over your own needs--is a beautiful picture of how Jesus cares for His own. He put aside his glory, and humbled himself to the point of death, for people who rejected and despised him. He became sin for people who did not thank him for doing so, but who were his enemies. As I embrace the opportunities to care for Hudson on a daily basis, I am identifying with my Savior who put the needs of others above his own. 

Secondly, I have learned that motherhood is not always glamorous. But despite the lack of glitz, I am learning to have joy apart from my circumstances. I recognize the incredible blessing that having a child is; Hudson is a wonderful baby, and I do not cease to give God thanks for him each day. But life is not always exciting when you have an infant. In fact, some days seem rather boring and uneventful. However, because I know Christ as my Lord, my purpose and identity are not derived from my circumstances! Therefore, I can be joyful and happy, even in the midst of boring, mundane, and seemingly uneventful days.

Third, I have learned to give thanks in all circumstances. God has seen fit to bless Chance and I with a tremendous gift (and responsibility) in giving us Hudson. He has given us this child for a time, and the honor of being his parents. It is only natural that we should, in return, thank the Giver of all good gifts, who is God above. After all, "no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly." (Psalm 84:11) Even when I haven't slept much the night before, or cannot figure out why my son is crying, I am called to give thanks to God. For God is good and his steadfast love endures forever, therefore I give him thanks (Ps. 118:1).

Fourth, through sleep-deprived nights and exhausting days, I have learned dependency on the Lord. God is the source of all strength, and so when I am feeling spent, I must ask God to give me the strength that he alone can supply. In the first 4 weeks of Hudson's life (outside the womb), there were nights when I would walk the halls for hours in order to get Hudson to go to sleep. Thankfully, those days are over, but being a mom can be very tiring on a day-to-day basis. When my spirit is discouraged and I feel as though I am at the end of my rope, God has been faithful to prove himself dependable. He is always there in my time of need. 

Lastly, in the past three and a half months, one of the most significant lessons I have learned has been the power and necessity of prayer. Prayer has been one area of the Christian life that I have been studying recently, and through my study I am convinced that prayer is both necessary for us as Christians and powerful in getting through to God. Jesus commands us to prayer, and God promises that he hears us. Prayer is essential in the life of the Christian, because prayer is communion with God. I have cried out to God many times since becoming a mother--for wisdom, for help, for sleep, etc. I have also been more devoted and desirous of prayer since Hudson was born. I know that God desires to commune with me, and the place in which I feel his presence most  is in the time I devote to prayer. God has been faithfully answering my petitions and encouraging me in my prayer life. I am so thankful for the perseverance that he is giving him to continue on in that pursuit. 

I am sure that through the journey of motherhood, I will keep learning for the rest of my life. I am grateful for all God has taught me thus far and look forward to the lessons I still have to learn. 

**written earlier this afternoon**

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Strength Training for the Christian

As the wife of a seminary student, I am often listening to mini-lectures on the canonization of Scripture, inerrancy, and textual criticism (etc., etc.) In the past I have listened with passivity because I am not well-acquainted with these subjects; after all, I am just a seminary wife. But recently, I have become convicted (most likely through the prayers and encouragement of my dear seminarian-husband) that learning, specifically through reading, is vital to the Christian. Let me give you a parallel to help put this into perspective. 

I write often on this blog about exercise, specifically running. I love it! I devote valuable time to it because I both enjoy it and consider it beneficial. But one aspect of running that I don't so much enjoy is strength training. Strength training, for me, isn't fun. But it yields a great benefit! Fact: it makes you stronger (hence the name). I run faster and can go father when I have devoted time to going to the gym and lifting weights to build the muscles I use when I run. Strength training is also part of injury-prevention. When a runner or athlete has strong muscles, they are less likely to be hurt in their sport. Well, reading is like that for the Christian. For those of us who aren't avid readers, picking up an extra book and spending time actually reading it, can be a difficult task. I just finished a book called "Taking Hold of God" edited by Joel Beeke and Brian G. Najapfour, on Puritan and Reformed perspectives on prayer. I admit that when Chance told me about the book he had just checked out for me from the library, I was a little less than excited. It was not exactly the book I had had in mind to read on the subject of prayer. Boy was I wrong! It was a fantastic read that has challenged and encouraged me in the discipline, study, and practice of prayer. Had I not undertaken to trust my husband's judgment and read this book, I would not now be benefiting from what I have learned. 

To be sure, learning is a process that continues through our entire lifetime. God chose, in his wisdom, to inspire a book to be read so that the man (or woman) of God would be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:17). We would do well to press on in our learning through the discipline of reading and reap the rewards that await us. So just as athletes need strong muscles to perform to the best of their abilities, so we as Christians need strong spiritual muscles that are built as we exercise our minds through reading. 

Reading is also the Christian's defense against injury, because with knowledge there is power. Reading and learning from what we read, prevents us from incurring any injuries to our patterns of thinking. Paul told Timothy, "Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. 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." I conclude from this passage that training one's mind to protect against error (or "injury") is even more important than training one's body. Certainly, our experiences shape the way we think about issues in life; from them we gain wisdom and the benefit of having been through certain circumstances ourselves. But how much more equipped could we be as Christians to face the world, if we took the time and energy to actually know the ins and outs of our faith. 

To conclude, I believe one of the greatest hindrances to devoting time to reading is busyness. "I'm too busy" is a phrase that I both use and hear too often. While I understand that every individual has a different schedule to keep to, we are all responsible utilize our time wisely. Perhaps we could all re-evaluate our levels of busyness to see if there really isn't time to devote to reading, for the glory of God. I am sure that we could all find time to read that book that we've meant to finish for months, if we checked Facebook less often, and took fewer Instragram photos. If you truly are desiring to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, take the time to read a book; I promise, you won't regret it.