Our family is beyond excited about the latest movie version of Les Miserables. We already have our tickets to see it on Christmas Day, and in the meantime we can’t get enough clips and trailers on YouTube.
(Anne Hathaway’s rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream”? I mean! My lands.)
Andy and I have seen the Les Miserables musical twice—once here in Los Angeles, and once in Cincinnati, when we were newly married. Andy suggested that I read the book in the weeks before that show, and what a challenge it was for me! Not just because it’s one of the longest novels ever written, but because of its conflict between law and grace. I’m all justice and little mercy, I’m afraid—black and white, right and wrong, more Inspector Javert than the redeemed Valjean.
When Javert sings, “Honest work, just reward—that is how to please the Lord,” I nod in agreement. In fact, the whole idea of grace is hard for me. I often withhold grace from others, and I refuse to accept it for myself. I don’t want to need grace, really. I’d rather just be perfect, and have my best be good enough.
Which also means, unfortunately, that I prefer most everyone around me be perfect, too.
Being Javert is hard work! And exhausting. And—brace yourself for this surprise—I’m not perfect. No matter how hard I try, I desperately need grace for my wicked thoughts and ugly heart. Here’s the question that haunts me lately: with such an aversion to grace, can I really know Jesus at all? If I’m still earning and striving, judging and snubbing, what have I in common with Christ? After all, the entire Christmas story is this: the Son of God took on flesh and embodied both grace and truth. He fulfilled every bit of the black and white, right and wrong law, but he was also every bit grace, and “from the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:14-18).
One blessing after another! Lord, that sounds a whole lot better than the exhaustion of perfection. Enough striving like Javert, who lived in bondage even though he wasn’t a prisoner. Let me be like Valjean, who knew his lack, and lived in the fullness of grace. Oh, thank You for grace, God! Let me fall on it, and trust in it, and hope in it. And thank You for Jesus, who came to bring the fullness of grace to Javerts and Valjeans alike. Amen.
To wrap up 2012, may I recommend three great books to start off your 2013? A better blogger would post about these one at a time, maybe even over a few weeks, so as not to overwhelm her readers. But I am not a better blogger, so brace yourselves for a book dump.
Book #1 to add to your Christmas wish list…Grace by Max Lucado. I love John 1:16, “From the fullness of his grace we have all received one blessing after another,” and Lucado’s book is an exploration of the “grace upon grace” that is ours in Christ. With his trademark lyrical prose, Max Lucado discusses “God’s tumbling, rumbling reservoir of strength and protection. It comes at us not occasionally or miserly but constantly and aggressively, wave upon wave. We’ve barely regained our balance from one breaker, and then, bam, here comes another.” I finished the book determined to live in grace–to enjoy it, rest in it, and offer it to others, because of God’s grace toward me.
Book #2 is Mended, by Angie Smith. I have already written about Angie’s other books, I Will Carry You and What Women Fear. I love her heart, humor, and wisdom. In Mended, Angie expands several devotional posts from her blog into book form. The result is 31 beautiful lessons, each weaving scripture into daily life and ending with practical application. Mended will leave you inspired to, as Angie writes, “go and tell the story of a love so beautiful that it broke in order for you to be rebuilt.”
And finally, Book #3: Undaunted, by Christine Caine. I’d heard of Mrs. Caine, but didn’t know her story until reading it here. Undaunted tells how Christine overcame fear and a painful past to become a woman who lives by faith in freedom. This book is more than just an autobiography, though. It’s also an inspiration to others to follow God’s call on their lives. Caine’s insights proved very timely for me, and I closed its pages ready to live undaunted, for His glory.
There you go! Three book recommendations to start your year off well. In 2013, may we experience God’s grace, be mended by His unfailing love, and walk undaunted into whatever He calls us to do!
BTW and FYI… I received the book, GRACE, free from the nice folks at Thomas Nelson Publishers, for their BookSneeze program. They didn’t make me say good things, but I’m a good rule-keeper, so I thought I’d let you know for the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” and all that jazz. RME, SMH, LOL, and T2YL!
Last summer, a few friends and I studied through Kelly Minter’s book, Nehemiah: A Heart that Can Break. (I highly recommend it and all her studies, by the way. Not that you asked. But there you go.) Of the many insights Kelly taught, one was simply this: the name Nehemiah means “Yahweh has comforted.”
How great is that? To remember, every time you said your name, that the Lord comforts you!
So today, dear reader, let’s take a minute to swap stories. In the comments below (click on the word “Comments” just beneath the title of this post), tell about a time when the Lord has comforted you. Maybe in the middle of a heartache, He spoke to you through His word, or encouraged you through someone else. Maybe you faced a health scare or a problem at work, and He made His comforting presence known. Whatever it is–short story or long, recently or years ago–let’s hear it! Let’s comfort one another with the comfort we’ve received from the Lord. (2 Corinthians 1:3-5)
Just read a neat book by Jose Luis Navajo–Mondays with My Old Pastor. Desperate and discouraged, Navajo, a Spanish pastor, is ready to quit the ministry. At his wife’s suggestion, he decides to meet with his “old” pastor, a retired minister and man of tremendous faith. Their weekly conversations are just the help Navajo needs to reignite his passion and remind him of his first Love. The seasoned pastor’s wisdom and insights in Mondays will “refresh the hearts” (Philemon 7) of pastors and ministry workers who need it. I know it encouraged me!
From the book:
“Life doesn’t start when you’re twenty, or when you’re forty. Life starts at Calvary. And that’s where fruitful service begins as well. Let the cross be so present in you that it becomes your way of life and your rest.”
“We who serve God often confuse success with victory….Success is a term from the business world. Victory is a term used for combat. We are not involved in a business, but rather a war.”
“Don’t focus on what astonishes, but rather what transforms. Don’t let yourself be impressed by fireworks that surprise people for fifteen minutes and then leave them tarnished. Look for something deeper. Don’t make it your goal to amaze your audience. Don’t rest until you are sure that your ministry crosses the frontier of the soul and touches the spirit, the place where change is accomplished.”
“Anxiety is able to keep us awake all night, but faith is a marvelous pillow.”
“Sit every day at the feet of Christ, and then tell the world what you have seen.”
“Doing things right is not the same as doing the right things….An efficient servant is the one who knows how to do things right. An effective servant is the one who knows how to do the right things.”
BTW and FYI…
I received this book free from the nice folks at Thomas Nelson Publishers, for their BookSneeze program. They didn’t make me say good things, but I’m a good rule-keeper, so I thought I’d better let you know for the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” and all that jazz.
RME, SMH, LOL, and T2YL!
Got this in my inbox the other night. It may be my favorite email ever. (Click on it to make it a little larger.)
What’s better than reading something so powerful that it makes your breath catch, and you have to put your hand over your heart and pray?
Watching your son have the same experience.
What’s better than teaching him your faith, day after day for 13 years?
Watching that faith become his.
I love you, Nathan, and that’s my favorite part of the book, too. I’m so proud of you, son. Always love Jesus. He is everything.
Recently, I read Pete Wilson’s newest book, Empty Promises: The Truth About You, Your Desires, and the Lies You’re Believing. The pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Wilson unpacks several deceptions we buy in our search for fulfillment. He calls it idolatry—“looking to something that does not have God’s power to give me what only God has the power and authority to give”—and he says that our idols prove to be nothing more than empty promises.
But, God has more. He offers “a life that is far sweeter and more satisfying than anything we can even imagine. That’s the good life that ‘God has prepared for those who love him’ (1 Corinthians 2:9). The good life that requires us to listen deeply for what we really want and to look beyond empty promises to the One who can fulfill our deepest desires.”
Empty Promises proved very timely for me, because many of the idols Wilson discusses—achievement, approval, power, religion, chasing a dream, and more—are frequent battles for me. Thankfully, Wilson explains that the way to fulfillment is, in a word, worship. I must “replace a false god with the real One,” because “it’s only when we open our hearts to truly worship our Creator that we are set free to release the small gods who pretend to wield such power.”
With transparency, wisdom, and practical steps, Empty Promises uncovers our idols, reveals our hearts’ truest longings, and points us toward our deepest satisfaction. Hungry for God’s ‘good life’? Find the way there in Pete Wilson’s Empty Promises.
BTW and FYI…
I received this book free from the nice folks at Thomas Nelson Publishers, for their BookSneeze program. They didn’t make me say good things, but I’m a good rule-keeper, so I thought I’d better let you know for the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising” and all that jazz.
RME, SMH, LOL, and T2YL!
Beach weddings are beautiful, and a ceremony Andy performed there a few years back was no exception. Rather than a unity candle, the bride had chosen “unity sand.” She poured one color of sand into a jar, while her groom poured another. The result was pretty, layered colors of sand.
But, as the couple filled their jar during the ceremony, the bride frowned. Andy whispered, “What’s wrong?”
“It doesn’t look right,” she whispered back.
“It looks pretty!” he encouraged.
She whispered again, “It…it doesn’t look like the picture!”
Andy grinned, and replied with a wink, “Welcome to marriage.”
Andy and I celebrate 15 years of marriage today…15 years of laughter and tears, of inside jokes and arguments and friendship. Fifteen years of life that hasn’t always looked like the picture. But, it’s our picture—our masterpiece that God paints each day, to show His love to a watching world.
That’s what marriage is, really—a picture of Christ’s love for His bride (Ephesians 5:22-33). In their book Real Marriage, Mark and Grace Driscoll repeat this refrain: “…for the glory of God and the good of your spouse.” They mean, for instance, that I must respect my husband to glorify God and benefit Andy. Likewise, Andy loves me, not because I’m easy to love—I’m so very not!—but for God’s glory and my good.
The goal of a Christ-centered marriage isn’t perfection, because—welcome to marriage!—life doesn’t look like the picture! Rather, the goal is simply to let God paint a faithful, unconditional portrait of His faithful, unconditional love. “For the glory of God, and the good of my marriage.”—That’s the picture!
First, a book! Congratulations to Leigh Ann for winning a copy of Tracey Bianchi’s book, Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationships in the Midst of Motherhood, published by MOPS. “In this witty, encouraging book, Tracey Bianchi shows us how to cultivate deeper friendships that challenge us to grow, create healthy, life-giving rhythms for our families, and connect and give back to the wider world beyond our doors.” Yay, Leigh Ann! Hope you enjoy the book!
And secondly, a blessing! A few years back, I came across this excerpt by Mary Jean Irion. It’s “a mother’s reflection as she combed her seven-year-old daughter’s hair after a bath,” and I completely love it. Hope it blesses you!
Comb and dry, comb and dry. “Soon I won’t be able to do this any more,” you say to yourself, knowing that the little straight bob must inevitably yield to grown-up coiffures and ugly curlers. What will she be like at fourteen? Where will her hair be blowing then? And sixteen and eighteen—you suppose boys will love to watch her hair blow as you do now. And some of them will feel it on their faces, and one of them will marry her, and her hair will be perfect under the veil, and there will be her hair spread out on his pillow…oh, you hate him a little and wonder where he is at this moment and whether he’ll be good to her….They will grow old together…the gold-brown hair will be gray, and you will be gone, and then she will be gone…this very hair that now your fingers smooth…All the tears of the world swim for a second in your eyes as you snatch the plug out of the socket suddenly and gather her into your arms, burying your face in the warm hairs as if you could seal this moment against all time.
“…she may well perish with the shame of having such a mother.”
–Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice
Oh, moms. We try, don’t we? I’ve never met a mother who didn’t try—who didn’t want the best for her kids.
Try as we may, we aren’t perfect. Every year on this blog, in honor of Mother’s Day, we share our shortcomings. Mother’s Day Confessions are a lighthearted look at our motherhood mess-ups. No pretense or pretending here! Confess with me, and then, let’s celebrate our day by resting in God’s grace. He is always enough, even when we aren’t! (2 Corinthians 12:9)
Mother’s Day Confessions — 2012
- One evening, I stood in the hall between my kids’ bedrooms and complimented Nathan on his clean room. “It’s so clean, I could do cartwheels in there!” Then, with a look at the girls’ room, I added, “…But this room is much less conducive to cartwheels.” The girls burst into tears, I apologized profusely, and everyone went to bed feeling terrible.
- I didn’t pay attention to a change in Molly’s ballet schedule, and I dropped her off at the studio an hour late. She called in tears. “I don’t know what happened but this isn’t my class and these aren’t my friends so can you please come GET ME?!”
- I don’t tuck my kids in bed anymore. In fact, most often, they come tell me good night…because I’m already in bed.
- My most frequent answer to Nathan’s homeschooling questions this year was, “No idea. Google it.”
- One night, I missed a three-inch step off my friend’s front porch. I flung my arms out, trying to regain my balance in the slow-motion fall. In the process, I punched Molly in the nose and glasses. Then I grabbed her by the shirt collar, and nearly pulled her down with me. I more than doubly outweigh her, and yet, I apparently expected her to catch me.
- Driving home, I saw an old wooden rocking chair on the side of the road. After trying for ten minutes to get it into our little car, I made Nathan carry it all the way to our house. Through our entire neighborhood. While his friends rode circles around him on their bikes, and he blushed with embarrassment.
- Speaking of that rocking chair, you may remember this story about a confrontation with our HOA. Now, here’s the rest of the story. After a tender moment in prayer for our enemies, as Nathan headed back outside to play, I offered this Christlike advice: “…and if she ever talks to you like that again, just say, ‘Lady, who peed in your Cheerios?’”
- “You’re probably the only mom who makes every devotion be about sex, Mom.” (Hey, YOU read James 1:15 and tell me that isn’t a sex ed class waiting to happen.)
- “Mom, can we PLEASE wash my sheets? These STILL have blood on them from when I got that bloody nose, like, a LONG time ago.”
- Anne: “How do fish have babies?” Me: “The mom fish lays eggs, and the dad fish squirts man juice on ‘em.”
Okay, your turn! Leave your confessions in the comments, and you’ll be entered to win a copy of Mom Connection: Creating Vibrant Relationship in the Midst of Motherhood, by Tracey Bianchi, new from MOPS! I’ll do a random drawing at noon on Tuesday, May 15, when I’ll post more about the book. Good luck, and Happy Mother’s Day!
Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for a feast of the Jews. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie—the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”
“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked. (John 5:1-9)
Growing up, my least favorite two letters together were, without a doubt, P and E.
As in, P.E., as in Physical Education class. As in, “Time to awkwardly wear shorts under your skirts, girls, because we’re going to force you to kick a ball and climb a rope, and then we’ll tell you that it’s good for you!”
I hated P.E.
More than once (or more than 50 times), I lied to avoid P.E. I twisted my ankle, I felt the flu coming on, I forgot to wear shorts under my skirt and couldn’t possibly risk showing the boys my underpants…anything to get out of physical education. I knew the P.E. teachers were on to my tricks, but I didn’t care. I just didn’t want to exercise.
Similarly (sort of), I once heard a marriage counselor say that he can tell within just a few minutes of meeting a couple whether or not their marriage will improve—or even make it at all.
“It’s obvious from the very beginning,” he said, “if they intend to try or not.”
He’s like a P.E. teacher, leading husbands and wives to something that’s “good” for them. But all the tips, books, and Bible teaching in the world won’t help some marriages, because they just don’t want to try.
In John 5, Jesus met a man who hadn’t been able to walk for 38 years. Jesus asked one of his right-to-the-point questions.
“Do you want to get well?”
Do you want to stand on your own two feet, or are you honestly happier here by the pool? After all, this water is all you’ve known for 38 years….
Do you want to have a better marriage? Or are you honestly happier being right, and stubborn, and resentful? After all, a better marriage requires service, submission, and forgiveness….
Do you want to exercise in P.E. class? Or are you honestly happier lying about injury and illness? After all, exercise means kicking a ball, climbing a rope, and wearing shorts under your skirt….
Jesus knew that sometimes, we don’t want to get well. We are happier in our pain, addiction, or anger. After all, healing means stopping our lies, and changing our lives.
Healing is a Choice: Ten Decisions That Will Transform Your Life and Ten Lies That Can Prevent You From Making Them is for anyone who wants to get well. Stephen Arterburn first released Healing is a Choice in 2005, but it was recently revised, updated, and re-released by Thomas Nelson. Today’s version includes a full workbook, with application questions to facilitate healthy change. Throughout, Arterburn balances compassion with truth. He offers ten decisions for people who want to get well: the choice to feel your life, the choice to heal your future, the choice to forgive, the choice to persevere, and more—and his insights are all grounded in scripture.
From the book:
- “The power to heal—physically, mentally, emotionally, spiritually—is in God’s hands. But the choice to be healed is yours.”
- “I don’t know how long you have struggled, but I know this: it is time to pick up your mat and walk, or pick up your mat and cry, or pick up your mat and drive to a meeting, or pick up your mat and take your medicine, or pick up your mat and help someone else, or pick up your mat and utter a simple prayer of surrender to taking the path toward healing. It is time to pick up your life and experience all that God has for you.”
- “This very second is the beginning of the future you choose. You can choose a future that is burdened by an unresolved past that clouds every day with sickness and confusion….Or you can choose to live to please God and not yourself. You can choose to live in His promises for healing rather than your history of brokenness. Your future is your choice.”
“Do you want to get well?” the Lord asked the man. Perhaps he asks us, too. Healing isn’t easy, but it is a choice. Ready to stop the lies and start the transformation? Ready for the healing that only God can give? Then don’t miss Stephen Arterburn’s Healing is a Choice.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers' BookSneeze program.