She's Here: Friday Morning Coffee #81

As you may have intuited from the sudden silence, our sweet girl arrived a couple weeks ago. We are treasuring these early days with her - and the pockets of sleep she gives us. Our hearts are full and thankful.

Things here will be a bit more quiet as we rest, recuperate, and settle into our new schedule. In the meantime, I’ll be soaking up the newborn snuggles and praying life finds you all well.

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Predictability: Friday Morning Coffee #80

I think it is an innate human desire to know the future. I don’t mean the future in a macro sense, though some would like this as well. Not all of us want to know exactly how the events of the world or our lives will end. But in the micro sense, I have yet to meet someone who isn’t guilty of the itching desire to know what’s coming.

As children, we ache to know how the story ends. Some of us became so consumed by our curiosity that we skipped ahead to the last pages prematurely, just to know what would happen. We shook Christmas packages or sought out their hiding places, eager to know what we would receive Christmas morning. We wanted to know how much longer, how much further. Are we there yet?

Adults are more subtle, with our words like “prediction” and “forecast,” but the same desire is there: what is there, what is coming?

This morning, I sit in the crosshairs of two of the worst culprits of this desire to predict: a major snowstorm and the end of pregnancy.

We scan the forecast obsessively. How much snow? When will it start? What if the storm shifts? Under it all, the same basic desire - tell me what will come, speak the future to my present.

We wonder when she’ll arrive. Friends, family, even strange women at the grocery store make their predictions. “Do you feel anything?” they ask. What about that twinge, that itch? Are they signs? Google provides me with a litany of other people’s aches and pains, cravings, and strange behaviors, all in answer to a chorus in unison: when will it come, how can I know? Are we there yet?

The reality in both of these situations (and many others) is that we can’t predict what will come. The snow will fall - or it won’t - and it will be what it is, in spite of science’s best predictive powers. Our baby will come when she comes, as has happened for countless years. I cannot know. Cannot predict. I can only wait. I must sit with mystery.

Ironically, it was infertility that prepared me for this lesson of pregnancy and parenthood. I am not in control. Concrete future predictions are an illusion. The future, this world, this child, even my own body, are not fully within my grasp. It will be what it is. We will take it as it comes.

So as the winter sky grays and the snow begins to fall, as the box marked “baby day” draws closer on my calendar, I pray this strange and uncharacteristic calm continues to abide in my heart. I will sit with the mystery. I will wait.

Personal Spiritual Growth Inventory

It’s common as we enter a new year to spend time in reflection. We may set goals or resolutions for the year. We may take stock of our work or our finances. We may reflect on the highlights and struggles of the last year or on our hopes and plans for the upcoming one.

As we seek to grow as disciples of Christ, reflection can be an important tool. Structured reflection gives us the space to celebrate how we’ve grown and consider what lies ahead as we continue to grow in Christlikeness.

Why not take time to reflect on your spiritual life as you enter the new year?

A spiritual growth inventory is a great way to set aside time to reflect. This can be done on your own, with a  mentor or pastor, or in a small group setting. You can also ask a trusted friend or spouse for their input on areas in which you most need to grow. 

Remember that as with any exercise like this, the point is not to earn our way into God’s favor or work our way into holiness. It also isn’t about heaping guilt on ourselves for all the ways we fall short of some spiritual ideal.

We are completely dependent on grace and the inner working of the Holy Spirit to transform our lives and hearts, and this transformation is a lifelong journey. This reality doesn’t mean we are passive with no part to play in our spiritual growth.

We should be striving to pay attention to the ways sin still holds strong in our lives and seeking ways to put it to death. We should be seeking to develop the habits of godliness and Christ-likeness, nurturing a character that is pleasing to him. A spiritual inventory can help us discern what areas of our life need the most attention. 

The questions that follow are by no means exhaustive. You can work through all of them, or select only a few to consider. Feel free to adapt or add to them in any way that best suits your circumstances. 

Spiritual Inventory Questions

  • How would you describe your walk with God over the last year?

  • How have you grown since first coming to faith? How do you feel you would most like and most need to grow?

  • What is one joy and one struggle in your life and ministry right now?

  • How has your church and faith community helped in your spiritual development? How is it helping you presently?

  • Which fruits of the Spirit are most evident in your day-to-day life (see Gal. 5:22)? Which fruits are least evident in your day-to-day life? Is there something hindering these fruits?

  • What trials have been present in your life over the last year? How did you respond to them? Did they bring you closer to the Lord or further away from him? Do/did you respond with trust or bitterness? What did these trials bring to the fore in your heart? What does this show you about your relationship with the Lord? What does this show you about any idols that may be present in your heart?

  • What are the besetting sins in your life that you are aware of? How are you trying to overcome them? Are you making excuses for any sin in your life? What would it look like for you to take its reality seriously?

  • What role do spiritual disciplines (Bible study, prayer, and others) play in your life? How have they aided your growth in spiritual maturity? What is something you’ve discovered recently in your devotional life? Are there any spiritual disciplines you would like to incorporate? Why?

  • What role does the Bible play in your life? Does it influence your decision making, your priorities, the way you see the world, etc? How has the Lord been speaking to you through His Word?

  • What is your prayer life like?

  • What does the way your spend your time reveal about your priorities? Are there things you spend too much or too little time doing? What adjustments do you need to make?

  • What opportunities do you have to engage in God’s work in the world? Are there opportunities in your life for ministry and service? Consider opportunities in your family life, workplace, neighborhood, community, etc. Are there opportunities to help those in need or to share your faith? Are there opportunities to build relationships with non-Christians or to encourage the faith journey of those who do know the Lord? How are you living into these opportunities?

Next Steps

As this inventory brings sin to light and shows areas in which you can grow, prayerfully turn these things over to the Lord. Repent of the ways you are missing the mark. Ask for His strength and wisdom as you seek to become more like Him. Then prayerfully consider action steps you can take to practically cut out the sin pattern(s) and foster a godly pattern of behavior. Seek out someone you trust who could be an accountability partner with you in this journey.


In With the New: Friday Morning Coffee #79

Here we are in 2019. Not much has changed, really. The shift from December 31 to January 1 wasn’t actually a definitive one. I woke up the same person. Time will continue to slip by at the same rate. I still have the same responsibilities to complete, the same mail waiting to be opened, the same bills to pay. I also still have the same precious friendships to invest in, the same delights to be shared, holiday baked goods lingering on my counter.

And yet. The new year always feels like a watershed. It’s a time to reflect on the last 365 days of life. It gives a sense of nostalgic fondness for the good moments. It offers a sense of release from the struggles, a sense of hope that the next year may hold something different. It’s a moment when I stand fully aware and awake to the threshold of possibility. In that sense, it does become an important mark of time, a moment to pause, a moment of anticipation.

The year 2018 was mottled with some of my deepest pains and greatest joys. Oh, the range of human emotion one can experience in such a short time. After all the tears we’d cried, my eyes closed on the year with a sense of abundance and hope of all that is to come. I do not take this for granted.

The year 2019 will be a big year for us. We will welcome our first child into the world (in just a few weeks!). I will finish my first book manuscript. So much “birth,” so many new beginnings. And these are only the things we can plan for in advance! Today, I stand on this threshold hopeful and thankful, wanting to steward well and live fully these joys entrusted to me.

In all that is to come, my prayer for you today is that you can see God’s faithful presence with you - in the joy, in the sorrow. That He meets you in unexpected places. That, whether you look out over this year with anticipation or trepidation, you know in the deepest parts of your being the love He has for you.

Happy New Year, friends.

The Weary World Rejoices

I remember the day. We were newly married and living in a quaint New England seaside town. It was idyllic, surrounding us with red brick and hand-painted wooden signs above shop doors. The deep blue of the water mesmerized me.

It was a delightful summer day, and I decided to visit a local farm stand. It was so beautiful. Why would I waste such surroundings by driving? I would walk there. I’d get good exercise. I wouldn’t be pumping exhaust into the clear blue sky. I’d walk to get my local produce and carry my purchases on my back. I slipped a backpack onto my shoulders and set out—a young bride living an enchanted life, breathing deeply the salty air.

It was a bit longer than I’d anticipated. Once I left the cozy town streets and moved further away from the water, the day became hotter. I began to question the wisdom of my decision, but I pressed on—I was so close.

When I pushed open the wooden doors, I felt victorious. I remember buying berries that day and carefully stacking the containers in my backpack. Everything else is lost in my memory. The shopping and produce-selection a success, I set out for home, rejuvenated, with the bounce once more in my sure steps.

It didn’t last long. I’d naively underestimated how far it would be to walk two miles there and two miles back. I hadn’t accounted for the sun beating down on me as I walked along the road. I hadn’t factored in the weight of my fruit and vegetable-laden backpack, pulling at my shoulders. I (foolishly) hadn’t brought water. These I could have—and should have—accounted for. On top of it all, though, was the beginning of a sickness I hadn’t fully experienced or recognized the effects of, a sickness that would strip me of my energy and strength for the next year and a half. I didn’t know the debilitating sway it already had over me.

My steps slowed. My back ached. My mouth was dry and the back of my throat begged for water. My legs were leaden and muscles sloppy and aching with fatigue. My mind slowed and blurred, narrowing its focus to the effort it took to take one more step closer to home.

When I reached the brick streets once again, I was grateful. So close. When I rounded the last corner and saw the windows of our apartment, relief washed over me. I could make it the last block. My legs trembled as I climbed the stairs. By the time I turned the key in the lock and stepped into the apartment, my entire body shook from weariness. My eyes filled with tears as I poured a glass of water and collapsed onto the couch. I was home. And I rejoiced.

* * *

Do you know what it is to be weary, friend?

Perhaps you have experienced the weariness of body—that mind-numbing fatigue when you think you cannot go any further, when you must simply give up and sit down on the side of the road. Or perhaps it’s been a weariness of spirit—when discouragement, pain, and sadness darken thoughts and emotions and you can’t seem to muster the will to get out of bed, to smile, to hope.

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That word—weary—jumped out at me this year in the words of the Christmas carol, “O Holy Night.” A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices.

Oh the relief that comes when weariness is lifted. When you reach the end of a long journey you didn’t think you’d survive. When you can finally settle into rest. When your longing is satisfied. The rejoicing that comes is not the exuberant sort, with jumping up and down and screaming. The face of this rejoicing has heavy-lidded eyes and a smile made faint by fatigue—but its joy runs into the deepest parts of the soul.

This Christmas, we rejoice in the thrill of hope that infused a weary world. Our world is still weary, groaning under the effects of sin. We stumble along under the weight of conflict and sickness. We bear the yoke of death and pain. We are weary for redemption—and creation itself cries out with us.

But our hope has come. The Hope cradled in a manger. The Hope who lived, died, and rose again for our redemption. The Hope who will return again in glory. He is the Hope that dispels the clouds of our weariness. Who gives us rest. Who satisfies our longings. Who brings the end to the reign of sin and death and the beginning of the Kingdom of Life and Peace.

So, we rejoice. We treasure this thrill of hope. We keep it nestled in our weary hearts. For Christ our King has come.

Thanks be to God.