Regaining Perspective

So much depends on perspective. As Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But most of all, it was a blessed time.

I spent a whole morning watching butterflies. Yes, I did. An entire August morning watching monarchs emerge from their chrysallises and explore the outdoors. The old me would have paused long enough to take half a dozen pictures and then run back inside to start another project. But I didn’t. And we had a wonderful time.

That memory helps me regain the proper perspective.

It’s so easy to look back on the past year and think of all the negatives–missed trips, cancelled play dates, half-done projects, and forgotten dreams. All the things we planned to do and never did. And all the things we never planned to do, but did anyway–such as brain surgery.

But what if I flip that around? We aren’t told to rejoice just in the happy times, but rather to “give thanks in everything” (I Thess. 5:18). And that means the negative things, too.

And do you know what? We may have had to cancel our vacation, but we did a couple of fun day trips to Pittsburgh instead. We missed out on play dates and field trips, but we got lots of extra time with Daddy. I accomplished absolutely nothing on my summer to-do list, but I got many dates with my husband (after doctor appointments). We couldn’t travel, but we enjoyed special visits from loved ones who came to help after my brain surgery. And the slower pace of life made it possible for us to enjoy things we ordinarily would have rushed past–like a beautiful August morning, monarch butterflies, and zinnias.

So maybe our year wasn’t such a failure after all. It was different than anything we’d planned. It was unbelievably hard. But it was also wonderfully good. We were shown so much love and grace. We realized we are part of an amazing church and have wonderful friends and family. We experienced the blessing of being part of God’s universal church, too, as believers across denominations and state lines prayed for us and shared with us.

So much depends on perspective. As Charles Dickens said, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” But most of all, it was a blessed time.

Our “twin” monarch butterflies, August 2019.

He Equals Enough

“God’s grace + my weakness = ENOUGH”

This quote from Introverted Mom by Jamie C Martin is sprawled across my three-pane bathroom mirror. The permanent black ink defying bathroom cleaner spray and toothpaste smears left by three sets of little hands. Truth standing strong against the changing emotions of daily life.

Each time I walk into the bathroom, it serves as a stark reminder to me of all that I am not and all that God is.

And when I am honest with myself, I hate it. I hate my weakness, my chronic health issues, and my dependence on others.

But I also love it because I cannot be enough on my own. On the many, many days I lack the physical and emotional strength to take care of my self, let alone a husband and three small children, I am reminded that God’s grace is powerful and limitless.

“But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I [Paul] will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.(II Cor. 12:9)

When I am weak, I am forced to stop being self-sufficient and rely on that grace. It isn’t easy. Letting go of my control and pride is a messy process full of the cycling emotions of fear, anger, and hopelessness. I’ve cried so many tears this summer. I’ve pounded my pillow. And I’ve asked “why” a thousand times.

Accepting God’s grace is not a one-time decision. It’s a moment-by-moment choice that hurts even as it liberates. It hurts because it forces me to remember my fallibility. But it liberates because of its mercy.

And the liberation is real. I don’t have to carry the burden alone. I don’t have to rely on my own failing strength or emotions. When I push away my pride and admit I need help, the relief is overwhelming–like the arrival of a cool breeze on a stifling day. I stop berating myself for all I cannot do. I find beauty in the imperfections. And I rejoice in what I can accomplish with His help.

So I ask God once again for His grace. His grace to accept the life He’s given me. His grace to get out of bed and deal with one day at a time. And His grace to see the blessings He gives each day. Then I choose moment by moment to let go of impossible perfection and accept grace.

Cucumber Falls, Ohiopyle State Park

Finding Joy in the Tough Times

It’s easy to find joy when exciting things are happening. Each day seems full of new possibilities. And the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. But what about the unexpected changes? The dark times? Where is the joy then?

It’s easy to find joy when exciting things are happening. Each day seems full of new possibilities. And the sky is the limit when it comes to dreams. But what about the unexpected changes? The dark times? Where is the joy then?

I started off this year full of dreams and ideals. After 6 years of difficult pregnancies and Post Partum Depression, I’d finally come out the other side. I’d survived! As I healed physically, emotionally, and spiritually, I started looking toward the future. I had big dreams, and I was sure God was behind those dreams.

Then, in less than a week, all those dreams came crashing down. And, to be honest, I’m floundering a bit right now. I’m confused, hurt and more than a little scared. I thought my dreams and plans were from God, but now everything is changing.

Memorial Day weekend we were in MA visiting special friends. The stress of a big church remodeling project and Jonathan’s ordination were behind us. We were having a wonderful time and looking forward to a great summer. It had been years since I felt so well physically. We spent the time on the 9 hour drive to MA making plans for our future.

Then on Memorial Day, I had an episode where I almost blacked out. The next day I had another one. Over the next 3 days, the episodes got longer, stronger, and closer together. (Can you tell I’ve had 3 kids–it sounds like I’m describing contractions!) I was getting scared, but determined to make it home before going to the doctor.

We arrived home on Thursday night. By Friday morning, I couldn’t even walk across the room without feeling like I was about to pass out. So Jonathan drove me to the ER. Do you want to know what is my new definition of humility? Sitting on the ER floor with my head between my knees because I couldn’t make it to the registration desk. My pride took a tumble, for sure!

And it was there in the ER I first heard the acronym POTS.

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome–a failure of the autonomic nervous system to regulate blood flow throughout my body. My heart rate was fluctuating 70 beats per minute trying to get blood to my brain. I was light-headed, unstable, tired, and couldn’t think clearly. Four days later, after a tilt table test, the diagnosis became official.

At first I was relieved. I really was! I had a diagnosis. The cardiologist knew what was wrong with me. My heart was fine. It wasn’t terminal. They didn’t find a brain tumor on the MRI. Yes, I couldn’t walk across a room. Yes, there is no cure. But I knew what was wrong with me.

Then came our attempts at establishing a new normal. Our summer plans changed from hikes and trips to the beach to doctors visits of all kinds. We crossed plans and projects off our to-do lists, because we knew they weren’t going to get done. People from church brought meals or Jonathan cooked. Slowly we got started getting used to the fact that many days I couldn’t drive. Some times folding a load of laundry was a huge accomplishment for the day. Other days I felt almost normal.

I went through our schedule and assigned the kids new chores. It no longer seemed crazy to have a 5-year-old clean the bathroom. We canceled more projects, trips, and plans.

I’m actually doing a lot better now. The cardiologist started me on a beta blocker a few days after the tilt table test. It doesn’t solve the poor blood circulation or the brain fog, but most of the time it keeps my heart from wildly fluctuating, which helps with the light-headedness. On my good days I’m able to drive short distances or pick up a couple of items at the store (as long as there are no lines!). I can live an almost normal life about 1/3 of the time. Even on my bad days, I can usually get out of bed. But I have to be very careful not to overdo. If I attempt anything close to what I used to accomplish, I pay for it with several days where I can hardly sit up. During VBS, people at church got used to seeing me lying flat on my back in the nursery or a corner of the sanctuary, trying to get some blood back up to my head.

In March I began to think God wanted me to change the focus of this blog. When I got diagnosed with POTS, I wondered how that would play out. But I think I’m getting a sense of direction. And, actually, what’s been happening recently goes well with what I thought God was showing me last winter. I’m still formulating things in my head and my heart, but I’ll keep you updated!

Book Review: No More Faking Fine

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending has an important message we often forget. I was challenged to find ways to be more authentic with God and with the people around me. I was reminded it’s okay to ask questions and seek for answers. It’s fine to express doubts and discouragement to God. If I ask Him to answer me, He will.

“Lament . . . is simply expressing honest emotions to God when life is not going as planned. . . . It’s a prayer that says, God, I’m hurting–will you meet me here? And as such, it is a prayer to which God always responds (No More Faking Fine 33).

The girl looked at me in shock: “Oh, no. Christians should never express doubt or frustration. We are supposed to always trust God. God only wants our praise. If we talk about our struggles, we’ll make Him look bad.”

Really? What about Job? His story is 42 chapters long–much of it expressing discouragement and frustration. He even said he wished he’d never been born! Yet God did not rebuke Job’s honesty. God answered him and rewarded him for staying faithful through his questioning.

And what about David–the man after God’s own heart. He penned dozens of Psalms expressing his fear, loneliness, and depression.

Yet how many of us have hinted at the brokenness we feel or the doubts clouding our thinking only to be told, as I was, that it was unspiritual to express our struggles?

Maybe it was a look someone gave or getting pulled aside for a private lecture. Or maybe it was a well-meaning Bible teacher who said that Christians are only supposed to express praise to God. But somewhere, some way we became convinced that “spiritual” Christians never share doubts, fears, or worries. We must put on our fake happy smiles when we go to church. Instead of being honest about our struggles, we tell everyone that life is fine and God is good.

This wrong misconception of what our communication to God and each other should look like is what Esther Fleece seeks to debunk in her book No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending.

Esther lived the first three decades of her life putting it all together for church and watching her life fall apart at home. She became so good at putting on the happy, praise-filled cover that few realized what was really going on inside her. Eventually Esther realized she had created a facade that prevented her from having deep, meaningful relationships with God, friends, and family.

Esther uses what she learned from going to Christian counseling and from several years of deep Bible study to show that “there is no ‘fake it till you make it’ in Scripture. When we fake fine, we fake our way out of an authentic relationship with God, others, and ourselves” (37).

(Let me give a caveat here! Esther Fleece is not seeking Biblical permission to go around with whining. Instead, she encourages her readers to learn the Biblical concept of lamenting–which is honestly expressing our thoughts and emotions to God and then asking Him to answer us!)

Many of David’s psalms are written in the lament format. David starts off expressing his raw, honest feelings to God. As he shares how he thinks and feels, he begs God to answer him or rescue him. And God does answer him. Most of David’s psalms end with God showing Himself to David and David reworking his thoughts and feelings so they express the truth God showed him.

Another way people in the Bible lamented was by sharing their current struggles and then reflecting back on the great things God had done in the past. When they spoke out loud their fears and then reminded themselves of God’s character and the many things He had done for others, they were strengthened and encouraged in their own struggles. (See Psalm 77 for an example.)

We all know “fake” people. It’s impossible to have deep relationships with them because everything is surface-oriented. Most of us want more than surface friendships. We crave friendships where we can be ourselves without fear of condemnation and where we can share the hard things we are going through.

That is the sort of relationship God wants with us, too. He doesn’t want a shallow relationship. He wants to be our “Abba Father.” But we won’t develop a deep relationship with Him if our communication is shallow. I’m not saying we shouldn’t spend time thanking Him–because we should. Or that it’s wrong to ask for things. But our prayers should include time being honest and genuine with Him–telling Him what is in our hearts: our fears, struggles, doubts, and dreams. And when we ask Him to speak to us, He will answer!

“Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known” (Jere. 33:3).

No More Faking Fine: Ending the Pretending has an important message we often forget. I was challenged to find ways to be more authentic with God and with the people around me. I was reminded it’s okay to ask questions and seek for answers. It’s fine to express doubts and discouragement to God. If I ask Him to answer me, He will.

What kind of rating would I give Esther’s book? May I give two ratings–one on content and one on execution? I would love to give this book five stars. It started out strong. It’s premise is biblical and needful. I learned a lot. But Esther rambled and repeated a lot in the middle third of her book, losing the power of her message. I almost gave up halfway through because I felt she was saying the same thing over and over. I’m so glad I finished the book, though, because she regained her stride in the last third as she wrote about the connection between lamenting and forgiveness. So it deserves 5 stars for content, but I’d give it a 3.5 star rating for execution. (Keep in mind the fact that I’m very picky!) Nevertheless, it’s going to stay on my bookshelf. It made a difference in my life. And I find myself still talking to others about it several months after I read it.

Letting Go to Find Joy

The lies change our memories and our perspectives. Suddenly we aren’t focusing on the positives. Every interaction becomes tainted. And if those lies aren’t exposed, they will follow us through our lives, dragging us down a darkening path.

It started with a question at the doctor’s office: “Do you intend to go back to teaching some day?” A simple question, but it set off a torrent of emotions, many of them negative. Did I still like teaching? Was I any good as a teacher? What about all the mistakes I made as a new teacher?

The next morning, as I was still wrestling with my dark thoughts, I received a message from one of our home school co-op leaders: would I be interested in teaching a Shakespeare class to the high school students next fall.

Now my emotions were really mixed: excitement at the thought of teaching some of my favorite literature (I am that nerd that LOVES Shakespeare!) and fear that I would fail.

And then I got thinking. Why the mixed emotions? As I wrestled in my mind, I realized when I look back on my time as a junior high/high school English teacher, I don’t remember many good parts. I’ve chosen to remember the mistakes–and I made quite a few as a new teacher–and the disappointments. I’ve focused so much on my regrets and feelings of inadequacy as a teacher that I’ve forgotten the students who appreciated me. I’ve forgotten some of the wonderful learning moments we had together. I’ve blocked the happy memories.

I’d forgotten how much fun we had acting out Taming of the Shrew together as a class. (Even our foreign exchange student from Korea got into it!) Some of the wild and funny times in my junior high classes (the highlight of my day). The crazy speech activities. The deep discussions as we tore apart Night and Things Fall Apart. And watching students find books they loved for the first time in their lives!

It wasn’t always long days and mountains of research papers to grade. Or seniors with bad attitudes and angry kids taking out their frustration with life on whatever authority was in the room. Yes there were plenty of days when learning about adverbs or how to write a research paper wasn’t the most exciting thing to do. But there were many wonderful days as we prepared for speech meet, discussed good books, and allowed ourselves to get lost on rabbit trails that were hilarious, but had nothing to do identifying the parts of speech.

I need to go through my school tote and look at the pictures of the edible map from The Great and Terrible Quest, read some of the hilarious essays I secretly copied, and find those memories I lost.

But that is what lies do. They take over and rewrite history. And soon we forget the good times, the positive interactions, and the blessings. This can happen in relationships, at jobs, and in churches.

The lies change our memories and our perspectives. Suddenly we aren’t focusing on the positives. Every interaction becomes tainted. And if those lies aren’t exposed, they will follow us through our lives, dragging us down a darkening path.

That’s how Satan puts us in bondage. When we believe those lies, they become chains that we wear–robbing us of joy and freedom. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We don’t have to live the lies we’ve received. John 8:32 says, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

When we put on the belt of truth Paul talks about in Ephesians 6, Satan can’t attack us with lies. We are protected with something far more powerful than any weapons he has in his arsenal. Lies cannot stand up to truth anymore than darkness can last when light appears.

But we have to choose to listen to the truth and believe the truth–and that is really hard (at least for me!). I hear the truth and tend to say, “But, but, but. . . .” It’s hard to accept the truths that I am loved, I am not a failure, I am who God made me to be. It’s easier to believe the lies that I failed, and I messed up, and I failed again. But those are lies. They are wrong. And they do not bring the joy God wants us to have. So I am striving to banish the lies and accept God’s joy-filling truth in my life–which means I have some major rethinking to do!

To go back to the question at the doctor’s office. . . . Will I go back to teaching high school English full-time at some point? I don’t know. I have other dreams I’d like to pursue, too. I don’t know what the future may hold. But in the meantime, I’m going to enjoy the teaching opportunities that come my way, because I do love teaching, whether it’s teaching my kids, teaching at church, or teaching a class at the home school co-op. Will I make mistakes? Yes, I will. I am human. Will I sometimes wish I’d spent more time preparing for a lesson or found a different way to make it interesting? Absolutely! But I’m going to let go of the lies I’ve been believing and choose to accept the truth that God made me to be a teacher. He is the one who gave me that passion. He does not make any mistakes in His creation. And I am going to use the passion and ability He gave me wherever I can to glorify Him and help others. I hope you can let go of any lies you’ve believed and do the same!

Photo by Bryan Schneider on

Book Review: Sacred Privilege

There are some books that reach into our souls and breath life into our spirits. And this book was one of them. It brought me up out of a dark place and gave me a renewed vision for who I am and the calling God has given our family.

(This post contains affiliate links.)

Have you ever met someone only to discover he/she could be your identical twin? That’s how I felt when I started reading Sacred Privilege: Your Life and Ministry as a Pastor’s Wife by Kay Warren. Her book impacted me profoundly because our lives, interests, and personalities are so similar.

We both love English and history. We are both pastors’ wives. We both know the unbearable pain of watching someone we love battle a debilitating mental illness. We are both introverts who struggle with being in the public eye. And we both face some of the same struggles personality-wise when it comes to being a pastor’s wife.

But even if you aren’t an introverted, big-picture, dreamer-type, this book will bless and challenge you. In fact, though it is written for pastors’ wives, I think most of it would apply to anyone involved in any type of Christian ministry, full-time or lay. She includes chapters on accepting how God made us, taking care of ourselves, privacy, dealing with criticism, change, raising kids in the ministry spotlight, etc.

As I read Sacred Privilege, there were several chapters that stood out to me. One of them was Chapter 2, “Sharing the Dream.” I’m going to be honest with you. I wanted to marry someone who was involved in helping other people. But I never felt a sense of “calling” to be a pastor’s wife. I’ve struggled with that lack of calling on and off for a long time. So chapter 2 was exactly what I needed. We are a team. He needs me–my love, support, spiritual gifts, etc. in his ministry. It’s not an easy life, but it is a “sacred privilege.”

Chapter 3 on “Accepting Who You Are” was also life-changing. I know I’m not the only pastor’s wife who feels like I don’t have the personality or spiritual gifts of a pastor’s wife. Shouldn’t pastors’ wives be extroverted, fun-loving, and extraordinarily talented? Kay disagrees. She says, “Success in ministry is . . . . about thriving, flourishing, and growing strong on one’s calling and in one’s character” (58). She challenges her readers to accept that most of us are ordinary people, and that’s ok! God knew what He was doing when He placed us in the positions we have. We have our security in Christ. It’s time to accept that and flourish wherever we are using the strengths He has given us. (Side note: God uses our weaknesses, too, to further His kingdom [II Cor. 12:9-10].)

“Is my prayer life sufficient to cover this new responsibility?” (91). This chapter on “Adapting to Change” made me stop and pay attention. I used to take on new responsibilities because I felt I was supposed to. Then, a couple of years ago, I was challenged to never take on a new responsibility without praying about it first. So I started doing that. But Kay Warren says it goes beyond that. If I don’t have the prayer life to support my new responsibility, I’ll be doing it in my own strength and most likely burn out or fail!

I could go on and on (can’t you tell!). I loved the chapter on being authentic in ministry and sharing your life. But my absolutely favorite chapter was Chapter 9: Protecting Your Private Life. Kay went through 7 steps to make sure we are holding ourselves accountable to make sure our private lives match our public image, and (most importantly) God’s standard.

So many Christian leaders end up ruining their testimonies because they are hiding secret sins, and then those sins get exposed. Kay uses II Corinthians as her basis for her 7 steps to keep a clean conscience and a right heart before God and man.

Kay Warren then closes out her book talking about criticism, radical forgiveness, and running the race with an eternal perspective.

Are you getting the hint that I absolutely love this book? In fact, writing this book review makes me want to reread it. (And I seldom reread nonfiction!)

There are some books that reach into our souls and breath life into our spirits. And this book was one of them. It brought me up out of a dark place and gave me a renewed vision for who I am and the calling God has given our family.

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When Waiting is Best

Some things just take time. Like Simeon waiting for his messiah.

I don’t like waiting. In fact, I am probably one of the world’s most impatient people. I am always looking for ways to make things better or do things faster. And I don’t want to wait for change to happen.

But many times we need to wait. Lasting relationships usually take a long time to develop. Pregnancies need to last 9 months. Some decisions turn out better for having been made slowly. And sometimes we have to wait a long time for an answer to prayer.

Like Simeon.

He had to wait a long time to see the Messiah. Some times he probably felt like giving up. Maybe he wondered if he’d misunderstood God’s message. Maybe he’d been sick or distracted and missed his savior’s arrival.

But he waited.

And so did Anna.

She had served the Lord at the temple for many decades. And still she waited.

God’s timing isn’t our timing. We pick our “deserved” timeline based on our needs, wishes, hopes, and prayers. We forget about all the other people in the world–people we may never meet–who’s lives are connected with ours. They have needs, wishes, hopes, and prayers, too. And sometimes someone else needs more time. Or an event needs to take place. Or God just has a different timeline.

It’s hard, when we are weary with waiting, to remember that He knows what is best. The creator of the world and savior of mankind knows far more than we can ever know. He knows when our best thoughts and dreams will not produce the best results. And He knows we cannot, should not, be forced into accepting Him.

Some times we find out the why of waiting. At other times, we never know. It is frustrating and lonely when we fight it. But there is a joy in waiting when we trust He knows best.

I was reminded of that this week. We’ve prayed for a friend for over twenty years. And laughed, talked, sweated, and laughed some more with her. And there has been no answer. Well, no visible answer. No interest. No change.

And then Friday I received a letter. She’s studying the Bible. Willingly. Eagerly. And then she says the words I thought I’d never hear: “I want to find a church family.”

It wasn’t God’s timing twenty-three years ago when we first met her. It wasn’t God’s timing a few years later when we gave her her first Bible. And it wasn’t God’s timing when my mom tried to have a Bible study with her. But maybe now is the time.

And if it’s not, God knows the perfect time. He knew her and loved her before the world began. And I have to accept it.

In the meantime, I’ll keep loving and waiting and praying. Some things just take time. Like Simeon waiting for the Messiah.

Learning to Just Be Me

There are things I need to change. But there are also things about me that are not meant to change. So I will ask Him to help me change what needs changing and accept the rest of me just as I am.

I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions. They typically don’t last, leaving me feeling like a failure. But this year I decided to have just one. It’s not your typical resolution. I’m not resolving to exercise more, eat less chocolate, spend more time with my kids, or wake up even earlier to read my Bible before my kids wake up. I probably need to do all of those things. I hope some of them will happen, but mostly I just want to work on just being me.

You see, in the world of social media, peer pressure, and my own crippling insecurity, I’ve lost sight of who I am. I’ve become so focused on who I think others want me to be that I’ve lost my joy.

I’ve rejected the person God made me to be in search of someone I wish I could be. I’ve burdened myself with guilt because I’m not more athletic, or healthy, or artistic. I’ve beaten myself up because I don’t have a business-minded bone in my body. I’ve guilted myself because I don’t have the talent to create a booming home business or the energy to stay up late at night building up a big blog following.

I’ve allowed myself to feel like a failure because I don’t enjoy cooking, can’t stand running, struggle feeling comfortable in social situations, and don’t love cooing over newborns.

But that is not who I am. If I’m going to believe God when He says I am “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14), then I need to accept that He created me exactly the way he wanted me.

Sally Clarkson wrote a wonderful blog post about taking time each New Year’s to declutter one’s soul–to deal with and dispose of sin, attitudes, and actions that steal our joy and hinder our relationship with Christ and those around us ( And that is what I need to do.

Did you notice that list? sin, attitudes, and actions. Not talents, interests, or personality types.

God knew me and designed me long before I was born. He created me with unique strengths and weaknesses for the life He intended me to live. He made me interested in books and music. He did not design me to be business minded, athletic, or tall!

There are things I need to change. But there are also things about me that are not meant to change. So I will ask Him to help me change what needs changing and accept the rest of me just as I am.

After all, some of the things I think of as weaknesses actually might be my greatest strengths.

gray concrete castle
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Willing to Obey

Mary was an ordinary girl. There was nothing unique about her, unless it was her love of God’s word and her willingness to do whatever he wanted with her life.

A couple of months ago our women’s Bible study group did a brief study of the life of Mary. As I was preparing to teach the lesson, several things about Mary, her life, and character made an impression on me.

Mary was an ordinary girl. There was nothing unique about her, unless it was her love of God’s word and her willingness to do whatever he wanted with her life.

Mary would have been as shocked as any of us would be by a visit from an angel. There had been no direct revelation from God in four hundred years. And even before that silent period, angelic or divine revelation was by no means an every day event! Just six months earlier, Zechariah doubted his visit from Gabriel and was punished by losing his ability to speak. Yet when Gabriel spoke to Mary, she showed no doubt, only curiosity: “How can this be since I’m a virgin?” And when the angel answered her, she believed him (Luke 1:38).

But if Mary had no trouble believing the angel, she could not expect that everyone else would be the same. Elisabeth was the only one Mary could be absolutely certain would believe her, since Elisabeth and Zechariah had also been visited by an angelic messenger.  Also, if she found Elisabeth was pregnant (Gabriel had told Mary this news as a sign he was speaking the truth), then that would show she had been conversing with a messenger from God and wasn’t imagining the whole thing!

Mary “pondered things in her heart.” Based on that statement (which appears two times in Scripture: Luke 2:19 and 2:51) and her excellent knowledge of Scripture (Luke 2:46-55), it appears that Mary was an analytical person who spent time studying and meditating on God’s Word.

Women in Bible times were not usually well educated, but Mary had an amazing knowledge of the Scriptures! Since women did not attend school, she must have learned at home from godly parents who instilled a knowledge of the Scriptures and a love of God in the heart of their daughter.

As a result, her Magnificat is full of OT references, particularly in regards to the story of Hannah. Mary must have felt a kinship with Hannah in the days following Gabriel’s visit—both women would give birth to miracle children who would be dedicated to the service of God.

“My soul magnifies the Lord” (Luke 1:46) is a paraphrase from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:1, spoken after she presented Samuel to the Lord at Shiloh.

Luke 1:52 is also taken from Hannah’s Magnificat in I Samuel 2:7-8. Both women praised God for humbling the mighty and raising up the poor and humble. 

And verse 53 of Mary’s Magnificat is likewise based on Hannah’s prayer of praise and thanksgiving (I Samuel 2:5). God always satisfies those who hunger for him, but he has no use for those who are satisfied with earthly riches.

Mary’s Magnificat uses many other Old Testament passages–verses from the prophets, Psalms, and various covenant promises made to the patriarchs. 

God loves when his people pray to him and praise him using Scripture. And Mary did just that as she and Elisabeth praised their wonderful God.

By the time Mary returned home, she was 3 months pregnant and starting to show. She could not hide what was happening much longer. It appears from looking at the book of Matthew that it is at this point Joseph found Mary was pregnant and made the decision to divorce her  (Matthew 1:18-25).

God knew his son would not only need a spiritually sensitive mother, but a godly, earthly father as well. Joseph’s compassionate, just character is demonstrated in his decision to“put her away quietly.” By choosing to spare her humiliation, he was hurting himself. He would have to return the dowry and lose all possibility of regaining the bride price he had paid.1

Instead of bringing Mary before the religious leaders for a public trial, he simply had to get 2 witnesses to sign the divorce decry and then hand it to her. Her shame would still be known, but the humiliation would not be as public.

If he did not divorce her, he was declaring that either he was the father, or he had allowed her to become a prostitute. Either way, his reputation and the reputation of his family would be ruined.

Apparently by the time the angel visited him, Joseph had made the decision to divorce her, but had not officially signed the papers. He never signed those papers; he instead obeyed the angel and took Mary as his wife.

Becoming the earthly parents of the Messiah was not easy. Both Joseph and Mary lost their earthly reputations. No doubt they had family and friends turn against them. Later, after they settled in Bethlehem, they had to flee to a foreign country to save their young son’s life. Years later, Mary would watch her son die the most cruel death known to man.

Perhaps it is a good thing God doesn’t show us what we will have to experience in the future. Instead, all he asks of us is that we live each day the way Mary did, with her words on our lips: “Let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38).


“I Survived I Kissed Dating Goodbye”: Letting Go of the Law to Live by Grace

A lot of people were helped by Josh’s book. But a lot more were hurt. For that reason, Josh has decided to stop publication of his best seller. While he still stand by many of the principles in the book, he has come to realize that there are many that are not Biblical or helpful. It’s time to let go of the rules and seize onto our relationship with God.

If you were like me going through adolescence in the late 90s or early 2000s (or were a parent of teacher to adolescents in that time period), I’m sure you heard of or read Josh Harris’s book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was the gospel on relationships to many Evangelical, conservative, and/or homeschooling families.

Some, like myself, found some helpful principles in the book and moved on. Others believed it contained a God-blessed formula for finding the perfect mate. Still others had it used as a weapon against them.

Best case scenario, it made friendships between the opposite sexes extremely difficult. (You felt like you couldn’t talk to someone of the opposite sex without him/her thinking you were interested in marriage!) Worse case scenario, it put extreme pressure and guilt on its readers. And some just gave up on finding a Christian spouse altogether. 

There were some helpful principles in the book, such as not wasting time on relationships that were doomed from the get-go. Or making sure God was the center of the relationship. Another helpful principle was getting counsel and accountability from others  (one that applies in all areas of life).

And Josh still stands by those principles.

However, as he began to hear more and more how his book was held up as the gospel on relationships, as he heard from people who were shamed or hurt from the legalism in his book, as he realized there is no black-and-white, fail-proof formula for a God-honoring relationship, Josh began to rethink much of the content in his book.

For me, one of the most compelling moments in the documentary was when he discussed the idea that any good or moral wisdom elevated on par with Scripture leads to legalism and turns its followers into Pharisees. You see the Pharisees added thousands of laws to the Torah (God’s inspired Word) in order to make their followers pure and acceptable to God.

Even today, many Christians are prone to the same thing. We add rules on dress, relationships, entertainment, marriage, child rearing, etc. These rules change as our culture changes. But one thing stays the same–if you don’t follow them, you aren’t spiritual.

Sometimes the command to be separate (II Cor. 6:17) is taken to the extreme. Yes, if the world is doing something that the Bible clearly defines as sin, we are to stay separate. But it doesn’t mean everything in our culture is bad. We are not called to separate just for the sake of separation. How can we reach a culture if we’ve totally isolated ourselves from it? But I digress!

Many readers of I Kissed Dating Goodbye took it as a command to form a new culture. Josh’s ideas (and he was 21 and single!) became God’s new truth. It was a formula with a guaranteed outcome. Followers felt they were promised a wonderful, happy, perfect marriage if they followed his ideas.

Those who did not follow the book to the letter, or who had a history of failed relationships, were made to feel inferior. The documentary talks about how once someone had a failed relationship, his/her chances of finding a spouse in those circles decreased dramatically!

It also put too much of an emphasis on one kind of purity–virginity. The all-consuming goal was to remain a virgin until marriage. (And, yes, Josh still believes God designed sex for marriage.) But what about those who were molested as a child or who did not grow up in a Christian environment? What about those who didn’t make it to the altar before sleeping together? Does God care about sexual purity more than any other kind of purity? Is that one sin so much worse than any other sin that people deserve to be branded as impure for the rest of their lives? Of course not! Is it possible to be sexually pure and yet live an impure life or vice versa? Absolutely!

I am amazed at Josh’s humility. When was the last time a Christian superstar made a public admission s/he was wrong? What would Christianity look like if every Christian in the world, no matter how famous, revisited his/her words (written or spoken) on a regular basis and made adjustments or apologies as needed?

A lot of people were helped by Josh’s book. But a lot more were hurt. For that reason, Josh has decided to stop publication of his best seller. While he still stand by many of the principles in the book, he has come to realize that there are many that are not Biblical or helpful. It’s time to let go of the rules and seize onto our relationship with God.

(Currently Josh’s documentary is available to watch for free: