Grace for Hard Seasons

Dear Rescued One,

When I read this week’s prompt, my mind immediately jumped to my most recent hard season: the week before Joey’s birth. As I pondered, however, I realized that there were so many other difficult seasons about which I could write. It is so easy to be so near-sighted – to forget the grace of yesterday in light of the grace of today. While I definitely want to revel in today’s grace, I think it is so important to remember the legacy of God’s goodness as well.

It is so easy in our culture to smile and pretend everything’s good. And we tell ourselves this lie so often we actually believe it. The truth is, I’ve had a wonderful life so far. I’m well fed, stylishly clothed, sheltered and warm, blessed with opportunity upon opportunity, well-traveled, educated, and surrounded by the life-giving love of godly family and friends. My husband reminded me once as we sat discussing the theology of suffering, though, that you can’t just assume from outward appearances that a person who “has it all together” doesn’t “know what true suffering is” just because they haven’t spent time starving in a third world country.

Suffering is a reality for every individual person in this fallen, cursed world. Until Jesus returns at the end of the age and consummates his rulership with the New Heavens and New Earth, it will continue to be a reality. What is so amazing about our God, though, is He doesn’t wait until the end of the age to redeem and rescue. Our world’s history of suffering and sin is the perfect canvas on which God displays His grace and love and goodness and beauty.

“Preach the gospel to yourself daily,” is a practice we encourage in our home. Often this is simply reminding ourselves of the “facts” of the gospel – creation, fall, redemption. On a more personal level, though, it is reminding ourselves of the legacy of grace God has weaved into our lives. I’d like to write that down today, to pick a few hard seasons of my life and proclaim the grace of God in their midst.

I had an acute “season of suffering” that started when my childhood was touching the fringe of adolescence. I must have been 12 or 13 years old at the oldest when I found my only baby sister unconscious in the water. I thought she had drowned. I didn’t know she was alive. And I had 10 minutes before I had to catch the school bus.

I had been banging on the bathroom door and yelling at her all morning. It was my turn to shower. Little did I know she didn’t respond because she couldn’t respond. Finally, I barged in to the most difficult thing I had ever seen in my short life. I pulled her out of the tub, screamed for my parents. They came running up the stairs. She was breathing. “Go to school, Meg.” Go to school? How can I go to school after something like that? I went. I don’t think I heard a single thing any of my teachers said that day.

I bottled this up for years. Kept it in. Didn’t think about it. Didn’t talk about it. Years later, God cut open the infected wound and began cleaning it out, showing me His gracious hand.

You see, God created humans with a nose. Quite a beautiful, wonderful, awkward little thing. ½ to 1 inch long, sticking out of the front of your face. Just long enough to stay above the surface of the water. Just tall enough to bring life-giving, life-sustaining air to a body otherwise fully submerged. God’s grace gave my sister her beautiful little nose, and it saved her life.

He timed my barging into that bathroom perfectly. Minutes later might have been too late. But I wasn’t minutes later.

And now, more than 15 years later, my beautiful and talented and quirky and friendly little sister is alive and thriving. I am so thankful for every minute of her life since that day. Every. Minute.

 

Sister Love.

Sister Love.

About this same time, and over the next few years, I was stalked. I won’t go into the details. Suffice it to say that a young man from the church we were a part of took more interest in me than he should have. And on top of that, the only people who believed me were my parents. Everyone else called me a liar and put the blame on me – accusing me of seeking attention or trying to ruin this “godly” man’s reputation for selfish reasons. Again, without going into to many details, I was never actually physically threatened, but I did have very justified reason to fear for my physical safety.

How does a young woman handle this? How do you partake of the Lord’s Supper when this man is taking the same communion two rows over?

Once again, I bottled this up. Until years later I began to see that God drew a line. He never let the situation get out of control, never once allowed this young man to harm me, and used this to drive me to greater dependence on His protection and rescue. He also taught me forgiveness – how to forgive deep offenses and move on and let go instead of hold a grudge and let the hatred and bitterness fester. He taught me to actually mean it when I say, “Come quickly, Lord Jesus.” He built in my heart a longing for the perfect relationships with our Christian brothers and sisters after Jesus’ return, when all sin will be eradicated.

But even in these circumstances, it was easy to view myself simply as a “victim” – not in any way responsible for the things happening. Fast-forward a few years to a season in my life when I had to be confronted with the fact that I was not “basically good” but “basically sinful.” When I was not just some “good little Christian girl” but a young woman riddled with pride and self-idolatry and the propensity to justify away my “little personality quirks” instead of calling them what they actually were – God-defying self-worshiping sins.

God was gracious in two ways: first, sending a godly professor who pointed out to me Mark 2:17 – “And when Jesus heard it [Pharisees questioning why he ate with tax collectors and sinners], he said to them, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

“Are you sick, Megan? Are you a sinner? Because if you are well and righteous, you don’t need Jesus.”

Whoa. I was confronted with the personal application of the gospel.

Then God called me to Africa, and there He opened my eyes to the poison in my soul and began drawing it out and healing me. Painful grace.

IMG_6425

Then a few years ago I stood at my kitchen window and watched the massive flames of the Waldo Canyon Fire spill down the hill toward my home. We escaped and went through a week of the hell of flames and smoke and destruction, to find at the end that our house and things had survived.

“According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it. For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw – each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.” – 1 Corinthians 3:10-15

God graciously realigned my priorities and brutally showed me where I was placing trust, what I was using the foundation of Christ to build up. His grace began loosening the grip I had tightened around things and drawing my heart toward compassion for people who needed His gospel.

 

The view from our kitchen window.

The view from our kitchen window.

And then there is the grace He showed me in the events leading up to and immediately following Josephine’s birth. I could write pages. I won’t, because I know this letter is already getting long.

The grace of God is mind-blowing, soul-saving, life-rescuing, sin-destroying, relationship-healing, priority-realigning. The question is not “Why would a good God allow bad things to happen to good people?” The question is “What is God doing for sinful people as He rescues them through the circumstances of bad things?”

I come again and again to the question: Do I need Jesus? Am I sick and sinful? Or have I deluded myself into thinking I’m well and righteous without him? By His grace, God continues to show me my desperate need for His rescue, and assures me that He has rescued me through the incredible sacrifice of His Son.

Remember Paul’s prayer for us in Ephesians, a book full of grace proclamation:

“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith – that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.” – Ephesians 3:14-21

To our great and gracious God be glory forever!

Love,

The Graciously Redeemed

 

 

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[Tuesday] Grace for Today

Dear Present Self,

Let the preaching to the choir commence!

You have so many plates spinning right now, you are overwhelmed trying to keep them all going. Please, Meg, give yourself grace to let go and trust that God’s not going to let them all crash and shatter!

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink it. Meg, your heart longs for people in your life to have their eyes opened to the gospel. You long for the day they come alive and see Jesus for who He really is. You beg to God that they find His beauty and His grace irresistible. Don’t let yourself get discouraged when it doesn’t happen “fast enough.” Don’t despair when they don’t immediately embrace the clever illustration or eloquent words you put together. People’s souls are not won by these things; they are transformed by the wonderful work of the Spirit. You are called to proclaim. You have done that. Now please, let go and trust that God will work, that His word will not return void. You have received amazing, life-transforming, world-altering, soul-justifying grace. Now it’s time to give grace. You are the delighted-in object of divine love. Now it’s time to let that love overflow to others.

Including yourself. It is so incredibly easy and tempting at this stage in life to construct some mental image of a “super mom” and be devastated when you can’t live up to it. This is crazy! You’re not even trying to keep up with the Joneses… you’re trying to keep up with some arbitrary, imagined ideal that doesn’t exist and shouldn’t! Let go of the chains of your puny fantasy. God chose to give Joey to you for a reason. He chose for you to be Joey’s mom for a reason. No, you will not be perfect. You are a sinful woman living in a fallen world. When those inevitable daily mistakes and sins and selfishnesses happen, repent and move on. Your motherhood is not about you: not about your happiness or glory or impressing others. Your motherhood is about the glory of God: proclaiming His goodness and grace as you love and train up your daughter.

And remember that Joey needs your grace and love just as much as you have needed grace and love. When she cries from hunger at 2 in the morning, don’t moan and roll your eyes. Give her grace. When she spits up all over your third shirt of the day, don’t huff in exasperation. Give her grace. When she throws a tantrum when you’re trying to get her ready for bed because her wet diaper is irritating her, don’t begrudge her. Give her grace (and change that diaper!). When she smiles and coos at you and your heart swells with pride and melts with affection, give her the grace of your delight! When her big blue eyes quietly watch you with furrowed brow, wonder at the grace God has given her to observe and learn so attentively. Live grace in your home. Proclaim grace in your home. This is enough. More than that, this is everything.

And this is true in your marriage too! Three years of marriage, three years of bliss. It’s easy at this point to “settle in” to the humdrum married life. Remember the grace of the honeymoon period and live in that grace! When your husband is hungry after a long day of work, don’t whine about being tired and wanting to just sit down. Give him grace! When your husband is excited about a plan you don’t care for, don’t give in to the temptation to be passive-aggressive. Give him grace! Love and respect him well; pay attention to the details; delight him and delight in him. And on your bad days – your sickness, your sinfulness, your stumbles – receive his grace. He loves you well. Give glory to God for bringing you such a man!

And finally, as the sanctifying Holy Spirit continues to plumb the depths of your soul, dredge up the muck, and filter it away, turn again and again to the grace of the cross. The blood of the Lamb of God covers it all. Don’t wallow in it. Don’t grasp it. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Let it all go; let the Spirit draw you to repentance; and revel in the freeing, spirit-lifting, breath-taking grace of God.

You know all of this. Remind yourself. Preach the gospel to yourself daily. Delight in the love and grace of your Maker and Savior. And let it bubble up and overflow out of you into everyone around you. And then let go of it and move on, trusting the One who gave it to you in the first place.

Love,
Your Grace-Filled Now

3months

 

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Dear Friend, there is grace!

I dropped the ball the past couple of weeks for Tuesday Grace Letters. Please forgive me; life often interferes in our plans. I wanted to post this week, which was a wild card week – we could write whatever kind of grace letter we wanted to. I also plan to post next week, a grace letter to my “now.”

This letter is very personal, but I’ve censored out names and specific details for the privacy of its recipient. I still wanted to share the basic content of it however. A grace letter to a friend of mine.

Dear Friend,

You have been on my heart lately. I think about and pray for you often and very much enjoy reading your updates.

I am writing because I care so much for your heart, your mind, and your soul. You are a beautiful woman, but you lack the most important thing. My heart breaks for you because you are placing all of your trust and hope in something that cannot and will not deliver. You are following an untruth. I know it feels true to you. I know you say with conviction that it is right. I know you seek to share what you think you have.

But what you have is devoid of true grace and without grace we have no hope.

Grace is so much more than some supernatural “help” for us. It is so much more than just some sort of assistance so that we can do the best we can. The truth is, the best we have still falls drastically short. The best we have is no more than our duty, filthy rags. Without grace, we are dead. Lost. In darkness. Blind. Enemies of God at best. We could never hope to make ourselves alive, find the Way, see the Light, open our eyes, or befriend a God we have offended.

This is why we need the gospel. The gospel is not about doing all we can do. The gospel starts with the Law, which shows us so incredibly clearly that we can’t do enough. Ever. We can’t even begin to do at all. Our very being is so fallen since Adam’s sin that our every thought, action, desire is steeped in selfish motives and idolatry. Even our “good” actions are filthy and wrong when compared with the purity, goodness, holiness, and righteousness of God. Even the people who seem most “good” to us deserve the death of a rebel and traitor. That’s what we are. We have committed high treason against heaven.

But the King himself left heaven and came to earth. God himself incarnated as a human being. He lived a perfect life. He upheld the entire Law, never sinning even a little bit. He was perfectly righteous.

He didn’t do this just to set an example. That would have been in vain. It would have been an example that we could never have followed. He did it because only a perfect sacrifice, only a lamb without blemish, could be offered on our behalf.

When Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t just compassion that moved Him to suffer. And it wasn’t the suffering in and of itself that gave Him the ability to atone for our sin. It was His perfection that gave Him the right, the ability to cover our sin.

In the Old Testament, the shadow cast back of the Messiah to come, the priests lay their hands on the head of the sin sacrifice. The lamb without blemish took upon its head the sin of the people and received the death penalty for that sin. This is what Jesus did. He had no sin. He took our sin upon Him. And He received the death penalty for our sin.

But He didn’t stop there. Not only did He remove all of our sin from us and take the full punishment for that sin, He gave us all of His perfection and righteousness, and all the privileges that go with it. We don’t do a thing to earn this. It is purely a gift.

This is grace. We can’t add to it. There’s nothing left to add. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He truly meant finished. And when He rose from the dead, our salvation was sealed. He put to death our death and gave us life.

I want so badly for you to know this grace. This is a grace that changes your whole life. It is a grace that sets you free from yourself. It is a grace that lifts all burdens – including the burden of trying to remain as obedient as you can. Grace is not divine assistance; it is divine pardon. Complete and total acquittal. The removal of all guilt and the gift of all righteousness.

I pray God opens your eyes so that you can see this. I pray He opens your ears to hear and understand this. I beg Him for your soul. Know that I will continue to love you and out of that love continue to share this grace with you. I crave the day you come alive to it.

In love and grace, your friend,

Meg

 

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Encouragement for C-Section Mamas

Surprise of all surprises, C-section birth has become a topic I am passionate about. It has been almost three months since Joey was born (has it really been that long?) and even now new feelings and emotions and memories come up.

I also know of several expecting mothers who are facing the possibility of a surgical birth for one reason or another. This is an incredibly personal experience and, like all incredibly personal experiences, everyone and their brother has a deeply-held opinion about it. I most definitely do not want to presume upon someone else’s experience, but I do want to offer my own experience, a little advice (which may be taken or left), and an empathetic ear. I hope you find this encouraging and helpful.

The biggest thing for me was not knowing quite what to expect. Hopefully sharing some of my experience will help.

For me, anticipating a surgical birth was by far the hardest part of the whole thing. Phrases like “major abdominal surgery” and “higher risk of ____” whispered in the back of my head. I also dealt with the emotions of feeling like a victim of Murphy’s law and feeling like a “failure” if I couldn’t manage to have a vaginal birth.

I had an emergency C-section, but I had a week to prepare for the idea. I know other people will have different time-frames: everything from a planned caesarean with weeks or months to deal with the anticipation to a completely unexpected emergency surgery with only minutes or, at most, hours of time to contemplate what will happen.

Remember, though, that you are not a failure if you do have to have a C-section!!! I know for some women the idea of a surgical birth is traumatic. It does not have to be. I know one of the hardest thoughts for me was, “Now I’m just another statistic,” because I had heard so many times how awful it is that 1/3 of all births in the U.S. these days are surgical. Yes, if you have a C-section you are in that category. But you and your baby are not just some statistic. You are a brave mother doing what you need to for the health and safety of your baby, and that makes you strong, loving, unique, special, and beautiful.

Also know, and repeat this to yourself over and over, that having a C-section does not mean you are somehow less of a woman or less of a mother. Your body is not broken and your baby is not less of a baby. You still grew a baby inside your body for nine months (unless you had her 2 months early like I did… heh) and you will still love that baby like the true mother you are. You will still be getting up in the middle of the night to feed your baby. You will still worry when he has a fever. You’ll still read to and play with him, teach him, hug and kiss him. You will still be celebrated on Mother’s Day. Having a C-section still “counts” as giving birth.

I say these things because some ignorant people will tell you differently. Do not pay any attention to them. They have no idea what they are talking about. I also mention these things because even three months after Joey’s birth I wrestle with them. I have talked to some mothers who were perfectly satisfied with their caesarean experiences and never felt loss or negative emotions. I am so happy that they were able to celebrate the birth of their children that way. I know that for myself and many other C-section mamas, the joy is mingled with disappointment. If that is your experience, it is completely normal and healthy. Acknowledge the disappointment along with the joy, and find someone with whom you can talk it through.

Remember too that the circumstances of this birth are not a surprise to God. He knew in advance every detail of the birth of your child. In His love and wisdom and goodness, He orchestrated the specifics of your baby’s entrance into the world. You may wonder why God called you to this, but know that this is a beautiful expression of His love and grace and goodness to you and to your baby – the baby He knit together in your womb and whose every day is already written in His book. Let this experience be a grace-filled experience.

I also didn’t know what to expect in the surgery itself and immediately afterward in recovery.

First, there will be a lot of people involved. I was surrounded by dozens of nurses, the anesthesiologist, NICU personnel, and, of course, the doctor. The surgery happened very quickly. The spinal block I had only took a few minutes to work, and then I was on my back on a slab under theater lighting with a huge blue curtain blocking my view. I was wheeled into the OR at 11:40 pm and thought there was no way Joey would be born that day. I was saying to myself that her birthday would be January 4. She was born at 11:58… on the 3rd. This is not going to be some long, drawn-out experience. It will feel fast and exciting! Let that be fun!

It did not feel like what I imagined a “major abdominal surgery” to feel like. I was so excited about the idea that I would be seeing my daughter in a matter of minutes that my focus was not really on the surgery at all but on the anticipation of the moment of birth. If you’ve had other surgeries in your life, know that this is nothing like those. Yes, it is surgery. But even more importantly, this is giving birth. It will be a unique experience unlike anything else you ever experience.

I was very surprised by the size of the incision. I don’t know why, but I always pictured it being… smaller. Know that the incision is not small. Mine is about 6 inches long, from one hip to the other. However, if you have a low transverse incision, it will be easy to hide below the panty or bikini line. It also will be fairly thin and the color will fade with time. I also struggled with feeling like I was no longer sexy. Don’t think of this scar as an “ugly” scar. This is not some accident that left you marred. This scar is a beautiful battle wound, a permanent mark on your body that you can point to for the rest of your life and say with joy, “See, I’m a mother!”

Having said that, recovery was not nearly as bad as I imagined it would be. Yes, you will be sore for a while. Take what you need to manage the pain. Get up and move as much as you can as soon as you can. It will be difficult at first, but it is so important for your recovery. Heed your doctor’s instructions. Have someone come over for 3-4 hours per day for a couple of weeks to hold your baby so that you can get a solid block of uninterrupted sleep every day. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. You will need lots of it, and that’s ok! You just gave birth!

Finally, there is a lot of information out there about surgical birth and VBAC. Read plenty of it. However, keep in mind that much of it is aimed at preventing the need for a C-section. This is good information for a lot of women. If, however, you find yourself in a situation where a C-section is medically necessary and inevitable, this information can be quite unhelpful and downright discouraging. It is okay to disregard what doesn’t help!

Here are some questions to think through before your C-section that I found helpful:

  • How many support people can I have with me in the Operating Room? Many hospitals only allow the husband. If possible, it is nice to have a second support person (like a doula or your mother or a close friend) in the OR with you, or at least waiting in the recovery room. If your baby needs to be taken to the nursery or NICU (even for a little bit) your husband can go with your baby and your second support person can stay with you while you are stitched up and in recovery.
  • What kind of anesthesia will be used? I loved my spinal block – it was quick, temporary, and just the right amount of numb. It was also only minutes before the birth, so Joey was not groggy when she was born but was wide awake, alert, and taking everything in. Epidurals and full general anesthesia are also available. Think through what you are most comfortable with and also what your doctor recommends for your specific situation. With the spinal block, I was numb to any and all pain but I could feel the “pressure” of the birth – meaning that I experienced Joey’s birth, which was very special to me.
  • When will your caesarean happen? Granted mine was an emergency and happened while I was in transition. Consider what you and your doctor are comfortable with – especially if yours will be planned. Also remember that labor is good for both the baby and the mother. You both need those contractions and the release of hormones. If you are comfortable with it, ask if you could be allowed to begin labor spontaneously and go through some labor before your surgery.
  • Ask about options during the surgery. For example: Is there a mirror available so I can see the birth? Can you lower the curtain just enough so that I can see the birth without seeing the incision? Will pictures or video be allowed? Can I have skin-to-skin contact with my baby as soon as possible (if both the baby and mother are stable)? How soon after birth can we begin breastfeeding? Is delayed cord-clamping or gentle caesarean an option? What kind of incision will be used on my uterus (which may have an effect on your ability to VBAC)?
  • If there is a possibility your baby may need to spend some time in NICU (because of premature birth or other health-related issues) make sure to take time to interview one of the NICU nurses! Ask about procedures in the NICU: What kinds of equipment will be used? Are babies given bottles and/or pacifiers? What shots are required in the hospital? Can we opt out of any of them? Will I be able to start breastfeeding right away? If my baby is stable can I hold him or her? Do you allow or encourage Kangaroo care (skin-to-skin)? How often and how long can we visit? Can we bring other visitors? How can I provide breast milk for her feedings when I am not able to be present? What kind of emotional support is there? Do you have private rooms? (I may write a similar post later about coping with having a baby in NICU.)
  • It’s not too soon to start thinking about your next birth experience. There are tons of good resources for mothers who wish to attempt a VBAC (vaginal birth after a caesarean). Read read read. And then read some more. Talk to your doctor. If you don’t like what she says, find another one. Acknowledge any feelings you may have about it. (For example, I am working through a fear that if I have a successful VBAC next time it won’t be fair to Joey. This is simply not true. I love Joey with all my heart and she will never be “less of a real child” than any other children I may give birth to vaginally.)

Finally, you may need to just talk out your experience. Surgical birth is the kind of thing you only truly understand if you have been through it yourself. Find another C-section mama who will be able empathize with you. Find someone who is willing to just listen without giving their 2 cents about everything. You can always call or message me if you would like. And never underestimate your husband. He went through this with you too. He was there from conception to birth and now the process of raising this child with you. Let this be an experience that strengthens your relationship!

Dear brave mothers facing C-section, I hope you have a wonderful birth experience in spite of the circumstances! I would love to hear your thoughts as well in the comments below. If there is anything I did not address that you would like to pick my brain on, I am an open book. There is no question too personal! (For the sake of saving the general readership from TMI, I did not address topics like post-operation physiology or sex after a C-section, for example. I would, however, be more than willing to share thoughts about these things in a private message if you would find them helpful.)

In the meantime, I pray God blesses you with a beautiful birth experience and a perfect, healthy baby!

Age of Innocence

This article is potentially going to be quite controversial, but this is something I have wrestled through and would like to share. Let me begin by coming straight out with it: I do not believe in the doctrine of the Age of Innocence or Age of Accountability.

Whoa. Did you read that right? Go ahead and look back up a line or two and read it again to make sure. Yep, you read it right. I do not believe the Bible teaches the innocence of young children. Allow me to explain why.

All Have Sinned

I have a 10-week old daughter. She is absolutely beautiful; ten fingers, ten toes, big blue eyes, and the most adorable baby smile. She is observant, expressive, calm, and cuddly. She sleeps well and eats well (most of the time), loves bright colors, lights, and toys that make noise. She occasionally fusses, but she is not colicky, and she knows that her mommy and daddy love her and provide for her.

She cannot speak English yet (obviously), so she has never told me a lie. She has a very limited social circle at this point, so she has never betrayed or gossiped or bullied or murdered or cheated or stolen. She is still a long way off from beginning puberty (thank goodness), so she has never lusted.

And she is a sinner.

People get very touchy and defensive when I say something like that. (Or even merely imply it.) How could I say this beautiful, innocent girl is a sinner?

Because she is not innocent.

Our culture has come to define the word “innocent” as simply lacking guilt for an offense. For example, if John Doe is on trial for killing Jane Doe and it is demonstrated that he did not pull the trigger, he is declared innocent simply for lacking the guilt of committing the crime. This is a very useful sense of the word “innocent” – without it, our entire justice system collapses. We are born and raised believing the maxim, “Innocent until proven guilty,” and that has worked very well for our society.

However, we make a mistake when we assume that the biblical sense of innocence is exactly the same as our societal use of the word.

In the Bible, innocence – or righteousness – is so much more than simply not breaking the law. Righteousness also requires perfectly keeping the whole of the law. “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it” (James 2:10). And the law is not only negative commands (Do not murder. Do not steal, etc.), but the law is also positive commands (Keep holy the Sabbath day. Honor your parents. Love God with all your being). And while my daughter has never lied, she also has never kept the Sabbath day holy. While she has never stolen, she also has not loved God with the whole of her heart, soul, mind, and strength. She has not kept all of the law, so she has failed all of it.

Jesus touched on this early on in his Sermon on the Mount. “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees,” he said, “you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:20). This is an upsetting teaching. The scribes and Pharisees, at least to outward appearance, seemed quite righteous in fact. So much so, that Paul describes his days as a Pharisee this way: “as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless” (Phil 3:5, 6). However, just a few phrases later he explains he counts all of that as “rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (v. 8, 9).

Paul makes it inescapably clear in Romans 3: “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (v. 22-26, emphasis mine). And as we all learned on the “Romans Road,” the wages of our sin is death (6:23).

At the risk of sounding like I am splitting hairs, it is important to note that he says all have sinned, not that all above a certain age or cognitive ability have sinned.

This is possibly a very hard pill to swallow. However, it brings us, once again, to a place in our hearts where we are confronted with whether or not we really trust the Bible and submit to its authority in our lives. If we only submit when our “modern sensibilities” agree, then we are not truly submitting to the Word of God, and we risk twisting and distorting it to make it sound nice and palatable to us.

Original Sin

Okay. All have sinned. What is sin? It seems like a very simple question, but it also seems like many people have a difficult time finding the biblical answer to this question. I’ve often heard sin defined as “missing the mark.” While in a sense this is accurate, it is also very limited and somewhat misleading. Simply missing the mark does not have life or death implications; it makes sin sound like it is just little mistakes – you try really hard to be good but sometimes you just miss the mark by accident. It reduces sin to mere human error or youthful indiscretion and removes from it the depth of the offense it is to the God who created us. It also implies that sin is merely an action or, maybe at its deepest level, a wayward thought process or desire.

If this is all that sin is, then the concept of Original Sin is unjust. God himself said that the son will not suffer for the sin of his father and that the wickedness of the wicked will be upon himself (Ez. 18:20). It would be inaccurate, then, to say that I or my daughter or you are guilty of the specific defiant act of eating the forbidden fruit that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden.

So then why do some Christians believe in Original Sin?

Sin is so much more than simply our sinful actions. The Bible speaks of the “sin nature,” “the flesh,” “the old self,” “spiritual death,” and “the world” (see Gal 5:17; Eph 2:1; Col 3:9; and 1 John 2:15).  This is sin. Sinful actions are merely a symptom of a much deeper, systemic problem called the sinful nature or spiritual death.

Another way to think of this is in terms of a cold. You do not have a cold because you cough. You cough because you have a cold; it is merely a symptom of a deeper, systemic problem. Rather, you have a cold because you have a virus.

We are not sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. Spiritually, we inherited a genetic disorder. But to take it further, sin is not merely a disease; the Bible describes it as death. That is, we are sinners because we are spiritually dead.

When Adam and Eve defied God in the Garden, a curse fell on creation. Now when a human being is born, they are not born perfect in a perfect world. They are born into a fallen world under the curse of the sin nature (Rom. 8:18-25). In other words, they are born spiritually dead. From the very beginning of their lives, human beings are now predisposed to defy and rebel against God. This is the sin we inherited from our parents in the Garden.

Take my 10-week-old daughter, for example. She knows how to communicate very effectively when she is hungry. Every few hours throughout the day, she will start rooting around, trying latch on to anything within reach to see if milk will come out of it. She may get a little fussy. When she does this, I know that she is experiencing hunger and letting me know that she is ready for me to come nurse her, and being a loving mother who would not let her beloved child starve, I do. Every time.

But sometimes (about once a day), she goes from content to starving in 0 seconds flat. Instead of calmly rooting and fussing to let me know she is hungry, she throws an all-out tantrum. “I am hungry NOW and YOU are not feeding me fast enough!!!” is what she communicates with her screams and cries. She is frantic and does not trust that I will provide her needs. It takes her several minutes to calm down enough to latch on effectively and start eating.

At an even deeper level, she does not trust that God is able to provide for her needs through me. She is afraid she will be hungry forever, and she is unhappy about it. No, that is a generous way to put it. More accurately, she is angry about it and lashes out. Scripture has something to say about fits of rage. It is not pretty. (See Galatians 5:20.)

Where did she learn this? If she was born innocent, she had to pick it up somewhere, right? She has not been around anyone in a fit of rage in the ten weeks of her life.

“But she doesn’t know any better!” you might object. Perhaps. But sin does not require comprehension of guilt. Why else would God command the Levitical priesthood to offer daily and monthly and yearly sacrifices for the sins of the people – both known and unknown? (See Leviticus 4, for example, and note the phrase “realizes his guilt.” The guilt is already there when the act is committed; the sinner does not become guilty only upon awareness.) Think about it this way: has anyone ever hurt you or sinned against you and been completely unaware of any wrongdoing on their part until you brought it to their attention (if you ever did)? Is it not possible we do this to God more than we think we do?

But what about the “let the little children come to me” passages (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17)? Does not the kingdom of God belong to such as these? Yes, it does. But why? Children do not merit the kingdom of heaven because of their innocence. Rather, they are completely dependent and must rely on their caregivers for everything in life. The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who realize they have nothing to offer and must depend fully on their Father for their every need.

The Logical Problem 

So the Bible teaches the culpability of all of humanity – including young children and the proverbial tribe on an island somewhere that has never heard the gospel. Many people choose to ignore this and choose rather to believe that their ignorance merits God’s mercy.

The problem with this is the logical conclusion that there is more than one way we can be saved, which is in direct contradiction with Scripture (see John 14:6 and Acts 4:12). The doctrine of the Age of Accountability or the Age of Innocence teaches that we are saved either by grace through faith in Jesus Christ or by dying young enough or ignorant enough (until we are old enough to be accountable at which point we lose our salvation until we get saved again). Forgive me for this, but the logical conclusion of that teaching is that abortion and infanticide are the most effective means of evangelism available to us. If I can guarantee that all of my children will be saved, would it not be worth it to risk hell for myself by breaking the command not to kill? Would that not be the most loving thing I could do for them?

Yes, that thought process is sick and demented. Anyone who actually believes we should murder our children in cold blood like this should be locked in a very small padded room somewhere. Anyone who actually acted on it should… well, let’s just say I am politically conservative on the issue of capital punishment.

My point is that this idea is not biblical. Neither, then, can be the doctrine that logically leads to it.

Implications

So is all hope lost? What if I miscarry? What if there is a horrible accident, a devastating disease, an evil man who takes my child while she is still young before she is able to profess faith?

This is a difficult question and one on which the Bible is silent. It would be unwise to be uncompassionate. It would be unwise to assume that all children lost at a young age are condemned. So what can we glean from Scripture on this matter? How do we approach this question with compassion and grace while remaining true to what the Bible has to say about our guilt before the holy, pure, righteous, and just Judge of all creation?

Let us consider how it is that we are saved. This may seem like a silly question, but are we saved by our innocence? Scripture is clear that we are not, as there is no one who is good besides God alone (see Luke 18:19 and Romans 3:9-20). So how is it, then, that God is able to declare us righteous without making himself a liar by calling us something we are not?

This is the crux of the gospel. Our sin against God deserves justice. In fact, God would not be holy or just or righteous if our sin was not punished. So he sent his Son. Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless, holy, pure, righteous, innocent life. The Son of God not only did not sin, but he kept and fulfilled all of the law perfectly (see Matt 5:17; Heb 4:15; and 1 Peter 1:19). When Jesus died on the cross, he took all of our sin and placed it on himself – remember how the priests in the Old Testament laid their hands on the head of the sacrificial lamb and placed the sins of the people upon the animal? Our sin was transferred onto Jesus, and God poured out all of holy and just punishment on Jesus for that sin so that we do not have to receive the punishment (2 Cor. 5:21).

But the gospel does not end there. We are not saved just because our sin was removed from us. That is only half of it. When Jesus uttered “it is finished” and gave up his spirit, his righteousness – all of his perfection and innocence and purity and holiness – was transferred to us. This is atonement. When we say we are washed in the blood of the lamb, what we are saying is that the righteous blood of the Lamb without blemish covers us. Think about the Passover. The blood of the lamb covered the doorposts, and the angel of death that came in judgment passed over the household. The lamb received death, so the firstborn in the house did not have to. When God comes in judgment, he sees the blood of Christ covering us, and he passes over – seeing only the blemish-free righteousness of Jesus. We receive the righteousness that is Christ’s, and we receive the benefits of that righteousness.

We did not and cannot earn this. It is purely a gift of grace. God in his love chooses to lavish the grace on us and gives us the faith to trust in Him for it (Eph. 2:8, 9).

Is he not able to do this for infant children? For the mentally handicapped? Of course he is. Does he do this for every single one? I do not know. Here Scripture remains silent. But in faith I believe he does and he can for, at the very least, some – especially for the children of believing parents. If God in his wisdom and goodness and providence chooses to place a child in the home of a believing family that proclaims the gospel daily and lives it out in front of them, could he not also give the gift of faith to that infant child or mentally handicapped child out of his grace in a way we do not fully understand?

I admit there may be instances where God does not choose to show grace. This is true also for adults. Scripture is clear that we are without excuse before God (see Rom. 1:20). Our sin deserves death, and it is not unfair or unjust of God to allow a sinner to die in their sins. In this case, I trust that God is good and that he will be glorified. Who am I to question him (Rom. 9:20)? Yet, I emphasize again, that in faith I trust that in his goodness and mercy, God can and does give saving faith at least to some infants – even if we cannot understand how or see the fruit of it until they are old enough to profess faith with their mouths.

Scripture must inform our experience, not the other way around, but perhaps my own personal experience can briefly illustrate how this is a possibility. By the grace of God I was raised in a godly home by Christian parents who proclaimed the gospel to me and to my sister and lived out their faith every day. I honestly do not remember a day of my life when I did not believe in Jesus and trust him as my Savior and Lord.

My earliest memory is from when I was in a preschool at 3 years old. We were in a large circle around a support beam in the middle of the room playing some kind of game. Even in that memory, I already had faith in Jesus, even though it would be a few more years before I publicly professed faith in front of a congregation. God brought me to faith before I even began to form long-term memories.

So now, in faith, I trust that God is able to save my daughter. We proclaim the gospel to her every day. We live out our faith in our home day after day after day. And I am confident that God, by his grace, in his perfect timing, will bring her to saving faith. I look forward to that day in confident hope, joyfully knowing it may even already have happened.

To God alone be the glory.

I know this is a very personal topic. I would love to hear how you have wrestled with it and what you have learned from Scripture. I welcome gracious challenges in areas where you think I may be unbiblical. I am bound by Scripture and will submit to it no matter what. However, as a disclaimer, I do reserve the right not to publish any comments that are ungracious. I respect disagreement, but let our disagreement be seasoned with salt and spoken in love and grace toward each other with the goal of building one another up in love, not of winning an argument or furthering an agenda.

Sleep Deprived and Camera Crazy

Two thoughts:

1. I had always heard about the sleep deprivation new parents experience. You know, the new parents you know with the zombie look on their faces exasperatedly tell you, “She woke us up every ten minutes last night!”

Ok. Yes, that does happen. Last night for example. In our house, we take turns. Last night was Austin’s turn. Tonight will be mine. That way, we each get at least one good night of sleep every other day. In theory. (Granted, even on Austin’s nights I still have to wake up to feed her when she’s hungry.) Last night, however, Joey fussed all night – enough to wake both of us. She was fine… just noisy and squirmy. Just enough. We’d doze off and then “squeak squawk grunt gurgle”… silence. For another 5-10 minutes. Then “whine spit up gurgle squeak grunt”… silence. Over and over.

(It’s a good thing she’s so cute.)

Now, for those of you who don’t know me well, I like my sleep. Long stretches of uninterrupted sleep. Long stretches. Uninterrupted. Let’s face it, I can be downright lazy. And oh so grumpy when I do have to get up. So, the idea of a newborn waking me up every couple of hours (if only we could be so lucky) really intimidated me. A lot.

But, dear expectant parents (or really anyone contemplating having a child and scared of this idea), here’s the thing: God gives grace. Lots of grace. He equips you for what He calls you to.

Like today, for example. I got maybe 5 hours of very interrupted sleep last night. It was a little hard getting up this morning, but believe it or not – I feel great today. I mean really great. I have energy and joy. I love my little girl – who, incidentally, has been wide awake and quite energetic all morning herself. And I am energized and motivated to actually get done what needs to get done today. (Blog-induced procrastinating aside.)

Yes, to be fair, some days are better than others. It does take a bit of getting used to. And there are moments at 3 in the morning when she starts crying to eat again (even though I fed her at 2) where I get frustrated and just. want. her. to. suck. it. up. and. sleep.

But she can’t help it. She’s brand new to this life, to this world. All she knows at that moment is that her tummy is empty and it really doesn’t feel good. I’m learning how to give grace so much more than I’ve ever had to before.

The time will come when we’ll probably let her cry it out and encourage her to learn to sleep through the night. But right now is the time I learn to let go of myself and give grace to a beautiful little baby God has entrusted to me.

2. We literally have thousands of pictures of Joey. No, not exaggerating. And she’s only 9 weeks old. As Jim Gaffigan put it, “I’m pretty sure I have more pictures of my kids than my parents ever even looked at me.”

I was bothered by this for a while, to be honest. Some nebulous concept of missing life because I’m stuck behind a lens or something like that.

And a great many pictures and videos have been posted on Facebook. Again… I struggled with whether or not to do that. (So I stopped for a day and was inundated with messages and texts and calls asking me to put up more pics. Inundated.)

And here’s what I’ve realized: this current world generation is the most documented generation the world has ever seen, and that’s a really cool thing. We capture everything from monumental historical moments to the mundane “hey! the cat’s asleep! *click*” moments. There are incredibly famous, world-shaking, life-changing historical figures whose faces and childhoods and voices are entirely unknown to us, completely lost. 1000 years from now, humanity will be able to look back to our time and see specific faces, know specific names, hear our voices, listen to our music and learn so much about who we are, what is important to us, what a typical day in our lives is like, what our childhoods and adolescent experiences are like.

Yes, this should be documented wisely. There are certain privacies we should protect and we most certainly need to be aware of the predation and bullying that can happen online. And we most certainly should make the actual relationship more important than the picture that merely captures a piece of it. But what a wonderful thing to be able to capture it!

So here’s a little gem from this morning:

Joey wide awake and read for the day first thing in the morning. What a precious little moment!

Joey wide awake and ready for the day first thing in the morning. What a precious little moment!

Tuesday Grace Letters

My sweet friend Kara had a wonderful idea. Every Tuesday, we will write grace-filled letters and link them all together at her blog – Mundane Faithfulness. (If you haven’t checked out her blog yet, definitely do it!) This week, we are writing a letter to ourselves 10 years from now.

Dear 2024 Meg,

With the challenge to write of grace to myself 10 years from now, I can’t help but thinking back to who I was 10 years ago. It’s been quite the trip down memory lane this week. 10 years ago (for me, 20 for you), I was living in Huntsville and just getting ready to graduate from high school. Here’s a little reminder:

Megan Senior Formal Portrait 1

Yikes! Lips closely pressed together to hide the braces and dear Lord why had I not discovered bangs and a straight iron yet? I barely remember that young woman because I’ve changed so much in the years between then and now. 

The world was still wide open in front of me. I had delusions of grandeur. I was going to change the world and make a huge name for myself. I was going to travel all over the planet, fly to the moon (literally), get degree upon degree, write books, paint masterpieces.

I was also incurably selfish, self-centered, and elitist. The world was my oyster (whatever the heck that means), and everything and everyone in it was a means to an end for me. School was there for me to succeed at, friendships and relationships served my need for approval and worthiness and value, even faith was something I lived out to feel my goodness and contribution to the world.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on myself. Many who were close to me back then probably thought I was a pretty decent young woman, with everything going for her.

That’s just it. I had everything going for me, and because of that I had yet to learn humility.

It’s amazing to me to think over all I have been through in the past 10 years that have changed and shaped and molded me into such a different person today.

A short time in Kenya with the Maasai learning how incredibly uncomfortable I am outside my comfort zone and how incredibly inadequate I am to solve the world’s problems.

Years in college where I met “iron-sharpening-iron” type friends who walked with me and called me to be a better woman.

Life in West Africa, being brought to the edge of myself, to the depth of loneliness, to the profound dependence on God and His Word.

Falling in love with and marrying a man who has taught me how to be refreshingly real about who I am and who Christ is.

Life in the first real community I’ve known – the depth of grace-filled friendship, vulnerability, and unconditional love, steeped daily in the gospel.

The trauma of a fire that forced me to reconsider what I hold dear in the world and what is just extra.

A move to a new place and new style of life that showed me once again God’s faithfulness in providing just what we needed just when we needed it.

The birth of a beautiful daughter and the foray into motherhood where I am learning how good God is, how selfish I still am, and how sufficient His grace is.

I never would have imagined 10 years ago that my life story would include these vignettes. As I said before, I had delusions of grandeur – none of which has come true so far, most of which I have joyfully let go of for the sake of something so much better.

If it had all been up to me, today I would be an astronaut, working with NASA on our return to the moon or the mission to Mars. (No, not kidding.) I’d have at least one PhD and dozens of stamps in my passport. I also would not have had the incredible life I have, the husband I love, the beautiful daughter I adore, the friendships I cherish, the beautiful moments of the light of God’s grace shining through the cracks in the darkness of the difficulties I’ve been through.

I have no idea where you’ll be 10 years from now. But I am confident of this, that I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living (Psalm 27.13).

swaddled

This beautiful little girl will be turning 10. Now that is hard to imagine! God, give me the grace to love her well, teach her truth, and show her your goodness. I’ll be 38, so it’s likely we’ll be done having kids. How many more will we have? What will be their names? Personalities? What will our family have gone through?

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We will have been married for 13 years by then. Hopefully we’ll be better at taking pictures of us instead of just taking pictures of each other! Ha! We have both grown and learned and changed so much in just the last 3 years, what will 10 more be like? I can’t wait to see.

IMG_20131006_151333_023

And our little ice cream shop. God willing, Armadillos will still be going strong. We’re so blessed God brought us to this!

I think, after all this, what I most want to say is to remember the goodness and grace of God. Of all I wanted 10 years ago, I have almost none of it. But the incredible life I have lived was all an incredible gift of God’s grace – so much better than what I thought I wanted. I am confident that even though I cannot fathom who or where or what we’ll be in 2024, that too will all be by grace.

Love,
Meg of 2014

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