The Christian life often has the reputation of being a happy-go-lucky existence. Everything goes right and all the endings are happy. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The Bible actually shows us the opposite… that following Jesus is hard. There are trials and enemies and temptations and suffering. The message that the Gospel proclaims is this: The Christian life is far from easy, but Jesus is worth it.
You see, anyone can follow a God who promises safety and ease and comfort. Anyone can follow someone like this when everything is going well. But it’s in the tough times, when the onlookers see us heartbroken and still faithful to our God, that they see the message of the Gospel. He remains faithful, no matter what. Discomfort and tragedy doesn’t mean He loves us less, just as prosperity doesn’t mean He loves us more. It is not for us to understand. It is only for us to believe.
But in this we can trust: all things are working for His glory. He is good, regardless of circumstances. We cannot see His bigger purpose, but we can trust that He will keep His promise to be faithful to us. I’m not sure how, but He loves us with a constant, unchanging love.
The first time I heard the song “Good, Good Father,” I immediately bathed my fears and guilt in its truth:
Oh, I’ve heard a thousand stories
Of what they think You’re like
But I’ve heard the tender whispers
Of love in the dead of night.
And You tell me that You’re pleased
And that I’m never alone.
You’re a good, good Father.
It’s Who You are, it’s Who You are, it’s Who You are,
And I’m loved by You.
It’s who I am, it’s who I am, it’s who I am…
This love so undeniable I can hardly speak
Peace so unexplainable I can hardly think
And You call me deeper still
And You call me deeper still
And you call me deeper still into love, love, love
You are perfect in all of Your ways to us.
Three years ago today, my dear friends Jeremy and Kristin lost their sweet Sophia at 37 weeks along. And I promise you that singing that line–“you’re a good, good Father”– is not something they do lightly. They know it deep down in their soul, because they have felt Him every step of the way. He became even more real to them when they rested in the “I-don’t-understand” and whispered, “I will trust you anyway.”
God has turned so much of my own mourning into joy. It’s my favorite thing about Him.
He is PERFECT in all of His ways to us.
“Return, O my soul, to your rest, for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.” Psalm 116:7
“But let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth. For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 9:24
“This God—His way is perfect; the Word of the Lord proves true; He is a shield for all those Who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30, 2 Samuel 22:31
Cara Cobble Trantham is a freelance writer whose passion is to encourage women of all ages to draw closer to the Lord. She lives in Greeneville, Tennessee, with her husband and one-year-old daughter. She loves to send cards in magazine envelopes, counsel ladies over sugar and cream (with a little bit of coffee), and read a good book at the beach. Her bucket list includes eating pizza in Chicago, staying at a bed and breakfast in Savannah, and following a recipe without leaving out an ingredient.
When I was a young girl, we went to the beach every year with my mom’s extended family. All 15-20 of us rented a big house and had a blast. We would walk to the bakery for donuts in the morning, followed by a bike ride on the boardwalk. We would take turns cooking dinner at night and then usually go play mini-golf or several rounds of Phase Ten. But my favorite part was the hot sun beating down on me as I jumped waves with my uncles. As I got older, they taught me how to “surf”.
Our family is very “board” savvy, and often you’d see a row of the men (and me) far out in the water catching waves to the shore. The rush of adrenaline as the water pulled you under and rocketed you back to the sand was not to be rivaled. When my younger brother got old enough to join in on the fun, he got caught in an undertow one day. His board knocked the wind out of him and he swallowed a lot of water before he could get his head above the waves. As they dragged the poor water rat up on the shore, I tried to come up beside him and comfort him. All I could come up with was, “Don’t worry, Christopher. I’ve drownded many times, and it is NOT fun.” My family has never let me hear the end of it.
Sometimes life feels that way. We can be having the time of our lives, when all of a sudden, the very things that were giving us a wild ride can trap us underneath and threaten to knock us out of the game. It can feel like instead of saving us, God is using all that power of His to drag us around, allowing our heads to go beneath water, floundering for breaths. The waves can easily become something we shy away from, afraid that the water’s power will sink us.
It’s only a difference in perspective. I often view God as being just like me, thinking my thoughts and doing the things I would do. I can attempt to understand and control Him that way. And then when He doesn’t comply with my worldview, I am left hurt, disappointed, confused. There is so much unknown in the mind of God, and instead of comforting me (Isaiah 55:8-9), it makes me fearful. I am uncomfortable with what I can’t explain. And yet, this is a truer picture of our God. He is in no way predictable. The things that seem “good” to us are often not best in the long run. And the things that seem harsh are often exactly what we need to crash the dreams we have for ourselves, in order to make room for the indescribable things He has for our future.
I can’t explain why babies die or why some are born with Down’s or why cancer eats away at our loved ones. I can’t give a good reason for divorces and diseases and natural disasters. But what I DO know is that our God doesn’t prevent all the consequences of sin. He could, but He doesn’t, because that would not always be the MOST loving thing He could do. Perhaps we will only know the full extent of His love if everything isn’t always perfect, where we didn’t need Him. Perhaps only in the dark, cold, lonely places can we best feel His presence.
He is loving. And those same waves that can knock you under and crash your sand castle? They represent His love for you. The strength with which He crushes your dreams is the same strength with which He loves you. His affection for you is that strong. And if we trust that He loves us this way, we can trust that–somehow–everything He allows is only loving.
One night recently, I was rocking my daughter to sleep, all the while thinking of as many negative thoughts at a time as I possibly could. I was mourning the loss of a precious friend and fuming about a silly situation in my marriage. I was sizing up my to-do list against my energy level. I was feeling overwhelmed by life which led to feeling underwhelmed by the Lord’s faithfulness. I looked down at my baby and realized that she would not much longer be a baby. Here we were, a year into this thing called childhood. This thing we prayed so long for. It was here. And I was missing opportunities. Right then, I decided that I would not miss this joy because I was focused on the things that didn’t seem good to me. I wouldn’t waste time trying to understand why things in my life were such a mess, when I was holding in my arms the biggest blessing. I would stop asking God why and worship instead.
I kissed her head, learned back, let my breath out, and looked around the room. My eyes rested on a pallet plaque that my friend Angela made for our nursery. And I whispered it in her ear: “Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you.” Stronger than the undertows that threaten to drown us. Stronger than the infertility shots and the chemo treatments and the Alzheimer’s and messy politics. Stronger than the bitterness and the unfaithfulness and the guilt. His love is mightier than anything that would threaten to zap joy from us.
If we really believed that truth, it would change everything. No, it wouldn’t suddenly put money in our account or restore the marriage or raise to life our loved ones. But it would work a miracle in our hearts. It would change our attitude and adjust our outlook. It would remind us Whose Hands we are in. It would assure us that we don’t have to handle this alone.
No matter where life finds you, let the words crash over you today: Mightier than the waves of the sea is His love for you (Psalm 93:4).
Sundays have traditionally been a hard day for me.
It is so hard for me to grasp that God loves me despite my performance. I spend all week over-working, over-tidying, under-resting, that come Sunday? I don’t know how to take a break. Sometimes church seems like performance. And then lunch still has to be made. And then the cleanup. And then usually not much of anything going on, which can drive a person who is used to going ninety miles an hour absolutely crazy. (The only time I sit around and do nothing is when I’m sick.) (And to me, the doing-nothing part is worse than how bad I feel.) When the schedules and nap times are all off kilter, I tend to unravel.
How can I get off the hamster wheel and simply rest? How can I turn a blind eye to the sink full of dishes to soak in the Word? To read a book that points me to Him? To strategically plan conversations and get-togethers that stir my affections for Jesus? The only solution I’ve found is to schedule other things instead.
One of the most profound quotes I’ve ever heard is by Matt Chandler. “Find the things that stir your affections for Christ and saturate your life in them. Find the things that rob you of that affection and walk away from them. That’s the Christian life as easy as I can explain it for you.”
In the last two years, I have come to realize not only how much I really do want rest, but how much I need it. More than that, the Lord is teaching me how vital it is to pleasing Him. It is not in the performance, or the sacrifices, or the burnt offerings (in case you’re reading this, and your name is Saul). It is in obedience to Him that I find His blessing. He rested on the seventh day, and if the God of the universe had to do that, then how could I consider myself exempt from rest? I can cop out and say that it’s simply my personality to be a planner and be busy, but when I feel the need to be in control and producing every minute of every day, busy is an idol that is robbing my affections for Christ.
The lists of “stirs” and “steals” will look different for each person. There is not a right or wrong answer. This list may even fluctuate over time for a person, as seasons of life come and go. What once brought joy may now be a chore. What once carried dread may now lead to excitement.
Obviously, we can’t neglect the laundry in order to take bubble baths and go to coffee with our girlfriends every day. But one day that is a good time to focus on the things that stir our affections for Jesus is on our Sabbath. For most people, that day will be Sunday. For ministers and laymen who serve primarily on Sunday, that day is anything but restful and another day will suit them better. For some, dedicating an entire day to “Sabbath-ing” is completely out of the question. God sees your heart and desire to focus on Him. The idea is to set aside a chunk of time to revive your soul.
Matt Chandler mentions that your habits may stay the same, but your motivation should change on this day. You may still go on a run like you do the other days, but this day, you do it to appreciate nature and pray instead of to lose weight or beat your time. For some, it may mean grabbing lunch in a drive-thru to eliminate work and mess. For some, it will be making an elaborate meal and sharing it with others. There are no rules. Just listen to the Holy Spirit and take note of the state of your soul. Do you tend to feel discontent or depressed after browsing social media? Avoid that on your Sabbath. Do you feel joyful after blogging? Your Sabbath may be a good day to schedule that.
Some things on my list are listening to uplifting music while soaking in the tub, reading a Christian magazine, writing thank-you notes, doing my homework for discipleship group, letting my husband cook lunch. Oh yes, please. (And, he just brought me breakfast in bed. This doesn’t usually happen, but I’m going to put this on my “stirs” list and let him know I need this more often.) Some Sundays, my bed doesn’t get made. I’m learning to be okay with this. Maybe my email won’t get checked. I don’t generally consider watching tv to be something that stirs my affection for Jesus. (Usually, if anything, it’s a steal.) But it so happens that on my Sabbath, my husband and I watch our favorite show together. We talk during commercials, eat icecream, and go over our finances. Something that used to be a chore is now something we look forward to.
So today, my discipleship homework is to plan my next Sabbath. Will I go read at a coffeeshop? Will I hike a new trail? Will I decorate my prayer closet? This is where my planner-personality-meets-practicality.
Slowly but surely, Sunday is becoming one of my favorite days.
Well, we are half-way through January. How are you doing with those New Year’s Resolutions?
One of my goals has been to eat healthier (of course… isn’t that everyone’s?). My sister was recently diagnosed with celiac, and she has to eat gluten-free. So when we had an “If You Give a Pig a Pancake” birthday party for my daughter this past weekend, I looked online for a pancake recipe I could make with whole oat flour. A friend of mine uses this flour exclusively because she is on the Trim Healthy Mama eating plan. I found these Oat Flour Almond Butter Pancakes with just a hint of cinnamon added. Let me tell you– I LOVED these pancakes and preferred them over the regular ones! We served them with sugar free syrup and fruit toppings and they were a hit! I also may have eaten the leftovers for dinner.
Another goal was to unrush myself. A long time ago I read somewhere that one of the most important spiritual disciplines is to eliminate hurry. I have been known to clean out cabinets when company is coming over instead of cleaning off the counter and vacuuming. Why I do this, I don’t know. It seems to be a scrambling of priorities. Or I simply get in the cleaning and organizing mood and go crazy, meanwhile adding more work to my plate and neglecting the important things (like making sure I have food for everyone.)
My plan for this is to get up early enough to make sure things get done in a timely manner. I also prioritize my time with the Lord because that always makes me be still and reflect. I begin my quiet time with Kristin’s Daily Grace planner so that I can write down my to-do list, schedule, and notes to myself. This way I can concentrate on my reading. (Otherwise, I’m thinking of the million things I need to get done and have a hard time focusing.) If things come to my mind during this time, I write them down so that I don’t get distracted. I also use the “notes” section to write down names of people I want to share an encouraging verse with, any updates to prayer requests I need to check inquire about, cards to send, and anyone who comes to mind while I’m praying or reading.
My new favorite notebook this year has been the Prayer Journal from The Daily Grace Co. I want to make prayer a priority in 2017, because I know this is the secret to having more communion with the Lord. My attitude is so much better when I take time to bring my praise, confession, and requests to the Lord. This journal helps me keep things in proper order. I also want to be more intention about praying God’s Word this year, and this journal even has a section for a verse I’m praying.
I picked up Praying God’s Word by Beth Moore at an estate sale last year. I can’t wait to dig into it to learn how to unlock the power of praying Scripture.
I have been able to read one book already this month (due to borrowing it from someone and needing to return it). I know I’m late to the party, but I just finished The Best Yes by Lysa Terkeurst. The Lord has made it clear to me that I need to address my fear-of-man and people-pleasing tendencies. One of the reasons why I’m so rushed all the time is because my schedule is too packed. If I’m going to be able to spend more time with my family, just enjoying life, I need to be willing to tell myself and others no. Sometimes, it requires me to say no to activities, projects, and favors from friends. But sometimes, the hardest person to tell no is myself. Saying no to complicated Pinterest unicorn heart cookies and opting for a store-bought Valentine for my 5-year-old class saves me time and eliminates the sugar equation (you’re welcome, moms). (But they’re so cute!) Saying no to mopping the floor and yes to the Lord during nap time is always my best yes. Getting take-out the night before a birthday party at my house is probably my best yes. Less preparation and less cleanup. A friend of mine usually washes her children’s pajamas every single night. In order to eliminate two loads of laundry a week, she has opted to have them wear their pajamas twice before washing them. (I know, it seems irrational.) Small choices like this give us more time with our husband, less hurry, and just enough sanity to make it through the day.
I also want to get better at memorizing Scripture. Over the last two years, I’ve had the opportunity to memorize the book of James thanks to an intense accountability program called D-Group (short for discipleship group). You can find more information and a group near you here. Another tool for memorization would be Beth Moore’s Siesta Scripture Team. I did this a few years ago with two friends and it was a good way to get the Word in my heart. No matter how you implement memorizing Scripture, I think the key is to have accountability.
If you don’t traditionally set goals or make resolutions, I encourage you to dream a bit. And then put some checkpoints in place so that you will make small steps towards your goals. If, at the end of 2017, you haven’t been as successful as you hoped, you will at least be that much closer. So thankful that the Lord gives us a chance every day to start fresh and new.
The new year is almost here, and I am planning and setting goals for the year ahead. Today I am sharing some of my favorite things for starting the year fresh! Let me know what some of your favorite things are in the comments below!
The new year is the perfect time to refocus and set some goals for spending time with the Lord. I love to spend time choosing which books of the Bible I would like to read, and looking through my journals from the past year as a reminder of all that the Lord has showed me. Here are a few of my favorite things for spending time with the Lord.
My Journaling Bible has been such a treasure to me over the past 3 years. Watching the pages fill up with notes and what God has shown me never gets old.
Several years ago when I began to form my own method of studying Scripture, I created the Be Still Journal, and I still use and love it. There are so many things about it that I love, but my absolute favorite part is the Adore section that helps me focus on who God is as I study Scripture. Starting a fresh journal is always a great start to the new year, and there is just something amazing about looking back at stacks of journals from years past and all that the Lord has brought you through.
Books can be such an encouragement to my walk with the Lord. Right now I am reading Hope Heals, and it has been so good. A great set of commentaries are also a huge help in studying Scripture. I have used this Wiersbe Setfor years, and I still love them!
Accountability is so key for becoming consistent in Scripture. If you need some friends to study Scripture with, I would love to have you join the Lamp and Light Facebook group. It is full of over 2000 amazing women who will be such an encouragement to you!
I always feel a renewed passion for my work in the new year and I am always on the lookout for new tools to make my work be even more efficient and organized.
Headphones are a must for working from home. I love these white and gold headphones! They are inexpensive, have great sound, and they are so pretty!
I love all things organization. Planners and notebooks and to do list just make me happy. I am using the Daily Grace Planner in the bloom floral print this year, and I also adore the matching Goals and Grace notepad to keep on my desk for checklists. I am setting some good and meaningful goals with a Powersheets workbook, and color coding with our gel highlighters!
This extra long phone cord is still one of my favorite things!
Wellness has become a big focus for me after having baby #4! In October we eliminated all processed foods from our diet and it has been amazing (and losing 20 lbs has been a great perk). Here are some of my wellness favs!
We have been eating tons of fresh foods! I can’t link it, but my favorite wellness items are just fruits and veggies. So much energy! Smoothies are my go to choice for breakfast, and I will have to share my favorite healthy and delicious smoothie recipe soon! I use my Ninja almost every day. We just started using a Spiralizer, and I think we are addicted. So delicious and healthy!
I know I am late to the Fitbit party, but I have had my eye on this Fitbit Alta for the new year!
Another personal goal is to spend a bit more time getting ready in the morning (#workfromhomeproblems), and to spend a bit more time on skincare now that I am 30!
I have been loving this Moisturizer, and I have been trying out some fun face masks! Do you have a favorite skincare product?
Another thing I really want to do this year is to play more uplifting music in our home. I play a lot while I am working with my headphones, but I want to play more with the family. An uplifting worship playlist puts everyone in a good mood and I adore hearing the kids sing along. You can listen to my Worship playlist here. We have an Amazon Echoin our kitchen and it is so great for listening to music and filling up the whole house.
What are your goals? What are your favorite things? Leave a comment below and let me know!