Saturday, December 29, 2012

Most Read Posts for 2012

I have been doing this little blog for almost six years now, which is so hard to believe. As my life has changed, so has the blog. As each season of my life has passed the blog has evolved a little more. In a lot of ways it's nice to have an online journal of all that God has done in my life. And I am so thankful for all of you who have joined me on this journey called life. I wish I could meet all of you! As I looked over the posts for the past year, I would have to say that this year probably saw the most change, and that is reflected in the posts that were most popular with my readers. At the beginning of the year I wrote about our infertility and how I didn't want to waste it. Towards the end of the year I wrote about the precious gift of our twin boys. Both posts were the highest read posts of the year, signifying to me that you, dear readers, have walked this road with us. So I thank you for that. A shared sorrow is truly half a sorrow and a shared joy is double the joy, and in many ways your joy for us has made this news even sweeter.

So here are the top five posts for 2012 on this little blog. Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet.

5. The Antidote for Bitterness

4. Interview with Nancy Guthrie

3. Posts on the boys (A Baby Story Part 1 and 2, These Boys Have Names)

2. Treat Her Like Your Sister

1. Don't Waste Your Infertility

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Day After Christmas

Everyone hates the day after Christmas. It's such a letdown isn't it? After weeks of hype, preparing, wrapping, and singing, December 26th signifies that life goes back to normal until the next Christmas season. Growing up, I was always borderline depressed when December 26th rolled around. It always seemed like it came as fast as it went. I spent so much time anticipating Christmas that once December 26th came I just felt so defeated. As I've gotten older it's been harder and harder for me to be excited about Christmas like I used to be. And when I finally feel like I have the Christmas spirit I am immediately met with it's sudden departure.

It hit me this Christmas that all of the feasting, fellowship, and fun, while wonderful, was never meant to last on this earth. The greatest earthly pleasures we experience during Christmas (and every season) are designed to point us to the eternal pleasure we will experience one day in heaven. We can celebrate with all our might here on this earth knowing that it's only preparing us for an endless celebration one day with the one Christmas is all about.

So as I sit around today surrounded by used wrapping paper, crumpled gift bags, and a myriad of leftovers, I am thankful for the feast we had yesterday, but even more excited about the one to come. And that makes the letdown of December 26th far more bearable.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The Lord Gives

The book of Job ministered to me greatly in our season of pregnancy loss and infertility. I would remind myself of God’s goodness and power over my own fragile life as I read about the life of Job. It was only through his suffering that he saw God for who he is. And I wanted (and still want) to be that person as well. Job 1:21 was a lifeline for me. God has the authority to give and he has the authority to take away. Everything I receive, whether good or evil, is ultimately for my good and greater joy. Since I have gotten pregnant I have had a harder time camping out on the fact that “he gives”. While I should be rejoicing in this good gift, I have often doubted his sincerity in giving me this blessed gift. In my worst moments I would only dwell on the second part of the verse. Sure, he gives. But I would dwell on all he could and has taken away.
When Job spoke to his wife in the following chapter he said “aren’t we supposed to expect both good and evil from God?” (Job 2:10). When God takes something away from us, we should not be surprised. But when he gives us good things it shouldn’t startle us either.
When I first got pregnant I kept waiting for God to take the babies away. And I must admit it’s still a near daily struggle for me. While I don’t have a hard time believing that God is sovereign, I do have a hard time believing that this sovereignty means anything but the right to arbitrarily take away every good thing from my life.
In those moments, my thoughts reveal that I fundamentally have a sinful view of God. I am viewing God as a cosmic being who snatches goodness from us just for kicks, instead of believing that he is the gracious and loving God that the Scriptures point to. God delights in giving good gifts to his children. Even Jesus touches on this when he encourages us to consider how much God cares for us, even more than earthly fathers ever could. And this is relevant for how I even prepare my heart for Christmas this year.
As we prepare to celebrate Christmas 2013 we are reminded that God is a God who lavishes us with kindness in ways we can’t even begin to count. We should expect good from God, and not only evil. We should believe that he is for our good and not our harm. We should believe that he delights in giving us good gifts year after year.
How do we know this?
The baby born thousands of years ago reminds us of these truths. The fact that God came to earth to save us from our sins is the greatest gift of all. The baby in a manger is a tangible reminder that God is for us, not against us.
And as I sit here with two busy boys having a party in my womb I am overwhelmed by God’s kindness to me this Christmas, but not just this Christmas, every Christmas before it, too. The Christmases of past years were only preparation for the joy I feel this Christmas. They were all a gift from our gracious God. Christmas of 2010 and 2011 were only a prelude to the excitement of this Christmas. It was as if God was saying to me in those years of sadness, “hold on, dear Courtney. I am giving you the gift of suffering, but I am preparing for you the gift of gladness very soon.”

I am praising God today for all the ways he prepared us for this Christmas. And I’m praising him for these two boys that we will meet very soon.
God does give and he does take away—and his name will be praised for all of it. It is through this giving and this taking that I see him more clearly and love him more deeply. And that is how I can bless his name for this Christmas of abundance, and the Christmases of barrenness, too.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

You Are Not Forgotten This Christmas (A Repost)

I wrote this post last Christmas, but I think it's relevant for this one as well. It's easy to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of Christmas and miss the fact that many people feel very alone and forgotten during the Christmas season. If that is you this Christmas, I pray that this post is an encouragement to you.


For many people the Christmas season is a joyous time filled with family gatherings, way too much (good) food, and an abundance of gifts. But for some, it’s far from the most wonderful time of the year. Christmas is only a reminder of what is missing, or broken, or not right. Christmas only highlights the fact that they feel completely forgotten by God.

It’s easy to make that leap if you are walking through a difficult season of your life. The external circumstances are grim and there seems to be no relief at the end of the dark tunnel you are staring down. If this is your life this Christmas season, you have far more in common with the biblical characters surrounding the Christmas story than you might think. The people who make up the birth account of our Christ are a very unlikely cast of characters. They are an old couple who are burdened with childlessness, a poor teenage virgin with a husband from an obscure town, and the Savior himself—born in a manger, not a much deserved royal palace. Christ’s descent to earth was (and still is) a loud call to all of us that we have not been forgotten.

Zechariah and Elizabeth
Consider this unlikely couple. Every external observation implies that they are long forgotten by God. Luke tells us that while they have asked God for a child for many years, they have now reached old age with no child to call their own. In this culture barrenness meant certain reproach for Elizabeth. She would be viewed by her community as defective and unable to do the very thing she was created to do—bring life into the world. When the women around her experienced pregnancy after pregnancy, Elizabeth was an outsider looking into a world she couldn’t know. Zechariah surely faced tremendous pressure also as he cared for his wife, grieved his own loss of having no heir, and fulfilled his God-given duties as priest. While many would give into the temptation to sin by taking the matter into their own hands, or turning from the God who made them, we are given a small glimpse into Zechariah and Elizabeth’s response to their lifelong infertility. They were righteous. They entrusted themselves to a faithful God, believing in his promises to them, and trusting that he would work good in their lives. They hoped in him alone and believed that he was not finished with them yet.

And he wasn’t.

We know from the rest of the story that God answers their prayer for a child, and not just any child, but the child who would be the promised forerunner to the Messiah. This old couple who waited years for God to answer their longing for a child, now have one who plays a pivotal role in the greatest story of history—the story of Jesus.

Mary and Joseph
By the time the angel appeared to Mary, and ultimately Joseph, the people of Israel had experienced over 400 years of silence from God. Many Jewish people died having never witnessed any revelation, prophetic voice, or tangible act from God. And that took its toll on God’s people. Many Israelites turned away, determining that God’s promises could not really be true. Mary and Joseph, who Luke tells us are righteous people, represent the faithful few. They are the ones who held on to the Old Testament promises even when it seemed like God would never act. It was through this seemingly insignificant girl that the Savior would come into the world. In a cave filled with animals, in a small town far away from home, she would give birth to the Messiah with her loyal husband by her side. No one would have expected it from them.

And that is how God works. He takes the forgotten, the outcast, the insignificant and shows them his kindness and greatness by glorifying himself through them, sometimes in some of the most surprising ways.

Christ the Savior
But no one shows that we are not forgotten more than the Savior himself. Isaiah 53 says:

“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces
he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his stripes we are healed.”

He was momentarily forgotten, afflicted, and separated from God the Father so you would never have to be. That holy night in Bethlehem was moving towards this very reality. Christmas is the precursor to Easter. The incarnation proves that God keeps his promises, and the atonement on the cross seals that promise for good, making us God’s own children. It proves that you are not forgotten because God can never forget his own.

The wonder of Christmas is that we weren’t forgotten. And he showed up in the lives of people who the world viewed as forgotten and of little worth. God became man to rescue us from our sin and bring us into fellowship with himself. He made himself nothing, identifying with lowly and despised people to show that no one is forgotten regardless of their circumstances. You are not forgotten this Christmas, or anytime of the year. The manger where this little baby lay all those years ago is proof of that

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Darkness Does Not Win

“In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” –John 1:4-5
John 1 is my favorite Christmas passage. The wonder of God becoming flesh is so evident in these verses. And it never gets old to me. John 1 seems especially fitting in light of the recent events in Connecticut. At first glance, darkness seems to be winning. But if John is right, and I believe he is, the perceived triumph of darkness is only an illusion.
In darkness, loss, and evil the light of Christ in the lives of his people can never be put out. Christ only shines brighter when evil gets darker. Think of how much darkness surrounded the Christmas story. The murderous rage of Herod threatened to kill baby Jesus before he even made it out of diapers. His mother and father couldn’t even find a decent place to bring him into this world. He faced an obscure and scandalous birth and yet, his light still shone brightly. And the darkness of the cross was always looming behind the infant cries, shepherds’ wonder, and wise men’s gifts. But the message of John is that this Light, made flesh in a helpless baby, would overcome all of the darkness.
Darkness is no match for the Light of the World.
The good news for us this Christmas, and every day, is that the darkness will not win in our life either. The greatest display of his victory over darkness is seen at the cross. When darkness covered the entire land at the crucifixion, greater things were happening than could be seen in that moment. It seemed like darkness was winning, but Christ, the baby born in Bethlehem, the God-man was single-handedly conquering sin and death. In that moment every darkness we will ever face, whether the darkness of our sin or the darkness of our suffering, was overcome by this Christ. This is what was happening when the Light descended to earth as a little baby.
Isaiah prophesied that the people who walked in darkness had seen a great light (Isaiah 9:2). He goes on to tell us who this light is:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government shall be upon his shoulder,
and his name shall be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and of peace
there will be no end,
on the throne of David and over his kingdom,
to establish it and to uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time forth and forevermore.
The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this” (Isaiah 9:6-7)

This is who we celebrate this Christmas. And this is who we hope in when darkness seems to hide his work. We, his people, once walked in darkness and have now seen a great light.

Whatever darkness you might be facing this Christmas, whether it’s your own sin or unexplained suffering, John 1 is true for you. The God who made the universe came to earth to defeat the darkness that threatens to undo us. And the good news is this—he has already won. Christmas is the beginning of the victory march. And Easter is not far around the corner.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Thoughts from a Reluctant Teacher

Today is my last day with my marriage and family class. It's sort of a two-part goodbye because I had one section yesterday and the other will be today. So I've really been saying goodbye for two days. And while I will be back in January to teach a two week J-term on biblical womanhood, I won't teach Marriage and Family again.

It's a bittersweet moment for me. I have loved this experience, but cannot wait to be a mom to these boys even more. And it's hard to believe that I didn't really want to do it at first.

When we moved to Arkansas we decided I wouldn't look for full-time work. We were really hoping to get pregnant and wanted to eliminate as much pressure as possible. So I substitute taught, and did freelance writing and part-time work from home. Because Daniel's job requires him to travel, I was able to go with him on his work trips. Even though we wanted children desperately, it was a good season for us.

When the teaching job was offered to me I initially thought I wouldn't take it. But after realizing I needed some additional treatment that would postpone our ability to get pregnant, we started reconsidering the teaching position. All I wanted was to have children at home with me, but instead I was going to teach other people's children every day. I thought it would be like every other job I had held the past couple of years.

Boy, was I wrong.

While I was initially less than enthusiastic about it, the idea grew on me. This experience was exactly what I needed. Of all the jobs I have had (and I have had many), it has been my favorite. In fact, many days it doesn't even feel like a job. A few weeks into the semester last year it struck me that God was giving me my hearts desire, just in a different way. I wanted so badly to pour into my own children. I felt like I had all of these nurturing desires that were unmet, and suddenly I was spending every day investing in the next generation.

And I learned a lot, too. Teaching a marriage and family class makes you examine your own marriage. I was exposing my students (and myself) to godly older men and women who had a lot to say about marriage. And in turn, I was convicted and changed. I distinctly remember having a fight with Daniel the night before I was supposed to teach on conflict and communication. Through tears I said, "I can't teach them about this tomorrow when I can't even do it myself!" But the gospel of Jesus Christ was a balm of grace for me in fresh ways as I tried to point them to the One to whom our marriages are designed to model.

God met me in the classroom in ways I never could have imagined when I said "yes" to the job. While I went in with a bad attitude, I am leaving with a plethora of memories, a full heart, and excitement over what God will do in the lives of these students.

What I learned in this past year is that God always knows what he is doing. I loved every minute of this past year of teaching. While I am excited to start this new chapter of my life, I will miss my students. They were an encouragement to me in ways I never anticipated. They welcomed me into their lives. And they rejoiced with me about the new additions in my life.

So on my last day of teaching (sort of), I am thankful to God for the work he did in my life this past year. It's a reminder that even when we don't get what we expect or hope, God is working a thousand details behind the scenes for our good and our joy.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Remembering the Wonder of Christmas

I have been working through the Advent book that Desiring God put out this Christmas and have really been enjoying it. It's a doable amount of reading for the day, but it is packed full of truth and insights that I have often overlooked (or completely missed) in the accounts of Jesus' birth. Simeon's prophesy about Christ's life really struck me when I read it again a few days ago.

When Simeon prophesied that baby Jesus would be the cause of the fall and rising of many in Israel he was speaking of us, too. Some will hate him and some will follow him. And while it was abundantly clear at his incarnation that this was true, it's also true in our world today.

We sing of good news of great joy, but we must recognize that this great joy is only for those who have eyes to see. The excitement and wonder of Christmas is just an illusion for those who are blinded to the deity of Christ. That's why it is so serious for those who miss it. It's not just that they have made Christmas too commercial. It's that they have traded the glory of God for a lie. Romans 1 is alive and well in millions of households on Christmas morning. Instead of treasuring the greatest gift of all, our Christ, they marvel and wonder at new gadgets, toys, and stuff that will be outdated in a few months. They worship the created rather than the Creator. As John Piper said, "Christmas is an indictment before it becomes a delight." Even an indictment clouded by presents, parties, and decorations is still an indictment.

But the danger for Christians is to miss it just like everyone else. While we are no longer under God's judgment and have been given eyes to see the wonder that is Christmas, it's easy to get distracted and forget why we celebrate. Don't get me wrong, presents and traditions are not inherently sinful. Just because we buy presents for our family members doesn't mean we are missing the spirit of Christmas. But it's easy to be mesmerized by everything but the Savior at Christmas time. It's easy to spend more time thinking about our annual Christmas letter, shopping lists, and cookies that need baking rather than quieting our hearts to remember this Savior who came as a baby.

So how do we celebrate amidst all of the chaos of the season? How do we avoid making an idol out of traditions rather than letting our traditions serve to stir our affections for Christ?  Noel Piper has this to say about our traditions at Christmas:

"May our decorations, gifts, and festivities--or lack of them--never block our view of him but always point us toward him" (Treasuring Christ in our Traditions, 88).

As Christians, the way we prevent Christmas from becoming just an illusion of wonder is to remember the reason for our traditions. We delight in giving gifts because God has given us the greatest gift of all, Jesus. We enjoy our family because this is another reminder of the precious gifts he lavishes on us. We eat good food and thank him for the ability to taste and enjoy pieces of his creation. These are all good things. What sets us apart from those for whom Christmas is an stumbling block is that we have eyes to see the Giver of all these things. We don't celebrate the stuff. We celebrate the One who makes this all possible. And most importantly, we celebrate the salvation that was secured for us through this little baby born many years ago.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Waiting on a New Day

When Daniel was in seminary I would often look longingly at the future and say to myself "when he graduates, then we will have a normal married life." Now that seminary is over, and life is still as busy as ever, I find myself saying "when he is full time at the church, then we will have a normal married life." In my mind, a normal married life is defined as free evenings and weekends and a good dose of quality time together. In my worst moments, I have complete meltdowns that this will never happen and our marriage is doomed to failure because we are missing the quality time all the marriage books say is necessary for a healthy marriage. In my best moments, I still long for a better season, one where we can blissfully enjoy our time together without the pressures of life squeezing in around us.

But as I've reflected recently about our 3 1/2 years together, I have started to think that maybe my dream of endless evenings on the couch and weekend outings is a little far fetched. Maybe my perspective is a little askew. I've talked on this blog before about my tendency to make rest my savior, and the unrealistic expectations I brought to this marriage. In the past few months I have started to think that my constant looking towards the future (while good sometimes) is only feeding my appetite for rest and comfort being my ultimate savior.

When I got married I thought (and hoped) we would work our 9 to 5 jobs and then have the rest of our time to play. Seminary was the wrench in that plan. But after seminary I thought surely life would be more free. And while it is different, it's still busy. My husband is a bi-vocational pastor, and his second vocation requires him to travel nearly every week. Couple that with church responsibilities and we are a busy bunch. And now we are about to throw two precious boys into this mix. As time has gone on I've begun to think that this life we live is not necessarily the "new normal", but the normal we were intended to experience all along.

Married couples need quality time, don't get me wrong. But the reality is, for myself especially, that my initial expectation of quality time could hardly be defined as sustainable over the long haul. And I imagine that's the case for many of my friends as well. Husbands work hard outside of the home, sometimes at multiple jobs or for crazy, long hours. Wives work, too. If there are children, both parents might work outside of the home or the mom might work hard in the home. In nearly every case, among my dearest friends and family, life is just straight-up busy, and not for unrealistic reasons. Life is hard. And it costs money. On top of that, as Christians, we are called to work hard in this life. And while we find our ultimate rest in Christ, we still live in a fallen world that makes even the most joyous endeavors (marriage and family) fall short of what we hope for and what God intended. The fact that my husband and I don't spend as much time together as we like, or even sleep in the same bed for seven consecutive nights, is a reminder that his world is not all there is. But it's also a reminder that a better world is coming.

So what are we to do if our expectations for quality time are not met? If your husband travels frequently, soak up the times he is home. If you have 4 kids under the age of 6 and you can't remember the last time you had quality anything, take advantage of the little moments you have for rest and time together. If you are in school, hold on for the breaks and holidays. If your husband is a bi-vocational pastor, be thankful for the time he does have when he is not working to provide for his family or preparing to provide spiritually for his sheep. It's hard, I know. But just because your life looks different than you thought it would, or the way our culture portrays it should be, doesn't mean your marriage is failing. Like I said, a new and better day is coming. Until then, I'm praying I can be thankful for the one God has given me right now. And I'll be the first to admit, it's not always easy to do. But by his grace I hope that my response this year is better than the last.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Learning to Say Thank You

We have all been on the receiving end of insensitive comments from well-meaning people. In fact, I know I have even been the communicator of such comments. The truth is it is hard to know what to say to someone when they are hurting and even harder to know how to respond to the awkward comments. Yesterday, I tried to tackle the issue of our response to hurtful comments in a blog post on the CT women's blog. Here is how I set it up:

"We’ve all faced a barrage of comments from well-meaning friends. And while the words are delivered with the best of intentions, they often sting. In the days, months, and years following my miscarriage and our subsequent infertility, I faced a similar dilemma: Do I shun every person who makes an insensitive or poorly timed comment? Or is there a better way, even if it means my heart breaks a little more each time?

As the one who is hurting and suffering, it is easy to retreat. We are the victims in the situation, aren’t we? Should we really submit ourselves to more pain when life alone seems to be the source of so much heartache?

Sometimes, yes."

I try to encourage those on the receiving end to respond with a "thank you" rather than a "how dare you". To put it another way, part of being a Christian is learning to bear with those who offend us even in the worst of situations. I go on to say:

"The reality is, many people do not know what to say to the woman who can’t get pregnant or who longs to be married but has yet to meet Mr. Right. We often awkwardly approach the mother who loses a child, or our fear of saying the wrong thing prevents us from saying anything at all. The brokenness of this world manifests itself in a variety of ways, including from the mouths of the most well-intentioned among us.

But our response as recipients of awkward or insensitive comments should be one of grace and forbearance. While we are called to bear one another’s burdens as Christians, we are also called to forebear with those who hurt us, intentionally or unintentionally. When we are called to Christ, we are called to a family. And everyone knows that every family is a little dysfunctional—even when our Father is the creator of the universe."

The hope for all of us is that even when those closest to us fail to truly understand us and our pain, we serve a Savior who knows us better than we know ourselves. He will never leave us or say the wrong thing to us. And he is our basis for bearing with those who are less than understanding.

You can read the rest here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Christmas in a Time of Plenty

I have heard it said that it is sometimes harder to focus on Christ in times of blessing than in times of suffering. Suffering has a way of squeezing us, of showing us what is important. Suffering brings us to our knees and forces us to see Christ amidst the pain. And while it is never a path we would choose for ourselves, we know that without it we would not be as conformed into the image of Christ. Suffering is a necessary part of the Christian life, designed by a good God to make us more like him. Blessing can do that for us too, but it takes a little more work, and it’s easy to get lost in the blessing and miss the One who provides every good thing for us. I know it is for me, at least.

This Christmas season looks quite different than the past two Christmases in our family. And if I were completely honest, I miss the hopeful longing that filled my heart in those years. There is something about suffering and loss that makes you depend on Christ in deeper ways. The words of Scripture have such a profound meaning when they are speaking directly to the deep ache in your soul. Christmas in those years, while painful, was also a time of tremendous growth and trust in our Savior. I had to work hard at believing that God’s promise to work good in my life was true. I had to fight for joy in this Christ even when all of my expectations for the season were not met again. This year is the exact opposite.

If you had told me last Christmas that we would be expecting two boys in the coming months I would have probably laughed at you. I couldn’t fathom that pregnancy would happen for us. I couldn’t imagine that our Christmas holidays would be filled with anything but deep longing for God to hear our prayers and give us a child. And now that I am on the other side of that longing, I am finding myself fighting to turn my heart towards the very One I cried out to so many times these past few years.

So how do we celebrate Christmas in a time of plenty? Maybe you are finally free of a painful trial that has plagued you for years. Maybe you are surrounded by family and friends who love you dearly. Maybe your heart is full of joy over all that God has done for you this year. How do you remember the reason for all of your abundant blessings when your cup is overflowing with good things from the Lord?

The stories of the barren women in Scripture have always ministered greatly to me. Their testimonies of faithfulness remind me that pain and loss do not mean bitterness and turning from God. But what has meant more to me this year is their response when God removed their stain of childlessness. When their life turned from empty to plenty they still worshipped and praised the God of it all. They recognized that the same God who closed their wombs saw fit to open them when he did. And it brought them to their knees. Luke records that Elizabeth gave God the glory for her pregnancy. She rejoiced that God saw fit to open her womb, and even her friends were able to rejoice with her. Elizabeth lived the majority of her life barren, yet she praised God in the time of wanting and the time of plenty (Luke 1:24, 57-58). The blessing did not mean that she failed to praise God. In fact, the blessing only heightened her worship of the Creator for his kindness towards her.

Elizabeth likely never forgot all that God did in her life. And not just in giving her a son, but also in the years of waiting. What made her able to praise God in the blessing? God was there not just in her blessing, but in the years of her deepest longings, too. Zechariah and Elizabeth were godly people, who did not depart from following God even into their old age. They saw him work in their lives over many decades. He had surely shown himself faithful to them time and time again. The plenty likely meant so much more to them because they remembered the lean years of barrenness.

That is how we feel this Christmas. While we felt complete and blessed last Christmas, there was still a longing in our hearts for a child. And now here we are. We don’t want to miss the opportunity to worship our great God in these moments of plenty either. God is the author of our barrenness and our plenty. He gives and he takes away. This Christmas we are humbled that he has seen fit to give to us more than we could have even imagined possible.

Christmas in times of plenty might look a little different than in years of wanting, but God never does. He is the same yesterday and today. He is a God who delights to give good gifts to his children, and those gifts come in a variety of packages. Last year, we were given the gift of suffering; this year, the gift of blessing. This Christmas, I don’t want to miss the chance to wonder at his goodness and kindness towards us not only in the answered prayers, but more importantly in the fulfillment of the promise that the greatest gift of all has come. His name is Jesus. He is the answer for all of our longings, and our blessings, too.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday is for Fotos: Twins Update!

Yesterday we had another ultrasound and visit with my high risk doctor. Ultrasound visits are my favorite. While I love hearing their heartbeats at my other doctor's office, there is nothing like seeing them moving right before my eyes. The boys don't usually cooperate to get good profile shots for their ultrasounds. This week was no different. They are just so busy they don't have time for photographs!
Here is a rundown on their pictures:
  • Luke is in the picture on the top right. He is still measuring smaller than his brother, but he doubled in weight from the last visit a little over three weeks ago. The doctor still assures us that this is completely normal since he is trending well. He weighs in at approximately 14 ounces! He is the least interested in having his picture taken. He just likes to hang out and move around.
  • Zach is in the picture on the bottom right. He is a little more camera happy. He also is a mover and a shaker. When my other doctor listened to his heartbeat on Monday he could hear him moving before he could even find his heartbeat. He was like "I know he is in there, he is just moving around so much!" He is going to be a busy little guy. He weighs in at a whole pound and 2 ounces!
  • Their two heads are in the top right picture. It's the only picture we can get of the two of them together anymore. They are too big for one picture now. I guess they will just have to wait until they are born!
  • Zach's face is the bottom right picture. It's hard to tell what he looks like because it's so fuzzy, but it is just such a precious picture to me. This is my boy's face and I love it already. Luke wouldn't let us take a face picture. He likes to turn away when those ones are taken!
All in all everything is going well. I feel pretty good now. And besides the fact that I am getting bigger by the minute, my discomfort level isn't too bad. I can feel them move every day, and I must say that this is my hands down favorite part of being pregnant. It overwhelms me to feel these little boys moving around. Daniel felt them move for the first time a few days ago and his reaction was priceless. We just love them so much already.
As I reflect on the fact that I have made it this far with these boys I am again brought to my knees in thankfulness to our great God. Every moment with them is a gift and we cannot wait to meet them!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Embracing the Seasons

A few months ago I read an article about women who use pictures of their children for their Facebook profile. The author saw this as a step down for women who once were possibly prosperous, individuals in our society. Now they are simply relegated to their children. Their children define them. Their online identity is their children. What once stood as a testimony to their interests, dreams, and personality has now been invaded by a little person in diapers. Their conversations, which were once intelligent and deep, now consist of sleep schedules, teething, and diaper rash.

While I agree that our children, career, friends, or husbands should never be where our identity is found, I was troubled by her assertion that these women were in some way "letting down the team." Women have a variety of seasons over the course of their lives. Some seasons are "productive" in that we bring in income, complete a variety of projects, and have a full social calendar. Others are seemingly less "productive", but looks can be deceiving. As Christians, we should be careful that we not define fruitfulness by tangible results and productivity, per se. A young mom might not check much off her to-do list on any given day, but her work in her home is sowing seeds that will, Lord willing, one day produce a harvest of righteousness. A pregnant mom might once have had the energy to engage in deep conversations at the end of the day, where as now all she can do is give her friends an update on the morning sickness.

What the author failed to acknowledge is that women, unlike men, have fairly defined seasons in their lives. My husband is not, nor can he be, pregnant. And while this pregnancy has certainly impacted him, he can still do the majority of the things he did before we were pregnant. He doesn't have to pack extra snacks wherever he goes. He doesn't have to put his feet up at the end of the day. He doesn't have to rest more frequently.

I do. My body is not my own now and won't be for a very long time. Pretending like this is not the case is to deny the very clear biological and emotional differences between my husband and myself.

It took me a long time to come to terms with the reality of living a seasonal life. When we first got married I struggled with the sudden changes that my life underwent. My single life was easier and more carefree. Now I had a husband to love and care for. When I was dealing with the side effects of some treatment, I struggled with the fact that I couldn't do all that I wanted to do. I was limited, but only for a season. When I first got pregnant I was pretty much dead to the world for about 17 weeks. But again, it was only a season. Now I have a little more energy, but still not as much. When the twins come it will be another season of change and adjustment.

I think that part of the reason we face seasons in much greater measure as women is because it allows us to adapt to the ever changing needs of our husbands and families. When I resist these changes, I am actually resisting the One who created me and the season I am in. There will be a day where I am not limited by my growing belly, but then it will be a new season with new joys and new limitations.

The world doesn't understand this. As the article I read articulated, our sinful nature is self-seeking. To give your life for another is a foreign and ridiculous concept. But that is what we are called to as women, and as Christians, really. Every single day, whether you are married, single, pregnant, or caring for multiple children, is an opportunity to embrace the season that God has placed you in, recognizing that it is only that--a season. Like all seasons, it will end, only to be met by another one. And each one is a precious gift from God.

Friday, November 16, 2012

When Motherhood Begins

This video has been making the rounds lately. And I will admit, it makes me a little emotional when I watch it. I think Carter's captures the feelings of a mom well in this short commercial, and they certainly are gaining a following because of it. But while the commercial moves me for the obvious reasons, one line always bothers me a little bit.

"When a child is born, so is a mom."

I get what they are trying to say, but I think they miss the mark. Our culture sees motherhood as beginning at the same time it sees life as beginning--at birth. But as Christians, we believe that life begins at conception. Wouldn't it be a logical conclusion that motherhood begins at conception as well?

While I cannot hold my babies yet, have no idea what they look like, and don't really know their needs, I still am their mother. I make daily decisions based on their welfare. I don't drink coffee anymore. I hold the rail when I walk up the stairs. I eat when I'm hungry, instead of trying to finish one more task. I go to the doctor when I'm supposed to. I wonder how they are doing all of the time, even though I can't see them. My protective and nurturing instincts will only grow when they are outside of my womb. My motherhood may be more involved than it is now, but that doesn't mean it's not motherhood.

I am not simply a gestational carrier for an unknown blob of tissue. I am a mom carrying my sons. Their lives have value to my husband and me, not only because we see them as our children, but also because we see them as precious image bearers of our God. Motherhood begins at conception because a child is made at conception.

Pregnancy is as much about growing into motherhood as it is about growing a baby. From the very early stages we must learn to sacrifice for the good of another. If morning sickness (which really should be called all day sickness) is not the definition of sacrifice for your child, I don't know what is! We learn in every stage of pregnancy what it means to love, care for, and protect this little baby growing inside of us.

So even though I enjoy the Carter's commercial, I wish it said a little more. A mom is born when a baby is conceived, and she only grows more and more into her motherhood with every passing stage of development.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

A Merciful God

For most of my Christian life I have always seen Elijah as this stalwart of the Christian faith. He stood against the ungodly, heralded truth when it was unpopular, and lived much of his life alone because of his work ministering to an idolatrous people. He certainly was a man who loved God and wanted God's people to love him too. Even his life ended in a spectacular scene with chariots of fire coming down from heaven whisking him away to glory (2 Kings 2:11-12).

Elijah was not your ordinary man.

Or was he?

Even though I have read of his life on a number of occasions, this morning I was struck by how his ministry ended. While I recognize that his life ended in a far more eventful way than I will ever witness in my lifetime (unless Jesus comes back), he didn't exactly model resolute trust in God up until his final breath.

Elijah had a hard road ahead of him. After dealing with the prophets of Baal he was a wanted man. Jezebel wanted him dead (1 Kings 19:1-3). The Israelites were not too fond of him. And as far as the book of Kings goes, he was pretty much alone. Being a prophet of the living God was a high and lonely task. So we find him hiding from it all (1 Kings 19:4-18). And who can blame him? Even after God confronts him in the cave Elijah never seems to fully recover the days of grandeur even though he continues ministering God's word. In a lot of ways that time in the cave was a pivotal moment in his ministry. It signaled the ending of his ministry and the beginning of Elisha's. When God called Elisha to follow Elijah, Elisha's enthusiasm stands in stark contrast to the lack of enthusiasm on the part of Elijah (1 Kings 19:19-21).

We aren't given the information behind his demeanor. He had spent a lot of time alone. He was persecuted for his ministry. And even when God was providing a companion and successor for him it was surely hard to see it. When Elisha came along he was at a very low point in his ministry.

I find this particularly comforting. Here is Elijah, a man who was given the task of bringing God's word to people, and he struggles to trust the very God he proclaims. He had seen God work in mighty ways, yet when the pressure of his life began closing in he believed the circumstances rather than the character of his God.

How often am I like that?

Now you could say that I have not seen God work like Elijah did, but as I've pondered Elijah's life I've begun to realize that I've actually seen him work in far more abundant ways. I live on the opposite side of the Cross. Elijah only had the hope that God would one day defeat his enemies through a promised Messiah. I have been changed by this Messiah. Elijah only had the hope that God would keep his promises to his people. I know because of Christ that every word God has ever spoken finds it's "yes" and "amen" in this Christ.

I have more reason to hope and trust because Christ has come.

But what moves me even more about Elijah's story is the abundant mercy of God. Elijah didn't deserve a successor. Elijah didn't deserve a response from God. And Elijah certainly didn't deserve such an amazing departure from his earthly life. But God did it anyway. I am faithless just like Elijah, and yet God does not repay me according to my unbelief. Instead he gives me more reason to believe that he is a good and trustworthy Savior.

Some might think that the imperfect men in the Bible discredit these precious words, when in fact they actually do the very opposite. They give truth to these words. The steady thread throughout the entire Scriptures is that we serve a merciful and gracious God. Salvation belongs to him alone. Put that truth next to fallen human beings like Elijah, Abraham, and even me, and God gets so much more glory because of it. I'm thankful for men like Elijah, not only because of the work they did for God's name, but also for the testimony they serve for people like me even after all these years.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Cross Leads Us to Worship

I've been slowly reading through The Gospel Primer the last few weeks. The first part of my pregnancy was so rough that I often struggled to read anything. But lately I have been able to pick it up again. I have heard nothing but good things about this book, so when Daniel bought it a few months ago I couldn't wait to read it. I'm not quite finished with it yet, but here are a couple of quotes that really ministered to me when I read them:

"The deeper I go into the gospel, the more I comprehend and confess aloud the depth of my sinfulness. A gruesome death like the one that Christ endured for me would only be required for one who is exceedingly sinful and unable to appease a holy God. Consequently, whenever I consider the necessity and manner of His death, along with the love and selflessness behind it, I am laid bare and utterly exposed for the sinner I am. Such an awareness of my sinfulness does not drag me down, but actually serves to lift me up by magnifying my appreciation of God's forgiving grace in my life" (33).

"The Cross also exposes me before the eyes of people, informing them of the depth of my depravity. If I wanted others to think highly of me, I would conceal the fact that a shameful slaughter of the perfect Son of God was required that I might be saved...Thankfully, the more exposed I see that I am by the Cross, the more I find myself opening up to others about ongoing issues of sin in my life. (Why would anyone be shocked to hear of my struggles with past and present sin when the Cross already told them I am a desperately sinful person" (34).

What Jesus accomplished for us on the Cross frees us to be honest about who we are as sinful human beings. But in turn it enables us to worship him abundantly because of that amazing work done on our behalf. This is good news!

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Favorite Hymn

How firm a foundation ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word.
What more can he say, than to you he hath said;
To you, who for refuge to Jesus have fled?

Fear not, I am with thee, oh be not dismayed
For I am thy God, and will still give thee aid.
I strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace all-sufficient shall be thy supply.
The flame shall not hurt thee, I only design
Thy dross to consume, and thy gold to refine.

The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose,
I will not, I will not desert to His foes.
That soul, though all Hell should endeavor to shake
I'll never, no never, no never forsake.

This is by far my favorite hymn. I say that, knowing that my "favorites" change frequently. But I am pretty sure that this one is a constant. After our miscarriage over two years ago this song was in my head throughout the days, weeks, and months of my grief. Since then the words have always been near to my heart.

We sang "How Firm a Foundation" at my brother's wedding a couple of months ago and it was all I could do to keep from weeping. Three days before his wedding we found out about our precious twins. As I tried to sing the words to this song I was moved to tears. For over two years this song has been my comfort in our suffering. The promise that "the flame" of infertility and loss would not hurt me, but would refine me was something I clung to so tightly in my darkest days. The truth that Christ would not ever leave me even when every force imaginable was shaking my faith in his goodness was my lifeline. The promise that He would be my refuge even when the deep waters of sorrow seemed to overwhelm me was like a precious light at the end of a dark and weary tunnel.

And there I was, carrying two precious lives who were a testimony of his kindness to answer our desperate prayers. But even more than that I was on the verge of crying because those words reminded me that God is a God who keeps his promises. He did use our infertility to refine me. He did uphold me by his omnipotent hand. He was my only refuge in the storm. And I could stand there (and stand here today) thankful for the deep darkness that was our infertility and pregnancy loss. I have emerged a very different woman, that's for sure. But I have emerged with new eyes to see his goodness and power not only to answer the cries of our heart, but also to use our suffering to make us more like himself.

We have a firm foundation. His name is Jesus Christ. I have already started singing this song in hopes that these little boys will hear me singing and one day love the song as much as me. But more than anything, my prayer is that they would stand on this firm foundation through repentance and faith, so that no matter what trial comes their way they will lean on him every day of their life.

Monday, November 5, 2012

These Boys Have Names

This morning we had our first meeting with our high risk doctor. Knowing that we were going to find out the genders this morning, we were excited and nervous. Would everything look okay? Would the babies be growing on time? Would they be boys or girls? So many questions that were thankfully all answered this morning.

Our appointment was at 8:10 am, but was delayed because the doctor was delivering a baby at the hospital. We were able to get in with the doctor around 9:45 and he started the ultrasound. We were both so excited! I thought my heart was going to beat out of my chest. In fact, I slept even worse than normal last night because it felt like the night before Christmas!

After looking at their heads and brains he moved down to determine their gender. Since he was pretty sure they were identical, he said he would be surprised if they were different genders.

He found Baby A's gender pretty quickly. Baby A is a boy!

Daniel screamed "yes!" immediately. He would have been happy with either gender, but he was really hoping for at least one son.

And then it didn't take him long to determine that Baby B is a boy, too!

Thankfully these little boys cooperated pretty well this morning and made themselves known. There is no denying that they are little boys. I have had to really get used to the fact that we know their gender now. I have twin boys. In the same way that I repeated "I'm pregnant" or "I'm having twins" to myself after I found out, I have had to say "I have sons" to myself all day. It all still feels so surreal. I am the oldest of four children and the only girl, so I always knew that it was preparation for something. I am once again going to be outnumbered in my own house and I cannot wait!

Here's a quick rundown on the twins:

They always thought I might be a day or two ahead of what originally was thought. It turns out that I am. So I will be 19 weeks this Wednesday instead of this Friday. I don't mind gaining two extra days! Baby B is measuring a week behind Baby A, but he has always been smaller. My doctor was not concerned at all and said this is completely normal with twins. But they will keep monitoring me to make sure he doesn't lag too far behind his brother.  I will go back for another ultrasound in four weeks. After that I will go every three weeks, maybe sooner. Everything else looks great.

Now for the part you have all been waiting for--their names. Because we were pretty sure they were identical, we already had names picked out (I like to be prepared). We really wanted to give them names the minute we knew their genders because we have been calling them Baby A and Baby B for so long. These babies deserve to have more exciting names than that!

Allow me to introduce to you the newest Reissig boys.

Zachary Garrett Reissig (aka Baby A)

We really wanted to use a name that honored the great miracle God performed in giving us these twins. Zachary means "the Lord remembers". Often when the Bible recounts a story of a barren woman being given children the author says "the Lord remembered her" and opened her womb. We can relate. We truly believe that God has heard our cries for children and remembered us, and we look forward to sharing the story of our God's faithfulness to our little Zachary. Garrett was my grandpa's last name (my mom's maiden name). I was really close to him and wanted to honor him with our little boy.

Lucas Daniel Reissig (aka Baby B)

I'm pretty sure we have had this name picked out since we were engaged. We have always liked how it sounded, so we were mainly just looking for a name to go with this one. But then I found out that Lucas means "bringer of light". Our prayer for both of our children has been that they would come to treasure Christ above all else and put their trust in him at an early age. We want both of them to trust in the true light of the world, our Christ, and tell of him to all who will hear.

We are so overwhelmed by all of the love and support we have received in these recent months. These babies truly are loved by so many. But more than anything we are brought to joyful tears over God's kindness to us. He has heard our cries and has given us two precious boys to raise, love, and cuddle with. We are most excited to share this story of his faithfulness to us with them. We want them to forever know that God is the one who gave them life and he is the center of our family. And our deepest prayer for them is that they would one day embrace him as their own.

Thank you everyone for sharing in our joy. We love every one of you!

And in case you were wondering, we are going to call them Zach and Luke.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Interview with Nancy Guthrie

I have admired Nancy Guthrie and her writing for a while now, so I was honored to be able to interview her for The Gospel Coalition. The topic was her most recent book, the next installment of her bible study series called Seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. I have had the privilege of reading all of these studies and The Lamb of God: Seeing Jesus in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy did not disappoint. When our church is able to have a women's bible study, I really hope we can use these studies. They are excellent. They are rich with biblical truth, engaging, and open up a less often studied part of the Bible by women. Here is a taste of the interview, but you will really want to go and read the whole thing.

How can we, this side of the Cross, benefit from studying the Pentateuch---and Exodus through Deuteronomy in particular?

This story of salvation is really our story. Israel's emergence from slavery shows us how God brings us out of our slavery to sin. We are saved only as we come under the covering of the blood of the lamb. Only as we "stand still and see the salvation of the Lord" do we pass from death to life. Our story is one of being guided and provided for as we walk through the wilderness called life in this world.

Only when we grasp how the various sacrifices dealt with sin can we grasp the full forgiveness provided to us in the once-for-all sacrifice of Christ. And only when we see how the purity laws allowed for what was unclean to be made clean and what was clean to be made holy can we grasp that we who are unclean can be made clean through the sacrifice of Christ, and that we who are clean can even made holy so that we might enter into the very presence of God.

Read the rest here.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

A Kiss Can Lie

Earlier this week my students and I were talking about whether sexual experience is a necessary prerequisite for marriage. While they all agreed that sexual activity outside of marriage is a sin, some said they wouldn't want to marry someone who had never kissed anyone before. The general consensus among those students was that to experience your first kiss with your spouse (not your boyfriend or girlfriend) would just be plain awkward. In their minds, you need a little experience first.

But do you?

Do you need to test the waters with other people, or even your future spouse, before you know if marriage is a possibility? And if so, how does this line up with God's design for marriage and purity? The fear of awkwardness with intimate and sexual behavior is actually fear of the unknown, not fear of the act itself. We live in a culture that makes sex (and everything leading up to sex) look polished and mishap free. In the minds of so many young people, experience before the wedding night ensures that this does not happen to them.

But I think they are missing the point. It's not the frequency of activity or sexual prowess that removes awkwardness on the wedding night. It's a covenant.

When God created Eve for Adam the Bible makes the declaration that the man and his wife were both naked and unashamed. Prior to sin they both lived in a completely shame free marriage. While the Bible does not declare whether or not there was awkwardness between the two when they first came together, we do know one thing--they had no shame. Shame came later when sin entered the world. But because of Christ the marriage relationship can now be a place free from shame. Because of Christ a husband and wife can be naked and unashamed again. Outside of the marriage relationship this is not the case. Outside of marriage you live in fear of shame from a person who really has no claim on you.

So what does experience in kissing have to do with this? If it is true that experience in kissing can help determine if a person is one you would want to marry, then there should be no fear or shame associated with that infamous first kiss. How many people feel awkward or nervous leading up to (and immediately after) the first kiss with someone? I know I did. But I can honestly say that this was not the case when I kissed my husband for the first time on our wedding day. And the most obvious answer for me was that at that moment I knew that no matter how bad (or good) I was at kissing, he was not going to leave me. My ability as a kisser was not the determining factor of his love and commitment to me. It was the covenant we had just made before God and our family and friends.

You see, a kiss can lie to you. Maybe you are having a bad day and kissing is just not that appealing to you in that moment. You might determine that the lack of spark or emotion related to kissing that person means you shouldn't be with him or her anymore, when in reality you just have a stomach ache.

You don't have to get to the wedding day with a myriad of kissing partners added to your experience belt. And if you do, it won't necessarily mean that you will be a better spouse or even better suited to engage in sexual activity. In fact, it might do the very opposite. God designed sexual activity to only be experienced between one man and one woman for life. The direct implication is that we become experienced over time with one another. And that is a beautiful, God ordained thing.

While the culture might tell us that the sparks that fly after a kiss determine our compatibility as a couple, the Bible presents a very different story. It tells us that God is the one who sustains the marriage, not the sparks. The butterflies we feel in that moment might be lying to us. They might be telling us that we feel good and like the experience, but they don't tell us whether this relationship can be sustained over a lifetime. And that gets clouded sometimes by the emotion of the moment.

Even the best of kisses can lie to you. What will keep you going long after you say "I do" is not the passion of the kiss, but the promise of our Savior to sustain those who are his.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Friday is for Fotos: A Wedding (and a Belly Pic)!

A dear friend of mine got married a week ago today and I was so honored to be involved in her special day! So last Wednesday I packed my bags and headed up to Minneapolis to celebrate the Young/Johnson wedding. And there was much fun had by all! I was able to stay with my old roommates and in so many ways it felt like I never left, even thought it's been five (crazy?!?) years since I lived there. The wedding was a blast! We danced, talked, laughed, and danced some more. It was by far the most movement I have had since I got pregnant. I'm sure the babies were surprised about all the movement happening around them! Here are some pictures from the day. Pictures don't do it justice. It was such a fun weekend!

This is every girl (minus one)  who has ever lived in the 2520 house. God did amazing things in my heart in that house and he gave me amazing friends along the way! I love these girls!

And because I'm getting bigger, here is a belly picture to end your day. This was taken on Tuesday (I was 15 weeks 4 days), although I feel like I am even bigger today. The last week has been one of major growth, or at least it feels like it. I am 16 weeks today and can hardly believe it. When we got pregnant I was just hoping to make it through the first trimester, so to be able to be 16 weeks is such a mercy from our Lord. I am thankful for every moment, week, and month I have had with these babies. I haven't felt them move yet, but I'm really looking forward to it!

Happy Friday!

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Keller Video on Marriage

Marriage in Gospel Focus from The Gospel Coalition on Vimeo.

I showed this video to my marriage and family class the other day and I thought it was too good not to share with all of you. If you haven't read The Meaning of Marriage, run (don't walk) to get it right now. Or go to Amazon and buy it immediately. It is worth it. A lot of what the Kellers say in this video is from their book, but I particularly loved how Tim Keller talked about the basis for relational intimacy in marriage. But don't just take it from me, listen to the whole thing (and get the book!).

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Though the Darkness Hide Thee

I have always enjoyed the book of Judges. I know what you might be thinking right now. Enjoy is such a strong word for such a dark and tragic book. But I do enjoy it. I used to read the book with an incredulous spirit. I simply could not understand how God would let them continue in their rebellion. The Israelites were idolatrous, wicked people--and yet, God allowed them to live.

And then conviction hit me straight between the eyes.

How could God forgive me? How could God let my idolatrous, wicked self live? The sinfulness of Judges doesn't seem so foreign when placed next to the deceitfulness of my own heart. So I continue to go back to this book, reminded that God is a long-suffering and gracious God who does not give us what we deserve.

But there is more to the story than just comparing myself to the rebellious Israelites. Laced within the book of Judges is the truth that this cannot be all there is. And that is why I like Ruth, too. Ruth, unlike Judges, is the stuff women's bible studies are made of. In college, Ruth was the women we all aspired to be. She was a servant. She was submissive. And she got the man in the end. But I think that we can't truly understand Ruth without first understanding Judges.

The book of Judges ends this way:

"In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Judges 21:25).

Ruth, while it ends well, starts very bleak. Not only is it in these dark days of Israel, but it also is in the midst of dark days for this particular family. The entire narrative feels like light beginning to break forth at the end of a long and wearisome tunnel. And isn't that how God works? In the midst of our darkness, pain, and even our sin God is doing unfathomable things for our good. We cannot always see what he is doing, but we can trust that he has not turned a blind eye to us--even when we have been faithless towards him.

While the book of Judges ends with a judgment on a kingless people, Ruth ends with the promise of a coming king. In the midst of all of the sinfulness of the period of the Judges, God was working to bring forth the greatest king of all--King Jesus. When the Israelites (and all of humanity) deserved eternal condemnation, God was setting forth the plan for rescuing sinful people like you and me.

This is good news for us today, dear Christian. Whatever our circumstances might be, whether gloomy or bright, we can trust that God is in the middle of all of it. He has not left us. He has not forgotten us. And he will always work for our good, both in this life and in the one to come.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Unchanging Goodness of God

"Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye is wasted with grief; my soul and my body also. For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing." - Psalm 31:9-10

I read this psalm, through tears, on April 1, 2011. I still remember exactly where I was sitting when these words ministered to my soul. It was a rainy spring night. Daniel was at a bachelor party for a friend. I was sitting alone on the couch in our living room. It was the exact same place I sat weeping over our miscarriage seven and a half months earlier. And now I was faced with the due date of our precious baby and my womb was still empty. I was overcome with grief and pain. The sorrow surprised me. I thought I had come to terms with our loss, and yet here I was again grieving the shattered dreams and trying to pick up the pieces.

My womb would continue to stay empty for another year and a half. In those months and years following God showed up in ways I never could have imagined. I learned things about his character, his goodness, and my sin in ways I never would have known had everything worked out the way I planned it to be. For that I will be forever thankful. Miscarriage and infertility changed me, but it didn't destroy me, and that is all because of his amazing grace.

On August 1, I read that psalm again. It wasn't intentional, I was just reading through the psalms of the day. But just a few minutes before I read this psalm my life changed drastically.

I was pregnant.

I still have to pinch myself when I write those words. I am pregnant. It feels so surreal. As I read Psalm 31 again that morning I saw a little note penciled next to verses 9-10. A very different Courtney wrote, "My prayer. 4-10-11." It's been too long to see the dried tears on the pages of my Bible, but I'm sure they are there. For two years the psalms have been my comfort in my grief. They have carried me and reminded me of the faithfulness of God. They have given me hope that God will keep his promises to me, namely to give me a future with him forever. They have been my lifeline.

And they still are, just in different ways.

It would be easy to claim God's goodness in our unexpected blessing of twins at the expense of seeing his goodness in our miscarriage and infertility. But I assure you, his goodness has not changed. God is the same God today as he was on August 11, 2010 (when we lost our baby). He is the same God today as he was on October 25, 2011 (when we found out we needed more treatment for my endometriosis). In fact, it has only become clearer to me. God is over our sorrow and our joy. He is sovereign over our barrenness and our fullness. He is God in the lean years and the years of plenty. Circumstances do not dictate his goodness. And that is our hope.

The reality that God is unchanging in every aspect of his character is what carries us when our souls give way to sorrow and when the wave of blessing overwhelms us. Isn't that so comforting? We live in a world where devastating changes can happen in an instant. But we serve a God who never changes.

This has been my constant companion throughout this pregnancy. God is over every detail of our lives and he is always working all things for our good. Even when our circumstances cannot be trusted (which we all can attest to that), we can trust in the God who never changes.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Update on the Twins: Week 13

It is hard to believe that I am already 13 weeks pregnant. Some days it feels like it is going by slowly and then other days just fly by. Every morning that I wake up pregnant I am reminded by God's kindness towards us. I don't ever want to forget to be thankful for these precious little lives.

We had another ultrasound last week. The purpose of this ultrasound was to determine if the babies were in one sac or two sacs. Thankfully, the ultrasound determined that they are in two sacs. Praise the Lord! It would have been really rare for them to be in one sac, but we still were concerned. It looks like they are sharing a placenta, which most likely means they are identical. We still can hardly believe that we might have identical twins! A lot of our conversations these days center around what we are going to do to tell them apart.

It was so fun to see them on the ultrasound. We knew they had grown a ton since the last one, but I think we were shocked to see how much. They clearly looked like babies this time, as opposed to looking like little kidney beans. We could see their hands, brains, feet, and even their profiles. It was amazing to see them move around. And boy did they move! Baby A was super active and wanted to be around Baby B. Every time the ultrasound tech tried to get a picture of Baby B, Baby A wanted to be included too! She even made the comment that Baby A obviously doesn't like to be alone. Sounds just like his or her Momma! Baby B was active too, but seemed content to stay on his or her side, probably because Baby A was all up in her/his business. Both of their heartbeats were good and strong measuring at 161 and 177.

So how is Momma doing?

Well, Momma is slowly emerging from the first trimester grossness. Within the last few days I have felt like maybe I am turning a corner, only to be met with morning sickness all over again. I am 13 weeks 3 days today, so hopefully I am on the end of it, but I don't want to get my hopes up either. The exhaustion has not let up yet. Daniel often comments that it's crazy how much I can sleep and yet still be so stinking tired. And to be honest, as much as I hate being nauseous and despising all things food related, I do like the reassurance that these babies are still going strong (especially since I can't feel them yet). I am also slowly growing out of my regular clothes. That is the strangest thing to me. I love it, but it is just so interesting to watch my mid-section grow. Right now I am in between fitting into all of my maternity clothes and busting out of my regular clothes. I am looking forward to just being able to wear maternity clothes all of the time. And seriously, why don't we wear maternity jeans and leggings even when we aren't pregnant? They are the most comfortable pants on the planet!

I was reminded this morning that my fight to trust the Lord with their little lives will be the struggle of my motherhood. When they are born I will have to trust the Lord with their lives. When they are toddlers I will have to trust the Lord with their lives. When they are teenagers I will have to trust the Lord with their lives. I am slowly learning that being a mother, like so much else in this Christian life, is an exercise of faith. It is a constant battle to believe that God is good and can be trusted. By God's grace, I want to fight this battle well.

And for your viewing pleasure, here are their most recent ultrasound pictures.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Before Our Formation He Knew Us

Every morning I stare at a picture on my bedroom wall that has a silhouette of an unborn baby. In the picture the baby is held in the palm of God's hands. Underneath the picture is this verse:

"Before I formed you in the womb I knew you." - Jeremiah 1:5

My mom bought me this picture shortly after we lost our first baby. For the last two years the picture has served as a memory of the precious life we never knew, but also as a painful reminder of what we were seemingly unable to have again. Every piece of the picture is formed by bible verses that talk about the value of life. As I looked at this picture every day I would often cry out to God begging him for the blessing of another life.

The picture took on a whole new meaning when we found out about this pregnancy, and now the twins. I have said before that fear has been a constant struggle for me. And while the picture once served as a memory of the baby we lost, it now reminds me daily that God is the one who knows our children better than I do. Yes, I am connected to them. Yes, my very life is the source of their life. But in the most real sense I do not truly know them yet. I only know of them. God, who is the sovereign creator of all life, knows them deeply. He knows what they will be like. He knows who they will look like. He knows their interests, their faults, the color of their eyes, and even the number of days they will live on this earth.

And this is why I can trust him with their lives.

While I am their mother and the one who will take care of their every need, there are many things I can never know about them because I am not God. This should give me reason to hope in his goodness, not retreat in fear. The reality of his knowledge of them is a precious reminder that he loves these babies even more than I do. Not only did he intricately create them, but he knew their very souls before he even created them.

God is not indifferent to these lives growing inside of me. In fact, he's the complete opposite. Down to the very hairs (or lack of hair) on their head, he knows and loves them more than I ever could. And that is saying a lot! I can trust him with these babies because he cares for me and them in ways that I cannot even begin to comprehend.

The truth I have to keep coming back to is that ultimately these babies are his anyway. Daniel and I are only stewards of these precious gifts. And because they are his I can give them to him in faith knowing that he loves them and knows them even now.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

A Baby Story: Part 2

We went in for our first ultrasound on August 29, and to say that I was nervous would be a huge understatement. There is something about having a previous pregnancy loss that makes all of the tests less exciting for me. While I had no indicator that something could (or would) be wrong, meaning that I still had pregnancy symptoms, I just couldn't shake the previous memory in my head. The memory of having an ultrasound that revealed a baby who had stopped growing, not a baby with a heartbeat. The Lord really met me in my fear, but I wasn't exactly elated to go in for the ultrasound that morning.

Thankfully we didn't have to wait that long. The ultrasound tech made small talk with us on our way back to the room. One of the questions she asked is if this was our first baby. Usually I say "yes" only because I don't think people want (or need) all the details of our miscarriage. But this time, I thought it was helpful to let her know that it was not our first pregnancy and that I was nervous about this ultrasound. She didn't really respond to my answer, which I don't think meant anything. But it did make me even more nervous. Daniel said later that he was thinking "oh great, just what we need, an insensitive ultrasound tech." But as the morning went on she quickly became our favorite ultrasound tech.

As she started the ultrasound we couldn't see anything yet (they displayed the ultrasound on a big television in front of us). And she wasn't saying anything. Which were the longest few seconds of our lives! Then she smiled, which I interpreted as "the baby is fine." Boy, was I mistaken! Then she said:

"Do you want to see the heartbeat?"

And then we saw the most beautiful thing we have ever seen, our little baby. Immediately I was overwhelmed with emotion. I don't cry very easily, but I could not help tearing up when I saw our little jelly bean. And then in the midst of all my motherly joy came the other exciting piece of information from our beloved ultrasound tech:

"And there is the other heartbeat."

What?!?! Immediately, being the brilliant person that I am, I asked:

"Why are there two heartbeats?"

In all of my reading about pregnancy I had never once read about a baby having two heartbeats on the first ultrasound. I was seriously thinking that maybe baby's have two heartbeats at first or that you can see them from two parts of the ultrasound. And that, my friends, is why I do not have a career in medicine. So then she explained to me (because Daniel had already realized what was going on):

"That's because you have twins."

I have replayed that statement over and over in my head the last two weeks. We have twins. When we went in for the ultrasound we were just hoping for one healthy baby, but to have the added blessing of two just put us over the happiness edge! I literally screamed when she gave us the news. And I must say, she was really good at telling us. We kept praising her for her skill at revealing our twins to us. She probably thought I was crazy because I couldn't stop screaming and talking, which is what I do when I'm really excited (think my engagement video, if you have seen it). I'm pretty sure I replayed the entire pregnancy up to that point to our ultrasound tech because I was just so excited. I literally can't make my mouth stop when I get like that!

As I have struggled with fear throughout this pregnancy I felt like the Lord was reminding me in that moment that he delights in giving good gifts to his children. And these sweet babies are such a precious gift.

Part of the reason we were shocked with the news was because I thought I would be throwing up all of the time with twins. And while I feel pretty bad most of the time, I just thought I would feel worse. But again, I have nothing to really compare it to, so what do I know about how I am supposed to feel!

The Rundown on the Twins and Momma

- Right now they look like they are in the same sac. But my doctor said that this could change. Early ultrasounds (I was 8 weeks 5 days at the first ultrasound) sometimes miss the dividing membrane that would put them in separate sacs.

- If they are in the same sac they are identical. The biggest prayer request we have right now is that they not share a placenta. That can make it more risky for them. Will you pray that the Lord keeps them safe regardless of their placenta situation?

- I was not on any fertility drugs at the time we got pregnant. I actually haven't been on fertility drugs for over a year. That is what makes it even more amazing. Every pregnancy is from the Lord, but this just causes us to rejoice in his kind provision even more. He has truly done great things!

- They looked healthy and had great heartbeats (174 bpm). I will have an ultrasound every time I go to the doctor and will start seeing a high risk doctor as well around 16 weeks. He will monitor their growth more closely.

- Here is a random fact. This is the second set of twins in my immediate family. My brother and his wife have twins (a boy and a girl) and twins do run in my family (my maternal great aunt and great uncle are twins).

Thank you so much for sharing in our joy and for praying for us. We are so excited and at times can hardly believe it's happening!

Monday, September 10, 2012

A Baby Story: Part 1

It's been a crazy month and a half around here. Between finding out about our baby (then finding out we had two of them!), starting a new school semester, and traveling to Florida for my brother's wedding, we have had little time to process and breathe, or blog!

For those of you who have been reading the blog for any amount of time, you probably already know that we had a miscarriage a couple of years ago and have since struggled with infertility. We had grown quite accustomed to the monthly disappointment of a negative pregnancy test. Our hearts were weary, and we were beginning to think that God was closing the door of pregnancy for us and leading us towards adoption. For us, adoption was never a "plan B" option. But we had always hoped to have children both through adoption and pregnancy. The week before I took the test I really felt like God was preparing my heart for the reality of never being able to get pregnant again.

So when I took the test, it was a formality for me. I didn't feel pregnant. My heart was starting to be settled in the Congo or Ethiopia, thinking of the children God might provide for us. I had no inclination that I could be pregnant. In fact, I was just expecting another frustrating "not pregnant" result. And I was so wrong, because this is what popped up!

To say that we were shocked would be an understatement. There is something about seeing the word "pregnant" after two years of seeing the opposite that just takes your breath away. I could not believe it! In fact, I was so surprised that I carried the test around with me all morning just so I could stare at it frequently. And since we were so shocked and excited, we had to take a picture with the test together!

While my initial reaction was one of excitement and joy, my elation quickly turned to fear and anxiety. I began thinking of all of the variables that could possibly happen. I started obsessing over symptoms (or lack of symptoms). And even when the nausea kicked in with full force, I still couldn't shake the overwhelming fear that would overtake me some days (and still does). What I have had to learn throughout this first trimester is that no amount of symptoms, ultrasounds, or medical advice will remove my fear. It might give me momentary relief, but those ugly fears begin to rise up quicker than I would like them to. Why? Because circumstances will always fail me. Daniel asked me the other day if I feel like I have had to trust God more with this pregnancy than I have ever had to trust him before, and I had to say "yes." With infertility I had many fearful days, but they were not constant. But with this, it is a daily dependence on the God who sustains the universe and the little ones growing inside of me.

While I can hardly think straight most days, I'm thankful that God has allowed me to see my sinful fear and given me a place to go with those fears--straight into the refuge of his grace.

So, how am I feeling? Pretty pregnant. And I am so thankful for that. Every bout of nausea and exhaustion reminds me of these precious gifts we have been given. Do I like it? No, but I'm thankful for what it is pointing to--healthy babies. The nausea kicked in around five and a half weeks and has been my constant companion these last five weeks. I pretty much can only eat plain things. And no meat. Chicken and beef sound awful to me right now. I haven't cooked in weeks (my poor husband). I have never been so tired in my entire life, and I had mono in college, so that's saying something. But considering that these are all symptoms of a healthy pregnancy, I am not complaining at all!

All in all, this pregnancy is a constant reminder to us of God's gracious kindness towards us. These babies are a gift that we did not deserve, but that we praise him for every single day we have with them. He truly has turned our mourning into dancing. He has done great things for us. And he has given us two precious blessings that we cannot wait to meet. Which leads to the next post. We had no idea that we could be pregnant with twins. And that day is a whole post in itself!

To be continued...

Monday, August 27, 2012

Being a Pastor's Wife is an Exercise in Faith

My husband and I got married when we were both in seminary. He was also a part-time youth pastor. We had a short summer break after our wedding before it was back to the grind of school, work, and ministry. My dad was (and still is) a bi-vocational pastor, so I knew what life was like for a family when dad is often getting home from church just in time for dinner on a Saturday evening only to get up way too early the next morning to finish his sermon. When I was eight my dad went to seminary, so I lived in a family where my dad was working on papers, working full-time, all the while trying to be a husband to one and dad to four young children. I had no illusions about what ministry would look like. I knew it would be hard. I knew it would take time. But knowing and believing are two very different things. When it came time to believe that God knew what he was doing, I had a much harder time accepting that this was going to be my life.

The life of a pastor’s wife in a lot of ways is no different than any other Christian wife. But there are some key universally held beliefs that really get tested in the trenches of loving a man in pastoral ministry. These truths are simply what I have learned in these last three years, and therefore not necessarily exhaustive or applicable to every situation. But I would imagine that many wives of pastors probably face some variation of these struggles at some point. If you fit in that category, I hope my struggle towards faithfulness is a help to you.

Believing that God’s Word Changes Lives

If you had asked me four years ago what is the most pressing need for our churches I would have wholeheartedly said, “the preaching of God’s word!” I love the Bible. I believe that biblical preaching is needed in our churches. I believe that when we gather together on Sunday morning we desperately need to hear from God in his word.

But the real test comes on a Saturday afternoon, when my husband is immersed in his final sermon preparation. Do I believe that God’s word preached is the greatest need of his people on Sunday morning? Do I really believe that the people in our congregation need to hear from God, even if it means spending Saturday alone?

If a pastor cannot give God’s word faithfully on Sunday morning, he has very little left to give God’s people. As wives of pastors we have a unique responsibility to help him in this amazing task. From giving him a space to work, to refraining from interrupting him until the sermon is complete (this is hard for me), every ounce of freedom we give him (especially on those lonely Saturdays) is an opportunity for us to exercise trust in the never changing power of the word of God.

Believing that Jesus’ Words are True

Of course we believe that when Jesus speaks it is true. When I was a new Christian I used to boast that I would leave everything for the sake of the gospel, even my family. And while I lived away from my family long before I married a pastor, it did not hit me until that move was permanent. We are settled in ministry. And it’s not near my parents, brothers, or nieces and nephews. Jesus’ words about leaving family for his sake take on a whole new meaning when it’s not an idealistic declaration any longer.

Many of us live thousands of miles away from our immediate families. We miss birthdays, holidays, and important milestones. Our kids miss precious time with grandparents. When Jesus said we would have to deny our closest relationships for his glory he meant it. The cost of following Jesus sometimes implies that we live far away from family. But it also means that we get to experience a little piece of what he was talking about when he said “who are my brothers?” In a lot of ways, our church family is our immediate family now. We are with them at the 4th of July picnic and on Christmas morning. And we give thanks with them around the table on Thanksgiving. While we lose memories with our immediate families, we gain new, lifelong memories with our brothers and sisters in our congregations that are little foretastes of heaven.

Believing in the Coming Joy

Every sermon preached, every holiday missed, and every trial endured is an opportunity for a pastor’s wife to exercise faith in the God who can be trusted. We must daily fight to see that Jesus is better.  He is better than having your husband free all of the time.  He is better than living around the corner from your mom, dad, and siblings. He is better than stuff. He is better than our dreams for a nice house, extra spending money, well-behaved children (or any children), and a perfect marriage.

But there is more to the story. Because we are married to pastors we have a front row seat for all that God does through our husband’s ministry. We are there for the tears and we are there for the laughter. We are there for the criticism and are there for the praise. We get to see lives changed by God’s word. We get to see families restored through the power of the gospel. Even when it is hard, we can know that the difficulty is not all there is. Every trial endured, every lonely Saturday, and every missed family gathering is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison. And sometimes, just sometimes, we get to see a little glimpse of it this side of heaven.