Free Will

From the time humans were created, God has given us free will. Every day we use our free will to make choices on what we do, what we say, how we act, and how we react. Each and every one of those choices have consequences, whether positive or negative. This is a basic concept that people often teach their children as they are growing and learning (For example, if you don’t eat dinner, you can’t have dessert), yet we as adults sometimes have trouble grasping this concept.

We can’t blame God for the consequences of our own actions. If a relationship ends because you do not treat your partner well, that is a result of your own choices. There are things that happen outside of our control, but that is a post for another time. If we are ever going to grow and mature, we have to be willing to accept responsibility for our actions. Not only that, but we have to remember that others are prone to sin, and we have to extend grace to them.

Thinking about it this way makes free will seem like a drag, huh? It’s not. Free will is beautiful: if we didn’t have free will, we would never be able to love genuinely or really live. Yes, there are consequences for choices we make, but not all of them are bad: I choose to pour into my marriage, and as a result it is flourishing. That’s a beautiful consequence!

Free will is a gift, and we should use it wisely because our actions and words have tremendous power.

With love,

B

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Photo credit: Ryan Clements

We Are Meant to be Different

In last week’s post, I talked about how we are to be Christ-like, not necessarily Christian-like. This being said, I think there is a common misconception from both believers and nonbelievers that to be a Christian is to be a carbon copy of every other Christian. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Ephesians 2:10 says: “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago” (NLT, emphasis mine). Does every masterpiece look the same? Of course not. So why do we think that we should look exactly the same as our brothers and sisters in Christ? God has given us each different talents, gifts, and passions so of course the way we live out the attributes of Christ are going to come across differently. Some people have a passion for opening their homes and leading Bible studies while others have a passion for working with the homeless while yet others have a passion for traveling as missionaries. Are all of them glorifying God and being Christ-like? Yes.

Additionally, while our core values may be the same, other values we have and the way we express them may look different from other people’s. For example, some parents choose to allow their children to watch television while others do not. Is either of them right? If each is doing what they are convicted about and believe is best for their own family, then they are both right.

For years this was a very difficult concept for me to grasp, but as I’ve grown and matured, I’ve realized it’s okay to look different than those around me. In fact, that is how it should be. There have been times that I have done things simply because it worked for other people, because someone else was convicted about it, or because someone told me to do it. While seeking wisdom from others is certainly important, we need to check this wisdom against Scripture and against our own hearts and then ultimately make the decision for ourselves.

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I love seeing the diversity in believers around me: no one’s life or home looks exactly the same. It is beautiful to see how so many different people can glorify God in so many different ways.

You are not called to look like everyone else, you are simply called to live a life that glorifies God, whatever that looks like for you.

With love,

B

Photo credit: unsplash-logorawpixel.com

Christian-Like

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him should walk just as He walked” (1 John 2:4-6, HCSB, emphasis mine).

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When Jesus was on Earth, He was the living, breathing embodiment of God. Not only is that mind-blowing, but we are lucky enough to have records of His ministry easily accessible to us. As Christians we are called to model our lives after Christ. Often times, though, I find that we end up trying to model our lives after other Christians. This in and of itself is not a bad thing; Paul even tells those in the church of Corinth to imitate him because he is an imitator of Christ. The problem lies in the fact that other Christians are human and just as prone to sin as we are.

When we are modeling our lives after other people there are a few things we should take into account:

  • Is the behavior we are wanting to imitate consistent with Scripture? If we are looking to another person to try to be Christ-like, we need to make sure that they are behaving in a way that is truly reflective of Christ.
  • Are we idolizing them? If we become obsessed with trying to model our lives after a person or persons, we are essentially worshiping them, making them into an idol. If this is the case, our focus is misguided.
  • Are we looking into Scripture for ourselves? Are we actually studying the Word and trying to understand what it means to be Christ-like, or are we simply letting others do the work while we copy and paste?

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We are created in the image of God (Genesis 1). Within us is the capability and responsibility to reflect Him. Other people can aide us in living in a manner worthy of Christ, but they can not be our only source or our faith will crumble. This is why so many people get “burned” by the church: they think that the actions of other humans are always reflective of the actions of God, which is simply untrue. If our view of God is only through other people, we are going to have a misconception of who God is because humans are imperfect and are bound to mess up, unlike God.

As followers of Christ, we should be encouraging our brothers and sisters and be making disciples. We should also allow ourselves to be encouraged and be discipled. This, however, cannot replace seeking God ourselves; we need to go straight to the Source.

•••

“Therefore, be imitators of God, as dearly loved children. And walk in love, as the Messiah also loved us and gave Himself for us, a sacrificial and fragrant offering to God.” Ephesians 5:1-2 HCSB

Photo credit: unsplash-logoAlexandre Chambon

You Love Me Anyway

Last week I was looking at the verses I had highlighted in Deuteronomy. When I was reading the highlighted verses in chapter 31, God moved my heart.

20 When I bring them into the land I swore to give their fathers, a land flowing with milk and honey, they will eat their fill and prosper. They will turn to other gods and worship them, despising Me and breaking my covenant. 21 And when many troubles and afflictions come to them, this song will testify against them because their descendants will not have forgotten it. For I know what they are prone to do, even before I bring them into the land I swore to give them (emphasis mine).

God knew that the Israelites would turn away from Him, but He gave them the promised land anyway; they were still His chosen people.

We read the stories of the Israelites turning from God and we think, “How could you be so… well, stupid?” But we do the same thing. We are in the same boat as the Israelites.

It reminds me of a line from Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing:

“Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it/ Prone to leave the God I love”

We have a tendency to try and fill our lives with anything and everything – just like the Israelites did. When God gave us free will in the very beginning, He knew that this would be a side effect, yet He chose to do it anyway. He knows our hearts are prone to wander, yet He loves us anyway. No matter how far we go, He’s waiting. No matter what we try to fill the God-shaped hole in our heart with, He’s waiting. What beautiful, gracious love.

To me, this kind of love makes me want to do anything but stray. It makes me want to draw near to the Father who loves me so fiercely, the Father that would send His son to bridge the gap between Him and me, the Father that sees the blood of Jesus rather than my trespasses.

Photo Credit: Cristina Gottardi

You Don’t Have to Be Perfect

Perfectionists. People who accept nothing less than perfection from themselves, no matter the cost. We all know them. I just didn’t realize that I was one – or at least I didn’t want to accept it.

I always considered myself to be motivated, not for bragging rights, but for myself. As a child, my parents never had to get onto me about doing my homework or studying, I would push myself to get it done. Thought a C is considered average, if I made below an A I would be upset – well no, if I made below a high A, I would be upset. Yet I wasn’t a perfectionist, I was motivated.

These standards followed me through high school and into college – though I will admit I am a bit of a procrastinator at times. In the counseling theories course I took last semester, we talked about how perfectionism is a distortion of thought because it is impossible to be perfect. I sat there and agreed, all the while having the thought distortion that I wasn’t a perfectionist.

But I am. I am motivated, but I’m also a perfectionist. I hold myself to such high standards and get immensely distraught if I don’t meet them; however, I’m not perfect and I’m not going to be excellent at everything, and if I think I have to be, I’m just going to distress myself further. I think what finally made me realize it was when I started setting specific goals for school, housework, and exercise in my planner and then I saw myself not meeting them. Sometimes it is due to being lazy and not feeling like doing whatever task I have before me. Sometimes, thought, it is due to me setting unrealistic expectations. I still set monthly, weekly, and daily goals, but I’ve had to adjust them. Now if I don’t meet a goal, I try to give myself grace and evaluate why I didn’t meet the goal: Did I schedule too much for one day and I just need to move the task to tomorrow? Or was the goal itself (like doing yoga everyday) unrealistic for the season I’m in or just unrealistic in general? Or was I just lazy? I try evaluate and I move on, and I often write little notes in my planner to remind myself that I am human and I need to give myself room to breathe.

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Why did I share this with you? Because I know that I’m not the only one who often holds myself to impossible standards. I also know that I can’t be the only one who is or ever has been in denial about it. Cut yourself some slack. Be motivated. Set goals. Have standards. Get things done. But don’t expect to be Superman or Wonder Woman. Give yourself some grace. You don’t have to be perfect.

Photo Credit: Michał Grosicki

Seasons of Life

Our lives are not linear; we do not stay in the same place constantly. Like the seasons of the year, the seasons of our lives come and go. This thought is comforting in difficult times and perhaps bitter in more joyful times.

The season that we are in is unique to us and may look quite different from the people around us even if they are in a similar time in their life. For example, my best friend and I are one month apart in age, we are both seniors in college, we have similar majors, and we are both married, yet we are in very different seasons of life. The season I am in involves managing a full-time course load for school, work, and an internship. I am not home very much and spend most of my time doing homework and housework. Genelle on the other hand is going to school full-time as well, has a work-study through the university, and is preparing to have a baby in three months! Though the seasons that we are in share commonalities, they are quite different indeed!

Both of the seasons we are in are beautiful in their own ways, and one of my favorite things to do as of late is have conversations with her about what is going on in her life and sharing what is going on in mine, because for the first time, the seasons of our lives are more different than similar and the priorities and focuses of our lives are different. I love it.

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The thing about life is that we can never really expect what the future seasons of life will look like. For instance, when I was a freshman in college, I never would have guessed that I would change my major or that I would be getting married my junior year. We can plan all we want, but that doesn’t mean that things are going to work out that way – and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Genelle, for example, wasn’t necessarily planning on having a baby this year, and the season she was expecting to go into changed, but the unexpected season turned into a season of joy and blessings.

A valuable skill I have learned in the past few years is to accept the season of life that I am in. The current one I’m in is quite busy. I rarely get to spend time with my husband or my family and I have to be extra intentional about finding rest and being still in the presence of the Lord. When things feel like they are too much to handle, when I’m upset about not seeing my husband as much as I would like to, I simply say to myself, “It is only a season.” Though it is a trying season at times, it is a season full of immense blessings and joy as well. I can’t sit around and wait for that perfect time in my life to come along – it’s never going to. I have to find joy in each day.

This season will go and the next one will come. What will it be like? I have no clue, but perhaps the mystery is part of the adventure.

Photo Credit: Fineas Anton

Satisfied in You

I mentioned last week about my struggles last year that resulted in me taking antidepressants. Though they improved my symptoms, I still struggled greatly for awhile. I would lie in bed at night plagued by negative thoughts. I felt angry and bitter and guilt and upset over feeling angry and bitter. It was a vicious cycle. One night sometime after I went to the doctor, I was lying in bed unable to sleep. I turned on Spotify and listened to the discover weekly playlist that had been compiled for me based on songs I had listened to. I was lying there not paying much attention to the music until one song came on.  Satisfied in You (Psalm 42) by The Sing Team struck me in ways I had never expected; I had never heard the song before. The lyrics shook me to the core:

I have lost my appetite
And a flood is welling up behind my eyes
So I eat the tears I cry
And if that were not enough
They know just the words to cut and tear and prod
When they ask me “Whereʼs your God?”

Why are you downcast, oh my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
I can remember when You showed Your face to me

As a deer pants for water, so my soul thirsts for You
And when I survey Your splendor, You so faithfully renew
Like a bed of rest for my fainting flesh

When Iʼm looking at the ground
Itʼs an inbred feedback loop that drags me down
So itʼs time to lift my brow
And remember better days
When I loved to worship You and learn Your ways
Singing sweetest songs of praise

Let my sighs give way to songs that sing about Your faithfulness
Let my pain reveal Your glory as my only real rest
Let my losses show me all I truly have is You

So when Iʼm drowning out at sea
And all Your breakers and Your waves crash down on me
Iʼll recall your safety scheme
Youʼre the one who made the waves
And Your Son went out to suffer in my place
And to show me that Iʼm safe

Why am I down?
Why so disturbed?
I am satisfied in You

From the first line, I was hooked. I listened to the cries of a broken soul. I listened to the hope that the broken soul found. I listened as I sighed and traded sorrow for peace.

•••

I still struggled. I still had bad nights. But I would listen to that song. I would read Psalm 42. It became my lifeline. I would ask myself the same question that psalmist did: “Why are you downcast, oh my soul?” God had been so faithful to me. These trials weren’t going to last forever. I stopped trying so hard. I stopped torturing myself with feelings of guilt. I simply gave in to the peace the Father was offering. I became satisfied in Him. Again and again.

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To this day that song makes me think about the first time I heard it, the night that it was a life raft for me. Ironically, with this post already being planned for this week, a few weeks ago our pastor spoke on Psalm 42. I again sat and reflected on God’s faithfulness. How I came out of that trial with more empathy and more hope than ever before.

When feelings from before try to creep their way back into my life, I remember the night that I said “no” to my downcast, disturbed soul, the night that I “lifted my brows and remembered better days,” the night that I allowed myself to become satisfied in Him and filled with His peace.

•••

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Savior and my God.

Psalm 42:5

Photo Credit: Gary Bendig

One in Four

One in four people will have a mental disorder at some point in their lives. Does this number surprise you? It doesn’t surprise me. As a psychology major, the prevalence of mental disorders is well known to me – I just never thought I would end up being the one in four.

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In the fall of 2015 I started noticing that my PMS was becoming abnormal. As the months went on, I almost physically couldn’t stand being around people – especially the people I was closest to – because I would get so irritated or angry. It wouldn’t have bothered me if I could go an entire day or more without talking to someone. I would lay in bed for hours watching TV. It would take everything in me to convince myself to get up. To interact. I didn’t really care to eat. I was so ashamed of the way I felt that even when I wasn’t PMSing I still didn’t want to be around people. I still wanted isolation. Finally, in May of 2016 I went to see my doctor. I told her what was going on, and she said that my symptoms sounded like Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder (or PMDD).

I started on an antidepressant. This didn’t bother me. Because of my study of psychology I knew how beneficial medication could be when needed. By the time the next month rolled around, my symptoms were much less extreme. As time went on, I was able to better manage my emotions and my reactions. I could be around my loved ones without wishing for a way out. I was starting to feel normal again.

•••

Not many people knew I was taking medication. There is a belief that is common in the church that if you are a Christian, then you shouldn’t need things like antidepressants. In all honesty, I digress.
We live in a world full of sin, death, and disease and depression, anxiety, bi-polar disorder, conversion disorder, and panic disorder still exist whether you are a believer or not.

Because of this stigma around medication, I chose to stop taking my antidepressants too soon, in all honesty. I felt that if people knew they would look down on me because I should have had it together. I should have been able to overcome my problem without a pill. I study mental health and behavior, I know what happens in the brain and how therapy/medication can help, and yet I still felt this way. Something is wrong here. Because I chose to medicate and my symptoms calmed down to a manageable point, I was able to think more clearly. I was able to calm myself down enough to pray and to seek Him. I believe that God has equipped many men and women in the field of counseling. Therapy is a wonderful thing. Medication can be, too, when necessary. Seeking help doesn’t make you any less of a believer. 

As an believer, as an individual, you have the right to make the choice of how you choose to seek help if you need it. My decision was one that I thought about, one that I prayed about, one that I had peace about. If you found yourself in the same situation as I found myself in, your choice could have been different. You could have chose to seek counseling. Or to not to seek outside help. Or to seek help some other way. And that is perfectly okay. But don’t let someone make you think that because you are a Christian, you aren’t allowed to have mental health issues –  that would be like saying you aren’t allowed to have diabetes. I fully believe that through the power of Christ in us we can overcome the obstacles in our life – but just like we go to a doctor when we are sick, we are allowed to reach out when we are struggling mentally.

I am a Christian and I was on antidepressants. I’m okay with that. I’m grateful for it. When I struggle now, when symptoms start to creep back in, I can handle it because the time that I spent on medication allowed me to learn how to control what was happening, which I couldn’t do beforehand. Think. Research. Pray. Make the decision that you need to.

Photo Credit: Misael Nevarez

More than a Physical Act: A Story of Grace

Luke Holter in his book Filthy Fisherman says, “Nearly every Christian I know has an amazing story of God’s grace and redemption. None of us are above His grace; we all badly need it. Once we have been redeemed, our job is to tell that story of redemption” (Emphasis added). And here, in the final post of the marriage series, I’m going to tell you some of my story.

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I often think of how my husband and I are going to approach the topic of sex with our children someday, because our story is a story of grace and healing. My relationship history includes manipulation and abuse (you can read more about that in Toxic) as well as me going along and making my own mistakes. Sex and it’s counterparts were just things on a “Don’t” list for me. I didn’t understand what the harm really was. I mean, I knew God created sex to be in the context of marriage, but I didn’t understand why.

Needless to say, I had trouble with staying away from things on that list. I didn’t understand the emotional bondage that came along with physical acts. Though I didn’t have sex until my wedding night, I had given a lot of myself away prior to meeting my husband, and the breakup that followed devastated me.

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My heart breaks when I see others go through things like this. It breaks my heart when people believe society’s lies that sex is casual. It breaks my heart when people weaponize sex. It breaks my heart to see the aftermath of breakups when too much was given. What breaks my heart more is when I see people looking down their noses, thinking that others are undeserving of grace – as if that’s our call to make. Christ came to redeem all of us, not just those whose sins we deem are worthy of being saved from. It reminds me of the story of the adulterous woman in John 8:

but Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.

At dawn He appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around Him, and He sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.

But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.When they kept on questioning Him, He straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again He stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there.10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.

“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”

Jesus didn’t tell her that her actions were okay, but He didn’t condemn her either. This is the kind of scandalous love and grace we are called to give if we call ourselves followers of Christ. We are called to love people with the truth, but we are not called to condemn them. I can’t tell you how much it hurt when I heard people shaming those caught up in sexual sin while I sat there with my dirty little secret holding back tears and shame.

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When my husband and I have kids, I want to be honest with them – about the truth of what sex is and also about my mistakes. I want them to know that sexuality is not a bad thing. I want them to know that God designed marriage and He designed sex as a part of that. It is the ultimate display of intimacy and vulnerability – it is becoming “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is so much more than a physical act. 

I want our kids to grow up knowing that they can ask questions and that they can talk to us freely. I also want my kids to know that we love them unconditionally. I pray that our children will hold tight to the truth and that they will protect their hearts. I pray they will not go through the heartbreak that so many others and myself have gone through. But if my child comes home one day, crying because she made a mistake, you can bet I will be right there crying with her, not because her actions are excused, but because I have been there and because God didn’t turn me away. How could I look at her with shame and condemnation? How could I spit in the name of grace?

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While others looked at me with shame and condemnation, God looked at me with love and grace. I know that He grieved over my choices and He rejoiced when I repented. And I know that I am thankful for the grace that was lavished on me while I was undeserving. I know that while the decisions I may have made were not wise, I experienced God’s grace and love all the more, and I can’t help but extend it to others.

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To those of you misguided by society’s portrayal of what sex should be, it’s not true. It is so much more than the cheap version being sold.

To those of you who have a warped view of sex because of what others have done to you, this isn’t how it’s supposed to be. This isn’t all there is. There is hope and there is healing.

To those of you who are critical of those caught up in sexual sin, remember grace. Don’t let your hearts be hardened.

To those of you caught up in mistakes you have made, I’m crying with you. It’s not over. Grace is so much bigger than any mistake you will ever make.

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Photo Credit: Bekah Russom

You and Me Forever

When my husband and I were engaged and Genelle was engaged to her husband, a friend of ours took Genelle and I out to lunch. Before we left she gave us each a copy of You and Me Forever: Marriage in Light of Eternity by Francis and Lisa Chan. The book sat around through my engagement, but I picked it up recently.

The message of the book is simply this: Marriage is amazing, but it is not the most important thing. At first, this was a hard pill for me to swallow. I was taught that marriage is the most important human relationship we can have, and it is – but it’s not everything. I’m going to share things with you both from the book and from my own searching into what marriage is meant to look like. So, here we go!

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Our ultimate mission is to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20). That’s what Jesus commanded us to do before He ascended. We are to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and show them what it is like to follow Him. That is our ultimate mission.

So what does that have to do with marriage? Well, a lot actually.

First, if we’re not careful, our marriages can become an idol. They can become our primary focus, distracting us from our ultimate mission – Now, I’m not discounting the importance and wonderfulness of marriage, I promise, just hang with me!

Second, marriage is a vessel. Our marriages on earth are to resemble the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians 5:22-33). Our marriages are supposed to look different. The way we love our spouses should be showing what selfless love looks like: the kind of Love that would bear a cross so the world could be in communion with a holy and perfect God. 

Third, our marriages are strengthened when we are focused on the mission together, when we are serving together. It’s crazy how much a common goal can bring you together. The book uses the example of serving on a mission team: You can come into the situation complete strangers, but after working towards a common goal, you leave bonded. I know this is absolutely true in my marriage. When my husband and I are focused on the mission, we grow closer together. Furthermore, when we are focused on Christ in general, when we pray together and discuss the Word together, we grow so much closer to one another.

Fourth, marriage is a part of our testimony. We are not always strong in our marriages, but that just gives Christ plenty of room to show us that His grace is sufficient and He is strong in our weakness.

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Marriage is amazing. It is a beautiful, God-created design. I love being married, but it’s not everything to me. I focus on growing my marriage, on loving my husband selflessly, on growing myself so I can better love my husband, but it is not my everything. In the five short months that we have been married – and the nearly two years we have been together – I have already seen how God is using the testimony of our story to reach others. It is such a beautiful thing. I love that my marriage is about more than just the two of us.

Marriage is the most important human relationship we have while we live on this earth. So many things can come between us and our spouses if we let them. While sometimes God calls us to make sacrifices for His mission – such as leaving home to speak while our spouse stays home or going on a mission trip by ourselves – I don’t think He would ever call us to do something that would put our marriages in danger. If God calls us to do something, we have to trust that He will provide for all of our needs, including emotional ones. Just like I’ve told some of the kids at camp this week when they’ve been missing their parents: “Mommy and Daddy are out there showing teens what it looks like to follow Jesus. They’re out there making disciples, and that’s awesome! So when you miss them, just remember that they are doing awesome things for Jesus.” I then give them a big hug and they snuggle into bed and fall asleep with a little more peace. I’ve had to tell myself that this week, too, because I miss my husband while he’s been out there serving with the kids’ parents.

These things, these sacrifices, can be hard, but we have to keep our eyes on the mission – yet we also need to remember that our spouses aren’t superhuman and they need our love and encouragement during these times, too. We can’t leave them in the dust, saying, “See ya, later!” in the name of Jesus. We have to realize that while on this earth, we are one. Communication needs to stay as open as it can. Prayer and encouragement need to happen as often as they can. Love needs to happen always. Part of love, though, is sacrifice. Saying, “I’ll hold the fort down while you go where God has called you. It’ll be  hard, but I can’t wait to hear about it when you come home. I’ll miss you, call when you can, but go do what God has called you to do.”

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Whether you’re about to get married or have been for awhile, You and Me Forever is a great read. It’s humbling and beautiful. It can be a hard pill to swallow, but my marriage is better for it.

Until next week, lovelies!