Choosing to Rejoice

Backstory to the photo above—Paul and Barnabas have just informed the Jews (who were jealous of the large crowds coming to hear teaching about Jesus) of their decision to begin sharing the Way with the Gentiles. Paul references the decision to preach to Gentiles in Romans 11, admitting that he magnified his decision and subsequent ministry in order to make the Jews jealous so that they would want to believe also.

When I read the response of the Gentiles, I can’t help but think of a video from a few years ago showing Chinese believers diving over one another to claim a Bible for themselves. You can see tears streaking their faces as the clutch the Word to themselves. How must it have felt to believe and yet be on the outskirts of the life changing message of salvation? How overwhelming must it have been to hear that one of the leaders of the early church was devoting his ministry to you?

Sometimes I think we are too cavalier in our approach to the Scripture. Our very access has jaded us. Gathering has become an obligation. Reading Scriptures has become a bore. Communion with the Holy One has become a distraction from our favorite pastimes. Prayer has become a means to an end.

And, as usual, I am sharing my own experience. Goodness knows there have been times halfway through “the begats” that I’ve found my thoughts trailing along some other path, biding time until I could be done for the day.

It takes work to appreciate what we have. Gratitude is an act of our will that must rule over our emotions.

It would be easier if we could somehow bottle the sense of longing found in other believers who don’t have access to the Word the way we do in the Western church. I would love to get to sprinkle on some “holy reverence” that would automatically push my heart into wonder as I plod through obscure passages detailing the minutiae of every sacrifice required in the Levitical law.

Unfortunately that isn’t something available to us; but maybe I should say “fortunately” depending on perspective. I believe God sees our cold, distracted, burdened hearts as an opportunity to prove our love. In the same way that He planted the tree of knowledge of good and evil in the Garden to give mankind an opportunity to love, so the fallow fields of our hearts provide a place to choose thanksgiving. Every time I stir up my emotions to approach my time with Him with expectation, He sees my spiritual posture as an act of love and it draws His heart. I choose to love Him with my will, not just my emotions. I choose to let my spirit rule over what I feel. I choose to shake off the mundane one more time and approach His Word like it is the first time I’ve ever seen it. I choose to expect Him to stir my heart again, even in the boring places. Love in the mundane is valid, beautiful, and necessary.

Many of us are approaching the United States Thanksgiving holiday where, as a matter of tradition, we set our hearts to find expressions of gratitude. What if we spent thirty days stirring our hearts to be thankful that God chose to make a written copy of what is on His mind available to us? What would it work in our spirits if we approached Him over the thanksgiving season without putting our expectations on what He wants to say? What if we decided that we would take upon ourselves to stir our hearts and delight in His voice, despite our lack of interest in the subject? “God, for whatever reason, you found it important to honor these names in your Word. I celebrate You today, and I read these names and remember that You see every life and know every person’s story.”

Enter His gates with thanksgiving. May you find His grace on the journey.

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“I’ve Never Been Unfaithful”

I came home last night to clean floors.

Early in our marriage, when faced with the reality that Jim and I have different standards of neatness, I found myself using how tidy he kept his things as a measure for how much he respected me. “He threw his socks in the floor AGAIN! If I don’t pick them up, they’ll stay there FOREVER! He treats me like a maid! *mutter mutter grumble grumble wail*” Often a full-scale argument ensued within a few days.

Jim is immovable in his vow to spend the rest of his life pursuing me. He has continued to devote himself to having the hard talks and to accept how I feel in a given season without trying to convince me that I’m wrong for how I’m feeling. It has opened up tremendous space for emotional growth in me through the course of our marriage.

One tenuous balance we have had to forge is in the tension between the mental load that I (and many women) carry and my dislike to ask for what I want. Asking sets one up for possible rejection, a terrifying prospect. Asking also opens the door for guilt—“Don’t you know how much he’s already doing? You should have your life together and be able to handle this without him.” The problem is that I absolutely cannot handle this without him. Homeschooling, meal planning, grocery shopping, laundering, scrubbing, tidying, ministering, doula-ing, packing, prepping, unpacking, shuttling, listening, overthinking, organizing—it adds up to whirling dervish Mommy with a list full of half-completed tasks. Add constant interruptions and the emotional exhaustion that marks an introvert trying to parent a large family, and you have the makings of daily meltdowns. But God. And but Jim.

I texted him in the middle of my frustration yesterday and asked him to pray. I had just snapped at Tirzah for the sixth time because she would not go occupy herself for fifteen minutes and give me time to finish the dishes. And in typical Jim fashion, he prayed, texted me the scriptures he prayed, and then called me on his lunch break to ask what specific thing he could do to help.

He doesn’t understand the mental load I carry. I’ve learned to accept that he just doesn’t see the things I feel we need to do when he looks around the house. The clutter doesn’t bother him like it bothers me. This is why we balance—he reminds me to stop, rest, and embrace the fleeting days with tiny humans, and I encourage him to put things where we can find them again. We have had to compromise. He has made an effort to try to see our home the way I see it, and I have tried to be more intentional about asking for help without expecting him to read my mind.

When I returned to our clean-smelling, mopped home last night after a supply run to two stores that lasted longer than I wanted, my judgment free husband had a smile on his face. He was genuine in his happiness at making my life a little easier, his own exhaustion after a busy work day notwithstanding. We collapsed onto the couch to unwind after the busy day, and I began to browse Facebook. One of my friends had posted asking for feedback on what are the four little words every woman wants to hear. I began reading the comments, chuckling that two of my top choices—”I bought you chocolate” and “I cleaned the house”—were already among the responses. But after thinking a little longer, I decided my pick would be this:

“I’ve never been unfaithful.”

I believe we have cheapened what defines faithfulness in a marriage. When we stop and look at the complex definitions of love, honor, and cherish—well, not sleeping with another person is the absolute bare minimum. Faithfulness signs up again everyday to shield and defend the other person both from exterior attacks and from interior struggles. Faithfulness manifests both in what we do and in what we say.

Is it any wonder that Jesus’s name is “Faithful and True” in Revelation 19:11? He is our standard on how to honor, cherish, and love. Even in the middle of hatred and evil on the earth, He can say, “I’ve never been unfaithful.” The God of the ages continues to humble Himself to serve us by daily carrying our burdens, championing our virtues, forgiving our failures, and inviting us to experience the superior pleasures of fellowship with Him.

Onward and upwards.

~Chrystal

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Ears in the Dark

Most of my grade school years took place on a tiny island off of the Malaysian peninsula. My missionary parents were unable to secure permanent visas into India, the land to which God called them, but were able to acquire student visas for my brother and me and tourist visas for themselves to Malaysia. Every few months, we would have to leave Malaysia for at least 24 hours according to the stipulations of my parents’ visas. As a result, we spent the school term in Malaysia and every school holiday we could visiting Bible colleges and churches in Chennai (then Madras), Bangalore, and Secunderabad, India. 

After our first two-and-a-half year term in Malaysia, my family returned home on furlough for a year. On the weekends (and sometimes on Wednesday nights) my parents traveled to churches that supported us monthly and shared about the work to which God had called them. My brother and I enrolled in public school and endeavored to adjust to life in the United States again. 

Near the end of our year “home,” my brother (who is an extraordinary musician) competed in a statewide fine arts festival. The judges at the competition recognized his talent and extended to him an invitation to compete on a national stage. The only drawback was that the national competition was scheduled for late in the summer, after our family was scheduled to return to Malaysia and set up housekeeping in our new home before the start of the next school term. My parents discussed options and agreed that my dad and I would travel on our originally scheduled departure date and get settled, and my mother and brother would join us after the competition. 

I do not remember much about the trip with my dad other than that we had a layover in an airport hotel and my skinned knees had bled and stuck to my tights (why do we most often remember the unpleasant things?). My first coherent memory of the trip takes place the morning after we arrived in Malaysia. My Dad and I were sharing a small room in a building I knew as “The Office.” We were preparing to lease a house in another part of the island, but we had to wait to move in for a few months until the end of the current lessees’ lease. We spent the intervening months in an office building/dormitory, sharing living space with a few YWAM students. On the morning after Dad and I arrived at our temporary home at the office, I awakened early in the predawn hours—a victim of the jet lag that accompanies traveling halfway around the world. 

I tried to rest on my cot without making a sound, aware even as an upcoming fourth grader that my dad was weary from travel. Then a weaving motion on top of a nearby bookshelf caught my eye. 

Let me pause to insert here that a few years before, two weeks after we had moved to Malaysia for the first time, I found a baby viper coiled behind my bedroom door. I was five years old. The experience had left a marked terror of all snakes within me. 

In the dim, early morning light, the gentle bobbing that had caught my eye from the top of the bookshelf looked like the serpentine twisting of a snake. My eyes began telling me that said snake was making a slow path off the shelf and would be on the floor soon. I resisted the urge to shriek and felt my limbs freeze to my little cot. For what felt like hours, I watched and waited for the moment that I would find myself face to face with my most feared enemy. 

Finally, fear mastered all attempts at reason. In my tiniest voice—”Daddy?”

My father’s voice cut through the half light with an immediate response from across the room. In retrospect, he was probably fighting the effects of jet lag also, but my young mind only grasped that now I had someone bigger and stronger to face my foe and keep me safe. I hesitantly explained what was frightening me, and Dad rose to flip the light switch without question. Brilliant fluorescent bulbs illuminated the face of my terror—a lone plastic bag stored on top of the shelves. Dad never protested the inconvenience of sleep disturbed or told me I was being silly. He calmly removed the bag and cut the lights again so that both of us could try to get some more rest before beginning the day. 

—- 

Psalms 34:15

The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry.

I love Psalm 34:15, and I think of my experience with the snake/plastic bag when I read it. I spent long moments in abject terror because I had convinced myself that my father was sleeping and I should not bother him. The mixture of relief and gratitude that flooded through me at hearing his voice is hard to describe. He validated me with his instant response and unquestioning support. My tiny fear mattered to him. 

In the same way, God’s ears are always opened to those who love Him. Our tiny heart issues still elicit a response from Him when we call Him. We waste copious amounts of time fearing shadows in the dark, but our Father is always there with ears straining to hear the smallest cry and turn on the lights. He is invested in the little things as much as He is in the larger issues. There is nothing too inconsequential to bring before Him. 

Speak. He is listening. 

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A Teaching in the Teacup

This one’s for all my fellow introverts/ambiverts. I would tell you to wave at me, but—let’s face it—drawing that much attention to yourself is embarrassing; so feel free just to break eye contact and give a quiet nod to yourself. You know who you are. 

My introversion as a child was extreme, and attributed to shyness. It carried into heartbreak as a teen when I would attend youth gatherings and no one would initiate conversation. Over time, circumstances (and my mother) began teaching me that hiding behind introversion can be a form of selfishness—I was consumed with fearing what others thought about me too much to share the love of Jesus in me with hurting people. I began forcing myself to make contact and learn the art of small talk (something I still hate and struggle to master here in my thirties—let’s not even mention the number of times I’ve recalled a conversation and thought, “Could you have been any more awkward?”). 

Becoming a stay at home mother has developed a new layer in my tendencies toward introversion. I’m in a season where I don’t always get the tranquil hour to recharge after social contact. Instead, interruptions fill my days and incessant chatter punctuates every thought. I live in the tension between trying to show interest as my babies’ personalities develop, and feeling emotionally spent after a three minute monologue devoted to telling me that their older cousin is, in fact, older than they are. 

I was feeling sorry for myself this morning, and ruminating on how much I wished my workday had set clock-in and clock-out hours, when the Scripture inside my breakfast teacup caught my eye:

He fills my life with good things. ~Ps. 103:5, NLT

Hello perspective, old friend. 

Those interruptions? They’re a good thing. That fostered longing for quiet time away? Still a good thing. The boredom in listening to my children prattle about things I feel are unimportant? A good thing. 

It goes beyond the simple expression of gratitude for a safe home and healthy, happy children—though a thankful heart for the little things is crucial. This morning, I sense Holy Spirit prompting me toward renewed perspective on my innate response as well. The Father who fashioned my personality knows it well. He is attuned to my longing for quiet places because He fostered it within me. A God who inspired David to pen, “He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul” (Psalm 23:2b-3a,ESV) understands introverts. 

So where is the good in the interruptions, the boredom, the inner turmoil, the angst, the desperate need for ten minutes of silence that never come?

For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. ~Psalm 62:1, ESV

Quiet time and drawing away are vital and necessary. I’m fortunate to have a husband who champions my time with the Lord, and often sends me to our room to rest and pray when he arrives home at night. However, Psalm 62 struck me because of the distinction the psalmist made. He could have written, “For God alone I wait in silence,” but he chose the words my soul. I feel the distinction is significant because David must have found it difficult to draw away in his later years. He learned the value of quiet introspection as a youth in the fields, only to have God thrust him into court life, exile, and kingship—none of which offered him much privacy or uninterrupted quiet time. David learned to keep his soul quiet, even in the turmoil that surrounded him. 

The chaos of life with small children will not always be my portion, but it is one of many good things given to me by the Lord. My children are my training ground to develop a quiet soul. I can embrace the season of learning to have open spiritual ears even while my physical ears ring with the exuberant playing, endless curiosity, and impassioned outbursts of my children. 

You quiet my soul. 

You satisfy my soul. 

I am content. 

He fills your life with good things. Ask Him today to show you how the little annoyances you face are His disguised blessings. 

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So Now What?

It’s been a month since I received the news of my book’s publication, and about two weeks since my first shipment arrived. 

The last few weeks have been a mix of a steady stream of decisions (“Should I offer a book signing? Would anyone actually come? Do I want to make any changes to my author website? In which cities do I want them to target my press release?”) and the gradual acceptance that I’m not dreaming. Holding my book and reading my name across the cover has forced an internal tension where I’ve struggled with the exchange of titles—”author” instead of merely “person who scribbles in her spare time.”  Calling myself an author still feels pretentious, like I’m wrapping myself in someone else’s overcoat. 

I always knew there were books to come, but I always thought I would feel different when the time came. I envisioned wrapping myself in soft cardigans before a crackling fire in a pristine, secluded cabin somewhere artfully crafting jeweled sentences that lifted my readers to ethereal planes of literary bliss. Instead, “But Who is Jesus?” came in fits and spurts over several months at a blinking living room computer surrounded by tumbleweed dog hair and a toddler tugging at my elbow. A writer cam at my house would have most often displayed a frizzy haired, sleepy mama sporting yesterday’s eyeliner smudging the bags under her eyes and pajamas in a dubious stage of cleanliness. Surely authors should look more dignified, my inner monologue is quick to state. 

But the reality is that I couldn’t have written, “But Who is Jesus?” in a secluded cabin. So much of the book sprang from Holy Spirit whispering the character of Christ in my daily interactions with my family. Jesus didn’t reveal Himself while on earth in seclusion; He displayed His heart and His nature across the gritty, authentic panorama of the human experience. The Jesus secluded on the mountains, praying to His Father, is one to whom we don’t have much access. We know He drew away to pray, but Scripture veils almost all of the details of His conversations. Jesus unveiled had dinner with friends, cuddled sick children, attended weddings, showed up at funerals, and napped in boats. Two thousand years later, He’s still choosing to show Himself through weak humanity in prison houses, checkout aisles, office buildings, and (in my case, at least) surrounded by three rambunctious children and an oversized coat-blowing husky in small-town Mississippi. 

The question I’m currently asking the Lord is, “What now?” Is there more for me to write? I confess, it seem unthinkable that any subject could compare to the revelation of who Jesus is. So, do I stay in this theme and keep researching? Or is there another facet He wants me to explore that will exalt the name of the Savior I love? At this point, I have no answer. So I rest, and I wait, and I keep looking for Him in the small places of daily life. 

Further up and further in. 

-Chrystal

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