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We Survived a Home Renovation . . . Almost!

We Survived a Home Renovation . . . Almost!

Four months ago our little family moved into my in-laws’ house, and our home renovation began.

As home renovations go, this one has taken longer and cost more than we expected. Our contractor told us he has seen couples divorce over home renovations. I get it. The stress is high. The decisions are unending.

It’s not just the home renovation. We feel like we’ve been in a pressure cooker for months now.

When Life Doesn’t Give You a Break

Sometimes life just doesn’t give you a break. It’s the need to finally bite the bullet and buy a new car, even as you’re dishing out money right and left for your home renovation.

It’s the trip to the emergency room in the wee hours of the morning . . . and a subsequent hospital admission. (Iren was wheezing and struggling to breathe.)

It’s urging people in our lives to turn from sin and pursue Christ. It’s that ridiculous relational squabble. And on and on and on.

My husband and I are weary. I’ve had a meltdown or two. It usually goes like this, [Sob . . . sniffle . . . “I have no friends!”] Trevor assures me I do, but I have yet to figure out how to find time to hang out with any of them in the midst of all the other demands and responsibilities.

But in the midst of all the pressure, I continue to catch glimpses of just how much God cares for me. For example, here’s how I saw it yesterday.

I was taking Iren on a walk when I looked up and saw an acquaintance. I fell into step with her and told her I need to prepare three messages for a mother-daughter retreat next week. One message is for moms, and I’ve never been a mom of a daughter. So I asked this pastors’ wife of four children what she would say to these women.

Her thoughts sparked several ideas, so I pulled out my phone and took notes as we walked. It was a reminder that God sees my overflowing to-do list, that blank Google document, the impending deadline . . . and He cares.

Would You Pray for Us?

I share all this with you to ask you to pray for us. Pray:

  • God would send us help as we move back home. Our house is far from move-in ready, but we are ready to be home, even if it means dust and disorganization for a season.
  • for refreshment for our weary hearts.
  • that this renovation will allow us to continue to grow in our capacity to extend hospitality to others.
  • I’d figure out how to prioritize and pursue friendships in the midst of all there is to do.
  • the Holy Spirit would guide my thoughts as I prepare these talks–and that I’d find the time to do so.
  • I would love and bless the moms, teens, and tweens I’ll speak to on March 16.
  • Trevor and I will continue to grow in affection and teamwork and kingdom impact. (In spite of the stress of the last few months, I love him more every day. He’s my favorite!)

Thank you, friend. Even the one I haven’t met in person yet. Thanks for reading and caring.

And know that in your own weariness and stress, God cares for you. Cling to these truths in 1 Peter 5:6-7, as I am: 

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”

PS: A hearty thank you to Dale and Patti Marsteller for putting up with us for the last four months! Also, to all our friends who have pitched in at our house . . . thank you.

PPS: Photo credit goes to our friend Ryan Krahmer, who captured this photo of our dining room months ago as we were preparing to rip out the wall between our kitchen and dining room.

Meet the Real Writer in This Family

Meet the Real Writer in This Family

I’m the writer who married the accountant, or so they say. But I’ll let you in on a secret: Trevor is the real writer in this family.

Words are as familiar to him as numbers are. (Numbers and I, on the other hand, just don’t jive. In a recent game of Wits and Wagers, I guessed that the longest highway in the U.S. was 800,000 miles long–or was it 800,000,000 miles long? I have a habit of liberally throwing in zeros as if they’re chocolate chips going into cookie batter–the more the merrier.)

This man, though . . . he can not only crunch numbers, he can whip up poems and hymns lickety-split.

Trevor often texts me a short poem to start our day. Here’s a stanza he wrote recently based on this sermon we’d listened to the night before:

Lord we confess that deep within
Desires blur and mix with sin
Wholly incline our hearts today
To seek your kingdom this we pray

And then there’s this hymn he wrote based on Romans 5 that needs to published and sung, in my humble-but-proud-wifey opinion:

 

In the beginning, God made man,

Adam lived with God in peace.

But through that man came sin and death;

Adam died and so shall we.

 

The seed of death, the stain of guilt,

Deep in Adam’s progeny,

But Second Adam surely brings

Death to sin, how can this be?

 

The Second Adam came to us,

Grace to end sin’s tyranny,

He to conquer death by death,

As You died, Lord, so shall we.

 

United to the risen Lord,

Bound to Him eternally,

The king of old is now dethroned.

As You live, Lord, so shall we.

 

Now Lord we give ourselves to You,

Christ, our Life, who set us free.

To sin we died, for You we live;

Slaves of God now shall we be.

 

There’s more though. He doesn’t just write hymns to express spiritual truth. This month I’ll share three poems he wrote and used to get:

  1. A wife (yup, that’s me). 
  2. Chick-fil-A for his wedding reception free-of-charge.
  3. People to stop leaving dog poo in our yard.

Until then,

That Writer Living in His Shadow

PS: You can follow my hubby’s tweets at @gottheology.

PPS: To be sure you don’t miss these three poems from my hubby, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive my blog posts in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) You can unsubscribe at any time.

Should I Keep Praying for a Husband?

Should I Keep Praying for a Husband?

Is it okay to keep praying . . . and praying . . . and praying some more for a husband? This is a question I wrestled with when I was single. After all, I’d been praying for a husband for years, yet God seemed to thwart my desire for marriage at every turn.

I’m not the only one who wrestled with whether it’s okay to continue praying for a husband. A thirty-two-year-old recently wrote me:

For as long as I can remember, I have desired marriage. Though my heart aches in this season of prolonged singleness, I know that the Lord has given me this time as a gift to serve Him without any relational constraints. Therefore, I am not sure how to pray.

I don’t want to pray half-heartedly or without faith. Yet there is no guarantee the Lord has marriage in His plan for me. I do not want to stuff this desire and pretend it doesn’t exist. Nor do I want to hyperfocus on this longing and believe contentment requires its fulfillment.

What is the biblical solution? How can I honor God in my prayer life in this season, rejoicing in His faithfulness while also grieving this unfulfilled longing?

If you have a similar question about an unfulfilled longing in your life or in the life of a single friend, this post is for you. Today we’re going to eavesdrop on Jesus’ prayers to the Father on one of the darkest nights of His life. I think you just might find your answer tucked right there in the olive groves of Gethsemane. Let’s join Him.

Today I’m writing over at TrueWoman.com. To read the rest of this post, click here.

Then, I’d love to hear from you. Have you wrestled with this dilemma? If so, what have you learned? Whether it’s asking God for a husband—or something else entirely—are you demanding your desires, or are you bringing them to your Father?

How to Lovingly Turn Him Down

How to Lovingly Turn Him Down

If I have the story right, after my dad asked my mom out, she commented to a friend, “Why do the creepy guys always ask me out?” (Obviously she changed her mind about my dad not too long after that!)

Maybe you feel like my mom felt all those years ago. Why does it seem the guys you don’t like are always the ones pursuing you?

I can’t answer that question for you (except to assume that you’re lovely, and they’re smart enough to realize it!). Instead, may I throw an important question out there?

When a “creepy guy” asks you out, how can you turn him down in a way that glorifies God? More specifically, how can you love a guy well while turning him down?

I’m so glad you asked! Let’s look at a few ways you can love him before, when, and after you turn him down.

Love Him Before You Turn Him Down . . .

  • Remember that this guy has worth. You might think he’s creepy, but everyone—including this guy—is made in the image of God. That means he has great value and worth in God’s eyes, and he should to you, too—even if you don’t like him “like that.”
  • Go to God rather than gossiping about him to your friends.Ask God to give you wisdom to lovingly but truthfully communicate with this guy. Ask God to draw this guy closer to Himself through this disappointment. Pray that this guy wouldn’t believe lies about his worth. Pray for wisdom in your interactions with him. You get the idea.
  • Accept this as God’s assignment for you. You might be frustrated because you don’t want to deal with this. I get that. But God is sovereign, and He has allowed this to happen. So can you receive it from Him?
  • Don’t rush. You might want to get this guy out of your life ASAP. A quick text might seem like the simplest solution. But is it really best? Pause. Breathe. Pray. There’s no need to freak out about this. You’ve got this, girl, and you can do it in a way that honors God and loves this guy.

Love Him When You Turn Him Down . . .

  • Own it. Don’t blame God by saying something like, “God hasn’t given me a green light,” or “I just don’t have peace,” or “I don’t feel God wants me to date right now.” Say it like it is: You don’t want to date him. (I mean, come on. If a hot, godly guy came along right now who liked you, would you really tell him you didn’t think God wants you to date right now?)
  • Tell the truth. When I was a teen, I thought covering up the real reason I didn’t like a guy would protect him. Wrong! “Not hurting his feelings” never justifies lying. Proverbs 24:26 says it like this: “Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.” So give him a “kiss” of truth—lol. It’s the least you can give him. Don’t tell him what you think he wants to hear. I’m not saying you can just blurt out whatever you’re thinking and be oblivious to his feelings. Use wisdom, but be truthful. If you’re not attracted to him, tell him you’re just not feeling anything beyond friendship. If there’s a deeper reason—a reason that would help him know where he needs to grow—share that with him in a direct, loving way. You get the picture.
  • Affirm him where you can. Even if you don’t like him, you can let him know it’s an honor that he would take an interest in you! More than that, he demonstrated an enormous amount of courage in putting his feelings out there and asking you out. Tell him how much you admire that and that you hope your response won’t keep him from pursuing the right girl at the right time.

Today I’m writing over on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. To read about how to love him after you turn him down, click here.

The Christian Life in 3 Simple Phrases

The Christian Life in 3 Simple Phrases

“The Christian life is simple. Love God, love people, and repent and believe the gospel when you fail.”

This sentence has lodged in my gut and changed my days—possibly even my life—since I heard it.

The Christian Life Made Simple

A pastor spoke these words simply as I sat in a circle of complete strangers (you can read that story here). But that’s not the point of this post.

What I want to communicate is that this truth has been changing my thoughts and actions since I heard them. And I think they’ll do the same for you.

See, for years I’ve scurried around trying to chip away at my to-do list. But just when I’d eliminate one task, three more would pop up.

So I’ve lived with the mentality that “after my work is done, I’ll rest.” (All that did was result in a giant physical and emotional crash several years ago.) But recently God has used other means—as well as this one, simple sentence—to calm my anxious heart and change my whole approach to the Christian life.

Instead of hitting the ground running each morning in an effort to tame my beastly to-do list, I’ve realized that my task for each day is simple: Love God, love people, and repent and believe the gospel when I fail.

Today I’m writing over on LiesYoungWomenBelieve.com. Catch the rest of this post there.

Then, I’d love to hear from you. How does this simple summary of the Christian life focus and/or redirect your hectic life? Do you need to repent of not loving God and others and believe the gospel—that in Christ you are forgiven? What can you do today to cooperate with the Spirit in you in loving God and others?

The Gospel Is Never Old News

The Gospel Is Never Old News

“Titanic Sinks Four Hours After Hitting Iceberg” . . . “ON THE MOON! And It’s ‘One Giant Leap for Mankind’” . . . “Diana Dead.” All these headlines were breaking news at one time, but now they’re . . . old news.

For many Christians, the gospel isn’t much different. I don’t know about you, but for most of my life, I thought of the gospel as good news for unbelievers but old news for believers.

Boy, was I wrong.

The Gospel Is Still for You, Believer

News flash: The gospel isn’t mainly for your unbeliving neighbors!

But don’t just take my word for it. In Romans 16:25, Paul writes to believers, “Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ.”

Did you catch that? It’s the gospel that strengthens us as believers. The simple, familiar story of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection on our behalf.

Here’s another verse, written about believers, that clues us in that the gospel isn’t mainly for our lost neighbors: “The gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth” (Col. 1:5–6).

Is the gospel bearing fruit and increasing in you and me? (Hint: If we’re not regularly rehearsing gospel truths, it probably isn’t.)

I like how Tim Keller puts it: “The gospel is not just the ABCs but the A-to-Z of the Christian life.”

Today I’m writing over on TrueWoman.com. Catch the rest of this post there.

Then, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Have you tended to think of the gospel as good but old news . . . or as good news for today and tomorrow and the day after?

A Hospitable Church Begins with Us

A Hospitable Church Begins with Us

The American church tends to get a bad rap—and often with good reason. That’s why I want to tell you about a gem of a church that Trevor and I stumbled across on our way to Illinois this past Thanksgiving. A church that shattered the negative stereotypes of what the American church is all about. A hospitable church.

Happening Upon a Hospitable Church

Up until the day before, we planned to attend a different local church. But when my friend invited us to her church and then over for lunch at her pastor’s house, we were intrigued.

“You’re totally welcome,” she said. “We do it every Sunday. We spend the whole afternoon together, go back for a 5:30 p.m. service, and then make supper there. Leftovers, pizza rolls . . . nothing fancy.”

I wasn’t terribly keen on the idea of spending the entire day with strangers (I like my alone time!). But Trevor was excited about attending a church that made it easy for us to corporately set aside the Lord’s Day. So we said “yes.”

And that’s how we ended up spending all Sunday with perfect strangers. Believe it or not, I didn’t miss my alone time. That day was the highlight of our vacation . . . and even one of the top highlights of 2017 for us.

What made it so great? Yes, the songs and sermon were meaty and rich. Yes, the people were friendly. And boy, those homemade salted caramel cookies they served after service . . .

But what really sealed the deal was the hospitality we experienced after the church doors were shut.

Walking Into a Hospitable Home

We felt right at home from the moment we walked into the house and the kids took our coats at the door. The mom of the house showed me a messy but private bedroom where I could nurse Iren.

Trevor and the pastor talked and ate while I fed Iren. Then I came down, and different kids held Iren while I chowed down and talked with my friend.

I noted that the pastor was down-to-earth and accessible. He seemed a bit shy, but he was present with us all afternoon. He didn’t lead the conversation; he just sat on the couch with a drink, obviously enjoying the conversation and people.

Kids of all ages sat crosslegged on the floor. Men and women sat around the room in chairs—one woman knitting.

Conversation meandered here and there until I started a group conversation on parenting and rules. I was amazed to hear they’re not big on adding rules to their kids’ lives but on focusing on God’s two greatest commands: loving Him and loving others. I took lots of mental notes for when Iren gets a little bigger.

We went back to the church for evening service and then joined these same people in the kitchen for pizza and more fun, deep conversation.

Becoming a Hospitable Church

Trevor and I exited those church doors late that evening saying, “We want that kind of love, community, and hospitality at our church.”

“Let’s pray for that,” I said.

“Yes,” he replied, “and it starts with us.”

I am so grateful for his perspective. We are the church (Eph. 1:22-23). There is no need to sit around waiting for someone else to take action—not even the leaders. We can and should take ownership, initiate, and invite others into our lives and home.

How about you? Are you waiting for someone else to set the tone at your local church, or are you welcoming others into your life and home? Let’s be a hospitable church!

PS: If you live in the Michiana area, check out Michiana Covenant Presbyterian. It’s a hidden gem.

PPS: Come back to the blog next Friday, February 2, to read about the one sentence this pastor shared that has lodged in my gut and changed my days—possibly even the course of my life—ever since I heard it.

PPPS: To make it easier on you, type your email in the box to the right under “Don’t Miss a Post!” and you’ll receive Friday’s post in your inbox. (If you’re reading this on your phone, click on the menu button at the top and choose “Subscribe by Email.”) I generally post once a week, though next week it will be twice. Oh, and you can unsubscribe at any time.

 

Tiny, Bald, and Toothless Forever, Please

Tiny, Bald, and Toothless Forever, Please

My dear friend Martha became Mrs. McCallops earlier this month. I choked up as her husband, Chris, began to dance the mother-son dance at the reception. As he drew his mother near and whispered in her ear, I squeezed Iren just a little bit closer.

“That will be Iren before we know it,” I told Trevor.

“No, I want him to be tiny, bald, and toothless forever!” he replied.

But we both know that can’t be. Iren’s not tiny (still 99th percentile for length!). He’s sprouted feathery light hair all over his head, and his two top teeth have made their appearance. More than that, he’s constantly on the move. Our baby has bid us goodbye; we are already seeing all boy.

Born to Leave

Much as we might be tempted to squeeze him just a bit tighter sometimes, we know he’s not ours to keep. He was made by and for God, and our goal is to raise an independent man who will leave home one day. Our greatest desire for him is that he will both know and make God known wherever he goes.

And so I’m preparing for our mother-son dance already, should he marry one day. Iren has been to at least two weddings since he was born, and both times I’ve brought him out to the dance floor to sway and then “get jiggy with it.”

He was born to leave, and I will do my best to release him well.

I love you, my son. And because I do, I hold you with open hands. Someday we may dance our own mother-son dance, and then I will give you to another woman. Should you not marry, I will share you with the world.

Because you never ultimately belonged to me. You belong to God. Go and make Him known.

(Thanks to www.HHawkinsPhotography.com for the excellent photo!)

 

My 2017 Writing Goals in Review

My 2017 Writing Goals in Review

Happy New Year! If I could sit down with you today over a cup of Chai tea, one of the first questions I’d ask you is, “Are you setting any goals this year? Any New Year’s resolutions?”

I know New Year’s resolutions are poopooed by a lot of people, but I’m taking advantage of the new year to review and set some new goals.

One year ago, I actually wrote out my writing goals for the year ahead. I mostly failed to meet them, but I learned an important lesson in the process. 

The Writing Goal I Did Meet

Of the six writing goals I set, I accomplished just one of them:

  • Get published on DesiringGod.org.

(Here are the three posts DG published if you’re interested.)

The Writing Goals I Didn’t Meet

Here are the five writing goals I didn’t meet . . . and why:

  1. Get published on TheGospelCoalition.com. I didn’t get far with this goal, as I never even submitted a potential post to them. I should have set a deadline, determined what to write about, and researched what person and email address to contact them at.
  2. Publish 48 posts. Here’s what I did do right: I calculated that I needed to post four times a month to reach this goal. I started strong (five posts in January and five posts in February), but then I began to fizzle out. After giving birth to my son, Iren, in May, I didn’t post at all in June, July, or September. My total post count for the year was a mere twenty-one.
  3. Have Tim Challies mention me in his 12/17 Top Bloggers post. Hah! I would have had to post quality content way more often to even make me a contender. (Here’s who made Tim’s 2016 list; I’m still watching for his 2017 list.)
  4. Complete content audit on PaulaWrites.com. I first heard about the concept and importance of a content audit in this podcast. It’s a pretty overwhelming project. I chipped away at it throughout the year . . . but barely. Again, I should have set weekly goals in order to hit this goal.
  5. Double email subscribers and social media subscribers. I feel like a broken record. I needed a plan, not just a goal.

What I Learned from My Unmet Writing Goals

Some people might quit after such a dismal performance, but I’m not discouraged. If I hadn’t set any writing goals, I wouldn’t have written as much as I did.

More importantly, I learned from the experience: I won’t reach my goals without a plan.

So this year, I’m freshly motivated to do things different. This year I’m setting quarterly writing goals rather than annual goals. This should keep my writing goals front-of-mind throughout the year—not just in January and then in December.

I’ve already scheduled quarterly goal reviews on March 24, June 23, September 22, and December 17. I will use those times to review my progress and finalize the next quarter’s writing goals. (For accountability, in the future I’ll share my 2018 goals with you . . . as well as my progress.)

How about you? Are you setting any goals for yourself this new year? (Any you feel free to share?) More importantly . . . have you put a plan in place to execute your goals?  

Learn from my failure: You won’t reach your goals without a plan.

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

My husband and I counted down the days. On Friday, December 15, Lucasfilm released the eighth Star Wars movie, The Last Jedi. We were there. Early. My hubby is the kind of fan who already knew the first two words of the upcoming film (“We’re not . . .”).

So naturally, after we married a couple of years ago, Trevor and I had a Star Wars marathon. He introduced me to all I’d missed out on in my deprived life up until that point. Now, I have to say, I’m a fan. In fact, I agreed to let Trevor design Iren’s baby announcement around Star Wars.

Consequently, today I’m sharing three ways Star Wars villain Kylo Ren points to a greater story. Check it out, and be encouraged. If you’re in Christ—no matter how dark your world may look—the dark side will not win.

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story

If you saw the last Star Wars movie, The Force Awakens, you’ll remember Han Solo talking about how a young boy who was once a Jedi apprentice turned to the dark side and destroyed Luke Skywalker’s fledgling Jedi academy.

When I saw who that boy became, I was reminded of a few ways the new Star Wars villain, Kylo Ren, parallels our actual enemy, Satan. (Spoiler alert for those who haven’t yet seen The Force Awakens!)

  1. Just as Kylo Ren was once a Jedi apprentice, Satan was once a good angel of light.

We know this because all God created was good, not evil. Genesis 1:31 shows God standing back, assessing His creation:

God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good (emphasis added).

  1. Both Kylo Ren and Satan rebelled against their former masters.

Just as Kylo destroyed Luke’s academy, at some point before Genesis 3:1, Satan rebels against God. Jude 1:6 fills us in on his journey to the “dark side”:

The angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day.

  1. Both Kylo and Satan were wounded but given more time to work their evil.

After Kylo was defeated and scarred by Rey, Kylo retreated to his dark master, Snoke. We’ll see his fight continue against “the light” in some shape in The Last Jedi.

Similarly, God cast Satan out of heaven, but he was allowed to continue his work on earth for a time:

The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. And I heard a loud voice in heaven saying “Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!” (Revelation 12:9-12).

Satan was then crushed at the cross, as it had been foretold in Genesis 3:15:

“He [the offspring of the woman, Jesus] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.”

Hebrews 2:14 tells us:

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil (emphasis added).

Yet the devil still limps around, like the scarred Kylo.

Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Why didn’t God put a complete end to Satan long ago? Pastor John Piper explains it well in this excellent sermon:

Jesus Christ will be more highly honored in the end because he defeats Satan through longsuffering, patience, humility, servanthood, suffering, and death, rather than through raw power. And the more highly honored the Son is, the greater the joy of those who love him.

Ways This Star Wars Villain Does Not Point to the Greater Story

This is where the similarities between Kylo and Satan end. Because while Kylo and the other evil members of the First Order continue their terror in that galaxy far, far away, no one will ultimately continue Satan’s work.

Jesus Christ has risen to ensure that the darkness will not overcome the light. He is the stronger one! Soon Satan, sin, and death will be utterly and completely done away with. Revelation 20:10 gives us a glimpse into the future:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

This is incredible reason to rejoice! As epic as the Star Wars movies are, they are just that . . . movies. But Satan’s final demise (and sin and death’s) is as sure as a Star Wars nerd cooking up a terrible Rey parentage or Snoke origin theory.

What does this mean for you? The end to all:

Praise God. No matter how dark your world may look, the dark side will not win.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you (Romans 16:20).

3 Ways a Star Wars Villain Points to a Greater Story was originally published on Patheos.com.