Rough Day

Today has been hard. My little boy has had more energy that any one-year old has the right to have. And he’s been frustrated with everything since he woke up this morning. At 5am. I know it’s hard to believe that this little blubbery ball of cuteness could be anything but all smiles, but alas, it’s true.

Do not let him trick you.. he is not always this happy!

 

I’m tired and it’s only 2pm. I mean I’m really tired.

My temptation is to convince myself that I cannot possibly make it to the grocery store after nap time, much less make dinner, finish the laundry, or play with my son until Daddy gets home. An even worse temptation is to believe that if I do somehow manage to get all those things done, I will have measured up to some standard I set for myself.

I can be a very “all or nothing” kind of person. Either my days are good and I accomplish what I want, or they are bad and I give up—waiting for tomorrow so I can try again. To make it worse, I often equate my value with how much I’ve been able to cross off my list for the day. Did I clean the floors, pay the bills, and reply to all my emails? Did I go to the bank, the post office, the grocery store AND the gas station in a nice circle, or did I zigzag through town. Worse, did I forget to go to the post office and now I have to go back tomorrow?

As you can imagine, motherhood has thrown a wrench in the works. Rarely do I have days where I can cross much off my list—unless I start listing “change diapers” and “feed the baby,” which I am sometimes tempted to do. Having a baby and spending most of my time caring for him has made me rethink where I find my value and how I know that I’m okay. I have to continuously remind myself not to find my worth in things, people, or what I accomplish.

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The gospel teaches us that we have value not because we make good decisions, spend our time wisely, or cross everything off our list. Instead, through Jesus we have been made worthy. That seems like such a “Sunday School” thing to say, but it’s true and has radically changed my life. In fact, the gospel teaches that there is nothing I can do to accomplish the one thing I ultimately need—my salvation. There is a deep need I have to know that I am okay—that I am accepted, loved, adored. That I measure up. But I don’t… and I never will.

You may not struggle in the same way I do (I hope you don’t!) but I know you are tempted to find your value in something besides Jesus. It may not be crossing things off your list– maybe it’s being noticed by your boss for doing a good job or raising children that behave in public. Maybe it’s being known as the person that is really smart, really talented, or really strong. We all have something we look to when we want to reassure ourselves we are okay. But we aren’t okay.

We are helplessly flawed—unable to do enough, get enough, or give enough to really convince ourselves that we are acceptable. The gospel teaches us that of course we don’t measure up! Jesus is the only one who measures up. And by looking to Jesus, to the one who actually accomplished the only thing I need, I can rest in the knowledge that he has made me good enough.

Finding my value and worth in Jesus—in his life and death and resurrection— means I am free to make mistakes and to ask for forgiveness. It means that I can rest (mentally and physically) knowing that I have worked hard and will work hard again tomorrow. It means that I still do laundry and make dinner, but I do it because it needs to be done. Not because it somehow adds value to my account. It doesn’t make me okay. Only Jesus makes me okay.

365 Photo Challenge

 1/365: October 11, 2011

50mm, ISO 1600 (!), f/2.2, SS 1/40

 

I’ve been getting more into photography now that I have a tiny bit of extra time. It’s amazing how much getting good rest combined with a reasonable work load has changed my day-to-day life. It’s fantastic- you should try it.

Back to photography– I really want to push myself and learn all I can about composition, light, post processing, etc. I want to get in the habit of grabbing my camera more often and capturing shots of our daily lives. I also know that the only way to really improve at anything is to practice- to take thousands and thousands of photographs and analyze them. So, I’m going to start my own 365 Photography Challenge!

Given my personality and tendency towards rule-following/structure/legalism, this should work well. (Note, legalism is bad when applied to the Gospel, but I believe it has a place in things like Photo Challenges.) And like any good rule-follower, I need the rules to be clear, concise, and fair. And so I present, Natalie’s 365 Photo Challenge.

Rules!

 

1. Challenge runs from October 11, 2011 to October 11, 2012. Why October 11? Because that’s when I thought of doing the Challenge… plus, it will end on 10/11/12 and being someone who digs numbers, that seems like a pretty good reason.

2. A new photo will be taken and published each day.

3. I promise not to clog up your Facebook status feed with photos. I will house them on this blog and possibly Flickr or Smugmug.

4. Info on photos including ISO, SS, Aperture and any interesting comments will be included in each posting.

5. If you see me with my camera it is very possible that a photo of you will end up here. Please let me know if you would rather not participate and I won’t put you (or your kids) on my blog. Otherwise, you’ve been warned!

6. All images are my property- please do not copy, take, or steal. If you want to link back, feel free. If you really like a photo and want a copy, just ask. I bet I’ll say “yes.”

 

2/365: October 12, 2011

50mm, ISO 200, f/2.2, 1/640

 

Nine Years

2001. Before jobs, houses, or a baby. Before I knew I loved spicy food or good beer. Before I owned a cell phone or a laptop computer. Before my favorite color was brown. Before I became a teacher, a wife, or a mother.

I met Michael.

And man, oh man, has life never been the same. I knew he was special. I had never met anyone like him– he was so grounded, so kind, so funny. When he proposed after three months of dating, it actually made complete sense to marry him. I’m not sure I would ever counsel anyone else to do what I did, but then again, no one else is marrying Michael Holm.

My husband is the most amazing person I know. He’s wise, kind, funny, talented, and incredibly generous. He almost always has a smile on his face, and it’s not because he’s always happy– it’s because he has a joy that goes so deep that even when his days are hard, he can rejoice.

I have learned so much about what it means to love people by watching Michael. He has literally spent years loving people that others have cast aside because they are difficult to love. He’s taught me what it means to be hospitable when an unannounced guest stops by. He’s shown me what it looks like to really listen to another person. I’ve seen him give his time, his money, his energy, his life– everything. He gives it all away.

I know that I’m often the one he is giving his life to, and I’m blessed beyond anything I could possibly deserve. These nine years of marriage have been the fullest– the truest– of my life. I love you, Michael.

 

Thoughts on Marriage

Over the past few months, I have spoken with several women about their troubled marriages. In every case, both the women and their husbands profess to know and love Jesus, yet their marriages are filled with pain, anger, and resentment. One wife is so disappointed with her husband and his failings that she has lost all compassion for him. Another wife has built up walls so high and so thick that the thought of any kind of intimacy with her husband is unimaginable.

I am beginning to realize that our churches are full of broken marriages. Marriages where both husband and wife are in deep despair—seeing no hope of redemption—convinced that the only real solution is divorce. Often, one person can point to a list of things the other has done to drive them apart. But in a marriage, we both bear the responsibility. There is nothing that one does that the other does not share, be it good or bad.

My husband and I have a little saying. It changes based on the circumstance, but it’s always essentially the same. If he is feeling stressed about work and is having a hard time shaking it off, I’ll say, “It’s okay- your stress is my stress.” Or if I’m having a hard day and am feeling down, he looks at me and says, “Hey, your sadness is my sadness.”

The idea is that we are utterly, completely one. His joy, strength, energy level— they all affect me. My sin, whether against him or not—it affects us both. We bear each others burdens and share in each others joys. We have made a covenant where we have each said to the other that we will not leave. And this covenant is such a source of hope for me.

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There is nothing in this world that has taught me more about the Gospel than my marriage. I know my experience is rare these days, but Michael was pretty much an expert on marriage from the beginning. He had never been married before, but somehow he already knew so much about how to care for me. The same could not be said about me, I’m afraid. At the age of 22, I was a mess of insecurities, defensiveness, and the unattractive, yet common, tendencies of a perfectionist. For someone to suggest that I had messed up was very hard to hear. For my husband to confront me about my sin was downright devastating.

Marriage is unlike any other relationship- there is no hiding. Everything will eventually be put on the table. How we love each other in these moments can cause everything from incredible healing to unfathomable harm.

Thankfully, God used my husband to bring deep healing to my life. Layer by layer, he helped me peel back the pain, sin, and destructive patterns that had built up over the years. Many times he pursued me when I was resistant and sometimes even hostile toward him. At times I felt stripped naked— no one had ever seen the really deep, dark parts of my heart. Yet this man that I admired and adored so much, looked at me in my weakest, most unattractive moments and accepted me.

You may be thinking something like, “Well of course you have a good marriage— look at how well your husband loves you! My husband has never loved me like that.” But imagine how it must have felt to him. Imagine how hard it was for him to love me! For years, he was the only one in our marriage accepting and forgiving. He absorbed the pain of my sin by offering genuine reconciliation, even when I did not deserve it. All I had to do was to reach out and take hold of it. I couldn’t know what it cost him to offer his forgiveness—laying down his pride and choosing to love me in those moments had to have been hard.

How did he know to do this? How did he possibly know that free forgiveness had the power to change his wife? Because Michael knows/lives/breathes the Gospel better than anyone I’ve ever met. The Gospel has so changed him that his life reflects it like a mirror.

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Jesus calls himself our bridegroom. He has made a covenant with us saying he will never leave us. He sees us stripped naked with all our faults, and completely accepts us. He pursues us when we hide in the shadows and when we wallow in our shame. He absorbed our sin into himself, at the cost of his very life, so that we could have reconciliation with the Father. And though we never deserve it, Jesus offers forgiveness to us if we will just run to him and take hold of it.

Our marriages are so broken because we are broken people. We are people that do not understand the Gospel. We may profess belief in Jesus, but we want no part of dying to ourselves. When we wait for our husbands or wives to make the first move toward reconciliation, we are not loving them like Jesus loves them—We are not loving them like Jesus loves us.

If Michael had waited for me to deserve his forgiveness, I’m afraid that we would just be another couple who learned how to tolerate one another. Instead, his understanding of his own sin and need for Jesus has been the lens through which he sees and reacts to my sin. And that Gospel-focus allows him to point me to Jesus—the true hope for my marriage, my life, my soul.