By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Smelling like crap June 25, 2007

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 1:18 am
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I have a friend, Sarah, who recently adopted her son from Ethiopia. That sentence makes it sound like such a simple thing, but it was far from simple. Sarah and her husband spent two years trying to adopt a son–hitting dead ends at every turn and having to start over countless times. As the long, difficult months turned into years, they kept pursuing their son. Finally, last month, they brought him home. And he has diarrhea. The crazy diarrhea that most of us would only encounter in our worst nightmares. The covered-in-poop needing-a-bath-at-2-a.m. variety that I think should earn Sarah the Mom’s Medal of Honor.

Sarah said something to me last week that I loved. (And don’t worry, friends, I’ll always get your permission before quoting you by name on my blog.) Of course, Sarah is thrilled to have her son with her and loves him immensely in spite of their poop-filled nights. And she said that this experience with her son is a great illustration of the love that God our Father has for us. We smell like crap to Him, and He still pursues us and loves us as His children.

It might seem a little shocking that Sarah thinks we smell like crap to God. (Or smelled like crap, if we are in Christ.) But this passage from Romans backs up her statement:

Romans 8:6-11 (emphasis mine):

“For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

I’ve never noticed before how in this passage, it seems that Paul has to ease us into the truth of our relationship to God before Christ. We don’t want to hear this, do we? But we can get used to the idea that we were weak without Christ. Although we were weak, Christ died for us. But then Paul says we were a little worse than that–we were sinners. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Then Paul hits us with this: we were enemies of God. Enemies?!? What could I have possibly done to be called an enemy of God? And yet, while we were enemies of God, Christ died for us.

If the only thing separating me from God was a little gossip and a dash of impatience with my children, maybe I could work that out on my own–somehow making myself righteous in God’s sight. But if I’m an enemy of God, how do I start to fix that? I can’t. It can only be done by the blood of Christ shed for me, reconciling me to God.

How does this apply to my struggles as a mom? Although it’s been awhile since we’ve had diarrhea around here, I often feel disgusted by my kids’ selfishness, exasperated by their disobedience, and exhausted by their constant neediness. However, I am called to love them as God has loved me. That is, I am called to love them when there is nothing about them that is lovely. I am called to love them sacrificially and lavish grace on them even though they have done nothing to deserve it.

How amazing that God would pursue me, reconcile me to Himself through the death of His own Son, and adopt me as His daughter when all I have to bring to the table is my status as an enemy of God who smells like crap.

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Contentment June 21, 2007

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 3:41 am
Tags: , ,

This is one of the biggest things I’ve been learning lately. I’m excited to write about it, embarrassed that I am just now understanding these things at 30, and humbled to realize that I’ll surely have to learn it over and over again.

I’ve always struggled with contentment. (Can I get an “Amen”?) I’m in an unusual situation when it comes to contentment with money and material things, because I’ve had to go without for a long time, but I’ve always known that a date was coming (Summer 2007) when things would change dramatically, and I could have at least some of the things I’d been lacking and desiring for so long. During all these struggles, I have defined contentment as being content with what I have right now because I know it is temporary, and someday I’ll have nice things and I won’t have to be discontent anymore. I wouldn’t have come out and said it that way, but that’s definitely the way I was looking at things. A temporary lesson in contentment. Because materialism is where I struggle the most with contentment, and of course, we all know that once you have more money, you are also more content with your marriage, kids, etc., right?!? (I hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm there.)

So the magic date when all my dreams come true is approaching–really, it is here. Several months ago, I sat down to do a budget for our new life with a “real doctor” paycheck. To be honest, I was excited to see how much more I’d get to spend on myself. Eating out, not buying the kids’ clothes at Once Upon A Child–the whole big dream world. I was devastated to find out that once we paid taxes, tithed, and had a slightly larger house, the rest of the budget pretty much the same as it always has. It’s embarrassing to admit, but it took me a couple of weeks to get over it. I was reading a book at the time, loaned to me by my friend Amy about 4 years ago (yup, she knew 4 years ago I should read it, and I stashed it in my nightstand because I didn’t want to), called God and Your Stuff. The title says it all. One thing God taught me through that book is that if I’m not content right now (at the time, that meant being content with very little), then I would never be content with more. I got the fact that I couldn’t just keep looking to the future to solve my contentment problems, because the future never would. So I tried to just keep mustering up contentment for the present.

Now, several months later, I think I’ve finally figured out why my attempts to be content weren’t truly working. I could muster up some contentment for awhile, try to be thankful for what I have because so many people have less, know God wants to teach me lessons about how to handle money, blah, blah, blah. But it wouldn’t last, and soon enough, I’d be envying someone else’s furniture and being certain that I’d be so much happier if the only designer in my closet wasn’t the guy from Target.

Recently, I was searching God’s Word on a totally unrelated subject, and I still don’t know how it happened, but I came across a series of verses that totally changed my perspective on contentment. The verses were:

Psalm 27:4–One thing have I asked of the LORD, that I will seek after: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in his temple.

Psalm 16:11–You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

Philippians 4:19–And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.

I realized that I was discontent because I am seeking after the wrong things. Instead of trying to be content with less stuff, I need to take my eyes off the stuff and put them on Christ. I’m seeking comfort, approval from others, an easy life, beautiful things, less worry about money. Those things will never be enough, no matter how much money we have. But if I’m seeking the Lord, a more intimate relationship with Him, a greater knowledge of my heavenly Father, to see His beauty as I worship Him–He has promised to give me all of these things with a fullness of joy I’ve never imagined. If I desire Him, that desire will be fulfilled–completely and eternally. That is true contentment.

This is a work-in-progress in my life. I’m still way too excited about that first “real” paycheck, and it is hard to not get caught up in my new house and all the great things I’m getting to put in it. Please pray for me that I will be seeking Christ, and Him alone, and that the stuff that He gives us will be used for His glory and not my own.

 

A brief note about marriage June 19, 2007

Filed under: marriage — Marissa Henley @ 12:44 am
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I was listening to a R.C. Sproul series on marriage today, and I was reminded of a lesson that apparently I’m going to have to learn and re-learn a thousand times. He was talking about the marriage relationship and how the two become one flesh. He said that marriage is to be a duality, not a dualism. A dualism is two things that are in inherent, relentless conflict with each other–good and evil, light and darkness, etc. The word duality, however, comes from the words dual (two) and unity. So a duality is a plurality becoming a unity. It struck me that I feel like a dualism with Noel much more than I feel like a duality. So often, I think it is me vs. his work, my interests vs. his interests, my free time vs. his free time. I’m constantly battling him, trying to extract from him the kind of love I think he should be giving me to meet all of my needs. What if God could transform my thinking so that I put my interests aside and joined Noel as a teammate, not striving for my own comfort and happiness, but working together with Noel for the glory of God and the good of our family??

So how do the two become one? R.C. went on to talk about the end of the story of the creation of Adam and Eve. Genesis 2:24-25: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. ” Now don’t be nervous, I’m not going to get into physical nakedness here. That’s what the verse is referring to, but I think the application goes beyond that. What if I were to be completely “naked” with Noel in the sense that I let him into every back corner, every bit of ugliness, every aspect of my emotional life, spiritual life, pain, guilt, and fear? As R.C. said, this kind of vulnerability is only possible when we stand before God clothed only in the righteousness of Christ. And that truth of who I am in Christ allows me to let Noel in, knowing that he’s promised not to leave no matter how ugly it gets. This is definitely an area for improvement in my life, even after almost 9 years of marriage. (9 years?!? Have I even been an adult that long? How bizarre.)

 

Failure June 18, 2007

Filed under: parenting,spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 12:28 am
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(A side note–these first few entries might seem like nice, neat little packages of ideas more than real struggles–that’s because there are a few issues I’ve been grappling with for about 6 months that I want to write about. After I’m done with those, I have no idea what will come to mind, so there might be some more unanswered questions.)

I’ll never forget a conversation I had with a dear friend one day. She’ll remain nameless unless she’d like to comment and admit speaking this awesome truth to me. (If she even remembers!) I was telling her how every time Christopher throws a tantrum, it makes me so upset, because I feel like a failure as a mom. Honestly, I was expecting some reassuring words. Instead, she said that I am a failure as a mom. Ouch. (I promise she’s a lot nicer than she sounds at the moment.)

She went on to remind me of the truth of the Gospel, and what I took from the conversation is this: I am a failure as a mom, because I am a sinner. I fail my kids and my husband every day. But Christ lived the life that I couldn’t live, and because His perfect record has been given to me, I don’t have to run from the fact that I am a failure, try to cover it up, ignore it, etc. This may sound strange, but it was such a freeing conversation for me. Because for most of my life, I have been going to great lengths to avoid being a failure, and even greater lengths to keep anyone else from seeing any failures that may occur. Instead, I should be admitting my failures to myself and others, letting those failures point to my need for Christ and increase my reliance upon His grace.

How does this play out in my every day life? Well, most of the time, it doesn’t. I still have the natural tendency to shy away from failure whenever possible. There are rare occasions, which I wish were more frequent, when I can use my failures to point myself and my sons to my need for Christ. For example, one day Christopher was losing it for absolutely no reason, and it really set me off. I yelled at him to go to his room, so both of us could calm down. A few minutes later, I went up to talk to him and found him sitting in his room, crying. When I opened the door, he looked up and said, “Mommy, do you forgive me?” I tell you, I felt like the most worthless piece-of-crap mom in the world. I held Christopher in my lap and repeated the words I have told him several times already: “Christopher, I forgive you, and I need you to forgive me. I was wrong to yell at you, and I’m sorry. I can’t be a good Mommy to you all by myself. I need Jesus to help me be a good Mommy. I wasn’t letting Jesus help me just now, and I’m sorry.” I can only pray that God will use my failures for the good of my kids, to point them to their own need for Christ for their salvation and their growing in Christ-likeness.

2 Corinthians 12:9-10: But he [the Lord] said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

 

By Grace Alone June 15, 2007

Filed under: spiritual growth — Marissa Henley @ 3:16 am
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Maybe I should explain the title of my blog. I’ve been a Christian for a long time, and it is fairly easy for me to understand that I am incapable of securing salvation for myself–I know I need Jesus to take care of that part. I know that someday when I die, I’ll stand before God with only Jesus’ perfect record and not my own imperfect one. But I have often thought that it is up to me to take care of all the stuff between now and then.

(A slightly theological side note here . . . ) The difference is between two terms, justification and sanctification. Justification is our legal standing with God–if our faith is in Christ, we have been declared righteous by God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for our sin. Nothing can alter that legal standing–it is a one-time declaration, done for eternity. Sanctification is the process of our growing in Christ-likeness. We won’t ever be done while we’re on this earth, but we are to be growing in our relationship with Christ and becoming more like Him.

So I get that my justification is accomplished by God, by grace alone . . . but I forget that my sanctification is also accomplished by God, through the Holy Spirit, by grace alone. Not that I can just sit back and let God transform me into a perfect being, but it isn’t up to me to muster up all the strength I have and try really hard to be just like Jesus. The title of this blog is my reminder to myself that any good in me, any growth that occurs, any successes in parenting–they are all by the grace of God.

Why is so important to remind myself of this? Because otherwise, I would either become prideful or depressed. Prideful when things are going well, because I think it’s because I’m so smart, or so good or such a great mom. I was so prideful as a young adult, because in general, I was successful at what I did as a student and then in the workplace, and I thought it was all a result of my great efforts. Things are a little different now that I’m a mom–I often feel that I’m not doing the right things or not seeing the results I want in my kids, and I feel depressed about being a failure. Isn’t that always how it is when we compare ourselves to others or to the standards we have for ourselves? Pride or despair.

And most days, I’m definitely feeling one of those two. The only way for me to avoid it is to remember that my successes and failures of the day are an expression of God’s love for me. Successes given to me by Him to encourage me, failures to challenge and sanctify me. Because God isn’t concerned about my happiness, the ease of my life, or how I look in the eyes of others. It isn’t about me becoming the Supermom of Superchildren. His concern is for my sanctification by His grace, for His glory. And it might take enduring a thousand tantrums for God to teach me the fruits of the Spirit that are so lacking in my life right now–joy, patience, gentleness, and self-control just to name a few! (See Galatians 5.)

I am like the Galatians from biblical times, who had been saved by faith but were trying to live the Christian life by rule-following and human effort. Here’s what Paul wrote to them–I wish this truth could be more ingrained in my heart and my life than it is right now!

Galatians 2:20-21, 3:2-3: I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh*?

*or in the NIV translation, “are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

 

Supermoms June 13, 2007

Filed under: parenting — Marissa Henley @ 11:54 am
Tags: ,

Here’s the problem: I want to be a Supermom. And if I can’t be a Supermom, I at least want to be perceived as a Supermom. We probably all have our own ideals of that a Supermom would be, and here’s mine: Supermoms always love being a mom. Their kids reach all the developmental milestones at least a month early, due to their Supermom’s diligence. Their kids are well-behaved, polite, and carry on intelligent conversation with adults in public. If a child does throw a tantrum or act up (hey, she might be a Supermom, but no one is perfect!), the Supermom calmly and quickly diffuses the tantrum without giving into the child. The Supermom never loses her cool and would never yell at her child. Supermoms are dressed well, complete with a shower (that same day), make-up, lip gloss, and earrings. Their kids look adorable and never have dried, crusty food on their faces or boogers hanging out of their nose. (My friends are laughing right now, because they’ve been waiting for me to mention the boogers.) Supermoms arrive on time with Purell, snacks, and interesting toys ready at all times, and they never run out of baby wipes.

Am I a Supermom? Heck, no. But every ounce of my flesh (that is, my sinful nature) wants to at least have everyone think that I am. We see other women who look like Supermoms, so we try to keep up, being careful to only let others in far enough that they never see us lose our cool or see our kids with boogers coming out of their nose (or worse, throw a huge tantrum with boogers all over their face!). And then the Supermom myth is perpetuated as long as we can keep up the facade at least most of the time.

It is refreshing to me to see women in my church family who are willing to be seen for what we all really are: messed-up, sinful, struggling moms who don’t always know what we should do for our kids and often do all the wrong things. And I’m learning that the key to this kind of genuineness is the Gospel: that I am a sinner, separated from God by my sin and unable to anything to save myself or earn my favor, but that God, in His mercy and grace, sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for that sin, reconciling me to God, making me righteous in God’s sight, and adopting me as a daughter of God. God takes Jesus’ perfect record and gives it to me, and therefore, I receive God’s grace–His unmerited favor–not because of anything I do, but solely because of what Christ has done.

So the truth is, I stink at being a mom. I mess up every day, I yell at my kids, I run out of wipes, and I feel so incompetent and know that if they actually gave all moms a test before letting them take their baby home from the hospital, I would have failed miserably. But if I let other people in, let them really see the mess that is there, it will point me (and hopefully others) to my need for Christ. If I could live a perfect life, I wouldn’t need a Savior. If I could handle my life on my own strength, I wouldn’t need to be sustained by the Holy Spirit, the promises of God’s Word, and fellowship with other Christians. So this is my confession: I am not a Supermom. I can’t achieve salvation on my own, I can’t parent my kids on my own, and I definitely can’t love my husband on my own (but that’s a story for another blog). I need Jesus.

Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

 

Introduction

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 3:45 am

After more than a year of documenting all the adorable, embarrassing, or remotely humorous things my kids say and do on everyone’s favorite blog, puppydogtails.wordpress.com, I thought I’d start a spin-off blog to document the real scoop–the struggles going on in my life as a mom. Honestly, I’ve had this idea for about 6 months, and it has taken me that long to muster the courage to write this blog. In some ways, I’d like everyone to go on thinking that we are a picture-perfect family, that we’ve got it all together, and we sit around and chuckle all day at the funny musings of our perfectly-behaved children.  I expect I’ll be the one who gains the most from this blog–thinking more deeply as I write and looking back on where I’ve been. And this blog will also give me accountability–if I haven’t written in awhile, I’m probably not spending time listening to the lessons God has for me.

But if something on this blog touches you, resonates with your experience, or confuses you–as a mom or not, Christian or not–I hope you will feel free to comment, email me, or ask me any questions. To God alone be the glory, for we are saved and grow in Christ-likeness by His Grace Alone.

More to come . . . (it took me 30 minutes to get this all set up, and I’m tired!)