By Grace Alone

The real life struggles of a Christian mom

Wasted Suffering February 14, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 10:10 pm
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A few weeks ago in BSF, we studied the raising of Lazarus in John 11.  Although the miracle of raising a dead man is powerful, I found the words and actions of Christ prior to going to Bethany just as impactful.  When Jesus receives word that his beloved friend is gravely ill, He replies, “This illness does not lead to death.  It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it” (verse 4).  Then the Scripture says that Jesus loved Mary, Martha and their brother Lazarus very much, so when He heard Lazarus was ill, He stayed where He was for two more days (verses 5-6).  From that tiny word “so,” we must infer that Jesus’ delay (and therefore Lazarus’ death) was somehow for the good of Mary, Martha and Lazarus.

In the BSF study notes for this passage, the author writes that in this miracle, God’s glory was revealed in a way that blessed all those who witnessed it.  Of course, Mary, Martha and Lazarus were blessed in a special way, and in a way they would not have experienced if Jesus had come immediately and healed Lazarus before he died.  The same is true of the suffering in our lives.  In every trial, there is a unique blessing for the believer, an opportunty for God to be glorified, and an opportunity for other believers to be encouraged by our response of trusting God even in hardship.  I learned in the BSF notes that suffering can be wasted, or it can be used to glorify God and seek the blessing He will give in that trial.

Shortly after reading this lesson, our entire family was sick.  Nothing serious, but enough to put me out of commission for three days and send us to the pediatrician multiple times in a span of 12 days.  As I lay in bed with body aches and a pounding head, my BSF lesson on wasted suffering came to mind.  Although I knew my sinus infection was a very minor hardship, I realized that not even minor suffering should be wasted.  I started to look for ways that God was blessing our family during our illness.  And God showed me several ways.  I gave thanks to God for the snow and ice that kept my husband home from work, because I never would have made it without him.  I gained renewed compassion for people who are ill.  My appreciation and love for my husband grew as I watched him take care of the kids on his own and spend quality time with them while I was sick.

I can’t tell you I spent those three days smiling toward Heaven, singing praise songs and meditating on God’s goodness.  I did plenty of complaining and feeling sorry for myself and wishing things were different.  Looking back, I can see that the difference between the moments of wasting the suffering and not wasting the suffering was a matter of my focus.  When my eyes were on myself and my misery, I moaned and groaned and complained.  When my eyes were on God and His glory, I could see the ways He was blessing and providing for me and my family.

I don’t share this out of pride.  I don’t think that having a few moments of thankfulness in the midst of a sinus infection is anything to boast about.  But I’m thankful that God provided this small test, an opportunity to apply and reinforce what I’m learning in His Word.  I want God to be glorified by my life, no matter what the circumstances.  I don’t want to waste opportunities to learn more about God’s character and draw closer to my Savior.  Even if that means seeing the good in a really, really runny nose.


Goals for 2010 February 5, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 3:48 pm
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I thought I’d write a bit about my goals for 2010.  Because it’s February, and everyone knows that February is the time when you let everyone know how you’ve already failed at keeping the goals you wrote down in January.  (Even worse, I found a post I wrote in January 2008 (yes, ’08) about my goals for that year, and they are pretty much the same as my goals for this year.  Gulp.)

I recently read a book on organization by a Christian woman named Donna Otto.  The title was compelling–Secrets to Getting More Done in Less Time–and I found many helpful tips inside.  In the book, she urges women to write down their goals, which we’ve all heard before.  But she also urges women to look at their goals regularly after writing them down.  I’ve taken the first step, and I plan to put the goals inside the cover of my prayer notebook, which hopefully I’ll be opening daily (one of my goals).   So this will either go really well or really badly.

Otto suggests 8 areas to help you brainstorm your goals:  intellectual, physical, emotional, financial, social, spiritual, family and career.  Here are some of the goals I wrote down in these areas:

Intellectual–finish 3 non-fiction books (I’ve finished 2 already!)

Physical–exercise 3 times a week

Emotional–display the fruits of the Spirit to Noel and the kids (And apparently, yelling and grumpiness are not fruits of the Spirit.)

Financial–save money in areas of our budget where Noel asks me to do so

Social–have someone over for dinner once a month

Spiritual–spend time daily in God’s Word and develop a more disciplined prayer life

Family–spend time every week working with Will on pre-reading skills

Career–I don’t have one, but in this area, I’ve set the goal of writing a post on this blog every week.  Obviously, this isn’t happening yet!

Other–scrapbook at least one year’s worth of photos, start Sarah Kate’s baby book

Other than reading books to myself and to Will, none of these goals are going too well.  I’m hoping that by making them public to the 8 people who read this blog (hi, Mom!), it will provide some accountability and motivation.  I do feel like these are all areas in which I should be growing and progressing.  I don’t want to look back at this post in 2012 and be struggling with the same issues.  I want to look back on 2010 as the year that I developed a vibrant prayer life, learned huge lessons from God’s Word, applied them to my life, shared them with others, and served my family with joy.  (And if I happened to lose 5-8 pounds and finish a scrapbook along the way, that would be a bonus!)


Christmas By December 1 January 6, 2010

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 8:26 pm
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I tried something new this year.  Several weeks before my friend Karen wrote this post about simplifying Christmas, she wrote about how she and several friends encouraged each other to finish their Christmas shopping, wrapping and cards by December 1.  When I read that, I knew immediately that it would be a great idea for me.  Since having kids (maybe before, but I can’t remember life before kids), I find myself stressed out every December.  By Christmas day, I am exhausted and overwhelmed, I haven’t cracked a Bible open in weeks, and I know I’ve been too consumed by all the work to spend time talking to my children about Christ’s birth.  Not exactly how I should be preparing my heart or my family to celebrate the birth of our Savior!

This December, I was going to visit my sister and newborn nephew for 5 days right before Christmas, so I had already gotten an early start.  When I read Karen’s December 1 goal, I kicked it into high gear and got it done.  Here’s my timeline:

  • Early October:  Asked for wish lists from family members
  • Mid-October:  Started shopping (was almost entirely done by mid-November), using and other sites with free shipping to save time
  • Late October:  Bought outfits for kids’ Christmas picture
  • Early November:  Took Christmas card picture, updated Christmas card address list
  • Mid-November:  Started wrapping gifts; wrote Christmas letter, got cards printed, got return address labels, stamps, etc.
  • Thanksgiving week:  Addressed Christmas cards, finished wrapping gifts
  • Weekend after Thanksgiving:  Decorated house, cards were ready to mail
  • December:  Talked about Advent with the kids, Christmas crafts with kids, baking, holiday gatherings, school parties, cleaning, travelled to Utah

As you can see, December was still pretty full.  It was a little more chaotic than I thought it would be, due in part to my pre-Christmas travels.  But I knew it would have been so much worse if my shopping, wrapping and cards hadn’t been done!

Next year, I’d like to do some baking in October and put things in the freezer.  This year, I found myself constantly running to the store because I had to bake something for one of several holiday gatherings.  My friend Lynette made multiple batches of cinnamon rolls, froze them, and pulled a pan out for each gathering.  Genius!  I’m not a good freezer girl, so I’m going to experiment between now and October and find some things that freeze well and can serve as my signature item next December.

If you found yourself overwhelmed and exhausted this Christmas, consider joining me for the December 1 Challenge 2010!  Make a timeline now so you are ready in October or September or whenever you need to start to give yourself time to enjoy Advent and prepare your heart to celebrate Christ’s birth.  I want that to be my purpose:  not to impress others with my organizational skills or be the first Christmas card you receive, but to make time for me and my family to mediate on the incarnation, the Word made flesh, God coming to earth to save His people from their sins.


Broken Cisterns November 11, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 9:11 pm

Have you ever noticed a period of time when every Bible study, every sermon, every life experience seems to revolve around the same theme?  It’s as if God tosses subtlety aside and very clearly says, “I want you to learn this!”  This has been happening to me lately.  And the message I’m getting loud and clear is:  Only God can satisfy me and provide the joy and peace that I need.  When I put my trust in other things, they will fail.

A couple of weeks ago, I had a very bad week.  I was sick, the kids were sick, we had a death in the family, and much, much more that I won’t go into now.  Trust me, it was a bad week.  The week was supposed to end with an overnight getaway for my hubby and me for my birthday.  We hadn’t been away overnight in a really long time, which means I hadn’t slept past 7:30 a.m. in a very long time.  So for about two months, I had my eye on October 25 as Sleeping In Day.  (Have I mentioned that I love, love, love sleeping in?)

Well, thanks to a 3-year-old with a high fever, we managed to get away for a few hours but decided to come home before the overnight (and sleeping in) part of the trip.  Rather than sleeping in and enjoying a day of outlet shopping with my hubby, I spent the day sitting at a doc-in-the-box clinic with a kid who had a fever of 104.  Good times .

In the midst of my bad day at the end of a bad week, I sat down to do my BSF lesson.  The lesson was on Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:1-26).  In John 4:13-14, Jesus tells her:  “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Then I read Jeremiah 2:13:  “For my people have committed two evils:  they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.”

So the obvious lesson here is:  Marissa is hewing out broken cisterns of sleep that can hold no water.  If Marissa were satisfied in Christ, drinking in His living water, she wouldn’t be devastated by not getting to sleep in.  And you want to know how well I learned this lesson?  So well that 5 days later, when the same child started running a fever a few hours before Getaway Attempt #2, I threw a very impressive adult temper tantrum about it.  (We went anyway, but the sleeping in eluded me as I worried about my sick kid and the poor grandparents who were stuck taking care of him.)

The whole experience (and my awful reaction to it) has me thinking about broken cisterns in my life.  Those things–some good (sleep), some bad (complaining)–that I turn to for comfort when I’m stressed, worried, tired or sad.  Those things seem to make it better for awhile, but then after a few days (or hours, or minutes), I’m right back where I was before.

Here are some questions I’ve been asked by Bible study leaders and pastors in recent month–remember, God has to make a big deal of something these days to get me to notice it:

Do the people around you see that you are completely satisfied in Christ?  If not, then why? (Please, please do not ask Noel or my good friends this question.  Maybe you could ask someone who sees me about once a month with a happy smile on my face and well-behaved children?)

Where do you turn when things get difficult? Food, tv, complaining, gossip, shopping, time to yourself? (Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. and double Yes.)

Where are you placing your trust other than the Lord? (Sleep, money, and myself, just to name a few.)

When I put the answers to these last two questions together, my behavior really shows itself to be ridiculously silly, not to mention sinful.  When things get tough, I want to grab a piece of chocolate cake and take my mind off things with some brainless television.  So basically, I’m saying to the Sovereign, All-knowing, All-powerful Creator of the universe, “Thanks, God, but I think I’ll let this cake and this tv show solve my problem.”  And then I wonder why I struggle with the same thing again the next day.  Because it should be obvious . . . God is bigger than my problems.  Chocolate cake is not. Only God can make me more and more holy, conforming me to the image of Christ so that I can love others and glorify Him.

How I’d love to leave those broken cisterns behind and drink only of the living water, finding my deepest satisfaction in my Savior.  I know it will be a continuing struggle for me, but I’m thankful that God has knocked me over the head with this lesson.  🙂


Why I’m not blogging much September 28, 2009

Filed under: Uncategorized — Marissa Henley @ 6:44 am

I find myself living on a runaway train these days.  I was on this runaway train right after Sarah Kate was born have jumped back on since school started.  Everything is a blur of diapers, meals, kissing boo-boos, settling toy disputes, carpool, overseeing various educational pursuits, paying the electric bill and sweeping the kitchen floor, and any coherent thought I have beyond what to make for dinner is so fleeting I’m not even sure it was there.  The runaway train isn’t bad–it is exactly what God has called me to in this season, but it doesn’t necessarily lead to much tangible productivity.  If this train should happen to make a stop at the Blogging Station, you’ll be the first to know.


How Deep the Father’s Love August 22, 2009

This summer I studied the attributes of God with a wonderful group of women using “Behold Your God” by Myrna Alexander.  (I highly, highly recommend this study.)  It amazes me how God ordained the events of the summer of 2009 for me and for my family, and He knew exactly what I would need to learn about Him in the midst of those circumstances.  He knows our every need and provides for them all!

One thing that stood out to me from the study is the nature of God’s love toward us.  God is perfectly loving and good, and He also does not and cannot change.  (See Jeremiah 31:3 and Malachi 3:6).  That means that God’s love for you is always exactly the same.  He is just as good to you today as the day He nailed your sin to the cross with His Son.  It is easy to flippantly say, “God is good all the time.”  But honestly, it feels like there are some days that God’s goodness is a little less prevalent in our lives.  With our narrow vision, with our earthly perspective of what is and isn’t good, God’s goodness seems to vary.

But when God tells us about Himself in Malachi 3:6, He says He does not change.  His goodness does not waver.  Nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus–His perfect, steadfast, unchanging love.

I thought of this today as I was singing “How Deep The Father’s Love For Us.”  This is one of my all-time favorite songs.  It is a powerful reminder of the love God showed when He turned His face away from his dying Son in order to transform rebellious people like me into His sons and daughters.  And He shows me this exact same love and goodness every day of my life.  He is just as loving today as on the day He set me free from sin, guilt, death and hell.  Praise Him for this wonderful truth!

“How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”

Words and Music by Stuart Townend

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure,

that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away,

as wounds which mar the Chosen One bring many sons to glory.

Behold the Man upon the cross, my sin upon His shoulders;

ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there until it was accomplished;

His dying breath has brought me life–I know that it is finished.

I will not boast in anything, no gifts, no power, no wisdom;

but I will boast in Jesus Christ, His death and resurrection.

Why should I gain from His reward?  I cannot give an answer,

But this I know with all my heart; His wounds have paid my ransom.


A New Life Verse July 30, 2009

I think I have found my “Life Verse.”  I’ve never had a life verse before, but I know people who do.  The verses are usually very inspirational, something along the lines of reaching the nations or future generations for God.  Good stuff, really.  My favorite verse thus far is Romans 8:1, but it didn’t seem to fall into the Life Verse category.

But a couple of weeks ago when I was doing my Bible study (an awesome study of God’s attributes which deserves many, many blog posts that I don’t currently have time to write), I came across a verse I’ve never noticed before:

2 Chronicles 20:12:  We don’t know what to do, but our eyes are on you.

Some context for those of you who don’t have 2 Chronicles memorized:  King Jehoshaphat and the Israelites are watching multiple nations of enemies coming against them in battle.  They know there is no way they can defeat this multitude.  Jehoshaphat calls the people together, and they cry out to the Lord, asking what they should do.  It specifically mentions that they are all standing before the Lord, along with their wives and children.   Can you imagine this picture?  Standing there, clutching your children to you, watching the enemy come, knowing you are powerless against them and crying out to the Lord for help.  (To see how it ends, see 2 Chronicles 20.)

This has definitely become my Summer Verse, if not my Life Verse.  For one thing, this verse is very easy to memorize.  It rhymes and has lots of 2’s in the reference.  And if there is one theme in my life right now, it is that I don’t know what to do.  I don’t know how to encourage my 5-year-old to not become a prideful Pharisee who craves approval and does all the right things only when someone is watching.  (It takes one to know one, and that kid is just like me.)  I don’t know how to encourage my 3-year-old to put his poop in the potty rather than in his pants.  And I certainly don’t know how to encourage my sister-in-law as she battles the most formidable enemy we’ve faced in a long time:  breast cancer.

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on the One who is my refuge and strength, an very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1).  He promises His perfect wisdom is ours for the asking. (James 1:5).  He hems me in, behind and before, and lays His hand upon me (Psalm 139:5).  When my eyes are on Him, I can choose to be overwhelmed by His love and goodness toward me, rather than being overwhelmed by my circumstances.  (With thanks to my summer Bible study leader for this last thought.)

I don’t know what to do, but my eyes are on You.