Strength in Silence

My whole life people have told me I would make a great teacher. “You really know how to engage people,” they would say. “You use your whole body to tell a story!” I guess that’s just the aspiring actress in me. (Hey, it could still happen.)
 

Insisting that I’d rather be a student than a teacher, I have always laughed off these claims. And yet, here I am – seven months into my new career of teaching English as a foreign language to children in China. I’m definitely still a beginner, and I’m far from perfect, but I feel like I’ve come a long way in my ability to lead a classroom.

A few weeks ago, however, my Saturday class really challenged me. In a moment of chaos, when even my translator couldn’t get the students to quiet down, I impulsively decided to jump in the air and smack my boots back on the ground, thinking the noise might bring my kids back to attention.

 

But it didn’t work. All that my efforts earned was a bewildered look from my translator, who then told me to calm down. “I wasn’t angry,” I later explained. “I was just trying to get them to listen.”

 

Later that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about my foolhardiness. I felt ashamed. In the midst of disorder, I thought I could get my students to listen by being louder than they were. Even if these kids don’t understand a word I say, they can surely understand my manner.  And what sort of manner did I display that day in class? Certainly not one of quiet composure and grace. Certainly not one that Jesus would have shown to his little lambs.

 

When confronted with the loud confusion of unbelievers, Jesus did not slam his feet onto the ground in impatience and desperation.

 

When faced with the temper of the armed mob come to arrest him, Jesus did not need to be louder than his captors in order for his voice to be heard.

 

When the angry crowd shouted “Cruc¡fy him!” and the governor’s soldiers tortured and ridiculed him, Jesus did not fight back.

 

Instead, Jesus was quiet.

 

Under public scorn and temptation, Jesus maintained a manner of quiet dignity, graceful understanding, and perfect love. Even in the face of certain death, Jesus endured with humble majesty. He did not give his enemies the satisfaction of a cheap, impulsive reply. In fact, his calm was often a more effective and more powerful response than any words could have been. He was quiet not only because the taunts thrown at him were unworthy of an answer, but also because he knew he would have to suffer and die in order to fulfill the Old Testament prophecies and God’s promises to his people.

 

He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
— Isaiah 53:7

 

When Jesus did speak, it was not to defend himself or to hush his scoffers. After being falsely accused and forced under oath to identify himself, Jesus without hesitation broke his silence and boldly confirmed that he is the Chπ¡st. He did not speak for the sake of being heard; he spoke so that we may know the truth. He spoke to set in motion his own condemnation – because he loves us.

 

Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent.

The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”

“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: in the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered. Matthew 26:62-66

 

Jesus provides the greatest example of what it means conquer the noise of doubt and evil because he did so with selfless love, humility, and grace. He took on the s¡ns of the world and ultimately accepted his own death sentence because “the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” Matthew 20:28. Even at his weakest moments, he did not return any slander or give in to anger and temptation. Rather, he continued to pray to his Father, often on the behalf of those who hated him.

 

When God’s children were noisy and unruly, Jesus did not need to shout in order to be heard. To this day, his death on the cross and his glorious resurrection resound more thunderously and magnificently than any spoken word, whether bellowed or whispered.

 

The way I see it, with a little training and experience, almost anybody can be a teacher. But it takes real patience, humility, and love to be a great teacher. I have a lot to learn before I even come close to reaching that point. Luckily, I can trust in Jesus’ perfect example of quiet strength to guide me. I’ve always been a better student, anyway.

 

Be still, and know that I am God.
— Psalm 46:10

Sleep: Why is it so Hard?

Sleep Header Before I begin this blog, I have to throw two disclaimers out there:

#1) Anyone who knows me will probably have a few good chuckles while reading this post. This is because anyone who knows me at all knows that I am a far cry from having a handle on the area of “sleep” in my own life. But I figure that makes me an expert on struggling to get enough...right?

#2) If you are currently living with a newborn (or a child of any age, for that matter) who is currently not sleeping through the night, you may want to skip this post. The following content has no words of wisdom or advice for those who literally cannot obtain a full night's sleep no matter how hard they try. If you fall in this camp, I'll pray for you. Truly. Those days and nights can be oh-so long.

So now that I've covered my bases, let's talk about sleep. Oh, glorious sleep. This period of rest, which has been referred to by scientists and doctors as a “fundamental human need” is something we truly cannot live without it. For when God created the world, He of course did so in a very systematic and organized way. And on that very first day, He created light and He created darkness -- and there was a reason for that. The Bible says,

And there was evening and there was morning – the first day. Genesis 1:3

But yet I've struggled with following this pattern of evening and morning for the majority of my adult years. I'd like to blame my lack of adequate shuteye on motherhood, but that wouldn't be entirely true. The truth is, the bedtime battle of getting into bed (and in turn, getting out of bed) on time is one I've fought for most of my life. Through conversations with numerous friends and the reading of many articles on the topic, I have realized that I am not alone. In fact, the first full week of next month has been set aside as “Sleep Awareness Week” (03/02/16 – 03/09/16). You think it might be something other people fight, too?

Bed

So why is it such a struggle? How can going to bed and getting “good sleep” feel so good but yet be something I put off and cheat myself out of on a daily (or nightly) basis? These are the questions I've asked myself over the past several months as I began to sincerely evaluate my lack of decent sleep patterns. And here are the answers I've come up with (perhaps you can relate to some of them):

  • The house is finally quiet and I can finally have my “me” time. This is HUGE for me. Living with a husband, four children under the age of 6, a dog and a couple dozen fish (ok, so the fish don't contribute to the chaos all that much but they do demand a few moments of attention now and then!), there's barely a minute of peace during the daylight hours. When the night falls and I can finally hear myself think, this is sometimes the first time I have truly sat down all day.
  • My husband and I are finally alone. I think this one speaks for itself, but in all honesty the “after bedtime” hours are sometimes the only time we have to discuss adult topics, such as parenting, other relationships, money, or even just the nitty gritty of the plans for the upcoming weekend. My husband and I also find great pleasure in having certain TV shows we “binge” from Netflix or Hulu together (it's kind of like an “in home date” almost!) and it's so tempting to watch “just one more”...
  • The later evening hours seem like the perfect opportunity to get stuff done. Somewhat relating to the above, it's nice to finally not have anyone else demanding my attention. My over-productive, Type A personality sees this as the perfect opportunity to make headway (or finish?) a project, whether it be something home-related, blog-related or even my latest knitting endeavor. Again, putting something down that I find so much pleasure in doing is tough.
  • I lack the self-control to just go to bed. Plain and simple. I want to stay up, for whatever reason and I'm too short-sighted to see just how much that decision to not go to bed is going to affect me (and others) in the days that follow.

I used to think that indulging in my "night owl tendencies" was a sign of how driven and motivated I was. And while that may be partially true, the physical and mental effects of consistently receiving too little sleep far overshadow any benefits I may be experiencing from staying up late. Once again, I know that I am not alone in my thinking. An article which appeared early last year in Newsweek says:

Sleep is perceived to be the enemy of efficiency: inescapable wasted blocks of time that can't be converted into anything of broader use to society.

Yikes. Do we really think like that?

I think we've all heard or read lists on the importance of sleep in our lives and the many benefits getting a good night's sleep can bring to us as far as health and well-being are concerned. But in doing a bit more “on purpose” research for this post, I was surprised to learn a couple more which really struck a chord with me:

  • Getting a good night's rest can actually assist in weight loss. There are multiple reasons for this but one of them is so simple: getting yourself to bed at a decent time eliminates late-night snacking when your metabolism is at it's lowest. Being well-rested all gives you better will-power and a clearer thought pattern when making decisions about what foods you put in your mouth the following day. Boosting fat loss and the burning of more calories also contribute to the weight loss factor of sleep. You can read further details about this in the article written by Women's Health magazine.
  • Recent research has shown that sleep actually aids in the flushing of certain neurotoxins out of the body. One of these toxins is amyloid beta which is an amino acid that can eventually contribute to the development of Alzheimer's. Many other conditions which lead to the loss of brain cells are also a result of the build-up of damaged proteins in the brain – proteins which may indeed be discouraged when your head spends an adequate amount of time on the pillow. You can read more about some of this research in this article which appeared on BBC News back in 2013.

Alarm Clock

But I have a feeling you already knew that sleep was good for you. And you probably already know why you're not getting enough. Right? But besides identifying the problem, what else can you do to help fix it? In my recent heightened awareness of my need for sleep, I've put my mind to trying to follow a few seemingly-simple (but really tough!) guidelines:

  • Committing to a bed- and wake-time. As difficult as it is, I've been making a conscious effort to keep the time I turn in and the time I roll out of bed as consistent as possible. As a part-time working mom, this is pretty tough since no two days during the week are exactly the same when it comes to schedule. But on the other hand, having 4 little “alarm clocks” in the house definitely keeps me from ever banking on being able to sleep in to make up for an extremely late night. When selecting a target time for hitting the pillow, I looked at what time would give me 8 hours of sleep but still allow me to set an alarm so that I could be awake and upright before I heard the pitter-patter of little feet. While it's oh-so tempting to lay under the covers until I no longer can due to the demands of my children, starting the day that way is not good for anyone involved.
  • Refusing to start a project that I know I won't be able to finish or put down partially done. I know myself pretty well and if I'm being honest with myself, I know which projects are going to be too tempting to stop halfway through. So if it's already 9pm? I don't get involved. Instead I'll look ahead to the next week or two or even month (depending on the nature of the project) and figure out a block of time that would allow me to make headway on it but not interfere with my much-needed shuteye.
  • Starting the “process” of going to bed early enough. I'll never stop being envious of my husband's ability to decide he's turning in and then successfully be sawing z's no more than 5 minutes later. But it's not that way for me. Getting myself between the sheets is an entire process that involves checking the locks on the doors, making sure the often-forgotten lights are turned off, making preparations for the next day, removing my make up, checking on the kids, and the list goes on. Therefore, if I'm aiming to be in bed by 10:30pm, I better not start moving in that direction at 10:25pm and expect to succeed.
  • Refusing to use my phone while lying in bed. Having always been just a tad behind on technology (I only acquired a smart phone within the last year or so) and just a bit "anti-social networking", I never thought this would be a problem for me. But is it ever. Again, I don't fall asleep nearly as fast as my husband. So while I'm laying there awake, my mind comes alive with articles I'd like to look up, things I'd like to shop for or friends I'd like to check up on. After all, when is a better time than midnight to do some email inbox housekeeping? That answer is pretty much anytime. The same Newsweek article which I referenced earlier says, “Research shows that every time we check our email, Twitter feed or Facebook timeline and find a new piece of information, we get a shot of dopamine—a chemical our brains release to simulate pleasure.” When talking to a friend about this the other day, she said to me, “Why don't you just keep your phone in a different room if it's an issue?” Well, of course I had my reasons: My phone is my alarm clock. We don't own a home phone so what if there were an emergency and someone needed to get a hold of me? I use my phone as a flashlight if I have to find my way to the bathroom or one of the kids' rooms. Despite all of my excuses, I managed to figure a way around them. I purchased an old-fashioned alarm clock. I keep my phone in our bedroom but NOT in reach of the bed. And I uncovered one of my many trusty flashlights and keep it in my nightstand. Problem solved – my cell phone is no longer stealing my sleep. (And I'm also paying more attention to my husband! ;)
  • Making a list of all of the reasons I need and want to get a good night's sleep. This list includes many of the things I've mentioned above but also some very simple truths, such as the fact that I have more patience with my kids when I'm well-rested, I feel better about myself, my skin looks healthier, I drink less coffee, and the list goes on and on. When I'm tempted to burn the midnight oil, I pull out this written list and remind myself just why it is so important not to.

As I stated above, I am definitely a work in progress. But progress is being made and I ask God daily to continue to help me fight this inner battle of mine. Do you share in this struggle at all? If so, tell me I'm not alone in the comments below. Have you found anything else that helps you stick to a sleep schedule? Tell me that, too – I need all of the help I can get! I'll be praying for you, too. And then I'm going to bed ;)

MelBioEdit

Overcoming Pornography: Thoughts for the Struggling

FIGHT2Header My husband has penned the last few posts on this topic. For years, neither of us wanted to talk about porn. We had no desire to be vocal about its part in our life, let alone talk to others about it. But the power of God and the joy of the freedom found in him, bring out our feeble voices. So, this is our story and we are fervently praying it will encourage others with their own stories. Jesus has overcome all darkness and with his strength, you can too. If you missed the first two parts of my husband's story you can find them here: Overcoming Pornography: The Struggle, Overcoming Pornography: The Moment of Truth

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It is said that you don’t know what you don’t know. This was true for me with pornography. In the midst of the battle, there was simply so much I didn’t know. However, in the years since I overcame this sin, God has revealed so much to me. I’d like to end my portion of this blog series, by sharing some thoughts with those still struggling with pornography.

Thought 1: Humble yourself and confess your sin.

If you’re addicted to porn, it means you’ve failed over and over on your own to overcome it. The time has come to confess it to another Christian so you may experience healing.

"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed." - James 5:16

This is going to require you to humble yourself because the moment of truth is a shameful time. Pornography is a terrible sin that carries a lot of guilt and it is the fear of this sinful side of you being revealed that has caused you to fight against porn on your own for way too long. However, you must overcome any pride or worries, and see that the freedom you’ll gain is worth it.

Also, be encouraged and remember 2 Chronicles 7:14, “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

When you humble yourself and confess your sins, God is good and loves you. He will forgive you for your sins and pick you up. You may be at a very low point when you confess, but God will bring you up from there and rebuild you into a new creation.

Pray for the humility to confess your sin to another Christian.

Thought 2: Consider everything a loss.

After you confess your sin, you need to be ready to live out Philippians 3:8, “What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.”

If you are addicted to porn, the truth is you lack self-control so you need to take tough, practical steps to overcome it.

Are you willing to have a filter on your computer that tracks every site you visit? Are you willing to give up your awesome smart phone for a standard flip phone that just makes calls? Are you even willing to not have the Internet in your home? (When I was first married, we had no Internet in our place and would go to the library instead to use it.) Are you willing to cancel your cable or satellite TV so you aren’t tempted by shows?

These are tough steps you need to take. Be honest with yourself. You’ve proven that you are not able to overcome these temptations so get rid of them. God is worth more than a phone, or 200 TV channels, or the Internet, so consider them all a loss so you don’t fail and sin.

Thought 3: Gain self-control.

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law." - Galatians 5:22-23

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit. In order to gain self-control, you need to grow in your relationship with God. This means getting in the Bible and working on your prayer life. It really is that simple. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”

While I say that this is simple, it often isn’t. While you may believe in God, your love for Him is weaker than you know (it is something I didn’t know). The truth is an addiction to porn damages your relationship with God. Day after day you are choosing yourself over Him. This same temptation will arise when it comes to spending time with God. Your sinful nature is going to want you to do something more fun or easy. You must overcome this urge and begin investing in your relationship with God. You can’t have a strong relationship with someone you never spend time with, and the same is true with God.

Thought 4: Win early.

You need to overcome sin at its earliest moment – when the first thought of it enters your mind.

"Take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." - 2 Corinthians 10:5

Do you allow yourself to look at the magazine covers in the grocery store line? Do you watch the trashy TV commercials? Do you allow yourself to check out the girls you pass throughout the day?

Let’s continue being honest; the answer is yes. These sins all start as a thought, so you need to work on overcoming them every day. You are used to giving yourself a free pass, as if these actions don’t matter, but they do. The way you win the big battle is by training yourself to win the little battles each day.

Final Thought: God is worth it.

“My people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols. Be appalled at this, you heavens, and shudder with great horror,” declares the Lord. “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” Jeremiah 2:11-13

You have the Spring of Living Water. However, right now you are digging your own cistern thinking you can do better. The pornography you are pursuing will never bring you lasting satisfaction and joy. So stop digging! See the mistake you are making; become appalled at it; shudder with great horror! Return to the Spring. God is so worth it! He will help you overcome it just as He did with me. To Him be the Glory!

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