Thank God for Cats (+ Every Other Small Mercy)

I have two cats, brothers.

They're soft and sweet, occasionally stand-offish but never mean. We call one Tubby and one Mr. Baby and constantly put voices in their mouths. They play and wrestle and then bathe each other and sleep like yin and yang. I call Tubby my best friend and Baby my best baby. Tubby loves to lick Dad's head, and Baby is obsessed with running bath water. They like my dad the best, but they lovingly tolerate the rest of us.

I love those cats.

God is so gracious to us, isn't He? The sweetness of gentle and playful pets is a precious gift. Just like crunchy, colorful leaves and delicious food and board games and sports games and beautiful books. God is merciful to us in the little things. That's what I frequently forget. He is unfailingly, unflaggingly merciful. You can see it in the taken-for-granted and the ordinary. You can see it in the sky and smells and food and relationships. You can see it in the breath you're breathing right now, the sights you're staring at, the daylight that washes over you. Thank God for life.

And thank God for small mercies. Thank God for cats. Thank God for yogurt-covered raisins. Thank God for hair cuts. Thank God for tea. Thank God for computers. Thank God for music.

Small mercies. Daily mercies. Mercies that threaten to go unnoticed and melt into oblivion unless we pay attention for one minute and just thank God. So pay attention to those mercies. The safe drive to the grocery store. The good day at work. The sunshine and the snow. See them, and be grateful.

10 Resources Every Christian Teen Needs to Know About

I have 10 recommended resources for Christian teens on TheRebelution.com today.

Here are a few:

1. The Valley of Vision ed. by Arthur Bennett

This is a collection of Puritan prayers. I will admit, that sounds dry and kind of boring, but it’s anything but. This book changed how I pray forever. The language is filled with life.

Here’s a quote:

“O Saviour of sinners, Thy name is excellent, thy glory high, thy compassions unfailing, thy condescension wonderful, thy mercy tender. I bless thee for the discoveries, invitations, promises, of the gospel for in them is pardon for rebels, liberty for captives, health for the sick, salvation for the lost.”

2. Holiness by J.C. Ryle

In this important book on sanctification and the Christian life, there is so much to take in. When my mom finished it, she promptly said: “This is a read-again book.”

Every Christian should read J.C. Ryle. I could have shared a hundred quotes, but here’s just one:

“We can never have too much humility, too much faith in Christ, too much holiness, too much spirituality of mind, too much charity, too much zeal in doing good to others. Then let us be continually forgetting the things behind, and reaching forth unto the things before (Phil. 3:13).”

3. The Bible Project

This YouTube channel posts tons of beautifully-animated videos about Scripture. My favorite is the “Read Scripture” series. Each video is a brief overview of a book of the Bible. The minor prophets have been the most helpful for me (see Obadiah for a taste). Watch here.

A Preview of Next Tuesday

Next Tuesday I have a review coming of a profound, theologically-rich, heart-moving new book on health. I've mentioned it before; it's called Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age by Dr. Bob Cutillo.

Today I wanted to share with you an adapted excerpt from the foreword, which was written by Andy Crouch, the executive editor of Christianity Today.

Perhaps this might even inspire you to read the book for yourself. My review comes on Tuesday.
"Perhaps once a year, if I’m lucky, I encounter a book that addresses a supremely important topic and does so in a supremely helpful way. Dr. Bob Cutillo’s Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age is such a book.

What are we to do with our bodies, fearfully and wonderfully made as they are, in times of illness, vulnerability, and death? That question has always been with us. But it’s becoming especially urgent for the citizens of the technological world—or, more baldly put, subjects of the technological empire—that holds out to us a vision of the good life buttressed by scientific knowledge but also demands from us ever more loyalty and obedience.

As a citizen of that empire, it feels almost subversive to observe that there’s something uniquely tragic about our age of modern medicine—tragic in the old sense of genuine greatness and good intentions turned awry by a fatal flaw.

In so many ways, medicine has delivered real cures and relief of suffering. It’s likely that I’m here to write this foreword, 48 years into my mortal life, only because of the direct and indirect contributions of medicine, starting with the vaccines that warded off many a childhood illness, the antibiotics that effortlessly cured many another, the anesthesia that has made minor but essential surgeries possible, and the more mundane benefits of dentistry and ophthalmology, just to name a few. And for the most part, the human beings who’ve prescribed and delivered these treatments have been people of intelligence, wisdom, patience, and kindness—bearers of the imago Dei at their best.

Yet in so many other ways, medicine falls ever short of our expectations that it’ll deliver us from the basic human condition, the morbidity and mortality that are our inheritance as fallen creatures."

How the "Medicalization" of Life Teaches Us About Change

I am reading a fascinating book right now. It's called Pursuing Health in an Anxious Age, and it's written by a doctor named Bob Cutillo.

In a recent chapter I read, he wrote about a cultural phenomenon known as "medicalization." Here's how he defines it: "The simplest definition of medicalization is when previously nonmedical problems become defined (and ultimately treated) as medical problems."

Sometimes this is good, he argues. Like for childbirth. He explains: "Childbirth, for example, has historically been a nonmedical experience and still is for many. Yet the use of the medical principles of hygiene and sterility has prevented numerous infections at this crucial moment of life, showing how a judicious application of medicalization to a common condition can produce broad benefit."

But there are other cases of medicalization that, arguably, aren't so good. Like depression. Or ADHD. Suddenly, things that historically have not been physical problems to be treated by doctors and medicine now are.

When this happens, Cutillo writes: "The number of people taking daily medication skyrockets, with greater risk of side effects from the treatment used to solve the medicalized problem. All of this explodes the need for professional care, whether to prescribe pills, offer therapy, or deal with the side effects of treatment."

But there's more. Our cultural medicalization hasn't just changed how we treat people in the health care system. It's changed how we view and understand people (and ourselves) as individuals.

Cutillo says this: "Much of human difference is no longer absorbed within a broader social context but stands apart as undesirable and stigmitizable characteristics of the individual. Individuals struggle to fit or belong based on the new categories of normal and abnormal. The label of 'abnormal' or 'diseased' changes self-perception, with new identities formed that are heavily defined by the medical diagnosis."

What Medicalization Teaches Us About Engaging with Cultural Change
We live in a rapidly changing world, where social, psychological, and technological advances are making serious impacts on our lives. That's what Cutillo reminded me of through his explanation of medicalization.

It is deeply vital for Christians to engage with emerging cultural shifts and movements in a Christ-focused way - whether we're talking medicine, the arts, technology, education, economics, or politics.

This means approaching them with a biblical framework and an analytical eye. It means not being too slow or too fast to embrace change. It means lining everything up against God's Word and recognizing it as the supreme standard. Then it means acting in a way consistent with truth - even if we're unpopular. Rather, especially if we're unpopular.

It does not mean hiding from the culture or burying our heads in the proverbial sand. It means standing for what we believe is right in the time and place God has us in. He has put us here for a reason. He is not surprised by the moves and shakes of culture. And He wants us to obey, follow, love, and trust Him in this day and age.

No matter what culture says.

My 3 Biggest Fears as a Teenager

I'm on The Gospel Coalition today writing about a vulnerable and interesting subject - fear.

"The teen years can be scary. Adolescents stand on the cusp of adulthood and face a flood of newness—new feelings, new experiences, new relationships, new responsibilities, new decisions, a whole new stage of life. It’s overwhelming, like we’re standing at the edge of a cliff, told to jump but unfamiliar with what’s below.

And we’re afraid.

As a teen just now crossing into the threshold of adulthood, I’m all too familiar with the fears of adolescence. All that instability, confusion, and decision-making can be stressful and even painful. I’ve laid awake at night because of a melting pot of fears bubbling in my mind, poisoning my peace. 

Above all, there were three fears that have screamed the loudest and lasted the longest: fear of the future, fear of failure, and fear of both intimacy and loneliness."

13 Things I'm Loving This Month

From silly to serious, here are 13 things I have been eating, drinking, reading, listening to, laughing at, and enjoying this month.

1. Fruit 2.0 Sparkling Water. Everybody's raving about LaCroix these days, but here in Nova Scotia I have yet to locate this trendy beverage. I have discovered Fruit 2.0, though, and I've fallen in love with it. There are so many delicious flavors - my favorites right now are cherry lime, strawberry, and white grapefruit. This is the drink that has defined my August.

2. The Simple Show. I know, I know, I'm always raving about podcasts, and this is yet another. But I only just stumbled upon it and have been listening quite a bit this month. Hosted by Tsh Oxenreider, she interviews guests about simple living - simple eating, simple entertaining, simple reading, simple decorating.

3. The Olympics. Because everybody loves the Olympics. Best moment: Andre De Grasse and Usain Bolt exchanging grins as they crossed the finish line second and first in their heat at the men's 200M semi-finals.

4. Abigail Murrish's blog. Her tagline is "Robust theology. Thoughtful science. A sagacious life." She writes about food, the gospel, hospitality, agriculture, books, and a lot of other beautiful, important things.

5. Holiness by J.C. Ryle. This book. If you have not read it, you need to. I mean it.

6. The Blue Jays. A.k.a. the first place team in the American League East Division - in case you were wondering.

7. Veggie/legume chips. My family thinks I'm weird, but I have really been into bean chips lately. And plantain chips. And kale chips. And snap pea chips. Maybe I am weird ...

8. Summer fruit. Colorful and delicious blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, pineapple - so yummy and fresh.

9. The Bible Project. I promise that I do not get paid to promote The Bible Project! I just love it a lot.

10. Keith and Kristyn Getty. After TGCW16, I've been listening to so much Getty music. My two favorite songs right now are "Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed" and "Lift High the Name of Jesus."

11. After-sun cream. For sun burns. So many sun burns.

12. Dancing with REFIT REVOLUTION. When it's too hot to run or I just don't feel like it, I stay inside and dance to REFIT. You can find this fitness dance studio on YouTube with tons of choreography videos, including several Christian songs.

13. The Chronicles of Narnia. I'm re-reading this series in publication order and loving it even more this time than when I read it a few years ago.

What are your favorite things this month?

It's Raining Right Now (And That's About It)

I am lying on my stomach in my bedroom as it pours rain outside. And I mean pours rain - thick, fast sheets of water fall like they're sliding off a tilting pan.

As I lie here, I am pondering what to write about today. Books? I wonder. Food? Maybe. Perhaps a list of some sort? No, there have been a lot of lists on the blog lately. The book of Daniel (where I'm at in my devotions)? I don't know.

Nothing is really coming, and then the sound of the pounding rain begins to drown out my thoughts. It sounds like a pulsing river, periodically picking up in speed and intensity, then softening to a quiet stream.

And now I stop and think, "Why not write about the rain?" But what about the rain? Is there a theological metaphor in there? Some witty anecdote it might lead to? Is it going to turn into one of my classic "I'm-so-grateful-for-something-seemingly-insignificant" posts?

No, I think. Jaquelle, why not just write about the rain? No dramatic spiritual application. Just the fact that it's raining. We've had a dry summer here, swinging between blistering heat and muggy humidity. The last few weeks have sparked serious forest fires across the province. We needed this rain, this fast and rushing rain.

There is something deeply cleansing about heavy rain. It's washing the cars in the driveway and the dirty pavement on the street. It's nourishing our grass and garden. It's reviving and sustaining life. Rain feels so clean, like it's rubbing away grime and filth and dirt and shame and ugly and smoothing it over with freshness and newness and shine.

It's bright outside. The grey sky is so pale it's almost white, and the clouds are thick and light. I almost don't need the light in my room on now. It's a summer rain.

There's leftover squash soup and homemade bread for lunch. I'm glad. Rain and soup just seem to go together, hand in hand, like peanut butter and jelly.

I am grateful for this rain. I am happy to see this rain. I have spent almost half an hour reflecting on this rain.

And that's pretty much the point of this post: it's raining right now.

It's the Little Things in Life

My  parents have instilled in me a deep love for the little things in life. You know, those ordinary, seemingly unspectacular moments that hold meaning.

Our neighbor completing the siding on his garage, after leaving a square uncovered for weeks.

The garbage man taking all of our garbage, even though we put out extra.

Using leftover food.

Killer deals in supermarket flyers.

A new podcast coming out.

Getting a stain out of shorts.

Gas going down two cents the day we planned to fill up.

A perfect breeze on a summer day.

Our cats being really cute.

Watching The Price is Right as a family.

Finishing a book.

Everybody says, "It's the little things in life." And it really, really is. Those are the things that create your everyday delights. Sure, the big things hold their magic too -- a major vacation, getting married, having a child, landing a dream job. But if you neglect the wonder in the little things, you miss out on 99% of God's grace in your life.

Take a moment today and appreciate something little, whatever it is. A green light. A great cup of coffee. A stunning sunset. On-sale ice cream. A fan positioned just right. Your favorite t-shirt.

Just appreciate it as a little manifestation of God's glorious, happy grace. Amazing.

5 (More) Podcasts I Listen To

Back in April I posted 6 podcasts I'd been listening to. But time brings new podcasts, new interests, and different perspectives. While I still listen to some of those podcasts, here are 5 more I've been listening to since that post.

Apologia Radio -- Honestly, I had no idea why I wasn't listening to this podcast. The cast is funny and entertaining but they have such solid and fascinating conversations about culture and theology. I wasn't all that familiar with Jeff Durbin and Apologia Studios before listening to AR, but I've been impressed and encouraged with everything that I've seen. (Side note: Apologia Studios recently released a video of a conversation Jeff had with a Planned Parenthood supporter outside of a PP clinic in Tempe, Arizona. It was a fascinating watch.)

Home Row: A Podcast for Writers -- Okay, if you're not a writer you may not find this the most interesting podcast ever. But I love it. J.A. Medders has interviewed Christian writers like Tony Reinke, Douglas Wilson, Tim Challies, and Barnabas Piper about their writing processes, the world of publishing, what to read, how to come up with ideas, and a lot of other things. If you're interested in writing, this is a podcast to check out.

Stop, No, Weight -- I am eagerly awaiting the third episode of this brand-new podcast hosted by Paul Maxwell and Joy Beth Smith. Stop, No, Weight is about Christians and body image and food and attraction and romance, and it is both incredibly vulnerable and insightful. It's an important conversation to have, and I think Paul and Joy Beth are really nailing it. I look forward to continuing to listen.

The Happy Rant -- Ted Kluck, Barnabas Piper, and Ronnie Martin are the cast members of The Happy Rant, an amusedly cantankerous podcast where these Christian guys just rant about a few different topics. It sounds ridiculous, I know, and probably rather negative, but you can't take much seriously on this podcast. It's funny and a teensy bit edgy (at least in my conservative/Reformed context), but it is also thought-provoking and self-aware.

Limetown -- Totally different from any other podcasts I've listened to, Limetown is a fictional program. I listened to the entire show in one day and was spell-bound. Similar to radio theater, Limetown is presented as a series of investigative reports by reporter Lia Haddock as she uncovers the truth behind the mysterious disappearance of 300 people at a research facility in Limetown.

What are you listening to?

Why You Need God's Word on Your Worst Days

My bad day started from the moment I woke up yesterday.

It was early, and I didn't want to get out of bed. But it was also hot, and I decided that if I wanted to go for a run and not, at best, pass out or, at worst, die (I may have been feeling a wee bit dramatic), I had to go right now. So I crawled out of bed and was sweating before I even got dressed. 

One important thing must be noted -- I did not want to go for a run. Normally I love running. But not yesterday. I was feeling like I should go for a run, though, and that is not the same thing. I was motivated by some weird, cranky, insecure self-obligation. 

So I grunted hello to my mother, laced up my sneakers, and walked outside. Right into a spider web. 

Then I started walking down my driveway, and my heels began to burn.

Second important thing that must be noted -- three days ago I wore a very cute pair of red ballet flats to a coffee date with a friend. They are lovely to look at but dreadful to walk in. Yet I ended up having to walk four-ish blocks that day. Does not sound difficult. I'm here to tell you that it was. Like bandage-worthy blister difficult. By the time I got back to my car I wanted to cry and my heels were raw and split. 

Now fast forward to yesterday morning, three minutes after walking outside, and I am hobbling back up the driveway because I literally cannot run with those flat-induced blisters. I am humiliated, hot, tired, and annoyed. Very annoyed. My heels hurt. And I'd climbed out of my very comfortable bed when I could have been still sleeping and I was a failure and I would never be fit and I just wanted to read happy books and eat chocolate forever and then also sleep forever. (Don't ask me to make sense of how I felt. I'm just reporting the facts.)

I came inside, sat down in a huff, and immediately turned on my phone. If you're keeping track, this is like the fifty-second bad decision I've made so far this morning. Then I opened Facebook. Bad decision number fifty-three. It wasn't that I saw anything terrible or especially annoying. It's just that in my sour mood, I was looking for all the wrong reasons. Instead of edification, I was looking to social media for validation and distraction.

And I'm grateful that the Lord suddenly pushed me to shut it all down and pick up my Bible. At this lovely moment in time, I did not want to read my Bible. But I knew I should, I must, not because of self-obligation, but because it was the only thing my soul really truly needed. If I wanted to choose joy, embrace the day, live intentionally, maximize my time, do good deeds, or be kind to others, I needed God's Word. 

There, in my sin, God met me. He forgave me in my repentance and nourished me through His Word. And by 9:00 a.m., my bad day (morning, really) was over. My eyes were off myself and on God's kingship. I read Psalm 97: "The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice." Rejoice because God, not me, is great. Have joy, peoples! Seriously. In your worst day, God is still in control. Right in my bad mood, God's Word was what I needed most. 

Reminders like that are what I need in the midst of bad days. Reminders that can only come from God's Word. The Spirit works in incredible ways to convict and encourage, and He works through His Word. 

For that, I am grateful.

The Conference I'm Going To in December

Yesterday registration opened for a conference I have been looking forward to for months. It's CROSS.

In 2013, this student missions conference hosted their first conference in Louisville, Kentucky (which I live-streamed from my basement in Halifax). Then, a year and a half ago they held a one-night simulcast, and, after watching it, I wrote about it here. But this December they're hosting a full four-day conference in Indianapolis, and I couldn't be more excited to attend in person this time.

From December 27-30, dozens of godly men (like John Piper, David Platt, and Kevin DeYoung) and a few godly women will speak to thousands of college-aged kids about the global cause of Christ. Musicians Trip Lee and Matt Boswell will lead worship, and Dad and I will soak it all in.

This is what the website says about CROSS:

"CROSS aims to mobilize students for the most dangerous and loving cause in the universe: rescuing people from eternal suffering and bringing them into the everlasting joy of knowing and worshipping Jesus.

CROSS is not a church. It is not a new campus ministry. It is not an offshoot of any existing ministry, as thankful as we are for so many likeminded movements and organizations. The aim of CROSS is simpler and more focused: We are a conference that, we pray, may be used of God to mobilize students in the cause of frontier missions for the glory of Jesus Christ. That’s our passion, our purpose."

Something tells me you'll be hearing more from me about this conference as it draws closer and especially once I've attended. After going to TGCWC last month with 7,000 other women, I'm pretty psyched to attend a conference full of passionate Christian guys and girls my age. I'm eager to hear truth preached and see the glory of Christ lifted up in light of the call of gospel work. 

And I am now counting down the days: 153 sleeps until CROSS.

An Update on My Book

Since people have frequently been asking about my book's progress (and seeing as today is a rather exciting day in that process), I thought I would give you an update on where things are at.

The deadline to turn in the manuscript (the whole book) of This Changes Everything is August 1, but I've actually prepared to turn it in today! While I could tinker and tweak forever, I'm at the point where I'm ready for my editor to tackle it and make it so much better. I need a break from the project for a little while. So now the book goes to the editor, she edits, and then she sends it back to me for my final edits. That will be the last time I work on it.

The publication date for TCE has been scheduled for April 30, 2017, with a tentative plan to launch it at The Gospel Coalition National Conference on April 3.

I've been in steady communication with the graphic designers at Crossway, and they've almost completed the cover of the book. I can't wait to share it with you. It's different in design, but I think it's quite compelling and definitely bright!

In these months that I wait for the manuscript back, and then ultimately for the book to come out, I get to pour my time into promo/marketing/other fun stuff. There's some writing for other publications, there will be some interviews, I'll be guest teaching in Brett Harris's new online course for young adults, Do Hard Things University, and we're in the process of teaming up to launch a video series for TheRebelution.com where I'll be interviewing some well-known faces in the Christian world. 

Who knows what else may come up? 

I continue to covet your prayers. Pray for wisdom and direction in this next year -- and beyond. I went from being the 12-year-old who had her entire life planned out to being an almost 19-year-old who has no clue what her life will look like in six months. Pray that God would be glorified throughout this whole process, the writing, the waiting, the editing, the marketing, the interviews, everything. Pray that I would have humility and grace. And please pray that This Changes Everything would be used to impact individuals for Christ. 

So today I turn in my book. Then I'm making pancakes and watching movies. Because it's the little things in life. 

Why I've Fallen In Love with Throwing Things Out

It started with a YouTube video, as so many great things do. This video, to be exact. One guy talking about a concept called minimalism.

And then I read a book. It was called The Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide: How to Declutter, Organize, and Simplify Your Life, and it was by Francine Jay. 

Minimalism, for those of you who are unfamiliar with the term, is a lifestyle where you pare down your stuff to just the essentials, just the things that make you happiest, and just the things you use the most. 

And suddenly this started clicking for me. This was my thought process: I have a lot of stuff. I have a few things I use all the time and a few things I love, but a lot of stuff that sits on a shelf or hangs in my closet that never gets touched. I don't like that I'm so cluttered. So why do I still have this stuff?

Hence, the throwing things out. First, my clothes. Then, my books. Then, my desk. Then, my closet. I went through every item, removed it from its home, and asked: "Do I love this? Do I use this? Will I miss this?" Two giant bags of clothes are gone. Three giant bags of garbage are gone. One giant bag of stuff has been given away. My room has never been so clean, so organized, and so loved. It's refreshing being in here, with everything in its place.

Having less stuff is kind of lovely. I wear all of my clothes and jewelry and scarves and sunglasses. I love all my books. It's easy to keep the place clean. 

I've also been forced to reckon with how owning a lot of things I neither use nor like glorifies God. Paring down my possessions has genuinely made me less reliant on them. And it's made me less eager to go out and buy a bunch of new things I will soon have to store -- and eventually get rid of. I believe owning less stuff is a little step I've taken that's personally benefited me spiritually. 

As I get older, I'm realizing that life is about so much more than stuff. And I've seen that stuff can take hold of your heart and actually rob it of happiness. In a culture that's told possessions are the key to joy and fulfillment, the Christian knows that's just not true. For me, owning less things is a little way to remind myself that contentedness, comfort, and satisfaction are not rooted in stuff; they're rooted in Christ.

No matter how much you own, the point of life is still the same -- glorify God with what you've been given. Be a good gospel steward. If you don't need to get rid of anything to do that, great. If you do, great. 

But don't be a thoughtless and unengaged steward. 

Millennials' Biggest Problem: Comparison

I appreciated this piece on RELEVANT today by Paul Angone. It was convicting in a striking way, but it was a healthy reminder.

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the smallpox of our generation. Nine out of 10 doctors agree Obsessive Comparison Disorder is the leading cause of devouring a whole box of Thin Mints while watching reality TV.

So what exactly is Obsessive Comparison Disorder, what are the side effects, and more importantly, is there a cure?

Obsessive Comparison Disorder

Obsessive Comparison Disorder is our compulsion to constantly compare ourselves with others, producing unwanted thoughts and feelings that drive us to depression, consumption, anxiety and all-around joyous discontent.

Now, obviously the lure and danger of comparison didn't just start. Comparison started when sin did.

The first murder recorded in the Bible was a byproduct of comparison. Two brothers brought God an offering. God approved Abel's and disapproved of Cain's. So in Genesis 4 Cain invites his brother out to the field, and he attacks and kills him.

During Jesus' last supper with his disciples, he tells them shocking news that will forever change history—one of them is going to betray him. How do the disciples respond? Do they do whatever it takes to find and stop the culprit? No, in Luke 22 they start an argument about which one of them is the greatest disciple.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Just a few decades ago, you used to have to wait until your ten-year reunion to look each other up and down to see how much worse or better off you were than them. And all you had to do was fake it for one night.

Rent a BMW. Borrow a spouse and a few kids. Go on some insane weight-loss program you bought on an infomercial, along with that machine that shakes the fat out of you. Do whatever it takes. Just pull off some fabricated version of your life for one night to show everyone that your made-up life was obviously better than theirs.

Comparison has always been around. But now with the internet and social media it's taken our comparison problem to global heights.

Then you could leave your reunion and take that rented BMW straight to Little Caesar's. Two Hot-N-Ready pizzas later, life could start going back to normal.

Now with the joyous invention of online social media, who needs a ten-year reunion? We now have the opportunity to compare ourselves to everyone. Every. Single. Day. What a blessing.

Every day we are trying to pull off a branded, dazzling, filtered, edited, impossibly epic and other worldly life that no one could possibly be living.

"My job doesn't even feel like work!" "My kids couldn't be cuter, they never misbehave and they are the only ones on their team to ever score a goal!" "My spouse and I constantly walk around cheek-snuggling like we're doing in this photo!"

Yet, what effect is Obsessive Comparison Disorder having on us?

An 18-Year-Old First Time Attendee Recaps TGCW16

This time two weeks ago I was sitting near the back of a very full room. Two moms and a baby sat on one side of me. A girl with glasses in her twenties sat on the other side of me. Sandra McCracken stood on the stage with her guitar and led 7200 women in worship. It was day 2 of The Gospel Coalition Women's Conference. 

Two weeks ago I attended my very first big conference, and it was marvelous. The only thing lacking was the circumstances. At the beginning of the conference, D.A. Carson commented how delightful it was for him to see so many moms and daughters attending this conference together. That stung a little, because my mom was supposed to be at the conference but was instead at home, sick. So I attended the conference by myself. While Dad drove me down to Indy, walked me to each session, and was basically Superdad, I actually went to the conference by myself.

And in the midst of unfortunate circumstances, I was overwhelmed with great joy.

The Joy of Hearing Women Teach
I frequently read books by Christian women but infrequently have the opportunity to hear them teach in person. To soak in the faithful exposition of 1 Peter by so many godly and articulate women was an immeasurable blessing. Kathleen Nielson, Jen Wilkin, Carrie Sandom, they were all rich with insight and grace. (I unfortunately missed Mary Willson, but I heard she was one of the best.) 

Coming to God's Word hungry to be fed with over seven thousand other women was a delight. 

The Joy of Hearing Women Sing
There's not much like singing praise together in a room of thousands of women. Keith and Kristyn Getty led worship like I've never seen done before. What gifted and humble and lovely people they are. There were moments I was led to tears by the utter joy of the gospel on display in the songs we sang. It was magnificent.

The Joy of Tasting Heaven
Since I went to each session alone, I tended to make friends with people I sat by. There was the young mom from Georgia, the single lawyer from Manhattan, the sweet Texan named Kelly, the foster mom from Iowa, and so many others. It was one of them who said to me, "Don't you just love this? All these Christian women together? It's like a taste of Heaven." And it was. The place was ripe with encouragement, with unity, with worship, with teaching, with growing, and with fellowship. 

But even more, I knew that image of Heaven was incomplete -- because a part of me longed for the diversity of both men and women worshiping together. Dad and I are making plans to attend CROSS conference in Indy in December, a missions conference for college students, and I'm eager to join with a great group of diverse young people of both genders. I'm eager to learn and worship together

I dearly hope I get to attend the next TGCWC, especially with my mom. TGCW16 was a treasure and a gift. I was fed full and came home fit to bursting. It was a privilege to be edified by women and with women and enjoy sweet fellowship. It was indeed a throbbing blot of joy in the midst of this life. I am grateful.

How Weeds, Ditches, and Dogs Declare God's Glory

Last June I was dog-sitting my grandparents' dog, Kit, while they were on vacation. This sparked a post with four lessons the experience was teaching me.

Well, I'm dog-sitting again, and Kit is still teaching me. She's once again strongly reinforcing the third lesson I learned last summer: curiosity is a virtue.

Curiosity At Weeds and Ditches
I took her on a walk yesterday afternoon. It was down a plain, old boring cul-de-sac, one I had been down a hundred times before, one she had too. Yet she still always hung behind me, stopped at a cluster of weeds that she had to sniff for an uncomfortably long amount of time, or peering intently into a watery ditch. "What is it?" I asked (or thought) again and again. "What is so fascinating to you?" 

The answer was always the same -- nothing. There was nothing magical or even mildly interesting about the weeds or the ditch. They were just there. Yet Kit's reaction was unparalleled fascination. These boring, dirty things held unique smells and sights, and Kit wanted to drink them all in, because in this moment she was here and they were here and she wanted to explore. She was fantastically curious.

Everyday Wonder
There is wonder in God's world to be found everyday if we look for it. That's what Kit reminded me of. Flowers and feathers and mushrooms and mosquitoes are all shouting a single theme -- God. God is beautiful, God is creative, God is infinitely wise, God is creator, God is good, God is glorious. It's all written plain as day in the weeds and water and dogs if we look for it. Creation sings it.

Wonder is good for the soul. It awakens in us both joy and humility, thrusting into our heart a compelling, refreshed awe of God. It gives us a sense of happiness to be alive and yet a littleness at our place in God's big story.

So then, will you wonder at the mundane today? Will you wonder at the weeds, at muddy ditches, at animals, at color-shifting skies, at food, at it all? I hope so. And I hope it will incite in you marvelous and unchecked joy in the glory of God.

There's Always More to Learn

Always. There is always more to learn.

One of the most poisonous, anti-biblical, anti-intellectual ideas in the world (and especially evangelicalism) is that you don't need to be taught. The Bible presents human knowledge as incomplete. No Christian has everything figured out. There is always more to learn and room to grow. 

How We Learn
Right now I'm taking a course on the background, nature, and purpose of the Gospels. While I was at first a little ambivalent about taking it, Dad encouraged me to sign up. "You need to keep learning," he told me. Currently I'm in the fourth week and unit of the course and am delighting in soaking up fresh, new truths. I'm delighting in learning.

That's also why I decided to take Tim Challies' reading challenge this year; they help me learn. Books are profound teachers, sometimes shockingly eye-opening and other times subtly gentle. They're catalysts for my growth.

Why We Learn
In his marvelous book, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Donald Whitney lists learning as a spiritual discipline. In an article about this subject, he writes:

The Christian life not only begins with learning, it proceeds through a process of lifelong learning. This includes deeper discoveries of intimacy with God, an ever-growing grasp of the Bible and its doctrines, a greater awareness of our sin, an increased knowledge of the person and work of Christ, further implications of what it means to follow Him, and more. 

Learning is an utter necessity for the Christian. But, as Dr. Whitney also says, "To emphasize learning as essential to following Jesus is not advocacy for egghead Christianity. Like Jesus, we want both a heart for God and a head for God." 

Absolutely. We want to both learn and love God. 

But these aren't divorced ideas, as if one really does happen in the organ of our heart and the other happens up in the goo of our brain. Learning and loving are interconnected. Learning should be an expression and a fuel for love. Love is the motivation and the fire. Learning is a precious tool, and love is its fruit. 

The End of Our Learning
Some Christians think that when they die, there will be no more learning. All at once ... boom. They'll know it all. No more studying, reading, or listening. But this idea can be found nowhere in Scripture. In fact, it seems to present the opposite. Only God is omniscient, and that's not an attribute He will share with us. It's like His omnipotence. We won't be all-powerful after our death. Why would we be all-knowing then? 

Sure, we'll know more things and we'll know things more fully, but even after death, I believe we'll keep learning.

So there really is always more to learn. It's an idea for today and for eternity. It's not a burden but a blessing, a gift. Take joy in learning, and let that motivate your love for the source of all truth and knowledgeGod Himself. 

19 Things I've Learned About Growing Up

I've over on TheRebelution.com today with this article on growing up.

"This summer I become an adult.

At least, according to my country. I turn 19, and that basically means I can do lots of boring things legally — like get a credit card. My, what fun.

It’s weird to think that I’ll be labeled a “grown up.” I still feel like I have a lot of growing up left to do. And I do! But I’ve grown up a lot since I was 13. Or 14. Or even 15.

And there are things I’ve learned along the way — 19, in fact. Nineteen truths about growing up.

1. It doesn’t feel like you thought it would.

There are bad things I thought would be better, and amazing time I thought would be way worse. All I have to say is: culture does a horrible job preparing kids to grow up. They give us all these pictures and ideas, and that’s never how it turns out.

2. Growing up means responsibility in every area of life.

I’m learning what it means to take responsibility for my sin, to be responsible in my finances and my time and my work, and to not shirk duty when it calls.

3. Faithfulness in the little stuff is just as important as faithfulness in the big stuff.

“One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much” (Luke 16:10).

4. Your parents are your greatest allies in life, your most winsome problem-solvers, and your smartest teachers.

Don’t push them away. Don’t ignore them. Instead, run to them. Take your deepest problems and struggles and fears and questions to them. Even when you don’t feel like it, they are here for you.

5. Growing up feels like being stretched, being filled full and then emptied, being yanked out of your comfort zone, and thrust into unfamiliar territory.

You’re starting to realize that the world is a lot bigger than you ever thought it was. And that means your comfort bubble is going to get quickly popped. Growing up means growing, and growing means growing pains."

Read the rest here ->

Photo courtesy of Amanda Tipton and Flickr Creative Commons.