Jan 13

Who to Follow In the New Year

2016 at 9:27 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood

(The New Year presents a new temptation for me to sinfully compare my life and productivity to other people. This biblical counsel from my mom—which she first shared with me over a decade ago—still redirects my gaze to Christ. See a link to her excellent message on “The Snare of Compare” at the end of this post.)

Sinful Comparison: A Pain in the Neck

It’s January again, and social media is clogged with New Year wishes and resolutions, reminiscences of the year past and predictions about the year ahead.

But the New Year can come with an unexpected side effect: the crick in our neck that we can get from looking around at everyone else and worrying that maybe they’ve got it better than we do. With every glance at our Facebook feed, the strain gets worse, the knots tighten.

Maybe 2015 wasn’t such a great year for you. Maybe it was full of set backs and frustrations, disappointments and challenges. Yet it seems (if Facebook is to be believed) like everyone else had an exciting and successful year. Everyone else got married and had babies. Everyone else’s home business took off. They made new friends, had great vacations, and their kids excelled in school. Everyone else lost weight.

They have and we have not. The more we think about it, the more restless, anxious, and dissatisfied we feel.

In search of a cure, we may pour out our sorrows on social media, and watch the sympathy likes pile up; but somehow they never fill our empty love cup to its tippy top.

Or we protest (too much, methinks) that we don’t care a wit what people think; we’re proud of our messy house and messed up life. We call it “being real.” We may try to release the tension by taking jabs and digs at others. If we can’t feel better about ourselves, at least we can create some company for our misery.

It’s not that we resolve to bigger complaining and better envy in 2016, but when we start to sinfully compare, we’re well on our way. If we sow seeds of “bitter jealousy and selfish ambition” at the start of the year, they are sure to sprout up as weeds that choke our growth in godliness the whole year through (James 3:14).

Our Savior graciously confronts our sinful comparison in John chapter 21. The scene is following his resurrection. He has just restored his disciple, Peter, and then he gives him the news: you will die a horrible death. We have a lot of sympathy for Peter, who strains his neck to look around at his buddy John and asks, “What about this man?” “What is that to you?”Jesus says to Peter. “You follow me.”

Our Savior’s loving rebuke echoes in our ears. He meant for it to. He meant for his words to protect us from sinful comparison that would distract us from our calling, stifle our growth in godliness, injure our relationships, dishonor his holiness, and make us miserable. And he invites us, or rather, commands us to “follow me.”

We follow him by meditating on his Word instead of longing for what others have, by taking whatever steps of obedience he requires from us today, and by rejoicing with others when they receive blessings from God. At the beginning of the New Year, let’s receive our Savior’s loving rebuke and gracious invitation.

Yes, everyone else may seem poised to be faster, better, prettier, smarter, and more successful in 2016, but “What is that to you? You follow me.”

{If you find yourself tempted to sinful comparison at the start of the New Year let me encourage you to watch this workshop.}

Jan 6

Q&A: “How do you get up early when your kids are up all night?”

2016 at 8:25 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under The 5 O'Clock Club | Motherhood

We’re getting a rolling start to the New Year over here at girltalk. We usually take the first couple of weeks in January to evaluate our lives and implement changes. Each year, it seems, our goals get simpler. Start a Bible memory plan with the little ones. Pick back up exercising where we left off in November. Try this helpful prayer app. The habit we still find to be far and away the most helpful is to rise early each morning. A couple of years ago Janelle provided some hope and advice for moms of young children. We repost it here for your encouragement.

Q&A: “How do you get up early when your kids are up all night?”

by Janelle Bradshaw

The girltalk inbox has been a bit crowded these days with e-mails from exhausted moms asking how it is possible to rise early and get time with the Lord when they are up half the night with small children. It always encourages me to hear from you! I just finished a long stretch with Summer (11 months) and Hudson (3 years) waking up multiple times a night. Mike and I would laugh (more like a half-hearted chuckle from me) that they seemed to coordinate with one another, working in shifts to make sure that I got as little sleep as possible.

So how do I wake up early when my kids want to party all night? I don’t. I can’t.

A couple months ago, I sat across from Mom, Nicole and Kristin exhausted and crying (not for the first time in the last eight years) over my lack of sleep and inability to get up early. I missed my early morning times with the Lord, and my days felt more disorganized and hectic because I wasn’t able to get up before my children. They sympathized and encouraged me to remember that this was a season—yes, a long and tiring season, but not one that would last forever.

In the meantime, I needed to get creative and develop an alternative plan. If waking up early before my kids wasn’t possible right now, then how else could I feed my soul throughout the day? I downloaded the ESV Bible app, which has an audio feature. I loaded my phone with sermons, which I could listen to a few minutes at a time. I took time to pray while I was in the shower or emptying the dishwasher.

I also sought to be intentional about my children’s schedule. I trained Hudson to have “room time” (an hour alone in his room with a few toys) at the same time that Summer took her morning nap. This guaranteed (and I use that word loosely) me a slot of time where I could read my Bible or finish a project.

These ideas may not work for you, but the point is to get creative. What are small ways you can seek the Lord throughout your day? How can you free up twenty minutes in your daily schedule to sit and read your Bible and pray?

And take heart. You are not alone. And this season won’t last forever…right???

Dec 14

Ten Ideas for Helping Children Fight Greed at Christmastime

2015 at 2:22 pm   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Homemaking | Holidays | Motherhood

Christmas puts parents in a tough spot. We love our children. We want to give them good gifts. We enjoy their eager anticipation and exuberant gift opening on Christmas morning. And yet as Christian parents, we know there is a dark side to gift giving: greed. All of the presents can seem little more than brightly wrapped packages of temptation. There are temptations to selfish delight or despair, depending on whether or not our children got what they wanted. Greed can take hold, turning what we intend as a blessing into what feels like a setback in our parenting.

So how do we give generously and squash greed at the same time? We girltalkers did some brainstorming and idea sharing and came up with ten ideas to get us all started.

1. Be Intentional. Greed won’t go away on its own; we’re gonna have to apply some parental elbow grease to this one. And it’s not a one-time thing, like “Do you remember the year we got rid of Christmas greed?” We’re going to be dealing with it for a while, so we have to resist the temptation to get angry or discouraged if it doesn’t seem like our efforts are bearing fruit right away.

2. Talk a Lot. Deuteronomy 6 is a great Christmas passage. We need to talk to our children about greed and gratefulness and what it means to glorify God at Christmas. It’s tempting to give up, because our instruction often seems to go in one ear and out the other, but we are called to be faithful.

My husband likes to have little Q&A sessions with the kids and throw in a ridiculous answer to make it memorable (broccoli often makes an appearance in these little conversations). Thus our Christmas Catechism sounds something like this:

Q. What is better than Getting?

A. Giving is better than Getting

Q. Why is it better than Getting?

A. Because that’s what Jesus did.

Q. What is better than Getting? (raise volume here)

A. Giving is better than Getting

3. Make Christmas Memories. Christmas traditions help direct a child’s anticipation toward activities and memory making and not only gift getting. This is one reason we love to celebrate Advent: it is a daily reminder that we are waiting for more than presents under the tree. Cookie baking, Christmas light viewing, and story reading all serve a similar purpose.

4. Make Christmas Giving Lists. In addition to Christmas lists for Mimi we have our kids make lists for what they want to give to family members. Then we let them loose in the Target dollar section to buy presents for their siblings and Daddy and Mommy. This is one of their favorite Christmas traditions, and it is fun to see their excitement channeled toward giving and away from getting.

5. Read Christmas Giving Stories. A great addition to Christmas story time: books that highlight the joy giving such as Little Women, The Gift of the Magi, If You’re Missing Baby Jesus,Christmas Day in the Morning and many more. Powerful stories can help awaken children’s imaginations to the magic of giving.

6. Give to People in Need. Involve your children in giving gifts to those who are in need or who are suffering at Christmastime. We enjoy buying presents for newly adopted children or contributing to a family’s adoption, but there are countless opportunities at Christmastime to give locally and around the world. Giving to others helps children take their eyes off themselves and understand how much they have to be grateful for.

7. Give the Gift of Experience. Along with toys, you can include gifts of experience under the tree: books, magazine subscriptions, memberships to a local museum, tickets to a special event, lessons for art or music, or (my favorite) a family trip or outing. Over time your children may come to anticipate these gifts most of all.

8. Minimize Temptation. In other words, hide the Christmas catalogs. Avoid spending long hours in the toy section at Target with your child. Limit exposure to holiday commercials. Redirect conversations that begin, “Do you know what I want for Christmas?” But don’t mess with the grandparents. Do the hard work of parenting so that Grandma and Grandpa can have the joy of being as generous as they desire.

9. Develop a Gift Opening Strategy. We like to open gifts slowly, one person, one gift at a time. This takes a while, but the slow pace helps restrain greed and promote gratefulness. We are training our children to pay attention when someone else is opening a gift and enter into their joy. And we also insist that our children give hugs and kisses and “big thank you’s” after opening each present. Having a strategy for gift giving that encourages patience, gratefulness, and a focus on others can counteract the greed that wants to own the day.

10. Cultivate Christ-like Character. We may have outgrown a childish greed for presents, but we as parents are still tempted to approach Christmas selfishly, for our own comfort or gratification. We need God’s grace to help us serve selflessly, give generously, parent patiently, and grow in passion for our Savior at Christmastime. As we grow to be more like Christ who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:28) we will encourage our children to do the same.

Dec 10

Christmas Expectations and Emotions

2015 at 8:38 am   |   by Nicole Whitacre Filed under Biblical Womanhood | Gospel | Homemaking | Holidays

Christmas is about expectations. “Come thou long expected Jesus” was the prayer of God’s chosen people as they waited for the Messiah. In celebrating Advent, we enter into those expectations and rejoice in their fulfillment.

Sadly, we often load Christmas down with all kinds of other expectations. When people or presents don’t meet those expectations, we feel disappointed. Unrealistic expectations lead to unhappy emotions.

What should our expectations be this Christmas?

First, we should expect nothing. If we go into the holidays with zero expectations of how our husband will shop for us or how our children will behave or how our sister will treat us, our emotions will be unruffled by other people.

In other words, the best way to prepare our emotions for Christmas is to repent from idolatry. Remember, as John Calvin warned us, the evil of our desires is not so much in what we desire, but that we desire it too much. We often call these desires “expectations.” And where you have “disappointed expectations,” more often than not, you’ll find an idol lurking nearby.

When we do away with selfish expectations–or as the Bible likes to call them, “worthless idols”–we can expect joyful emotions this Christmas.

Secondly, we should expect trouble. For the Christian, trouble around the holidays should not be unexpected. Our Lord has promised that, “in this world you will have tribulation” (John 16:33); and, to paraphrase my dad, “Sin doesn’t take a holiday.”

Expect that your children may be ungrateful or unruly or that your uncle may criticize your Christian convictions. Expect trouble this Christmas and you will be better prepared to handle it emotionally.

Our secular culture tries to ignore the reality of trouble around the holidays, covering their eyes with sentimentality:

“Have yourself a Merry little Christmas,

May your heart be light

From now on our troubles will be out of sight…

From now on our troubles will be miles away…”

For the Christian, our troubles will be miles away and out of sight—one day. But that is the promise of heaven, not Christmas. Unless the Lord returns or calls us home, trouble is an ever-present reality, sometimes especially so at Christmastime.

Christmas is about celebrating the fulfilled expectation of Christ come to earth, even as we wait in expectation of his glorious return. As we celebrate the “already” we must also expect the “not yet.”

But our expectations shouldn’t end in despair. Because of Christmas, we can also expect grace. Christ has come! God is with us! Hebrews 2 highlights our spectacular Christmas expectations, made possible because of Jesus Christ:

Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.

He is able to help! He is able to help us respond graciously and courageously to our antagonistic uncle. He is able to help us train our children. He is able to help us put off worthless idols and find our joy in Him. In our Christmas troubles and temptations, we can expect the help of the incarnate God. God is with us and God is with us to help. He has made propitiation for every sin. He is able to help us to resist every emotional temptation. His presence is our comfort in every trouble.

When we set our Christmas expectations on Christ, we will be full of joy unspeakable.