Battle-Winning Worship

I was reading one of my favorite Old Testament stories the other day and I just had to share it.

It comes from 2 Chronicles chapter 20.

One of the good kings, Jehosaphat, is leading God’s people into battle against a vast, vast army. Now, if you’re a king in Israel or Judah at this time, there are no guarantees that you will handle a situation like this the right way. There were plenty of rulers who took things into their own hands, made alliances with other pagan nations, or relied on their own military power instead of seeking God’s direction and help.

But fortunately for our story, Jehosaphat knew what he was doing. He brought everybody (and their wives and children and even the little babies) to the temple and stood before the Lord.

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And Jehosaphat said it like it was. He was like, “God, all these people are coming against us and there’s no way we can win without your help. We do not know what to do.”

Wow, how many times have I thought that in the past  year? At multiple points every day I think to myself, “I  do not know what to do in this situation! Lord, please give me wisdom!” Whether it’s deciding when nap time should be or deciding how to save for our children’s education, I feel really clueless pretty much all the time these days. (Read more about that herehttps://poolehousewife.wordpress.com/2013/06/24/this-is-hard/)

Wait ’till you hear what happens to Jehosaphat.

This guy named Jahaziel stood up with a word from the Lord. Now, I know it’s tempting to skip past the part where he’s identified as “son of Zechariah, the son of Benaiah, the son of Jeiel, the son of Mattaniah, a Levite and descendant of Asaph…” but in this case, this little verse tells us something really important. As a Levite, Jahaziel’s full time job was serving God in the temple. As a descendant of Asaph, this made Jahaziel specifically responsible for the music performed for the worship of the Lord.

He was a worship leader.

And this worship leader stood up in the assembly of the King and all of God’s people and said, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s…You will not have to fight this battle…The Lord will be with you.”

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And then the King bowed with his face to the ground, and some of the other worship leaders (the Korathites and Korahites) led the people in singing praise “with a very loud voice.”

With this word of encouragement and moment of worship, God’s people went out into the fight. But they did not wage war as you would think they would wage war. They had learned from their worship leader friends. They set up in ranks, organized themselves, prepared to march in formation, and as they descended into the valley, guess what they did?

They sang God’s praises, of course!

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And as they marched and sang a song of thanksgiving, before they even reached their enemies, God won the battle.

I’m not even figuratively speaking here – God caused their enemies to turn and fight each other until not a man was left standing. When Jehosaphat and his singing army rounded the corner expecting to see a vast army, there were all the dead bodies!

When was the last time I was in the midst of an impossible situation and turned to God in praise? It’s easy for me to turn to Him in petition. “Oh, Lord, please give me wisdom!” or “Please fix this problem!” or “Please intervene in this way!” But God knows what my desires are before I even express them. He knows what I need, and He has promised to meet my needs according to His will. This story teaches me that in the most difficult times, I need to focus my attention not on myself, but on God.

And that is what worship is all about! Turning the focus and adoration of my life away from me and shining light on who God is and what He has done and what I trust He will do.

So I decided, starting this moment, the next time I’m exasperated with a “mommy situation” or troubled by something I hear on the news, or facing a tough decision for our family, I will not mope and be sorry for myself. Because the battle is not mine, but God’s. And instead of despairing, I will respond in worship. With a very loud voice. No matter who is listening.

Whatever battle you are trudging through today, I hope you will pause for a moment to give it up, and let your heart go! The Lord will hear your worship and be pleased with your little offering of praise. And in the midst of your thanksgiving, you might just find that the battle has already been won.

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This is hard.

Well hello there, blog. Nice to see you! It’s been a while.

My lame excuse for not posting was that I haven’t felt like I had something worthwhile to share with the world. And the longer it got since I last wrote, the more epic of a post I felt I had to write in order to justify my absence.

Silly me.

You know, I thought that as I gained experience as a mother, I would have more and more wisdom to impart to mankind. But the opposite has been smacking me in the face lately. The longer I venture into motherhood, the less wisdom I feel I have!

So I decided I’d better swallow my pride and do some therapeutic writing, and hope my readers hadn’t given up on me.

Today is a day of honesty. It is a day of me releasing the preconceived expectations I had for myself and being completely true and real and transparent and vulnerable.

Today’s topic is: Motherhood is hard.

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Like, I’m not kidding. It is really, really hard.

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I thought being a music teacher was hard. I was on my feet all day, controlling large masses of middle schoolers, dealing with high school drama, schlepping sound equipment, grading papers, organizing field trips and concerts and productions, and showing up to parent conferences. I was good at teaching, and I loved my students, but it was exhausting. I was so excited when I turned in my keys and my badge to become a loving, purposeful, organized, creative, put-together, nurturing mother. How wonderful it would be!

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And it is indeed wonderful. Especially those first few months, when my newborn’s needs were easily solved with food, sleep, or a diaper change. I was obviously going to be an excellent mother, because God had given me this calling, and I had read every book on the shelf, right? I had two degrees, a wonderful church, and a supportive, intelligent husband! We had saved our money for four years before having kids so that we would be financially prepared! We did everything right! So we were going to be perfect parents, raising perfect little image-bearers as a model family for the Lord’s glory!

Right…?

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How little I knew.

I forgot that God only receives glory when I stop giving it to myself.

And thus began the slow process of the Lord breaking my pride and humbling my spirit. It wasn’t long before I started realizing that my plans for how Julia would behave and how I would train her began backfiring. Everything I told myself I would never let her do (watch TV, sleep in our bed, eat processed foods, nurse herself to sleep, etc.) she has already done. What I thought was early-onset separation anxiety at two months now seems like nothing compared to the panic and tragedy that befalls my daughter if I so much as look in another direction for three minutes. She has gotten sick multiple times, tumbled halfway down the stairs, struggles with sleeping through the night, refuses to drink breastmilk out of any form of bottle or sippy cup, throws her finger food on the floor, and has a non-stop tantrum if anyone but a select handful of people watch her. And most recently, she refuses to sleep in her crib during the day.

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I know there are lots of parents out there who have kids with major health crises, family tragedies, multiple children, financial difficulties, and relational issues, and I know that compared to them my life is cake. God has not called me to pass through those kinds of trials yet, so He has not given me the extra grace required to endure them.

God only gives enough grace for the life to which a person is called, and no extra. This is how He glorifies Himself – by requiring us to depend on His strength made perfect in our weakness.

This past week or so, I have felt like I’m teetering at the very edge of this “one baby grace.” There has been so much crying (on everybody’s part), so many questions, so many wrong decisions, that there have been many moments when I have felt completely broken.

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There are a lot of things that are bothering me deep down inside my sinful heart. The foremost is the realization that I’m not as good of a mother as I thought I was going to be. In fact, I pretty much stink at being a Mom. Every day I’m bombarded with my own failures – “I should have done this…” and “My sister-in-law would never have done that” and “Why didn’t I get this done?” and “Why did I just let her do that?” I get lost in my own sea of real and perceived guilt on a daily basis. Can any of you moms relate to this?

Compounding this problem is the fact that I used to think I was good at teaching – in fact, in my prideful heart, I thought I was really good at being a music educator. And now that I have exchanged my career for the full-time job of mommyhood, it  disturbs me deep down inside that I’m not “good” at this new occupation.

My whole life, I’ve always strived to be the best at everything I did. I was the straight-A student, the obedient daughter, the talented musician, the model Christian.

But I want to be totally honest with you right now and tell you that there have been many moments in recent days when I felt like I was good at nothing. 

I know this is a lie from Satan. And I’m not trying to throw a pity party. But in the moment when my ten-month-old child, who did not sleep through the night last night, and who has been crying all day, stiffens her legs and arches her back in a final screaming protest of her usually-beloved bath, and I have no idea why she is upset or what could possibly be wrong… it is very easy to believe Satan’s lie.

It is in this moment that I am most broken.

But it is also in this moment that I cling most tightly to Jesus.

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And this, dear friends, is why our sovereign, gracious, and loving Lord puts these moments of difficulty in our lives. In this last week, my relationship with the Lord has learned a new passion. My times of (mostly desperate) prayer have been sweeter. God’s Word has penetrated my heart with more power. My worship has been more transparent.

I had already discovered that clinging to my own abilities and qualifications as a mother leaves me more bewildered than when I started. But in the midst of a very hard week, I am seeing how the fruit of brokenness is hope.

My hope is not based on other peoples’ affirmation of what a great job I’m doing or what a wonderful daughter I’m raising. My hope is in the Lord’s ability to move and work in my family despite me. My hope is in Christ and Him alone.

So if you are doing something hard right now, take heart! It is in this very hour that God will speak to your soul most clearly. He has not left you – He is carrying you. And He wants you to be broken, so that He can pick up your scattered pieces and forge together a better and more Christ-like you. “He must become greater; I must become less.”

And for those of you who are not doing something hard right now…well, DO SOMETHING HARD! As a teacher, I saw a whole lot of students whose parents rescued them out of every difficulty. But doing hard things is the only way to really grow up. Don’t give up on something because you think it is too difficult. There is no such thing as “too difficult” for God. Maybe He will use the challenge to break you, and if so, Hallelujah!

May His strength be made perfect in your weakness.

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10 Things I Learned About Pregnancy

I loved being pregnant. Yeah, it was uncomfortable and awkward and weird when random strangers wanted to touch my belly, but for the most part, it was really cool knowing that God was forming a tiny little person inside my own body! And I learned a whole lot about life in the process.

For those of you who are pregnant, or have been pregnant, or ever will be pregnant…here are 10 things I learned along the way. Feel free to add things to this list in the comments section!

1. Pray

Don’t just pray for your baby to be healthy and your pregnancy to go off without a hitch – pray for wisdom as you and the hubs make financial decisions, as you choose a healthcare provider, as you deal with insurance…if you don’t think you have time to pray now, believe me, it doesn’t get easier! Don’t forget to pray for things like your son or daughter’s salvation and for their future spouse. It’s a precious thing to tell your little one, “I’ve been praying for you since before ou were born!”

2. Play music for your unborn baby.

I’m a music teacher. So, I was pretty deliberate about beginning my daughter’s musical education earlier than most would think possible. I strapped headphones to my belly and started pumping in the Mozart and Beethoven as soon as her tiny ears started processing sounds. But she also was listening to me playing the piano and my choirs rehearsing at school for many hours each day. I had heard that babies, once born, can recognize music that they had heard in the womb, and about 5 weeks into Julia’s life on earth, I put this theory to the test. She was being fussy, so I decided to try playing a recording my choir had made before she was born of a song that we’d rehearsed every day for months. I could not BELIEVE what happened to her countenance and demeanor!!!! She totally remembered it. Fortunately, I had videoed her reaction the first time I played this “Ride the Chariot” song, and it’s pretty amazing:

3. Don’t freak out about baby gear – people will really give you everything you need. Besides, you don’t even need most things right away. And for any remaining necessities, there’s always Craig’s List! I love Craig’s List. I got a roommate on Craig’s List once – no joke.

Anyway, we got a crib and changing table for only $125 total because we bought them used and they’re exactly what we needed! Some things I’m not sure how I feel about getting secondhand, like car seats and cloth diapers, but can I tell you how excited and grateful I was for the CLOSET full of hand-me-down clothes Julia got?

And you really can trust the Lord to provide. For example, a nursing glider was one of the things on my list that I soon realized wasn’t really affordable. But then, one Sunday morning, one of the little church choir ladies leaned over in the middle of rehearsal and said, “I want to buy you a rocking chair. Do you have one yet? Pick out a real nice one, and I’ll give you the money.” I couldn’t believe it – I’d been lamenting my glider-less state just the day before! It was God’s way of reminding me that He really does care about the details. And He must have known how much I’d love that chair – I spent 8 hours a day in it for many weeks, and I still use it more than any other piece of furniture in my house! (Well, maybe besides my bed. Although on some particularly fussy nights, I feel like I spend equal time in both.)

4. Read everything you can…but don’t believe everything you read. 

I borrowed, bought, and was given a ton of books about pregnancy, childbirth, and childrearing, and I read pretty much all of them. And they all said different things. So, I probably ended up just as clueless as when I started about some things (parent-directed feeding? hypnobirthing? attachment parenting?). But at least I had all the possible tools I needed to make decisions when the time came.

5. Live it up – enjoy your hobbies, go on dates, and sleep in while you can!

For me, this meant that I crafted up a storm, right up until the day before Julia was born. And good thing, too – I wouldn’t end up attempting another sewing project for months!

As far as going on dates is concerned, I can’t tell you how important it is to spend quality time with the handsome guy that started this whole thing. I have to say, birthing a child and caring for a newborn doesn’t really leave a girl physically or emotionally inclined towards romance, so those extra candlelight dinners during the months before the world flips upside-down will have to tide the two of you over until things settle down a little.

6. If you’re a teacher, have a “name suggestion box.”

Meet some of my wonderful, mature, well-behaved students.

Hey, we all know that there are a few questions that pregnant ladies hear multiple times a day. “How are you feeling?” “When’s your due date?” “Is it a boy or girl?” “Have you picked a name yet?” The last one was the hardest for me to answer. We really didn’t want to tell people the names we were considering, in case we changed our mind, and in case any well-meaning friends or relatives wanted to tell us how much they disliked our name choice. But my students were very, very, interested in knowing after which of them we would name our child, so in order to stop all 117 of them from asking me every day, I made a little “name suggestion box” for my classroom. Any student was welcome to suggest names for our baby. I even had little pink forms for them to fill out, complete with the parameters for our name selection process (no names beginning with P, no weird spellings, no one-syllable names, etc…)

Not only did this slow down the daily barrage of questions, but it got the students excited about participating in our lives, which is a great way to build relationships and trust. (This is important to me – you can read why on my “about me” page.)  It was hilarious to look through the forms at the creative and sometimes VERY unorthodox names which were suggested by the middle schoolers in particular (Chocolate? really?). One 7th grader must have thought it was some sort of vote, because he filled out 23 forms, all filled out with the name “Alena.” And then there was the occasional gem I would slip into my purse for Mr. Poole and I to actually consider. All in all… it was really fun. And the three different students who actually suggested “Julia” were ecstatic when they found out what we named our girl!

7. Drink tons of water.

I’m serious, I drank close to one gallon of water every day for the last 2 months of my pregnancy. My faithful pink water bottle followed me through thick and thin during those hot summer weeks, because believe me, I was NOT going to be the girl in the hospital with false labor because she was not drinking her daily 92-120 ounces. Hydrating also made me feel a lot better, and it’s a habit that became even more important to keep once the baby came and I was breastfeeding.

8. Leg cramps? Chest pain? Insomnia? Multiple nighttime trips to the bathroom? Welcome to your new sleeping regimen.

Who knew that someone this tiny would have such bizarre side effects on one’s sleeping patterns? I had heard that I’d be “uncomfortable” as my stomach got huge, but I definitely wasn’t expecting the leg cramps. Or the pain near my sternum when I tried to roll over. Or the fact that sometimes I’d wake up at 3:30 and just be wide awake. Julia was just getting me ready for life with her outside of the womb. How considerate.

9. Go on a Babymoon.

Since we’d honeymooned in the Smoky Mountains, Mr. Poole and I decided to take one last trip to that area of the country – just the two of us. We went at about my 32nd week of pregnancy, which was perfect timing because I had finished the school year, but I wasn’t so huge that my midwife was afraid I’d go into labor. I brought my sewing machine, and we rented some pretty cool places and stayed with some awesome people in Georgia, Asheville, Chattanooga, and Pensacola. We did a lot of hiking, since that’s the sort of thing you do in the mountains, pregnant or not. I guess it wasn’t a bad idea to try to get into shape if I was going to push that baby out the next month, but I was still preeetttyyy sssslllooowwww climbing up some of those hills. Mr. Poole was totally patient with me, and we both had a really special time as just the two of us. I am so so so glad we did it.

10. Accept help from others, and accept the fact that life is going to have to slow down.

Look at this beautiful photo from the sophomore mission trip of all these great students hauling logs to help needy families:

Notice anything about this photo? Ummm… how about the fact that I’M NOT IN IT?

Do you want to know how frustrating it was for me when I went on this mission trip with these amazing kids all fired up to bless the less fortunate, and I was told that because I was pregnant, I was not allowed to even touch a single log? (These are the same students I chaperoned on their freshman trip, as I wrote about here.) Instead of helping, I had to be the photographer. And watch everyone work together making great progress, knowing that I didn’t even get to help. This was difficult for a fast-paced person like me who LOVES to help and do and take care of business herself. The worst feeling is when I have to sit by and watch someone else doing something for me. UGH!

Newsflash: having a bowling ball inside your stomach will indeed cause you to be slower at doing some things you used to do pretty fast. Before being pregnant, I had a reputation for literally running around campus. Hey – having as many responsibilities as I had kind of required me to be in two places at once sometimes, and if I could get there faster by speeding up the tempo of my heels on the tile, why waste time? And for SURE the world was going to collapse if I couldn’t make it from the chapel stage to the sound booth in 3.56 seconds.

Needless to say, I eventually had to stop running, lifting, and carrying, and there were some afternoons when – guess what? – the papers didn’t get graded because I collapsed on the couch without even taking off my teacher badge as soon as I got home. Slowing down my life was important, not just for the health of my baby, but for my own soul. It’s important to learn how to accept a gift. After all, I can’t earn my way into heaven by sheer will, effort, and diligence. Salvation is a free gift, and any attempts to earn it by doing good deeds and trying really hard to be righteous only cheapen the priceless gift that Jesus bought us with His blood. Being pregnant and having to accept the fact that people were going to start doing things for me purely out of the goodness of their hearts was a good reminder of God’s grace towards me.

Hmmm, you think this blog post is long enough yet? I’m sure there are plenty of Lessons from Pregnancy that I left out, so feel free to chime in your two cents. And please don’t get scared away by my ginormous post. I promise that most of them won’t be this long.