And Yet…We Praise Him. Thanksgiving When Life Is Hard.

2400 years ago, Plato wrote his famous work, The Republic. In it, he addressed a crucial question. Is justice an intrinsic good? Is the just life, the righteous life, really the good life? That is, if you removed all the rewards of righteousness and the penalties of unrighteousness, would it still be worth it to live justly? Plato’s character, Glaucon, claimed that it wouldn’t. Those who live justly, he argued, only do so for its worldly benefits.

Many thousand years ago, Satan made the same argument to God concerning his righteous servant Job. “‘Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face'” (Job 1:9-11).

And so, God allowed Job to be tested. He was stripped of all his earthly goods including all of his children and yet…He praised Him (Job 1:22).

Two thousand thousand years ago, Paul and Silas were beaten because of their identification with Jesus Christ. They were thrown in jail and placed in shackles and yet…they praised Him (Acts 16:25).

Two weeks ago, my uncle suffered a stroke during his bladder removal surgery. He awoke unable to see. Barring a miracle, He is now permanently blind and yet…he praises Him.

A week ago, my mother, who has suffered from the effects of cerebral palsy her whole life, underwent ankle replacement surgery. Her pain is great and her recovery will be long. There is a possibility she will end her life in a wheel chair and yet…she praises Him.

Today, the Prosperity Gospel tells us what Glaucon told Socrates and what Satan told God. Righteousness is only worth what it produces. God is only worth what He gives. He is not the end to happiness, but only a means. The good life is the life that is full of health and wealth and if God does not give it, He is not worth our time. Our righteousness has been in vain (Psalms 73:13).

This Prosperity Gospel has a childish sort of logic to it, a basic arithmetic.  Be good. Get good. If this is the case, then Job and Paul and Silas and my uncle and my mom and so many more are either fools or they know a greater truth. The Prosperity Gospel cannot account for worshiping prisoners or singing blind men. It has no explanation for joyful suffering.

Like Satan in the garden, it mixes truth with lies. The content of its promise is true, but its timing is wrong. We are promised health and wealth, but not in this life. Its claim that God wants to make us happy is true, but its understanding of that happiness is wrong. God is both the means and the end to our happiness. He is not only the giver of the treasure. He is the treasure.

This is the true heart of the Christian faith and it radically changes its message. Grace confounds the Prosperity Gospel’s basic math. In fact, it reverses it. We have done bad and yet, we receive good. Moreover, the treasure we receive is of such great worth that not only does any earthly treasure pale in comparison, but it is such that we would gladly give it all up in order to obtain it. As Paul said, we would count it all as rubbish that we may gain Christ and be found in Him (Philippians 3:8-9).

Christ is the treasure we could not afford to buy and the treasure we would sell anything to keep. That is how you account for worshiping prisoners and singing blind men. That is the only way to make sense of joyful suffering.

Next week, we will all gather with family and give thanks for our blessings. For those who are suffering, this may be harder to do. It is hard to believe in God’s goodness when it can’t be tasted and seen, but there is a day of prosperity that is unseen, but surely coming. We couldn’t earn it and we can’t lose it. This treasure is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for us (1 Peter 1:40).

The good life is not the easy life, but the life lived for Jesus. If we have Him, we have more than sufficient cause for giving thanks. If we know Him, we have known and we will know happiness. While we tarry here, we are not promised easy and comfortable circumstances, but a joy that exists independently of all circumstances. We may have seen great sorrow and we may see greater sorrow still and yet…we praise Him.

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On Christians and Politics. Remember Who You Are and Whose You Are.

These are strange and disturbing times we’re living in. The tumult of the last few weeks has revealed what a great divide or even chasm exists between the two political parties of this nation. For the Christian, it can be especially strange. There is a great tension in the Christian life. We are first citizens of heaven, but we are also citizens of this one. Our home is with Jesus there and yet we are now living here. We live for eternity and not this world and yet what happens here matters greatly.

Politics matter. We should care deeply about the affairs of this nation. We should fight for truth. We should fight for justice. We should fight for goodness, but we should do so very, very carefully. In all of it, we must never forget who we are and whose we are.

We are sojourners here. We know that empires will rise and empires will fall. Rulers will come and go, but there is a King who is now reigning and will reign for all time. If we are called by His name, we are His ambassadors on this earth. We represent Him and if we forget our allegiance is first to Him and His kingdom, not any political party, we will do a pretty poor job of it.

If we claim to have His Spirit, we must show that we have its fruit. Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Gentleness. Self-control. Navigating the politics of this world is hard. Figuring how to engage and when to engage with people you disagree with is hard, but if we do it without these qualities, we are no different from the world. At best, our voices will do nothing more than drift off into the futile cacophony of discord and at worst, they will misrepresent Jesus and push people farther from Him.

Christians should be marked by these traits, not because we’re better than other people, but because we are different from other people. Different because we have been transformed by grace and as such, we should be people of peace. I don’t mean that we should be doormats. I don’t mean that we should never contradict or argue. I mean we should be calm, unflappable. Our peace should be our strength amidst political upheaval and disagreement because our identity and our hope lie in something, someone beyond this world. Jesus rose. Jesus reigns. Jesus will return. Therein lies our peace. Therein lies our ability to wade into the political fray with wisdom and grace.

It is worth noting that the epistles of the New Testament know almost nothing of politics. This should surprise us more than it does. If we think today’s political climate is rough I’m sure that the early church had it worse. The government was literally killing them because of their faith and yet never once do you hear Paul or Peter telling them to fight for their rights. Never once does he present a political argument or strategy. Rather, they are told, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped” (Philippians 2:5-6).  “Let every person be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders, make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:5-6).

The writers of the New Testament were far more concerned with who early church members were becoming than what was being done to them. Its overwhelming narrative is not a political one, but a Gospel one. First, remember who you were: a child of wrath, a citizen of darkness (Ephesians 1:3). Second, remember who you are now: a child of God, a citizen of heaven (Ephesians 2:8). Third, live in this world in such a way that reveals your new identity (Colossians 3:10). I don’t think it would be overstating things to say that all of our affairs here on earth, including political ones, should be governed by these three points.

Since we have been saved by grace, we care about this world, but we live for the next. We may be members of a political party, but we vow allegiance to none but Christ. We are ambassadors of no ideology of this world, but of the Gospel of Jesus. Let us then be careful how we live. Let us be careful how we speak. Let us remember who we are. We are not our own. We are His.

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What If I’m A One Talent Woman?

In Jesus’s well-known parable in Matthew 25, a master gives talents to his servants while he goes away. To one, he gives five, to another, two, and to the last, one. The first two invest and multiply their talents, earning the praise and commendation of their master upon his return. The last servant, however, hides his talent in the dirt, earning a harsh rebuke. The talents are usually understood to represent the resources God has given us: our time, money, possessions, and abilities.

My sisters and I, all in the throes of raising young children, sometimes joke that we are one talent women. It’s usually funny to laugh about, but…what if it’s true? My adult years thus far have been riddled with many insecurities. There is in my mind, a feminine ideal, of which I fall so short. I picture her making a healthy, gourmet meal while also crocheting a sweater and teaching her rapt children a catechism. Though I know this probably doesn’t really exist, I look around and see many women who seem to embody it better than I. They have better organizational skills, administrative abilities, and domestic know-how.  They seem to have endless energy and resourcefulness and patience. I have often even felt inferior to my own husband, who is ten times the cook I am and knows more about how to remove tough stains. I laugh that he is a better woman than I, but all of this comparison has led me nowhere good. Mostly, just to self-pity.

Our Talents Are Not Our Own

Maybe I am a one talent woman. Maybe you are too. So what? None of the servants in the story did anything to earn their talents. They weren’t even their own. They were the Master’s. Feeling self-pity or shame over your one talent is as silly as another feeling pride over their five. “For who makes you different than anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).

Pride has no place in the kingdom of grace nor does shame or self-pity. All that we are and all that we have is from God. It is His to give as He wishes. It is not given to make us greater or lesser, but to magnify Him and advance His purposes. Both the first two servants receive the same commendation even though they have different amounts. The last servant is rebuked not for having little, but for doing little with what he had. In the same way, if we sit and compare our one talent with another’s five talents, we are missing the point and wasting what we have been given.

Our Talents Are Not Who We Are

There are many different kinds of people in the body of Christ. Some rich and some poor. Some with brains and beauty and charisma and some without. Some with many gifts and abilities and some with only a few. Yet, all are equal citizens in the kingdom of God and all have the same fundamental identity.

Grace is the great equalizer. While the world places us all in different echelons based on money, power, beauty, the Gospel places us all in one category: condemned. It then offers us a second category: justified. The only means to this transaction is the grace of God. When we receive this grace, we receive a new identity: in Christ. This identity is given to every citizen of heaven without discrimination. It alone is what separates us from the condemned and makes us acceptable to God.

So, every Christian has the same identity, but different gifts. The gifts we are given, be they great or small, do not define who we are. When we sink into comparison or self-pity, we are forgetting this. We are forgetting that our identity is bound up, not in ourselves, not in our gifts, but in Christ.

Our Talents Are Not For Us

We are all products of grace, intended to be means of grace. Whatever we are given, for we are all given something, we are meant to use, not for our own glory, but for God’s. Not to serve ourselves, but to serve others.

The beauty of God’s kingdom is that grace is liberally and indiscriminately given to the weak and strong alike. All are lost. All are brought in. All are justified. All are given something. And all are called to take what they have been given and invest it. We are held accountable not for what we’ve been given, but what we do with it.

So, if you have a home, use it. Manage it the best you are able and make it a place where grace and love abound. If you have children, pour yourself into them. In the strength that you have, care for their daily needs and diligently feed their souls the Gospel. If you have special gifts and abilities, use them to make His name great and not your own. If you have time, money, resources, invest them in kingdom things. Take all that you have that will not last and with it, build what will.

Even if we have one talent, we are meant to take that one talent, every bit of it, and leverage it for our Master. If we have just one gift, we must steward it, develop it, wield it for the One who has given it. Whatever we have received, great or small, is meant to be used in the service of others and the ministry of His all-surpassing grace (1 Peter 4:10).

Motherhood Is A Sacrifice And That’s Okay To Say

About a year ago, a piece I wrote about motherhood was published on Desiring God. In it, I talked about some of the daily struggles and sacrifices that being a mom entails. Most people found it encouraging, as it was intended to be, but there was one man who commented that had a very negative reaction. He was “outraged” and said that motherhood is a blessing and therefore, never a sacrifice. The main objective of the piece was to display the beauty and purpose of motherhood despite the struggles that could make it difficult so I was a little stung by his harsh words (I really need a thicker skin).

At the time, I decided it would be wise to just not say anything, but there have been many, many times since that I wish I had responded. Many times when I have found myself in those difficult moments and thought, “This is absolutely sacrifice.” Like when I emptied my lunch in the toilet during my first trimester and it splashed me in the face. Like when my children have awakened me in the middle of the night or they’ve vomited on me when they’re sick. Like when my back has ached from caring for my children all day while also caring my third in my womb. And many, many others.

Now, I want to be absolutely clear. Motherhood is the greatest blessing and privilege of my life. I know there are many women who have lost a child or struggle with infertility who would give anything to be in my shoes. I can’t imagine their pain and I never want to complain. All of these things, which are relatively small, are nothing compared to the joy of being a mother to my children, but just because motherhood is a joy doesn’t mean every second of it is a joy or that it doesn’t take very real, sometimes very difficult, sacrifice.

The Sacrifice of Motherhood Reveals the Great Worth of Motherhood

From the second we see those two pink lines, we begin giving up things for our children. That’s just the simple truth. Being honest about that truth does not denigrate motherhood, but rather, it magnifies its beauty and worth. Calling something a sacrifice doesn’t make it a negative thing. It makes it a beautiful thing.

One definition of sacrifice is “the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim.” So, sacrifice merely means relinquishing something in order to gain something else, but no one sacrifices for something they don’t value. On the contrary, they sacrifice for it because they value it. The runner endures hours of training and pain and struggle because they value the reward of finishing the race. The person aiming to lose weight foregoes certain foods because they value a healthy, fit body. The married person gives up certain freedoms and takes on more responsibilities because they love and value their commitment to their spouse.

When we give up things for our children, our time, our energy, our personal comfort and preferences, our very bodies, we are essentially saying to them and to the world, “I cherish you more than a good night’s sleep. I’d rather have you than a perfect home or a glamorous career. I want you more than I want a perfect body or even a healthy, pain free body. You are worth far more to me than all these things.”

To love another is to give them a claim on your life, to voluntarily relinquish and restrict your freedoms and comforts for their sake. That’s what motherhood is. Its inherent beauty and worth is not diminished by calling it a sacrifice, but rather, magnified.

The Sacrifice of Motherhood Makes Motherhood Holy

In its latin roots, the word “sacrifice” breaks down into sacer, “holy,” and facere, “to make.” The word literally means to make holy. Motherhood is a holy endeavor not because we are holy, but because it makes us holy. It makes us holy because it makes us like Jesus.

Jesus’s entire life was a sacrifice. He gave up heaven to come down for us. He gave up His glory to become a tiny, helpless baby cloaked in mortal flesh. He gave up His absolute right to condemn us as judge and surrendered that flesh to pay for our sins. For us and “for the joy set before Him,” He literally became a sacrifice. Because He loved us more than He loved His glory, His rights, His body, His very life. Because we were worth more to Him than all these things.

Motherhood is a holy calling because it is a calling to be like Jesus. Sacrifice is not a hindrance to this calling. It is the essence of it.

I do want to be careful not to over-exalt mothers. Motherhood does not put us on some kind of exalted, saint-like plane. Rather, I think it keeps us very rooted down to humility. It calls us to be like Jesus and also exposes how much we are not like Jesus. It reveals our very great need.

I know many amazing mothers and no, they’re not super-heroes or saints. The truth is they’re all just very ordinary people doing their best to be faithful in very ordinary ways because they have an extraordinary love for their children.

So, moms, I say to you on this Mother’s Day, keep going. Keep loving. Keep giving. Keep serving. Keep giving yourself grace when you fall short. I know you sacrifice constantly for your children and you are allowed to say that. Your sacrifices are real and your sacrifices are seen, by God, by your children, and by the world. And your sacrifices are absolutely, 100% worth it.

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Is God Anti-Pleasure?

Pleasure and holiness are not things we normally think about in the same category. Pleasure is about doing whatever you want. Holiness is about abstaining and restraining. Pleasure is about freedom from rules. Holiness is about burdensome adherence to the rules.  Pleasure and holiness by definition, must be at odds.

However, I would suggest that these are mistaken understandings of pleasure and holiness that stem from a fundamentally and tragically warped view of God which has pervaded our society and even sometimes, the Church itself. It is the view that God is boring and He wants us to be boring too, that He delights in giving us rules just to keep us from enjoying all the things this world has to offer. To choose a life of holiness is to forego the life of pleasure. The truth I have come to realize and delight in is that this is fundamentally false. In fact, what Scripture teaches us about God is the exact opposite.

Consider the status of man before the Fall. Adam and Eve were brought to life and it was abundant life. They found themselves in a verdant garden, full of all kinds of delicious fruit to taste and beautiful plants and creatures to behold. Above all, they were given each other, companions to love and enjoy for life. And God had equipped them with all the sensory organs they needed to experience all the wonderful things the garden and each other had to offer.

The garden was literally laden with opportunities for pleasure. God called it good and He wanted Adam and Eve to experience just how good it really was and therefore, just how good He really was. Yes, there were rules.Well, really just one rule. Their pleasure was not without its boundaries. There was one tree, just one tree out of many from which they could not eat. What is interesting is that it is after they break this one rule, after they break with holiness, that their desire for pleasure becomes frustrated. Like Adam and Eve, we sin not because the pleasure we seek is itself is wrong, but because, having forsaken holiness, we seek it in perverse ways that God did not intend.  

This shows us that God’s character and attitude towards man is not one of stinginess. God’s delight is not to withhold arbitrarily, but to give bountifully. It is also tells us that, contrary to popular belief, pleasure without bounds is not very pleasant in the end. This in turn shows that our desire for pleasure needs boundaries in orderly to be properly satisfied. Is it not logical that the One who created all the good things in this world would know the best way to experience them? In making this earth, God had a design and His design was perfect and benevolent.

Consider the role of a Father and child.The child has things he naturally and foolishly wants to do. The child has a God-given desire to experience things. Yet, he lacks the knowledge and wisdom to know how the best way to do so. Is it wrong or mean-spirited of the Father to set boundaries and laws for the child? Of course not. A Father does not give his child rules arbitrarily or to withhold good things from him. Rather, he gives the child rules to protect him from harm and to show him the best and most enjoyable way to live.

In the same way, God’s rules (holiness) for the ways in which to live and enjoy His creation (pleasure) are designed for our good. The wondrous truth is that God takes great pleasure in our pleasure. However, our pleasure is most fulfilled when lived within the parameters He has set for us. His holy laws are given to us in love. So we see that contrary to common thought, God is not against our pleasure. His call to holiness is to not a call to dullness. It is a call to life abundant.

It seems then that pleasure and holiness are not mutually exclusive as we might think, but are meant to be united.  For when we experience pleasure through creation, we reflect the character of God who Himself has called it good and desires that we should too. And when we limit our pleasure within the bounds of holiness, we find that our pleasure is not lessened, but rather increased. We find that there is holiness in pleasure and pleasure in holiness.

This knowledge produces in me a renewed awe at the goodness of my God, a God who is overwhelmingly for our pleasure, is also good and wise, delighting to give us good things and to show us the best way to use them.

It also causes me to reflect that ultimately, all the pleasures God has given us here on this earth are meant to point us to Him. They are an overflow of His good character and a mere shadowing of the pleasures we find in Him. He has made known to me the path of life and in His presence, I am filled with joy (Psalm 16:11).

So as I eat, drink, and seek to live a holy and abundant life to the glory of God on this earth, I lift my eyes to Him, thanking Him for all the good things He loves to give and that one day, I will be with Him forever. I resolve to live a life of holiness knowing and rejoicing that “the boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places” (Psalm 16:60) and that this path of holiness is a path to pleasures forevermore (Psalm 16:11).

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The Prosperity Gospel’s Deadly Whisper

“Find rest, o my soul, in God alone; my hope comes from him. He alone is my rock and salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in him at all time O people; pour out your hearts to him, for god is or refuge” (Psalms 62:5-8).

That was the verse shared by someone at church about four months ago, a verse I memorized in college. But that Sunday, I just thought, “That’s nice. I like that verse” and moved on with my life. Only later did I realize it was for me, that it was the verse God was giving me as the theme for the season of trial He was about to lead my family through.

A week or so later, my husband lost his job. We had just come off a year of great blessing. Great new job. Great new house. Beautiful new baby. This year could not look any more different. Unemployment. Sickness. Job offers falling through. Maybe we’d put too much stock in these earthly blessings. “Are you punishing us, Lord?” I wondered. Not punishing. Refining. Refining our hope. Refining our rest.

What does it mean when trials come regardless of “good behavior”? This is the great question of the book of Job.

The truth is, we all want a simple calculus. Do good. Get good. Do bad. Get bad. Obey. Reap blessings. Disobey. Reap trials. We want God to operate on our terms. It’s no different, really, from the Old Testament draw to idol worship. Gods made of human hands can be controlled by human hands. They are manipulable. Containable. Predictable. Non-threatening.

A living, breathing, omnipotent, sovereign God on the other hand? That can be a terrifying thing. He cannot be controlled or manipulated. He lives far above us in heaven and does all that He pleases (Psalm 115:3). His judgments are unsearchable and his ways are inscrutable (Romans 11:33). If we submit to Him (or not), we are very much at His mercy.

Trials have a way of revealing what we really believe about God and about ourselves. I could give you a point by point run down of the Gospel.  I can scoff at Prosperity Gospel preaching and provide a scriptural rebuttal and yet, its seductive whispers can sneak behind my theologically equipped mind and make their way into my more vulnerable, more wayward heart. It is there that God is sifting.

I must confess that I can want God to behave more like an idol, to be a tool in my hands that I bend into making my life what I think it should be. I can want the Prosperity Gospel to be true.

As we have endured and continue to endure this season, it has forced me to ask myself some questions. Do I really believe that God is sovereign? Is the misfortune that has come our way a product of bad luck or divine providence? What has God promised me? Comfort, ease, and a life free of trouble? Or a hope, a joy, and a peace that remain in spite of trouble? What is the purpose of my life and what role does God play in it? Is my life about me and is God my fairy godmother who makes all my dreams come true? Or is my life about Him and His glory?

The answers to these questions directly determine how we respond in trials and suffering. I cannot pretend that my answers have always been the “right” ones. The verses I’ve been most drawn to are from Psalm 77. “Has his steadfast love forever ceased? Are his promises at an end for all time? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his compassion” (v. 8,9)  My soul has refused to be comforted (v. 2), and yet still searched diligently to remember the deeds of the Lord (v. 11). I believe. Help my unbelief.

The lie of the enemy is that God owes us much and yet, withholds much. The truth of the gospel is that God owes us nothing but wrath and yet, gives us nothing but grace. Which will I believe?

I do not serve a god made of clay, fashioned by human hands, but the great and mighty creator and ruler of the universe. He has redeemed my life from the pit and it is His to do with as He pleases. He is not a good luck charm I invoke when trials come. He is my refuge when trials come. He is not making a plan for my life. He is making my life for His plan.

No one cares if we praise God when the sun is shining, but the world will stop and marvel when we praise Him in a storm, when our worship operates completely independently of our circumstances. That is the mark of a faith that is really real, of a heart that loves God for Himself and not for His blessings.

I am weak and weary, but I pray that trials will prove the tested genuineness of my faith, refined like gold in the fire, and resulting in the praise and glory and honor of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:7). I have faltered and will no doubt falter again, but I am resolved to say with Job, “The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away: blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). “Though he slay me, yet I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).


Dear Moms, God Doesn’t Need You To Be Perfect


It was one of those days. One of those days that started out like all the rest and then, somewhere in the middle, headed completely south. I’m pretty sure my son whined from sun up until sun down and was bound and determined to steal all of his sister’s toys just to be spiteful. My patience was thin and by thin, I mean nonexistent. If I’m being honest, I may have even dropped a swear word. Throw in some self-pity and a little resentment towards my husband and you’ve got a recipe for a stellar day.

I can relive these moments and cringe at my failures. Some days, okay a lot of days, it can feel like I’m in competition against some kind of motherhood/homemaker ideal. Her house is always spotless. She never loses her temper. She always has fresh baked cookies and she has time to do creative, thrifty things like turn old pillowcases into adorable outfits. Have you met her? I know you have. She lives in your head just like she lives in mine. 

We have this idea that we need to be perfect, even that God expects us to be perfect. The thing is though, my worst days, days like today, often lead to the sweetest moments. As I put my son to bed, crying softly into his freshly cleaned curls as we read about Jesus, he grasped the Gospel just a little bit more. As we talked about how Mommy sins and Daddy sins and Jesus takes all your yucky sin, I could tell it was starting to mean something to him because it was meaning something to me. 

If we’re not careful, we can offer our kids the Gospel, but refuse it for ourselves. We can preach grace, but live out legalism. In the end, it won’t be our efforts or “perfection” that will lead our children to Jesus. If anything, they will only push them further away. What will make God’s grace irresistible to our children is to stop resisting it ourselves, to let it fill all our broken places and spill over onto them.

So, Moms, God doesn’t need you to agonize over your failures. He’s actually pretty good at using screwed up people to do amazing things (see: the Bible). He doesn’t need you to be perfect. He’s pretty much got that on lock. What He needs is for you to get your messy, broken, sleep-deprived, possibly unshowered self to the Cross and He needs you to bring your children with you.