Stepping off the ark

My fifth grader has begun quizzing me about “backpack rules” in  middle school.  Will  she need to use her regular backpack? Will the teachers require a string bag instead?  Will she have binders for her classes and, if so, could they possibly fit into a string bag or  will she need a brand new extra-large string bag, perhaps?

She entertains new thoughts daily about whether to choose band or chorus.  Yesterday, it was definitely band but maybe chorus.  How could she decide and how will this decision impact future high school and career decisions?

A season of new.   That  is where we are.  This school year,  my oldest started high school  and  my baby started kindergarten.   Next year, I  have another daughter heading to high school for the first time and this girl starting middle school.

From a year of new to another year of new.

Fresh starts and new beginnings are exhilarating and terrifying.  But there’s a whole added layer of making decisions in the midst of that .  I’ve been coaching my kids  to pray personally because I can’t choose for them and I don’t know the perfect  answer or how to chart their course for every decision in the future.

I can pray for them, but I can’t pray instead of them.  They have to begin to  “take it to the Lord in prayer.”

We all tremble a bit on the edges of these new things,  and I wonder how it is that Noah walked off of that ark into an absolutely brand new, completely fresh start of a world.

I’ve always imagined Noah and his family sprinting out of the ark  like they were five-year-olds coming downstairs on Christmas morning.

Hurray!  No more feeding and cleaning animals.   No more  confinement.   No more lack of fresh air and limited sunlight.   No more stench and no more noise and no more confined space without anywhere to breathe and to be alone.

Who wouldn’t want off the ark?

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve wondered if it was perhaps hard to leave.

Noah took decades to build the ark, and then he and his family lived on the ark for about another year.

That’s maybe around 80 years of his life fully invested in the ark—the preparation of the ark, the moving onto the ark and all  of the day-to-day grind of living on the ark.

The ark wasn’t just confining, it was also salvation.  The ark was refuge, protection, assurance of God’s promises and His mighty hand.  The ark was safe and it was an ever-present reminder of God’s holinesss and His mercy.

Everything they knew about the pre-flood world would be different when they stepped off that ship.  All the people  they knew,  all the cities they had seen, all the geography and landscape and weather gone or changed.

They had to leave the ark they knew to step into a world they no longer knew.

How exactly did Noah do it?  How did he keep sending out the raven and the doves in hopes they’d find dry land,  knowing that that ark was a temporary stopping place?

Me—I’m not a  fan of temporary.  And I’m not one to eagerly anticipate a revolutionary life change.

But Noah kept moving forward, obedient to the call to build, obedient to the call to move in, obedient to the call to move out.

God said to Noah:

“Come out of the ark…” (Genesis 5:15-16 NIV).

This is what Noah did:

So Noah came out…Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (Genesis 5:18&20 NIV).

Noah obeyed and Noah worshiped.  He didn’t know what this new life in this new world would be like.  He simply exited the old ark and immediately built the altar of praise.

Maybe Noah’s willingness to keep moving forward with the Lord came from his long testimony of  God being faithful.  What God said, He did.  What God promised, came to be.

Noah could recall the Word of the Lord, the moment those firsts animals showed up in pairs to enter the ark, how God shut the door with His own mighty hand, how the rains came just as God said, and how the flood waters rose—and how God saved them.

God was faithful.  God would always be faithful.

Isn’t this true for me?  Isn’t this true for us?  We have the testimony of God’s faithfulness to help us be brave, to help us obey with courage, to help us take one more step forward and then another.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 86:15 ESV

Return, O My Soul, To Your Rest

psalm-116-7

My daughter and I settled  onto the bus for our overnight trip to New York City.

We each pulled out our books and book lights and enjoyed some reading time as we pulled away from the parking lot and headed out onto the road for our grand adventure.

About an hour into the trip, I pulled out my blanket and little travel pillow and asked my daughter to do the same.  We were, after all, supposed to be sleeping on this bus and we were certainly going to need that sleep since we were hitting the streets of New York City by 6 a.m.

Only, she hadn’t brought her pillow.  She’d left it back at the house.

Oops!

So, I handed mine over (because I love her and I’m her mom) and tried to sleep without it.

Now, I do not sleep in moving vehicles, and this night the odds were particularly against me.

I was in a completely, wonderfully comfortable bus for daytime travel.   Nevertheless, I was still mostly upright, with highway noise for my soundtrack, surrounded by 50 people, and without a pillow.

We shuffled this way and that through the night.  None of us on the bus slept more than an hour or two , and even that was in fits and starts.

At 3:40 that morning, the bus lights flicked on to full strength and we pulled into the New Jersey rest stop where we were scheduled to start the day.  Everyone filed out to use the bathrooms, change our clothes, brush our teeth, and buy coffee (or tea!) from the 24-hour Starbucks.

From then on, it was go, go, go.  Drive around the city.  Eat breakfast at the diner.  Walk through Central Park.  Stroll through the Museum of Art.  Subway back to our bus for lunch and the ride to the hotel.  Quick showers and changes.  Back onto the bus for the ride to the Lincoln Center for a ballet performance.

We had the best time!

Finally, we settled back at the hotel around midnight after being awake for about 35 hours of the last 36 hours.

A bed never felt so good.  The pillows were luxury and the sheets were heaven.

Normally, I hate sleeping away from home and restlessly fidget all night long.

Not that night.  I slept the deep sleep of the truly exhausted.

That same weekend, I read this verse from the Psalmist:

Return, O my soul, to your rest;
    for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you (Psalm 116:7 ESV).

Return to rest.

Right there when I was pushed to the max physically, I needed to know that rest doesn’t entirely depend on circumstances.

Some seasons are stressful and full of huge crises or petty daily annoyances.  Life demands so much of us–sleepless nights while we rock the baby, or work the job, or care for the loved one, or nurse the sick, or more.

Our hearts can be tumbled into pits of anxiety with one phone call, one nasty email, one ridiculous Facebook post, one bank statement or unexpected bill.

Maybe we’re running at full-speed because of blessing and not burden.   We’re packing for the big move or working hard on the big project.

Rest can seem elusive until we remember the truth:

Our rest isn’t in peaceful circumstances or ideal conditions; our rest is in Jesus.

He doesn’t just bring us peace; He is our Peace.

Like the dove that Noah sent out from the ark, we can seek rest in so many places in the big wide world but never find it.  The dove searched throughout the earth for a dry place to set down and only found water, water, and more water.

The bird only found rest when it returned to Noah.

The same is true for us, as well.

Charles Spurgeon wrote:

Noah’s dove found no rest outside the ark, so she returned to it.  In a similar way, my soul has learned today, more fully than ever, that there is no satisfaction to be found in earthly things–only God can give rest to my spirit…they cannot fulfill the desires of my immortal spirit” (Morning and Evening, January 29th).

We may search and search, looking for rest and finding only stormy seas.

Ultimately, we truly find rest by returning not just to the ark, but to our Master.  We return to Jesus.

Like the dove,  we can’t face the night on our own, flapping our wings in the darkness until we’re exhausted.  On our own strength, we’ll drown.

When night looms, when we’re deeply tired, when we realize that nothing else satisfies, we stop trying so hard on our own and release control into His hands.  That is the rest our weary souls need—trusting Jesus because He is so trustworthy.

The ark wasn’t built in a day so don’t give up

This morning, I think: “The ark wasn’t built in a day either.”

I think it as my baby girl (too big to be called “baby,” she tells me) bursts into my room far too early to announce, “Mom, it’s morning time!” And I’m tired.

The ark, remember the ark.

I’m pouring cereal and reviewing ancient China with a girl who is taking her big test today.

I pulled my other girl’s hair back into a ponytail, but it was the wrong kind.  She wanted it differently.  Using her hands, she tries to explain it to me and I’m slow, so I lean down trying to understand and experiment with the brush until I get it just right.

That ark takes time to build.

They’ve dressed and stepped into shoes.  I’ve reminded and reminded them, brush your teeth, grab your back pack, zip your coat.  Hurry!  It’s time!

We huddle at the bus stop with our backs to the February wind and I snuggle close to block them from the strength of the blasts.

Then I whisper a prayer for their day, for their tests and their friends and their obedience and their learning and how proud I am of all their hard work.

Just building an ark here.  Just taking the time.

Because sometimes you wake up tired.  Sometimes you’d rather pull those covers right on up to block out the sun and the cold and sleep away some of the day and lounge away the other half in pajamas and slippers.

Sometimes you just need the reminder that what you are doing has significance and value.

Sometimes you need to know….This Matters.

Even if today isn’t the day you pound the final peg into the ark and the animals step on two-by-two and the rain falls…

Even if you don’t see the final results or immediate success, know that every peg you place and every board you lay has purpose.

It takes about nine months for God to intricately fashion a human life in a womb.
It takes 365 days for the earth to circle that sun, spinning around in its orbit.
It even takes 8 minutes from the sun to stretch its light down to our planet.
And it took decades for Noah to build that ark.

Progress happens over time, seconds and minutes and day after another day of perseverance, dedication and refusing to give up.

How often Noah must have woken up to a new morning and wanted to stop.

Surely there were days it felt impossible to construct a massive floating vessel without power tools and contractors.

Surely the ridicule from the masses and those he considered his closest friends—yes even from his family—must have wearied his soul.

Surely there were moments he just needed God to reassure him that he wasn’t crazy, that he heard correctly, that what he was doing was necessary.

Some days it must have seemed so hard.  Some days maybe he wanted to give up.

Yet, had he given up one decade….one year…one month…one week….one day too soon, had he abandoned the project and left the ark unfinished, it wouldn’t have saved anyone.  God couldn’t use an unfinished ship to rescue, save, and redeem.

God saved him…and us…because “Noah did everything just as God commanded him” (Genesis 5:22).

Just one simple verse; it makes it sound so easy.

But I know the truth.  I know every time I sit down and open the Scriptures up on my kitchen table on days when I’m tired and the interruptions just keep coming, that I can’t give this up.  Even if the inspiration doesn’t come, even if God seems silent or my soul unstirred, still I build this ark.

When the chores seem endless…
when you’re deep-soul tired…
when you can’t seem to find your joy and don’t know where you lost it…
when no one says, “thank you” or appears to notice you serving them…
when others ridicule your efforts and tell you it doesn’t matter…
when you’re teaching but they don’t seem to understand….
when you’re pouring everything you have into this but you don’t see results….
when you give with passion and what you receive back is criticism….

You get up in the morning and you lay one more peg and one more board into the ark that God told you to build.

You do everything just as God commanded you, not because it’s easy or fun or seems so rewarding in the moment.

We do it because we’re building into eternity:

“Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all”
(2 Corinthians 4:16-17).

Originally published 2/1/2013