It’s unexpected and unplanned but also a little beautiful

I don’t really  create so much as I copy and adapt.

Those pictures on Pinterest, the photos in that project book, the links on Facebook, all entice me to pull out the hot glue gun, some fabric or paper scraps and make a huge mess, take up far more time than I expect, and finally gaze with pride on what I created…..I mean copied.

I’ve been wrapping strips of fabric into flowers and covering my hands into a hot mess of “Liquid Stitch” and stabbing my fingers with the needle when I try to sew the button into the center.

I’ve taken someone else’s ideas and made them my own.

I’ve wrapped the fabric too loosely now and my flower unravels.  I begin again.  Twist, wrap, glue, twist, wrap, glue.

As I try and try (and try) again, I mediate on this:

God started from nothing.

 Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2 NIV).

No McCall’s pattern.  No Pinterest.  No step-by-step directions on the DIY channel.  No classes at Michael’s or demonstrations at Jo-Ann Fabrics.

He takes that void, that nothingness, and He brings the fullness of His plans and design with the power of His Word alone.

Then He “saw that it was good” (Gen. 1:25 NIV).

And when I long for His presence, I can join Him in His activity.  He is Creator.  It is who He is and what He does.   So I make this effort,  make these tiny  attempts at making beauty happen.

Sally Clarkson writes in The Mission of Motherhood:

Creativity is such an integral part of the image of God within all of us… Whenever we adapt an idea or try a different approach to an issue or give our personal spin to a particular endeavor, we are learning a little more about our God-given nature and the nature of our creative God.

God….He’s Creator.

God…He’s creative.

He creates beauty.  He brings light into the dark places and hope into the hopeless situations.  He brings order into chaos and joy from mourning.

I pause and examine the flower I’ve made with a critic’s eye.  It’s not exactly like that Pinterest picture.  Nothing I make ever really is.

But the beauty of its originality grows on me.  Maybe I like it well enough.  It’s perhaps a little unexpected, maybe a little unplanned, but it’s a flower and it’s fabric and in its own particular way, it’s created for beauty.

So, why do I insist that this Creator God who is able to do “far more than all I ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3) and can speak a few words out into a formless universe and create a planet of complex life and intricate and breathtaking beauty….

Why do I insist that He do things my way?

I do this.  I pray, “God, here’s my need.  I’m hopeless here without You. Please reach right here into this pit and save me and here’s how….”

I’ve given Him agendas, to-do lists, blueprints, and step-by-step instructions. I’ve given Him 5-year plans and 10-year plans and custom orders for the needs I face that day.

I cling to my plan and argue like a lawyer in a courtroom before an unyielding judge, and then with just a few simple words He creates and I am stunned into silence and worship.

What God does over and over is create an entirely unexpected solution for the mess I’m in.

Yet, it’s perfect.  It’s exquisite.

I think of Mary, loving Jesus as she did, the mother who rocked Him and sang to Him in the night.

She brought to Him a problem in John 2 at the Cana wedding feast.  No more wine for the guests, she told Him.  The host of the party would be so embarrassed, she told Him.

And that’s where she stopped.

She didn’t tangle Him all up in her expectations, her solutions, her suggestions or demands.

No, she laid that problem right into His hands and trusted Him to care for it in His own way.

She gave Him the opportunity to create.

I look at the stack of fabric flowers I’ve made and they form for me a prayer:

God, help me remember that You are the Masterful Creator and I can trust You.  You make all things beautiful in Your time.  Whatever need I have or problem I face, I leave in Your hands

Originally published: May 7, 2014

The Remarkable Exploits of Flash the Snail (and how I need to have more patience)

We have  named our pet snail: “Flash.”

I know what you’re wondering.

You have a pet snail?

Yes, yes we do.   On our last trip to the pet store to pick out some more fish for our aquarium, we spotted snails.

“How cool is that?” I thought.  They keep your tank clean and their shells are pretty.

Nice.

So, my daughter picked out a yellow snail to add to our tank.   His original name was “Sunny,” aptly named by my eight-year-old.

But then I discovered that this little guy was actually a superhero in disguise.  Certainly, he is no ordinary snail.

Snails are, after all, slow.

Our snail, on the other hand, has near-teleportation ability.   I wake up in the morning, pad out to the fish tank with my eyes still full of sleep.  I flick on the tank light and do the same thing I do every morning:  I find the snail.

Then, having found him in the bottom  left corner of the tank hanging out on some pebbles, I slip into the kitchen and make my tea.

By the time I return to  the tank, our snail is gone.  I play Find-the-Snail again and discover he is now at the top right corner of the tank attached to the heater.

This. Is. Amazing.

That’s what I think as I stand there with my tea.  We have a super snail.  Definitely.

So, after about a week of discovering the extraordinary speed of our pet snail, I finally explain to  my daughter that “Sunny” is a cute name, but our snail is something super and that merits a superhero name.

Hence, Sunny the Snail became Flash the Snail that day.

Here’s the wondrous thing about our amazing snail:  We almost never see him move.

In fact, I’ve only caught him in motion once when I flicked on the tank light in the morning and he was zooming across the bottom of our tank.

But most of the time, his motion in our little fish tank is unseen.   He is here one second and somewhere else after you blink.

We don’t see the progress or the actual moving.  We don’t see him slip out of his shell and scoot around.

We see big change.  Big moves.  Big progress.  That’s what shows up on our radar.

That’s what most of us want, after all.

BIG change.  BIG moves.  BIG progress.  We want all that and we want it fast, right away,  now, now,  now.

God, though, doesn’t get caught up in our forever-rushing or in our frenetic pushing to arrive already and be done with the journey.

God does slow progress.

He does stillness.

He does quiet and rest and the kind of change that lasts because it’s so deep and that takes time.

He doesn’t want us to have the facade of goodness.  He wants us to have goodness within.

He doesn’t want us to appear productive.  He wants us to mature and bear abundant, fully-ripe fruit.

Lysa TerKeurst wrote:

“In all of this remember, bearing fruit takes time.  Fruit doesn’t just pop up overnight.  Fruit comes in seasons.  Just because we don’t see tangible fruit in an area of our lives right now doesn’t e mean that God isn’t working.  Our job is to abide.  Remain.  Let’s keep doing that and watch to see how God might work in our lives” (Finding I AM).

While I want to be Flash the Snail most of the time, what I’m forgetting is that he is only fast for a a snail.  He doesn’t actually  teleport across my tank and appear in random places.  He pushes and pulls and meanders his way along, exerting energy and persevering without quitting until he arrives at his chosen destination (usually my tank heater).

So, let’s keep going, too.

Let’s not give up too soon or throw it all in because we just want to see the fruit already!  No more waiting! No more slow baby steps forward and a few falls back!  No more feeling like others are passing us along the way!  No more frustration with the process of bearing fruit.

The Psalmist tells us:

but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

We yield our fruit in season when we worry less about the fruit itself and focus more on God  Himself, meditating on His word, delighting in His presence.

The fruit will  come, and it will be ripe, abundant, God-tended fruit if we let God work in our hearts over time instead of rushing impatiently to the harvest.

 

 

Braving it out because that’s what it takes to overcome

My daughter spent almost all of her 8-year-old  life living in a home without a paved driveway or a neighborhood with a sidewalk.

Bike riding for us was a spurious affair.  About once a year, everything aligned perfectly.

The weather was cool, but not  cold, and definitely not hot or rainy or snowy or even too windy.

The calendar was clear.  We did not have rehearsal, school, camps, dance, karate, sports, church, a birthday party, or some other activity.

That was the one day a year I would load up the minivan with all of our children and then, after they were all buckled in, pack that minivan with every single one of their bicycles and helmets.  We would then drive to  a school parking lot and “practice biking.”

Loading  all those bicycles up so we could drive somewhere to  practice, though, wasn’t really fun.  For any of us.  The kids tried for a little  bit,  but gave up and we all went back  home again so we could move  along to other ways to spend our time.

But now, “the time has come.”  We live in a neighborhood.  Not only that, we live on a cul de sac with a sloped and paved driveway in a neighborhood.

This is the ideal place.

Eight years into life, though, is enough time to build up some fears about going too  fast and falling, about scuffing up knees and elbows and maybe not always landing in the grass.

It’s enough time to build up some immunity to  mom’s pep talks about being  courageous and persevering  in the face of adversity.

So, thus far, our attempts at mastering  this whole deal without training wheels have involved more injury than success.

It is slow going and it is painful going and it is discouraging going.

What  I want is for my daughter  to decide in her deep-down heart of hearts that this is worth it, that she’s going to do whatever it takes to master this elusive skill, that she’s willing to get back on that bike 50 times if that’s what’s needed.

And if she falls 51 times, then she’d get back on there 52.

So far, though, I think she hasn’t decided this is worth doing.  She wants all the fun of bike riding to her friend’s house a few doors down without any of the actual learning.

I get that.  There are some ways that  my heart is right there with her.

God says to brave it out and tough it out.  Put on those  sneakers and that helmet and get on out there where it’s  rough and hard and we might fail.

Yeah, falling and failing is part of it.  That may be what we fear the most, but God doesn’t .   He knows it’s part of  the learning and the growing and without it,  we’re just  living what’s easy instead of what takes faith.

And, faith is what it takes to  please God.  That’s what blesses His heart.  That’s what makes Him pump His fist with joy when He sees us down here.

Without faith,  it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)

So, it’s hard.  Yes.  It is.

God calls us to do  hard things, though, EVEN impossible things maybe, not because  He wants to see us fail, but so that He can succeed.

in  1 Kings 12, King Jeroboam decided  to take the easy way out. He wanted whatever would earn him brownie points with his people even if it meant disobeying God.

So, even though God said the nation of Israel needed to  worship in one place only, Jerusalem, Jeroboam decided this was too hard a burden.  He set up idols and places of worship in Dan and Bethel so people wouldn’t have to travel as far or work as hard to get there.

Priscilla Shirer says this:

“If left to  ourselves,  we will always choose “Dan” and “Bethel” over the more  cumbersome journey to Jerusalem” (Discerning the Voice of God p. 139).

Do we want “Dan” and “Bethel?” Do we want the pain-free and the easy even if that’s not where God is?

Or do we want God’s best, His will and His plans?

What I want is for my daughter to set her heart on overcoming so she holds out for Jerusalem.

Maybe that’s what God desires for us also, to determine in advance that we’re going to obey.  Period.  We’re going to follow Him.  Period.  We’re going to pour ourselves out for Him.  Period.  We’re going to worship Him.  Period.

Even if it means we have to pass right by Dan and Bethel and trek all that way to Jerusalem.

Even if it means some skinned knees and bruised egos as we stumble our way along all because being with Him is the greatest desire in our deep-down hearts.

Praying it out on a hard day

Worry hits me like a sharp, shallow breathing,  right in the middle  of the Wal-Mart.

There I am, just picking the cereal for the week and mentally running through what we already have at home  in the pantry, when I realize my breaths are kind of shallow, kind of pained deep in my stomach.

Maybe it’s not even worry; it’s more just thought after thought piling on over time.

Thinking about the to-do-list items, an upcoming birthday, field hockey and dance, rehearsals, families around me in need, work craziness, and ministry decisions.  I’m thinking about playground woes with mean girls for one daughter and tween emotions for two others and preschool for my son.

I  feel “off.”  Unsettled.  Worn down.  Tangled up.

As I push my cart around the store, I take some deep breaths and pray some  quick prayers.

Dear Jesus, for my children….

Dear Jesus, for my own brokenness and sin….

Dear Jesus, for  those around me….

Send peace . Be our peace, Lord.

I also chide myself.  How foolish, like a tiny child, stressing over things not worth stressing over, thinking and mulling over decisions that will  just come and work out and happen.

It all piles on in one day, though, my own problems to  sort through and a host of others for people I care about:

A child with heart disease, a family missing loved ones in the aftermath of a hurricane in Puerto Rico, a dad’s death and a hard hospital visit.

This is a hard day.  A hard day that is making me tenderhearted.

All that sorrow tumbles me into  a sweet place of just crying with Jesus.  I think maybe He weeps, too, just as He did when He stood outside of Lazarus’s tomb and saw how hard it is for all of us, how scared we are, how we mourn.

For a little while, I feel guilty for letting the smallest things in my own life land on my wimpy shoulders  like heavy burdens.

I think, “Count your blessings!  Buck up!  Get over it already!”

And, maybe that’s a little right. Maybe my perspective is off and I needed a little spirit-check, that what has me personally weighed down is foolishness compared to the deep concerns of others.

But I read this also, right in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus says:

Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? ( Matthew 6:25 ESV)

We’re no different than the crowd of people surrounding him on a mountainside that day.

We feel anxious over the daily things that pound at us.  The food we eat.  The clothes we wear.  The bodies we walk around in. The tiniest mundane details of our everyday life.

Jesus didn’t say, “Don’t be anxious about your cancer diagnosis or don’t be anxious about a divorce or a foreclosure.”

He said don’t worry  about any of it.  Don’t worry about lunch and dinner and your outfit for the day and your body type.

And he was so gracious about it.   He didn’t tell  the crowd to get over petty concerns because He was actually going to–you know–be persecuted and die for them because they were, after  all, heading for  eternal  damnation.

Hannah Anderson writes:

“Jesus understood …that small things can unsettle us more than large things; so when He called  the people of Galilee to leave their anxiety–when He calls us to  do the same–He does so in context of very mundane, very ordinary concerns…  At the same time, He doesn’t shame us for worrying about them.  He doesn’t tell us just how to be grateful, to remember how much better we have it than other people…..Instead, He asks if our worry is actually accomplishing anything” (Humble Roots).

It’s not, of course.  Worry isn’t accomplishing  anything for anybody.

But it is a prompting to prayer.  It’s the catalyst that stops me from just standing nearby as a helpless bystander and instead rolling up my sleeves to get in the fight.

I can’t fix this.  Not any of it.  But I can pray.

I can pray it out.  Pray it like that’s our only hope because that’s exactly who Jesus is:  He’s our Hope and our Strength and our Peace and He is who we need when we’re worrying over our children and He is who we need when our friends are facing down death and despair.

So  as I stand there in the middle of the Wal-Mart and then in my minivan and then in my home, I begin to pray it out to Jesus.

 

 

What’s the next right thing today? #AnywhereFaith

This week, we celebrated my son’s birthday and he loved every minute of it.   The next morning, he told me, “It’s  still my birthday” and asked for a cupcake.

There’s nothing like a good celebration!

And,  here’s another reason to celebrate—it’s the one-year anniversary of the release of my book,  Anywhere Faith.

Thanks so much to you for buying the book, reading it, sharing it with others, studying it with small groups, and sharing about it on social media.  You blessed me and encouraged me, and I’m grateful.  Here’s a little encouragement for you today:


As a teen, I attended some huge youth conferences with my church and they tended to have something in common:

There was always a tremendously dynamic speaker who had a jaw-dropping testimony of God’s grace: He did drugs.  He was in a gang.  His girlfriend got pregnant and he made her have an abortion.  He was an alcoholic, who was addicted to pornography, and homeless.

Then He met Jesus.

By the time the testimony was over, the altars were flooded with teens crying and praying for God to save them and use them.

But my story didn’t seem to fit in.  They’d ask if anyone felt “called to ministry” and I’d raise my hand and pray that God use me “anywhere” and send me “anywhere.”

Only, how could He use a girl like me?  I’m relatively boring and surely the world truly needed displays of God’s grace and mercy on a grand scale.

I prayed and searched for God’s will for my life, but I didn’t end up in foreign missions or traditional full-time ministry.  So, does that mean God didn’t call me after all?

Now, that’s my story.  How I struggled to truly let grace seep deep in my soul.

How I searched so hard for one “big calling,” that I overlooked the impact of daily obedience and the calling to follow Him right here, right now, serving Christ by serving others in small ways every single day.

Your story might be like mine.  Maybe you desperately want to follow Jesus “anywhere,” but you can’t see where He wants you to go.

Or perhaps your story is entirely different.  Maybe you have that testimony of radical transformation, but you feel like an unworthy vessel, unfit for His use.

“Calling” is a tricky subject for Christians.  It sometimes trips us up into a mess of confusion.

We talk about God “calling” me to do this or “calling” me to do that, but we don’t always know what that looks like day in and day out.

And sometimes we miss it entirely.

When I wrote in my book, Anywhere Faith, about following God anywhere He calls us to go, I shared some truths about “calling” because God wants all of us to follow Him, whether that’s around the world, across the street, or in our own homes.

GOD CALLS ALL OF US

Your past, your present and your future don’t have to look like anyone else’s in order for God to use you.  anywhere-faith

Maybe He called you to foreign missions or full-time ministry.  Maybe He called you to pray for the teachers at your kids’ school or to help young moms who need encouragement.

If we obsess over what someone else’s calling looks like, we can sometimes miss what He has planned for us.

God uses the ordinary. He uses the everyday and the mundane. He uses the untrained. He uses the sinner who repents and the prodigal who returns. He uses us despite our past and even sometimes because of it (Anywhere Faith).

CALLINGS DON’T HAVE TO BE (AND OFTEN AREN’T) GLAMOROUS OR GRAND.

I’m not a speaker at conferences talking about deliverance from addiction.  Today, I have played Play Doh with my son, scheduled doctor’s appointments for my kids, prayed for my family, written to you, washed dishes and laundry, and performed a million small and seemingly insignificant tasks that are actually ministry.

Sure, the disciples traveled with Jesus, witnessed miracles, and even healed and performed miracles themselves in Christ’s name.

But the calling wasn’t all glitz and glamor.  They packed light and traveled far. They left families and jobs behind to pursue Jesus.

Jesus told them to bend low, to do the dirty jobs, to wash feet, to love outcasts, to touch lepers.

He asks us to humbly serve others every day, too.

Your calling might not be to a stage or arena; it may be to faithfulness at work, witness in your community, and ministry to your family.  Every “calling’ is significant to Him.

GOD CAN USE YOU RIGHT WHERE YOU ARE

We can get so caught up looking for big visions for our future that we miss the ways He asks us to serve today.  I’ve done it myself, praying desperately for God to show me “His will for my life” instead of His will for this moment.

Let’s ask God to show us the next right step and walk that way.  We can trust Him with our future.

 WHEN WE TALK ABOUT CALLING, LET’S REMEMBER THIS:

God isn’t looking for the flashiest vessels; He’s looking for yielded vessels…
He uses the humble, the willing and the obedient (Anywhere Faith).

May we be yielded today, humble today, and obedient today as we follow Him “Anywhere.”

For the waiting, we need a little courage

I was five minutes early and already nervous.

A friend and I were meeting up so we could drive together to an event.

The plan was simple.  Meet in the parking lot at 5:00.

At 4:55, I started worrying.

Did we say 5:00 or 5:30?  Did I have the time right?  What if we had miscommunicated?  What if I told her the wrong day?  The wrong place?  The wrong time?

This could be a disaster.

By 4:57, I pulled out my phone to double-check our messages.

Okay, I’m safe.  This was the right day and time and place.

But what if she couldn’t see my car where I was parked?  What if she pulls in the other side of the parking lot and misses me completely?

I crane my neck around, glancing from side to side.  Then I actually drive through the parking lot to make sure she wasn’t already there waiting for me and I’m just being ridiculous.

It’s 4:59 now, and yes, I am absolutely being ridiculous, but it’s taken on a humongous snowball life of its own and I feel powerless to stop it.

I am worrying about being late and about traffic and maybe we should have said we should meet earlier.

I am worrying about miscommunication and how I should have called her that day to verify the details one last time.

Then I start worrying about my friend.  What if she is hurt and in a car accident somewhere and she can’t call to tell me because she’s in an ambulance on the way to the hospital?

And then, just as I’ve worked myself up into frantic worry….my friend pulls in.

It’s 5:01.

She’s fine.  I’m fine.  We’re completely on time.

I really am ridiculous.

Every single day, I tell my son to ‘be patient’ about 20 times.  Maybe 50 times.

He wants juice.  He wants snack.  He wants Bob the Builder on the TV.   He wants to play a game.  He needs help with a toy.  He wants me to read a book.

What do I say?

Okay, in just a moment.  Be patient.

And, I act like he should just accept that.  I act like it’s a perfectly reasonable request for him to just snap on some patience.

But today, I’m recognizing that it’s hard.

I ‘m supposed to teach him patience, of course.  I still need to keep asking him to wait sometimes.  This doesn’t mean I need to answer his every whim and will immediately and turn him into a tiny tyrant.

No, I teach him to ‘be patient,’ but I do it with some understanding that what I’m asking him to do takes oh such a long time to learn.

Some days he’ll get it just right.

And some days he’ll fall to pieces just like his crazy mom does when she’s waiting for a friend in a parking lot at 4:55 p.m. and they’re supposed to meet at 5:00.

There’s something more, too: All these years, I’ve recognized how waiting takes patience (and who likes learning about patience?) and it takes trust (and who finds trusting without controlling easy?).

BUT IT ALSO TAKES COURAGE.

David wrote:

Wait for the Lord;
    be strong, and let your heart take courage;
    wait for the Lord! (Psalm 27:14 ESV).

and again:

Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord! (Psalm 31:24 ESV).

I’ve missed it a million times.  I’ve read those Psalms and sang them and written them in my journal over and over again, but today it hits me in a new way.

GOD SAYS THAT IN THE WAITING, I NEED TO TAKE HEART.

I NEED TO BE COURAGEOUS.

I NEED TO BE STRONG.

And, that’s exactly what I need to hear in seasons of waiting because when I’m waiting, I’m full of doubt and questions and worry.

I think maybe I heard God wrong.  Maybe this is going to take forever and He’s never going to bring me through this situation.  Maybe the deliverance won’t come after all.  Maybe I’m in the wrong place.  Maybe there was miscommunication.  Maybe I missed God and He was already here and gone and now I’m outside of His will!  Maybe God is done with me and now He’s just left me here in this place.

I’m being ridiculous, I know it.

But it’s in the moments of waiting that I feel most abandoned and most afraid.

AND IT’S IN THE MOMENTS OF WAITING THAT GOD SAYS EXACTLY WHAT I NEED TO HEAR THE MOST:

Don’t believe the lies.  Don’t fret over the future.  Don’t question the calling.  Don’t doubt God’s ability or willingness to care for you.  Don’t think you’re alone.

BE STRONG, AND LET YOUR HEART TAKE COURAGE.

Originally posted February 12, 2016

This is just practice so mistakes are allowed

My eleven-year-old daughter stepped onto a field yesterday in all her field hockey gear.

She was the one on the field, but I was the one who was nervous.  Some of these girls have been playing for years and this is my girl’s first year.  Would they be gentle with her?  Would the coach be an encourager? (They were and she is!).

This is all new to us.  I don’t even come from a  hometown community where field hockey existed as a sport.  I don’t understand any of the rules or know how you move the ball  around with that funky, slightly curved stick.

When we picked out her equipment, I went to the sports consignment shop and asked a million questions.

She needs shinguards.  Is that the same as soccer shinguards or what?  She needs eye protection.  What in the world?  How do you know what size stick to use?  My goodness that ball is hard.  They really play with this thing?

I am an extreme novice.  A beginner of all beginners.  I’m starting from zero.

And that’s good.

It’s good not  to know all the answers before you even begin.

So, when she walked onto the slightly wet grass yesterday wearing her field hockey shinguards and holding her funky looking stick, I could not have been more proud of her.

She’s brave enough to try something new.

Me?  I don’t like to try new things.  I only want to try something I’m pretty sure I can succeed at, and by succeeding I don’t mean having fun.  I mean not looking foolish or making mistakes or ever falling down or ever doing it wrong.

You know, being perfect.

So, if I can’t be perfect, I don’t want to try.

And that’s wrong.  That’s terribly messed up and mistaken right there.   It creates a fear-driven paralysis and a performance-driven faith.

 

Not trying is the real failure.  That’s the mistake you can’t correct or overcome.

Trying something new takes humility and the willingness to  put yourself out there in a deeply courageous way.

 

I read these words today in a book by Sarah Loudin Thomas:

“… getting things wrong is nothing more than one of the steps on the way to getting them right” (Tapestry of Secrets).

Priscilla Shirer also says,

“mistakes are often the greatest teachers to help us learn to discern Him more clearly in the future.  So practice.  Stub your spiritual toes and scrape your spiritual knees.  And once you’re back on your feet, start practicing again” (Discerning the Voice of God).

Practice.

Maybe so much of my problem is that I’ve seen all of this—life, ministry, hearing from God, jobs and activities–as the “game.”

It’s competition time.  Perform.  Succeed.  Be perfect.  Don’t embarrass yourself.

But maybe I need to see it as practice instead.

Practice is about taking risks.  It’s about building skills.  It’s about ending the day as a better, wiser, more experienced player than the one I was this morning.

It’s about trying something, finding out it doesn’t work, and doing it differently next time.

It’s about learning from the coach and the players around me.  It’s about turning to Jesus, over and over and over again because I know just how much I need Him.

 

I’ve messed this up as a mom before and I so need to get this right, making our home and our family a safe place to try.  How can our home be a place where we applaud risking-failure while doing something new?  Where we cheer you on for following Jesus and you don’t have to be perfect, you just have to be in progress?

I’ve messed this up before as a person, too, and I so need to get this right, being willing to obey God even when it means risking mistakes and stumbles and failures along the way.

After all,  I may see a mistake as THE END, but God doesn’t.  He knows this is practice.

The Psalmist says:

The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
    when he delights in his way;
24 though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
    for the Lord upholds his hand.  Psalm 37:23-24 ESV

If our hearts are set on the Lord, if we’re delighting in His way, sure, we might fall sometimes.

But we won’t fail and it won’t be THE END.  We won’t be permanently disqualified from future ministry or written off by God as an unusable vessel, a disappointment, a failure.

No, the Lord holds us up so those moments when we fall, He keeps us from truly failing.   He gently sets us back on our shaky feet.  He leads us forward to try those steps all over again.

And the best part is, He always keeps hold of our hand.

 

Loneliness and Darkness and how to Find Light

We have a nighttime wanderer at our house, a little traveler who visits others while they sleep.

My son has always slept in his own room and in his own bed, but after we moved into a new house something shifted in him.  He doesn’t want to be alone at night.

And he absolutely, positively does NOT want to sleep in his own bed in his own room.

We’ve set up a little futon for him as a consolation.  At first,  he insisted that his “little bed” (as he calls  it) remain in the upstairs hallway.  That was close enough to family traffic to keep his little heart happy.

I’ve been slowly trying to move him into his room, though, because school starting means his sisters are up  and moving and loud really early in the morning.  He’d sleep better (and longer!) in his own bedroom.

So, I’ve managed to get his “little bed” into his bedroom, but he wants it as close to the door as possible.

Then, after we’ve all snoozed for a few hours, he drags his blanket behind him and finds another place to sleep.

He climbs into bed with a sister.  He curls up and falls back to sleep under their bedroom window.  He tucks himself in  on a trundle bed.

We tell him each night that he needs to sleep in his own bed and he nods in agreement, but around 3 or 4 a.m. I suppose his heart’s desire overcomes all that.  In the morning, we find out whose room he decided to share for the night.

My girls never really  experienced that need.  All three of them shared a room until a few months ago so when they were  preschoolers, they didn’t have to sleep by themselves.

Being alone, after all, is hard.

I have sympathy for my little guy.  He loves his family.  He knows he feels more secure if he is near someone else.  So, he pursues that with determination, relentlessly returning night after night to  the same pattern, dragging his Star Wars blanket behind him.

Maybe we all need that assurance once in a while, that we’re not alone, that we’re safe, that we’re loved, especially in the dark times.

And Scripture does that for us.  The Psalmist gives us this beautiful reminder:

If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
and the light about me be night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you;
the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you (Psalm 139:11-12 ESV).

Night and day are the same to our God.  Darkness, light:  Makes no difference.  Even the darkness is not dark to Him.

That means that even in our loneliest, scariest, darkest, most anxious moments, whether we’re lying in our beds or standing in our kitchens or driving in our cars or sitting at a desk, God brings the Light of His Presence right where we are.

No darkness is too dark for  Him to cut through.

Even if we feel forgotten, unloved, overlooked, or abandoned, we’re promised that God doesn’t ever fall asleep on the job.  Psalm 121 says:

He will not let your foot be moved;
    he who keeps you will not slumber.
Behold, he who keeps Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

He never turns His head away or gets distracted.  He’s not so busy solving the crises of the world to  hear us and see us when we call to Him.

So, call to Him.

In his devotional, Morning and Evening, Charles Spurgeon wrote:

You may fear that the Lord has passed you by, but it is not so: he who counts the stars, and calls them by their names, is in no danger of forgetting his own children. He knows your case as thoroughly as if you were the only creature he ever made, or the only saint he ever loved. Approach him and be at peace.

In the night, in the times you can’t see, in the places where you feel lonely, in the moments when you’re so exhausted and overwhelmed that you just feel hopelessly lost, call to Him.

Drag your blanket behind you if you need to, and seek Him out.  It’s His very presence that you need to be your safe place, your refuge and hiding place, the security you need to help you sleep in peace and rest without fear.

Here’s the good news:  He is closer than you may think or feel.

Angela Thomas wrote:

When you are hurting, your head says that God is far away, but Jesus says, in fact, that God is closer than ever (A Beautiful Offering)

Not a servant, but a friend

“I am not a servant.”

My youngest daughter says it first in a matter-of-fact tone.

I can’t hear the other side of the conversation so I don’t know what request prompted this response.

I do know she gets her answer from me.

I say it sometimes to my kids when they ask me to hop up from the dinner table (before I’ve even taken a bite of my own food) to get them something they could easily get themselves.

I say it when they call out “Mom!” while they are watching TV and ask me to stop working to get them a drink of water.

I say it to remind them that, while I love them and I love to do nice things for them, sometimes they treat me like unpaid kitchen help.

And that’s not right.

So I listen in as my daughter repeats her response broken-record-style.

“I am not a servant.”

“I am not a servant.”

Then she sings it in a high opera voice, “I am not a servant…..”

Finally after what seems like the twentieth repetition of this phrase, her older sister bends over and picks something up off the floor.

The little ones around here have grown wise to this new trend, how older sisters think because you’re smaller, you must perform all tasks menial and low-to-the-ground so they can continue with whatever far-more-important thing they’re doing.

My Catherine is standing up for herself.

After all, what she has always wanted, what she truly desires in her little sister heart-of-hearts, is for these bigger girls to play with her.

She doesn’t want to fetch dropped Legos off of the floor.

She doesn’t want to get them a paper towel or find them a sharpened pencil.

She wants to be friends with them.

Shortly before His death, Jesus said something profoundly moving to His disciples:

I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.  (John 15:15 NIV).

Not servants, but friends.

He offered them so much more than the menial tasks of mindless obedience, the fetching and finding and picking up of hired help.

He called them friends.

For the disciples, friendship with Jesus didn’t change what they did.   Jesus loved by serving sacrificially and humbly, and He told them to do the same.

But He invited them into His heart and His plans.

OF COURSE, IT DOESN’T MEAN WE AREN’T SERVING GOD DAY IN AND DAY OUT, LOVING OTHERS IN HUMBLE OF WAYS, EMPTYING OURSELVES SO WE CAN DRENCH ANOTHER IN THE COMPASSION AND MERCY OF CHRIST.

There is, after all, beauty in late night sessions with a sleepless baby and days spent tending to sick children.

There’s beauty in the ugly, the mess, the pain, and the exhaustion of caregiving.

There’s beauty–God-glorifying beauty— in heading out the door each morning to a job that demands everything you’ve got and more so that you can provide for your family.

The beauty isn’t in the act itself.  It’s not in the changing diapers or the washing away filth.  It’s not in taking out trash or sitting through mind-numbing meetings where supervisors pile on work.

It’s that you’re doing all of that for someone else.

Your labor on behalf of others may not earn you any earthly regard.

You may trudge through another day of work without a nod in your direction and a genuine ‘thanks.’

Your child may overlook the fifty lunches you’ve made for her and complain the one day you forgot that she likes Oreos, not chocolate chip cookies.

And you can feel absolutely invisible.

But right in that moment, Christ chats with you.

He tells you everything the Father taught Him.

He asks if you’ll take part in His agenda, in His passion and plan for loving others with grace, mercy, compassion, generosity, and humility.

Not because He only values what we do for Him.

Not because we earn His favor by going, going, going all the time.

Not because He wants us constantly to be doing at all.

It’s because He’s offered us His presence—in the moments when we’re sitting at His feet and the moments we’re stooping to wash the feet of another.

He desires friendship, and friends aren’t acting out of duty or serving out of compulsion.

WE’RE LIVING AND BREATHING AND SERVING AND LOVING BECAUSE HE’S GIVEN US ACCESS TO HIS VERY HEART.

OUR FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD MEANS WE DO AND WE CEASE DOING AT THE IMPULSE OF HIS LOVE: OUR LIVES, OUR HEARTS, OUR ACTIONS GUIDED AND MOTIVATED BY HIS VERY OWN LOVE AT WORK IN US.

Originally published 10/29/2016

The invitation to a secret life

“I’m not going to tell you about that.”

This is my three-year-old’s son’s new favorite answer to our questions about his day.

How was preschool?

Good.  

Did you have snack?

Yes.

What did you eat for  snack?

I’m not going to tell you about that.

Did you sing songs at preschool?

Yes.

What songs  did you sing?

I’m  not going to tell you about that.

Now, I am a complete Mom-Professional  when it comes to asking my kids about their day.  I’m no novice here.  I don’t just ask, “How was your day” and then give up when he answers, “Fine.”

I  know better than that.

My modus operandi with all my kids has been to ask very specific questions.  Hence, my questions about snack and songs.  I’ll ask who was the line leader and whether they used the slide or swings on the playground.

This has worked with all three of my daughters.  But my son has found the ultimate weapon against  Mom’s post-school interrogation:

“I’m not going to tell you about that.”

Now what’s a mom to do?

I’ve chosen not to fret over this quirky and unique stage. He tosses his little go-to non-answer at one of my questions with an impish grin.  He enjoys his conversational “checkmate” and giggles a bit.

At some point, we’ll probably move along.  Maybe we’ll even get to know what he ate for snack and what songs he sang with his classmates.

In the meantime, I relish every detail he will share with me, every snuggle when he’s decked out in his Batman pajamas before bed, every whispered, “I love you.”

These are the hidden times, what we share with our family, what we share with each other, but not what we open up to the big wide world.

Jesus had these moments, too.  He’d slip away for hidden times with God, praying all night on a mountain while his followers remained behind (Luke 6:12).

This was the ultimate quiet time.  It was private, hidden, a secret between him and God.

And maybe God invites us in to share some of these intensely personal, hidden moments with him also, just as he did for the disciples when he asked them to “come away with me to a quiet place…..” (Mark 6:31).

In fact, Jesus specifically instructs us to:

  • Give in secret: “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:3-4) 
  • Pray in secret:    “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”  (Matthew 6:6)
  • Fast in secret:  “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you”  (Matthew 6:17). 

It doesn’t mean all gifts must be anonymous and all prayers offered from our prayer closet.

It does mean our faith shouldn’t be religious show—all on public display for our own glory.

It does mean that there should be a secret aspect to our faith—a just between Him and me kind of intimacy.

In  her book, A Beautiful Offering, Angela Thomas writes:

“God wants to meet  with me in secret…There are  a couple of things that really matter to Jesus in this passage.  One is the real intention of our  hearts before God, and the other is that we learn to  practice a secret life with Him”

Our “secret life”is more than giving, fasting, and praying.

It’s sitting quietly with God.

It’s tucking lessons away and pondering them in our hearts

It’s offering Him the parts of our heart that we so often hold back. It’s being honest with Him.

I don’t ask my son questions about his day because I want to pester or annoy him.  I ask because I love him and he’s still young enough for me to be all-up in what happens in his little preschool life.  (I’ll enjoy that while  it lasts!).

Jesus  also invites us into secret communion with him, not to judge us or correct us, not to redirect us or lecture us.

He invites us because He loves us.

In response, we can either toss out a hurried, “I’m not going to tell you that.”

Or we can pour out hearts to Him.  We can linger by His side.  We can laugh together at a joke. We can celebrate a victory.