Our God is able to re-build

There’s building.  And then there’s re-building.

My son is a builder-of-Legos.  They are the first item on any birthday or Christmas wishlist and they are his favorite presents to open and play with as soon as the celebration time is done.  In just six years, he’s amassed quite a collection of super-hero, Star Wars, and dinosaur Legos.

But.

(And this is what can drive me crazy).

He does not keep his Legos together, perfectly constructed,  high on a shelf, all the pieces still in the right places.  (How could we possibly have enough shelving to do that?)

No, as soon as the Legos are built, they are played with relentlessly.   Pieces come off.  Those pieces then become new creations with pieces from other sets, a mishmash of Lego bricks.

There are some of us (me) who like things to always look like the instruction manual, as if there is a “Right” way to build with these Legos.  When a piece comes loose, we pull out the picture and put it back exactly where it is supposed to go.

My son is not that person.  He swaps dinosaur legs and superhero bodies, and he combines kits relentlessly.  He is silly at times and innovative at other times.

Sometimes I envision having so much free time that we can spend days sorting the Legos back into sets and then following those instruction manuals once again to put them all together the right way once more.  This sounds like the ultimate project for me.  Get everything “right” and all will be right with the world.

That hasn’t happened yet.

It would take extensive time and great effort, of course, because I  truly think building is far, far easier than re-building.  Building starts with such a clean space.  The pieces are clearly sorted and separated.  Building does not begin with confusion.

But re-building starts with brokenness and mess and rubble and has to restore what’s broken and re-make or even re-design what is lost.

In the book of Nehemiah, God’s people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by their enemies and had lain in ashes and mounds of rubble for years.

During the rebuild, they were taunted, mocked, and threatened by new enemies, and yet they kept working.  Some guarded while others built.  Some built with one hand holding a weapon and the other hand laying bricks.  They refused to be sidetracked, delayed, or stopped.

The rubble, however, almost defeated them.   Nehemiah 4:10 says:

In Judah, it was said:
The strength of the laborer fails,
since there is so much rubble.
We will never be able
to rebuild the wall.
” (Nehemiah 4:10 CSB).

That’s what almost broke them.

Kelly Minter writes in her study on Nehemiah:

It was that exhausting rubble that just about took them down.  What rubble in your life is presently the most discouraging and exhausting? (p. 56).

This year, it’s easy to be defeated by brokenness.  Ministries, jobs, finances, churches, school plans, friendships and connections with others… all may be in need of rebuilding, and such rebuilding is exhausting and hard.

We can’t just jump in with a brand new vision, a clean slate and build.  No, we need to  re-build.  There are hurts tangled up in this.  There is sadness over what is lost.  There is stuff we have to  let go of and get rid of.  There is letting go of the known. There is anger and frustration.  There is uncertainty.   There is a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness because we have no control.

There is a tremendous desire  to just get things back to the way they were before, the way they are “supposed” to  be—and then set those constructions high up on a shelf so  they can never be changed again.

That is not our reality.   So we need God to  equip us for the rebuilding, to strengthen us to face enemies and strengthen us to clear out the seemingly never-ending rubble and start raising the walls again.

Nehemiah said to the discouraged, worn-out, battle-weary people of Judah:

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes” (Nehemiah 4:14 CSB).

Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.

This is not too much for Him.  That is the reminder I need.  It may take time, it may take creativity, it may mean hard work and standing against the Enemy.

The truth remains, though:  Our God isn’t just able to build; He is able to rebuild.  He has done it before and He can do it again.

I do not know

2 chronicles 20

The high school band awards banquet was a little different this year, just like all of our end-of-the-year celebrations.  We’ve had drive-through graduations and drive-through kindergarten completion ceremonies, kindergarten dance parties over Zoom, and awards announced on YouTube.

On band banquet night, instead of being with the band or being at a banquet, I rushed home from another meeting to pull up YouTube and watch on my laptop while I folded laundry in my living room.

My daughter’s band director wore his normal suit and tie while announcing well-deserved awards and identifying next year’s leaders, keeping as many things normal for them as he possibly could.

Then he said the oh-so-familiar words:

I don’t know.

I don’t know what marching band season will look like next year or if we’ll even have one, but the best thing we can do is to prepare as if  it will be a normal year.

I’m  a choral director and I’m in the middle  of planning Christmas music, but everything I say begins like this:  I don’t know what it will be like, but….

I’m a mom with four kids who are all anxious about the fall.  Two of my children are leveling up to new schools they’ve never attended before, so that’s extra-new and extra-anxiety-producing for them.  They ask me about schedules and classes and extracurricular activities and I have to say it every single day right now:  I don’t know how it will be next year….

I’m a church leader trying to minister and plan who just keeps saying the same thing at meetings, “I don’t know whether this will work or not, but….”

I. Don’t. Know.

It’s been a deeply humbling season of uncertainty and dependency.  I can’t know so I can’t plan and I can’t rely on those plans.

It’s every week and every day waking up to  handle just this moment, this need, this task ,this decision, this day’s reality, and then being content at the end of the day with just making it through today and moving on to tomorrow.

The truth is, if I think too much about a month from now or three months from now, I’m overcome—just washed over by a wave of anxiety in an ocean of panic and sorrow about all the loss and all the change.

Stormie O’Martian wrote a book called Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On and I’ve been thinking about that step-by-step life of trust. I have to lean into Jesus so I can see the step He’s lighting for me.   No rushing ahead or stumbling ahead or falling dangerously ahead of the light He gives.

One.  Step.  At.  A.  Time.

And that’s enough.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faced a multitude of armies threatening his kingdom all at once.   He didn’t have just one enemy to fight.  The Moabites and the Edomites and the Meunites had all gathered for battle against him.

He was afraid.

Of course, he was afraid. God knows it’s so easy for us to all be afraid of these enemies amassing against us.

He didn’t cower, though, nor did he rush in to save the day with his own strength, with battle strategies or soldier recruitment plans, or the counsel of his generals.

Scripture says:

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:3-4).

He prayed.  He fasted.  He asked others to pray and fast with him.  He earnestly sought the Lord.

He said the very words and prayed the very prayer that I have been returning to since March:

…For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12 ESV

I truly am so powerless in this.  I am not in charge of what school will look like in the fall or the rule about gatherings or whether there is meat and toilet paper in the store on the day I happen to shop.

We are powerless and we do not know what to do, Lord, but our eyes are on you.

My eyes keep wanting to shift their focus.  They are wayward.  I look at the problems, at the world, at the news, at the numbers, at the Governor’s announcements, and at the Facebook and Instagram drama.

Fix my eyes, my heart, my mind on you alone, Jesus.   In the moments when I do not know what to do (and there are so many, Lord), help me look to you and you alone. 

 

He can do what is above and beyond

I’ve found myself repeating one particular Facebook comment in the last few weeks, over and over, post after post.  I have one thing I keep saying:

Way to be creative!

In the middle of coronavirus craziness, I’m stunned by the creativity of teachers and business owners and churches and more.

I’ve seen our local  parks and recreation have to  cancel all summer programs and then the karate instructor get permission to  take his class outside.

I’ve seen a gym owner who can’t train others inside the gym, so he does social distance training from his own home and even hosted an outdoor boot camp.

I’ve seen churches offer online services, hymn sings, drive-in prayer meetings, and meal distributions with toilet paper.

Teachers have my kids doing Star Wars work-outs, musical hopscotch, virtual field trips, scavenger hunts and nature walks.

Theaters are live-streaming productions of Shakespeare I’d never have seen otherwise.  I’m watching virtual choirs and bands jamming together over Zoom.

Restaurants closed down indoor seating and quickly transitioned to  curbside delivery and take-out.

Our local pottery painting studio made adorable take-home kits and our  library posts a steady stream of videos with stories and drawing lessons and more.

We’ve watched zoo safari lessons and the interpreters at Colonial  Williamsburg busy at work all from our living room.

There are days and moments within days that I begin to feel doomed and in despair, especially when I hear about changes they might make to the schools next year.  I fret over what my kids will experience and all that they have to lose.  I’ll have two high schoolers next year who love the arts and I’m reading articles saying that band, chorus, and theater are all on the chopping block because of coronavirus concerns.

I worry.

Oh, do  I worry.

I do not like the potential of a new normal and I’m relentlessly brokenhearted about each loss for my children.

And then I remember the creativity I have seen in the people around me….and the seemingly endless capacity for human creativity points me back to the undefinable, unlimited creativity of our Creator God.

He is not surprised by our situation and He is able to rescue and redeem us in it.

I read this today:

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21

He is able, not just to do what we expect or imagine, but to do far more than that.  He is able to go above and beyond.

G.K. Chesterton said:

The trumpet of imagination is like the trumpet of the resurrection. It calls the dead out of their graves.

God creates beauty from ashes.  He forms a world out of the void.

He resurrects what is dead and heals what is broken.  He makes us new.  He is making everything new.

And when we create and imagine, we are just imitating our Heavenly Father and the resurrecting, creating work He is always doing.

So may it point us back to Him.  May all the innovation we see around us encourage us to bring all the worry and all the struggle to a God who can do a new thing in us and around us.

In Romans, it says:

Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.  Romans 6:4-5

It’s this creative, resurrection work that I’m looking to Christ to do, in me and in our churches and communities, in my kids and their situations.  We have not seen the limit of what God can and will do.

Of course, the super-planner-extraordinaire in me wants to nail down the details.  Get it all in writing.  What exactly will it all look like?  When can I know?

But that’s when I see another  example of someone being creative  and I remember our God creates–above and beyond.  He helps us “walk in newness of life,”‘ overcoming what we experience, enduring what is difficult, holding onto hope, reaching what is promised.

 

Mistakes, mess-ups, failures, growing pains, and a need for grace

 

I’ve been writing notes and sending cards since we’ve been shut away from friends and church family.  Sometimes it’s a text message  or an email to say, “I’m thinking of you today.”  But I’ve also been refilling my supply of stamps and note cards regularly as I send out snail mail.

Last week, I discovered an extra set of stamps that I’d bought long ago and I was so excited about the little unexpected blessing:   Stamps when I thought I was almost out of stamps.  What a blessing!

It was like waking  up to manna or miraculous oil in a near-empty jug or wine overflowing when the wedding feast ran out of wine.   All those things.

I happily mailed out a few more cards.

Then this week, my daughter asked me if she could mail some cards also, so I pulled out those extra stamps and saw what I’d missed before:  the word “Postcard” in teeny tiny, minuscule letters on the bottom.

Oh.

That’s why those stamps had been sitting for a good long while.  I bought them to mail out a few postcards and the extras just sat and sat.

I’ve been stressing about this for days now.  Apparently, I’ve been sending out regular cards with only postcard postage.

Great.  Either the cards will return back to me so I can have  a re-do (I love a good re-do), or the post office will deliver my cards and actually ask other people to pay the missing postage.

How embarrassing.

I’d rather the secret re-do option, of course.  But I have no power here.  I’m at the mercy of the postal service.

So, I  wait.

It’s the silliest little mistake, but a mistake I’ve been fretting over nonetheless.  That’s partly because all of this coronavirus shifting we’ve been doing has brought so much failing our way to  success over here.

We’re doing  new things in new ways and that can get messy and exhausting.

Technology alone brings it’s own growing pains.  Try this video, this sound, this streaming program, this way of filming, this way of posting.   And all along the way we leave a trail of trying, messing up, and trying again.

I  also can’t keep my dates straight, at all.  I keep thinking Mother’s Day is this week and not next week.  The days are just running all together.

All of these mess-ups leave us so tender-hearted.  So humbled.  How many times can we say the words, “Sorry.  That didn’t work. My bad. I missed that.   I made a mistake.  I used the wrong stamp.?”  (I’m still so embarrassed about the stamps.)

But so many of us are in the same place.

That’s the thing.

I’m so compassionate  and deeply grateful as I see my kids’ teachers trying so many new things every single day.  I think—-thank you, friends, for putting yourself out there for my kids.  For getting on Zoom videos and Facebook live posts and whatever else is happening.  I know some of them would prefer not to be on a video.  I GET that.  I don’t want  to be in videos either.  But they do it anyway.

Then there  are days the sound doesn’t work or the screen is backwards or the link they thought they posted didn’t post or didn’t work or whatever whatever.  I feel like saying, “Solidarity, my friend!  I am with you.  We are all trying so hard and it’s imperfect and messy, but we’re genuine and humbled and real and just making  it through.”

We can shake off the old, the broken, the mistake-ridden the failure and the mess up because we have this grace: We can try again.

And, even if a new days is full  of new mistakes, Jesus isn’t giving up on me or on any of us.

I read this promise in Scripture:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease (Genesis 8:22 ESV).

The rhythms of creation itself are a reassurance of the rhythm of grace.

Day and night come ceaselessly.  I will wake up to a new day, a fresh start, an opportunity to try again and maybe even get it right this time  (and to buy new stamps.)

More than that, whole seasons come and go with certainty.

One bad year of planting isn’t the end.  One season of hard soil,  no rain, or destruction from storms and pests isn’t the end.

Spring comes anew and I can plow the field fresh, drop the seeds into the earth, and look forward to a better harvest.

The failures of one day, one moment even, are only permanent if I choose to give up instead of going forward.

Fresh starts and new beginnings: That’s what God promises us, season after season, day after day.

All that worry and everything was canceled

 

I have fretted this year.

Oh, how I have fretted.

I lost sleep in January and again in February because I was worrying over planning events, over getting enough volunteers, over whether we should hold our huge church egg hunt on this particular Saturday or on the Sunday before?

I wrestled with calendars.  I made a plan, had a meeting with someone that changed my mind, contemplated  the plan some more, sought counsel  from others, stuck with the original  plan—and second-guessed myself the whole time.

I  stressed about our soccer schedule.  I stressed over how to get my kids to soccer, an orientation night at the high school, and to a math competition all at the same time in different parts of our county.

I worried about events and trips my kids  and I were looking forward to.  How would we pay for everything and how was the schedule going to work out?  We had trips to Disney, Boston, Italy, and Montana all in the works.  They were all good things—all incredibly wonderful opportunities.

Still I worried.  About plane tickets and getting to the airport and renewing my passport and everything about traveling that stresses me out (which is everything).

None of these things are actually happening.

I invested so many hours and lost so much sleep  worrying over things that have now been canceled or altered beyond recognition.

There’s no soccer season.  There was no math bowl  or area chorus or countywide music concert.  There is no trip to Disney or Italy or Boston.

We didn’t hold our egg hunt on the Saturday or the Sunday.  It was completely new and different and not like anything I imagined when I started planning in January.

Maybe it sounds like I’m a never-ending tangle of angst over here, and it’s true that I’m definitely not a happy-go-lucky whatever-may-come kind of person.

I’m a super-planner.

And super-planners like to have plans and to follow plans and not to deviate from plans.

Still, over the years God has stretched me and lovingly nudged me into  spiritual growth and new levels of trust and dependence on Him.  I’ve seen the progress.  I’m not as bad as I used to be.

But sitting here in the middle of coronavirus quarantine, feeling unsure of when we’re allowed out of our houses much less when we can go back to work, school, and church, makes me feel oh-so-tempted to tumble back into the pit of fretting.

There are too many things unplanned.   Too many things I can’t possibly plan.  I have far more questions than I do answers.  Maybe I don’t even feel like answers exist right now.

But whenever I’m tempted to start fretting over this mess, I remember this:

In January and February, I spent hours and hours worrying about the date of an egg hunt that DIDN’T HAPPEN.

See where that got me?

I worried so much then about making the perfect decision and not picking the wrong day to hold an egg hunt.  It turns out, no decision even mattered.  Only God had the full knowledge of what was to come.  Only He had the big perspective.

I read this today in Proverbs:

Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down,
but a good word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25 CSB).

Weighed down by worry.  Yes.

I have pulled that two-ton weight of worry behind me, dragging it along, letting it steal the joy in this moment  because I’m fretting over the moments to come.

Jesus told us how pointless that is:

And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27 NASB).

I am tempted to worry every single time I scroll Facebook, listen to a news conference, and examine a line graph right now.   So, I’m in this place of continually challenging my thoughts and continually catching that worry and dismissing it.

I ask myself the question, “Where has any of your worrying gotten you so far this year?”

Nowhere.

What has been a blessing this year?

This: Seeing how God has helped us with unexpected answers to completely unanticipated problems.

Our egg hunt reached so many kids this year and it was delivered to their homes rather than held at one time in the lawn on our church property.  God did a new thing and He did it perfectly.

I feel like I’m one-minute away from fretting at all times around here right now.  And yet, I’m also one minute away from a completely different choice:

I can sit back and watch what God will do.

Take a breath.

And trust.

 

I don’t know what the day may bring

Two months ago, my six-year-old son’s soccer schedule was stretching me.

It’s such a silly thing, looking back.  But at the time, I was trying to maintain  some control over our family’s calendar.

You know what you lose a lot of control  over as your four kids get older?  The calendar.  Teachers, coaches, directors, club leaders and more all have an agenda for your kids.

So, when I signed my son up for soccer in January, I weighed in with what worked for us as a family.  No Tuesday and Thursday practices, please.  We need a team that meets on Mondays and Wednesdays.  Also, he’d miss  one week of practice because  of our other commitments.

Then I waited for THE CALL, the one where you find out from your coach when and where to be for the first practice.

That’s when I found out:  My son’s Monday/Wednesday team had changed to a Tuesday/Thursday team.  And the one week I had said we couldn’t be at practice they scheduled for soccer team pictures.

I have no control over these things.  I try to be in control.  But I have no control.

This year seems to have eased me into a season of dependence.  Soccer was just part of it.   Ever since January, I was reminded  week after week that I’m not ultimately in charge of everything that happens.

For a control freak like me, I actually think I handled it pretty well.  No meltdowns.  No extreme levels of fretting.  Just quiet adjustments.

Soccer on Tuesdays and Thursdays?  Okay then.  It is what it is.

Then, of course,  the entire soccer season was canceled after a week-and-a-half so I shifted again.

I released my need to control that.

I’m making new adjustments even now.  I cannot control  what  groceries are going to  actually be at the store each week, so we eat for dinner whatever I can find to cook.

And I release my need to control that, as well.

I  cannot control what decisions the school board makes about my kids  classes, grades, schedule or plan for next year.

I try little by little to  release my need to  control  even that.

What I’ve quieted my soul with this year is that the more I realize I’m completely not in control, the more I rest in knowing that God still is in control.

Nothing is outside of His mighty and merciful hands.

Proverbs 27:1 says:

Don’t boast about tomorrow,
for you don’t know what a day might bring.

In God’s Wisdom for Navigating Life, Timothy Keller says:

“Those who believe they can eliminate uncertainty boast about tomorrow, thinking they have planned for every contingency….But you do not know what is to come.  The future is wholly in the hands of God.”

Maybe it felt like my schedule rested in the hands of a soccer scheduling supervisor or a coach.

Maybe now it feels like a governor holds the next few months of my life in his hands or a school board or a superintendent of schools is in charge of my kids.

But surely that’s not the truth.  Not the ultimate truth.

My life is in the hands of the Lord who loves me and won’t abandon me or desert me.

Sometimes I’m tempted to try to nag Jesus into  doing what I’d like him to  do in the middle of all this mess.

I’m not alone.  Others in the past have tried to “manage” Jesus and make Him do what they wanted or expected.

The disciples tried to manage Jesus by keeping little kids away from him and by telling him to send people home because they didn’t have enough money to feed a crowd of over 5000 hungry people a meal.

His family tried to manage Jesus by coming to take him home when they heard about his growing ministry.

Peter tried to manage Jesus by denying the need for Jesus to be taken away and to die.

The plan for that first Good Friday isn’t something that any of Jesus’ followers wanted or expected or even understood.  It was all completely outside their plans and they probably would have preferred in that moment for  Jesus to just do what they wanted him to do and to be what they wanted him to be.

But God was in control

His plan was perfect.

His plan wasn’t for Good Friday to be the end;  His plan for salvation included Resurrection Sunday.

I’ve been learning to relinquish my control  over my life and my attempts to “manage” my Lord as if my ways or my plans are best.

After all, God planned Easter and it was perfect. Surely I can trust Him with my future and the months ahead.

 

When (not if) this all is over

“I don’t like my new smile!”

My son had been avoiding food all day because his first-ever wiggly tooth was quite wiggly, enough to make eating anything difficult.

Besides that, he was afraid.  He didn’t really want to lose a tooth.  He liked his teeth, his mouth and his smile just the way it was, thank you very much.

Also, what if he lost a tooth while eating and maybe swallowed it?

So much fear.  

When the tooth did come out after all,  after he had been brave for a few seconds and his dad wiggled it right out, my son smiled and held quite still with a push of courage.  I thought it was total victory.

Then he cried….and cried and cried.

He didn’t like his smile.  He really wanted his smile to stay exactly as it was before.

So much grief. 

I gave a gentle mom-speech about how much I love his smile, and his new smile just means he is getting bigger and growing up.

He told me, “That doesn’t fix my feelings.”

He did say, though, that a cold treat like ice cream would actually “fix his feelings,” so one bowl-full of Edy’s cookie dough ice cream later, he had finally calmed down.  That’s when he wiggled his other bottom front tooth and told me that one is also pretty loose.   So, we get to do this all  again in about a week.

I feel for my little guy because change is hard for him,  change is hard for me, and we’re changing a lot at the moment.

I feel for him because we’re all grieving a little.  We wanted all the beauty of life as we knew it and planned it and instead we’re living a new and unexpected #stayathome life.

I feel for him because no matter how many times we promise him that a new tooth will grow into the empty space, it doesn’t feel real.  Waiting feels like forever.  He can’t see the new tooth and he can’t mark the calendar with the date of its arrival.   So maybe it will  never come.

This is where I found myself so often this week.  I know in my head that one day we’ll walk out of our house, we will hug our sweet church family at a service we’re all allowed to attend.   Our kids will play in soccer teams and perform in plays.  They will sit in classrooms with their much-loved teachers and their friends.  We will write an event on the calendar and it won’t be canceled.

We will rejoice.  I mean, truly, truly party.

But I’m starting to feel like maybe that will never come.  This new reality is THE reality and hope of anything better is a little hard to hang onto when we’re three weeks into this and our governor keeps changing the end date.

I find myself thinking….

“IF we get to go back to church….”

“IF we’re in school….”

“IF we get to see the concert and the plays we had tickets to…”

“IF we get to spend some of our summer going to museums, parks, water parks, and the beach….”

This week I’ve been reading in the book of Deuteronomy and I’m sinking deep into this sweet reminder that the Promised Land was not “IF” it was “WHEN” for Israel.

Deliverance wasn’t “IF” it was “WHEN.”

Fulfillment of God’s promises wasn’t “IF” it was “WHEN.”

In chapter after chapter of Deuteronomy, God tells Israel:

When you cross the Jordan and live in the land the Lord your God is giving you to inherit, and he gives you rest from all the enemies around you and you live in security…” (Deuteronomy 12:10 CSB).

“When the Lord your God blesses you as he has promised you…” (Deuteronomy 15:6 CSB)

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, take possession of it, live in it…” (deuteronomy 17:14 CSB)

When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you…” (Deuteronomy 18:9 CSB)

My son can trust that his new tooth will grow in.   Yes, it takes time.  Yes, it may even take longer than he wanted to wait.  But his hope is rooted in a trustworthy assurance–it will come.  It is a “When,” not an “If.”

David wrote in Psalm 27:

I am certain that I will see the Lord’s goodness
in the land of the living.
 Wait for the Lord;
be strong, and let your heart be courageous.
Wait for the Lord (Psalm 27:13-14 CSB).

I sing it with the Psalmist—I am certain.  I  can fully know.  I have confident hope.

When–not If

I will see the goodness of the Lord, not just in heaven, but here in this life.   That is the reminder I need to be strong, to be courageous, and wait.

 

Why are you so sad today?

Last night, my six-year-old son was ready for a bedtime story, but I told him the truth:

“I’m feeling a little sad about the day and it’s okay to be sad.  I just need  a minute before I’m ready to read.”

I think most of us had some hard days this week.

Some of us needed some time (maybe still need time) to mourn before moving on.

My son looked  a little surprise because I’m not really a sad person.  I’m mostly an even-keel kind of girl. So mom being sad probably felt unexpected.

Also, for his little kindergarten self, the world hasn’t been rocked too greatly. Sure, he’s aware that he’s missing  out on his soccer season,  time with his friends and time with his awesome-sauce teachers who we love so very much.

But he’s still happy.  He reads his books, plays with his Legos, matchbox cars and dinosaurs, swings on the swingset.  He doesn’t rush out the door in the morning or rush to activities in the evening.  He’s excited about soccer again in the fall.

For now, he’s just enjoying being together with the whole family.

That’s the sweetness for us in the middle of  sorrow.  It’s sweet to have time to rest and enjoy being together even while we mourn over losses and grieve on behalf of others who have lost  more.

It’s March.  Because of the impact  of the coronavirus, our governor closed schools for the rest of the school year.  We get it.  We know it’s needed and we know that the lives of people around us matter far more than graduation ceremonies, concerts, math bowl competitions, field trips to  Kings Dominion and band trips to Disney.

So, we feel sad and then we remember perspective.  We feel sad again and we regain perspective.  It’s just part of the upheaval we’re all handling in our own ways.

We’re not good “wait-and-see” people over here at our house, but that’s life right now.  What about high school credits?  What about an April birthday?  What about grades?  What about graduation?   What about vacation Bible school?

We’re all in this together.  We’re all mourning a loss.  We’re all having to be “wait-and-see” folks at the moment.

Maybe that’s one of my first reminders in the middle of the mess.

Paul said this:

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Ephesians 4:32 ESV).

I need so much grace right now.  Grace for my foggy-brain because I can’t quite think straight.  Grace for feeling a lack of energy or passion—like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me.  Grace for the fact that I’m a super-planner-extraordinaire who is living in a world that cannot be planned right now.  I need grace as a mom and grace as a teacher and grace in ministry and just so very much grace.  I need grace for my anxious self and grace for my sorrowful self and grace when I just need to  take a walk and be quiet.

So, when I most need grace, I am reminded of all the grace Jesus has given me and how much others around me need grace, too.

Have mercy on us, Lord.

When my heart is most broken, I see the brokenhearted.   When my heart  is most tender, I am more tender to others who are hurting.

This is precious to Jesus, who was moved by compassion whenever he encountered the sick, the grieving, the crowds of lost people, the hungry.  Even from the cross, Jesus prayed that God would forgive the mob who crucified him.

In her study on Joseph, “Finding God Faithful ,” Kelly Minter teaches that this is indeed the very thing that changed everything in Joseph’s life.

He had been sold into slavery by his brothers, taken far away from his home and the father he loved, then wrongly accused by the wife of his master and thrown into an Egyptian prison and left to rot there.

Joseph had sorrow.  He mourned losses we hopefully will never experience.  If anyone in the world had a reason to be sad, it was Joseph.

But in the middle of all his own mess, Joseph cared about the sadness of others.  He saw Pharaoh’s baker and cupbearer in the prison and noticed they looked particularly troubled one morning.

He took the time to ask them:

“Why do you look so sad today?” (Genesis 40:7 CSB).

He listened to their stories–strange dreams that had them worried.  And it was those dreams and Joseph’s interpretation of them that God ultimately used for Joseph’s deliverance….and the deliverance  of his family…and the deliverance of Israel….and the deliverance of the entire world from famine.

How can compassion, sacrificial love, kindness, and loving like Jesus change us, change others, change the world?

7 Prayers for Home and Family

It’s usually when I watch my youngest son asleep.

Or when my feet first hit the floor at the start of an on-the-go day.

That’s when I pray it.  Like a whispered prayer, one you can’t find all the words for, not when your heart is so full (or you are so sleep-deprived).  But it’s passionate and desperate:

Help me do this, Lord!  Help me be the wife and mom You want me to be and that they need me to be.

I need some ways to cover our home and family in prayer so that I can commit this all to Him and seek His help every day.

So, here they are:  Seven Prayers for Your Home and Family.  These are the verses I pray and the requests I make.  What about you?  Please comment with your own verses and prayers.

  • Salvation

    • Prayer:

      God, help us to keep this as our focus and never lose sight of the most important gift and responsibility you have given us—the salvation of our family.  It’s easy to get caught up in worldly standards of success and measures of our worth, especially as parents.  But honor rolls, scholarships, awards, and accolades don’t mean anything compared to salvation in Jesus Christ.  Our greatest joy would be to see our children ‘walking in the truth.’ We pray that every member of our family will choose a personal, real, abiding, and powerful relationship with our Savior and that we will ask Him to reign over our lives both as a family and as individuals.

    • Scripture verses:

 But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord (Joshua 24:15 NIV).

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved (Romans 10:9-10 NIV)

I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth (3 John 1:4)

  • Peace

    • Prayer:

      Lord, may our homes be havens of peace. The world around us can be stressful and high-pressured.  We may be surrounded by conflict, battles, and oppression outside this home, but we pray that inside these walls, You will bring peace.  Help us to rest in You.  Help us communicate with grace, offer love and support, and speak in love.  Even in the stressful rush of the mornings as we head out the door to school, work, church and other activities, may we breathe deeply and choose peace, gentleness, and kindness with one another.

    • Scripture Verses:

      Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27 NIV).

       “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33 NIV).

  • A Godly Legacy

    • Prayer:

      No matter what our faith background up to this point, we pray for a heritage of faith, godliness, righteousness, salvation, and a passion for Your Word and for the Gospel.  Help us to take the time to teach our children truth.  We don’t want to ever be so busy that we neglect to teach our children about You.  Give us the right words to say and guide our discussions with our children.  May our children choose to marry strong Christians and raise their own children in Your Word.  Where we have gone astray, we pray for grace and new opportunities.  For our adult children and our grandchildren, we ask that You will turn their hearts and minds to You even now.

    • Scripture Verses:

Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it  (Proverbs 22:6 ESV).

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.  You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise (Deuteronomy 6:6-7 ESV)

  • Unity and Love

    • Prayer:

      Father, help us to remember that we are not just individuals out to achieve our own agendas.  You have joined us together as a family; unite our hearts in love.  Remind us that we are stronger together.  Show us how to love each other sacrificially, graciously, and generously every day.  May we serve each other, performing even the smallest acts of kindness for one another without complaint or score-keeping.  We ask that our love for one another reflect Christ’s sacrificial and unconditional love so that others will look at our home and our family, and see You.  Let our love for one another draw others to know your love for them.

    • Scripture Verses

      Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God (1 John 4:7 ESV). By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another (John 13:35 ESV).

      Two are better than one,
          because they have a good return for their labor:
      10 If either of them falls down,
          one can help the other up.
      But pity anyone who falls
          and has no one to help them up.
      11 Also, if two lie down together, they will keep warm.
          But how can one keep warm alone?
      12 Though one may be overpowered,
          two can defend themselves.
      A cord of three strands is not quickly broken (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 NIV).

  • Stewardship

    • Prayer:

      Father, You know our needs.  We lay them at Your feet and ask for Your provision.  We trust in You as our Provider.  Lord, we ask for blessing, not so that we can stash it away, or indulge our own material desires.  We don’t need the biggest house or the flashiest car or the most expensive clothes.  We ask for blessing so that we may bless others.  May we be good stewards of what You have given so that we can give it away to support missions and to care for others in need.  Please open our eyes to the needs of others around us and help us to give quickly and give generously.

    • Scripture Verses:

      And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19 ESV)

      The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor (Proverbs 22:9 NIV).

  • Purity

    • Prayer:

      God, it is so easy to fall into the pitfalls and traps of sin and temptation.  We are surrounded by what is wrong.  Help us choose what is right.  Give us strength to be vigilant about protecting the influences inside of our home, and when possible, outside of it, as well.  Holy Spirit, prompt our hearts when we need to walk away, when we need to stop listening, stop reading, stop watching…..and help us fill our minds and hearts only with what is good, true, righteous, and pure.  May we be set apart for You, living in this world, but not of it.

    • Scripture Verses:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8 ESV).

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He 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 (Psalm 1:1-6 ESV).

  • Laughter and Joy

    • Prayer:

      Lord, we know that there will be hard times, but we pray that You will continually stir our hearts to joy.  Let our home be a place of laughter.  Open our eyes to see reasons to rejoice, stories to share, jokes to tell, and smiles to give one another.  Make our home a place of rejoicing.

    • Scripture Verses:


      A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones (Proverbs 17:22 ESV)

      Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them” (Psalm 125:2 ESV).

      Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart! (Psalm 32:11 ESV)

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 8:15-16 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 8:18&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