We choose again today

I regretted ever starting in the first place.

It hadn’t been the plan for the day, wasn’t on my agenda, and didn’t appear on my to-do list.

But as I swept through my house doing my morning cleaning, I reached into my son’s closet to put something away and recoiled in horror.

This closet was at capacity.

More like over-capacity.

So I began the task.  I was “just” going to clear out a few things, “just” get rid of the boxes, “just” pull out the baby toys to donate, “just” put some clothes into storage, “just, just just….”

Until, of course that “just” meant the entire surface of the bedroom was covered with stuff from the now-empty closet.

This task sabotaged my entire morning, muscling everything else I intended to do that day out of the way.

At some point, I almost gave up.  I almost shoved it all back into the closet and shut the door because I did not have time or energy or patience or anything to tackle this project right then.

And so there was the choice….

Push through?  Persevere?  Take one more step and then another?

Or give up?  Step backwards?  Regress?

This is the same for us.

Once we choose to step out, we have to then choose whether to keep going.

Obeying God, following Him in faith, answering His call, choosing righteousness, putting down bad habits and picking up spiritual disciplines:  These are not one-time decisions.

There is the choosing….and then there is the choosing again and again and again.

I decide today to follow Jesus.  And I decide all over again tomorrow.

Giving up, of course, feels easier in the moment, but then my son wouldn’t have a clean closet and I’d feel the waste of starting a project and never finishing it.

Abraham chose to obey God no matter what.  When God called him in the night to journey up a mountain and sacrifice his promised son, Isaac, Abraham went.

I’ve always marveled at Abraham’s immediate act of obedience.

He didn’t waiver or question, pray over it for a while or seek counsel from others.

No, God called and “Abraham rose early in the morning….” and started on the path to obedience.

But here’s what I never noticed before:

On the third day Abraham raised his eyes and saw the place from a distance  (Genesis 22:3-4 NASB).

Abraham walked three days before he even saw the mountain God had called him to.

That meant he had three nights to wrestle with the task, three days to decide whether to keep moving forward or turn around and head back home.

He had three days to chicken out.

In his book, Drawing Near, John Bevere says:

“Why a three-day journey?  I believe He gave Abraham time to think it over, even to turn back.  It is one thing to initially move when you hear the voice of God, but what about the follow-through?” (p. 79 ).

Follow-through.

That’s what faith-journeys take.

Obedience doesn’t mean anything if it’s only partial obedience, or halfway obedience, or “I’ve changed my mind and I’d rather give up now” obedience.

And this matters for us because some days obedience comes easy.

The call from God feels fresh and exciting.

Our friends encourage us.
The sermon reaffirms us.
Our quiet time feels vibrant and alive.
We see the evidence of tangible success and real impact.

But that’s not everyday.

Some days we wonder if we ever even heard God calls us.

Our friends are absent, unsupportive, or unaware.  Maybe we even face detractors who discourage us and assure us of defeat.

God seems silent.

Nothing appears to make any difference and we are so small, so insignificant.  Failure feels imminent.

We are weary and weak and we can’t even see the blurry outline of the mountain anywhere in the distance.

It’s hard to keep moving forward when we’re overlooked, when we question our offering, when we lose hope for the future, when the mess we’re in threatens to bury us.

Maybe today is the day you feel eager to obey.  Or maybe today you feel overwhelmed and ready to quit.

Today might be the first day of your journey, or the third, or the twenty-third, or the one-hundred-and-third.

Regardless, today is the day to choose as Abraham did:  We choose to follow through.  We choose to “press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14 ESV).

No turning back.

No turning back.

Originally published October 2016

Finding a place at the well

We’re preparing for company and my son loves company.

He is a host extraordinaire.  At the first mention of upcoming visitors, he  cleans up his room and then grabs Clorox wipes,  the broom,  and wood polish and heads for the kitchen.

He’s five.

But he’s a five-year-old who loves to entertain guests, and he has mastered some basic essentials of hospitality:  create a clean space, set out games, and provide snacks.  What more could you need?

When I told him last  night that we’d be having company this weekend, I should have been prepared for an early morning wake-up from this boy who needed to  clean his room right this second.

Yes,  it’s 7:30 in the morning and we’re still getting kids ready for school and yes, mom would like some time with a cup of tea first.  But his room was messy and the company was imminent (as in arriving in the next 48 hours).  He does not want to  be unprepared for his guests.

There’s a beautiful moment in Scripture when Abraham shows a similar attentive hospitality. Genesis 18 says three strangers came by and that:

The LORD appeared to Abraham at the oaks of Mamre (Genesis 18:1 CSB).

Not just a guest, an unexpected divine guest.

I’d probably lock the door for a few minutes and toss dirty dishes into the oven, clean clothes back  into the dryer, and paper piles into closets before actually welcoming a surprise stranger.

But Abraham is so gracious,  so inviting.  He brings water for their feet and leads them to  a place of rest under the shade of a tree.  He asks Sarah to  bake bread,  prepares a meal , and then serves them a picnic feast of fine foods.

He makes the most of this moment with the Lord.  He is hospitable and attentive.  He is not rushed or stressed about all he isn’t getting done.

The Lord simply appeared.  And Abraham invited Him in.

What  needs to change in me so I can be more  hospitable to the Holy Spirit?  More attentive and considerate of His presence?  More responsive and inviting?  More willing to  sit and fellowship with Him?

I consider the challenge of this because sometimes you sit down for a quiet time, and the Lord feels….quiet.  You read.  You pray.  You copy down the verse.   And then you are done.

But other days you sit down for some time with Jesus and He invites you to linger because His presence is so strong. So you have to choose.  Do we rush Him along or settle in at His  feet?

Abraham chose to welcome the visitor.

His son Isaac did even more.

Yes, Abraham had set up camp and the LORD came to Him, arriving without invitation or planning or pursuit on Abraham’s part

But Isaac purposely set out to dwell in the Lord’s presence, making not just a one-time visit, but a long-term decision to abide..

Genesis says:

After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi (Genesis 25:11 ESV).

Beer-lahai-roi–that ‘s “the well of him that liveth and seeth me.”  That’s where God called out to  Hagar in the wilderness and He rescued her son by providing this same well to  quench Ishmael’s thirst.  Hagar called Him the “God who sees me” and the “One who looks after me. “Therefore the well was called Beer-lahai-roi” (Genesis 16:14 ESV).

Hagar’s time there was temporary, but  Spurgeon writes:

“Isaac….settled there and made the well of the living and all-seeing God his constant source of supply….Let us too learn to live in the presence of the living God….Happy is the person who lives at the well, with abundant and constant supplies near at hand” (Morning and Evening).

Of all the places Isaac could have  brought his family and made his home, he chooses this holy place, this sacred site, and he settles in.

Could this be me?

Could I be like Abraham, ready, yielded, excited even by the  Lord’s visits?  Am I prepared? Am I ready to clean rooms,  make meals, and rest under a shade tree all in God’s presence simply because He showed up and I want t o be with Him?

But could I also be like Isaac, seeking out this same presence day by day?   Choosing to settle near the well of God’s supply, dwelling with Him and in Him, knowing that this well of His presence will not and will never run dry?

And that’s the best part.  On days when Isaac felt  weary, dry, worn out, stretched thin, stressed, or just had the blahs, he could go  to  the well and drink deeply from the well, dipping the cool  water over  and over if needed, all because he lived day in and day out by the well of His presence.

Morning Prayers to Start Your Day

I do not understand the snooze button on an alarm clock.  I never have.

To me, sleep only works when you’re actually sleeping.

The first beep of an alarm wakes me up.  From that moment on, my mind is racing on into the day.  I’m not sleeping; I’m thinking.

Worse yet, I’m thinking without actually doing anything about the million-and-one things I’m thinking about, which is a pretty stressful way to start the day,  feeling like I’m already behind.

Snooze buttons only work for people who can fall asleep in two seconds and don’t mind sleeping in batches of 5 minutes at a time.

Since that isn’t me, it’s just a way to procrastinate my way into the morning and procrastination super-stresses me out.

But moms don’t get to dictate their sleep habits, sleep cycle, sleep hours, sleep anything.  We’re just thankful for whatever sleep we get.

I’ve only needed an actual alarm clock a handful of times since I gave birth to my oldest child over 14 years ago.  I have a new alarm clock called “Kids.”

Unfortunately, this new wake-up system came fully equipped with nothing less than a human snooze button.

Babies wake up and go back to sleep, wake up again and go back to sleep.  Toddlers choose to wake mom up whenever the baby is still sleeping.

Now it’s my school children with staggered schedules waking me up in waves as their own alarm clocks go off and they troop down the stairs and into the kitchen for breakfast.

I have early risers and I have night owls who don’t exactly appreciate the need to rise and shine and they all like me to be awake when they are awake.

My sleep patterns are dictated by the sleeping or lack of sleeping of a whole posse of other people.

I know in my heart this truth: I need to bring God right into the beginning of my day.  I need to  start it with prayer before I head out of bed and into  the to-do list.

But while I agree with the ideal, my life feels louder than that so many days.  Crazier than that.  Messier than that.

And yet, I still need His presence.  Maybe because of all the noise and rush, I need His presence even more desperately than someone who can lie in the quiet and calm of a morning and spend a few extra minutes in uninterrupted prayer.

I sure need Jesus to be right here in the middle of my mess.

My days tend to take turns for the unexpected.  The long, extended quiet time that I’ve been planning for days hasn’t happened yet, because the phone rang, and I got a message, and there was a doctor’s appointment (or two) and an after school activity (or ten of them).

But I read what a missionary wrote in his journal long ago:

“Poor and weak though we are, our abode is a very Bethel to our souls, and God we feel and know is here” (Richard Williams).

Bethel.  That means “House of God.”

It’s the place where God’s presence dwells.   That’s where Jacob saw the vision of the stairway connecting heaven and earth and the angels ascending and descending.

I’m reminded, then, that God’s presence right here in the middle of my life makes any situation, any morning, any messy day, any short quiet time in the parked minivan while waiting for my daughters outside of school… a Bethel for my soul.

Because God is here.

I’m still fighting for that extended quiet time.  I know it will happen.

But even on days it doesn’t, I’m learning  to “Do Messy Faith….” to pursue His presence on-the-go instead of waiting until all the circumstances are perfect to meet with Him.  Because if I wait for perfect, then it won’t happen.

So I don’t have an hour to spend in quiet with the Bible.  I have the Bible on my phone and my Kindle.

So I don’t have the luxury of a quiet morning wake-up.  I have a human snooze alarm and I can whisper those prayers in between morning visits from my children.

Dear God, thank You for this day.

Dear God, guide me today.

Dear God, Your will be done, not mine.

Dear God, Please use me today.

Dear God, Please help me.  I can’t do it alone.

Dear Lord, teach me to be the wife and mom you want me to be.

Father, show me how to love as you love.

You have blessed me.  Lord, how can I be a blessing to others?

My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You,
And I will look up.
Psalm 5:3 NKJV

What prayers do you whisper as you start your day?

Snow Boots without Snow

One year, I wrapped my kids’ feet in Ziploc bags before tying on their shoes and sending them out into the snow.

I live in southeastern Virginia, where we get snow sometimes.  Some years it’s a lot and other years not so much.

So, it’s a gamble, you see, whether purchasing snow boots and snow pants is a worthwhile investment or a complete waste of money.

That one year when all my kids were little and had snow boots, I can’t remember a single snowflake sticking to the ground.

But the following year, I had to resort to Ziploc bags inside the sneakers because I hadn’t bought snowboots and inevitably we had buckets of snow.

Since then, I’ve begun hunting for snow boots in all seasons and in all sizes at consignment shops in thrift stores.  I don’t want to pay full price for them, but I do want to have them on hand just in case.

This year I have put my thrifty shopping skills to work and found snow boots and snow pants in all the sizes for all the kids.

Of course, we’ve had a virtually snow-less winter with just one fluke snowstorm in early December.  It’s plenty cold here, but our snow attire is sitting completely unused in a bin in my closet.

I realize as I write this there’s probably some monumental snow event on the horizon for us.  For the record, I’m not saying I want a blizzard!   I don’t love shuffling plans and appointments around because of unexpected weather.   And I really don’t like having to make up any snow days by going  to school during a vacation.

But it’s always just worth a shake of my head and a slightly exasperated giggle that on the years I feel most prepared for snow we are virtually snow-less.  And on years I decline to prepare, we experience snowmageddon or something equally apocalyptic.

Maybe the lesson for me is that preparation in itself is worthwhile.

There’s not always going to be this direct, easily  visible connection to usefulness, but God can be trusted.

Some years, I’ll buy snow boots and there will be snow.  I’ll feel prepared and justified, wise, and ready.

Other years, I’ll buy snow boots and it won’t really snow.  But I’ll tuck them away and pull them out for a future storm when they’re now hand-me-downs for another child.  I’m still prepared, but the connection wasn’t as clear or as direct.

It’s God’s sovereignty I can trust.  His wisdom.  His all-knowing ability  to work in me now, in my life and in my heart and in my mind, all that He wants to do in me.  Maybe it’s for next week and maybe it’s for decades from now.  Maybe it’s for heaven.  I will not always see His purposes, but I can trust Him just the same.

Being in His presence, digging into His Word, learning to know Him, learning about  Him, serving with Him, walking  through hard seasons and wondering i f there will ever be a harvest—none of it’s ever wasted.

This is what I see in David, this young shepherd boy who invested a whole portion of his life in shepherding a flock of animals and who ultimately because the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 CSB).

It wasn’t clear and it wasn’t right away.  David spent time in Saul’s palace, time in the battlefields, time hiding out in caves and time living among the Philistines surrounded by enemies of the Lord.  Maybe his past experience with sheep and a harp seemed worthless when Saul was hunting him down.

But God did the work, the long,  steady, complete work.  He chose a shepherd of  sheep to be a shepherd to His people, nothing wasted, everything working for His good purposes in His perfect timing .

I can overthink this.  I can be like  an eager student with my clipboard, my paper and my pencil quizzing my Divine Master.  “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?  What can I learn?  How are you going to use this?  What are you doing  now?   Then what’s next?”

I want purposefulness.  I want clarity. I want intentionality.

But instead I learn to rest, knowing that seasons aren’t always so well-defined.  Sometimes it snows in October and I wear short sleeves in February.  Some years I need snow boots and some years I don’t.

I don’t need to worry about identifying the season I’m in or labeling the season or determining the purpose for the season.

I can just remain teachable, yielded, open, prayerful, submissive, humble, willing, submitted ever single day. “Lord, teach me,” and let Him do it.  Let Him use all of this, every bit, to change and transform me and prepare me for His plans, His will, His timing.

Returning to Bethel

I heard rumblings from the laundry room several times that morning and wasn’t overly suspicious.  We have these kittens, you see.

The dryer wasn’t on and I knew the dryer door was opened, so I wasn’t afraid, just mildly amused that they must have been wrestling (again) and bumping up against furniture and appliances (again).

But it wasn’t the kittens.  It was my son, who apparently was awake and moving without me knowing.  He had tossed through the clothes upstairs in his dresser and couldn’t find his new favorite shirt.  So, he’d slipped down the stairs unnoticed, snuck into the laundry room and was hunting through the clean clothes in the dryer.

When that failed, he headed back upstairs again and finally started crying in rage.  That’s when I ran upstairs to find him standing in a mound of clean clothes that did not include the shirt he wanted.

I had put his shirt in the wash when I started laundry around 7:30 that morning.  It was soaking wet and still spinning around in soapy water.

It was a rough start to the day.  Sometimes you can just roll with the punches and sometimes your favorite shirt is in the washing machine and you just can’t handle that kind of disappointment.

The day improved, of course.  He shook off the disappointment eventually and later the treasured shirt came out of the dryer, not just clean but warm and cozy, too.

I’m a “favorites” kind of person also.  I have favorite socks , sweaters, flavors of tea and mugs to drink my tea in. I re-read favorite books (five and six times),I order favorite meals from restaurants, and listen repeatedly to favorite songs in my car.

When I have to do hard things (like go to the dentist), I deck myself out in cozy socks, comfy shoes, well-worn jeans, and my fuzziest jacket.

Sometimes we just need to go back to what we know and some days are simply better with your favorite shirt.

I’ve been reading  about Abraham’s journeys recently and treasuring the reminder that he “traveled in stages.”  He didn’t bolt from calling to fulfillment, from vision to completion, or from home to the Promised Land overnight.

This was a process, a long step-by-step movement from one place of faith to the next place of faith and then onward again.

Abraham’s journey looked like this:   Arrive at a new place, encounter the Lord, receive God’s  promise, and build an altar.

He responded to the Lord in every place and every season with sacrificial obedience and worship.

May this be me.

In hard places and comfy places, in every season, in each situation my response should be an altar:  A commitment.  A laying down.  An act of sacrifice.  A devotion to worship.

So I do this: I seek out mementos and build memorials, choose a Scripture, write a prayer, repeat a song.  I set my heart on re-dedication and re-commitment to follow the Lord wherever He calls me to go.

Here’s something else I see about Abraham, though–he returns.

In Genesis 12, it says:

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country east of Bethel and pitched his tent…. He built an altar to the Lord there, and he called on the name of the LordThen Abram journeyed by stages to the Negev (Genesis 12:7-9 CSB). 

From there, Abraham encountered some difficulties.

There was a famine, so he left the land of Promise and headed to Egypt.  He was afraid. He lied to Pharaoh about Sarai and said she was his sister.  After Egypt,  Abraham is plagued with family drama.  Lot’s servants and Abraham’s servants couldn’t work together anymore, so they separated.

So much had happened since Bethel:  fear, sin, wandering,  strife, separation.

That’s when Abraham goes back:

He went by stages from the Negev to Bethel, to the place between Bethel and Ai where his tent had formerly been, to the site where he had built the altar. And Abram called on the name of the Lord there (Genesis 13:3-4 CSB). 

Maybe sometimes a favorite mug with my favorite tea is a pick-me-up for a dreary day….but also a favorite verse, devotional, worship song, prayer practice, or spiritual discipline helps to pull my heart back to the Lord.

It’s because I wander or get lost or grow weary.  I certainly am forgetful.  I sin.

So I travel back to my “Bethel,” the place where I’ve encountered the Lord.  And I seek Him there again.  I call on His name once more.

 

When Jesus Sees How Long We’ve Waited

My son hopped in the minivan at 8:20 a.m. with his sneakers on, his jacket zipped up, and his backpack next  to him.

He was ready for school.  Ready to go . Ready to leave right this minute and not wait another second before getting on the road, Mom!

The thing is, we don’t need to leave for school until around 8:50.  So he was a tad early, as in half an hour early.

But I’d already been putting him off for 20 minutes,  so I finally just gave up and drove to school.  While we waited, I ran errands around the church building and answered his questions every few minutes:  “Mom, what time is it?  Mom, how many minutes?”

Waiting was just….so…..hard.

Part of me loves that he’s so excited about school, of course.

And part of me feels for him.  I connect with all that desire to get going already instead of lingering relentlessly.  Can we just drive? Can we just move?  Can we just start?  Why all the waiting, waiting, waiting?

The Bible talks about waiting patiently and waiting silently, and I can do that happily for maybe a few days or weeks.  But after a few months of persisting in prayer and standing on the promises, I’m about ready to get a little real with Jesus in my quiet time:

Lord, you know we can’t wait forever, right?  Have you forgotten about little ol’ me?  We have these things called deadlines and due dates on earth.   Please just do something already!”

I know I’m not alone in this because I can read my own increasingly desperate prayers echoed in the Psalms:

“But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19 ESV).

“Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior” (Psalm 38:22 NIV).

“Be pleased to save me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me” (Psalm 40:13 NIV).

“But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay” (Psalm 70:5 NIV).

Reading through those verses helps somehow.  It helps to know we’re not crazy and we’re not the only ones asking God not just to save us, but to do it “quickly!”

Of course, that doesn’t really  mean God puts a rush-job on answering our prayers.

He is a perfect time God, waiting for the appointed moment and the appropriate season to come through and fulfill promises.  He isn’t spurred into action by our cries or somehow nudged awake by our persistence as if He’s forgotten about us until just that moment.

God has us in mind all along and He has a plan all along.

That’s what really helps in the waiting season, more so even then reading those Psalms.

It  helps to know that God Himself understands how hard this is.

Sometimes I can get tricked into thinking that His divinity disconnects Him from my perspective.

The Bible says:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

That can feel a little disheartening because if time is so fluid for God, then how could He even begin to understand what  it feels like to pray and pray and pray and wait and wait and wait without result?

Then I read this:

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  (John 5:6 ESV).

Jesus saw the man who had been paralyzed and waiting for healing for 38 years, and He didn’t just shrug that off and overlook how hard that must have been.

Before healing the man, Jesus  did this first; He acknowledged that it had indeed been a long time.

THE UNDERSTANDING AND COMPASSION OF THAT MOMENT IS WHAT DRAWS ME IN.
JESUS GETS IT.

The waiting seasons aren’t because of God’s forgetfulness or His lack of concern for us or needing to maintain some arbitrary timeline.

GOD SEES US IN THE WAITING ROOM.

He knows we’re impatient creatures.  He understands how hard it is to keep perspective and to persevere in faith without giving up.

He knows what it feels like to wait “a long time.”

Because of that, because He gets it, because He loves us, because He cares about us, I find a little comfort and a little release from all the tension and frustration.  I can strain against the waiting a little less and rest in knowing His love for me a little more.

As Max Lucado writes:

God is God. He knows what he is doing. When you can’t trace his handtrust his heart” (Grace for the moment).

Originally posted November 2017

Raise Your Hand if You’re So Excited

“Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

That was my five-year-old son on repeat in the weeks before Christmas day.  He asked us often and he expected a response every time.  Everyone in the vicinity had to raise a hand quickly and high enough to  be seen. Either that, or the offending non-responder would be quizzed stringently.

Aren’t you excited for Christmas?  Why didn’t you raise hand?  Are you not really excited?

During our Christmas Eve service,  he started to fall asleep a bit ( so much excitement can wear a fellow out), so I picked him up and cradled him in my lap during the pastor’s message.  We made it almost to the end when my son sat straight up, no longer tired, and said in not quite a whisper: “Raise your hand if you’re so excited about Christmas!”

Every one of us in the pew raised our hands just a teeny bit, not high enough for anyone else in the church to see, but enough so he wouldn’t launch into the full-scale interrogation.

After Christmas, he kept the excitement going.  He enjoyed every bit of Christmas break.  Then I explained our New Year’s Eve plans and how our family usually has family game night, eats special snacks and watches funny videos on TV.

The first thing he asked as he rubbed sleep out of his eyes at 7:30 a.m. on December 31st was  if it was time yet for the game playing and  the snack eating and the funny video watching.

He was ready. Ready all day.  He quizzed me at 10  a.m. and again at noon and then afternoon right up until we (finally) started celebrating.

During the Christmas season, I felt a continual nudging as I read each part of the story: am I living with expectation?

The wise men were searching the night sky.  They were actively looking, digging deep into ancient Scriptures,  studying promises,  watching for their fulfillment.  Then, at the first sign of God on the move, they chose active obedience and pursuit.  They left behind the familiar, they traveled far from  home, because they wanted to see what God was doing.

Simeon and Anna both knew the Messiah was coming.  They had been promised  and assured of  his imminence.  With profound expectation, they lingered in the temple courts, hoping for the day they would  see the Savior with their own eyes.  And they did.  God did what He said He would do.

Am I this excited?  Am I expectant?

I’m not really. Not as excited as my son, and not as expectant as the wise men, or Simeon, or Anna.  I’m not watchful or hopeful of seeing the goodness God is doing.

Maybe you’ve started this new year with just that high level of expectation and excitement.  Or, maybe you’re more like me, limping in slowly, timidly, a little worn out from the hard season you’ve just walked through–hoping (but not certain) that the most difficult steps are finally in the past.

Maybe you’ve been waiting and there’s more waiting to be done.

I read this today:

Now the people were waiting expectantly, and all of them were questioning in their hearts whether John might be the Messiah  (Luke 3:6 CSB).

Can we all be expectant?

It wasn’t just the Christmas characters who lived with anticipation of the Messiah; it was a general buzz of anticipation.  Crowds lined the riverfront to see John the Baptist because they “were waiting expectantly,” on the lookout for a Savior.

And one day, they stood along that riverbank  and watched as Jesus Himself stepped out of the crowd and into the water to be baptized.

They were seeking and because they were seeking, they found the Lord Himself.

So,  what am I seeking?

I’m not seeking answers or direction.  I’m not seeking next steps or a Promised Land or a bright future.

This is what Scripture says:

You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart (Jeremiah 29:13)

and

 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you (Matthew 6:33).

I can raise my hand because I’m so excited to see Jesus. Even the worn-out me who is tempted to hide away can instead be stirred up with eager expectation because I want to see the Lord and to see God’s kingdom at work in the here and now.  I’m so excited to catch glimpses of His glory this year,  knowing that He is present and He is powerful.

He is a Good God.  And He is doing Good things.

 

 

Christmas Stories On Days Like Today

Today was the most ordinary of ordinary days  with a hint of drab and dreary thrown in.

We heard the rain strengthen as my girls grabbed their backpacks to leave for school, so I drove them to the bus stop and we sat in the minivan where it was dry (but not quite warm).  I told one daughter to pray about her missing retainer  and hoped this is a way God would draw her close.  (May He teach her how to turn to Him for everything?)  Then I wished them well on the last day of school before Christmas break as we saw the bus lights through the fog.

I ran errands, including a visit to the post office where the employee helped me figure out the least expensive way to ship a Christmas package.  I met with a piano tuner, folded laundry, packed lunches, and made meals.  At some point today, I answered emails and made some  phone calls.

I avoided puddles (which my son stepped in) and slipped around mud throughout the day. At the end of the afternoon, I comforted a daughter whose day ended with some disappointments and hurt feelings.

Mostly I searched for the missing  retainer (in the trash, under the furniture, around town, in the cabinets, down the sofa cushions) and prayed about the missing retainer, then made a bunch of plans to replace it only to have my prayer  answered 10 minutes before I left to pick up my daughter and head to the orthodontist.  I found the elusive retainer where  it had fallen down from the shelf where she had safely placed it.

But that was the day.  Finding it took nearly the whole day.

We baked cupcakes for my daughter’s birthday, and watched a movie while I cleaned the kitchen and worked on getting a stain out of another daughter’s sweatshirt.

A day like today, completely saturated in so much ordinary–missing dental appliances, messes, errands, and chores–doesn’t feel very much like “Christmas.”  It wasn’t all flashing lights, beauty, extraordinary worship, or holy feelings . There wasn’t snow or “magic”  or warm and fuzzy, jolly or joyful fun.

Somewhere in the middle of the afternoon, I had a moment of feeling disappointed in myself really.  The pile of  clean and folded laundry and the found retainer seemed like all I had really accomplished today.

Not exactly the kind of success that makes headlines.

But then I remembered that Christmas means something deeply and powerfully true:

God came down into the ordinary.

He came down into MY ordinary.  And He inhabits my ordinary days in the here and now of my waking-and-sleeping life.

He didn’t come extravagant, grand, wealthy, and powerful.  He came plain and simple . He came small: A tiny, insignificant town called Bethlehem.  A poor couple, a young girl and her husband, a laborer.  A bed of hay and a makeshift outfit.  Shepherds called out of their nightly vigil on the hillsides to “come and see”  this tiny, unexpected Savior.

What if he had come differently?  What if all the pomp and circumstance had been there, making the first Christmas a grand event of royal magnitude: Red carpets, crowns, robes, a palace, power, wealth, and position?

What if Jesus had come untouchable, unapproachable, and inaccessible?

An out-of-reach Messiah couldn’t have saved anyone.

Jesus came on an oh-so-ordinary day to an oh-so-ordinary town and reached oh-so-ordinary people.

That’s where I live, too–in ordinary places, on ordinary days, doing ordinary things with ordinary people.

Max Lucado  wrote:

“Jesus did not separate himself from his creation; he pitched his tent in the neighborhood”  (God’s Story, Your Story)

John said it this way:

 And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14 NASB).

That means our story can be a Christmas story of its own, how the Savior dwells in the simplest of places and uses simple people like us.  How he is so extraordinary but He meets me right here in the middle of all my ordinary.   How God impacts the world as we run errands, clean messes, make phone calls, and pray for our kids.

This is what Max Lucado said:

“…you live an everyday life.  You have bills to pay, beds to make, and grass to cut.  Your face won’t grace any magazine covers, and you aren’t expecting a call from the White House.  Congratulations.  You qualify for a modern-day Christmas story.  God enters the world through folks like you and comes on days like today” (God’s Story, Your Story).

So today, this ordinary day, is part of my Christmas story:  “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  We need your presence here among us even now.

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There was evening and there was morning

My son is holding me to a very strict Christmas decorating regimen this year and I  am not meeting his deadlines.

But, he’s five and excited, so I don’t fret too much.  I want the house decorated,  too, and I understand all the anticipation and expectation.

Normally, I am a weekend-after Thanksgiving decorator when it comes  to Christmas.

But this year,  some family traveling changed our routine a bit.  I wasn’t even home to start decking the halls until Sunday afternoon and by then I was already behind my son’s schedule.

Why in the world was our tree not up the moment Thanksgiving ended?  That’s what he wanted to  know.

Perhaps he expected little Christmas decorating elves to apply themselves to the task while we were away.  In fact, that’d be a sweet surprise for me,  too!

Alas, no elves strung the lights or hung the stockings and garland.  So, that meant working away bit by bit, light strand by light strand with one consistent periodic interruption from my taskmaster 5-year-old:   “Are the lights up yet?  Where are the lights?  When will the lights be done?”

What  my son doesn’t fully understand is this is all a process: The cleaning up of Thanksgiving decorations, the unpacking of Christmas decorations, putting the tree up and pulling out the ladder to decorate outside, checking light strands and replacing burnt out bulbs, untangling garland, finding extension cords and plugging everything in.

It’s not a snap my fingers and voila kind of  thing.  It’s working away, little by little, with patience until there is light and beauty and Christmas.

And this is the way, isn’t it?  Most  of the time we just want the light and we want the light now.  We tire easily of delays, of waiting, of tension or difficulty.

Giving up on hope feels easier than continuing to look for redemption.

Here’s the truth built  into the very structure of creation, though, and this is what we fight against, but this is what is nevertheless true:

First there is evening.  Then there is morning.

First there is the waiting.  Then there is the sunrise.

First there is dark.  Then there is light.

First there is the resting in the Lord.  Then there is His miraculous provision of sun, of light, of hope fulfilled, of redemption and of His glory.

Genesis 1 peals out  this reminder like  a relentless echo, every single day of creation ends in the same way:

“And there was evening and there was morning” (Genesis 1:5 NASB).

Every day, God’s acts of creation ended the same:   Evening.  Morning.

Never the other way around.  Never the light first, the glory first, the joy first,  the fulfillment first.  Always the investment of walking and waiting through the dark of night until  God delivers with the morning dawn.

And He does deliver.  So, we have that  consistent assurance in creation itself that yes, this is darkness right now and it is hard to have faith, yes it looks  bleak, it’s heartbreaking and difficult,  yes you are weary and maybe frightened to your very core or overwhelmed because you simply cannot see….

But this:  “There was morning.”

There  will be morning.

Eugene Peterson describes this as “victory of God’s light.”

He said:

God’s day is not complete  until light shines again, penetrating the darkness and dispersing the shadows.  The creative action of God is light, which encloses and limits a temporary darkness…The shadows are there–night descends upon life–and there is that which seems to defy God, to disturb his order and his purpose: sickness, death,  trouble, and sorrow. But it does not have the last word:  ‘And there  was morning, one day.’ (Every Step an Arrival)

We have the promise also that even when we feel blind and abandoned in the dark places, God sees through.  Before we can ever see Him, He sees us—He always sees us.

The Psalmist said:

“Even the darkness is not dark to You,
And the night is as bright as the day.
Darkness and light are alike to You” (Psalm 139:12 NASB)

I read this explanation  in Barnes’s notes on the Bible:

” things appear dark to us–disappointment, bereavement, trouble, care, losses; but all is light to God.”

It’s all light to Him.

So, maybe I can hold on through the process.  Maybe I can cling a little harder to hope.  Maybe I can wait a little longer before giving up,  before despairing, before looking for an easier way.

Because this isn’t dark to Him.  And because at the end of this, at the end of all of this evening….there will be morning.  There will be light again.

This is where we are

 

I’ve been sending kids to preschool now for nine years.  That’s four kids, three girls and one boy, all with different personalities and obviously different birth order.

I’ll tell you what’s the same .

Being the line leader is a big deal.

A really big deal.

I haven’t ever given birth to a child who apparently finds the end of the line satisfactory.

It’s not just line-leading that my kids love.  It’s also often been about prime seating spots around classroom tables or for morning circle time.

One of my daughters refused to  wear her jacket well into November during her preschool days.  We had a big to-do each morning as we headed out the door to preschool.  I insisted that it  was too cold to go jacket-less; she broke down into hysterics over wearing a jacket.  It took me several weeks to  root out the cause—hanging up her jacket in the morning slowed her down and meant someone else usually sat next to  her best friend at calendar time.  She’d rather freeze or come down with pneumonia rather than give up a place next to  her buddy.

And then there was another daughter who declined to take dance classes for three months because one little girl  always insisted on sitting on the triangle spot instead of taking turns.  After all, sitting on the circle was unsatisfactory.

Prime place, favorite positions, the perfect spot–we want to be where we want to be.

And then, sometimes,  God puts us down in a place we don’t want to be and it’s a stretch to our souls.  Maybe we  feel we could snap with the tension and the pull of the longing versus the reality.

Over there is where we want to be, but this is where we are, and that is hard.

It’s when prayers are  answered with a “no” or the hoped-for doors close in front of us or the one thing we hoped would never ever happen does happen.  It’s loss and grief and brokenness with deep disappointment underneath it  all.

What then?

Today, I re-read Psalm 23 and I remember what my Good Shepherd does:

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3 NASB).

The  Lord my Shepherd guides and leads me, but He isn’t always leading me where it’s cozy or comfy or always convenient.  Instead, He’s leading me in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.”

He’s not working for my pleasure; He’s working for His glory, always for the glory of  His name.  And that means I might end up munching on some  lush grass and drinking down some  cool water. Or I could be walking on paths of righteousness  that are rockier than I’d like them to be or steep or shaded and deep in the valley.

I  have to trust Him, believe deeply and with full assurance that this path He has me on is for His glory and He will lead me where I need to go. He will restore me and refresh me with the meadows and the calm streams when I need them the most.

He will not abandon me.

But I also read this in Jennifer Rothschild’s study, Psalm 23:

I can be wrong even on the right path (p. 99).

It’s not just  trudging along that path of righteousness, begrudging, unhappy,  complaining,  maybe even bitter that makes me right with the Lord.   That may be obedience, but it’s not the obedience God desires—the yielded heart, the trust, the love.

My attitude matters.

Jennifer Rothschild says it this way:

We don’t control the path.  All we control is  our attitude and actions on the path.

So I grieve a little and Jesus understands.  He has compassion for me in the middle of the brokenness.  He is gracious and gentle as I lay down what I hoped for and what I prayed for.

I give it over to Him and I try to follow my Shepherd on this path of righteousness, this hard and rocky path, with a yielded and trusting heart instead of a begrudging or fearful one.

Because He is my Good Shepherd.  And He will  work out even the hardest seasons for the glory of His name.  And it  will be good.  And He will  refresh and renew.  That is who He is and this is what He does.