The Queen of Countdowns

 

A little reminder from a few years ago when my “baby” girl was 7.  A countdown to summer is on our minds again!

“Mom, I’m only about 9 years away from getting my driver’s license and when I do, Andrew will be 12.”

This is what my baby girl yelled up at me from the back of the minivan yesterday.

Yes, the baby girl who is celebrating her seventh birthday this morning is already calculating the countdown to her driver’s license.

Way to make your mom’s heart skip a few beats.

This week, while her older sisters were away at summer camp, she also calculated how long it might be before she got a job.

Then she decided she wants to head off to summer camp next year and counted off how many months it would be until she could register.

My Catherine is the queen of the countdown.  She is forever calculating the time between now and the next dream-come-true.

On the first day of summer vacation, we presented my daughters with a wrapped gift.  Inside, we included a picture frame displaying an image:  Mickey Mouse ears with the words:  “Days Until Disney:  ___.”

Everyone was excited, but it’s my baby girl who became the official keeper of the countdown.  She’s faithful and focused.  Every morning, she pads out of her room still yawning and heads straight for the Mickey Mouse picture.  She uses the dry erase marker to alter the numbers.  One more day down.  One less day to the dream-come-true.

This isn’t quite the same as my goal-setting older daughter, the girl who sets tasks and accomplishes them.  My older girl is all about pushing herself to personal achievement.  She makes schedules, checklists, and charts and sticks to them until she’s raced across another finish line.

But this is different. This isn’t self-discipline and it’s not about achieving or doing in any way.

My baby girl loves countdowns because they allow her to throw down anchors of hope in the midst of the everyday.

And she enjoys today completely because she knows that another good day is coming: The day when it’s her birthday.  The day when she has that playdate with her dear friend.  The day when we pack the minivan and head to Florida.  The day when her sisters come home from summer camp.

They’re all good days and they’re all coming.

So, today she can relax, kick back her feet and enjoy it all.  It’s all part of the journey from here to the promised land, and the view is just fine.

This is the natural inclination of her heart; she overflows with joy  and she bubbles up with gratitude for all the gifts of every day.

Maybe it’s not the natural leaning in my own soul, but I take it to heart and I pray I can be more like this seven-year-old girl—this daughter who was so excited to spend a week of “alone time” while her big sisters were away at camp and who is equally excited to see them come home again.  It’s all good with her.

I can learn, this too.

I can learn how to throw down anchors of hope in the middle of the beautiful, and the everyday, and the seemingly hopeless situations.  All of them.

In Acts 27, Paul was headed on a ship to Rome that was caught in a tempest in the Adriatic Sea.  The sailors and crew despaired and fretted.

Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:29 ESV).

Stormy seas.  Threatening rocks.  The possibility of shipwreck.  The appearance of disaster.

Surely we’ve all been there.  Maybe we are there.  Maybe we’ll be there someday.

And right in the middle of the season that seems forever or the situation that seems like it can’t possibly get better, not ever–right then is when we “drop anchor…and pray for daylight.”

Throw down the anchors, the truths we know that will clamp us to the rocky foundation of faith, and watch for God’s deliverance.

God is faithful. 

He will not abandon us.

He has a plan.

He will be glorified.

He is sovereign and He is able.

Scripture tells us:

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:19 ESV).

The Message paraphrase says it this way:

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God (Hebrews 6:18-20 MSG).

Grab on to hope with both of your hands and don’t let go.

That anchor that you toss down–that future promise, that assurance of deliverance–reaches right to the presence of God.

Full of questions in a season of change

My eighth-grader and I started having conversations with the high school guidance counselor in January.  Emails.  Phone calls.  Face-to-face meetings.  Then another round of all of the above.

She has filled out forms and answered questions, made requests and submitted papers, sent  emails and then replied to the replies.

We’ve been prayerful, deeply prayerful.  When her plans don’t work out exactly as she wants, we’ve gone back to our knees, prayed again, and tried something new.

While she’s been prepping for her first year of high school, my son is on his own transition to a new season.  Last week  we walked into the elementary school with a folder of paperwork,  I handed over the form and just like that–he’s registered for kindergarten.

We’re praying over that, too, over teacher decisions and classmates and friends he’ll make.

Seasons of transition are seasons that should draw us into prayer and that’s me right now.  Praying my way right on through!

I read in the book of Judges this morning about a familiar Biblical scenario:  the Angel of the Lord visited a barren woman and told her she would give birth to a son.

He then gave her some specific instructions: don’t drink alcohol or eat anything unclean while you’re pregnant.  Never cut his hair because he’ll be a Nazirite from birth and “he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman excitedly told her husband about the message from the Angel and her husband, Manoah, does something I’d probably do:

He asked for more information.

He said, “Let’s pray and maybe the visitor will come back and tell us more about how to take care of this child.”

The Bible says, “God listened.”  He heard their prayers and did indeed return.

I’ve had my own questions these past few months as I’ve prayed for my children, so I “get” Manoah.  I understand wanting to make sure we do this right., wanting all the answers to all the questions.

My daughter breaks down into tears a few times  in this process, and I realize she has this tremendous pressure to do it all exactly right, make every decision perfectly.  If she chooses one wrong class, if she makes one wrong course selection, then maybe it will mess up everything–college choices, career options, the timeline of her life.

I remind her  (and myself at the same time) that God is tenderly gracious.  He guides us and redirects us and when we seek His will, He helps us know what to do.

If she’s seeking Him, she’s not ruining her life.

And I think about what  this means for my own transition season.   At least a dozen people have asked me in the last few months, “What are you going to do when your youngest starts school in September?”

Maybe I’m feeling the same kind of pressure as my daughter.  To make every right decision so I don’t mess up the transition or waste the opportunity.  I have my own questions to  place before the Lord.

I realize today as I read, though, that Manoah didn’t ask the right questions.  When the angel of the Lord came back , Manoah didn’t ask the things he originally said he was going to ask.  He didn’t say, “What do we need  to do to parent our son well or help him follow the Lord or fulfill his calling?”

Instead, he said this:

 “When your words come true, what will be the boy’s responsibilities and work?” (Judges 13:12 CSB).

Oh, Manoah.  I totally get you.

He said he just wanted some details about what they should do as parents, but what he really wanted to know was the end of the whole big story.   Tell me the grand plan.  Tell me everything about what my son is going to do as an adult and what your mission and purpose is for him .

Lord, tell me everything. 

But the Angel of the Lord ignored that question as if it had never been asked and simply repeated what he said before: your wife shouldn’t eat anything unclean or drink any alcohol when she’s pregnant.

He didn’t tell Manoah what’s going to happen 20 years from now. when their son, Samson, became an adult.  Instead, he only told Manoah what needed to happen in the next 9 months.

I need this same redirection for my heart and I need it frequently–that when I need to know what the next step is, He will show me the next step.  For my children and for me.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

 

We Celebrate Courage (Because We’re Not Naturally Courageous)

 

Bravery doesn’t run rampant in this house.

My kids and I freak out about bugs.

We grab for a dry towel when water splashes into our eyes.

We talk through all possibilities and potential scenarios so we won’t freak about what’s new and different.

We inch into doorways when there’s a room full of new people.

We’re not adventurers or discoverers, explorers or conquerors.  We’re not risk-takers or rock-the-boaters.  We’re not the movers or the shakers.

No, we’re planners and organizers.  We’re the faithful and the hard-working and the folks dipping their toes in all gentle and nervous on the side of the pool to test the waters before jumping in.

That’s why we celebrate every victory in our house, every display of courage and every hint of bravery.

The year that my most fear-prone daughter announced she was really going to ride an actual roller coaster instead of the kiddie ride at Busch Gardens, we cheered her on.  I took pictures.  We celebrated and high-fived after her victory.

And when my older girls went on to try out other roller coasters, we looked straight in their eyes and told them we were so proud of the courage in them.

Even when my one daughter tried a roller coaster and hated it and complained that it was creepy and made her afraid, we still celebrated because she tried it.

She doesn’t have to ride again—that’s wisdom.  In Let’s All Be Brave, Annie Downs says, ‘The road to courage is lit by God’s wisdom.”

But to overcome her fears and try at all—that’s courage.

I’ve spent years of motherhood praying for my kids to be brave and celebrating every time they battle down fear.

I tell them:

It’s okay to make mistakes, so just give it a try.

I tell them:

God is with you, so don’t fear.  Just relax and trust Him.

I tell it to them and maybe along the way I’m preaching to myself.

Sure there are plenty of other kids who have faced down bigger and badder roller coasters than we’ll ever dare to try.  We’re no daredevils after all.  But still, that’s not the same as true bravery.

Bravery doesn’t require doing what everyone else is doing or trying to keep up with or match the accomplishments of others.  Courage is so personal; it’s not about you being like anyone else.

And, while not feeling any fear at all can make you look courageous on the outside, it can also make you foolhardy.

That’s not what courage is.

Being brave isn’t the same as being unafraid.  Bravery means doing the right thing no matter what, even if you tremble in your sneakers and even if your stomach flip-flops with fear.  

You trample all over the anxiety and the worry and the fearfulness and you do it anyway.

YOU DON’T LET FEAR CONTROL YOU, IMPRISON YOU, OR HOLD YOU BACK FROM WHAT GOD HAS CALLED YOU TO DO.

Those men and women of courage in Scripture didn’t follow God without facing their own fears.

When Mordecai told Esther that she needed to petition King Xerxes for the rescue of her people, she told him why that was too much to ask:

“All the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law—to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days” (Esther 4:11 ESV).

Esther, the poster-child for Biblical courage, was scared out of her mind.  She knew she couldn’t obey God on her own so she asked her to people to fast and pray with her for three days before she finally set one foot in front of the other and walked into the throne room to see the King.

She was terrified.  But she still took a stand.

That’s being brave:  Obeying God even when you’re afraid.

God’s calling can cost us.  It can be frightening and unsettling.  He can ask you to face down giants or ask you to face down change or ask you to face down the unknown.

In all circumstances, he tells His people to “Be strong and courageous.”  He knows, after all, that we aren’t naturally strong or naturally brave.

But He also knows we take courage from His presence–and He promises to be with us.

Those Who Plan Peace Have Joy

My five-year-old son just finished his first season of soccer on Wednesday.  By Thursday,  he was asking me, “When does soccer start again?’

I guess that means the season was a success.

He headed out to his first practice in February and even the absolutely bitterly freezing cold didn’t dampen his soccer spirit. He was happy to practice and happy to  play (especially defense so he could chat with his other teammates and listen to them tell jokes).

My son is a pretty social guy.

After two weeks in the season, though, every time I said, “It’s almost time for soccer,” he always had one question to ask:

“Is it a practice or a game?”

He’d had a deep revelation about soccer, something he didn’t realize in advance and really hadn’t anticipated.

Games are hard.

Practices are super fun.  He could run across the field, touch his toes, do some toe taps on the ball, dribble to the goal, and all those practice activities.

The idea of a game even sounded fun at first:  All those kids on the field at the same time plus all the people on the sidelines watching, family cheering  you on, snacks at the end of the game.

What’s not to love?

My son says it best: “When there’s another team trying to take the ball away, soccer is just harder.”

I get that.

It’s the opposition he doesn’t like and who,  after all, wants an enemy?   Who would rather have conflict than peace?

I read about this contrast in Proverbs:

Deceit is in the hearts of those who plot evil, but those who promote peace have joy (Proverbs 12:20 CSB).

I posted this verse up on my fridge almost two years ago and I keep it up because I’m still mulling this over and meditating on what it really means to be a promoter of peace.  Or, as other translations say: A person of peace.  A planner of peace.  A counselor of peace.  A lover of peace.  

When you don’t have anyone needling your soul with conflict or judgment, disagreement or criticism it’s pretty easy to promote peace and to have joy.

But the Psalmist knew that even when we long for peace, we sometimes (maybe even often!) live among those who don’t.

In Psalm 120, the Psalmist mourns:

I have dwelt too long
with those who hate peace.
I am for peace; but when I speak,
they are for war (Psalm 120:6-7 CSB). 

And that’s where the Psalm ends.  This jars my heart a bit because most Psalms make a movement from despair to praise, from conflict to hope in the Lord.  But this Psalm lingers in a place of sadness.

The Psalmist wants peace but those around him want war.

The end.

Psalm over.

Most of us know what that feels like.  After a prolonged time of conflict or discouragement or even maybe just annoyance, we feel battle-weary, worn-out, emptied out, and plain out done-in.

Barnes’s Notes on the Bible say:

There are many trials in human life, but there are few which are more galling, or more hard to bear than this….It has been an injury to me; to my piety, to my comfort, to my salvation. it has vexed me, tried me, hindered me in my progress in the divine life.

So what hope is there for us peacemakers who live in a land of war?

We stumble on landmines of unexpected conflict and it tumbles us into pain, distraction, and wound recovery.  It’s hard to  serve Jesus when battle wounds are on our mind and the sadness of opposition is on our heart.

My son thought maybe he could practice and enjoy everything about soccer and just not go to the games.

But I realized as I read Psalm 120 again today that the Psalmist made another choice.

This Psalm is the first in a series of fifteen chapters called The  Psalms of  Ascent, which were sung by pilgrims on the trip up to Jerusalem during the three major feasts.

So, I turn to Psalm 121 and I continue the Psalmist’s thought. He lived too long among those who loved war….but:

I lift my eyes toward the mountains.
Where will my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth. (Psalm 121:1-2 CSB).

We make the pilgrimage closer to Him–because HE is our peace.   We  don’t rush the process.  We look up rather than looking back at the sludge of conflict.  We press on with other pilgrims, traveling together, choosing not to abandon hope in others completely.  And we sing praises along the way because worship redirects our hearts back to the Prince of Peace Himself.

It’s a journey where we peace-loving pilgrims heal up one faithful forward -moving step at a time.

He loved me and Gave Himself for me

“Use your self-control.”

This is one of my favorite takeaways from my son’s preschool teachers this year.  They are so gentle and measured when they say it.

He’s ready to lose it over a near-tragedy—not getting to sit next to his good friend or struggling with the zipper to his backpack because it’s extra full that day.

Their gentle reminder is the same: “Use your self-control.”

I love that it assumes he  has self-control and that he can access it, that somehow this little pause and this little reminder gives him the ability to breathe….reflect….choose.

Meltdown?  Or self-control?

He’s in progress.  He sometimes  chooses meltdown.

Me too.

Fruitfulness is part of the Holy Spirit’s work in us.  It means He is alive, and He is active, and we are yielded to Him.

Paul tells us:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. The law is not against such things (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

It’s not a list for me to tackle like some holy agenda.  It is not up to me to manufacture goodness or to self-concoct gentleness or peace.   It takes  a leaning in with the full weight of my fractured soul on the strength and the character of God in me.

May He be at work and may the work-in-progress be me.

May He be the one to cultivate love in me, to stir up joy, to  grow patience, to establish goodness.

May I be the one to learn, to long for the Spirit and to open myself up to the work that He does.  May I be the one to  focus my eyes on Jesus and His own fruitfulness because He is the perfect model of:

Love.
Joy
Peace
Patience
Kindness
Goodness
Faithfulness
Gentleness
Self-Control

And when I see this fruit in Jesus,  I love Him for it.  I long to be like Him, to let Him shine in my heart, to turn over hardened ground and to till up the soil and to plant the seeds.  Fruitfulness, Lord.  Abundant fruitfulness in my life. 

It seems fitting during Holy Week to consider Jesus and the fruit He bore out on the cross.

Some conflict, some uncertainty, some worry, some stress may bring out the uglies in me.  I’m not always loving, not always peaceful, not always gentle when my kids are picking at each other at the kitchen table and we’re rushing because we need  to be out the door in 8 minutes and I’m still  trying  to cook dinner and give a practice spelling test to  a child.

But Jesus endured all of the pain of the garden, the betrayal, the trial, the beating, the mocking, the condemnation, the cross, the sin and the separation.

And the fruitfulness is still there:  He showed love, joy, peace.  Despite the pain, He was gentle and kind, good and faithful.

He also “used His self-control” by choosing the cross for Himself so He could offer forgiveness to us.  It was, after all, His choice to make.

He wrestled in prayer and made the final declaration on His knees:   “Not my will, but Thy will be done.”

That set His destination.   He would not give into fear or to  the flesh.  He would  choose the cross.

And He chose not to call down angels to rescue Him when the soldiers marched into the Garden of Gethsemane (Matthew 27:41-42).

With the very power of His voice there  in the Garden, He spoke the words:  I AM.  Then all of the military might fell to the ground, struck down by two  small words spoken by the Messiah.

What an embarrassing mess for them.  They were all geared up, swords and clubs at the ready, and a completely average-looking Jewish teacher said two little words and they landed on their backsides.

They walked out of the Garden with Jesus  as their captive because Jesus chose to be their captive.  Paul says it this way, Jesus “loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 CSB).

The author, Selwyn Hughes, reminds me that Paul lists self-control last in the fruit of the Spirit.  It’s not first.  We don’t begin with self-control and then produce all  the other fruit, even though that’s likely what we try to do sometimes.

“I will be more holy. I will be more righteous. I will hate sin more.”

That’s self-righteousness at work.

Instead, Hughes writes that we begin with love—just as Paul lists it in Galatians 5– and “when you begin with love, you end up with self-control.”

Christ’s love covers us and compels us.

Because we are oh-so-loved by a Savior who is oh-so-good and who chose the cross for us,  we delight in Him and in what pleases Him and what pleases Him is the Spirit’s fruit in us.

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.