Lessons from Living Among the Boxes

We are living among boxes.

Just  days after our home inspection was done and everything was set to move ahead with selling our house,  I started packing little by little as strategically as possible.

But that strategy didn’t matter in the end, because our move was delayed about 2-1/2 weeks,  so all those things I put in those boxes didn’t necessarily stay there.

For one thing, I didn’t expect to still be in this house when my daughter went off  to camp.   So, I had packed all  the extra flashlights.  And the sleeping bag.  And the extra bug spray.

At first,  it was a bit funny.

I packed up the extra school supplies one day and threw into the box a pink plastic protractor that I last used when I took geometry, oh about 23 years ago.

No one in  this entire house has used this protractor in over two decades.

That very afternoon, though, my fifth grader came home from school, pulled out her math homework and asked, “Mom, do you have a protractor I can use?”

For real.

So,  I did what I have become  an expert at doing.  I found the box, opened it back up, slipped my hand in and pulled out what she needed.

Box fishing.

I’ve been “box fishing” for two months.

Most of the time, I can find an item in just one try.  Every once in a while,  I need to open two boxes to find the one I want.

But one day, after being at peace through this whole process, my son wanted a particular toy from a box.  And I hunted.  And searched.  I opened box after box.

That’s what did me in.  That’s the day I cried.  That’s the day I told God, “This is hard and I’ve been beaten down.”

I  did finally find those micro-machine tanks and airplanes he was looking for,  but the emotional battle was a way bigger deal than any effort to  find the right box.

That was about the time I wondered if we’d have to open all these boxes back up and put everything back where it came from without moving at all.

But today we got the phone call saying it’s all  set.   Papers will be signed.  Money wired.  More papers signed.  Keys handed over.

This is it!

“Living among the boxes” is something I’ve done before just in different ways.

It’s about waiting rooms and transitions, about not knowing the outcome and not knowing the date on the calendar when a promise will be fulfilled.

It’s about leaving what you do know and stepping out into the unknown,  maybe stumbling along the way.

Living among the boxes is a daily lesson in needing Jesus.

How easily I can be toppled into a pit of worry from a place  of peace.

How easily discouragement and disappointment can wear a body right down.

But I think Jesus  knows that.  He knows how hard it is to hold  onto hope when everything looks hopeless.

He knows what it’s like when God asks us to travel  a road we’d rather not be on.

So when I cry for “mercy” and when I tell Him how another round of bad news has me reeling, I’m so thankful for His compassion.

He doesn’t always snap His fingers and fix everything perfectly in that second, but He does minister to my hurt with the encouragement I desperately need.

He did this for Jairus, too.  When Jairus asked Jesus to  please come and heal his daughter, Jesus followed him right away.  But there was a delay.

So, Jairus’s daughter died.

 While he was still speaking, there came from the ruler’s house some who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”36 But overhearing] what they said, Jesus said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not fear, only believe. (Mark 5:35-36 ESV).

Jairus received the worst possible news, but Jesus’ words were what he needed  to  hold  onto hope even in the impossible:

Do not fear, only believe.

We all have hard days.  We have worn-out days and sad days and I-just-want-to-give-up-days.

Jesus told the disciples what to do on those days and it echoes with familiarity:

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1 ESV).

Do not fear, only believe.

I don’t think Jesus meant this as a “buck up and just have some faith kind of speech.”

I think He knew what Jairus needed, what the disciples needed, and what we truly need: Comfort. Reassurance.  Hope.

Don’t be afraid. 

Yes, this is scary, but do not fear.

Just keep your eyes on me and believe.

Well friends, with the move finally here I’m signing off for  a bit until after we’re in our new place.  I’ll get back to posting in a week or two!  ~Heather~

How our hearts long for home

Way back in September, my son screamed and kicked as I carried him back into the house after his sisters climbed onto the big yellow school bus.

He still struggled some mornings well into the spring,  especially after spring break.

This morning, partway through June, he once again stomped around the house with his chin tucked down to his chest and his arms criss-crossed after the girls walked out the door.

All this morning I tried to explain summer break to him, painting it as vividly as I could.  This is the very last day in the school  year.  The girls will get to be with us more and we’ll  have adventures together and time at home with each other.

But he still grumped around for at least 30 minutes because that didn’t make sense to him.  The “Promised Land” of summer was closer than he ever realized, but still too far away to be real.

I  sympathize with him.  I know what it’s like to long for the promise fulfilled and to be oh so close, but not quite there yet.

On Monday, I  walked through our soon-to-be new house and signed off saying it’s fixed up the way we want.

Then I drove back home to our current house, dug out yet another item I had already packed in a box,  and continued the waiting for word of our closing date.

So, longing for what’s right around the corner but not being able to fully relax and celebrate?  I’m right there with you, son.

This insatiable longing for what is to come makes me wonder, though, why I don’t ache more often for “home.”

All of us should be longing for heaven.  It should be a deep stirring within us because absolutely nothing we achieve or receive on this planet will fill up that gnawing need for eternity with Jesus.

Before He died, Jesus comforted His disciples with these words:

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also (John 14:1-3 ESV).

Our heart’s truest desire should be this: to be with Christ in that place He’s prepared for us.

We can live like Abraham, who was willing to  abide in tents because “he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, who designer and builder is God”  (Hebrews 11:10 ESV).

He didn’t need a palace, a mansion, or a luxury condo.  Instead, he was satisfied with a tent because he had heaven in mind.

And those other ancestors of faith looked forward also.  The Bible says, “They desire a better country, that is,  a heavenly one” (Hebrews 11:15).

Isn’t this what we desire, too?

When we  hear the news yet again:

Divorce.   Abuse.  Neglect.  Death.  Cancer.   Pain.  Injustice.  Starvation and famine.  Poverty.

Don’t we ache with the way this doesn’t fit?  It’s not right?  This isn’t God’s best?

And that’s when we remember to cry out:  Come, Lord Jesus!  We long for you so!

We long for heaven.  This yearning for the eternal is deep within us and it should drive who we are.

It should stir us to PATIENCE with the now when God asks us to wait because we keep looking forward to His promises fulfilled.

It stir us to  ACT.  Stand up for what is right.  Pursue righteousness.  Offer mercy.  Live justly.  Because the Kingdom of God is  something we can live now in anticipation of perfection in heaven.

Eternity doesn’t begin for Christians after we die.  Eternity begins the moment we accept Christ as Lord.  I’m already living in my “forever with the Lord” and that means pursuing Jesus’s presence here and now.

And it should stir us to PRAY:  To come before Him with hearts crushed and broken by sin and evil.  We seek the hope that only Jesus can bring: the assurance that this isn’t all  there is.

He is indeed preparing a place for us.

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4 ESV).

“This world is not my home; I’m just a-passing through.”

Looking beyond the bad day

My daughter had a rough day.

Maybe it wasn’t even that the whole day was bad.  But when she tossed her backpack in the minivan at the end of the afternoon and slipped into her seat, she started venting.

This was frustrating.  That was  annoying.  This wasn’t fair.  That wasted her time.  This was hard.  That wasn’t right.

She’s such a generally positive person, but all her buttons had been pushed.  Every one of them.  And the frustrations had piled up into a huge overwhelming load.

Now she felt tired and discouraged, disappointed and defeated, like she just wanted to  crash out on the sofa with a pillow and a good book as an escape .

So, we slipped into “soul care mode.”

I let her talk.  At home,  I quietly turned on the tea kettle and made her a cup of tea.  I slipped my arms around her shoulders.

I reminded her that she was almost done.   This was all  almost finished.  Just a day, maybe two, and then summer break was here.

Then I told her my secret weapon.  When I have something I just don’t want to do and that I’m dreading, I plan a reward for myself.

When I’m finished making these phone calls, I’ll eat some chocolate.   When I have that tough conversation, I’ll read  a good book.  When I finish the to-do list,  I’ll go for a walk.

Then I leap in and get it over with.  Just do it already.  I think the whole time about that reward and then treat myself when it’s all  over.

Because finishing, obeying, and persevering all deserve a little celebration and maybe a lot of chocolate.

We tended to her heart a bit and then I prayed for her.

By the time we climbed back into the minivan, she was at peace and feeling hopeful and ready for what was ahead.

That night,  I found myself tending to my own soul a bit.  A cup of tea.  Some chocolate chip cookies.  A good book.

So  many of you,  my friends, have asked me if we’ve moved yet.  It was supposed to be this Monday, then some day this week.  Then maybe next Monday.  Now we just can’t even say.

We are still here, surrounded by boxes, waiting and waiting to  sign those papers and pack that moving truck.

So, I have had a hard day.   Maybe even a week.

Most of the time I can cheerfully manage trust and cheerfully choose peace.

But there are those moments when that wave of frustration, disappointment or anxiety just crashes down so hard I’m knocked off my faith-feet and flailing wildly, about ready to drown.

Soul care helps.  Cups of tea and bites of chocolate.   Planning out rewards for when this is all done.  Wearing my favorite cozy, white socks and my most comfortable fleece jacket on an unexpectedly cool day.  Good books and my best music playlist shuffling on iTunes.

But here’s the most  important thing, more than anything else I can possibly do on a hard day.

I bring it to Jesus again.

I’ve been reading Eugene Peterson’s book, When Kingfishers Catch Fire, and last night just when our moving news felt most overwhelming, I read this reminder:

Instead is a word of exchange. Rather than one thing, there is another. In place of what we have or expect to have, there is something else. Instead usually represents a radical difference.  It doesn’t just add a little something to what is already here, nor does it take away a little of what is there. It contrasts and exchanges (Eugene Peterson).

And God does this exchange.

He takes what WE bring Him and He gives US something beautiful instead.

Isaiah tells us the Messiah would come:

to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
    to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
    the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
    the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified (Isaiah 61:3 ESV).

So we bring ashes, and He exchanges them for a garland of victory.

We bring mourning and He exchanges that for gladness.

We bring a faint and weary spirit and He exchanges that for a garment of praise that He slips onto our shoulders.

These exchanges are all over Scripture, promising us that if we don’t hold back, don’t give up and just keep bringing it to Jesus and bringing it to Jesus, then He will do the resurrection work we truly,  desperately need.

We bring death and He gives life.

We bring sin and He gives grace.

We bring mess and He extends mercy.

We bring sorrow and He provides comfort.

We bring emptiness and He brings abundant overflowing.

My perfect future

 

At least eight of them were going to live in big houses.

One of them wasn’t going to have a big house.  His house was going to be BIG.

They would compete in the Olympics, be world famous surgeons and vets and carpenters, play professional sports, write books, run businesses, and make a lot of money.

They would drive Jeeps or a Ford or a convertible.

They would all marry, have several children (whose names they already knew) and live incredibly happily ever after.

These were the futures my daughter and her fellow fifth graders described during their DARE graduation last year.

We parents in the crowd smiled and laughed and probably some of us cried.  What a wonderful, beautiful, sometimes humorous thing it is to hear eleven-year-olds dream.

My daughter jumped right in there, dreaming with the best of them about education, career, marriage, having kids, and making a difference in the lives of others.

Lovely thoughts, all of them.

But when they read her “My Future” paragraph at the graduation ceremony, I finally succumbed to the tears when I heard her concluding words: “My future is in God’s hands.”

Whatever happens…

Even when the plans don’t turn out the way she hoped or expected….

Even when life gets crazy or even just slightly uncertain…..

“MY FUTURE IS IN GOD’S HANDS.”

I take this to heart.  Shouldn’t we all?

My eleven-year-old self never planned or expected all that God has done and all that He has planned for me.  My life has twisted itself up into a thing of beauty that I never could have created on my own.

There were seasons I thought God was messing it all up.

He told me ‘no.’

He changed my direction.

He made me wait ‘forever.’

He carried me through valleys of darkness when I couldn’t see the next step right in front of my face.

Maybe now I already know the answers to the questions these kids were asking:  Where would I go to college? What would I study?  Who would I marry?  How many kids would I have?  Where would I live?  What would I do?

Yet, still there’s that constant compulsion to lay the future all out clean, perfect, organized, and bullet-pointed with measurable goals and a five-year-plan of how to make it all happen.

My own daughter’s wisdom brings me back.

Do I need to know all that?

Or do I need to just know this:  ‘My future is in God’s hands’?

I think of Joseph, the perpetual Old-Testament dreamer.

God gave him so much more than a fifth-grade perfect-life wish-list.  God gave him prophetic visions of his parents and brothers bowing down to him in homage and respect.

Then he was trapped in a pit while his brothers plotted to murder him.  He was sold to slave traders and carried off to Egypt.  He was falsely accused and thrown into prison.  He was forgotten and left to rot in the jail while others were freed.

It might have looked like one great big hopeless mess.  How could Joseph ever make those God-given visions work out?

The truth is he couldn’t.

And he didn’t need to.

HE JUST NEEDED TO KEEP LIVING, DAY AFTER DAY, MOMENT BY MOMENT, OBEDIENT TO GOD, TRUSTING THAT GOD WAS IN CHARGE OF HIS LIFE STORY.

Louie Giglio writes in his book The Comeback:

Maybe your dream is to go to school or get a degree or accomplish a certain task or find a certain spouse or start a business or move to a certain place or create a movement or carry the gospel to people who’ve never heard it before. Those may be great dreams, but there’s a bigger dream that overrides everything else: it’s that your life counts for the glory of God.

THIS IS THE CONSTANT DREAM WE CAN CLING TO AT ALL TIMES AND IN ALL SITUATIONS:  MAY OUR LIVES BRING GLORY TO GOD.

Yes, in the prison.

Yes, in slavery.

Yes, even when all the dreams come true.

Ultimately, Joseph told his brothers:

And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5 ESV).

Joseph knew nothing happened just for his own benefit, personal comfort or ultimate happiness.

Everything he endured was so God could ‘preserve life.’

HIS LIFE WAS TUCKED INTO THE GRANDER STORY, THE GOD-STORY, THE STORY OF SALVATION.

That’s true for us, as well.

We can dream, plan, plot and strategize, but ultimately we return to trust.

WE TRUST THAT OUR LIVES CAN GLORIFY HIM. WE TRUST THAT HE HAS A GRAND, GOD-STORY FOR SALVATION, AND WE HAVE A PLACE WITHIN IT.

WE TRUST THAT OUR FUTURE IS IN HIS HANDS.

 

Originally published 1/15/2016

A life-long legacy of real-deal faith

Moving sometimes feels like God’s ultimate character-training ground.

And when you’re moving with four young kids,  it’s a faith-growing opportunity for the whole family.

When we first started this process, I didn’t even want to get my kids’ hopes up too much about all the possibilities of  a new house.  I organized closets, purged junk, and packed up boxes for storage without telling them why.

It wasn’t until they were all gone for a day and I painted  their room that I finally fessed up.

The confession went something like this:

“While  you girls are gone, I’m going to repaint your room.”

“What?!!  Paint?!!  I hope it’ll still be purple!!!”

And that was it, the big  moment when I had to share the news.

“Well, actually, no, the whole point is to cover over the purple.  You see, we’re preparing the house to  sell  it and that means making the rooms neutral colors.  Your walls will be cream.”

Long pause.  Long, long pause.

An initially disappointed face:  “Cream?  Cream?  I really liked the purple.”

Then the news sinks in. “Wait!!  We’re going to try to move?!!!!”

And oh the ups and downs of moving have involved us all.  I tried to prep the girls’ hearts for how long it may take to sell our house or what it all  involves.  How we shouldn’t get our hearts set on a particular house unless our contract is accepted.

Truthfully, though, God has been so good to us and the process has been fairly smooth as far as these processes ever go.  But what I love the most is how my kids celebrate the good things He has done.

When a buyer put an offer on our house so quickly after we put it on the market, one of my girls said, “Look how God answered our prayers!  We prayed this would be fast and He did that for us!”

When we picked the new house and it had the right number of bedrooms and was still in their beloved school district, one of my daughters said, “God really gave us what we needed!”

And as we worked through inspections and repairs and all the prep work for moving, they prayed right along with us for God to  help the process go smoothly.

We’re actually still praying!

They are engaging in active faith and using the language of faith.  They are turning to prayer in times of need and praising God for answering  the prayers we offer.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

In life, there are some things we can’t always share with our children, not completely, especially not when they’re young.  We shield them from some of the hardest and scariest situations..

But there are also times and seasons when it’s right to draw them in to see how our faith fares when we don’t know all the answers.

What  does faith look like when we’re waiting?

When we’re uncertain?

When we’re hurt?

When we’re disappointed?

If our tweens and teens think faith is easy, what will happen when decisions are hard and oppression is real and personal?

I’ve been feeling a heart-check, the need  to make sure my faith is sincere and to live that out with my kids.

When I say, “God answered our prayers,” I need to make sure that’s the truth, that my kids knew I was praying….and they see how God came through.

I find that Paul slips this word “sincerity” into his letters quietly and frequently (2 Corinthians 11:3,  Philippians 1:17, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:5).

He doesn’t lay out a long sermon about what sincere faith looks like, but he makes this consistent distinction.

Don’t just have faith.

Have sincere faith.

Maybe it was the former Pharisee in  Paul showing through here.  Genuine faith mattered to him because otherwise it’s just show and outward actions.

This is what Paul says about Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV).

Timothy’s sincere faith is something he learned from his mom, who learned it from his grandmother.

Because they were the real deal, Timothy grew to be the real deal also.

This is what I want for my kids and what I want for me–a lifelong legacy of “real-deal faith.”

May our faith be sincere, rooted so deep-down within us that our automatic response to trouble is the fruit of belief:  prayerfulness, trust,  confidence in God.

May our faith be genuine, not just outward show with Christian catch-phrases and good-girl actions, but  a life led sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 

I remember those days and sometimes I am still living them

I am out of practice.

There were whole years of my life when I went without more than a few hours of sleep in a row on any given night.

I was up with the baby…or the toddler…or even older children…or all of the above in one long succession of people who needed mom.

I functioned with continual sleep depravity it seemed because a mom  is on the job around the clock.

Now, all my kids are three years old or older, so there are entire nights where I can sleep.

Recently, though, my son has woken up several nights with bad dreams of being lost or fighting harmful creatures out to get him.

Last night, he yelled out in fear and I trekked across the house to his room.  I gathered him up for a hug, and that’s when he complained about “Ladybugs.”

I’m not sure what the ladybugs were doing to him in this dream, but they were apparently terrifying.

He wanted to  go to “mom’s bed,” and even after  we had cuddled and I had carried him  to my bed, and held him,  he kept tossing and turning and saying,  “Mom, protect me.  Mom, protect me!”

After his breathing slowed and he was deeply asleep again, I carried him back  to his bed and tried to sleep myself….only  to  be awoken by an older child who needed to go to the bathroom and was thirsty.

At this point I gave incredibly important Mom-advice to this older child who appeared by my bed in the deep hours of the night when we’re all supposed to be sleeping.

“Go to the bathroom and get some water.”

This recent week of nighttime disturbances has me remembering those days of frequent wake ups all night, every night.

After all, I’ve lumbered across the house in the dark, half-asleep,  at 3 a.m. what feels like a million times in my life.   This is familiar territory.

How in the world did I ever make sense in those days?  How did my brain work?  How did I accomplish anything?

How do  young moms live with so little sleep?

I’ve been prompted to pray after this little reminder of those “old days” when nighttime interruptions were my normal existence and not the exception.

I  know young moms now who are still waking up to a crying baby in the darkness.  They’ve been on my mind.

That’s because I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  I remember those days.  I remember how hard that was.

They are losing sleep.  They are walking the floor. They are rocking babies at 3 a.m.  They are exhausting themselves with midnight feedings.

And now,  it’s my turn to reach back to them.

There is such powerful encouragement in the words, “I’ve been there.  Don’t give up.”

We offer prayer,  praying for them as they walk a path so similar to the one we’ve trudged down ourselves.

We offer the courage to keep going because they will make it through and the reminder they aren’t alone.

And we offer the power of testimony.

The Psalmist wrote:

My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
    of your deeds of salvation all the day,

    for their number is past my knowledge.
16 With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;
    I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

17 O God, from my youth you have taught me,
    and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
18 So even to old age and gray hairs,
    O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might to another generation,
    your power to all those to come  (Psalm 71:15-18 ESV).

I like what Matthew Henry had to say about these verses in his commentary:

As long as we live we should be endeavouring to glorify God and edify one another; and those that have had the largest and longest experience of the goodness of God to them should improve their experiences for the good of their friends.

We share our experiences of faith and how God brought us through the hard times “for the good of our friends.”

Yes, we do.

But doesn’t it bless us also?  Doesn’t it remind us to worship God for all He’s done for us?

God helped me during those days of stumbling through my house barely awake because the baby cried once again.

And He helps me now with a preschooler and elementary kids and tweens.

And He’ll keep helping me.

Our own testimonies remind us how truly faithful God is and make us better able to encourage and minister to  those around us.

Your faithfulness endures to all generations;
    you have established the earth, and it stands fast.  (Psalm 119:90 ESV)

Finding peace when it’s hard to see

Here’s my primary job at the zoo as a mom.

Sure, I help break up fights over who will hold the map.

I plan our itinerary so we don’t bounce from the lions on the one end of the zoo, to the goats on the other end of the zoo, back to the giraffes way back where the lions are.  No, we take an orderly path.

I make sure no little hands slip into the fences and no children wander off in search of wild animals.

I decline to pay for every souvenir, snack, and photo booth that we see.

I take pictures of children giggling at the baby monkeys.

But mostly I do this—I point so that my youngest child at the time can actually find the animal in the tank or grass or exhibit or whatever.

I’ve been doing this for years for all four children at one time or another.

See the lizard? 

No.

See, right there.  Look where I’m pointing.  See?

No.

See that leaf?  The big one right there?  Look under that.  See the lizard?

No.

Every so often, we struggle to find the tiger or the bear, but mostly it’s these camouflaging reptiles and miniature frogs that have us standing at the cage for more than five minutes squinting our eyes, pointing our fingers, and eventually giving up.

But when I started taking my son to the zoo back when he was just learning to talk, I discovered he has super-sight.

He could spot a hidden reptile or amphibian the moment he walked up to the glass.

Snake. Lizard. Frog.  He pointed and said the name like this was the easiest exercise on the planet.

Hiding under foliage?  Didn’t matter.

Blending in with the pebbles?  Not a problem.

Hanging from a tree at the top of the cage?  Couldn’t fool him.

He sees what is hard to see and notices what is hard to notice.

I need vision like that.  I need spiritual super-sight.

Sometimes I’m searching through my circumstances and situations for the peace God promises.

Still, I can’t see it, not through the murky glass, not with my limited vision.

I need God to give me eyes that see His peace, even when it’s hidden, even when I don’t have answers, even when trouble looms, even when the waiting lingers and the uncertainty remains, even when I need the impossible.

Sheila Walsh writes:

In the last major conversation Jesus had with His closest friends, He spoke about peace–but not as we might have expected Him to (5 Minutes With Jesus).

We’d expect perhaps to find peace in the moments of calm or peace in the seasons of blessing.

We have peace when we’re at rest or peace when our relationships are happy and healthy, no one’s mad at us, we’re financially stable and physically well.

Isn’t that when peace comes?

Yet, Jesus told the disciples,

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace (John 16:33a ESV).

What things had He said to them?  Had He been talking about heaven, miracles, salvation, grace?

Not at all.

In John 15 and 16, Jesus tells his dearest friends about sorrow and His imminent death, about persecution and martyrdom, and how the world will hate them and harm them.

Then He gives them hope.

Then He promises them peace.

We seek peace in answered prayers, resolved situations, the end of conflicts or the arrival of provision.

We seek it in chocolate, bubble baths, getaways, and running away.

But peace isn’t found there.  Peace is found in Jesus Himself right where are in the middle of the pain, before the answers and the fixes and the resolution.

He told the disciples “in me you may have peace.”

PEACE ISN’T FOUND IN A POSITION OR A PROVISION; IT’S FOUND IN A PERSON.

Jesus is constant, unchanging.

He is faithful.

He is able.

He is compassionate and abundant in His love.

We can rest in Him, deeply rest.  We can entrust our lives to Him, every care and concern, every worry that keeps our thoughts churning at night as the clock ticks down hour after hour.

Jesus finished the promise to the disciples that night:

“In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33b ESV).

This is our courage.  Our reason to ‘take heart’ and have hope!  He has already overcome our every enemy and our every battle.

So, we look to Him and we ask for His vision right here when peace seems hidden and hope hard to see, when we’re staring at circumstances and not seeing the light for all the darkness.

Lord, help me see you!  Help me not lose sight of who you are.

Originally published March 11, 2016

Praying with a Penny Cup

The penny plinked into the cup and I walked away.

It was such a simple thing.  The penny pressed into the palm of my hand and then a quick release, a letting go, and I was done.

Before my penny cup, I thought that I was just persevering in prayer like Jesus told His disciples to do in Luke 18.

There was the widow who came before the unfair judge day after day to demand justice, and finally he gave in because he was annoyed and tired of hearing her complain about it.

There was the neighbor awakened in the middle of the night by obnoxious and persistent knocking at his front door.  He finally opened up the door and stood there in his pajamas listening to his neighbor’s plight—an unexpected guest, no bread in the house, could he share?  Yes!  Take it!  Take anything as long as you stop that knocking, knocking, knocking so I can get some sleep already.

So, Jesus tells us, if an unrighteous judge and a sleep-deprived neighbor gave into requests just because of tenacity, wouldn’t God who loves us respond when we pray and pray and pray and don’t give up praying?

Don’t stop praying.  Even when you’re weary and exhausted and hopeless and think it doesn’t do a bit of good, keep pushing and pushing on in prayer.

But my idea of persevering in prayer wasn’t really prayer any more.  It was more like fretting in front of God’s throne and worrying about a problem before a divine audience.

All night long, I mentally paced in prayer: Lord, here’s my problem and here’s what I need You to do to fix it.  

I plead and argued and orated and then when I’d run out of things to say, I started all over again.

Hour after hour ticked by on my bedside clock and still I continued.

God loves when we pray. We can bring anything and everything to Him in prayer and He never tires of hearing us and never turns us away.

But I never released my need to Him.  I was talking at Him without ever letting go or pausing for even a second to listen or be still.

I was wallowing in anxiety and putting a holy ‘stamp of approval’ on it by calling it prayer.

John wrote:

 Now this is the confidence we have before Him: Whenever we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. 15 And if we know that He hears whatever we ask, we know that we have what we have asked Him for (1 JOhn 5:14-15 HCSB).

I was praying as if He couldn’t hear me.

….as if my will mattered more than His will.

….as if only my solution to the problem was acceptable.

….as if He wasn’t sovereign or compassionate—wasn’t able or didn’t care to rescue me.

… as if He was against me instead of for me.1 john 5

It was a prayer of unbelief.

Then, I read the idea in a discipleship magazine: a penny cup.

It’s not the cup that mattered or even the penny.  Writing a prayer on a slip of paper and slipping it into a prayer box would do just as well.

What matters is a physical reminder to release my white-knuckled grip on my problem and give it over to the God who loves me so.

Every time I  found a wayward penny on a dresser or on the floor, I picked it up and prayed with a quick whisper, “Lord, please take care of this need.  I trust You to deliver me.” Then I released the prayer to Him as I dropped the coin into my penny cup.

I didn’t tell Him how to fix the problem.  I didn’t wrestle with Him for hours every night over the need.

I prayed day in and day out (you’d be surprised how many pennies you find when they become part of your prayer life), but always I gave the problem to Him instead of holding onto it myself.

When the penny cup filled to the brim, I poured out the coins and started again.  For years, I prayed about this one issue, giving it over to God one…..penny….. at….. a….. time.

For the first time, I really prayed.  I didn’t fret and argue and run endless circles of desperate pleading around God.

I persisted in prayer by expressing my need while leaving the solution in His hands.

And God rescued me.  Not in the way I expected.  Not in the timing I expected.  Not without hardship and hurting or obedience or faith in the hard places.  But the deliverance was miraculous and beautiful and perfect in the way only God’s deliverance can be.

Originally published 02/11/2015

Green pastures don’t happen by chance

My son would like his Batman house back.

We’ve been packing in waves here in preparation for our move.

Several  months ago, I started putting books and toys into boxes that we wanted to keep, but didn’t need right away, and then we hauled all of that to a storage facility for safe-keeping.

Then, the weekend before we listed our house for sale, we made another storage blitz and that’s when we packed up his Batman playhouse.

This was no problem until the day he pulled down his superhero toys and  he had Batman and Robin and Green Lantern and Superman…..but no superhero lair to put them in.

I’ve tried to explain the process of moving to him and he understands bits and pieces of it, but when you’re three and you know you have a Batman house but your mom can’t pull it out for you to play with, that’s fairly tragic.

There’s one thing he knows for sure, though.

His Batman house will be at the new house for him, and he is holding onto that promise.

If we drive by the new house or stop in for an inspection, he reminds me, “My Batman house is at the new house.”  Right, mom?  Then I can play with it.”

Yes, baby, it will be there.  Not yet, but soon.

This moving is a journey of preparation, stages and stages of letting go and moving on.

It will all  be fresh and new and exciting, but it’s also an adjustment at times .

After all, he’s only known this one little house for his whole little life and he’s happy right here.

And he’s innocently unaware of most of the change on the horizon, just happily accepting the boxes stacking up and the repairs we’ve made.  Mostly, he simply trusts us and keeps holding on to the hope and the promise that he’ll be playing with his Batman house again soon.

And I admire that about him.

I take it to heart as a girl who chafes against change and holds onto the old and familiar with all her might.  I love how he sets his heart on hope, focuses his vision on the good, and trusts those who love him enough to lead him.

That should be me.

That should be us, trusting our Shepherd, the God who loves us so.

Not worrying over the journey or fretting over the unknown, but enjoying the beautiful unfolding of His perfect plans for us.

In Psalm 23, it says,

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
 He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.

I love to think about those green pastures and still waters, but I’ve never considered before how the shepherd prepares nourishment, rest, provision, and blessing for his sheep.

He doesn’t just meander along, stumbling upon some green grass periodically.

Oh, here’s a little place to rest.  Who knows when we’ll find such a place again!  Enjoy, sheep!

Instead, Phillip Keller, the author of A Shepard Looks at Psalm 23, writes:

Green pastures don’t happen by chance. They are a product of tremendous labor, time, and skill in land use. They were the result of clearing rough rocky land, of tearing out brush and roots and stumps, of deep plowing and careful soil preparation, of seeding and planting special grains and legume, or irrigating with water and husbanding with care the crops and forage that would feed the sheep.

The Shepherd plans and prepares the future for His sheep.

Max Lucado puts it this way:

“Hence, when David says, ‘He makes me to lie down in green pastures,’ he is saying, ‘My Shepherd makes me lie down in his finished work” (Safe in the Shepherd’s Arms).

Wherever we find ourselves,  God has prepared us for what we face….and prepared for us hope….and prepared for us calling….and prepared for us rest.  

He prepares these green pastures and He prepares “a table before me in the presence  of my enemies” (Psalm 23:5) because He knows there are times of rest and times of opposition.

He prepares good  works for us to do here on earth (Ephesians 2:10) and is even now preparing our eternal home (John 14:3).

Scripture says:

The LORD himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged.  Deut. 31:8 ESV

God does both.  He goes before us, preparing the way for us and preparing us for the way.

And He walks alongside us, never abandoning us along the way, always leading us to our home in Him where we can find rest in the work He’s finished.

 

 

Flaws wouldn’t be so bad if they were invisible

 

Inspections.

My life the last few weeks has been all about inspections as we prep for our move.

This is nerve-wracking and stressful.  We frantically scrub every speck and spot and we pick up every last toy/sock/book/cup/out-of-place thing.  Then we turn on the lights, lock the doors and leave.

Then, while we’re away, inspectors come and look for things wrong with our house.

They don’t look for what’s right.

No one comments on an inspection report about how well we took care of this or how well we cleaned that or how nicely the light shows off the new floor or how they love my furniture layout.

They are looking to pick and complain and find the negative.  Then, as if writing it all down wasn’t enough, they take pictures and draw gigantic arrows to show off the imperfections (just in case you missed them).

When all that’s done, they send the inspection report to others so everyone now sees everything that is wrong.

I have spent most of my life trying to fix or at least cover over personal flaws so they are as unnoticeable to others as possible.

That’s because I have this intense sensitivity to criticism.  When the phone rings or when the email comes through, my first reaction is to make sure no one is mad at me or disappointed in me.

So, maybe this brokenness within makes me more sensitive to this whole inspection process.

The flaw finding.

The flaw magnifying.

The flaw broadcasting.

Maybe you’ve felt the hefty weight of criticism thrown your way recently?  Maybe it feels like another has set herself against you.

So often, these relational breakdowns are caused by a colliding of misunderstandings.  Motives are misinterpreted.  Words taken the wrong way.

Or maybe we really messed up.  Sure, we made a mistake.  We do that sometimes.  Honestly, maybe we even do that often.  And we’re sorry, so very sorry, but we’re imperfect.

And we desperately need the breathing room of grace when we feel suffocated by the demands of perfection.

Long before David became King of Israel, this teenage shepherd boy visited his older brothers at their military encampment.

That’s when he first saw Goliath and the giant Philistine mocked God and taunted God’s people.

The Israelite soldiers stood around shaking in their boots instead of standing up to the enemy.

None of this made sense to David, so he asked a simple question:  “Who is this guy?  How dare he talk about God that way?  What are we going to do to him?” (1 Samuel 17).

David’s older brother, Eliab, responded this way:

 Now Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spoke to the men. And Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, “Why have you come down? And with whom have you left those few sheep in the wilderness? I know your presumption and the evil of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” 29 And David said, “What have I done now? Was it not but a word?” (1 Samuel 17:28-29 ESV).

It was unjust and unkind.  Eliab claimed he knew exactly what was in David’s heart and it was evil.

But of course, Eliab was wrong.

And apparently, this wasn’t the first time David’s brother pounced on him unfairly.  After all  David says, “What have I done now?”

David spent a lifetime responding to harshness and unfair criticism.  From his brothers.  From Saul.  From his son, Absalom.

That’s enough to make a guy withdraw inward, to hide away in fear, to cower.

Instead, David leaned into the assurance that God was for him.

He wrote:

in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me? (Psalm 56:11 ESV). 

and

The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.
    What can man do to me? (Psalm 118:6 ESV). 

We have an assurance we can lean into also when we feel battered and bruised by condemnation and when people seem eager to pounce on our imperfections.

God loves us enough to cover us with the cross.

There’s nothing negative within us, no sin we’ve committed, no mistake we’ve made that isn’t fully and completely covered by Christ’s death in our place.

He is not out to get us.  He is not inspecting us for all that’s wrong and then condemning us for every flaw He finds.

He is gently making us more like Jesus and loving us the whole time.

So let’s give it to Jesus and move on.  

Let’s rest in grace instead of battling the self-condemnation.  

Let’s trust Him with our reputations when others accuse us unjustly.  

Let’s keep moving forward instead of being cemented to a place of shame or bitterness.