Not wanting to be alone

My daughter announced victoriously that she had “figured it  out!”

She called  to us from the top of the stairs, declaring her grand revelation like it was the epiphany of the century.

“I know why Andrew won’t stay in his own room at night!  He doesn’t want to be…..ALONE.”

She paused for a moment of true drama and waited for us to applaud her deep psychological assessment.

We thanked her kindly.  But, of course, the truth is we knew exactly why my son wanders from his bed at night, every single night.  He shuffles sleepily to a new place because he does indeed hate being alone.  No grand revelation needed.

He knows it,  too.  I encourage him every single night to stay in his own bed until morning and  he protests right then and there: “But I don’t like being by myself.”

He doesn’t like to brush his teeth alone, or go into the bathroom alone, or  play in his room alone, and he certainly doesn’t like  sleeping in his own bed and in his own room without anyone else with him as a comfort.

So he perpetually seeks a companion. “Come with me.”

It’s not always easy, being such a relationally focused little guy, when you’re the youngest kid in the family and the only boy.

I’m generally happy and content all by lonesome self.  The quiet of “alone” is my comfort.

But my son reminds me to draw in, to invite, to be near, and to value the companionship and comfort of others.  He reminds me to look  to Jesus, to value and treasure how Christ didn’t keep us at a distance, but instead invited us in.  So, now, we never truly “go alone.”

Jesus  said, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened” (Matthew 11:28 CSB).  He called to a tax collector, to a group of fishermen:  “Follow me” and to the rich young ruler, Jesus said the same, “Come, follow me” (Matthew 4, 9, 19).

Jesus is inviting.

Charles Spurgeon writes,

“The nature of the old covenant was that of distance…in sacred worship both at the tabernacle and the temple, the thought of distance was always prominent” (Morning  and Evening, 9/15).

Even when Moses climbed up that holy mountain to meet  with the Lord, there was a distance and separation there.  God said,“Do not come closer…Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground”  (Exodus 3:5).

This distance from God—-could I  have endured it?  All day, as I wash the dishes, as I  swap laundry out of the washer into the dryer, as I pick up children from one place and drive them to another, as I walk and as I work, I share my heart and mind with Jesus.

Friends come to mind.  I pray for them.  I think of my kids and where they are in their school day.  I pray over the class they are in and the friends they are surrounded by.

I  ask the Lord to help me and to have mercy on me, to strengthen me for the task at hand, to give me wisdom that I surely don’t have on my own, to bring me favor and to make me fruitful and flourishing.

It’s the all day, every day conversations with Jesus that become my praying without ceasing.  I don’t think I could survive a day truly alone.

What if God’s presence now was distant and unattainable?  Behind a veiled curtain?  On top of a holy mountain?  For the priest, but not for the layman?  For Moses, but not for plain old me?

Charles Spurgeon continues his thought:

When the gospel came, though, we were placed on quite another footing.  The word Go was exchanged for Come; distance gave way to nearness, and we who were once far away were made close by the blood of Jesus Christ”” (Morning and Evening, 9/15).

This changes everything.

When I see my son longing–always longing–to be with, to have time with friends and to be near his family—I feel that challenge to my own heart to treasure and not neglect the nearness Christ offers.

Isn’t it so easy to take it for granted?  To strike out on our own until it’s too hard, and then and only then call out to  Jesus for help?

And yet, Jesus’s invitation stands:  Come.  Follow Me.    This is the peace we can have in the midst of the everyday and the mundane, as well as the crisis:  Christ with us, in us, beside us,  before us.  Christ nearby so  we are never alone.

Just Keep Walking

My daughter and I sat in our travel chairs, watching the soccer game.  We cheered on her teammates and told them “good work” and “way to go” when they ran over for water breaks.

Our coach cheered them on also, and she pushed them to persevere.  At one point she called out, “I don’t want to see any more walking out  there!”

We’ve heard her  say those same words at soccer practices all season.  There’s not much reason to walk around on a soccer field.  Pretty much anywhere you need to be, you need to get there fast.

My daughter, though, sat through the whole game, her crutches leaned against her chair.  She had hobbled onto the side of the field just to watch and cheer since running  (and even walking) was impossible.

She sprained her ankle in gym about a week  ago and she’s thankfully on the mend.  Today, she finally stepped onto the school bus without any crutches.

These past few days, she has moved slowly and depended on others for constant help.  Sweet friends have carried her backpack down the hallway and toted her binders from class to class.  Her kind teacher has carried her lunch tray for her.  Friends at play rehearsal have given her piggyback rides and actually carried her around as we ran through choreography.

She needed help and others have so generously given that help.

This  week  as we’ve sat on the soccer sidelines while  my daughter heals up, I’ve been thinking  about walking, running and hobbling around, and how sometimes the best we can do is a slow, painful crawl while others help us along.

Then there are times when we need to be in top form, running and running and running .  God equips us for the running seasons.  He trains and disciplines us for the sprint and He calls us out for the occasional marathon.

But that doesn’t mean we de-value the simple, faithful, daily act of walking or the seasons when walking alone takes perseverance.

“Run your own race.”  That little bit  of encouragement tells us not to give up when we’re on crutches and our best friend is zooming across finish lines.

We also remember what Isaiah said:

but those who trust in the Lord
will renew their strength;
they will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not become weary,
they will walk and not faint (Isaiah 40:31 CSB). 

We will have times that we soar.

We will have times that we run.

We will  have times that we walk.

Our pace doesn’t need to match anyone else’s, as long as we’re traveling with the Lord.

This same thought encourages me in another way.  Not just to keep going and not give up.  Not just to avoid comparing my speed with anyone else’s, choosing instead to be content with my own journey.

But also this–don’t criticize someone else’s pace.

One of my daughter’s teammates took a moment after the game to tell her, “Thanks for the support.  I hope you feel better soon.”

He thanked her—even though she had spent the game in a chair on the side of the field.

Sometimes the people around us who are limping along on crutches need us to say, “Keep it up!  You can make it!”  Sometimes, they need us to carry a binder or bookbag because they cannot do  that alone.

When we’re sprinting, it can be easy to judge others who aren’t.  But Jesus calls us to  grace.  Jesus calls us to compassion and encouragement, gentleness and kindness with our brothers and sisters.

Today, I read:

The end of a matter is better than its beginning;
a patient spirit is better than a proud spirit.
Don’t let your spirit rush to be angry,
for anger abides in the heart of fools (Eccles. 7:8-9)

God cultivates the patient spirit within us. 

He doesn’t say that a patient spirit is better than a “hasty” spirit or an “impatient” spirit.  He says it’s better than being proud.

That’s because it’s pride that drives haste and impatience and a rush into anger when others don’t meet our expectations or pass our judgment.

Matthew Poole’s commentary says this verse is partly “to correct the vulgar error of proud men, who think highly of themselves, and trample all others, especially such as are meek and patient, under their feet.”

May that not describe me.

In my haste, eagerness, devotion, or passion, may I never trample over others, especially the meek and patient around me.

May this also be true:  May I value the walking seasons instead of envying when others run.  May I be a cheerleader for  those around me.  May I be a help instead of a hurt to  those who might be wounded or weary.

 

I’m in this for the long haul

I’m a lunchbox communicator.

When my oldest girls started school, I slipped little notes of love and encouragement into their lunch bags periodically, especially for big tests or on project days.

I realized, though, that my one girl in particular would much prefer funny to sweet, so I  started writing her jokes instead of love notes.  She liked  them so much,  I ended up creating an entire collection of lunchbox-worthy jokes I found online so I’d always have something to share.

This was a big hit.  If a joke was particularly funny, my kids passed it  around their lunch table and shared with their friends.

When I started running low on material for my lunchtime comedy routine, my  friend suggested I  clip comics from the Sunday newspaper for my family.  So, for the first  time in my life, I’ve become a devotee of the “Sunday funnies,” cutting out  my favorites and tucking them into lunchboxes whenever I find a good one.

My son just started school now and he’s  an emerging reader, so he’s not quite ready for most of my go-to notes, jokes or comics.

So, one day last week I scribbled onto an index card and put it in my Andrew’s lunchbox along with his apple and goldfish.  I included a simple (very simple) drawing (I’m no artist)  of a cat wearing a top hat.  I stuck to beginner phonics and wrote,  “The cat has a hat”  and signed it, “Love,  Mom.”

That night, I ran through my “how was your day?” questions with Andrew, including, “How was lunch?”

He said, “I got your funny note.”

Simple and sweet.  It made him laugh when he found it in his bag, he said.

The next day, I packed his lunch without a note inside,  which I heard about when he got home.  “How come you didn’t make me a funny card for my lunch?”

I just hadn’t thought about it.  I didn’t know he was looking forward to  getting a note EVERY SINGLE DAY.

That’s not  so easy to  do,  by the way, if you aren’t great at drawing and you’re trying to stick to things your beginning reader can actually read.

But it made me happy that he enjoyed it, so I  made a new card that said, “Batman has a red dog” and I sketched out my version of Batman and a red canine.

That was a win.

So now when I ask him at night what he would like in his lunch for the next day, he doesn’t ask for  food of any kind.  He says, “Don’t forget to  make me a funny note if you have time.”

I’m in this for the long haul now, at least until he can read the comics in the newspaper.

And the long haul aspect of spiritual life is what I’ve been thinking about.  What is it that I’ve begun that I need the reminder to stick with or even re-engage?

I’m usually a highly-energized starter, but isn’t it so easy to grow weary?  Isn’t it so natural to slip  into doing what I’ve always done without attention, care, passion, focus—without moving forward?

In the past few years, I’ve had many ministries and relationships that God has asked me to lay down.  I’ve said goodbyes in some places so  I could start in on something new.  There have been endings and new beginnings.

I remain watchful and yielded, asking  and praying often, “Do I continue?  Do I stop?  Do I begin?  Do I  move on?”  I seek intently and purposefully to know what God would have me do or not do.

But there are some in-it-for-the-long-haul commitments where I need some intermittent reminders like Paul’s words  to the church in Corinth:

 Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your toil is not in vain in the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:58 NASB).

Be steadfast.

Be immovable.

Be productive—abounding in the work of the Lord.

The only way that steadiness and faithfulness a re possible for me is because I  can remember this promise: that anything I do in the Lord is never wasted.

This i s Paul’s reminder in Galatians also:

And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up (Galatians 6:9 ESV).

It’s the reminder of harvest that helps me not give up; the reminder that God has a purpose and a plan and a blessing; the reminder that I’m serving Him and loving Him and this is truly worship.

It’s the reminder of how He loves us so that re-energizes me for the race I’m running  and helps me keep at it, day after day, season after season.

 

 

Reminders of grace for those of us who are imperfect

It’s official.  My “baby” tugged on his sneakers, pulled his backpack onto his shoulders, grabbed up his lunchbox and headed out the door to  kindergarten this week.

In the final week of summer, we all chimed in with school-preparation tips:

When to go to the bathroom.  How to ask to  go to the bathroom.  Where he would sit on the bus.  His room number, his lunch number, his teacher’s name, and the clipchart behavior system they use at his school.

The behavior chart caught his attention.  He prayed at night that he would only ever “be on green and never have to clip down.”

At Open House, we met his teacher and he played with toy animals and dinosaurs while I signed the pile of forms.  He zipped over to  me for a quick second while I was in mid-signature to tell me that he had accidentally knocked over the animal bucket….just accidentally….but he had picked it right up because he didn’t want to clip down.

He whispered “clip down” like he was describing ultimate doom.

So with all of his focus and concern over clipping up or clipping down, I probably shouldn’t have been surprised by his last words to me before heading out to the bus on the first  day of school:

I might have to visit the principal’s office.

Wait.  What?

It wasn’t a little prophecy; it was a confession of fear.  The worst thing that could happen would be getting sent to the principal and he was worrying over that.

He didn’t visit the principal, of course.  He climbed off the bus at the end of the first  day with a good report: No clipping down.  No time out.  No conferences with the principal.

I love that he is so intent on doing the right thing and I love that the chart is really motivating him to  try hard to make  good choices.

But I have also been taking the time to counterbalance this with a conversation about grace.

Because I think he needs the reminder.  And maybe I do, too.

He’s not perfect.  He’s just a five-year-old little boy trying really hard to do the right thing and sometimes he won’t get that exactly right.

So somehow he has to learn this incredibly difficult balance between trying to do what’s right , and yet not being terrified of mistakes or paralyzed by the fear of doing the wrong thing.

After all, Jesus didn’t come to earth and die a painful, sacrificial death to atone for a bunch of people who never get it wrong.

He came because we needed His help! We needed a Savior.

I read a prayer this morning that included asking God to  bring my faults to light so He could work on them and I thought–Oh Jesus, please don’t do that!  I don’t really want to see or know or have anyone else see  or know all the ugliness of sin in me.

Later this morning, I prayed for direction and guidance, and I began to feel the pressure of getting it right, not  making a mistake, not choosing the wrong direction and ending up  in  the completely wrong place instead of where God intended.

It can start to feel like it all depends on me to do right, choose right,  be right.

So, instead of feeling the weight and the pressure of perfectionism,  I have to heave all that off of my shoulders and down at the feet of Christ.

This doesn’t depend on me.  It  is not up to me.

I read in the Psalms this reminder:

 God—he clothes me with strength
and makes my way perfect (Psalm 18:32 CSB).

I can depend on God, not on myself or my own effort.  It’s His strength I need.  And it’s God who makes “my way perfect.” I trust Him to  change me, to direct me, to help me be more like Jesus.

What I really need is to know Jesus, to love Jesus, to trust Jesus.  He cares enough about me to  forgive me,  to offer me fresh starts, and He’s big enough and strong enough to rescue me, redirect me and take me to the place He plans for me to go.

That’s why I lean into my son and I tell him, “Absolutely, I’d love for you always to be on green on the clip chart.  That’d be awesome.  But if there’s a day where you have to clip down, it’s still going to be okay.  You can just start fresh after that.  You can try again.

From Here to Eternity

I announced  it was time to go and my son and his friend scrambled into clean-up mode and prepared to say their goodbyes.

When I opened the door, my little guy turned to call out one final farewell.  That’s when his friend ran to the door and they both leaned over for a sideways hug.  My son then made what he considers the ultimate, laid-in-cement gesture of friendship.  He yelled, “I’ll invite you to my birthday party!”

It’s August.

My son’s birthday is in October.

In the parking lot, I ask him how he enjoyed his time with his “best bud,” and he quickly corrects me.  He likes to call him, “my favorite friend.”

I’ve been thinking  as I watch all my kids, in their various stages of friendship and maturity, about what it really means to connect and belong, to love, to show grace, to stand strong and maybe even stand alone, and how God can bind us together with others in community.

After all, my son doesn’t just  think about his friend now, or about inviting his friend to a party in October.  He thinks about when they’re in middle school  together and then about high school.  He’s got long-term plans for friendship. This is sweet and cute and so “5-years-old,” but what if this is also for me as an adult, too?

In his book, Practice Resurrection, Eugene Peterson says this about  the Church,

The Holy Spirit formed it (the church) to be a colony of  heaven in a country of  death.

This image captivates me.  “A colony of  heaven.”  We can’t be heaven, of course.  We live in sin-brokenness and we are so clearly imperfect.  After all, that’s why we’re part of the Church—because we need a Savior!  Because we’re sinners!  We step on each other’s toes and we invade each other’s spaces at times.  We all battle Death;  it surrounds us in this death-bound world.  The church is constantly battered from without and beaten within by the impact of that brokenness.

Still, we have life.  We who follow Jesus already possess eternal life.  This is what ties us together as believers.  We’re not just in this together for the temporary, or even for a decade.  We’re in this together for eternity, and the great news is that our eternity has already begun.

It’s not “once upon a time.”  Our Kingdom life, our heavenly journey, begins the moment we follow Christ.

How can that change my perspective on loving others?

I feel less pressured, for one thing.  I remember that God has an eternal work in mind.  He brings people into my life and then He moves them on in a new season, and I can let Him direct my steps.  When to cling?  When to let go?  He knows, and  I can trust Him.

When God was preparing to  take Elijah up to heaven, his sidekick, right-hand man, and apprentice (Elisha) knew Elijah was about to leave.

In 2 Kings 2, Elijah told Elisha three different times, “You stay here.  God wants me to go to  another place—Bethel, Jericho, the Jordan.”  He tried to get Elisha to stay behind.

But every time Elisha said, “As Adonai lives and as you live, I will  not leave you” (2 Kings 2:6).  Elisha remained steadfastly by Elijah’s side and ultimately received a double-portion of the Lord’s anointing when he sees Elijah taken up to heaven.

Then Elijah was gone.   God removed Elijah and led Elisha into a new season of ministry without his mentor there any longer.

I remember this also: that eternity has begun for us, but none of us are perfect in the here and now.  I need the perspective of grace and of growth for me and for others: that we’re transforming—we haven’t already transformed.

Paul writes:

And he himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  equipping the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness (Ephesians 4:11-13 CSB).

We’re in that place now of building  and equipping one another, and we’re in this together UNTILUntil Christ comes.  Until we’ve achieved 100% unity in faith and knowing Jesus.  Until we’ve fully matured into Christ-likeness.

We’re not there yet.  In the meantime, we equip each other.  We build each other up.  We help each other become more like Jesus.  We serve and we minister as He’s called and equipped us for the benefit of the whole Church because we’re in this together for now and for eternity.

 

Not the same anymore

When my son was a baby, I  gave away his infant swing because he hated it.  He was the fourth baby in our line of babies to swing in that very same swing.  Others had loved it, just not him.  So I  gave the swing away and saved space in our living room.  It was a win-win.

Now here  we are five years later and this same kid spent at least 30 minutes swinging non-stop at the playground today.  He shooed me away when I tried  to push him because, “I know how to pump my legs all  by myself now, mom.

So, I sat on the nearby bench in the shade and watched as he lifted himself higher and higher.

This is the same boy.

Sometimes you don’t really catch all the signs that your kids are growing up .  Then there’s a moment when you’re sitting on a wooden bench alongside a playground and it hits you all at once: How big he really is.  How he’s about to start kindergarten.  How he’s changed so much.

And that’s the thing that I’ve been  weighing this afternoon, the changing.  A former baby-swing-hater now loves to swing.

I’ve had changes all  around me in the past year or two, and I have changes before me in this next year once again.

A “baby” starting kindergarten.  My oldest starting high school.   A brand new season where, for  the first time in 15 years, I don’t have a little one at home with me.

I do not love change.  I do not seek it out and I do not enjoy it. I push against change all the time, clinging tight-fisted to whatever reality I know in fear of whatever is unknown.

But here I am in a season of  change, a long  season of frequent and significant changes at that.

So I wonder as I  watch my son swinging away today whether God wants to  do more than just transition and transform the environment around me.  Could it be that He wants to do the same work of transition and transformation inside me?

What can He change within me that maybe I’ve thought could never change?   A habit?  A weakness?  A stubbornness?  A sinful attitude?  A prejudice or judgment?  A fear?

When the Old Testament prophet, Samuel, poured anointing oil over a man named Saul and announced he would be the first king  of Israel, it wasn’t because Saul was already equipped for the job.  Scripture says:

Then it happened when he turned his back to leave Samuel, God changed his heart; and all those signs came about on that day (1 Samuel 10:9 NASB). 

God changed Saul’s heart in that very moment.

Not that Saul was perfect, mind you.  Far from it.  We know his failures as a king and spiritual leader of Israel.

Still, in that moment, God changed Saul’s heart because God had a plan for Saul.

What if I offered up my heart for the Spirit’s work, invited the Lord to do the renovation that needs to  be done?

Joy where there is not joy.  Peace where there is fear. Love for others who are hard to love.  Humility in the places pride has dug down deep.  Compassion in hard ground.   Repentance when my heart hasn’t been soft enough to see the sin.

Change my heart, Lord.  Change my mind and thought processes and attitudes so that I reflect your heart and your mind.

My struggle sometimes is that I don’t want change.   Other times my struggle is that I long for something to  give way and change, but  change feels impossible.  Stuck.  Hopeless.

What then?

Warren Wiersbe reminds us that:

God is not limited by the past.  No matter how many disappointments and failures we may have had in the past, when Jesus Christ comes on the scene, everything has to change….Nothing paralyzes our lives like the attitude that things can never change.  We need to remind ourselves that God can change things!  God can forgive sin and put new power into lives that seem to be utter failures.  God can send revival to a church that everybody thinks is dead.   God can move into a difficult situation and turn seeming failure into victory.  God makes the difference!” (The Bumps are What You Climb On).

Christ’s presence means everything has to  change.

So I settle my heart, I yield, I invite Him in and I invite Him to  make Himself at home.  May He change what needs to be changed in my life, in my circumstances, in my relationships, and in my heart and mind.

My Lord and My God

“Where’s my girl?”

My son was about three years old when he gave his sister this nickname.

He’d pad out of his bedroom following naptime, his hair still a mess of bed-head, rubbing his eyes with the blanket still in his fist.  He’d ask right away to find, “My girl.”

“Your girl?” I’d ask.

“Where’s my girl?  Where’s Catherine?”

“Can I go see my girl at the school?”

“Can I sit next to my girl in the van?”

“I want to paint a picture for my girl.”

He even went so far as to proclaim that Catherine was “My best girl ever in the world.”

Catherine, of course, loved all the affection.

He staked his own little personal claim on his sister by calling her “my girl,” and I wonder what that could change in me?

What would it  look like for me to stake some claims of my own by getting possessive about my faith, my position in Christ and my relationship with Him?

I don’t mean claiming some exclusivity with Jesus that others can’t enjoy.   That’s not it.

I mean letting my faith seep down into the nittiest grittiest details of my every interaction and my every response and my every thought and feeling because it’s so deeply personal to me, it’s the very essence and core of who I am.

It reminds me of the disciple Thomas who stood in a room with the other apostles and announced he’d believe that Jesus raised from the dead when he saw it with his own two eyes.

And then he did see Jesus.  Not only that, Jesus invited him to touch the scars in his palms and feel the scar along his side.

Jesus said:

“Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28  ESV).

I love Thomas’s answer.

MY LORD AND MY GOD.

In the Matthew Henry Commentary, it says,

He spoke with affection, as one that took hold of Christ with all his might; My Lord and my God.

And Matthew Poole’s Commentary says:

My Lord, to whom I wholly yield and give up my self; and my God, in whom I believe. It is observed, that this is the first time that in the Gospel the name of Godis given to Christ.

This apostle we call “Doubting Thomas” was the very first one in the gospels to give Jesus the name of God.  This was a declaration of deity.  This was worship.

It was also Thomas’s personal statement of affection and personal confession of belief.

I want to be that personal.

I want to be that bold.

I want to “take hold of Christ with all my might.”

He isn’t just Lord and God, a deity over all, a divine overseer who loves all of humanity in one encompassing feeling of committed affection.

He is MY Lord and MY God.

He is this for you, also.

And that should change some things.

This week I’ve been swatting away worries like pesky flies.

I’ve been duking it out with that kind of tension that just eases down on your shoulders and won’t go away, the kind that wakes you up at 3 a.m. and doesn’t let you slip  back to sleep.

But Jesus is MY Lord and MY God.

I know He is able.  He is Mighty.  He can do the impossible.  He can overcome anything I face.

There is nothing that happens to me that surprises Him and nothing that interrupts or destroys His plans for me.

And He loves me.  It’s personal.  He has set His affection on me and He cares about what happens to me.  He doesn’t forget about my need or turn His back on me and let me down.

MY Lord and MY God is trustworthy and capable, compassionate and powerful, full of loyal love for me.

So slip your hand into His hand.  Save Him a seat next to you in the minivan.  Make Him the first person you seek when you wake up from naptime (if  you are blessed enough to have a naptime!).

Pour your affection on Jesus and put all your faith in Him.  Make it personal, deep-down real.  And let that wildly abandoned faith change everything.

Managing Expectations

Last year, we bought a new minivan while my daughters were away at summer camp.

We hauled all their luggage out to the parking lot on pickup day, and they stood there scanning the rows of vehicles wondering where in the world I parked.

Even when I opened the back door of our new van and told them to load up, they still didn’t understand. One of them asked if I had rented a van just to come pick them up.

It  was quite the surprise.

But now that one surprise has destroyed my kids’ abilities to gauge how excited they should be for any of my surprises.

Sometimes,  by “surprise” I just mean it’s National Doughnut Day and we’re going to Krispy Kreme for some hot doughnuts.  That’s a wonderful treat—-unless you’re expecting something more along the lines of a new car…or Disney World…or something like that

This year when I picked my girls up from  camp, my youngest daughter asked me if  I’d bought a new car again while they were away?  Or maybe a dog?

So, the ice cream cookie sandwiches I had actually bought didn’t quite measure up.

We’re not really a family that loves surprises of any kind.  (Actually, I hate surprises. So, why should I expect my kids to love them?)  But I am slowly learning that if we do have a surprise  we should package it with some expectation boundaries.

Something like:  Okay,  we have  a surprise for you.  It’s not a Disney World surprise, more like a local, nice surprise that you haven’t tried before and also it’s not  a puppy or a car.

We’re managing expectations with birthdays a bit, too.  It goes  like this:

Mom:  What would you like to  put on your birthday  wish list?

Child:  Well, there is one thing….

Mom:  Something that isn’t a dog.

Child:   Oh.  Right.  Well, how about a camera and some craft supplies?

Mom:  I’ll write those down.

I’m getting better at expectation management and expectation clarity with my kids.

Today, though, I was thinking about how my kids can slip into expecting so much, but I seem to slip into expecting so little of God.

I  read again today the account of Thomas the disciple, who needed to  see Jesus’s scars in order  to believe He was alive following t he crucifixion.

But there’s another moment  with Thomas in the Gospels that I love.  Before Jesus died,  just as tensions were rising and the disciples sensed the growing enmity of the religious leaders,  Jesus announced he was going to Judea again–right into the thick of the conflict and the trouble.

Lazarus had died,  and Jesus intended to be with the family.  The  disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would put himself  in danger, but we know why:  His purpose was resurrection for the glory of God.

So, Thomas  said to his fellow disciples: “Let’s go too so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 CSB).

I love how Thomas was ready to die for Jesus.

Beth Moore wrote,

“What a strange mix of loyalty and pessimism. Oddly enough, Thomas never doubted Christ would die. He doubted the most important part of all–that He would rise from the  dead and live again!” (Living Beyond Yourself).

Thomas expected Jesus to die.   He had no trouble expecting the worst.

But He didn’t expect Jesus’s resurrection.

Isn’t that me sometimes? 

In a season of loss, I can begin to expect more loss.  I expect to barely scrape through and survive the mess or the famine.

When there is bad news, I begin to expect more bad news.  More sadness.

Like Thomas, I have no trouble expecting the worst, but I so rarely expect and anticipate the resurrection Christ brings and that  is what needs  to change.  Instead of expecting the worst,  can I learn to  anticipate God’s glory?

I’m so deeply grateful that God is a God of abundance. he does so much more than meet my meager, miserly expectations.

I can never expect Jesus to  give me everything I want or ask for.  He loves me too much for that.

But I can expect this:

His goodness in all things.

His lovingkindness.

His sweetness in the midst of the best and worst of times.

His presence with me at all times.

His provision.

His strength.

His resurrection work, making things new, making things beautiful, filling the things that seem so dead with new life.

This resurrection work is what He is doing now, and it will be His ultimate work in creation,  building an eternal kingdom with no sin or death or pain, transforming all that is dead in this world into the perfection of eternal heaven.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5 CSB).

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)