When (not if) this all is over

“I don’t like my new smile!”

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

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

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

So much fear.  

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

Then he cried….and cried and cried.

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

So much grief. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I find myself thinking….

“IF we get to go back to church….”

“IF we’re in school….”

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

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

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

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

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

In chapter after chapter of Deuteronomy, God tells Israel:

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

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

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

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

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

David wrote in Psalm 27:

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

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

When–not If

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

 

Why are you so sad today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul said this:

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

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

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

Have mercy on us, Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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

He took the time to ask them:

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

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

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

Stepping off the ark

My fifth grader has begun quizzing me about “backpack rules” in  middle school.  Will  she need to use her regular backpack? Will the teachers require a string bag instead?  Will she have binders for her classes and, if so, could they possibly fit into a string bag or  will she need a brand new extra-large string bag, perhaps?

She entertains new thoughts daily about whether to choose band or chorus.  Yesterday, it was definitely band but maybe chorus.  How could she decide and how will this decision impact future high school and career decisions?

A season of new.   That  is where we are.  This school year,  my oldest started high school  and  my baby started kindergarten.   Next year, I  have another daughter heading to high school for the first time and this girl starting middle school.

From a year of new to another year of new.

Fresh starts and new beginnings are exhilarating and terrifying.  But there’s a whole added layer of making decisions in the midst of that .  I’ve been coaching my kids  to pray personally because I can’t choose for them and I don’t know the perfect  answer or how to chart their course for every decision in the future.

I can pray for them, but I can’t pray instead of them.  They have to begin to  “take it to the Lord in prayer.”

We all tremble a bit on the edges of these new things,  and I wonder how it is that Noah walked off of that ark into an absolutely brand new, completely fresh start of a world.

I’ve always imagined Noah and his family sprinting out of the ark  like they were five-year-olds coming downstairs on Christmas morning.

Hurray!  No more feeding and cleaning animals.   No more  confinement.   No more lack of fresh air and limited sunlight.   No more stench and no more noise and no more confined space without anywhere to breathe and to be alone.

Who wouldn’t want off the ark?

This year, for the first time ever, I’ve wondered if it was perhaps hard to leave.

Noah took decades to build the ark, and then he and his family lived on the ark for about another year.

That’s maybe around 80 years of his life fully invested in the ark—the preparation of the ark, the moving onto the ark and all  of the day-to-day grind of living on the ark.

The ark wasn’t just confining, it was also salvation.  The ark was refuge, protection, assurance of God’s promises and His mighty hand.  The ark was safe and it was an ever-present reminder of God’s holinesss and His mercy.

Everything they knew about the pre-flood world would be different when they stepped off that ship.  All the people  they knew,  all the cities they had seen, all the geography and landscape and weather gone or changed.

They had to leave the ark they knew to step into a world they no longer knew.

How exactly did Noah do it?  How did he keep sending out the raven and the doves in hopes they’d find dry land,  knowing that that ark was a temporary stopping place?

Me—I’m not a  fan of temporary.  And I’m not one to eagerly anticipate a revolutionary life change.

But Noah kept moving forward, obedient to the call to build, obedient to the call to move in, obedient to the call to move out.

God said to Noah:

“Come out of the ark…” (Genesis 8:15-16 NIV).

This is what Noah did:

So Noah came out…Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it” (Genesis 8:18&20 NIV).

Noah obeyed and Noah worshiped.  He didn’t know what this new life in this new world would be like.  He simply exited the old ark and immediately built the altar of praise.

Maybe Noah’s willingness to keep moving forward with the Lord came from his long testimony of  God being faithful.  What God said, He did.  What God promised, came to be.

Noah could recall the Word of the Lord, the moment those firsts animals showed up in pairs to enter the ark, how God shut the door with His own mighty hand, how the rains came just as God said, and how the flood waters rose—and how God saved them.

God was faithful.  God would always be faithful.

Isn’t this true for me?  Isn’t this true for us?  We have the testimony of God’s faithfulness to help us be brave, to help us obey with courage, to help us take one more step forward and then another.

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious,
    slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.
Psalm 86:15 ESV

Scary Noises, Hiding in Closets, and Faith over Fear

Last summer,  my girls arrived home from camp exhausted and carrying loads of dirty laundry packed into their overnight bags.  They needed some post-camp rest and recovery time at home while I started in on the loads of laundry.

They came home a few days after July 4th, but a nearby community had saved their fireworks display for that weekend so I gave my girls the option:  Come with us to the fireworks that night or stay home and rest while we go.  (Hurray for having teenagers old enough to stay home on their own and babysit when needed!).

So, off we went to the celebration while they hung out in their rooms in the comfort of their own home.

A few minutes into our fireworks display, though, my daughter called me, sounding terrified:  There were strange “squeaking” noises outside in the yard.

Squeaking?

Yes, squeaking.

I coached her through some possible scenarios and made sure she didn’t hear anyone at the door or in the house.  They didn’t sound in danger, so  I suggested maybe something was making that sound in our neighbor’s yard.  Could they just peek outside the window or a door and see what the noise was?

No way!   She and her sister were staying as far away from windows and doors as possible.

In fact, they had hidden themselves away, locking the bedroom door and hunkering down in a closet.  My one girl had grabbed her bo staff from her karate classes.  My other daughter was weaponless, so  she grabbed a hobby horse from her brother’s closet, figuring (I guess) that it was part stick and could therefore be weaponized.

I  messaged my neighbors, and kept in contact with my girls while we drove home.  Then I finally tracked down the source of the “squeaking.”  One of our neighbors had set off some backyard fireworks that night, including some that screamed and squealed when lit.   Mystery solved.

But my daughters still felt a little shaken.  The karate bo staff didn’t make it back into the closet for a few days.  I took the time to review the emergency phone numbers we kept by the phone and how to call our neighbors for help if they ever needed it.

Looking  back, of course, we could all have a good laugh.  A neighbor sets off some fireworks and my kids lock themselves in closets with sticks.

Still, I get fear.  I get what it’s like to hide away, to  cry out for help, and to grab frantically for defense when I feel trapped or attacked.  I get how fear paralyzes and how it backs you into a corner.

In the book of Mark, I read about how the disciples scattered in terror when Judas betrayed Jesus.  The Roman soldiers marched into the garden where Jesus was praying and they marched out again with Jesus as their prisoner.

Mark says:

Then they all deserted him and ran away  (Mark 14:50 CSB).

Unlike most of the others,  Peter had enough courage to linger nearby.   He “followed him at a distance, right  into the high priest’s courtyard” (Mark 14:54 CSB).

How brave would I have been?  Would I have scattered?  Would I have followed at a distance?  Would I have stormed into the trial and tried to  defend Jesus or instead hunched by the fire so that no one knew I was his follower?

Would I have denied Jesus as Peter did that night, three times pretending not to know Jesus when people asked?

I think perhaps Peter was braver and more courageous than I could have been.  He loved Jesus enough to follow that mob of soldiers and stayed nearby even thought he risked being caught himself.

The notes in my Bible say this about Peter, though:

…as with many believers, he allowed his human fears to overcome his spiritual  resources, which were available to give him strength for the difficult times.

My girls heard a scary, unidentifiable noise and they reached for every resource they had available:  a phone call to mom, a lock on a bedroom door, and some big sticks (including a hobby horse).

What do I grab for when I’m afraid?

God has equipped us with these spiritual resources:  HIS Word, HIS Character, HIS Strength, HIS Promises, HIS Spirit, HIS fruit.

May I never allow my human fears to overcome all that God gives me.  May I learn to rely on who God is, on His great love, and on His might and His mercy instead of any human strength (weak as it is) I can muster on my own.

As the Psalmist said:

When I am afraid,
I will trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I will not be afraid.
What can mere mortals do to me?  (Psalm 56:3-4 CSB).  

 

 

When Preparation is Beautiful (not just painful)

My son tried counting the trees the other day.

During the 15 minute car-ride to his friend’s house, he counted first one tree and then another in someone’s front yard.  Then a clump of trees a few houses down.

Then we passed a stretch of  woods and his counting sped up faster and faster until he finally gave up because it was just impossible.  “There are  just so many trees prepared for snow,”  he said.

So that  was  it.  He wasn’t just counting any old random tree.   He counted only the ones he considered to be “prepared for snow.”

And what could that possibly mean, anyway?   How does a tree, in fact, “prepare for snow?”

He explained it to me.  Trees that lose all their leaves are ready for the snow to come, but trees that are still holding tightly onto their leaves simply aren’t prepared yet.

This matters,  of course,  because my six-year-old son is quite, quite ready for some snow here in Virginia.   It’s January and there’s not a flake in  the forecast.  He’s getting a bit anxious that it won’t every come, so seeing the barren trees along the stretch of road outside our neighborhood gives him hope.

I’d never thought about a leafless tree in that way before—not barren or dormant or dreary  or fruitless or any of those things that seem lifeless and beauty-less.  I’ve enjoyed the greenest of spring and summer trees and the radiance of the fall color-filled trees, but I’ve never looked at an empty tree and thought of it as prepared for something beautiful.

This shifts my perspective a bit.

When I’ve slogged through mudpits of discouragement or loss, mourning, grief,  disappointment, or anxiety, I’ve felt emptied out.

I have lost.  I have mourned.   I have waited (impatiently most of the time).   I have let go.  I have wished for the sign of something new, the assurance that this is not the end and that there is still  reason to have hope.

What if all that feeling of being emptied out, of having to let go, is truly preparation?

I am not dead; I am awaiting new life.

I have shed the old.  I am ready for the beautiful covering of something gloriously hushed and holy.

Scripture tells us that John the Baptist fulfilled the prophecy  of Isaiah,  calling out into the wilderness:

“‘Prepare the way for the Lord,
make straight paths for him'” (Matthew 3:3 NIV). 

We don’t always see the work of preparation being done in others.   We don’t see what Noah went through day after day to built the ark.   Or all that God did in Abraham’s life or Mary’s life to  prepare their hearts for radical obedience to a divine call.

Maybe that’s why I can be so impatient with the process.  I see them fulfilling,  but not preparing,  and preparation can feel so painful, long,  or  hopeless.  I personally don’t want to let go.  I don’t want to be emptied out.   I don’t want to sorrow or lose.   I don’t want to shed the old.

And I do not want to wait and wait  and wait for the beauty of the new or the next.  I  would like God always to be at work in grand and apparent ways now, now,  now.

But John the  Baptist called out to  anyone who would listen so  that they would “prepare!”  Prepare their hearts and minds and lives  for God’s new work–the  Messiah,  the fulfillment of promise and all their longing.

They were to make straight paths for Him.

Could this be me? Could this be us?

Can I yield to  the work of preparation?  Instead of throwing up obstacles or complaints, instead of trying to hold onto the past or force something new, can I make straight paths for the Lord to be at work in my life, in my heart, in my mind,  in my relationships, in my ministry,  in my work?

My focus then isn’t on all  the circumstances I’m in, and I’m no longer straining my eyes to see any glimpse or  sign that God is working in the  landscape  around me.

My focus is on  what  God is doing within me.  How can my heart be ready?  How can my mind be ready?  How can my life be ready, paths made straight, for the Lord to fulfill His  plans–whatever they may be and whenever they may come?

Am I prepared for snow?  Not languishing in a waiting period….but prepared for  the beauty of  a new  season and ready to receive all that God has planned?

 

 

Say to those with fearful hearts

At the amusement park, after we’ve parked  the minivan and handed over our passes to be scanned and our bags to be checked, we head for the measuring station .

Only one of my kids still needs to be measured.  My girls have long since passed the point where they can ride anything in the park because of their height.

My son, though, is still tracking his growth progress through wrist band colors.  Each color tells him what he can ride based on how tall he is.

Somehow between the start of summer to the early fall, he shot up through three different colors on the ride chart.   That means technically he can ride his first big roller coaster.

This is thrilling to him.  He announces to each member of the family what color he’s on now.

But when I ask him if he really wants to ride any of the bigger rides—any of them at all—-he says, “I’ll do that when I’m 7.”

He’s taller than he is brave.

I remind him that the colors don’t really matter if we’re not going to ride any of the higher, faster rides, but he’s thrilled just the same.  He celebrates physical growth and that’s enough for him.

Not all of my kids have been like this, but most of them have (three out of the four).  We are timid about these things,  more likely to enjoy the small swings,  the bumper cars and the kiddie roller coaster long after others have moved on to bigger thrills.

We’re not born brave.  We’re  not naturally bold.  Courage isn’t part of our DNA.

(I’m still not a thrill-seeker.  At almost 40 years old, I’d rather not ride any rides at all . Even the spinning teacups aren’t my favorite.)

I can have fun at an amusement park without the speed and the rush and the drops that I hate so much.

But in life, fear can be so  much more crippling than this:  stealing joy, stealing peace, stealing boldness for the gospel and courage for Christ, stealing sleep.   It’s not about preference—rides or no rides.  It’s about fear holding me back from obeying Christ or keeping me from fully entrusting myself, my family, my kids to God.

Sometimes, all the anxiety over taking a next step can be utterly paralyzing.  What I really need to  do is just do  it.  Just take the step.   Just have  the conversation.  Just sign up or just step down.  Whatever God is asking me to  do, I need to do in obedience.   Faith over fear.  Trust over timidity.

Still I waiver so often.

Still I feel that paralysis of indecision and anxiety.

Still I try so hard to keep control over the many things I cannot control.

In the Everyday with Jesus Bible, Selwyn Hughes reminds me of what fear does and why it’s our enemy:

Fear sinks us:  When Peter stepped out of the boat, he “saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord,  save me!'” (Matthew 14:30 CSB).

Fear knocks us down:  When the disciples saw the glory of the Lord at the Mount  of Transfiguration, their fear sent them to their knees.  But, “Jesus came up, touched them, and said, ‘Get up; don’t be afraid.'” (Matthes 17:7 CSB).

Fear hides our treasures and gifts:  The man with one talent in the parable said, “I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground.”  His talent was wasted, buried in the earth and shoved into a hole in the ground because of fear.(Matthew 25:25 CSB).

Fear puts us behind closed doors:  After Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples gathered in secret, “with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.”” (John 20:19 CSB). 

“Fear drives us underground:” Joseph of Arimathea was “a disciple of Jesus—but secretly because of his fear of the Jews” (John 19:38 CSB).

I wonder how often I let fears from my past hold me back in the here and now.  Maybe I’ve grown. Maybe I’ve gone up a few colors on the growth chart, and yet I’m still sticking to the same-old same-old, the easiest and the most comfortable things before me instead of moving on.

Isaiah the prophet said:

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

Maybe these are words we can speak to fearful hearts around us.

Or  maybe this is the reminder our own fearful heart needs:  “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming….”

It’s because of his presence, His strength, His might, His mercy that we fearful ones can take the next courageous step.

 

Snack attack and a lesson in grace

Last week, we finished up soccer practice–kids running all over the field, parents lined up in travel chairs along the sidelines.

Somehow, our team had been double-booked, so we couldn’t practice on our normal field.  We shifted to the side into an open area and used cones instead of goals while a younger team practiced in our normal place.  They were a group of tiny, enthusiastic and sweet four-year-olds whose team shirts mostly hung down to their knees.

While our team took a water break, their team finished up for the night and headed off the field.  Their little arms were full of goodies–Gatorade bottles, Oreo snack packs, little bags of Goldfish.

I thought to myself, “Wow!  That is a bit much, all that snack after practice.  It’s not even a game or anything!”

One of our kids noticed the other players leaving with their armloads of snacky goodness.   (How could you not notice?!)

He wanted to know where our snack was?  Were we getting snack after practice?  How come we never got snack after practices?

Coach reminded him that we don’t get snacks after practice, just games.

Again, I had that silent little thought:  “Well, yeah!  Snacks after games is reasonable.  Snack at every practice is over the top.”

But then the coach filled in the blanks.  He said, “We did snacks at practice when you were that young because you didn’t have any games.  So, that way you still got a little celebration when you finished up playing.  But now you’re older and you have regular games, so we save the snacks for those days instead.”

Oh.

It all made sense really and I felt that check to my heart to be less quick to assume I know everything, to assume I ever know enough to judge something as “foolish” or “silly” or “a bit much.”

I am not always careful with my tongue or my words; they have a way of escaping me in moments maybe of stress, anger, pressure or frustration.  But, even so, I have grown in this.  I am more gracious and gentle now with my words than I have ever been.

And yet,  there is  still that aptness in my spirit to criticize.  Even if I don’t speak the words aloud, my heart still sometimes sits in silent judgment.  The Bible uses words like “scoffer” and “mocker” and I don’t want that to be me.   I don’t want my attitude, my thoughts, my heart to be bent towards judgment and assumed negativity instead of grace, love, mercy, gentleness, kindness, and goodness.

And,  while I do need to be wise and discerning about what is evil  or wrong, in most of these cases I simply need to be more apt to consider the other side of the story.

Maybe there’s a reason a team of cute four-year-olds leaves soccer practice with some snack bags.

Charles Spurgeon  wrote:

“God’s people need lifting up. We are heavy by nature.  We have no wings…” (Charles Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, April 15).

We are indeed heavy by nature.

Most of us as moms, as women, and as human beings are pretty adept at self-criticizing.  All day long, we’re generally just trying to do the best we can while others pile on their own opinions about how we’re falling short.

But we can choose whether to join in the all the noise of negativity or to  tame our own critically inclined spirits.

We can open ourselves up to the possibility that there’s more to this person’s story than we know or see.

We can take Paul’s challenge to  heart to:

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

James also says:

Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law (James 4:11 ESV).

I feel like I tumble into this lesson repeatedly: that there is a difference between being spiritually discerning and having a critical spirit.

Help me, Lord, to clearly hear your voice, to yield to your wisdom, to be discerning about right and wrong, truth, holiness, and righteousness, but help me also not to add  to that my own voice of criticism or hurtful thoughts or prideful judgment.  May my heart be humble and may my thoughts be rooted in grace.

 

 

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.