Our God is able to re-build

There’s building.  And then there’s re-building.

My son is a builder-of-Legos.  They are the first item on any birthday or Christmas wishlist and they are his favorite presents to open and play with as soon as the celebration time is done.  In just six years, he’s amassed quite a collection of super-hero, Star Wars, and dinosaur Legos.

But.

(And this is what can drive me crazy).

He does not keep his Legos together, perfectly constructed,  high on a shelf, all the pieces still in the right places.  (How could we possibly have enough shelving to do that?)

No, as soon as the Legos are built, they are played with relentlessly.   Pieces come off.  Those pieces then become new creations with pieces from other sets, a mishmash of Lego bricks.

There are some of us (me) who like things to always look like the instruction manual, as if there is a “Right” way to build with these Legos.  When a piece comes loose, we pull out the picture and put it back exactly where it is supposed to go.

My son is not that person.  He swaps dinosaur legs and superhero bodies, and he combines kits relentlessly.  He is silly at times and innovative at other times.

Sometimes I envision having so much free time that we can spend days sorting the Legos back into sets and then following those instruction manuals once again to put them all together the right way once more.  This sounds like the ultimate project for me.  Get everything “right” and all will be right with the world.

That hasn’t happened yet.

It would take extensive time and great effort, of course, because I  truly think building is far, far easier than re-building.  Building starts with such a clean space.  The pieces are clearly sorted and separated.  Building does not begin with confusion.

But re-building starts with brokenness and mess and rubble and has to restore what’s broken and re-make or even re-design what is lost.

In the book of Nehemiah, God’s people rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem that had been destroyed by their enemies and had lain in ashes and mounds of rubble for years.

During the rebuild, they were taunted, mocked, and threatened by new enemies, and yet they kept working.  Some guarded while others built.  Some built with one hand holding a weapon and the other hand laying bricks.  They refused to be sidetracked, delayed, or stopped.

The rubble, however, almost defeated them.   Nehemiah 4:10 says:

In Judah, it was said:
The strength of the laborer fails,
since there is so much rubble.
We will never be able
to rebuild the wall.
” (Nehemiah 4:10 CSB).

That’s what almost broke them.

Kelly Minter writes in her study on Nehemiah:

It was that exhausting rubble that just about took them down.  What rubble in your life is presently the most discouraging and exhausting? (p. 56).

This year, it’s easy to be defeated by brokenness.  Ministries, jobs, finances, churches, school plans, friendships and connections with others… all may be in need of rebuilding, and such rebuilding is exhausting and hard.

We can’t just jump in with a brand new vision, a clean slate and build.  No, we need to  re-build.  There are hurts tangled up in this.  There is sadness over what is lost.  There is stuff we have to  let go of and get rid of.  There is letting go of the known. There is anger and frustration.  There is uncertainty.   There is a feeling of helplessness and powerlessness because we have no control.

There is a tremendous desire  to just get things back to the way they were before, the way they are “supposed” to  be—and then set those constructions high up on a shelf so  they can never be changed again.

That is not our reality.   So we need God to  equip us for the rebuilding, to strengthen us to face enemies and strengthen us to clear out the seemingly never-ending rubble and start raising the walls again.

Nehemiah said to the discouraged, worn-out, battle-weary people of Judah:

“Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes” (Nehemiah 4:14 CSB).

Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome.

This is not too much for Him.  That is the reminder I need.  It may take time, it may take creativity, it may mean hard work and standing against the Enemy.

The truth remains, though:  Our God isn’t just able to build; He is able to rebuild.  He has done it before and He can do it again.

I do not know

2 chronicles 20

The high school band awards banquet was a little different this year, just like all of our end-of-the-year celebrations.  We’ve had drive-through graduations and drive-through kindergarten completion ceremonies, kindergarten dance parties over Zoom, and awards announced on YouTube.

On band banquet night, instead of being with the band or being at a banquet, I rushed home from another meeting to pull up YouTube and watch on my laptop while I folded laundry in my living room.

My daughter’s band director wore his normal suit and tie while announcing well-deserved awards and identifying next year’s leaders, keeping as many things normal for them as he possibly could.

Then he said the oh-so-familiar words:

I don’t know.

I don’t know what marching band season will look like next year or if we’ll even have one, but the best thing we can do is to prepare as if  it will be a normal year.

I’m  a choral director and I’m in the middle  of planning Christmas music, but everything I say begins like this:  I don’t know what it will be like, but….

I’m a mom with four kids who are all anxious about the fall.  Two of my children are leveling up to new schools they’ve never attended before, so that’s extra-new and extra-anxiety-producing for them.  They ask me about schedules and classes and extracurricular activities and I have to say it every single day right now:  I don’t know how it will be next year….

I’m a church leader trying to minister and plan who just keeps saying the same thing at meetings, “I don’t know whether this will work or not, but….”

I. Don’t. Know.

It’s been a deeply humbling season of uncertainty and dependency.  I can’t know so I can’t plan and I can’t rely on those plans.

It’s every week and every day waking up to  handle just this moment, this need, this task ,this decision, this day’s reality, and then being content at the end of the day with just making it through today and moving on to tomorrow.

The truth is, if I think too much about a month from now or three months from now, I’m overcome—just washed over by a wave of anxiety in an ocean of panic and sorrow about all the loss and all the change.

Stormie O’Martian wrote a book called Just Enough Light for the Step I’m On and I’ve been thinking about that step-by-step life of trust. I have to lean into Jesus so I can see the step He’s lighting for me.   No rushing ahead or stumbling ahead or falling dangerously ahead of the light He gives.

One.  Step.  At.  A.  Time.

And that’s enough.

In 2 Chronicles 20, King Jehoshaphat faced a multitude of armies threatening his kingdom all at once.   He didn’t have just one enemy to fight.  The Moabites and the Edomites and the Meunites had all gathered for battle against him.

He was afraid.

Of course, he was afraid. God knows it’s so easy for us to all be afraid of these enemies amassing against us.

He didn’t cower, though, nor did he rush in to save the day with his own strength, with battle strategies or soldier recruitment plans, or the counsel of his generals.

Scripture says:

Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the Lord, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah.  And Judah assembled to seek help from the Lord; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the Lord (2 Chronicles 20:3-4).

He prayed.  He fasted.  He asked others to pray and fast with him.  He earnestly sought the Lord.

He said the very words and prayed the very prayer that I have been returning to since March:

…For we are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you.” 2 Chronicles 20:12 ESV

I truly am so powerless in this.  I am not in charge of what school will look like in the fall or the rule about gatherings or whether there is meat and toilet paper in the store on the day I happen to shop.

We are powerless and we do not know what to do, Lord, but our eyes are on you.

My eyes keep wanting to shift their focus.  They are wayward.  I look at the problems, at the world, at the news, at the numbers, at the Governor’s announcements, and at the Facebook and Instagram drama.

Fix my eyes, my heart, my mind on you alone, Jesus.   In the moments when I do not know what to do (and there are so many, Lord), help me look to you and you alone. 

 

He can do what is above and beyond

I’ve found myself repeating one particular Facebook comment in the last few weeks, over and over, post after post.  I have one thing I keep saying:

Way to be creative!

In the middle of coronavirus craziness, I’m stunned by the creativity of teachers and business owners and churches and more.

I’ve seen our local  parks and recreation have to  cancel all summer programs and then the karate instructor get permission to  take his class outside.

I’ve seen a gym owner who can’t train others inside the gym, so he does social distance training from his own home and even hosted an outdoor boot camp.

I’ve seen churches offer online services, hymn sings, drive-in prayer meetings, and meal distributions with toilet paper.

Teachers have my kids doing Star Wars work-outs, musical hopscotch, virtual field trips, scavenger hunts and nature walks.

Theaters are live-streaming productions of Shakespeare I’d never have seen otherwise.  I’m watching virtual choirs and bands jamming together over Zoom.

Restaurants closed down indoor seating and quickly transitioned to  curbside delivery and take-out.

Our local pottery painting studio made adorable take-home kits and our  library posts a steady stream of videos with stories and drawing lessons and more.

We’ve watched zoo safari lessons and the interpreters at Colonial  Williamsburg busy at work all from our living room.

There are days and moments within days that I begin to feel doomed and in despair, especially when I hear about changes they might make to the schools next year.  I fret over what my kids will experience and all that they have to lose.  I’ll have two high schoolers next year who love the arts and I’m reading articles saying that band, chorus, and theater are all on the chopping block because of coronavirus concerns.

I worry.

Oh, do  I worry.

I do not like the potential of a new normal and I’m relentlessly brokenhearted about each loss for my children.

And then I remember the creativity I have seen in the people around me….and the seemingly endless capacity for human creativity points me back to the undefinable, unlimited creativity of our Creator God.

He is not surprised by our situation and He is able to rescue and redeem us in it.

I read this today:

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  Ephesians 3:20-21

He is able, not just to do what we expect or imagine, but to do far more than that.  He is able to go above and beyond.

G.K. Chesterton said:

The trumpet of imagination is like the trumpet of the resurrection. It calls the dead out of their graves.

God creates beauty from ashes.  He forms a world out of the void.

He resurrects what is dead and heals what is broken.  He makes us new.  He is making everything new.

And when we create and imagine, we are just imitating our Heavenly Father and the resurrecting, creating work He is always doing.

So may it point us back to Him.  May all the innovation we see around us encourage us to bring all the worry and all the struggle to a God who can do a new thing in us and around us.

In Romans, it says:

Therefore we were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too may walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in the likeness of his death, we will certainly also be in the likeness of his resurrection.  Romans 6:4-5

It’s this creative, resurrection work that I’m looking to Christ to do, in me and in our churches and communities, in my kids and their situations.  We have not seen the limit of what God can and will do.

Of course, the super-planner-extraordinaire in me wants to nail down the details.  Get it all in writing.  What exactly will it all look like?  When can I know?

But that’s when I see another  example of someone being creative  and I remember our God creates–above and beyond.  He helps us “walk in newness of life,”‘ overcoming what we experience, enduring what is difficult, holding onto hope, reaching what is promised.

 

Mistakes, mess-ups, failures, growing pains, and a need for grace

 

I’ve been writing notes and sending cards since we’ve been shut away from friends and church family.  Sometimes it’s a text message  or an email to say, “I’m thinking of you today.”  But I’ve also been refilling my supply of stamps and note cards regularly as I send out snail mail.

Last week, I discovered an extra set of stamps that I’d bought long ago and I was so excited about the little unexpected blessing:   Stamps when I thought I was almost out of stamps.  What a blessing!

It was like waking  up to manna or miraculous oil in a near-empty jug or wine overflowing when the wedding feast ran out of wine.   All those things.

I happily mailed out a few more cards.

Then this week, my daughter asked me if she could mail some cards also, so I pulled out those extra stamps and saw what I’d missed before:  the word “Postcard” in teeny tiny, minuscule letters on the bottom.

Oh.

That’s why those stamps had been sitting for a good long while.  I bought them to mail out a few postcards and the extras just sat and sat.

I’ve been stressing about this for days now.  Apparently, I’ve been sending out regular cards with only postcard postage.

Great.  Either the cards will return back to me so I can have  a re-do (I love a good re-do), or the post office will deliver my cards and actually ask other people to pay the missing postage.

How embarrassing.

I’d rather the secret re-do option, of course.  But I have no power here.  I’m at the mercy of the postal service.

So, I  wait.

It’s the silliest little mistake, but a mistake I’ve been fretting over nonetheless.  That’s partly because all of this coronavirus shifting we’ve been doing has brought so much failing our way to  success over here.

We’re doing  new things in new ways and that can get messy and exhausting.

Technology alone brings it’s own growing pains.  Try this video, this sound, this streaming program, this way of filming, this way of posting.   And all along the way we leave a trail of trying, messing up, and trying again.

I  also can’t keep my dates straight, at all.  I keep thinking Mother’s Day is this week and not next week.  The days are just running all together.

All of these mess-ups leave us so tender-hearted.  So humbled.  How many times can we say the words, “Sorry.  That didn’t work. My bad. I missed that.   I made a mistake.  I used the wrong stamp.?”  (I’m still so embarrassed about the stamps.)

But so many of us are in the same place.

That’s the thing.

I’m so compassionate  and deeply grateful as I see my kids’ teachers trying so many new things every single day.  I think—-thank you, friends, for putting yourself out there for my kids.  For getting on Zoom videos and Facebook live posts and whatever else is happening.  I know some of them would prefer not to be on a video.  I GET that.  I don’t want  to be in videos either.  But they do it anyway.

Then there  are days the sound doesn’t work or the screen is backwards or the link they thought they posted didn’t post or didn’t work or whatever whatever.  I feel like saying, “Solidarity, my friend!  I am with you.  We are all trying so hard and it’s imperfect and messy, but we’re genuine and humbled and real and just making  it through.”

We can shake off the old, the broken, the mistake-ridden the failure and the mess up because we have this grace: We can try again.

And, even if a new days is full  of new mistakes, Jesus isn’t giving up on me or on any of us.

I read this promise in Scripture:

While the earth remains, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease (Genesis 8:22 ESV).

The rhythms of creation itself are a reassurance of the rhythm of grace.

Day and night come ceaselessly.  I will wake up to a new day, a fresh start, an opportunity to try again and maybe even get it right this time  (and to buy new stamps.)

More than that, whole seasons come and go with certainty.

One bad year of planting isn’t the end.  One season of hard soil,  no rain, or destruction from storms and pests isn’t the end.

Spring comes anew and I can plow the field fresh, drop the seeds into the earth, and look forward to a better harvest.

The failures of one day, one moment even, are only permanent if I choose to give up instead of going forward.

Fresh starts and new beginnings: That’s what God promises us, season after season, day after day.

All that worry and everything was canceled

 

I have fretted this year.

Oh, how I have fretted.

I lost sleep in January and again in February because I was worrying over planning events, over getting enough volunteers, over whether we should hold our huge church egg hunt on this particular Saturday or on the Sunday before?

I wrestled with calendars.  I made a plan, had a meeting with someone that changed my mind, contemplated  the plan some more, sought counsel  from others, stuck with the original  plan—and second-guessed myself the whole time.

I  stressed about our soccer schedule.  I stressed over how to get my kids to soccer, an orientation night at the high school, and to a math competition all at the same time in different parts of our county.

I worried about events and trips my kids  and I were looking forward to.  How would we pay for everything and how was the schedule going to work out?  We had trips to Disney, Boston, Italy, and Montana all in the works.  They were all good things—all incredibly wonderful opportunities.

Still I worried.  About plane tickets and getting to the airport and renewing my passport and everything about traveling that stresses me out (which is everything).

None of these things are actually happening.

I invested so many hours and lost so much sleep  worrying over things that have now been canceled or altered beyond recognition.

There’s no soccer season.  There was no math bowl  or area chorus or countywide music concert.  There is no trip to Disney or Italy or Boston.

We didn’t hold our egg hunt on the Saturday or the Sunday.  It was completely new and different and not like anything I imagined when I started planning in January.

Maybe it sounds like I’m a never-ending tangle of angst over here, and it’s true that I’m definitely not a happy-go-lucky whatever-may-come kind of person.

I’m a super-planner.

And super-planners like to have plans and to follow plans and not to deviate from plans.

Still, over the years God has stretched me and lovingly nudged me into  spiritual growth and new levels of trust and dependence on Him.  I’ve seen the progress.  I’m not as bad as I used to be.

But sitting here in the middle of coronavirus quarantine, feeling unsure of when we’re allowed out of our houses much less when we can go back to work, school, and church, makes me feel oh-so-tempted to tumble back into the pit of fretting.

There are too many things unplanned.   Too many things I can’t possibly plan.  I have far more questions than I do answers.  Maybe I don’t even feel like answers exist right now.

But whenever I’m tempted to start fretting over this mess, I remember this:

In January and February, I spent hours and hours worrying about the date of an egg hunt that DIDN’T HAPPEN.

See where that got me?

I worried so much then about making the perfect decision and not picking the wrong day to hold an egg hunt.  It turns out, no decision even mattered.  Only God had the full knowledge of what was to come.  Only He had the big perspective.

I read this today in Proverbs:

Anxiety in a person’s heart weighs it down,
but a good word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25 CSB).

Weighed down by worry.  Yes.

I have pulled that two-ton weight of worry behind me, dragging it along, letting it steal the joy in this moment  because I’m fretting over the moments to come.

Jesus told us how pointless that is:

And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? (Matthew 6:27 NASB).

I am tempted to worry every single time I scroll Facebook, listen to a news conference, and examine a line graph right now.   So, I’m in this place of continually challenging my thoughts and continually catching that worry and dismissing it.

I ask myself the question, “Where has any of your worrying gotten you so far this year?”

Nowhere.

What has been a blessing this year?

This: Seeing how God has helped us with unexpected answers to completely unanticipated problems.

Our egg hunt reached so many kids this year and it was delivered to their homes rather than held at one time in the lawn on our church property.  God did a new thing and He did it perfectly.

I feel like I’m one-minute away from fretting at all times around here right now.  And yet, I’m also one minute away from a completely different choice:

I can sit back and watch what God will do.

Take a breath.

And trust.

 

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?