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.

 

 

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.