Just This and No More

My older girls picked up their knitting needles this week.

They have big plans of what they can make with one ball of yarn and two thick needles: Hats with pom poms to match stripey scarves for every family member and friend.

For now, I tell them: Keep it simple.  Practice the steps, row after row.  No need for fancy patterns or agendas.  Just stitch after stitch until they are even and right.026

We’ve corrected our fair share of lost stitches, tangled yarn and strangely elaborate knots.  Mostly, though, we’re fighting against extra.

I started my oldest girl out with 15 little loops and within 3 rows, she’d nearly doubled the length of her project.  I counted them out—27 stitches now. We counted out 5 stitches for my next daughter and she immediately increased that to 10.

How do they do this?

It’s not purposeful, of course.  Just an inadvertent grabbing of yarn in the wrong place, slipping on two loops where there should be only one, until finally their project has doubled in size.  And if I let them continue unhindered, it’d triple and more.

So I pull out the row and  start them again.

This is how you grab just one loop at a time.  This is how you count your stitches after each row.

But it’s just so easy with momentary distractions and the way we pick up speed to do this, too.

God starts me out with 15 simple loops of yarn.  He establishes the rhythm and the pattern, and He measures out the resources so I’ll have enough for all I need.

I focus at first and watch each stitch carefully.

Then I begin to rush and think about other things.  People ask me questions.  I look away instead of on my project.

Somehow I’ve slipped on extra stitches.  God asked me to do 15.  Just 15.  So simple.  He gave me enough.

But now I have 30 and I’m frantically working, trying to keep up with it all.  I’m running out of resources and fretting over how I’ll ever be sufficient for all this need.

When I finally hand over the tangled mess to this patient and gracious God, He takes me back, eliminates the excess and starts me over again.  Just 15 stitches, Heather.  I only asked You to do these.  No more.  Nothing extra.  And I’ve given You all You need, more than enough, for this alone.

It’s busyness, of course, that rushes us into grabbing more.  We say “Yes” when He wants us to say “No.”  We feel pressured into volunteering and there’s the pride that convinces us that we can save the day and make it successful.

Usually, it’s all good things: Bible studies, meetings, committees, volunteering and relationships.  Then we find ourselves doubling up those stitches again, and when we read those words of Jesus, they don’t even make sense.  How could He promise us this when we feel so worn?

 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30 NKJV)

There’s another way, though, that those stitches slip right on and we don’t even know it. It’s not busyness; it’s expectations.  We tell ourselves what a Good Mom, a Good Wife, a Godly Woman and a True Friend does.

We’ve condemned ourselves right there, always trying to measure up to some perfect standard, tossing on stitches until we just collapse in failure and then we feel it: I’m a failure and a mess. I can’t keep up with it all, even these 15 stitches.  Not like “her,” so perfect and together.

But God didn’t ask us to be perfect.  He doesn’t impose impossible standards or withhold grace.

In the Message, the same verses in Matthew say:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly(Matthew 11:28-30 MSG).

It takes purposeful determination to protect the few stitches God’s entrusted to us, to fall into those unforced rhythms of grace rather than frantic rushing and condemnation.  No slipping on extra loops of string, not with busyness and commitments or expectations and burdensome requirements.

Protect what He’s asked You to do and do it well, with all Your heart and mind, knowing that He’s given you all you need for just this much and no more.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her upcoming book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, will be released in the Fall of 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

“Always Expect the Unexpected,” Christmas and December

Originally posted on December 14, 2011

My schedule is a delicate balance.

There’s a shopping day.  A scrub the bathrooms and the floors day.  Laundry days (one doesn’t cut it!).  Make bread day.  Ballet day.  Volunteer day.  Eat lunch with the kids at school day. Writing day.  Bible Study prep day.  Prayer meeting day.  Homework day and library day.

It’s an intricate design that took effort and some trial and error to develop, but by October it all settled into a perfect rhythm.

Then December arrived and stomped all over my perfectly balanced schedule like a giant through a flower bed.

Suddenly, my calendar has arrows swapping events in my week, items written in ink now crossed out and rewritten on different days and at different times.20931038_s

Oh yeah, can you fit in a class party?  And a holiday concert?  Could you make gifts for teachers and stop by the Christmas get-together?  Mom, what are we doing for my birthday?  Can we have an extra cantata practice?

Onto the calendar it goes.  I’ve begun color-coding the items. Red is for the really super important things that I absolutely cannot forget, but am certain I’m going to miss.  I add dark circles around those also.  And some stars and exclamation marks.  You can’t go wrong with stars.

Now my calendar has become illegible.  So, I switch to the daily agenda plus master to-do list that spans the next two weeks.

Add in the meal plan for family dinners up through Christmas and the shopping list that I had to restart the day after I just went to the grocery store and the planning is complete.

How euphoric it would be to keep the schedule in balance at all times!  For the expected activities to happen on the assigned days.

No doing laundry on shopping day.  No extra trip to the store when it is supposed to be writing day.  No third trip to the school on a day I’ve scheduled for cleaning house.

It would all be so expected.  So perfectly planned.  So in control.

That’s the problem, though, isn’t it?  I have a certain capacity for juggling and as long as I’m tossing around the same few balls, I’m a fairly competent performer.

But when God tosses an unexpected ball into my rhythm and routine, I’m liable to drop them all on the ground.

To a certain extent, I need to practice the “no” and guard the schedule.  Keep it simple.  Don’t try to do too much.  Don’t over-commit.

At other times, though, the schedule just is what it is.  The lesson isn’t about eliminating activity.  It’s about allowing God to shuffle our expectations and disrupt our plans so that we remember how much we need Him.

It’s His reminder that we can’t always package up our days with decorated wrapping paper and a shiny bow, oh so neat and perfect.  Life is messy at times.  Chaotic in some moments.  Fairly unexpected so many days.

The one constant is Him and even He has a way of surprising us. I think somehow it’s appropriate that December is the month when my calendar is left in tatters and all my perfect plans are shattered.  It’s a reminder that God has a way of shaking us up, mystifying us, and going far beyond our imagination.

Like the fact that the Savior of us all, the long-awaited Messiah, entered this world as a baby.

In Nativity scenes, we usually see the pristine image of well-groomed stable animals, fresh hay, perfect baby wrapped in bright white cloth.  Mary is already back to her pre-pregnancy weight and looking like she didn’t just labor and give birth.

But God chose to come to this earth the messy way.  It was childbirth.  It was pain.  It was blood.  It wasn’t even in the sterile white setting of a hospital, but all smelly and oppressive like the barn it was.

A newborn, a little Child came to save the world.

The Light of the World entered in darkness, while nocturnal shepherds were keeping the night-watch over their sheep.

The King of kings arrived in a stable.

The Eternal God, the Word who in the beginning was “with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning”—lay in a manger with baby dimples and the red skin of a newborn (John 1:1).

Have you settled into a routine and rut with God?  Have you figured Him all out?  Have you gotten comfortable with what you can do and with what you believe He can do?  Have you scheduled Him and assigned Him portions of your life?

Don’t be too sure!

Just when we figure everything out and fit everything in, God often will interrupt and amaze, befudddle and change your direction.

As Paul writes: “God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us.  Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh, yes” (Ephesians 3:20-21, MSG)

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King

Weekend Walk, 04/07/2012

Hiding the Word:

Last night, our family sat at the Good Friday service at church.  We sang hymns about the cross. We read Isaiah 52-53.  My girls nailed papers with their sins written on them to a wooden cross in the front of the church sanctuary with the help of their Daddy and their grandparents.

We remembered the cross and the sacrifice Jesus made there.

Afterward, when we had arrived home, stripped off our jackets and plopped down our belongings, we glanced at our five caterpillars in a cup.  In our short absence, two of them had climbed to the top and tipped themselves upside down.

It’s time.  They know exactly when to spin the silk and form the chrysalis, just as they will know when to emerge as butterflies.

We are waiting with expectation now.  We know the end of their story and it doesn’t stop with upside down caterpillars or bugs entombed in the cocoon of their own design.  New life is the beginning that starts with the end.

In the same way, knowing as we do that Jesus didn’t stay in the tomb, we celebrate Good Friday with hopeful expectation–because Sunday is coming.  His resurrection day is near.

Jesus’ close friends and family, however, hadn’t understood His messages to them.  They didn’t fully expect His death.  They didn’t look forward with hopeful anticipation for His resurrection.  They got it all wrong.

Don’t we get it all wrong so much of the time?  Don’t we expect God to act a certain way, and when He doesn’t, we lose hope?  We grow weary and depressed, perhaps even angry.

We look at circumstances and we pronounce death over them.  We think surely this is over.  Surely nothing can be done.

Jesus defied all of our plans and expectations through His death and resurrection, providing the perfect way of salvation for the entirety of mankind.  He continues to do that today.  When He declares that the time is at hand, He can speak life into every circumstance and situation, and His plan is perfect.

Our verse for the week:

“O death, where is your victory?
    O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ
(1 Corinthians 15:55-56).

You can listen to Matt Maher’s song, Christ is Risen, by clicking on this link or viewing the video from the blog:  http://youtu.be/IExdrZGQVeI

Weekend Rerun:

Surprise!
Originally posted July 27, 2011

All day long people were singing at her.  Smiling and singing.  They tickled her belly, kissed her cheek, hugged her, and said two magic words that she didn’t even understand, “Happy Birthday!”

At first, my now-two-year-old reacted to all this attention with nothing more than a puzzled expression.  By the afternoon of her second birthday, she smiled a sweetly confused grin when we scooped her up for birthday hugs and kisses.  After dinner, she enjoyed the visit from her grandparents, but it wasn’t until I brought out the birthday cupcakes and we sang to her that she really began to understand that this special day was about her.

As soon as I lit the candle, she knew what to do.  She started blowing at the air while I still stood across the room with her birthday cupcake in my hands.  And then after she was covered in icing and Mickey Mouse-shaped sprinkles, I brought out wrapped presents and gift bags.

Her face said it all.  “For me?”  She unwrapped each gift and immediately played with it, read the book, put the puzzle pieces in place, and fed the baby doll.

My little one had been surprised by joy.

How I love that age when the simple fact of a birthday is enough to bring laughter and excitement.  My older daughters now anticipate their big days all year long.  Within a week of turning six, my eldest began telling people she was, “Almost seven.”  I’ve heard all their big plans for birthday parties (despite being told that we’re skipping this year), and yet they plan anyway.

But for my baby girl, there was no anticipation.  She had no idea we were planning for her joy.  She was oblivious to me stashing presents in the closet.  She had no clue I wrapped them during her nap the day before the big day.  She did know that I made cupcakes (she has a sixth sense for finding cupcakes), but she didn’t see me decorate them or pop two candles onto the top of the one just for her.

During those final days before her birthday, her sisters and I were the excited ones.  We looked forward to showering her with special treats and signs of love, even more because we knew she wouldn’t be expecting it.

Matthew 7:11 says, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

When we’re feeling broken, just emptied out or filled with fear . . . when we look ahead to an uncertain future, not even knowing what tomorrow will look like for us . . . when we’ve been attacked into the ground, pounded on by trials and Satan and circumstances and one bad event after another . . .

. . . then we remember that God is at work in invisible ways, even when we cannot see His hand, His activity, or His plans.  He gives us the good gifts of salvation, His Holy Spirit, His peace, yes.  But even more, He pours out on us surprises of joy, presents of grace in the unexpected places, an oasis in the midst of our wilderness, and a shooting star of hope across a midnight black expanse of our future.

Angela Thomas in her book Do You Know Who I Am? wrote:

“there is always a hidden work of God.  When you think that God is distant or that maybe God has turned against you, I want you to remember that in the unseen God is plotting for your joy.  He is planning the redemption of your brokenness.”  Angela Thomas

Does it tickle you to think of God in heaven wrapping presents for you, sending down cupcakes with sprinkles just for you–when you least expect it and on a day that seems so ordinary or worse, filled with despair?

That’s what He did for Mary Magdalene, sitting at the tomb of her dead Savior, weeping for the loss of Him and the seeming loss of all He had promised.  In her sorrow, she had traveled to the tomb while it was still dark.  Perhaps she couldn’t sleep, so throwing back her blankets she had simply gotten up and started walking to the place of His burial.

But the stone was gone.  The tomb empty.  She called for the disciples and they searched through scraps of linen for any answer to the mystery of the missing Savior.

There was despair and confusion and hurt.  There was anger and defensiveness about grave robbers and defilers. It was a day that had started out bad enough and was quickly getting worse by the second.

Mary didn’t see Jesus “plotting for her joy.”  He had been at work in the hidden places, descending into hell and snatching the keys of death out of Satan’s hands.  He had risen on that third day and exited the tomb already, but she hadn’t seen any of that.

While God planned her surprise, she: “stood outside the tomb crying” (John 20:11).

It’s not until she sees Jesus herself—not even then, not even when she talks with Him, but only when He calls her by name—that she realizes the victory before her, the amazing miracle of resurrection.

The angels asked her why she was crying.  Jesus Himself asked the reason for her tears.  She cried because the brokenness was all she knew and the evidence of loss and grief was overbearingly present.  An empty tomb, grave clothes in a pile, Savior’s body gone.  That’s what she saw.

Isn’t that what we sometimes see, too?  We see here and now.  Bills due.  Relationships broken.  Uncertainty about the next day and the next.  Unanswered questions.  Danger for our kids.  Loss and mourning.  Difficult ministry.

We see the grave.

God sees the resurrection.

He’s your Father who loves you, who knows how to give you good gifts and is wrapping presents for you, rejoicing “over you with singing” (Zeph. 3:17), and working “for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose”” (Rom. 8:28).

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2012 Heather King