Snow Boots without Snow

One year, I wrapped my kids’ feet in Ziploc bags before tying on their shoes and sending them out into the snow.

I live in southeastern Virginia, where we get snow sometimes.  Some years it’s a lot and other years not so much.

So, it’s a gamble, you see, whether purchasing snow boots and snow pants is a worthwhile investment or a complete waste of money.

That one year when all my kids were little and had snow boots, I can’t remember a single snowflake sticking to the ground.

But the following year, I had to resort to Ziploc bags inside the sneakers because I hadn’t bought snowboots and inevitably we had buckets of snow.

Since then, I’ve begun hunting for snow boots in all seasons and in all sizes at consignment shops in thrift stores.  I don’t want to pay full price for them, but I do want to have them on hand just in case.

This year I have put my thrifty shopping skills to work and found snow boots and snow pants in all the sizes for all the kids.

Of course, we’ve had a virtually snow-less winter with just one fluke snowstorm in early December.  It’s plenty cold here, but our snow attire is sitting completely unused in a bin in my closet.

I realize as I write this there’s probably some monumental snow event on the horizon for us.  For the record, I’m not saying I want a blizzard!   I don’t love shuffling plans and appointments around because of unexpected weather.   And I really don’t like having to make up any snow days by going  to school during a vacation.

But it’s always just worth a shake of my head and a slightly exasperated giggle that on the years I feel most prepared for snow we are virtually snow-less.  And on years I decline to prepare, we experience snowmageddon or something equally apocalyptic.

Maybe the lesson for me is that preparation in itself is worthwhile.

There’s not always going to be this direct, easily  visible connection to usefulness, but God can be trusted.

Some years, I’ll buy snow boots and there will be snow.  I’ll feel prepared and justified, wise, and ready.

Other years, I’ll buy snow boots and it won’t really snow.  But I’ll tuck them away and pull them out for a future storm when they’re now hand-me-downs for another child.  I’m still prepared, but the connection wasn’t as clear or as direct.

It’s God’s sovereignty I can trust.  His wisdom.  His all-knowing ability  to work in me now, in my life and in my heart and in my mind, all that He wants to do in me.  Maybe it’s for next week and maybe it’s for decades from now.  Maybe it’s for heaven.  I will not always see His purposes, but I can trust Him just the same.

Being in His presence, digging into His Word, learning to know Him, learning about  Him, serving with Him, walking  through hard seasons and wondering i f there will ever be a harvest—none of it’s ever wasted.

This is what I see in David, this young shepherd boy who invested a whole portion of his life in shepherding a flock of animals and who ultimately because the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 CSB).

It wasn’t clear and it wasn’t right away.  David spent time in Saul’s palace, time in the battlefields, time hiding out in caves and time living among the Philistines surrounded by enemies of the Lord.  Maybe his past experience with sheep and a harp seemed worthless when Saul was hunting him down.

But God did the work, the long,  steady, complete work.  He chose a shepherd of  sheep to be a shepherd to His people, nothing wasted, everything working for His good purposes in His perfect timing .

I can overthink this.  I can be like  an eager student with my clipboard, my paper and my pencil quizzing my Divine Master.  “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?  What can I learn?  How are you going to use this?  What are you doing  now?   Then what’s next?”

I want purposefulness.  I want clarity. I want intentionality.

But instead I learn to rest, knowing that seasons aren’t always so well-defined.  Sometimes it snows in October and I wear short sleeves in February.  Some years I need snow boots and some years I don’t.

I don’t need to worry about identifying the season I’m in or labeling the season or determining the purpose for the season.

I can just remain teachable, yielded, open, prayerful, submissive, humble, willing, submitted ever single day. “Lord, teach me,” and let Him do it.  Let Him use all of this, every bit, to change and transform me and prepare me for His plans, His will, His timing.

When Jesus Sees How Long We’ve Waited

My son hopped in the minivan at 8:20 a.m. with his sneakers on, his jacket zipped up, and his backpack next  to him.

He was ready for school.  Ready to go . Ready to leave right this minute and not wait another second before getting on the road, Mom!

The thing is, we don’t need to leave for school until around 8:50.  So he was a tad early, as in half an hour early.

But I’d already been putting him off for 20 minutes,  so I finally just gave up and drove to school.  While we waited, I ran errands around the church building and answered his questions every few minutes:  “Mom, what time is it?  Mom, how many minutes?”

Waiting was just….so…..hard.

Part of me loves that he’s so excited about school, of course.

And part of me feels for him.  I connect with all that desire to get going already instead of lingering relentlessly.  Can we just drive? Can we just move?  Can we just start?  Why all the waiting, waiting, waiting?

The Bible talks about waiting patiently and waiting silently, and I can do that happily for maybe a few days or weeks.  But after a few months of persisting in prayer and standing on the promises, I’m about ready to get a little real with Jesus in my quiet time:

Lord, you know we can’t wait forever, right?  Have you forgotten about little ol’ me?  We have these things called deadlines and due dates on earth.   Please just do something already!”

I know I’m not alone in this because I can read my own increasingly desperate prayers echoed in the Psalms:

“But you, LORD, do not be far from me. You are my strength; come quickly to help me” (Psalm 22:19 ESV).

“Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior” (Psalm 38:22 NIV).

“Be pleased to save me, LORD; come quickly, LORD, to help me” (Psalm 40:13 NIV).

“But as for me, I am poor and needy; come quickly to me, O God. You are my help and my deliverer; LORD, do not delay” (Psalm 70:5 NIV).

Reading through those verses helps somehow.  It helps to know we’re not crazy and we’re not the only ones asking God not just to save us, but to do it “quickly!”

Of course, that doesn’t really  mean God puts a rush-job on answering our prayers.

He is a perfect time God, waiting for the appointed moment and the appropriate season to come through and fulfill promises.  He isn’t spurred into action by our cries or somehow nudged awake by our persistence as if He’s forgotten about us until just that moment.

God has us in mind all along and He has a plan all along.

That’s what really helps in the waiting season, more so even then reading those Psalms.

It  helps to know that God Himself understands how hard this is.

Sometimes I can get tricked into thinking that His divinity disconnects Him from my perspective.

The Bible says:

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8 NIV)

That can feel a little disheartening because if time is so fluid for God, then how could He even begin to understand what  it feels like to pray and pray and pray and wait and wait and wait without result?

Then I read this:

When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, “Do you want to be healed?”  (John 5:6 ESV).

Jesus saw the man who had been paralyzed and waiting for healing for 38 years, and He didn’t just shrug that off and overlook how hard that must have been.

Before healing the man, Jesus  did this first; He acknowledged that it had indeed been a long time.

THE UNDERSTANDING AND COMPASSION OF THAT MOMENT IS WHAT DRAWS ME IN.
JESUS GETS IT.

The waiting seasons aren’t because of God’s forgetfulness or His lack of concern for us or needing to maintain some arbitrary timeline.

GOD SEES US IN THE WAITING ROOM.

He knows we’re impatient creatures.  He understands how hard it is to keep perspective and to persevere in faith without giving up.

He knows what it feels like to wait “a long time.”

Because of that, because He gets it, because He loves us, because He cares about us, I find a little comfort and a little release from all the tension and frustration.  I can strain against the waiting a little less and rest in knowing His love for me a little more.

As Max Lucado writes:

God is God. He knows what he is doing. When you can’t trace his handtrust his heart” (Grace for the moment).

Originally posted November 2017

Bible Verses About God’s Gifts to Us

  • Ecclesiastes 3:13 ESV
    also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.
  • Matthew 7:11 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!
  • Luke 11:13 ESV
    If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”
  • Luke 12:32 ESV
    Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
  • John 3:16 ESV
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.
  • John 4:10 ESV
    Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”
  • Acts 2:38 ESV
     And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
  • Ephesians 2:8 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,
  • Romans 5:17 ESV
    For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.
  • Romans 6:23 ESV
    For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
  • Romans 11:29 ESV
    For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable
  • Romans 12:6 ESV
    Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith;
  • 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV
    To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
    For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
  • 2 Corinthians 9:15 ESV
     Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift!
  • 2 Timothy 1:6 ESV
    For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands,
  • Hebrews 2:3-4 ESV
    how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
  • James 1:5 ESV
    If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.
  • James 1:17 ESV
    Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.
  • James 4:6 ESV
    But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
  • 1 Peter 4:10 ESV
    As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace:
  • 1 John 3:1 ESV
    See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

Bible Verses for the Times We are Overwhelmed

  • Exodus 33:14 NASB
    And He said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest.”
  • Psalm 18:1-2 NASB
    “I love You, O Lord, my strength.”
    The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
    My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge;
    My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.
  • Psalm 28:7 NASB
    The Lord is my strength and my shield;
    My heart trusts in Him, and I am helped;
    Therefore my heart exults,
    And with my song I shall thank Him.
  • Psalm 61:1-4 NASB
    Hear my cry, O God;
    Give heed to my prayer.
    From the end of the earth I call to You when my heart is faint;
    Lead me to the rock that is higher than I.
    For You have been a refuge for me,
    A tower of strength against the enemy.
    Let me [well in Your tent forever;
    Let me take refuge in the shelter of Your wings. 
  • Psalm  91:1-2 NASB
    He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
    I will say to the Lord, “My refuge and my fortress,
    My God, in whom I trust!”
  • Psalm 118: 5-7 CSB
    I called to the Lord in distress;
    the Lord answered me
    and put me in a spacious place.
    The Lord is for me; I will not be afraid.
    What can a mere mortal do to me?
    The Lord is my helper,
    Therefore, I will look in triumph on those who hate me.
  • Psalm 121:1-2 NASB
    I will lift up my eyes to the mountains;
    From where shall my help come?
    My help comes from the Lord,
    Who made heaven and earth.
  • Proverbs 18:10 NASB
    The name of the Lord is a strong tower;
    The righteous runs into it and is [a]safe.
  • Isaiah 26:3-4 NASB
    “The steadfast of mind You will keep in perfect peace,
    Because he trusts in You.
    “Trust in the Lord forever,
    For in God the Lordwe have an everlasting Rock.
  • Isaiah 40:31 NASB
    Yet those who wait for the Lord
    Will gain new strength;
    They will mount up with wings like eagles,
    They will run and not get tired,
    They will walk and not become weary.
  • Isaiah 41:10 NASB
    ‘Do not fear, for I am with you;
    Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.
    I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
    Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
  • Isaiah 43:1-2 NASB
    But now, thus says the Lord, your Creator, O Jacob,
    And He who formed you, O Israel,
    “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
    I have called you by name; you are Mine!
    “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
    And through the rivers, they will not overflow you.
    When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched,
    Nor will the flame burn you.
  • Nahum 1:7 NASB
    The Lord is good,
    A stronghold in the day of trouble,
    And He knows those who take refuge in Him.
  • Zechariah 4:6 NASB
     Then he said to me, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel saying, ‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord of hosts.
  • Matthew 11:28 NASB
    “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
  • 2 Corinthians 4:8-9 NASB
    we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing;  persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed;
  • 2 Timothy 1:7 CSB
    For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power,love, and sound judgment.
  • James 5:11 CSB
    See, we count as blessed those who have endured. You have heard of Job’s endurance and have seen the outcome that the Lord brought about—the Lord is compassionate and merciful.

This is where we are

 

I’ve been sending kids to preschool now for nine years.  That’s four kids, three girls and one boy, all with different personalities and obviously different birth order.

I’ll tell you what’s the same .

Being the line leader is a big deal.

A really big deal.

I haven’t ever given birth to a child who apparently finds the end of the line satisfactory.

It’s not just line-leading that my kids love.  It’s also often been about prime seating spots around classroom tables or for morning circle time.

One of my daughters refused to  wear her jacket well into November during her preschool days.  We had a big to-do each morning as we headed out the door to preschool.  I insisted that it  was too cold to go jacket-less; she broke down into hysterics over wearing a jacket.  It took me several weeks to  root out the cause—hanging up her jacket in the morning slowed her down and meant someone else usually sat next to  her best friend at calendar time.  She’d rather freeze or come down with pneumonia rather than give up a place next to  her buddy.

And then there was another daughter who declined to take dance classes for three months because one little girl  always insisted on sitting on the triangle spot instead of taking turns.  After all, sitting on the circle was unsatisfactory.

Prime place, favorite positions, the perfect spot–we want to be where we want to be.

And then, sometimes,  God puts us down in a place we don’t want to be and it’s a stretch to our souls.  Maybe we  feel we could snap with the tension and the pull of the longing versus the reality.

Over there is where we want to be, but this is where we are, and that is hard.

It’s when prayers are  answered with a “no” or the hoped-for doors close in front of us or the one thing we hoped would never ever happen does happen.  It’s loss and grief and brokenness with deep disappointment underneath it  all.

What then?

Today, I re-read Psalm 23 and I remember what my Good Shepherd does:

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3 NASB).

The  Lord my Shepherd guides and leads me, but He isn’t always leading me where it’s cozy or comfy or always convenient.  Instead, He’s leading me in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.”

He’s not working for my pleasure; He’s working for His glory, always for the glory of  His name.  And that means I might end up munching on some  lush grass and drinking down some  cool water. Or I could be walking on paths of righteousness  that are rockier than I’d like them to be or steep or shaded and deep in the valley.

I  have to trust Him, believe deeply and with full assurance that this path He has me on is for His glory and He will lead me where I need to go. He will restore me and refresh me with the meadows and the calm streams when I need them the most.

He will not abandon me.

But I also read this in Jennifer Rothschild’s study, Psalm 23:

I can be wrong even on the right path (p. 99).

It’s not just  trudging along that path of righteousness, begrudging, unhappy,  complaining,  maybe even bitter that makes me right with the Lord.   That may be obedience, but it’s not the obedience God desires—the yielded heart, the trust, the love.

My attitude matters.

Jennifer Rothschild says it this way:

We don’t control the path.  All we control is  our attitude and actions on the path.

So I grieve a little and Jesus understands.  He has compassion for me in the middle of the brokenness.  He is gracious and gentle as I lay down what I hoped for and what I prayed for.

I give it over to Him and I try to follow my Shepherd on this path of righteousness, this hard and rocky path, with a yielded and trusting heart instead of a begrudging or fearful one.

Because He is my Good Shepherd.  And He will  work out even the hardest seasons for the glory of His name.  And it  will be good.  And He will  refresh and renew.  That is who He is and this is what He does.

Giving up or Hanging on to Hope

Giving up can be a curious thing.  I mostly gave up, but not completely, not all the way.

I was talking myself out of hoping and was preaching to my own heart about being realistic and practical.

But at the same time, I couldn’t stop the impulse to search and check and try just one more time.

Our cat escaped from our house on October 31st.  It’s a mystery how he accomplished this feat.  He had once been a master of slipping out the backdoor, but he was younger then.  Now he is over 16 years old and he’s lost all his speed.

My kids and I talked it all through.  Did anyone leave the door open?  Who was the last person to  see him for sure and certain?  Did anyone glimpse him nosing around the door?

We couldn’t figure it out.  No one saw him near the door.  No one remembered the door being left open.  And, we reminded ourselves, he is old and slow.

So, I searched inside and outside for our cat.

I fretted and worried, waking in the night to flick on porch lights and see if he’s returned.  But my inside searches also continued in case he decided at some point  to hide away for a nap and didn’t wake up.   I checked the same closets three and four times and then walked out into the woods behind our house searching for a flash of orange fur.

I worried about not finding him and also worried about my kids finding him if he wasn’t alive.  I worried about what in the world he thought he was doing outside all by himself in the woods somewhere when it’s raining and it’s November and he has almost no teeth left and has a thyroid condition and, by the way, he’s an old cat so what are the chances he’s surviving this?

My kids cried before they went to school in the morning because he didn’t come home in the night.  Then they cried when they get off the bus because he didn’t make it home during the day either.

It was a 48-hour worry fest, the kind that lingers in your stomach so even when you’re not thinking about it, you’re feeling the sickness of it.

Then the phone rang while I was making dinner Friday night.  She was driving down the main road outside of our neighborhood and saw a cat sitting by the side of the road.

She called me,  turned her car around for a better look, and said, “Heather, this is your cat.”

I grabbed my keys.  Pulled dinner off the stove.  Told my kids I was heading out to find our cat and left.

Sure enough, there he was–our Oliver,  hanging out by the side of the road.  After a chase through brambles and woods and around a small creek (he apparently didn’t want to be caught), I held my cat, my old man cat with missing teeth and a thyroid condition—the one I thought couldn’t survive and I had almost given up on.

He’s a survivor, though, this fellow.  He’s a fighting, hanging-on kind of cat.

Maybe, too often, I’m not a fighting, hanging-on kind of woman of faith.

I can so easily get talked out of hoping, too easily convinced that what’s unlikely is actually impossible.

I’m more likely to make exit strategies than to throw down an anchor of hope in the middle of any shaky situation.

But as I ugly cry in my car that night after seeing my cat safely at home again, I feel the clear reminder:

God decides what is impossible or possible.

I read that phrase in my Bible Study Fellowship lesson earlier this year and it’s stuck with me.

Who am I to survey a situation and decide that giving up is the best plan?  That it’s a hopeless mess and too far gone for God to redeem, restore, revive, refresh,  renew or resurrect?

I read this in Isaiah and I linger over the vivid picture of how He brings life in the most unlikely places:

The wilderness and the dry land will be glad;
the desert will rejoice and blossom like a wildflower.
 It will blossom abundantly
and will also rejoice with joy and singing. (Isaiah 35:1-2 CSB). 

A dessert full of wildflowers, blooming with grand and unexpected abundance–that is God’s intention, that’s part of His promise for ultimate redemption.

And He can do this.  He will do this.

In the meantime, for those of us who fear and tremble with all the uncertainty of life in the here-and-now, Isaiah also says this:

Strengthen the weak hands,
steady the shaking knees!
Say to the cowardly:
Be strong; do not fear! (Isaiah 35:3-4 CSB). 

Take heart because God can do impossible things.

Bible Verses About Overcoming

  • John 1:5 ESV
    The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
  • John 16:33 ESV
     I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
  • Romans 8:37 ESV
    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
  • Romans 12:21 ESV
     Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
  • 1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV
    But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
  • 2  Peter 2:19-20 ESV
    They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves[h] of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.
  • 1 John 4:4 ESV
    Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.
  • 1 John 5:4 ESV
     For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.
  • 1 john 5:5 ESV
     Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?
  • Revelation 3:11-12 ESV
    I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown. 12 The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name.
  • Revelation 3:21 ESV
    The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Moving out, moving on, moving forward

Preschool is done for the year.

My son had been looking forward to all of the end-of-the-year things.  The program.  The last day.  The picnic.

But as we headed out on the final morning of preschool activities, sadness hit him hard:   I want to stay. 

This is his first experience with finishing the year and really enjoying his own summer break, so it’s the first time he’s truly said goodbye to his classroom buddies and considered what it’d be like not to see them a few times every week for  a few months or so.

And that’s a bit sad indeed.

We can look forward to what’s ahead, of course.  His older sisters chime  in with their own reminders that summer is, in fact, awesome.

Then, I remind him that preschool will begin again in the fall and there will be familiar faces and new faces.  It will be worth anticipating.

This works for a moment, but then he remembers again that in order to  move on to the new, he has to  say some goodbyes.  There are some things he has to leave behind.

And saying goodbye….stepping into new places…that’s not always easy.

Sometimes there are assignments and places we make permanent that God intended to be temporary.  We cement our hearts right down and God asks us to be more movable than that.

It’s okay.  It’s good.  It’s necessary.  It’s beautiful even at times to step out of the old, maybe even before we know what new land God has called us to.

We trust Him to show us what that might be.  A land of rest, perhaps.  A land of labor maybe.  A place of new beginnings or maybe one more forward step in this long, connected journey we’ve been on.

The key is remebering that what we’re doing here in this very place is God-led. He could tell us to stay or He could  encourage us to move on. Either way, we lean into His leading.  The blessing is in the obedience.

Me?  I tend to be a permanent foundation builder, in it for the long-haul, committed to hang in and hang on even when God has hinted it’s time to let go.

In the book of Ruth, I find someone else who struggled with making the temporary assignment a permanent destination:

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there (Ruth 1:1-2 CSB). 

Elimelek left Bethlehem for Moab “for a while.”  Another translation said he “went to sojourn in the country of Moab.”

Maybe he shouldn’t have gone in the first place, trusting  God instead to  provide right there instead of hightailing it  to foreign destinations.  But, he left, and  at first it was supposed to be a temporary trip.

But then “he lived there.”  The ESV says “he remained there.”

The temporary became permanent for him.  He put down roots.  His sons married Moabite women.  They didn’t seem to have any intention of returning to Bethlehem until death changed everything.  Elimelek and his two sons died, leaving their widows, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah, with some significant decisions.

Elimelek settled and stayed.

But Ruth was willing to move.

She moved to Bethlehem with her mother-in-law despite her own grief.

She moved into the fields to glean and to  provide.

She moved onto a threshing floor in the middle of the night to seek a redeemer.

In her book, “A Woman Who Doesn’t Quit,” Nicki Koziarz says Ruth “stays open to the movement of God.”

This is where I’ve been growing.  I’ve been stepping down and then waiting.  Saying goodbye and not turning around and jumping back into the same-old, same-old.   I’ve been listening more.  I’ve been taking my time and refusing to be rushed  into decisions that others seem to feel have to be made right away.

I’ve been leaning into  God and asking for Him to speak the “no” and speak the “yes” so I will know when to stay or go, put down or pick up, relinquish or fight on, say farewell or begin anew.

It starts with this:  Making sure I’m not turning temporary trips into permanent residences, trusting that God can always move me on and being willing indeed to go.

Finding the sacred in this place

Hats and sunglasses, that’s what my son likes, and he’s amassing a collection.

When we headed to the beach this week to enjoy the weather,  he popped his Paw Patrol baseball cap on his head .

“This is my beach hat,” he announced.

Then he gave me the full run-down.  His Batman hat is for playgrounds.  His Paw Patrol hat is for the beach.  And, when he gets a Star Wars hat , that will be for the aquarium.  “My aquarium hat,” he says.

This is funny on so many levels.

For one thing, he doesn’t need an aquarium hat since we are infrequent visitors.

And for  another thing, we really and truly just grab whichever hat we can find whenever it’s time to go to wherever we’re going.  We have more than one hat precisely because we don’t always know where any given hat is at any given moment.

Hats are essential  wardrobe pieces for us.  We are fair-skinned folks who burn at the slightest hint of sunshine.

But exactly how many hats does he plan on having anyway?

Specific hats for specific places may not be practical or likely by any stretch of the imagination, and yet I love the idea of valuing place, all the individual beauty and uniqueness of this place and that place.

How something changes in us as we travel from  here to there, something about us in those destinations that might even require a new and different hat.

It’s so biblical, isn’t it, the way God’s story roots itself  in geography and location?  The Holy Land and Mount Sinai, Eden and Bethel ,right on to Bethlehem, to gardens and mountaintops, the Sea of  Galilee, the Jordan River.

God’s story in us does the same thing.

There are places that have entwined themselves with my own salvation story:  a childhood neighborhood, a college campus,  a church, a two-year sojourn in New Jersey, and the long-term settling in Virginia where God continues to work in me.

Maybe certain places in our lives are set aside for a holy work of significance.

Like the way the burning bush drew Moses’s attention out in the wilderness, and how God brought him and all of Israel back to that same holy mountain after they made it out of Egypt.

Or the way Jacob camped out at Bethel and saw a vision of a stairway to heaven and then returned to the same place years later to settle there with his family and build an altar to God.

It helps to know what places have holy significance for us, especially when we’re seeking His face.  Where do we go when we want to be alone with Jesus?  Where do we go when we’re desperate for a glimpse of Him or to hear His voice?  Where do we go when we need hush and peace and a stillness in our hearts?

Where is our Bethel?  Where is our Sinai?

Where is the place of spiritual retreat?

For  me, it’s a back deck or a porch, just one small step from inside my house to outside my house and there I am, in a peaceful place.

Sometimes, though,  I need to run away from the ordinary, everyday.  These aren’t long trips, just a drive to the botanical gardens, or to a museum, or the beach–anywhere there is beauty and there is quiet.

My go-to holy place, though, is a mobile one–it’s in a walk  The location matters less than the opportunity to stride in rhythm and not talk for about 30 minutes.   This is a sacred space for me.

It  also helps to know that God does focused work in specific places.

This is Gilgal for Saul.  That’s where the prophet Samuel sent the newly anointed King to wait before being presented to Israel.  That’s where Saul is crowned.  It’s also the same exact place where Saul loses his kingship, as he gives up waiting for Samuel and disobeys God’s instructions (1 Samuel 10:8,  11:15, 13:7).

Gilgal is where Saul both received and lost the kingship.

What if Saul had recognized the significance of the place?  Gilgal is where I wait and where God is faithful.  Maybe he would have been more patient.

Perhaps this place where you are right now is the growing place or the place of rest.  Maybe it is the land of milk and honey or maybe it is the waiting place.

It could be the place of worship or the place of calling.  Maybe it’s the place where we’re poured out or maybe it’s the well where Jesus fills us.

Where are you now?  In this place God has brought you, how is He at work?

The sweet kindness of God

I hate teeth.

They make me a bit queasy to think about, and my one recurring nightmare involves my teeth loosening, aching, and falling out.

When I was a teenager and old enough to babysit or volunteer with kids, I found that children really love showing off their teeth.  They are so excited about every loose tooth and new tooth and have this universal reaction to any change in their dental status:  I need to show everyone.

Look at my loose tooth! Look at where I lost a tooth. Look at a new tooth growing in! 

They’re thrilled and rightfully so.

Me, not so much.  I hate seeing teeth wiggle around and hold on by the strands.

I’d try to keep my cool when these little ones showed off their pearly whites with pride.  I’d nod my head and muster up some celebratory joy:  “Wow, look at that loose tooth.  Amazing!  Won’t be long now.”

Then I’d avert my eyes as soon as I possibly could because a loose tooth was way gross to me.

When I had my wisdom teeth out as a teenager, it took some courage for a girl who hates teeth.  I slid into the chair and gripped my hands together across my middle.  I didn’t know the doctor, but he went over everything with me and then said something about the nerves and how they were entwined with the root and there was the possibility, although rare, that there would be a complication and I would have difficulty talking or singing after the procedure.  But it’d probably be fine.

Awesome.

Then he started to work, only to find that I don’t respond normally to numbing and need extra medication in order for me not to feel  what he was doing in there with all of his metal tools.

Double awesome.

But here’s the thing, I was a scared teenage girl who didn’t like teeth about to undergo a dental procedure that was already off to a rocky start and then I heard the Beatles.

The radio station they were playing in the dentist office that day had kicked off a Beatles weekend and the Beatles were (are) my super favorite.  So, I breathed in a little breath and prayed out a little prayer: “Thanks, Lord, for the little reminder that you see me down here and are with me.”  And I sang in my head to  Beatles tunes while the dentist worked.

That was  20 years ago, and I still remember that little kiss of God’s kindness.

We have these moments, all of us, where we’re tumbled into a pit of fear or darkness.  We have to face our greatest nightmare.  The very worst thing, the thing we hoped would never happen, sometimes happens.

Sometimes  we’re simply overwhelmed, the little things have piled up into one big massive, overwhelming thing.

Or perhaps we’re so exhausted and weary and our soul feels heavy-laden indeed.

Perhaps out of nowhere, we’re hit with conflict.  We had peace, and then there was war.  People against us.  People attacking us.

There is loss and sadness, anxiety and fatigue.

But there is also Jesus.

There is, most importantly, Jesus.

In some of those seasons when I wondered if He could possibly even see me still,  that’s exactly when He’d show me kindness, a little blessing in the day, a pick-me-up, a joy.

It was enough to know that He saw me and hadn’t forgotten me, that I was in His sights and in His mind.  It was enough to know that because He was with me, I could make it one more step, one more day…and on and on until I could fully overcome.

The Psalmist prays:

How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! And the children of men take refuge in the shadow of Your wings (Psalm 36:7).

Kindness is compassion and sensitivity to need, and God’s kindness is a sign of His loyal love for us.

His greatest act of merciful kindness to us was sending Jesus.

Titus tells  us that:

But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:4-5 NIV). 

and Paul tells us the same:

in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:7 NIV).

We didn’t merit salvation.  We weren’t good enough.  We hadn’t earned it in anyway, and yet Jesus poured Himself out for us because of His deep and abiding lovingkindness.

And that kindness continues.  He brings us  moments of refreshing and breezes of peace. He brings us reminders of His affection and signs of His love right when we need them most.