Managing Expectations

Last year, we bought a new minivan while my daughters were away at summer camp.

We hauled all their luggage out to the parking lot on pickup day, and they stood there scanning the rows of vehicles wondering where in the world I parked.

Even when I opened the back door of our new van and told them to load up, they still didn’t understand. One of them asked if I had rented a van just to come pick them up.

It  was quite the surprise.

But now that one surprise has destroyed my kids’ abilities to gauge how excited they should be for any of my surprises.

Sometimes,  by “surprise” I just mean it’s National Doughnut Day and we’re going to Krispy Kreme for some hot doughnuts.  That’s a wonderful treat—-unless you’re expecting something more along the lines of a new car…or Disney World…or something like that

This year when I picked my girls up from  camp, my youngest daughter asked me if  I’d bought a new car again while they were away?  Or maybe a dog?

So, the ice cream cookie sandwiches I had actually bought didn’t quite measure up.

We’re not really a family that loves surprises of any kind.  (Actually, I hate surprises. So, why should I expect my kids to love them?)  But I am slowly learning that if we do have a surprise  we should package it with some expectation boundaries.

Something like:  Okay,  we have  a surprise for you.  It’s not a Disney World surprise, more like a local, nice surprise that you haven’t tried before and also it’s not  a puppy or a car.

We’re managing expectations with birthdays a bit, too.  It goes  like this:

Mom:  What would you like to  put on your birthday  wish list?

Child:  Well, there is one thing….

Mom:  Something that isn’t a dog.

Child:   Oh.  Right.  Well, how about a camera and some craft supplies?

Mom:  I’ll write those down.

I’m getting better at expectation management and expectation clarity with my kids.

Today, though, I was thinking about how my kids can slip into expecting so much, but I seem to slip into expecting so little of God.

I  read again today the account of Thomas the disciple, who needed to  see Jesus’s scars in order  to believe He was alive following t he crucifixion.

But there’s another moment  with Thomas in the Gospels that I love.  Before Jesus died,  just as tensions were rising and the disciples sensed the growing enmity of the religious leaders,  Jesus announced he was going to Judea again–right into the thick of the conflict and the trouble.

Lazarus had died,  and Jesus intended to be with the family.  The  disciples didn’t understand why Jesus would put himself  in danger, but we know why:  His purpose was resurrection for the glory of God.

So, Thomas  said to his fellow disciples: “Let’s go too so that we may die with him” (John 11:16 CSB).

I love how Thomas was ready to die for Jesus.

Beth Moore wrote,

“What a strange mix of loyalty and pessimism. Oddly enough, Thomas never doubted Christ would die. He doubted the most important part of all–that He would rise from the  dead and live again!” (Living Beyond Yourself).

Thomas expected Jesus to die.   He had no trouble expecting the worst.

But He didn’t expect Jesus’s resurrection.

Isn’t that me sometimes? 

In a season of loss, I can begin to expect more loss.  I expect to barely scrape through and survive the mess or the famine.

When there is bad news, I begin to expect more bad news.  More sadness.

Like Thomas, I have no trouble expecting the worst, but I so rarely expect and anticipate the resurrection Christ brings and that  is what needs  to change.  Instead of expecting the worst,  can I learn to  anticipate God’s glory?

I’m so deeply grateful that God is a God of abundance. he does so much more than meet my meager, miserly expectations.

I can never expect Jesus to  give me everything I want or ask for.  He loves me too much for that.

But I can expect this:

His goodness in all things.

His lovingkindness.

His sweetness in the midst of the best and worst of times.

His presence with me at all times.

His provision.

His strength.

His resurrection work, making things new, making things beautiful, filling the things that seem so dead with new life.

This resurrection work is what He is doing now, and it will be His ultimate work in creation,  building an eternal kingdom with no sin or death or pain, transforming all that is dead in this world into the perfection of eternal heaven.

Then the one seated on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new.”  (Revelation 21:5 CSB).

Bible Verses about Rain

  • Leviticus 26:3-4 CSB
    “If you follow my statutes and faithfully observe my commands, I will give you rain at the right time, and the land will yield its produce, and the trees of the field will bear their fruit.
  • Deuteronomy 32:2 CSB
    Let my teaching fall like rain
    and my word settle like dew,
    like gentle rain on new grass
    and showers on tender plants.
  • 1 Kings 8:35-36 CSB
    When the skies are shut and there is no rain,
    because they have sinned against you,
    and they pray toward this place
    and praise your name,
    and they turn from their sins
    because you are afflicting them,
    36 may you hear in heaven
    and forgive the sin of your servants
    and your people Israel,
    so that you may teach them the good way
    they should walk in.
    May you send rain on your land
    that you gave your people for an inheritance.
  • Job 37:6-7 CSB
    For he says to the snow, “Fall to the earth,”
    and the torrential rains, his mighty torrential rains,
    serve as his sign to all mankind,
    so that all men may know his work.
  • Psalm 68:8 CSB
    the earth trembled and the skies poured rain
    before God, the God of Sinai,[a]
    before God, the God of Israel.
  • Psalm 72:6 CSB
    May the king be like rain that falls on the cut grass,
    like spring showers that water the earth.
  • Psalm 135:7 CSB
    He causes the clouds to rise from the ends of the earth.
    He makes lightning for the rain
    and brings the wind from his storehouses.
  • Psalm 147:8 CSB
    who covers the sky with clouds,
    prepares rain for the earth,
    and causes grass to grow on the hills.
  • Isaiah 45:8 CSB
    “Heavens, sprinkle from above,
    and let the skies shower righteousness.
    Let the earth open up
    so that salvation will sprout
    and righteousness will spring up with it.
    I, the Lord, have created it.
  • Isaiah 55:10-11 CSB
    For just as rain and snow fall from heaven
    and do not return there
    without saturating the earth
    and making it germinate and sprout,
    and providing seed to sow
    and food to eat,
    11 so my word that comes from my mouth
    will not return to me empty,
    but it will accomplish what I please
    and will prosper in what I send it to do.”
  • Jeremiah 14:22 CSB
    Can any of the worthless idols of the nations bring rain?
    Or can the skies alone give showers?
    Are you not the Lord our God?
    We therefore put our hope in you,
    for you have done all these things.
  • Ezekiel 34:26 CSB
     I will make them and the area around my hill a blessing: I will send down showers in their season; they will be showers of blessing.
  • Hosea 10:12 CSB
    Sow righteousness for yourselves
    and reap faithful love;
    break up your unplowed ground.
    It is time to seek the Lord
    until he comes and sends righteousness
    on you like the rain.
  • Joel 2:23 CSB
    Children of Zion, rejoice and be glad
    in the Lord your God,
    because he gives you the autumn rain
    for your vindication.[a]
    He sends showers for you,
    both autumn and spring rain as before.
  • Zechariah 10:1 CSB
    Ask the Lord for rain
    in the season of spring rain.
    The Lord makes the rain clouds,
    and he will give them showers of rain
    and crops in the field for everyone.
  • Matthew 5:45 CSB
    so that you may be children of your Father in heaven. For he causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
  • Acts 14:16-17 CSB
    In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own way,  although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your[b] hearts with joy.”
  • James 5:17-18 CSB
    Elijah was a human being as we are, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the land. 18 Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit.

Well, that was a failure

lamentations 3-22

Our morning routine on that first day back to school after winter break went flawlessly.  My kids were up, fed, dressed, and packed for school 20 minutes before the bus’s arrival.

We even added in the coats, hats, and gloves for the first time this winter and my kids still walked out the door early that Monday morning.  Someone pin a medal on us or something!

And then.

Only one word describes that afternoon: STRESS.

Before Christmas break, we had those Monday afternoons down to an exact science: Forty minutes between the time we get home from school and the time we need to walk out the door to ballet.

No problem.

In those 40 minutes, my kids changed out of school clothes and into dance attire.

I emptied the backpacks and lunchbags.  By the time we left for dance, I had their school folders cleared out; reading logs, behavior logs, agendas, and take-home folders signed; lunches packed for the next day and dinner made.

Wham.  Bam.  Thank you, ma’am.

But not this week.

Oh no.

We were a right awful mess.

Over the break, I washed all the dance clothes and thought I put everything back in the right dance bags.

On the contrary, my six-year-old couldn’t find her tights.

No problem, I found them.

Then, she had the wrong leotard in her bag.

A little more of a problem, but after some searching, I found it.

Then, her dance shoes felt tight and didn’t fit anymore.

Okay, I pulled down our bucket of dance shoes (I have quite the collection) and resized the child’s foot.

She put on her dance clothes, but forgot to take off her underwear first.  (For those who are not dance moms, underwear under your leotard is a no-no because it shows and looks embarrassing. I actually Googled that once to find out how ballerinas kept their underwear from showing.  Seriously.)

My baby girl and I had a good laugh at how much we’ve forgotten over the break and I asked her to change again.

Only then she put her stockings and leotard on inside out.

Bless her heart, I thought she’d cry for an hour over that one.  She was just so tired of changing her clothes already.

This time, I helped her into her dance clothes myself.

I loaded everyone into the minivan with five minutes to spare, plopped into the driver’s seat and realized I didn’t have my key.

Then I spent the next five minutes searching the house for the missing key only to find it on the key ring exactly where it’s supposed to be so I don’t lose it.

For real.

It was an all-out miracle because I didn’t lose my temper or explode.

But I did cry.  I sobbed a little around the house as I hunted for that key and called out a desperate cry over and over, “Jesus, help me.  I know I’m a mess and I’m just not making it today.”

But here’s the thing:  We arrived at the dance studio on time.

My daughter looked perfectly cute in her shoes, leotard, and tights (sans underwear).

I even remembered my checkbook to pay the tuition for the month.

It probably looked like we had sailed through that afternoon of craziness just fine.  Maybe it looked like I had it all together.

Nevermind that internally I had one grade to give myself for my afternoon’s performance: F as in Failure.  F as in good grief, Mom, could you possibly get yourself together already?

But oh such grace is this: We can try again.  I know we’ll get back to that smooth routine and it will go better next time.

And, even if it doesn’t, Jesus isn’t giving up on me because of a lost leotard and foolishness over my car keys.

I read this promise in Scripture:

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

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

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

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

One bad year of planting isn’t the end.  Spring will come anew and I can plow the field fresh, drop the seeds into the earth, and look forward to a better harvest.

I can count on it.

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

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

 

That will never happen to me

Jeremiah 33

She bawled uncontrollably at the tragic news.

Her two older sisters had brought home five—-count them, five—–birthday party invitations within three weeks.

She had not.

I assured her: You will have parties to attend.  You will receive invitations.  Your social life has not collapsed, bit the dust, or ended in ruin at the ripe old age of five.

You will be the one bringing home the party invitation soon.  It will happen to you.  Moms know these things.  We’re smart that way.

I promise.

Meanwhile, she screamed with one long Lucy Ricardo-style wail at the total hopelessness of the situation.

“No, I won’t.”  She finally screeched out.  “I’ll never (wail) be invited (wail) to a party (wail) again (extended wailing).

As a mom, I know I should feel this deep compassion for her tiny broken heart, but really, I hid my smile behind the folder of school papers she handed me.

Five-year-old drama can be so amusing.

I sent her on her way to wash her face and to overcome her despair.  Then I opened up the yellow folder and sorted through all of the projects and worksheets.

Right on top sat a tiny white envelope: a birthday party invitation that had been there the whole time she’d been having a meltdown about a lack of birthday party invitations.

Oh mercy.

God sure can act quickly when He has the mind to.

I carried that invitation right over to my still-tearful child and I taught her right there:  Didn’t Momma promise?  Didn’t I say to have hope?

But I tuck this truth deep down in my own heart because sometimes I’m a five-year-old child wailing about a party invitation.

Oh, the crises get bigger with time.  My own adult life has trials and traumas of its own, but my reaction hasn’t altered so much with ‘maturity.’

I have grown-up ways of jumping headfirst into hopelessness instead of bringing my needs to the God of Hope.

We cling so often to the promise in Scripture:

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV).

But we miss out on so much in this verse if we overlook what was happening to God’s people when Jeremiah was writing this promise.

They weren’t headed into victory or into a promised land of rest and blessing.

God was declaring a season of enemy siege that would lead to utter famine, a time when they’d be tempted to eat the flesh of their own dead children.

God told His people that Jerusalem’s walls would be crushed and the Babylonian enemy would drag them off to a foreign land where they could no longer worship in the temple.

This was more than a childish meltdown about a birthday party.

This truly was desolation and despair.  It was the ugly of life at its ugliest.

And yet, here still God’s mercy covers all.

God tells His people, “Yes, it looks bad.  It’s going to hurt.  Discipline does that.  But I don’t have plans to harm you.  I have a hope and a future for you even as you face captivity and exile.”

He would never abandon them.

God’s mercy shines even in the darkest places.

Jeremiah pours out God’s promises.  He declares:

“After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place”  (Jeremiah 29:10 NKJV).

“Behold I will bring it health and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them the abundance of peace and truth.  And I will cause the captives of Judah and the captives of Israel to return, and will rebuild those places as at the first. (Jeremiah 33:6-7 NKJV).

“Again there shall be heard in this place…..the voice of joy and the voice of gladness….” (Jeremiah 33:10-11 NKJV).

More than that, God assured His people:

‘In those days and at that time
I will cause to grow up to David
A Branch of righteousness;
He shall execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. (Jeremiah 33:15 NKJV).

Oh yes, He’d send the Savior.  The Messiah would come and rescue them indeed.

God’s promise to them wasn’t “if…”

If you make it out of captivity….”

If you ever get to come home again…..”

If you don’t all die off or get subsumed in the foreign culture while in exile….”

Gods promise was “When” and it was “I Will.”

And this is why we hold on in the dark, in the trials, in the moments we can’t see what God is doing, because God doesn’t abandon His people.

He carries them.  He rescues them.  He comes for them.

He does and He will.

 

 

Originally published 10/22/2014

To Get to the Other Side

Most moms cry on the first day of school.

They watch their babies step onto that big yellow bus, faking smiles and putting on excitement for the sake of their children.  Then that bus pulls away and they pull out the tissues.

Not me.

I cry on the last day of school.last day of school

It’s hard to explain really.  I want my kids home and I long for summer all year.  I’ve never been one to celebrate with a mani/pedi that first day of school in September as if I’ve re-asserted my freedom from the constraints of children.

I cannot wait for summer to begin.

But somehow that last day of school for me is like the emotional upheaval of making it to the top of Mt. Everest and back.

We did it.

We survived.

Not just dragged our tired behinds across the finish line, either.  We had a great year and I’m so proud of these girls and all they’ve learned and how they’ve grown.

They bring home broken crayons, used gluesticks and a pile of awards and certificates and I just pray with this gratitude that spills out in those pesky tears like an emotional dam bursts and I’m just gushing:

Thank You, Lord.  You answered my prayers. You gave them great teachers, good friends.  You gave them success and helped them shine.  You guided them through a million tiny and seemingly not-so-tiny decisions and worries.

You brought us right on through and onto the other side and I am just so thankful.

Exhausted.

But thankful.

I’ll cry a bit.  And then maybe I’ll flop right down on this new shore and take a nap because this momma is plumb wore out.

Somehow this year we survived a new book, a new baby and a C-section recovery that took mom out of the driver’s seat and made dad the king of the carpool.  We made it through preschool three days a week, community theatre productions and a Christmas cantata, Engineering Club, a computer competition team, the school talent show, three girls in dance classes three nights a week with a recital to boot, and a steady stream of church activities.

There were times that I thought I could not make it if one more child brought home an unexpected project for school.

Could.

Not.

And I’ve discovered that I really do have a “look” that I flash whenever my child brings home a handwritten note in her best cursive writing asking for a playdate this Saturday when we have 12 other activities already on the weekend agenda.

But here we are.  The last day of school.

The last….day…..

I wonder how the disciples felt climbing out of that storm-tossed boat after fighting for their lives and stumbling in their faith right before the calm.

Did they crawl out of that fishing vessel, soaking wet, panting, dragging out one limb at a time and then stretch themselves out in the sand until they could catch their breath?

Or  did they hop out of there totally unflustered, like they hadn’t been screaming for rescue just moments before?Photo by Viktor Hanacek at PicJumbo

Something tells me they didn’t just shrug that typhoon off and move along.

Maybe they took the time to cry and thank God for salvation.

Like me today.

I knew we’d make it, though.  At times it felt like I was hanging on for dear life, but I knew He is faithful.

God’s grace does that.  It holds us up and carries us on, and our calling is never too much for Him to handle.

Too much for us?  All the time.

Too much for Him?  Not for a second.

So we throw the full weight of our survival onto Him, casting those cares over and over onto shoulders strong enough to carry them.

We trust in His promise.

Those storm-weary disciples could have done this.

Jesus didn’t invite them out for a pleasure cruise that day.  He didn’t tell them, “Get in the boat so we can sail around for a bit and maybe catch some fish.”

He gave them a promise of destination:

 Now it happened, on a certain day, that He got into a boat with His disciples. And He said to them, “Let us cross over to the other side of the lake.” And they launched out.  Luke 8:22 NKJV

Jesus never abandons us halfway.  If He makes a promise, we know He won’t abandon us in the boat.   He’ll take us to the other side.

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 book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2014 Heather King

 

When It Seems Too Hard…

I sorted through the papers in her school take-home folder: homework, tests, notes and announcements, and pictures from her friends.

When I held the unfinished math paper in my hand, I turned it over, around and even upside down trying to figure out the mystery.math

The paper was covered top to bottom in multiplication word problems, hard ones like: “Sam bought 21 cookies from the store every day for a week.  How many cookies had he bought by the end of the week….” or something like that.

This wasn’t simple 1×1 = 1 and on up the single-digit line, the kind of multiplication you learn through sing-songy repetition, simple songs, and homemade flash cards.

This was 64 x 6 and the like, problems I would pull out the scratch paper (or the calculator) to figure out.

So, I asked my daughter, “Who gave you this paper?,”  thinking to myself her teacher had missed a few lessons in the math book.

But no, not her teacher.  Another school staff member gave the kids a challenge with the promise of free ice cream from the cafeteria as a reward.

To my daughter, free ice cream in the cafeteria was enough incentive to make her don hiking boots and climb Mt. Everest.

Yet, reading through the problems, I just kept thinking that it was all too hard and maybe a bit unfair to offer the incentive of free ice cream and then make it unattainable.

I grabbed the paper at the top in order to fold it down and quietly slip it into the trash can, hoping my daughter would forget it and the disappointment.

But I stopped.

Suddenly, I saw beyond the questions and started reading my daughter’s scribbles and answers.  She had made charts and graphs, tally marks grouped together, tens columns and ones columns and rows and rows of addition.

And she had answered the questions correctly.  (I pulled out my calculator to be sure.)  Then I called her over to explain it all to me.

She spoke in a whirlwind.  Why she had arranged the numbers this way.  How if you did things like this or that it would work it all out.  I couldn’t understand it, these complex and abstract ways to think math.

And I had thought the paper was too hard.

I do this in life and call it being “practical” or “realistic,” writing off tasks as too difficult, promises as too out of reach, dreams as too unattainable.  And I take words like “hard” or “difficult” and turn them into “impossible.”

Sometimes I even give up.

Maybe it’s just that we all have a way of complicating the simple.

We try to make issues of statistics and timelines, resources and probabilities, and God cuts through all of that:

“Trust and obey.”

When Moses gave God’s commandments to Israel, it could have been all so overwhelming.  God was practical.  God was specific.  He seemed to have something to say about every aspect of their lives from skin diseases to eating habits to relationships with their neighbors.

But God summed it all up for them: “Do not add to or subtract from these commands I am giving you. Just obey the commands of the Lord your God that I am giving you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).

No matter how confusing and complicated we try to make this holy life, it’s always as simple as this: “just obey.”

Yes, God says,

Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach….No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it (Deuteronomy 30:11, 14).

And yet, they failed.  Years and years after Promised Land living, the book of Judges tells us how many tribes “failed to drive out the people living” in the land, failed to take possession of the promise (Judges 1).  They were living a compromised life without victory.

They didn’t fail because it was too hard, though, and not because God was unfaithful or incapable or too weak or bested by the false gods of the enemies.

They failed because they looked at the task and decided it was just too difficult and wasn’t it better to stay safely out of the way rather than try at all?

Maybe if they’d been promised free ice cream….

Or maybe if they had realized that if God promised it, He could do it.

If He gives the vision, if He calls you out, if He assigns the task, if He creates the passion, if He directs Your steps…. then conquer those tendencies to make it so complicated and excuse-laden, so bogged down in the overwhelming and the fear-filled.

“Just obey.”

Keep it that simple.  Let Him handle the rest.

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 November 2013!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2013 Heather King

Sorrow, Disappointment and Leaving the Valley

She had bounced out of bed that morning and sprinted across the house to tell me the news, “It’s morning time!  And I feel all better!”

I scooped her up in a hug and felt her forehead.  The day before, my three-year-old had spent all afternoon on the sofa, mostly asleep, periodically waking to chatter cheerfully and then drifting back into dreams moments later.

Now here she sat on my lap a day later, placing a headband in her hair and showing it off so I could tell her how pretty it looked.

And she said, “This is what I’m going to wear to the birthday party.”

That’s when I had to tell her the news.  Yesterday while she had been sleeping away the sickness, we had slipped out the door quietly for the birthday celebration.

And she had missed it.

I broke it to her as gently as I could, explaining how she had been sick, reminding her of other special days.

Yet, disappointment is full of sorrow, even when it makes sense, even if you understand why it all happened, even if you know there will be other days and other opportunities, even when you’re deep down truly okay.

Still we feel the sadness over loss.

For a three-year-old, it’s missing out on a birthday party because of a fever.  She covers her face with her hands, crying to me as I comb my hand through her hair and gently pat her back because she “really wanted to go.”

For us, it could be that or so much more.  It’s disappointment in ourselves and the mistakes we make, so much foolishness, words that we speak without thinking, sins, habits, failings, misjudgments and mis-steps.

Or it could be disappointment in God for not sticking to THE plan (AKA “our plan”) or for the deliverance that delays or seemingly doesn’t come.

Or maybe it’s disappointment with others and how they’ve let us down or wronged us or hurt us in ways we carry as scars long after the initial injury.

Disappointments can’t be erased completely.  My girl missed that party and there’s no conjuring it up again or transporting through time to relive the moment.

So it is for us.  The past is the past and there it is.

Yet, God is a redeeming God: Redeeming our circumstances even when it’s our own foolish fault for being in this ugly mess….reminding us of His perfect plans far surpassing our imperfect schemes…renewing our hope even when all we see at the moment is hopelessness.

This is what God promised to do for His people in the book of Hosea, as they wallowed in this disappointment—knowing it was their own disobedience that led to captivity, feeling hopelessly lost and uncertain about the future.

God said:

Therefore, I am going to persuade her,
lead her to the wilderness,
and speak tenderly to her.
  There I will give her vineyards back to her
and make the Valley of Achor
into a gateway of hope.
There she will respond as she did
in the days of her youth,
as in the day she came out of the land of Egypt.
(Hosea 2:14-15 HCSB).

valley2

That Valley of Achor is something we know; all of us have walked those paths of shadows.  It means “Valley of Trouble,” the lonely walking beneath the mountains, barely touched by light, unable to see over the peaks, feeling oh so very far from rescue or escape.

Yet our God so gently promises to take that Valley of Trouble and do what our transforming, redeeming God always does—make it “into a gateway of hope.”

After all, He knows the pathway out of disappointment.

He knows what encouragement our hearts need.

He knows sometimes we need to sob for a moment and express the sadness and then move on with our day, looking for new joy rather than dragging along that regret like a chain holding us captive to the past.

He knows we may need to shake that burden of shame, recrimination and regret right down off our back and to just let…it…go already.

Yes, God can transform whatever valley of trouble or disappointment you find yourselves in.  He is indeed always a God of Hope (Romans 15:13).

But we have to look up to see the change. 

If we’re trudging along with our eyes fixed on the ground of the valley, we’ll never see it become a Gateway of Hope, never see that there’s a way out, never notice that suddenly it’s beautiful and freeing and maybe not the end of the world it felt like just a moment ago.

Valleys always look like endless valleys until we look up and notice we’re free.

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

Soul-Suffocating: When Good Things Become Bad Things

Most of the children in our town don’t watch the Christmas parade from the sidewalk.  They are proud participants in the parade itself.  Almost every child ends up on a float of some kind, for church or school, daycare, ballet, karate, Scouts, band, or chorus.

It’s the moms, dads and grandparents who wave from the sidelines.

Two years ago, my oldest daughter rode all the way down the Main Street of our town, pulled behind Cinderella’s carriage.  Mostly her view of the parade itself was limited to either the folks lining the street or the few floats before and behind her in the line that she could see.

It was enough.

After we had climbed into the car and turned the heat on full blast to thaw the chill we felt deep in our spines and down through our toes, she asked a question that had apparently been on her mind during the whole parade route.

“Mom, there were Boy Scouts in the parade, right?”

“Yup.”

“So….does that mean there are GIRL Scouts.”

I sucked in my breath.  “Yes, absolutely there are Girl Scouts and yes, they are totally wonderful and great and fun.  But you can’t do everything, my love.  Some things we have to let go.”

Even good things can become bad things.  Like when your five-year-old child wants to do ballet, piano, Awana, theater, Girl Scouts, gymnastics, horse-riding and anything and everything else represented by a float in our town’s Christmas parade.

We’re soul-suffocators, too, cramming so much into our lives we don’t have room to breathe.

And it’s not just time.  It’s things, and media, and noise, and friendships and just about everything that’s not necessarily bad, but which ultimately crowds out room for Jesus in the heart that’s supposedly His cozy and welcoming home.

I’ve grown sadly familiar with the phrase, “Everybody else ….” or “My friend has…” and “The other girls at school watch this TV show…”

Sometimes, I’m not just listening to this mantra, I’m the one delivering the whiny sermon to God.

“If others can have this, couldn’t I?”  “If she can do this, it’s okay for me, too, right?”

We’re sold by the advertisers and the infomercials and wooed by the parade of life that incessantly marches past good causes and activities and projects and the latest and greatest in home kitchen gadgetry.

And sometimes God asks us to lay it down.

These aren’t “Issacs,” we’re talking about, the areas of radical obedience that require us to trust and exercise extreme faith.

As Kelly Minter writes in her book, No Other gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, “before Abraham could ever offer up the child born of the miraculous, he first had to offer up the child born of his flesh” (p. 128).

Obedience to God begins with Ishmael.

Long before Abraham’s heart-wrenching journey to the mountain where he lifted his knife over his beloved son Isaac, Abraham had to let his other son go: Ishmael—the baby boy of Abraham and the maidservant Hagar.  For 13 years, Ishmael had been Abraham’s only child and while it turned out that he wasn’t the heir of promise, still he was loved.

And when Sarah demanded that her maidservant Hagar and the teenage boy, Ishmael, be thrown out into the wilderness, Abraham begged God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!” (Genesis 17:20).

Our prayers echo his at times.  “If only you’d bless this, God!”  “If only this would be okay with you.  Isn’t this great and good and wonderful and won’t you bless it?”

We ask God to bless or at least tolerate our “Ishmaels,” those good things that aren’t holy things or the extras and objects of our affection that have never been part of God’s plan or design for us, but that we love and hold on to so very tightly.

Or maybe our Ishmael is the way we’ve tried to force God’s promises into being, impatiently rushing ahead of God’s timing and doing things our own way.

Kelly Minter reminds us, “He has grace on our Ishmaels, and yet he is unwilling to allow them to ever take the place of Isaac.  No, what is born of flesh can never substitute for what is born of the Spirit” (p. 127).

That’s no less a step of obedience than the radical sacrifice of Isaac.  It’s the letting go of Ishmael.

It’s submitting to Him our habits, our committees, our involvement, our activities, our parenting, our expectations for our kids, our relationships, our spending, our eating, our five-year-plan for our lives, our ministry, and the way we are pursuing His call.  Even if it’s good or right for others, even if it seems necessary or like it will help us reach his promises faster, even if we love it…we let it go if He asks.

We’re holding out for God’s best here; not missing out on the promise because we’re distracted and satiated, tired out, filled up, and content with everything else–everything less.

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 © 2012 Heather King

Devotions from My Garden: What Are You Waiting for?

So let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up, or quit (Galatians 6:9 MSG).

We planted in pots and crates on our deck, tiny seedlings of cucumbers, tomatoes in three varieties and jalapeno peppers.

Then we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

We watered.  We tended.

But mostly we waited.

From one day to the next, the leaves didn’t appear to expand and the stems didn’t seem to reach any higher than the day before or the day before that.

It took standing back and surveying growth over time for us to notice we had plants and not seedlings any longer.  Then there were the first tiny yellow flowers on the cucumber plant.

The day we spotted the tiniest baby tomato, I called all three of my daughters over to see.  There we stood, a mom and three girls gently pushing aside green leaves to marvel at the promise of growth.

And then we waited some more.

And waited.

And waited.

For signs of ripeness and readiness for harvest.

Gardening, like life, is so often about waiting.  The difference, though, is that we waited for our first vegetables with anticipation and excitement.  We tracked the progress and closely watched the physical signs of a promising future because we knew the day would come when we sat down to salad and salsa from our garden.

But in life we often wait with a hopeless aggravation and a frustrating impatience.

We wait on God, tapping our foot and glancing often at our wrists with urgency.

Perhaps, though, we should wait for God, watching the signs of growth, rejoicing over every bud and clapping our hands with joy every time we see a reminder that the harvest is coming.

This is how the crowds prepared for Jesus’ arrival:

“Now when Jesus returned, the crowds welcomed him, for they were all waiting for him” (Luke 8:40). 

Can you imagine the crowd watching the road for the first glimpse of Jesus’ sandal?  Perhaps kids ran back and forth bringing news of Jesus’ journey.  “He’s coming.  He’s near.  He’s closer.  He’s just around the corner.”

He’s here!

Imagine the hush of the people.  They weren’t whining about the wait or postulating that perhaps Jesus wasn’t coming after all.

No, they were likely listening intently for the first sound of His voice chatting with His followers as He traveled on the road.

This is how we wait for God–we look forward with excited anticipation and uncontainable joy for the moment we see God at work.

And while we wait, we prepare to receive all that He’s bringing our way.

Like the kings who faced the overwhelming enemy might of Moab, we wait for God’s promise.  He said He would “fill the ditches in the dry streambed with water” overnight and without wind or rain.  Yes, He would bring the refreshment and victory they needed (2 Kings 3:16-18).

In the very next chapter, Elisha tells the destitute widow to gather “empty vessels and not too few” and then the Lord filled as many as she gathered with rich oil, saving her from starvation and poverty (2 Kings 4:3).

In two back-to-back passages, God miraculously fills His people up to the brim, giving them all they had prepared to receive.

I feel this now, this urge to prepare, to grab as many jugs and cups and bowls and pots and buckets as I can so I don’t miss out on one drop of God’s provision. 

I stand at the foot of the dry streambed and rather than complaining about my parched throat, I want to dress in my swimsuit, ready to dive into the pools overflowing with His miraculous water-without-rain.

It’s waiting, surely.  I’m not there yet.  But I see the signs.  I see the growth, the buds, the tiniest hint of vegetables to come.  I see God-movement here and there, projecting change and something new.

Part of me is scared.  Waiting is what I know.  Change, even good change, frightens me and stresses me out.

So what’s a girl to do?

See the signs of God on the move, the promises of harvest, and yet refuse to budge?  “No thanks, God, I’ll stick with what I have and what I know because at least I’ve dug into a trench of trusty comfort and reliability.”

Or do I hang my shoulders in defeat and stomp away, not seeing the harvest quickly enough?  Tired of waiting, I dump over the vessels waiting for oil, I walk away from the streambed thirsty for water . . . I turn away from those waiting for the first sight of Jesus and choose instead to complain at home that He didn’t come.

Or I could wait, joyfully and with excitement, nervous perhaps but ready nonetheless.  Jumping up and down trying to see Jesus over the heads of the crowd, I’m waiting for God, not waiting on Him.

This is how we reap the harvest, when “we don’t give up, or quit” (Galatians 6:9).  This is how we don’t miss out on one drop of what God has planned.

More Devotions From My Garden:


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

Shout! A Little Bit Louder Now: Part I

She didn’t believe I could hear her.  At the very least, I wasn’t paying attention and most certainly didn’t understand.

I was multitasking.  My two-year-old sat on my lap while I played the piano and sang at worship team practice.  For the most part, she sat patient and still during each of the songs.  Every few minutes, she gave in to temptation and touched a piano key or two.  Mostly, though, she simply sat and watched.

But then she began very quietly whispering in my face, “Paci.  I want paci.”

I didn’t have her pacifier and wasn’t sure where it was.  Besides that, I was pounding out chords on the piano and singing harmony all while whispering back to her, “Wait one minute.  I’ll find it in a moment.”

Since I didn’t immediately pop a pacifier into her mouth, she decided that I hadn’t heard her.  So, she said it louder.  And again, even louder.  “Paci!  I want paci!!”

Still singing, still playing the piano, I looked her in the eye and said, “I know what you want.  I’ll look in a minute.”

This was not acceptable to her.

At this point, she did the one thing a two-year-old who wants her pacifier could possibly do to make herself heard over all the music.  She grabbed my microphone with her hands, placed her mouth right up to it, and said in her loudest announcer voice (who knew two-year-olds possessed such a thing?): “Paci.  I want paci.”

That was an attention-grabber.

Have you ever felt like you needed a microphone to broadcast your prayers to heaven?
That God wasn’t aware of you, couldn’t hear you, wasn’t paying attention, and didn’t understand what you were going through?
That there was so much ambient noise, He couldn’t possibly hear the cries of your heart?

If anyone had reason to feel overlooked, ignored, unheard and unnoticed, it was the Israelite nation as they sweated and groaned their way through hundreds of years of slavery in Egypt.

And it’s clear that they weren’t silent sufferers.  Instead, “the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help” (Exodus 2:23).

More important than the fact that they were crying out, though, is the fact that God was listening—even before they realized He was paying attention.

And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel—and God knew.   (Exodus 2:24-25, ESV).

I love how the Message breaks this thought down:

God listened to their groanings.
God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.
God saw what was going on with Israel.
God understood (Exodus 2:24-25, MSG).

God listened.  God remembered.  God saw.  God understood.

Oh, sometimes we believe pieces of God’s character hold true.  God may hear us pray, but He surely forgets His promises to us.

Or maybe He is faithful to keep His promises  . . . but only when He is looking in our direction.  Otherwise, we escape His notice.

Or maybe He hears our prayers and sees our situation, but doesn’t understand how desperate it really is and how hopeless we really are.

Yet, God’s character is no piecemeal buffet.  It’s not changeable or uncertain.  It’s not full of holes from the pieces proved false over time.

So, we can hold fast to this same truth as we groan in our own need, whether it be the annoyance of a daily stress, the repentance over a habitual sin, or the hardest of life’s challenges.

God hears us.  God remembers His promises to us.  God sees us.  God understands.

And then He rescues.

His response to the cries of the enslaved nation was to call Moses to be their deliverer.  Remember, though, that He had already placed every part of this plan into action over 40 years before.

He had rescued Moses from the murderous rampage of Pharaoh, who had every Hebrew baby boy killed at birth.

He had trained Moses as a prince of Egypt, schooled him in all of the sciences and rhetoric a leader of a nation might need.

He had watched over Moses as a refugee in the wilderness for decades.

And now, he called Moses up to active duty and sent him back to Egypt with a message for the hard-hearted Pharaoh, “Let my people go.”

God had been active for years before Israel ever saw the answer to their cries.

Just as the Psalmist wrote: “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether” (Psalm 139:4, ESV).  Yes, the Lord hears our cries before they ever form on our lips and He knows our needs before we ever kneel before Him.

Because we know He hears, remembers, sees and understands, we can also declare with King David:

Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of His right hand” (Psalm 20:6, ESV).

God’s love for us and compassion for His people is all the microphone we need to broadcast our cries to heaven and to receive salvation from His mighty hand.

You can read more devotionals on this topic here:

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