Living the “Real”

Her “Other-Grandma” had a purple house.

That’s what my three-year-old told me, not just once, but all through the day.  Her Grandma had a purple house and her Grandma’s cat had shimmied up a tree and needed firefighters to rescue her.

My preschooler’s imaginary friends expanded over time to include an imaginary “other” family and that “other” family now includes grandparents…and their pets.

I just nodded and “mmm-hmmmed” and let her create.  No need really to dispute the existence of the purple house.

But then, as we drove along a winding road with scattered houses, she saw “it.”

The house.

Yes, the purple house…more like mauve, perhaps.  Close enough.

My daughter erupted, pointing and practically trying to leap out of her five-point harness seat.  “There it is!  My grandma’s purple house!  It’s there!  I see it!!”

There in that moment, nothing could be more exciting, not a circus or Disney World or the largest ice cream sundae, than her imaginary creation becoming “real.”

I wanted that.  Not a purple house or a cat awaiting rescue.  I wanted “real” and the excitement of discovery, that total awareness of this moment and God at work and how it’s not just words on a page or another’s testimony or a video, or a Facebook post, or a Pinterest pin, or a blog.

Real in me, real in my life, so real I sense it in every way, so real I’d be jumping out of my seat to share with others.

Living in the “real,” though, that’s so hard, that takes effort to fight for it, to insist on it, to discipline ourselves for it.

So much more tempting to live in a world of “what-if’s” and worry, hypothetical tragedies and made-up fears that paralyze us in this moment.

So much easier to pin 50 Pinterest activities to do with our kids than live in the simple and the now, push a swing, swash a paintbrush of watercolors on a white paper, bake the cookies.

So much more inspiring to rejoice in the testimonies of others and what God is doing in them than open our eyes wide to what God is doing here in us.

So much less effort to read someone else’s thoughts on the Bible than turn its pages ourselves to read those God-breathed words and pray, “God, speak truth to me.”

So much more fun (less depressing?) to read the blog posts of Mom-tips, wifely-advice, decorating and fashion pointers than look at our own carpets and curtains and push through the clothes in our own wardrobes.

Truly, how did our moms do this?  Do life without online advice and helps?

I love it; I do. I find so many activities I do with my kids, so many teaching tools and home strategies, recipes, and spiritual object lessons online.  I’m a better mom for it…..as long as I do them, as long as I really take the time with my family, not just immerse myself in someone else’s perfect mom moments.

But all those online people with all that online expertise have to live out the Real, too.  They have to wash the dirty dishes, vacuum the stained carpet, break up sibling spats, and yes, surely their lives have mundane and ordinary.  We might only read their highlights and see the pictures of their successes.  Yet, bad days and stress happen to all of us.

So much potential for good here.

And so much potential for discouragement, dissatisfaction, insecurity, uncertainty, jealousy, laziness, and for missing out.

When the captives returned to Jerusalem in the book of Ezra, they personally rebuilt the crumbled remains of the temple and one day they stood before the finished work, amazed:

But many of the older priests, Levites, and family leaders, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this house, but many others shouted joyfully. The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from that of the weeping, because the people were shouting so loudly. And the sound was heard far away (Ezra 3:12-13).

The way those shouts of joy mixed in with the weeping, that’s the power of the Real.  All those years of talking about the temple, telling stories about the temple, and imagining the temple transformed in that moment when they saw it with their very own eyes.

They saw God’s glory, His mercy, His capacity to redeem and restore His people.  They knew for themselves that God had chosen them, loved them, and wanted to be among them.

It was Real and Real overcame them.

I want to be overcome.

This husband, these children, this home, this garden, this day with this weather, this God at work in this very life, this Real is where I can be amazed by God at work if I will open my eyes to see Him right here in my own Real life.

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

Captivated

Sometimes you have to fight for the glory and squint your eyes tight to find the wonder.

Like today.

My daughter woke me up early.  She was ready for the day; I wanted to enjoy a little more night, and so the morning began with a headache, fatigue and maybe a not-so-cheerful attitude.

Then, just as I began to settle into the day, I glanced up at the calendar at 7:58 and realized the heating and air conditioning repairman was coming between 8 and 8:30 a.m.  Oops, forgot that one.

He came at 8:20 and normally that time for me is for morning tea and long devotions, starting the week with God and then writing.

But how to be inspired and still with God, how to type out these words on the computer when he’s banging parts and dismantling pieces?  Then he calls out, “Ma’am?” and I flinch because I know it’s not to tell me good news.

My to-do list was long.  The laundry piled high.  The sink stacked with morning dishes.

But I’m fighting for this, so I open to the first day of my new Bible Study, Wonderstruck by Margaret Feinberg:

“God desires to captivate us not just with his handiwork but with Himself–displaying facets of His character, igniting us with His fiery love, awakening us to the intensity of His holiness” (11).

Captivate me, Lord.  Right here, this tiny person in this moment when all the mundane is pressing heavy on my heart and I’m just about suffocated from the stifling weight of it all.

Feinberg tells me that this is what God desires and I wonder: If I’m not feeling it, is it because I’ve shut Him down and crowded Him out?  Is He willing to reignite me and I’m unwilling to notice

I flip through my Bible to Hebrews 12:28-29:

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

It starts with thanks, gratitude that anything that shakes apart the foundation of my day can’t touch the foundation of His kingdom, my faith, or eternity with Him–Not early mornings, interrupted routines, home repairs, not even the incessant grinding of the daily.

It requires worship grounded in reverence and awe because my God, Savior, Friend, and Lover of my Soul, is a Consuming Fire, and even on days when I’m just seeing the tiniest ember and flicker of that holy flame, He remains the same.

In Scripture, Elisha stood with his prophet-mentor, Elijah, and asked so boldly for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit (2 Kings 2:9).  So, when I read Elisha’s story, I expect the miracles all to be earth-shattering, all fire from heaven with awe and wonder.

It was Elijah, after all, who staged the showdown with the prophets of Baal, who predicted a long and devastating drought over the land and then foretold the rain that started as one tiny cloud as big as a man’s fist.  He went head-to-toe with Ahab and Jezebel until he was whisked away to heaven in a flaming chariot.

The double-portion of that Spirit must be pretty spectacular.

But when I read Elisha’s story, he made foul water fit to drink.  He cursed a group of taunting boys who called him “baldy.”  He gave oil to a poor widow, made some poisonous stew safe for consumption.  And when an ordinary worker dropped his ax in the lake, Elisha made the ax head float on the water.

It was everyday stuff, most of it.  He had a few moments, like raising a boy from the dead.  Overall, though, it seems so mundane.  So everyday.  He helped people eat and drink.  Helped them work and not have to trek to Home Depot for some new tools.

And maybe that’s the reminder here.  Maybe it takes even more faith to look for the power and spirit of God at work in the smallest of needs and the most everyday of circumstances.

Swamp milkweedI look out of the window over my kitchen sink while I wash the last cereal bowl and see the plants we bought the day before, still waiting to be planted in the dirt of our garden.  We went on a hunt for milkweed to attract monarch butterflies and came home with these two green pots.

They look like the smallest and plainest of dead sticks.  My daughter was skeptical.  Could this brown spindly stalk grow anything beautiful?  Is it even alive?

But today I’ve fought for the wonder and the glory.

Today, I’ve determined to plant and nurture the pitiful, the brown, the spindly, the weak, the seeming lifeless–and wait for God to cultivate and grow the glory and the beauty.

Yes, in my garden.  Yes, in my life and heart.

Captivate me.

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

Sick Days, Coveting and a Case of Leprosy

My three-year-old had been sleeping for hours curled up on the sofa.  We all tiptoed and whispered around her “sick bed,” trying not to wake or disturb her.

Then my six-year-old asked, “Mom, if she’s still sick on Tuesday, will she have to go to school?”thermometer

“No, babe, kids can’t go to school when they have a fever like this.”

“Oh man, she’s lucky.  I wish I didn’t have to go to school.”

“Lucky?”

I instantly pointed out the drawback.  It doesn’t do much good to stay home from school when you’re too sick to enjoy it.  It’s not like she’s playing. She’s sleeping the day away on the sofa, feeling miserable and uncomfortable.

“Oh.”

It’s not surprising, really, how she saw the benefit so clearly and didn’t see the cost.  We have the same blinders on often enough.

We think our friend is “lucky” or maybe it seems a bit unfair, how easy she’s got it, how blessed she is, how much she has, how happy….

And the wishing starts so simply, “I wish….I had her house, her marriage, her job, her ministry, successful kids, healthy kids, luxury vacations, that wardrobe, those spiritual gifts.”

They seem, after all, like benefits without cost, clearly good things without downsides or drawbacks.

Yet, no matter how clearly we think we see the situation or how well we know what another person’s life is truly like, we’re really just peering in through the public-access windows, seeing what they choose to let us see.

We don’t know what happens behind the closed doors of their homes.  We don’t know what struggles they endured in order to build a marriage so strong.  We don’t know how much effort it took to parent her children.  We don’t know about the criticism she endures as the consequence of her ministry or the battles she’s fought or the self-discipline it took.

We don’t often see the bad days, the hard times, the sacrifices, the mistakes, the overcoming.  We see the Facebook posts and Pinterest pictures of success stories and not so much the moments when it isn’t so perfect.

The truth is that we don’t know, not really, what anyone else’s life entails, but God does.  He’s specifically designed her for that life and you for yours, and the moment we start glamorizing or over-romanticizing another’s lot is when jealousy is at work.

It sure is hard to be grateful for God’s gifts to us when we’re drooling over His gifts to another.

This coveting of others conveniently fails to consider that the things we want are a package deal.  We can’t just want good and not the bad, the day off of school without the sickness, the power without the responsibility, the success without the sacrifice.

Miriam and Aaron didn’t understand this.  They looked over Moses’s life as leader of the Jewish people and envied his position as the Lord’s anointed.  They criticized him and started questioning him publicly: “Has the Lord spoken only through Moses? Hasn’t he spoken through us, too?”  (Numbers 12:2).

Oh sure, they wanted to feel set apart by God like Moses was.  They wanted to be in charge, receive recognition, have power and the anointing of God.

What could be so wrong with that?

But did they consider that Moses had to handle the daily (yes, daily!) complaints and whining of a rebellious people, who so quickly forgot the miracles God had done for them?  Did they think about what it felt like to bear the brunt of criticism and rebellions?  Were they really willing to get down on their knees and put their own lives on the line in order to intercede for the unworthy nation?

Moses hardly had a cushy desk job.

Still, Aaron and Miriam, eyes closed tight to the difficulties, decided they should have the same position as Moses.

And Moses, who was “very humble—more humble than any other person on earth” (Numbers 12:3), didn’t argue with them.

But God did.  He called Miriam and Aaron out, told the whole community why Moses was specially anointed, and then afflicted Miriam with leprosy as punishment.  If only they had been content with the ministry God had given them instead of coveting that of another.

If only we could be so content.

Thank You, God, for allowing us the blessing and responsibility of this life and not the life of anyone else; not their marriage, friendships, children, money, home, car, jobs, ministry, looks, spiritual gifts, popularity, not any of it.

That blessing you’ve been given, that life you have, that’s what we cherish and thank God for because it’s the one He specifically designed for you—both the good things and the hard things.  The weight of anyone else’s life would crush you, but this load is the one He’s prepared you to carry and the one He’s carrying with you.

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

Thanksgiving Devotions: Thank You For This Day

Every year, my daughters’ preschool teacher pulls the children aside individually and asks an important question:

What are you thankful for?

As a mom, I’ve grown accustomed to the tradition.  The week of Thanksgiving, I can check the bulletin board outside of the classroom and see what crazy thing popped out of my child’s mouth in that one moment with her teacher.

I think I’ve only ever had one year where a daughter was thankful for me.

Mostly, they’ve been thankful for loose teeth or funny things their dad does or some toy that I never see them actually play with.  This year, my girl was thankful for her stuffed animals.

Thanksgiving tends to highlight what’s important to us, usually family and friends more than toys, but still we’re motivated to be grateful at least one month, or week, or day out of the year.

Some of us start Thanksgiving journals and gratitude lists.  Others post daily Facebook status updates of what we’re thankful for this year (or sort of “daily updates,” more like once every few days with lots of catching up).

We’re sincerely excited to acknowledge the blessing and it’s beautiful in its season.

One of the things I love about my little girl, though, is that she isn’t just thankful for stuffed animals when the teacher pulls her aside for the annual preschool Thanksgiving assignment.

Every single time she prays, she begins with, “Dear God, thank You for this day.”

Mealtime prayers, bedtime prayers, prayers in June or in December, if it starts with “Dear God” and ends with “Amen,” she’s thankful for the day she’s had.  Time-outs, sadness, fights with her sisters, none of that can mar her thankful heart.

I’m reminded of Daniel, who prayed in a similar way in Babylon.  Despite exile far from his beloved Jerusalem and his family, despite political intrigue and plots against him, despite religious persecution and antisemitism, still Daniel prayed.

And he didn’t just plead and petition God for help in the midst of sorrow or stress.

He “knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10)

He prayed on his knees.  Three times a day.  Every day.  Not so everyone could see, but in a manner people could notice if they chose to look his way.

And he “gave thanks.”

That’s why King Darius knew there was hope for Daniel even after he was shut up in a darkened den of ravenous lions and locked in overnight.

The King trusted in the God “whom you serve continually” (Daniel 6:16, 6:20) and his trust was not misplaced.

Daniel’s faithful, day in and day out, no matter what the circumstances, continual determination to get down on his knees and give thanks to God was blessed in that moment.  God sent the angel to slam shut the jaws of the lions until Daniel could be lifted out of the pit unscathed.

It might seem that the miracle was the reason to give thanks, and that’s what King Darius did, issuing a proclamation of praise to the “Living God” of Daniel.

But Daniel had been giving thanks all along.

Thanksgiving is over this year.  We’ve feasted and visited family and friends.  We’ve probably thought and even shared what we’re thankful for this year.

But I don’t want to just be a once-a-year grateful girl.

I want to be thankful for this day and the next and the one after that, regardless of the circumstances or annoyances or even fears.

I want to make it a discipline and attitude and habit of mind and heart to give thanks to God, maybe three times a day, maybe 20 times a day.

I want people to refer to my God as the one “whom I serve continually,” not periodically, or seasonally, or around the holidays.

When they see the lions’ den, I want people to know my God can rescue and deliver.

Don’t you?

If that’s our true desire, then our first step is today.  When everyone else has finished the annual mantra of thanks and the turkey is reduced to leftovers and others have moved on to Christmas lists and shopping, we make a choice to be thankful.

Today we choose to pause and give praise, give specific thanks, notice God at work and drop our head for a whispered moment of gratefulness.  We choose to look past the obvious and the bothersome or scary, to see reasons to thank Him “for this day” every…single…day of the year to come.

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

Thanksgiving Devotions: Bitter Ingredients and Pumpkin Pie

Almost all of my favorite Thanksgiving memories aren’t really of the feast itself, even though I still say it’s my favorite holiday.  Mostly I grow nostalgic for Thanksgiving Eve and the Wednesday night family baking sessions we had as a kid.

Some of our craziest family legends involve making the traditional chocolate meringue pie the night before the big day.

There’s something deeply relational about baking, whether it’s for someone or with someone.  I find myself even now telling stories as my daughters stir and imparting generational wisdom like: why the butter and sugar get creamed together first and how you have to pack down brown sugar when you measure it out.

Hugely important life lessons like that.

And maybe I learn something, too.

The last time we crowded around the table to make pumpkin pie, my oldest asked, “Mom, what does pumpkin taste like by itself?”

She thought it would be sweet heavenly golden goodness.  After all, this daughter and I share a passion for all things pumpkin—pies, breads, cookies and cupcakes.

But I knew the dark secret about pumpkin and I tried to warn her, “You can try it if you like, but just a small taste.  It’s bitter.”

She licked a tiny bit off her finger and made the appropriate “nasty” face.

How can something so incredibly delicious in everything we bake be so horrible on its own?

I pulled out the vanilla and she bravely tasted the tiniest droplet of that also, despite the grimace over the pumpkin.

Yup, vanilla doesn’t fair any better on its own.

She even smelled each of the spices before we measured them into the bowl.  It turns out that cloves, nutmeg and ginger are more potent than sweet and more pungent than enticing.

Photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek, picjumbo

Photo courtesy of Viktor Janacek, picjumbo

The eggs were runny, sticky and gross.

The salt was…well, salty.

All in all, it was utterly mystifying when we finished stirring and I handed her the spoon to lick, which she popped into her mouth with a muffled, “Yummmmm.”

The truth about baking is the truth about life.  We have a reason to be thankful for every ingredient, even the ones that seem too bitter or salty or potent to turn into anything mouth-watering and delicious.

As Christians, most of us have not only heard Romans 8:28 a million times, we’ve probably quoted it a few thousand times ourselves:

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28 NKJV).

You may have even just skimmed through that verse just now because you’ve heard it so often and know it so well.

And yet, we tend to emphasize the “for good” part of this verse, which means we could be expecting instant pumpkin pie when life hands us a can of Libby’s pumpkin.

That job you lost, how can that be for good?

That time of sadness, that mourning, that separation and grief, the broken relationship and the conflict…..tastes so bitter.  It doesn’t seem possible for any of it to be “for good.”

Philosophically, we know the deal.  We’ve heard the sermons.  Maybe one day we’ll see how God turned these times of sadness and stress into blessing.  Maybe it won’t be until heaven, but at least then we’ll be able to see the good that came from the ugly.

It’s a long, hard lesson, realizing that “for good” doesn’t necessarily mean “right now” or “without pain.”

But it’s true, of course.  There are eternal perspectives and long-term visions that we just can’t see from our limited, finite looking glass on circumstances so up-close and personal.

There’s something about this verse that we often overlook, though.  God isn’t just working “for good,” He’s doing it so that “all things work together.” The good comes from the mixing of ingredients, the pooling together of the circumstances into one beautiful wholeness—His plan and will for Your life.

Rick Warren says it this way:

“The events in your life work together in God’s plan.  They are not isolated acts, but interdependent parts of the process to make you like Christ….If you will give God all your distasteful, unpleasant experiences, he will blend them together for good” (The Purpose Driven Life, p. 195).

I’ve had Thanksgivings where gratitude came easy, practically gushing out of me in response to blessing.

And there were years where thankfulness was a discipline of the soul, a determined trusting in God, a sacrifice of praise.

Regardless of whether this year is easy or harder for you, remember that the pumpkin, the eggs, the salt, the vanilla, the spices aren’t delicious on their own.  But trust–and give thanks–that God will bring everything together and it will be sweet and for your blessing and beyond what you could imagine.

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

Thanksgiving Devotions: Secret Messages, Whispered Thanks

I wanted to write.
She wanted to paint together.
I sat down to answer emails.
She wanted to do puzzles together.
I vacuumed and washed and folded.
She dragged the Play-Doh bucket from the playroom so we could make pizza Play-Doh…together.

Writing projects, church projects, house projects, studying, filling out forms, answering emails, drafting letters, returning phone calls…I had my agenda.

And she had hers, as she handed me a game she couldn’t play on her own and asked for help.  Maybe we could do it together?

Somehow I managed to perform periodic cleaning sweeps through the house in between requests for “together” this or that.  We ate lunch at the school with her older sisters together (of course) and took a trip to the library after school with everyone.

Bedtime arrived and I kissed them all sweetly and patted their heads, read the book(s), prayed the prayer and tucked them into beds.  Then I flopped down into the chair, glad that somehow the house had ended the day clean-ish so I could work on other projects now in my “free time.”

One brief moment of peace passed before I heard the sounds of fighting, ending in screams and tears.

Following that, the post-fight therapy with daughters began, about whether they are loved as much as their sisters, and how come she gets away with this and didn’t I hear the mean things she said?1corinthians1-4

That’s when my tears began.  Because even the time that’s supposed to be free really isn’t when you’re a mom.  Sometimes the whole idea of achieving balance seems like dreaming the impossible dream.  When you’re truly responsible for other people, little people whom you love completely and utterly, you’ll be emptied out over and over again.  Where’s the balance in that?

The truth is life isn’t about balance at all.  It’s about putting people first.

I can’t say that I’m ending this day feeling very accomplished or on top of things, but then usually the most important things in life can’t be crossed off a to-do list.

Yet, as we sat there having lunch at the school, my three-year-old climbed up in my lap and curled up tight.  Her breathing slowed and drew in deeper and deeper until her head flopped forward into the crook of my arm.

I scooped her up, carried her to the car and then into the house after the drive.  If it’s possible for a tiny girl to coo, she did when I settled onto the sofa with her in my arms.

Then I whispered into her ear what I’ve said to my children hundreds of times since their birth: “I love you and I’m so thankful to God that He let me be Your mom.  You are God’s great gift to me.”

Sometimes I’m telling that to wiggly daughters who have zoomed by me in their dash from the kitchen to the bedroom.  I’ve reached out my hand, pulled them close and told them the secret message again and again.

Other times, I’m whispering it to sobbing girls, upset, angry, hurt or feeling unloved.

“I’m thankful to God for you.”

We all have people who need to hear those words from us: Teachers, friends, moms, sisters, dads, children, mentors, caregivers, coworkers, husbands….

Paul teaches us this in his letters to the churches.  He writes with encouragement and challenges, correction, doctrine, and personal testimony, but also with thanks for the very people reading these words.

To the Corinthians he wrote: “I always thank my God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:4).

To the church at Thessalonica, he said: “We always thank God for all of you and continually mention you in our prayers. We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labor prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thess 1:2-3).

So often, we skim through the beginning and end of Paul’s letters, rushing through the personal notes so we can dig into meaty questions of doctrine and theology.

But people mattered to Paul. That’s clear when you actually read his thoughtful recounting of the service, ministry, teaching, faithfulness, and generosity of individual people and the church as a whole.

Even when he was tired out from ministry and abandoning his own plans or agenda in order to jot off a letter to a beloved church in need, Paul always took the time to say, “I thank God for you.”

During this week of Thanksgiving, don’t just post a Facebook status thanking God for your husband and kids.  Don’t be satisfied with saying just one word of gratitude before you pass the turkey and mashed potatoes.

Tell others how thankful you are for them here and now.  That’s more important than anything else on your agenda for the day.

Who needs to hear you say, “I’m thankful for you” today?

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

Weekend Walk: Feeling Needy but Giving Praise

I want to say a big thank you to John King over at Smoking Newspaper and Bill Jones at I Was Thinking the Other Day About... for their guest posts this week!

And I want to give a shout out of congratulations to Wesley for winning the book giveaway!!!  I hope you enjoy reading Don’t Smoke the Newspaper and Other Lessons Learned by a Pastor.  And if you didn’t win, you can check out the book on Amazon.com here!

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On Thursday morning, I pushed a cart all around Wal-Mart.  It was already feeling a bit crowded and crowded to me is like narrow and close to others, like an MRI for someone with claustrophobia.  My heart beats a little faster, I’m certain my temperature shoots up about 5 degrees and I feel like I could just sit down on a random store bench and cry.

But I survived with a cart nearly overflowing, shopping for my family, for church events, for prayer group breakfasts, shared meals, and Operation Christmas Child.  My massive list had been divided into five sections for all that week’s events.

Then I had to go back the next day.

Because while I had seemingly put every item on the Wal-Mart shelves in my cart the day before, I hadn’t bought all of the necessities for the prolonged power outages carried along on the wind and rain of Hurricane Sandy.

I was an optimist, hoping the storm would turn or move north or simply disappear off the radar.

So, I reluctantly went back.  Two trips to Wal-Mart…Two days in a row…With a 3-year-old… Pressed in on every side by every other person in my town also rushing the aisles for water, canned goods, paper products, and batteries.  One friendly guy (not an employee) scaled the now-empty shelves and reached to the far back to hand down the last four cases of bottled water to those of us waiting below.

When I arrived home from picking my other daughters up from school, I loaded the cans of soup into the cabinet and piled the water in the laundry room.  One of the girls yelled that her drink spilled and I reached my hand across the kitchen counter to yank off a paper towel….

Only to find that it was the last one on the roll.  A quick search through our pantry revealed no hidden stock of paper towel rolls.

I was completely out.

That’s right.  All of that shopping, and I still didn’t have everything I need.

Sometimes life feels just about that way.  Fill up, consume, search, receive…and still we long for more, still there is the desire, still there is the need.

Perhaps we’ve tended to certain areas, all of our energy and sweat-browed focus exhausted on just getting through this one challenge.  Then we finish.  We make it.  And we realize all that we’ve ignored, the other needs now screaming out for attention.

One crisis ends, another arises.  Storms that never made it onto our radar suddenly threaten.  Or maybe, like me, you’ve squinted your eyes shut to the possibility, choosing optimism ….or willful blindness.

We’re needy folks.  Like baby birds sucking down the prize worm, we so quickly lift our heads and scream for more.

And it’s not that our needs are always imagined or that like spoiled consumers we’ve mis-defined “needs” and “wants.”

Sometimes it’s just because we’re thoroughly dependent on a Dependable God, aware of our insufficiency, surrendered to our out-of-control state and trusting in His guidance, mercy, care, and provision.

This week, I’m not sure what kind of power and Internet outages I might experience with the coming storm.  You might not hear from me as “regularly scheduled” or maybe I’ll happily be online for regular devotionals.  Just know I’ll be up and running as soon as I can.

In the meantime, here’s a verse for the week to remind me of all that God provides to someone as needy as me and that I can give praise and be true deep-down grateful for each need He satiates.

And that I needn’t scream in fear and desperation—because He’s provided before, He will take care of me again.  That’s what gratitude does.  It gives us peace.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever.  Amen
(Philippians 4:19-20)

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

Weekend Walk: When Grace Is Enough

Last Saturday, I bravely went where I as a mom had never gone before.

We hosted our very first sleepover.

My girls struggled with sleeping days ahead of time.  One of my daughters complained that it was so hard to pay attention in school when all she could think about was having a friend over to stay the night.  After all, how can you sit still for math timed tests and spelling questions when a friend is coming over to your house?

They had plans.  Big plans.

All this remains a mystery to me.  I was never a fan of sleepovers and still struggle when I have to stay in a hotel away from home for even one night.  I like my space, my bed, my pillow, my routine.  I’m a homebody and an introvert.  Even as a girl, sleepovers were more nerve-racking than fun.

But I yielded to my friend-focused daughters and their pleading blue eyes and allowed them to invite over their friend.

Then we did the sleepover thing.  We made cookies, played dress-up, ate pizza, watched a movie, and painted fingers and toes.  The girls whispered and giggled in their room after the lights went out and squealed a bit at the thunderstorm booming outside.

And when it was over, I sank into the sofa in satisfaction.  I did it.  I, Mom to Three Daughters, had survived a sleepover.

That, I felt, should cover me for a while.  Maybe at least I would be free of pestering for three or four months.  A season of peace.  It sounded heavenly and was worth the effort.

I was wrong, of course.

On the way home from church the very next day, the girls started begging for another play date and sleepover.  Every day this week, I’ve been nagged and whined at.  They exchanged phone numbers with friends at school.  At Back to School Night, the girls spent 50% of the time showing me their classrooms and 50% of the time telling me that they had invited various friends to come home with them the next day.

One child snuck a note into her backpack to the school office: “Olivia will be riding home with Lauren King after school today.”

When I went to have lunch with my daughters at school, I had to ban conversation about play dates after ten minutes of being bombarded with, “When can she come over?” questions.

Now, having friends over really is fun and truly I love giving my daughters the opportunity to build into friendship and develop gifts of hospitality and people-focused lives. They are continually teaching me the value of relationship over tasks and to-do lists.

But surely, I felt, I deserved one week of “thanks, Mom!” before hearing “Please, Mom, can I have some more?”

Maybe God feels that same disappointment with us at times.  He saves us, redeems us, calls us His own, draws us in close to Him in companionship and friendship—in adoption!  He meets our needs and delivers us from circumstances and the Enemy.

And if we’re really holy perhaps we’ll toss a hurried “thanks” over our shoulders before running full speed ahead to the next crisis of need.

Of course, He’s so gracious to deliver us time after time and invites us into the kind of open and honest relationship where we can always tell Him how we really feel, what we lack, and what has us frightened and worried.

But perhaps we could learn to pause longer in gratitude and settle down in joy at His deliverance, knowing He takes care of us, knowing that He has it all under control and that we don’t need to run fretting back to the throne hour after anxious hour.

This week, I’ll be meditating on one verse every day that reminds me that God has already delivered me and for that I linger in thanks and praise:

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust”
Psa
lm 91:1-2

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

You Get What You Get And You Don’t Throw a Fit

I thought I was going to have all boys.

My interests trended toward Legos, GI Joe, computer games, and airplanes and not so much to princesses, Disney movies, ballet, and ponies.  So, it made sense that God, sensing my aptitude for being a boys’ mom, would give me sons.

Fully prepared to head out on a blue shopping spree following the ultrasound for my first pregnancy, I was shocked . . . stunned . . . surprised speechless when the doctor announced he was pretty sure my son was actually a daughter.

I cried.

It’s got nothing to do with wanting a boy in the traditional sense—that somehow it’s our duty in life as women to birth sons and have male offspring and all that.

Instead, I cried because I felt so much more pressure knowing I’d have a daughter.  I had assumed that my husband would be primarily responsible for teaching him how to pee in the potty and for having “the talk” around puberty.

More than any of that, my husband would be responsible for modeling Godly manhood and I could be the really cool, supportive, fun mom who showed my boys what to choose in a wife.

(Moms of boys can insert laughter here, knowing it isn’t at all as easy as I’d envisioned.  What can I say—I’d never had a child of any kind before!  I was a foolish innocent.)

Having a girl meant I would be fully in charge of the potty and I’d likely be the one explaining the birds and the bees.

Oh, and I’d have to live like the woman of God, the wife, the mom, the friend . . . that I wanted them to become.  Plus, I’d have to be on my best behavior all the time because kids pretty much don’t blink and miss stuff.

No pressure or anything, right?

Thinking it was a fluke, I went to the ultrasound for my second pregnancy awaiting the announcement of a boy.

She wasn’t.

I was even a little surprised during my third pregnancy when the doctor looked at the ultrasound pictures, looked back at me and said, “I can’t say this is a boy.”

I was surprised, but I wasn’t disappointed. By the time I had my third baby, I wasn’t really sure I’d know what to do with a boy if I had one!  Over time I’ve grown to love having a house full of girls and have learned a million lessons as a result.

Like the fact that an affinity for pink, purple, princesses and ponies isn’t as environmental as I thought.  Without any help from me, my oldest daughter became the princess of all princesses and the ballerina of all ballerinas.

Like how to style my daughter’s hair into a fishtail braid.

Like how to help daughters live with emotional balance and become strong women who aren’t abrasive and compassionate women who aren’t pushovers.

Well, to be honest, I’m still learning that last one.

It’s still overwhelming at times and I feel unfit many days.  Never having played “hairstylist” as a child, I have no idea how to fix up my daughters’ long tresses.  I kind of fumble around with nail painting and wouldn’t know how to behave in a nail salon if I ever grew brave enough to enter one.  I’m no fashion expert and zero help with their ballet lessons.  I still hate shopping.

Still, even when I get it wrong and stumble through life as a girls’ mom, I’ve learned to love pink and purple, rock the dress-up games, clap big at their ballet performances, and snuggle them close at least once a day to tell them how I think they’re so beautiful outside, but more importantly inside where it really counts.

In her book, MOMumental, Jennifer Grant shared a lesson she’d been taught by a college professor:  Prefer the given.

Originally used by the author, Charles Williams, the phrase means “choosing to appreciate what we have instead of being dissatisfied with the grace and other gifts God gives us” (Grant p. 11).

Now, I haven’t been fond of everything my kindergartener has picked up from her friends at school, but one day at dinner she repeated something a boy in her class said, “You get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.”

That I loved.

Isn’t it the same lesson I’ve been learning over time and the same one Jennifer Grant was teaching in her book?

It’s the lesson of contentment, preferring this life God has given me over any childhood fantasy or pre-childbearing delusion.

It’s preferring the here and now instead of being trapped by the past, obsessed with worry over the future, or determined to rush past the beauty of this moment in an effort to move on to something “better.”

We all make a million plans that never turn out the way we expect, we dream of what life will be like and then sometimes sit in speechless shock when it doesn’t work out that way.

Paul’s life certainly didn’t end up the way he ever expected.  Yet, it was Paul who wrote, “Godliness with contentment is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6) and Paul again who wrote “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

For those of us who’ve ever struggled with knowing God’s will, Paul tells us what it is—be thankful for what God has given you, all the time, even if it isn’t what you wanted or planned.  Give thanks and trust that God knows what He’s doing.

You can check out my full review of Jennifer Grant’s book MOMumental and even read a free download of the first chapter 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

A Week of Thanks: I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up

I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up
Originally Published 08/19/2011

“Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10)

Bam!
Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!
Thump, thump, thump, thump, thump.
Sniffle, sniffle, sniffle.
Mom!  Mom mom!!

With my genes, my girls didn’t have much of a chance at grace and my baby girl is no different. So these are the sounds heard in my home multiple times any given day.

It’s the immediate reaction of any child to trouble, the crying out to mom and the running to her side to tell her all about the tragedy and pain.

There’s little I can do most of the time to fix the problem.  My baby’s fallen and hurt (maybe even angry) and while I can’t change the fact of her fall and no Band-Aid is going to alleviate the temporary soreness, I can kiss her, cuddle her close and tell her I love her. And so I do.

Then I fall down, tripping over my own sin, or another person who invaded my space, or an obstacle I didn’t foresee, or an unexpected pit in my road.

To whom do I run?  What is my immediate response, my instantaneous reaction to pain?  What is yours?

For some, it’s to hold our bruises close for a while and to snap at any bystanders who offer to help us stand back to our feet.  Maybe even hide our heads in embarrassment for the spectacle of the fall in the first place.

For some, it’s to call out for help from those nearby, asking them to both hoist us up and even bear the burden of our weight for a while as we wobble around on a weakened leg.

For some, it’s to haul out our own first aid kit and apply ice and bandages to our own wounds and refuse the expert care so readily available.

For some, it’s to sit without moving, paralyzed by fear.  What if our leg is broken?  What if we never walk again?  What if . . . what if . . . what if . . . ?

In Beth Moore’s study, Daniel, she notes how his immediate response to the king’s edict prohibiting prayer was to go “to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before” (Daniel 6:10).

He didn’t worry first and then pray.  He didn’t try to fix the situation through his political abilities and then pray. He didn’t even concede defeat and stop his public prayer habits, choosing instead to silently petition God at night while others slept.

Daniel prayed.  It was his initial reaction; it was his only solution.

Then there’s the matter of what he prayed.  Sure, some of us have indeed trained ourselves to “take it to the Lord in prayer” without hesitation.  We run to his side and bury our noses in the hem of His robe, sniffling out our requests to Him.  But are we giving thanks amidst those tears?

Daniel was.  Scripture says he “got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God” (Daniel 6:10).  When I’m smarting from an injury, I’m more likely to complain about the pain than sing hymns of thankful praise.

Not Daniel. Political enemies, a manipulated king, a dangerous edict, his faith attacked, his life on the line—still Daniel gave thanks.

Paul made the same connection when he wrote,

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-7).

Peace in the midst of pain is there for the taking sometimes, and yet we choose anxiety instead.  We opt for fear by trying to control our own problems rather than running to God’s side and dumping them at His feet.  We allow worry to reign in our hearts and minds by refusing to pray with thanksgiving at all times and in every situation.

I confess I’m a rebel at times.  Even though I know I should shove aside my grumbling and choose to be thankful—even when it takes struggling and squinting to see that sparkle of light in a dark place– still I decline.

I dusted off my thankfulness journal this morning after two weeks of shoving it aside. I didn’t want to be thankful.  I wanted to feel wronged.  I didn’t want some secret formula to maintaining joy in trials; I wanted no more trials!  I wanted God to feel pity for me and feel sorry for letting me be hurt.  Perhaps what I wanted was an apology from Him.

It’s like emotional manipulation of the Almighty God.  “I’m not going to praise You or worship You or give You thanks or hand over my fears to You until You rescue me in the way I desire.”

It’s handing God a sheet and pillow and pointing to the couch.
It’s ignoring His phone calls and giving Him the silent treatment at the dinner table.
It’s holding my breath until he gives me what I want.

And it’s just about as effective as all those tactics.  So when my tantrum is done, I pray and I give thanks.  Reluctantly at first, perhaps, and yet I try.  Maybe the next time I trip and fall, I pray with thanksgiving immediately because I have learned that gratitude shifts my focus off my need and onto the face of my Deliverer.

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 © 2011 Heather King