Dandelions are out; Tulips are in

A confession.

Until we put our house up for sale last year, I can’t say that dandelions ever bothered me very much.

So they were weeds.   So others didn’t like them.   So what?

I barely noticed them.  When the grass got cut, the dandelions got chopped down, too, and that seemed like enough.

When I wanted someone to buy our house, though,  I suddenly felt motivated to keep  my yard weed-free.

That’s when the war started. and I’ve brought the battle from the old house to the new, only this time I refuse to give up any territory.

These dandelions have overrun yards all over my new neighborhood, but not my yard.  Not this time.

I  pop those dandelions out by the root every time I take a walk or get the mail or just  head out the door to  the minivan.

But while I’m warring against the dandelions, I’m also choosing to fight for something else.

The whole time I’m digging out weeds, I’m cultivating tulips, watching over them like a mom does a newborn baby.  I marvel at every single hint of growth. I point out the first sprouts of green to my kids, and I wait expectantly for the first blooms  to appear.

In my old house, I planted tulips nearly every fall because I love their vibrant colors. They didn’t grow, though.  In the 13 years we lived in that house, I probably only had tulips bloom two of those years.

They were eaten. That’s why.   Apparently tulip bulbs are a high-class delicacy to voles, who tunneled all through the yard and snacked on my plants through the winter.

I’m determined, though–determined to keep the dandelions out and determined to keep the tulips in.  So I clicked my way through Google searches to find some tulip- growing remedies.   Then I headed out to the garden with a bag of crushed oyster shells and containers of garlic powder and  chili powder.  I mixed that fragrant little concoction up and dumped  it into the holes before I dropped the tulip bulbs in the soil.

The garden smelled like garlic for at least a week.

Now,  it’s spring. The tulips are about to bloom and I finally see the results of all that effort.

I have fought against and I have fought for.

Maybe that’s what I need to know spiritually, too.  That battling against is fine and well and good, but it’s incomplete if we aren’t also cultivating what is beautiful and right and enduring in its place.

James wrote:

16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense.18 And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace (James 3:16-18 CSB). 

We dig out envy, pride, and evil.  We grow peace, gentleness, and mercy.

Paul told the Galatians:

 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, moral impurity, promiscuity, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatreds, strife, jealousy,outbursts of anger, selfish ambitions, dissensions, factions, 21 envy,drunkenness, carousing, and anything similar (Galatians 5:19-21 CSB). 

But that’s not the end.  It’s not enough to be rid of the flesh or pull out the sin; we need the Spirit to do a new work within us, and the fruit of the Spirit is:

love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23 CSB). 

I can deal with sin, take it seriously, talk about sin, focus on sin, try to conquer sin, determine not to sin, read about sin, listen to preachers preach about sin, recognize my sin, and constantly declare that I’m a sinner.

But I’m still missing out.  James moves past that.  Paul moves past that.

It’s fruitfulness they describe and it’s fruitfulness I really want.   I want more than a yard without dandelions.  I want the beauty of the tulips.

And that doesn’t happen if I’m focused on myself, my own efforts,  my own failures.   Fruitfulness requires abiding in Christ, lifting my eyes from my self to my Savior.

That’s when my life begins to bear fruit, His supernatural peace, not just the absence of worry, but a heart that loves peace and pursues peace with others.

That’s when He helps me to love even when it’s hard.  That’s when He grows gentleness, mercy, kindness, and goodness within me.   That’s when I have an abiding joy that isn’t determined by circumstances.   This is the Spirit’s work.

No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing (John 15:4-5 NIV).

 

 

Seeing faith in action when you look in the kitchen

Funerals for dear friends who succumbed to cancer and funerals for young grandsons and sons , funerals after long-and-exhausting illnesses, funerals for unexpected death, and shocking funerals that remind a whole community of evil in the world– it feels like our church has had its share of sadness and hard losses in the last few years.

While we’re upstairs in the sanctuary, remembering loved ones, telling stories, singing hymns, and being reminded of eternal life in Jesus Christ, there’s this other truly beautiful thing happening downstairs.

The kitchen is abuzz.

Tables are set out and a team of people flit in and out of that kitchen carrying bowls and choosing the right serving spoons.  They cut up fruit and place sandwiches on trays.  They fill pitchers of water and tea and boil large pots of soup.

They are so faithful.  Funeral after funeral, they quietly set out the food and clean up the dishes. They work before most of us arrive and stay after most of us have left.

They do that kind of ministry that matters so much, that has so much impact, the kind that shows people God’s great love by meeting the most practical needs at the time they need it the most.  It’s not flashy or showy.  It’s “just” setting up tables.  It’s “just” setting out food.

But it’s also “just” loving others with self-sacrificing compassion.  These are humble acts, solely motivated by a desire to give.  No one is handing out trophies in the kitchen.

So, I marvel at these faithful few and I learn from them about what it means to live out my faith with obedience to Jesus.

Loving God well does not require degrees or ministry platforms.  It doesn’t require arenas or microphones.  It doesn’t even require being seen by most others around us.

When Jesus finished  rubbing off the grime on the disciples’ feet at their Passover  meal, He said:

If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet (John 13:14 NASB).

We Christians are supposed to be feet-washers.

Paul emphasized Christ’s example in this also:

Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servantand being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.(Philippians 2:5-8 NASB). 

It doesn’t mean, of course, that we all have to crowd into a kitchen and serve up meals to  mourners at funerals.  We couldn’t possibly.  I, for one, would probably make a terrible mess of it.

But I can serve.

My faith in Christ is best expressed in service, in kindness, in gentleness, in giving, in  humility, in compassion, in rolling up my sleeves and getting dirty.

In Acts 28, Paul lands on the isle of Malta.  He’d been a prisoner on a ship bound for Rome on treacherous seas.  The sailors fought the storms for more than two weeks, throwing their provisions overboard, leaving them hungry, exhausted, wet, and terrified.

But Paul assured them that God would keep them safe, and that’s exactly what God did.  He washed them up on the shore of this island, where the natives showed them “extraordinary kindness.”

Then, Scripture tells us:

But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand (Acts 28:3 NASB).

In his book The Practice of Godliness, Jerry Bridges says this:

 Under the adverse circumstances of shipwreck, why would Paul have gone about gathering fuel for a fire built and tended by someone else?  Why didn’t he just stand by the fire and warm himself?  He didn’t because it was his character to serve (see Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thessalonians 2:7-9).

Paul was like everyone else: Lost and then saved, probably sopping wet, weary, and hungry.  Paul had every reason to  collapse near the fire and let others tend to his needs.

But instead, he gathered sticks and laid them on the fire.  He did the work.  He served.

Jerry Bridges suggests that “it was his character to serve.”

Paul’s spiritual gifts were probably evangelism and preaching/teaching, not so much compassion, giving, and service.  Yet, here Paul is tending a fire because we are all called to serve like Jesus, to be humble like Jesus, to love others like Jesus.  This is the way we live out radical faith in Him.

May these words be said of me and may they be said of any of us who want so much to be like Jesus: “It’s our character to serve. “

Refresh others in Christ

It was just a little wave of the hand.

During our last week of summer break, my kids and I  trekked out to Colonial Williamsburg for a day.

We explored the market, took pictures of the horses pulling the carriages through town, and watched the weaver at work.

In and out of the crowd we wove from place to place.  My son kept trying to run ahead, but we’d draw him back in and tell him he had to “hold hands with one of the girls.”

So, he’d grip onto one sister’s palm.  Then another.  Trading back and forth.

Then I held his hand for a bit in one of the shops because–golly, there are a lot of fun things a three-year-old wants to touch and shouldn’t!  Glancing down, I saw him giving a little wave to  someone in the group of fellow visitors.

But we didn’t know anyone in the crowd.

So, a little confused, I followed my son’s gaze to see who he was connecting with.  That’s when I saw a man in an electronic  wheelchair just across from us return my son’s little wave with his own little nod of greeting.

As we moved from place to  place in the town that day,  I think we must have seen that same man with his family at least three different times and my son waved each time  to him.

It  was just the smallest thing.  An acknowledgement.  A little hello.

I don’t know why my three-year-old noticed this gentleman in particular or what encouraged him to make any sort of connection.  I  didn’t see him wave at another person the whole day.

But sometimes, I guess, you just know when someone needs a kind greeting, a friendly wave,  and a smile .

May we be noticers,  too.

May we pay attention to those around us.

May we be sensitive to a hurt heart,  a need,  or a bad day.

May we be “refreshers”–those who renew joy, renew strength, renew hope, and pour Jesus into the lives of others.

 

That’s one of Paul’s themes in his letter to Philemon.  He says:

 For I have derived much joy and comfort from your love, my brother, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you (verse 7).

What was it about Philemon that blessed the hearts of the saints around him?

Paul describes him this way:

I hear of your love and of the faith that you have toward the Lord Jesus and for all the saints, and I pray that the sharing of your faith may become effective for the full knowledge of every good thing that is in us for the sake of Christ.[a]

Philemon loved Jesus.

He loved others.

He shared his faith.

Life can tangle us up in complications and busyness.  Our own needs scream for attention and our own hurts can entice us to draw inwards instead of reaching out.

We have so many reasons, so  many reasonable reasons, to hold back.

I’m an introvert.  Hospitality and mercy are some of my greatest weaknesses.  I have four kids and a crazy schedule.

But Philemon wasn’t refreshing the hearts of others with an international ministry or a multi-step program.  It wasn’t a full-time job or a massive undertaking.

What he was doing wasn’t complex or time-consuming.

It was so simple:  Love Jesus.  Love others.  Share your faith.

Make the phone call.  Write the note.  Bake the cookies.   Set a time to get together.  Listen well. Pray hard.  Send a text.

Show love.

 

Jon Bloom wrote over at Desiring God:

Oh the precious, priceless ministry of refreshment. And oh how desperately needed it is. All around us are weary brothers and sisters who are slogging it out in a spiritual war (Ephesians 6:12) on a battlefield of a futile world (Romans 8:20).

Here’s the beautiful promise of  God for those who choose to be “refreshers:”

“whoever refreshes others will be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25b)

None of us can be “refreshers” all the time.  We need refreshing.

We need others to bless and encourage us.  To jump in with some help when we’re weary.

And we don’t need to be afraid or ashamed to send out an SOS when we’re the ones who need refreshing.

We all feel the weariness sometimes.  We’ve carried that weight of discouragement before, or sorrow, or worry and fear.

Paul knew  that when he needed help he could ask for it.

When Paul requested mercy for the runaway slave, Onesimus, Paul asks Philemon once again to:

 Refresh my heart in Christ (verse 29).

We can’t always be refreshers—sometimes we need to be refreshed.

And when we’re refreshed, we’ll grow stale unless we in turn refresh others.  We give and we receive; we love and are loved; we refresh and are refreshed.

The Place Where You Don’t Want to Be

One little dog was shaking, just trembling all over while her owner held her tight.

Another larger dog tugged and tugged on his leash back towards the exit. When the veterinary assistant came to walk the fella to the back, he shuffled backwards trying to escape.

Our own cat was settled in his carrier where he had tucked himself into a ball in the farthest back corner.

Every time I glanced inside the cat carrier, he darted his eyes around nervously and then mewed at me.

I think he was saying, “I don’t want to be here.”

Welcome to the crowd, buddy.  Nobody wanted to be there that day.

Of course, our vet’s office staff is wonderfully friendly and everyone there is gentle and considerate.  They patiently waited with animals and carried little trembling puppies back cooing at them all the way, “It’s all right, little guy.  This will be over in no time.”

And, of course, the vet is where these animals all needed to be that day.  It was for their own good and their own benefit.

Still, none of them came bounding into the waiting room all excited to hang out with the doctor.

The staff called my cat’s name and I toted him into the clinic and set him on the exam table.   The vet checked him all over and the whole time, my cat kept trying to climb back into the safety of the carrier.  He was persistent.  I’ve never seen him want to get in there before, but right at that moment, it’s the one place he wanted to be.

He wanted to feel safe.  He wanted the known.

I felt like saying, “I hear ya, buddy.”

Maybe we all know exactly what it’s like to be where we don’t want to be.

We can philosophize and speak truth to ourselves, knowing that God only sends us where He goes with us.

And He only takes us places that are for our own good.

That’s true, of course, but it’s nonetheless bewildering to end up where you don’t want to be and never intended to go.

When the apostle Paul boarded a ship headed for Rome in Acts 27, he knew the sailing would be difficult.

The timing was bad.  The crew had delayed too long.  The winds were against them.  The port was unfavorable for a winter stay, but continuing on their journey could be disastrous.

Paul tried to tell them not to sail ahead, but they didn’t listen to him.

So, where’d the ship end up?

Not in Rome. Not right away at least.

Instead, just as Paul predicted, they ended up shipwrecked on the island of Malta with the total loss of their vessel and cargo.

This wasn’t Paul’s destination or plan. He knew God wanted him in Rome.  He planned to head to Rome.

But here he was in Malta instead.

We’ve likely been to Malta before also.

Not the physical place, of course, but in Find Your Brave, author Holly Wagner describes Malta as the place you didn’t plan on being and that wasn’t on your map or itinerary or agenda.

It’s still being single long after you thought you’d be married or mourning a miscarriage after the joy of a positive pregnancy test.

It’s unexpected unemployment or a failed business or a rejection letter.

It’s a prodigal child or a broken marriage or a job you just hate instead of the one you wanted.

It’s cancer.

It’s that place of waiting, still waiting, always waiting even though you thought the promise would be fulfilled long ago.

For Paul, Malta was the place where people ended up because they didn’t listen to wise advice and made poor decisions.

Even there, though, when it was their own fault, God was at work, allowing Paul to perform miracles and be a witness to the natives and the ship’s crew.

God redeemed the disaster and restored the journey.

And ultimately, Paul still ended up in Rome, but his time in Malta wasn’t a waste.

That’s the key for me: When I find myself in Malta, I can engage right there.  I don’t need to fret about getting to Rome.  God can take me where He wants me to go in His perfect timing.

For now, I can be fully present in Malta.

WHEREVER GOD HAS BROUGHT YOU, YOU CAN BE ALL THERE.

God is never surprised by our location or unable to use our circumstances.

Even if we don’t know how we got here, God knows.
Even if we don’t want to be here, God can use it.
Even if we don’t know how to get out of here, God does.

And even if we feel abandoned in this place, God is always with us and always at work.

 

Originally published 06/10/2016

A life-long legacy of real-deal faith

Moving sometimes feels like God’s ultimate character-training ground.

And when you’re moving with four young kids,  it’s a faith-growing opportunity for the whole family.

When we first started this process, I didn’t even want to get my kids’ hopes up too much about all the possibilities of  a new house.  I organized closets, purged junk, and packed up boxes for storage without telling them why.

It wasn’t until they were all gone for a day and I painted  their room that I finally fessed up.

The confession went something like this:

“While  you girls are gone, I’m going to repaint your room.”

“What?!!  Paint?!!  I hope it’ll still be purple!!!”

And that was it, the big  moment when I had to share the news.

“Well, actually, no, the whole point is to cover over the purple.  You see, we’re preparing the house to  sell  it and that means making the rooms neutral colors.  Your walls will be cream.”

Long pause.  Long, long pause.

An initially disappointed face:  “Cream?  Cream?  I really liked the purple.”

Then the news sinks in. “Wait!!  We’re going to try to move?!!!!”

And oh the ups and downs of moving have involved us all.  I tried to prep the girls’ hearts for how long it may take to sell our house or what it all  involves.  How we shouldn’t get our hearts set on a particular house unless our contract is accepted.

Truthfully, though, God has been so good to us and the process has been fairly smooth as far as these processes ever go.  But what I love the most is how my kids celebrate the good things He has done.

When a buyer put an offer on our house so quickly after we put it on the market, one of my girls said, “Look how God answered our prayers!  We prayed this would be fast and He did that for us!”

When we picked the new house and it had the right number of bedrooms and was still in their beloved school district, one of my daughters said, “God really gave us what we needed!”

And as we worked through inspections and repairs and all the prep work for moving, they prayed right along with us for God to  help the process go smoothly.

We’re actually still praying!

They are engaging in active faith and using the language of faith.  They are turning to prayer in times of need and praising God for answering  the prayers we offer.

And it’s a beautiful thing.

In life, there are some things we can’t always share with our children, not completely, especially not when they’re young.  We shield them from some of the hardest and scariest situations..

But there are also times and seasons when it’s right to draw them in to see how our faith fares when we don’t know all the answers.

What  does faith look like when we’re waiting?

When we’re uncertain?

When we’re hurt?

When we’re disappointed?

If our tweens and teens think faith is easy, what will happen when decisions are hard and oppression is real and personal?

I’ve been feeling a heart-check, the need  to make sure my faith is sincere and to live that out with my kids.

When I say, “God answered our prayers,” I need to make sure that’s the truth, that my kids knew I was praying….and they see how God came through.

I find that Paul slips this word “sincerity” into his letters quietly and frequently (2 Corinthians 11:3,  Philippians 1:17, 1 Timothy 1:5, 2 Timothy 1:5).

He doesn’t lay out a long sermon about what sincere faith looks like, but he makes this consistent distinction.

Don’t just have faith.

Have sincere faith.

Maybe it was the former Pharisee in  Paul showing through here.  Genuine faith mattered to him because otherwise it’s just show and outward actions.

This is what Paul says about Timothy:

I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1:5 ESV).

Timothy’s sincere faith is something he learned from his mom, who learned it from his grandmother.

Because they were the real deal, Timothy grew to be the real deal also.

This is what I want for my kids and what I want for me–a lifelong legacy of “real-deal faith.”

May our faith be sincere, rooted so deep-down within us that our automatic response to trouble is the fruit of belief:  prayerfulness, trust,  confidence in God.

May our faith be genuine, not just outward show with Christian catch-phrases and good-girl actions, but  a life led sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

 

How my prayers shifted and why that’s a good thing

We started praying on Sunday.   In our round-robin family prayers at night, many of us chimed in with the same prayer:

“Lord Jesus, please help everyone who is sick feel better quickly and please, please, please, please do not let Lauren get sick this week.  Amen.”

The stomach virus rampaged through our family last week, making mockery of our schedule and activities.

But we prayed it would miss Lauren by leapfrogging over this middle daughter.

 

Not that we wanted anyone to get sick, of course, but Lauren had a big week.

Class picture day on Tuesday.

Field trip on Wednesday.

Math Bowl competition on Thursday.

Karate belt test on Saturday.

One upset stomach could sabotage any of these activities, so we prayed she would just stay well.

And then my prayers changed, shifted in one gigantic, mountainous move.

Because she got sick.  She woke me up in the middle of the night and we ultimately retreated to the couches in the living room until she felt she could sleep.

That’s when I started praying for something different, not “Lord, help her avoid this tough situation.  Help her not to be uncomfortable, disappointed, or hurt.”

Now I prayed,  “Lord, help her right in the middle of what’s hard.  This is disappointing.  Help her to overcome.  Work on her character and teach her how to handle it when life doesn’t go the way we want.”

She missed the Math Bowl competition after working hard for weeks to prepare, and she felt like she let her team down.

But at the end of the night when she was feeling totally back to normal and it was all over and done with, I leaned down and cupped my hand under her chin,  I told her I couldn’t have been more proud of how she handled the hard, more proud than I could have been about any math medal.

God answered my prayers.

He didn’t give me what I wanted.  He didn’t help my child avoid something I would have preferred to skip altogether.

But He did a work in her heart, matured her right before my eyes, and taught her deeply meaningful lessons that matter far more in the end.

We’re still a little sad, but we found ourselves surprisingly okay.  We walked through the one thing we didn’t want to happen, and we made it.

God is good.

It’s a little nudge to my Mom-heart this week that maybe my prayers should remain shifted.

Maybe I’ll always pray for my kids to be protected from hurt and that everything would work out all the time.  I am, after all, their mom and I love them.

And a life with no pain or heartache, no disappointment or difficulty sounds pretty great.

But it also sounds spoiled and easy.  It sounds too sweet, like eating a bowlful of candy and ending up sick and with a mouth full of cavities.

God knows best for my kids and I can trust Him.  I can pray that He helps them through, gives them strength, teaches them to turn to Him, bringing their hurts and needs to Jesus.

And God knows best for me, too, and for the friends I pray for, the family I love, and the missionaries and the persecuted church I want to cover in prayer.

I read Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus:

 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might (Ephesians 1:16-19 ESV).

He could have prayed  so many things for this beloved church, that they escape persecution, that they prosper financially, that their businesses were successful and their families strong.

But He didn’t focus on their physical needs or wants.  He prayed that they know Jesus, know the hope they had in him  and know his power.

What if I started praying that for myself and for others?

Lord, may they know you.  

In anything they face, anything they go through, when they are facing the worst or receiving the best, may they know Jesus more and find Him so very faithful and so very strong.

May we always make knowing Him our deepest desire and our greatest pursuit.

Giving and Living Generously

2-corinthians-9

“No one has ever become poor by giving” ~Anne Frank

I tell my kids the reward doesn’t matter.

They’re collecting nonperishable foods and paper goods for their schools to give to the local food pantry and homeless ministry.

They tell me which classes are in the lead in the school competition and whether they’re eligible for a pizza party if their whole class participates.  All these incentives are fun and good. I love how the school encourages the kids to participate in loving others in our community.

But the contests and the competitions, the rewards and prizes don’t matter in the end.

I tell my kids people in our community need food. People in our community are homeless.

I tell them how I drive past the food pantry on distribution days and see the long line of people waiting.

And we can help.

We’re not rich.  We can’t give huge donations of money.

But we want to give generously and that means giving whatever we can and then giving some more.

When we fill shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child , we want to press the lid down on a box full of good gifts to send to children overseas who may have nothing.

My kids do extra chores throughout the fall to earn money to buy a goat or some chickens, some soccer balls or school supplies for needy families.  On Christmas day, we go shopping on the Samaritan’s Purse website and buy these presents with the money they’ve earned.

When we bring in our food pantry items,  we don’t want to just reach into the back of the cabinet and clean out the extra cans we never used that are about to expire.

What if we planned out our donations instead:  spaghetti noodles and sauce…canned chicken and mayonnaise….juice, crackers, and fruit cups for lunch for the kids?  What if we donated as much as we can of Thanksgiving dinners for families?  Some canned yams and marshmallows, corn, stuffing, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and condensed milk?

Other families I know ring the Salvation Army bells together or serve up free community meals or cook dinners for those who are sick or hurting.

Families can give together and serve together because God wants us to live generously.  While we can’t do everything; we can do something to help others.

And living a generous life is about so much more than money.

How many times have I felt defeated, worn, overlooked or undervalued, and someone slips me that word of courage?  You are doing a great job.  I see you.  Well done.

Kind notes from a sweet friend can be an act of generous grace.

And how I have struggled, oh I have struggled, in anger about someone’s hurtful actions or words.

When I pray in the night and tell God all my woes, I hear it back, the whispered reminder:

EXTEND GENEROUS GRACE.

After all, God extends generous grace to me.  So surely I can overlook offense, can forgive, can pray for my enemies, and can respond with kindness.

We can be:

Generous with our money.

Generous with our talents.

Generous with our time and our attention.

Generous with encouragement.

Generous with grace.

Generous with forgiveness.

Generous with patience.

I consider Paul on those days when I want to stop answering the phone, stop reading emails, stop answering to the name, “Mom,” stop being responsible and doing things like making dinner and washing laundry.

On the days when I feel there’s more need than I can handle, I remember Paul, who said:

I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls…. (2 Corinthians 12:15a ESV)

and

Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all (Philippians 2:17 ESV).

and

For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come (2 Timothy 4:6 ESV).

Paul chose to be spent, to be totally poured out for the sake of Others.

Oswald Chambers wrote,

Are you willing to give and be poured out until you are used up and exhausted–not seeking to be ministered to, but to minister?

Some days not so much.

And, while I understand the health of caring enough about ourselves as women and as moms so  we are healthy enough to care for others, I recognize this:

The calling to a generous life is a calling to pour out, to empty yourself in service, to love sacrificially and selflessly, not for our own purposes and not just for the benefit of those we love–but as an offering to the Lord.

And we can trust Christ with our supply and trust Him as our source–trust Him to fill us up, to enrich us so that we can “be generous on every occasion”  (2 Corinthians 9:11).

She Left an Impression

2-timothy

She left a mark on me.

I mean a deeply beautiful impression, the trace of her fingerprints etched around my life and my heart and my future.

That’s what mentors do.  They don’t just listen and guide, teach and encourage, give advice and share experiences; they change who you are.

They say, “I see who you can be and I want to help you get there.”

And then they pour into you a little (or a lot!) of themselves.

By the time I met this one mentor of mine, she was already in her 80’s.  She had been directing music and teaching for over 60 years already and I was a baby in comparison.

Ann invited me over to her house.  She pulled out a basket of programs, one for each musical she’d ever directed.  That basket was a heavy load!

Then she showed me how she marked her music, how she made notes at auditions, how she ranged the singers.

In perhaps the most literal way possible on this earth, she passed the baton to me.

Last week, this dear lady with a fiercely spunky and loyal soul passed away.

And every single day since I’ve been meaning to write this post as a kind of tribute to her, a way to remember her long after we’ve said goodbye, cried at her funeral, and reminisced together about her.

But it’s hard.

She’s been on my mind all the time but I couldn’t quite collect all the words I’d like to say.  I miss her.  I will miss seeing her on the front row next week when our community theatre group performs their latest show.

While we do have forever with Jesus, we do not have forever to walk on this earth.  That is the way of things.

So I think of her and remember to live loyal, live love, and live with passion and gusto.

And I remember this: to live to be mentored and to mentor, to be taught and to teach others.  This is a legacy beyond compare.

At the same time Ann was saying goodbye to loved ones and farewell to friends, I was reading the book of 2 Timothy, the very last letter Paul wrote in the Bible before he died in Rome.

These are his farewell words.  His final thoughts poured out for his “beloved child” in the faith, Timothy.

(This is the beauty of God at work, how He was preparing my heart for a goodbye of my own by letting me listen in on Paul’s goodbye.)

As I read, I longed to be a Timothy.

I wanted to lean in close and listen to a faith giant tell me what’s what.  Mentor me.  Teach me, please!

Paul wrote,

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7 ESV)

This is a life well-lived, a finish line crossed.  He didn’t give up along the way or chicken out when life got hard.  He pushed and persevered and kept on moving forward so that in those last days and those final moments, he could say with confidence that he had kept this faith and finished this race.

Amen.  I know people who teach me how to do that.

When we ache with weariness, may we all have others to lift us up.

When we’ve emptied ourselves out, may we know that Christ fills us anew and often He refills us through the overflow of others.

May we find mentors and teachers who will show us how to live life well and to live out faith.

But I don’t just want to be a Timothy, I also want to be a Paul.

I certainly know some people who need to hear me say,

“I am reminded of your sincere faith….fan into flame the gift of God…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control” (2 Timothy 1:5&6 ESV).

I want to pour into others and encourage them in their calling and their gifting.

Paul wrote to Timothy,

“You, however ,have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions, and sufferings…” (2 Timothy 3:10 ESV).

This was no superficial friendship.

May I similarly leave a mark on their own hearts and their own ministries because I’ve been willing to make myself vulnerable with them, share the honest places of my heart and my struggles and how God shows so much grace.

May I be a spiritual mother to others in the way that Paul was a spiritual father to Timothy.

At any moment in our lives, we have this choice:To learn from another and to teach another.

May it be both.

May we always be humble enough to learn and gracious enough to give what we’ve learned away.

The Queen of Countdowns

hebrews 6

“Mom, I’m only about 9 years away from getting my driver’s license and when I do, Andrew will be 12.”

This is what my baby girl yelled up at me from the back of the minivan yesterday.

Yes, the baby girl who is celebrating her seventh birthday this morning is already calculating the countdown to her driver’s license.

Way to make your mom’s heart skip a few beats.

This week, while her older sisters were away at summer camp, she also calculated how long it might be before she got a job.

Then she decided she wants to head off to summer camp next year and counted off how many months it would be until she could register.

My Catherine is the queen of the countdown.  She is forever calculating the time between now and the next dream-come-true.

On the first day of summer vacation, we presented my daughters with a wrapped gift.  Inside, we included a picture frame displaying an image:  Mickey Mouse ears with the words:  “Days Until Disney:  ___.”

Everyone was excited, but it’s my baby girl who became the official keeper of the countdown.  She’s faithful and focused.  Every morning, she pads out of her room still yawning and heads straight for the Mickey Mouse picture.  She uses the dry erase marker to alter the numbers.  One more day down.  One less day to the dream-come-true.

This isn’t quite the same as my goal-setting older daughter, the girl who sets tasks and accomplishes them.  My older girl is all about pushing herself to personal achievement.  She makes schedules, checklists, and charts and sticks to them until she’s raced across another finish line.

But this is different. This isn’t self-discipline and it’s not about achieving or doing in any way.

My baby girl loves countdowns because they allow her to throw down anchors of hope in the midst of the everyday.

And she enjoys today completely because she knows that another good day is coming: The day when it’s her birthday.  The day when she has that playdate with her dear friend.  The day when we pack the minivan and head to Florida.  The day when her sisters come home from summer camp.

They’re all good days and they’re all coming.

So, today she can relax, kick back her feet and enjoy it all.  It’s all part of the journey from here to the promised land, and the view is just fine.

This is the natural inclination of her heart; she overflows with joy  and she bubbles up with gratitude for all the gifts of every day.

Maybe it’s not the natural leaning in my own soul, but I take it to heart and I pray I can be more like this seven-year-old girl—this daughter who was so excited to spend a week of “alone time” while her big sisters were away at camp and who is equally excited to see them come home again.  It’s all good with her.

I can learn, this too.

I can learn how to throw down anchors of hope in the middle of the beautiful, and the everyday, and the seemingly hopeless situations.  All of them.

In Acts 27, Paul was headed on a ship to Rome that was caught in a tempest in the Adriatic Sea.  The sailors and crew despaired and fretted.

Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight (Acts 27:29 ESV).

Stormy seas.  Threatening rocks.  The possibility of shipwreck.  The appearance of disaster.

Surely we’ve all been there.  Maybe we are there.  Maybe we’ll be there someday.

And right in the middle of the season that seems forever or the situation that seems like it can’t possibly get better, not ever–right then is when we “drop anchor…and pray for daylight.”

Throw down the anchors, the truths we know that will clamp us to the rocky foundation of faith, and watch for God’s deliverance.

God is faithful. 

He will not abandon us.

He has a plan.

He will be glorified.

He is sovereign and He is able.

Scripture tells us:

We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain (Hebrews 6:19 ESV).

The Message paraphrase says it this way:

We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God (Hebrews 6:18-20 MSG).

Grab on to hope with both of your hands and don’t let go.

That anchor that you toss down–that future promise, that assurance of deliverance–reaches right to the presence of God.

 

The Hope We Need When We Feel Like Giving Up

psalm 40-2

I hear my son singing his favorite song after I put him to bed for naptime.

Singing himself to sleep…isn’t that the sweetest?

But he’s not singing “Jesus Loves Me” or “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.”

He’s not even singing “The Ladybug Picnic” (our personal favorite) or “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.”

No, at the top of his lungs, he is crooning out:

“Bob, the Quitter.  Can He pix it?  Bob, the Quitter.  Yes, he pix it!” (he’s still working on the ‘f’ sound for ‘fix.)

This is not how the song goes.

This summer, my daughters have been making up parodies of the theme songs to preschool TV shows. They’ve tackled all the big ones: Elmo, Little Einsteins, Blue’s Clues, Wonder Pets.

And now this: Bob, the Builder.

Unfortunately, my son has adopted their parody of good old construction site Bob and instead of singing “Bob, the Builder….” he now sings “Bob, the Quitter” every single time.

My daughters are now under strict orders not to sing any of their parodies within his hearing in case they ruin yet another song for him.

And, whenever my son breaks into this now-ruined tune, I try to sing it the right way, emphasizing “Builder” with great force so he’ll hear me and make the correction.

So far, this has failed.  Bob the Quitter it remains.

My boy has dug in his heels on this one, which of course makes this parody even funnier.

He refuses to quit singing a song about a “quitter” who apparently can indeed fix things despite his propensity for giving up!

It boggles the mind.

Still, while I admire my son’s tenacity and willingness to hang on tight, I’m sure at some point he’ll correct his little ditty and sing with just as much heart: “Bob, the Builder, Can he fix it?  Bob the Builder, yes he can!”

And I’ll rejoice because, not only will the lyrics finally be correct, he’ll get the whole point of the song in the first place:

Don’t quit.  Don’t give up.

Don’t get bogged down by the problem; keep your eyes fixed on the goal and the finish and the completed work.

After all, that’s what we all need at times, the reminder to just keep going.

When we’re broken and overwhelmed, weary and ready to give up, maybe we can’t tackle everything before us.

But this next thing, this next calling, this next task, that we can do with God’s help.

One more step. One more day.

One more prayer even when you haven’t seen results.

One more act of obedience to God even if it feels overlooked or unappreciated.

One more choice to be faithful despite the unfaithfulness of others or to act with integrity even when others fail.

God knows what it is we truly need in the moments when we want to quit, what we need to hang on one tiny step at a time.

When Paul was imprisoned in Jerusalem and the forces against him seemed overwhelming, look what God did for him:

The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome” (Acts 23:11 ESV). 

“Take courage.”

That’s what the Lord told Paul.

Why?  Because it wasn’t over yet.  There was more to come.  Paul didn’t need to worry because God promised there was more to this story.

God didn’t tell Paul everything, but he did show the next step was Rome.

And, this is what I pray when I feel like throwing up my hands to concede defeat,

“God, help me remember there is more to this story. Give me courage.  Help me hold on until you finish this work.”

Even more than that, I remember the Psalmist who said:

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he inclined to me and heard my cry.
He drew me up from the pit of destruction,
    out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
    making my steps secure.
He put a new song in my mouth,
    a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
    and put their trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:1-3).

I ask God for the “new song” only He can give.

Then I set my heart on that future, for the day when the pit will be behind me and I’ll be standing on the steadiness of a rock.  My feet won’t be shaky.  The ground beneath me will be strong.

And I’ll sing a “new song…of praise to our God.”

For all of us who feel like laying down and giving up, may we ask God today for a new vision, a new song, and the hope we need to just keep going each new day.