How could I forget?

I am a postcard hunter.

My kids tease me about this and when I head into the gift shop at the art museum, they whine about my postcard search.  I show them what I’ve collected–one postcard for each of us, specially matched to our own interests.  Like the  Egyptian mummy cat for  my daughter who loves cats and the African giraffe sculpture for my son (giraffes are his favorite).

On our trip to Wisconsin, I search for four days for postcards only to finally track down a nearly hidden rack of them in the Minneapolis airport.

I’m pleased.  My kids are indifferent at best.  Postcards.  They don’t get the point or the value.

But for one  thing, I’m the one with the money and few souvenirs are as inexpensive as a postcard.

Plus, I have  a long history  of postcard memories.  I have some from my sixth  grade class trip to  Amish country in Pennsylvania and from the time I flew to visit my grandparents in Texas when I was  12.

I can flip through the postcards and remember  trips to  amusement parks and caverns and historical  sites and  museums. Those  help  me remember where I’ve been.

And I have  the collection of postcards others sent  to me.  Those  help me remember the people I’ve loved.

I have postcards  from  my dad, sent as he traveled with the military bands when I was a girl, and postcards from my grandmother on her trip to St. Petersburg, and even postcards from my great-grandmother  on her  travels in the 1950s.   They all  passed away so long ago,  and yet here in my collection I have their handwritten notes and a connection to their travels.

Maybe my kids don’t  really get postcards because they think  they’ll  remember.

But I know how often we forget.

How forgetful I can be.  Life pushes me faster and faster, rushing through this day and the next, and even those moments you most expect to remember blur into the fog of it all.

Memory isn’t passive, not the way we expect it to be.  No, remembrance is an active discipline, a choosing not to forget despite our humanness, our busyness, our moving on.

We think we’ll remember the miracles, the accounts of how God delivered us, the times He carried us right out of the pit, the stand-still encounters with God when it seemed like He cut through all the noise of this world and the cacophony of our own emotions and He spoke to us, God to person, one clear voice cutting through it all with a message we’ll never forget.

Yet, we forget it after all.

Psalm 78 shows how fickle remembrance can be.  Israel strayed from God.   He disciplined them.  Then:

They remembered that God was their rock,
the Most High God, their Redeemer  (verse 35 CBS).  

So,  they repented and returned.  He extended  grace and they followed closely for  a while,  until:

They did not remember his power shown
on the day he redeemed them from the foe (verse 42). 

They remembered and then they didn’t.

Asaph the Psalmist relays all the details of God’s miraculous provision,  the plagues in Egypt manna and water,  wilderness direction, victories  in the Promised  Land.

Still, they forgot all  that God had done. .

Could this be me?

Could forgetfulness  in my own heart lead not just  to apathy,  but to  waywardness?   And not just that, but to worry?  If  I forget what God has  done, I also forget all  that God  can do.

And He is faithful. He is so  faithful.  He is generous and gracious.  He is compassionate.  It’s not just that He provided, but HOW He provided that  I want to treasure and honor.

It’s been a year almost since we moved into our new home and people still  ask me, “How do you like your new house?”

I  tell  them the same thing all the time.  How I  drive into our neighborhood and round this one curve in the drive back to our home.  As I  do, I  see our house come into view and I breathe a  prayer of thanks.

It has been a year.  I am still thankful.  I keep breathing out that prayer of thanks because I do not want to forget.

And when I need new help  and new provision, , when there is trouble, when I am struggling, I remember the goodness of the Lord and how I celebrate every time I drive into this neighborhood.

We think we’ll  remember,  but how often we forget.

So we choose to remember.  We choose to  collect these postcards  of faith.  We choose to  commit over and over again to  gratitude and praise.  We choose to  give testimony to ourselves and to others:  Come hear what God has done.   Come know who our God is.

Four playgrounds in five days because we have hope

Four playgrounds in five days.

Last week, the forecast finally felt like spring.  Spring!  Sunshine, warmth,  sun,  blue skies and more sun.  I could almost feel  my vitamin D levels rising.

I packed some snacks, sunscreen and a Batman hat for my son and we visited playgrounds all week.  Anytime we could go, we went.  We walked to the playground in our neighborhood, we stopped in at the playground in our hometown, then  we picked up my daughters from school  and drove directly to a playground half an hour away just to enjoy it.

We even headed for the beach on Friday and we found a playground there, too.

I’ve always been such a task-oriented person; playing hookie from the to-do list so we can visit another park isn’t normal for me.

But it feels like this spring has been a long time coming and I am ready for it.

Anytime the wait feels long and the winter feels interminable, spring is the most welcome gift.

That’s how I feel:  Struck with wonder at the gift and deeply grateful.  I’m spilling over with praise and gratitude that our good God gives such gifts to those who wait with expectant hope.

That little taste of spring has me wanting more.  I’m insatiable now.  I’ve carried paperwork, writing, and even sewing out to the porch so I can work outdoors instead of inside.   I’ll take a walk  in the morning and will want to walk a few miles in the evening, too.

My son feels it, also.  We leave one playground and he’s ready to  move onto another one.  We are loving it.

I’ve  been reading Psalm 71 and the subtitle for this Psalm stops me right from the beginning:

Forsake Me Not When My Strength Is Spent

It’s a prayer for the weary and a request not to be left alone, or abandoned, or forsaken.  It’s holding out for God’s strength amid utter weakness.

It’s a cry for hope. from someone stuck in the middle of that winter that seems to never end.

This Psalm is for the poured out and the emptied, for those who have hung in there with determination and are ready to collapse into Jesus’s arms.

And this is the reminder the Psalm gives us:

God is faithful.

The Psalmist prays:

Be to me a rock of refuge,
    to which I may continually come (Psalm  71:3). 

He asks for God to be an inexhaustible source  of safety and strength.

I don’t just come today.  I come tomorrow, too.  I  come running to Him day after day, time after time.  This disappointment, this struggle, that mistake, that frustration, that delay, that season of waiting—where does it send us?

To our Rock of refuge.  We come and we come continually, because we cannot get enough of Him.  We’re desperate for His presence and we’re lost without His help.

Here’s the hope we have:

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
    will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
    you will bring me up again.
 You will increase my greatness
    and comfort me again (Psalm 71: 20-21, emphasis mine).

He will revive us, lift us up, and comfort us anew.  He has done it before, and He will do it again.

We know His faithfulness, His  steadfast character.  We see the testimony of God’s goodness in the past…in OUR past.

That’s why we praise.  Not only do we  run to our Refuge continually and trust Him to save us again, we keep the praises coming, too.

My praise is continually of you…

 My mouth is filled with your praise,
    and with your glory all the day.  (Psalm 71 :6, 8 ESV) .

We continually come.

God continually rescues.

We continually praise

and we continually hope.

But I will hope continually
    and will praise you yet more and more (Psalm 71: 14 ESV). 

This is what I’m feeling as I’m driven to playground after playground, taking walk after walk, dragging all of my inside work to a porch so I don’t miss a minute of sun.

I’m giving thanks, because again and again He does this, taking us through the winter, through all the cold and the wearying darkness, through the toil and the waiting, through the hard.

Thank you, Lord, for the warmth. I can’t get enough.  Thank you for the sun.  I don’t want to miss a minute of it.

Thank you for the scent of lilies in the breeze.  Thank you for mornings at a playground, picnics in the park and an afternoon at the beach.  Thank you for evening sunshine.

Thank you, Lord, for  being faithful.  Thank you for being our continual refuge.

Thank you that because of your faithfulness, we can have hope, not just for a moment, but in all seasons and at  all times.

The Darkest Time is the Perfect Time to Sing

Just a few days before the Great American Solar Eclipse arrived with all of its accompanying hoopla and rejoicing, my husband asked me this:

“Would it be crazy if we drove to South Carolina to  see the full eclipse instead of just the partial we’ll get here in Virginia?”

Yeah.  That’d be crazy alright, traveling about 7 hours one way on a busy weekend with four kids in a minivan.

Crazy!

But it’d also  by fun.  This season we’re in with four kids who are growing far too  fast, with two of our daughters in middle school this year,  that’s the time to do wild and crazy things.

That’s the time to  make family memories.

So, we started making plans.: texting family in South Carolina, deciding when to drive and how far.

I bought our travel snacks and packed up our clothes and eclipse glasses.

We crammed ourselves into the minivan on Sunday evening after finishing all our activities for the day, alternatively singing along with our CD or listening to our audio book as we traveled.

We drove there and back in a rapid fire turn around of two days,  making it  just in time to  see the eclipse and then traveling the long way back  home so my husband could go  to work the next day.

And it was worth it.

Before our trip, I’d thought seeing the 86% coverage in Virginia would be “close enough.”

I’m so glad I was wrong.

We didn’t even begin to  notice so many of the effects  of the eclipse until the sun was about 95% covered down there in good old South Carolina.

That’s when the shadows became crisply distinct and sharp.  Colors looked like we were seeing them through a camera filter.

Rippling shadows from the sun’s rays danced across the pavement in what we called “Sun snakes.”

Then the world dimmed and a chorus of wildlife roared into  activity.  Crickets, frogs, cicadas–all the singing creatures of the night snapped awake and sang.

They cut through the darkness with their music.

Moments later, the moon slipped right out of the sun’s path once again and normal resumed.

Back to  normal  light and normal shadows and normal colors.

And back to silence among the trees.

No more bullfrogs chanting nocturnal mating calls in the middle  of a  Monday afternoon.  No more crickets chirping in chorus for three odd minutes.

Song over.  For now.

Until later that night,  of course, when these wild musicians would sing once again.

Maybe at some point I’ll forget some of the eclipse effects, like precisely how the shadows looked or exactly how the light altered.

But I’ll remember the singing in the dark.

That’s the example we need, after all, when the world grows dim and darkness presses in on us, how Jesus can give us a song to sing.

And we can lift up our voices to heaven in wild and raucous praise even when we can’t see the sun.

The Psalmist wrote:

By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me– a prayer to the God of my life (Psalm 42:8 NIV).

God’s song is with us and within us, perhaps especially in the night.

Maybe it was that God-song that Paul and Silas were crooning aloud at midnight as they sat shackled together in the prison (Acts 16).

Other prisoners listened to this surprising “joyful noise.”

Singing in the dark,  what an oddity!  No wonder others took notice.

Who can make  a joyful noise when they’re chained down?  Who can join in a round of praise hymns when uncertainty looms and anxiety threatens?

Paul and Silas did just that.

Their worship shook the jail and loosed the prisoners’ chains, including their own.

But instead of hightailing it out of the prison, they willingly remained until God completed the work he was doing.

Beth Moore writes:

How encouraging to recognize that Paul did not discover the strength to leave his circumstances: he discovered the strength to stay” (Living Beyond Yourself).

When we’re feeling chained and imprisoned, when we’re surrounded by darkness, when hope is hard, we might feel  that’s the time to  be silent.

Maybe,  though, the darkest time is the perfect time to sing.

It doesn’t have to be loud and brave,  bold or confident.  It doesn’t need perfect pitch.

It could start out shaky and quiet and grow from there as the worship moves our own heart and cuts through the dark we face.

Our song of praise may not change our circumstances, but it may strengthen us to stay where we are until God leads us on out of  there  and into the light again.

VBS for Grown-Ups: Trusting God Helps Us

All week long I’m thinking about the Bible points for our Vacation Bible School and what they mean for adults.  This week will be a mix of some old and some new as I share these lessons.

Today at Kingdom Rock VBS (Group Publishing), we’re learning: Trusting God Help Us…Stand Strong!kingdom-rock-logo-hi-res

“Trust in the Lord always, for the Lord God is the eternal Rock” Isaiah 26:4
Adapted from “Present and Accounted For,” published 10/31/2012

“Where are you going, Mom?”

My three-year-old has a radar system that rings alarms and sets off alerts if there is a possibility that I am going out…and leaving her at home.

That morning, she had caught me slipping on my socks.  I reassured her, though, “Just putting on my socks because my feet are cold, baby girl.  I’m not going out.”

“You’re staying here?”
“Yes.”
“You’re not leaving?”
“No, sweetie. Mommy’s staying with you today.”

Snuggling in close to me, she pressed her cheek against mine and cooed, “Mommy, I stay with you.”

Of course, she can’t, not all the time, not forever, not every minute and each second of day after day after day.  But for this moment, here I was snuggling with her and remaining present.

We sing it occasionally at church, declaring, “You are My Shield, My strength, My Portion, Deliverer, My Shelter, Strong Tower, My very present help in time of need.”

This is our way of singing Psalm 46 back to God:

God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
  Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
  though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging (Psalm 46:1-3). 

Normally, I sing this song imagining God as my Tower, my Shelter in the most fearsome storms.

But what good is a tower-of-brick if it isn’t nearby when you need to hide?  And what is the point of a refuge that is too far away to reach in times of distress?

It is God’s constant, faithful presence that makes Him effective as our Refuge and our Strength, our Defense and our Deliverer.

That is why “we will not fear,” not during storm or raging sea, or mountains crumbling or news reports of flooding and fire and disaster.

Because He is present.  Not just here in this moment and maybe leaving us later in the care of others while He slips out for a meeting or relaxes with friends or fills a cart with groceries at the local store.

We needn’t trip to His feet in alarm when He pulls on His socks or takes His jacket down from the pegs in the closet.

He is always, ever, constantly, faithfully, never-changing, perpetually, every second of every day present with us.

This means He didn’t close His eyes, turn His head, blink, snooze, or simply grow too distracted to care when the mountains crumbled and the waters roared.

No, our God doesn’t promise us a world without frightful shaking and uncertainty.  It’s a sin-plagued planet, aching and groaning for the perfection of eternity.  Hurting and death and sickness and tears are part of life here.cross

Jesus Himself struggled with the pain and the death, earth’s inheritance, as He prayed alone in the garden before being hauled off for trial, persecution, and the cross.  Sacrifice didn’t come easy for Him just because He was God here in human flesh.

He wrestled with His emotions, with His human weaknesses and the temptation laid at His feet to just abandon us all to eternity in hell.  And who could blame Him?  How could we ever be worthy of God’s great sacrifice?

But God was with Him in the garden, and Jesus trusted that God would give Him the courage and strength to declare, “It is finished” after walking in and out of the Valley of the Shadow of Death.

And God promises to be with us, to be the strength and shelter we need for whatever rages outside or inside our lives.

Moses came down from Mount Sinai and plead with God simply for this presence.  Days on that holy mountain, shining with reflected glory, and Moses still longed for more of God.

The Lord Himself promised:  “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (Exodus 33:14)

His presence.  Our rest.  Without Him, turmoil and worrying and stress.

Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:15-16).

Like Moses, we pray, knowing that without God’s presence, we are a mess and a disaster, and we are alone and lost, no different than those who don’t know Him at all.

His presence is what sets us apart.  That’s what gives us hope for each new day and peace.  That’s what others should notice about us–Christ in us, the hope and glory.

Today is a day to praise God for His presence, to thank Him for being eternally faithful, the Rock we can rely on, our Refuge in times of trouble, a Fortress of safety in the storms we face.

Trusting God in that way helps us stand strong.

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

Learning the Magic Word

It’s just something we moms do.  Generations and generations of moms.  I bet Eve was saying it to her sons as she raised her growing family in the wilderness outside the Garden of Eden.

Mom hands child juice cup.

Child takes juice cup.

Mom says, “Say ‘thank you.’

Child repeats, “Thank you.”

Parental instruction complete.

Some of us even begin teaching our children the sign language for thank you before they can actually talk.

Occasionally we vary our strategy and style.  As our kids get older, we do less verbatim repetition and more prompting.

Mom asks: “What do you say when someone gives you something?” or “What’s the magic word?”

Child, totally engrossed in cup of juice or with cookie picks up on the cue and says, “Thank you.”

We’re teaching gratitude here, establishing the discipline of thanks and appreciation.  We’re slowly shocking the human propensity toward selfishness and self-centeredness into the reality that when people do nice things for you, it’s not because you deserve them or you’ve earned them, but because of their generosity and grace.

Maybe we never grow out of this lesson.

Even when Jesus healed ten lepers and sent them on their way to purification and restoration with their families and with society, only one returned to give thanks.  Grown men responded to a miracle from God with forgetfulness and distraction, a shrugging of the shoulders and a moving on to other things.

Like any mom, I’m engaged in the training now, teaching my kids to be grateful for breakfast cereal, snack time, birthday presents and treats at the frozen yogurt shop.  I’m reminding them to take the time for gratitude and to put thankfulness into words.

And then sometimes my preschooler just remembers on her own.  She plays with her toys and in a moment of inspiration lifts her blond head and announces, “Thank you, Mom!  Thank you for taking me to the park today.”016

Anything could spark her little heart to give thanks.  Thank you for buying me these new shoes at the store.  Thank you for getting my favorite cereal.  Thank you for finding my Barbie in the basket.

The beauty here is the spontaneity of her gratefulness.  She’s been thinking about the gift and her response isn’t to collapse into selfishness or obsession with the gift itself, but to recognize the giver.

In Desiring God, John Piper wrote:

Worship is a way of gladly reflecting back to God the radiance of His worth.  This cannot be done by mere acts of duty (p. 80).

There are times, of course, when the worship we offer up to God isn’t matched by our emotions.  We give praise when circumstances are hard.  We give thanks before the victory.

Sometimes we choose to worship in advance of the blessing and simply in faith, knowing that we can’t see God at work now and don’t know how He could possibly deliver us from such impossible circumstances, but still we know He is God.  He is faithful.  He is able.  He is worthy.

So we “offer up a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15 HCSB).

Maybe we come out of duty and out of discipline, repeating the words “thank you” because that’s what you say and this is what you do.

Then slowly God changes our heart.  The shifting of our eyes from our problem to our God, the deliberate rejection of “self” and the purposeful choice to worship opens our eyes to His wonder and glory.

That’s how it goes sometimes.  We say thanks because thanks is what you say—and thus we truly become grateful.

The danger, though, is that we say the words without the heart change.

God said of Israel:

these people approach Me with their mouths to honor Me with lip-service—yet their hearts are far from Me, and their worship consists of man-made rules learned by rote (Isaiah 29:13 HCSB).

Worship that remains duty or discipline and never progresses beyond that isn’t ultimately worship at all.  It’s rules and rote, tradition, expectations, religion, service order, church etiquette or outward show.

At some point, those lessons in thankfulness have to dig deep roots in our heart and start producing shoots of life and eventually fruitfulness for harvest.Psalm 3011

That’s when we respond in spontaneous delight.

It’s when our hearts just can’t keep the joy inside, not when He’s so worthy, not when God is so gracious, not when His mercy is so overwhelming and power so awesome.

Like David, we sing:

You turned my lament into dancing;
You removed my sackcloth
and clothed me with gladness,
so that I can sing to You and not be silent.
Lord my God, I will praise You forever (Psalm 30:11-12 HCSB).

We’ve moved beyond praising because it’s required.  Now we praise because we can’t possibly keep silent about our God.

And so we worship.ShabbyBlogsDividerJ

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

Altars of Uncut Stones

Originally published April 16, 2012

I picked up my daughter’s yellow spring jacket and felt weight, heaviness where it shouldn’t be.  Clearly she had stuffed her pocket at the park with her latest treasure.

Curious, I slipped my hand into her pocket and pulled out . . . a rock.  Two rocks actually, one for each pocket.

They weren’t gems, either.  No sparkles or beauty.  No monetary value.020

They were plain ordinary gravel, no different than the layer of rock on my driveway.  In fact, the one crumbled into my fingers with the slightest pressure.

I sighed.  She had been toting home rocks for about two years now.  Everywhere we went, some pebbles, gravel, or smooth stones caught her attention and ended up in her pockets.

She has even tried to remove stones from the paths at Colonial Williamsburg and the zoo and once tried to haul away a cement block from the local museum where its grand function was to hold open the door.

I put my foot down about those.

But if it fits neatly into the pocket of her jacket, she’s likely to tuck it away and add it to her “rock collection.”  Perhaps she’ll even give it a name, which usually ends up being something like “Rocky” or another equally creative moniker.

To me, they are plain, ordinary, maybe even ugly rocks.  To her, they are treasured collectibles.

She’s not the only one who finds beauty in simple stones.  God loves them, too.

As they crossed over the Jordan River, the Israelites obeyed God’s instruction, picking up 12 stones from the river bed and lugging them up the embankment onto dry land.  God told them to use those stones to build an altar.

More specifically,

“an altar of stones.  You shall wield no iron tool on them; you shall build an altar to the Lord your God of uncut stones. And you shall offer burnt offerings on it to the Lord your God, and you shall sacrifice peace offerings and shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God” (Deut. 27:5-7 ESV)

Their peace offerings and sacrifices, their worship and rejoicing before the God who had carried them into the Promised Land, may have seemed more fit for an altar of finest gems.

Perhaps their greatest artisans could have finely cut diamonds, emeralds and rubies into an altar fit for worship of the Most High God.

Or, if they had to use river rocks, at the very least they could have chiseled and carved until the altar looked like a marble statue.

Yet, God was clear.  Stones, simple stones, uncut by any human tool, formed the altar fit for the offerings of His people.

Why did God even care about a detail so small?  According to Him, “If you make an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it” (Exodus 20:25).

To God, human construction on the altar stones made them unholy and profane.

That’s because God knew the danger implicit in cut stones and man-made bricks.  The moment we begin to adorn altars with human effort is the moment we shift the focus off of the God we praise.

We become idolaters.  Our worship becomes profane, admiring the human talent that made the vessel or cut the stone.

This is what God accused the people of doing in Isaiah:

I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices;a people who provoke me to my face continually, sacrificing in gardens and making offerings on bricks” (Isaiah 65:2-3 ESV).

Israel ignored God’s mandate and chose instead to offer their sacrifice among garden flowers.  They had rejected simple stones in favor of brick constructions.

Israel wanted to worship God their own way and on their own terms.  His instructions seemed superfluous and unnecessary.

In the same way, God sometimes overturns our expectations of adequate offerings and suitable worship.

He desires the simplicity of an obedient heart.

We think He needs more.  

So, we hold back our offerings until they are “fit” for Him.  We hide in the sanctuary pews until we have more to give.  We think other worshipers, who are more talented and more rehearsed, give gifts more worthy.

It isn’t, however, about being the best, most talented, or most qualified; it’s about being called.  Yours is the offering He desires.

There is beauty in the uncut stones of our worship.  It’s never about the show, never about our own talent or training; it’s not about looking good or fitting in, or processing our worship into acceptable forms—all human additions that shift focus off God and onto human ability.

Instead, it’s about responding to God in pure uncut adoration.

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

Not the Other Mom

Her Other Mom cooks yummy pancakes.

Her Other Mom bought all of her clothes (although I clearly remember shopping myself).012

Her Other Mom has a big house with a pink toilet in it.

Her Other Mom owns a dog.

Her Other Mom tells her when to eat, when she can have a snack, when she can go outside to play, what shows to watch on television, and whether or not it’s bedtime.

Her Other Mom has that book, that Kindle app, that game, that movie, and every toy that’s ever been advertised on television…ever.

We’re not exactly sure when it happened or how, but at some point my three-year-old transitioned from a mini-van full of fairly typical imaginary friends to an imaginary “Other Mom.”

Eventually the Other Mom had an Other Dad and Other Sisters and even Brothers, and she chats about this entire Other Family all day long.

We laugh most of the time (quietly to ourselves, of course) and let her chatter on about this pretend family.

Once I mistakenly corrected her, reminding her at dinner that it wasn’t the cape-wearing superhero Other Mom who gave her a birthday gift, but it was in fact me.

She cried.

So, I mostly leave it be and certainly don’t use the words “pretend” or “imaginary,” “not real” or “fake” whenever she launches into one of her Other Mom fairy tales.

But the other day, I leaned in close to my little one and whispered, “Who loves you?”

Without a second’s breath, she blurted out “My Other Mo……” and then she stopped.  She put down the crayon she was coloring with and let it roll on the table, concentrating on my question.  She pushed back the flyaway hairs escaping from her ponytail.

Then she looked right into my eyes and said, “You!” and giggled at me like we had just shared the best knock-knock joke ever heard by a preschooler.

“And who else loves you?” I asked her, pressing in on the moment.

“My cats….and Lauren and Victoria and my Dad.”

Not her Other Dad, not those Other Sisters, or the Brothers or the imaginary dog…

We love her, this real family who takes care of her real needs and buys her real clothes and cooks her real food.

It’s innocent, of course, this imagination of hers.  Most days, I try to marvel at it rather than question too much whether deficiencies in me gave her reason to create an Other Mom (I don’t, after all, have a pink toilet in my home).

But then there’s God and then there’s us and it really isn’t innocent much of the time, forgetful, yes…apathetic at times…generally oblivious in some moments.

Like Israel just a short hike from Egypt, not long enough for a generation to develop spiritual amnesia about their miraculous deliverance out of slavery, still they were forgetful beings.  Moses delayed on the mountain with the Lord, so Aaron threw some gold into the fire and pulled out a golden cow.

The people looked at that man-made object and declared, “Israel, this is your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exodus 32:4).

And they did it again generations later.  King Jeroboam decided it was too difficult for the people to trek to Jerusalem to worship in the temple.  It required too much sacrifice, too much effort.

So, “he made two golden calves, and he said to the people, ‘Going to Jerusalem is too difficult for you. Israel, here is your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.'” (1 Kings 12:28).

How?

How could they give any fake god or false idol the credit for miraculous salvation?

How could worship be so fickle?

How could they forget who God is and what He had done?

How could we?

We’re not three-year-olds with active imaginations.  We’re His children who forget to thank Him, forget to worship Him, forget to give Him glory for what He’s done, forget today what miracle He did for us yesterday, forget to look for Him in the middle of our everyday lives.

We too often just accept the gifts without pausing to see, really see, the way they drip with grace.

Praising Him one day; forgetting the next; overlooking His goodness; blaming Him for what is wrong and not thanking Him for what is good….so we fall and so we fail, and so we end up worshiping golden calves of our own making.

But God reminded His people: “I am the Lord your God, who brought your out of the land of Egypt, out of the place of slavery” (Exodus 20:2).

Yes, He is the God worthy of our praise.  He is the God who rescued us.  He is the God who loves us.

Yes, He is God and God alone.

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

And In the End

Long ago and far away in my teen years, before the advent of all this newfangled technology, I spent the week or so before family road trips performing one of our favorite traditions: recording our own travel tapes.

Those were the days (am I so old already?) before MP3 players, iPods and all digital music.  We listened to music together in the car during the drives to my grandmother’s house in South Carolina: five kids and two parents all cramming our musical tastes onto a few homespun cassettes.

Every family member submitted song requests and then I sat on the living floor buried under towers of CDs and a handful of blank tapes to create the “mix.”

We reveled in the diversity of the playlist, placing songs from popular artists immediately after a selection from one of Wagner’s operas, which came after the Beatles, which followed Andrew Lloyd Weber, which followed Patsy Cline.  It was a curious weave of musical styles and statements and we loved it.

The ritual was never complete, though, without squeezing our traditional “Travel Tape Closing Song” onto the last 23 seconds of every single cassette.  Twenty-three seconds exactly.  That’s just enough time to fit in The Beatles’ song, “Her Majesty.”  No travel tape was complete without it.

It’s a quirky little tune thrown in as the final song on The Beatles’ final album, so it seemed a fitting end to our own musical creations.

Somehow the other day, in the same mysterious way that these things always happen, I thought of the song “Her Majesty” and sang it quietly to myself as I peeled potatoes in my kitchen.

Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she doesn’t have a lot to say.  Her Majesty’s a pretty nice girl, but she changes from day to day….

Then I thought of endings and the endings of travel tapes and childhood and the closing of a year before the beginning of something new.  Another Beatles’ song came to mind from the same album as I made the leap from one curious thought to another.

In that song, Paul McCartney sings, “And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.”

And I thought, “That’s just not true.  Is it?”

All this life we live, all these daily graces, all this lavish mercy from God in ways we see and ways we don’t….well, there’s no way we could ever repay that. We’re perpetual debtors and yet God erases the account books and sets us free, saying we’re redeemed, paid for, no longer owing or lacking.

I’m no math whiz, but even I can tell you there’s nothing “equal” about it.

That’s the beauty of this story, that God’s always pouring out undeserved mercy, always faithfully giving even when we stubbornly refuse to trust, or obey, or drop to those knees and lift those hands in praise.

It’s the beauty of Elizabeth’s story in Luke 1.  All those married years of longing for a baby and remaining childless, month after month of hope unfulfilled.  Then God came in His extravagant glory and gave the barren woman a son. Not just any baby boy.  The forerunner of the Messiah, cousin to the Savior of mankind.

So much blessing must have knocked her to the floor in tear-filled worship.

After nine months, she cradled that newborn “and when her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had been very merciful to her, everyone rejoiced with her” (Luke 1:58, NLT).

The Message reads:  “Her neighbors and relatives, seeing that God had overwhelmed her with mercy, celebrated with her.”

Yes, “the Lord had been very merciful to her.”  He had “overwhelmed her with mercy,” making her life whole, healing brokenness, fulfilling promises, giving far more than she had ever asked or imagined.

It’s overwhelming mercy that people can’t miss.  Everyone saw.  Everyone rejoiced with her.  No one could mistake God’s mercy for coincidence or fluke or fate.  They couldn’t even imagine someone righteous and faithful like Elizabeth and her husband deserving such a miraculous gift.  It was all God’s mercy and nothing of their merit.

The people say it themselves in Luke 1:66: “Clearly, God has his hands in this.”

And in the end of an old year and the beginning of something new, that’s what I hope for, a story so amazing I can’t steal any glory away from God.  It has to be Him.  It’s so clearly His hand, so overwhelmingly full of mercy that there’s no mistaking the imprint of His hand.

It’s not about maintaining some cosmic balance, giving and receiving love in an equilibrium.

It’s about humbly confessing that as much as we pour out in responsive praise, God out-gives us.  By that, we are amazed. For that, we are grateful.  Because of that, we are saved.

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: 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!

*******************************************************************************

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