Full of questions in a season of change

My eighth-grader and I started having conversations with the high school guidance counselor in January.  Emails.  Phone calls.  Face-to-face meetings.  Then another round of all of the above.

She has filled out forms and answered questions, made requests and submitted papers, sent  emails and then replied to the replies.

We’ve been prayerful, deeply prayerful.  When her plans don’t work out exactly as she wants, we’ve gone back to our knees, prayed again, and tried something new.

While she’s been prepping for her first year of high school, my son is on his own transition to a new season.  Last week  we walked into the elementary school with a folder of paperwork,  I handed over the form and just like that–he’s registered for kindergarten.

We’re praying over that, too, over teacher decisions and classmates and friends he’ll make.

Seasons of transition are seasons that should draw us into prayer and that’s me right now.  Praying my way right on through!

I read in the book of Judges this morning about a familiar Biblical scenario:  the Angel of the Lord visited a barren woman and told her she would give birth to a son.

He then gave her some specific instructions: don’t drink alcohol or eat anything unclean while you’re pregnant.  Never cut his hair because he’ll be a Nazirite from birth and “he will begin to save Israel from the power of the Philistines.”

The woman excitedly told her husband about the message from the Angel and her husband, Manoah, does something I’d probably do:

He asked for more information.

He said, “Let’s pray and maybe the visitor will come back and tell us more about how to take care of this child.”

The Bible says, “God listened.”  He heard their prayers and did indeed return.

I’ve had my own questions these past few months as I’ve prayed for my children, so I “get” Manoah.  I understand wanting to make sure we do this right., wanting all the answers to all the questions.

My daughter breaks down into tears a few times  in this process, and I realize she has this tremendous pressure to do it all exactly right, make every decision perfectly.  If she chooses one wrong class, if she makes one wrong course selection, then maybe it will mess up everything–college choices, career options, the timeline of her life.

I remind her  (and myself at the same time) that God is tenderly gracious.  He guides us and redirects us and when we seek His will, He helps us know what to do.

If she’s seeking Him, she’s not ruining her life.

And I think about what  this means for my own transition season.   At least a dozen people have asked me in the last few months, “What are you going to do when your youngest starts school in September?”

Maybe I’m feeling the same kind of pressure as my daughter.  To make every right decision so I don’t mess up the transition or waste the opportunity.  I have my own questions to  place before the Lord.

I realize today as I read, though, that Manoah didn’t ask the right questions.  When the angel of the Lord came back , Manoah didn’t ask the things he originally said he was going to ask.  He didn’t say, “What do we need  to do to parent our son well or help him follow the Lord or fulfill his calling?”

Instead, he said this:

 “When your words come true, what will be the boy’s responsibilities and work?” (Judges 13:12 CSB).

Oh, Manoah.  I totally get you.

He said he just wanted some details about what they should do as parents, but what he really wanted to know was the end of the whole big story.   Tell me the grand plan.  Tell me everything about what my son is going to do as an adult and what your mission and purpose is for him .

Lord, tell me everything. 

But the Angel of the Lord ignored that question as if it had never been asked and simply repeated what he said before: your wife shouldn’t eat anything unclean or drink any alcohol when she’s pregnant.

He didn’t tell Manoah what’s going to happen 20 years from now. when their son, Samson, became an adult.  Instead, he only told Manoah what needed to happen in the next 9 months.

I need this same redirection for my heart and I need it frequently–that when I need to know what the next step is, He will show me the next step.  For my children and for me.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG)

 

I Blame the Weather App

Proverbs3-5I love summer.

I’m not a fan of heat and humidity, but otherwise, I really love it.

I love my kids being home and the quiet nights of freedom instead of the evenings rushing to activities.

I love not having an hour of homework and a surprise project sent home on the one week you don’t have time for an extra project.

I love lightning bugs and lemonade and concerts by the beach.

I love not rushing through the morning routine every day to make the bus on time.

Love it.

But recently my husband said he thought I was more stressed during the summer.

So, I wonder, how can I feel like I love summer so much and yet exude stress to others?

I blame it on the weather app.

Because, as much as I love summer, what I really love is a plan.  Summer would be so much more fun for me if I could just schedule every relaxing activity, every day trip, every play date on my calendar in May.

That way, I would know exactly what kind of fun I was going to have every single day from June through August.

Perfect! It’s probably the only way besides outdoor air-conditioning that I could possibly improve on the whole concept of summer.

But, alas, the essential unpredictability of life bumps into my happy bubble.

So, one day I’m blissfully driving my minivan into town for a walk on Main Street.   The sages who run my weather app say there is 0% chance of rain for the next few hours.

It starts raining on me as I drive.

Maybe we need to have a chat about what 0% really means.  I mean, I’ll allow for a tiny bit of rain if there is even 10% chance of precipitation.  But when you say 0%, I’m kind of going to count on sunshine.

Last week, I foolishly thought ahead, gathered information, and made a plan for this week.  I even wrote on my calendar in Sharpie marker.

Sharpie marker! That’s permanent planning for you.

I checked the commitments we already had on the calendar.  I checked my weather app.  This day would be gorgeous.  I could take my kids somewhere outside.  It will be 86 and sunny.  Perfect.

On Sunday, though, my weather app reloaded with new numbers.  Surprise!  It will be 95 and gross outside.  Make a new plan.

I hate making new plans.

I get it.  Really, I do.  The weather folks have a tough job with vocal, unreasonable critics like me who mistake ‘predictions’ for facts.  It’s a complicated system and God can move clouds and alter weather patterns at will.

But here’s the bottom line.  What stresses me out about summer is that I am forced into a flexibility I don’t possess.

It’s like my daughters complaining about doing the splits in dance class.  I’m yelling at the pain as my Teacher assures me I can go a little lower.

This feels as low as I can go. It hurts.  I’m pretty sure I could snap some bones and permanently damage my hips with all this forced flexibility.

And, one of the few thing I hate more than changes in plans is making decisions.  But every time a plan changes, I get to make a new decision about something I had already decided before.

I am now making double the decisions and trying to make them with constantly changing, thoroughly unreliable information.

I hate summer.

Oh really, what I need, what I truly, deep-down really need is grace.

God made me a planner.  He etched agendas and schedules and calendars on my soul.  He loves me enough to use all that’s good about my planning ways, but He won’t leave me here with the pitfalls of control and idolatry and lack of trust.

He stretches me into someone even more beautiful and Jesus-filled:  A planner who trust Him with her plans.

That means not hyperventilating when someone calls me and asks to interrupt my plans for the day.

It means checking the weather app without a meltdown.

It means getting rained on sometimes and just laughing in the rain.

It means making a decisions that turn out to be wrong and just letting that go instead of allowing it to throw me into a mudpit of self-condemnation.

Maybe I can learn to really love summer after all.  It won’t be easy, of course, but it will be God at work in me, and that’s beautiful.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
    don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
    he’s the one who will keep you on track (Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG).

 

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  Her book, Ask Me Anything, Lord: Opening Our Hearts to God’s Questions, is available now!  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2015 Heather King

Rigging Candy Land

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
   don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
   he’s the one who will keep you on track.
Don’t assume that you know it all
(Proverbs 3:5-6 MSG).

When my kids were younger, I used to rig the Candy Land cards.

Not so they could win, you understand, because I don’t believe in just letting a child win at games.

I simply hated the cruelty of the setback.  The thing about Candy Land is that you could be two rainbow-colored squares away from the magic candy castle and then draw the card for the Gingerbread Man.

At first, this seems harmless enough.  Who doesn’t want the Gingerbread Man?  Then you realize that it’s just evil fate and lessons in the futility of life sugar-coated and handed to your three-year-old child.

That’s because the Gingerbread Man is all the way back at the beginning of the game.

So, you have to watch this sweetly innocent toddler who was an inch away from cheering in victory move her red Candy Land piece all the way back to a position of certain defeat.

Sometimes life seems just as sadly confusing with unexpected twists and turns and a few disappointments and setbacks.

Yet, surely these are lessons best learned when you’re a little older and wiser?

My solution was simple.  As I shuffled the cards before setting up the game, I made sure the dreaded Gingerbread Man and the peppermint stick guy and sometimes even the gumdrop were in the front of the stack.

Thus, anyone who drew one of those cards would never have to fall back more than a few squares.

Sometimes I wish God would rig the cards every once in a while so life never involved steps backwards or feeling stuck in place (on something less soothingly delicious as a licorice stick).

While He’s at it, wouldn’t it be nice if He gave the game board a big yank and straightened the path?  No more zigzags across the board.  Geometry tells us the shortest distance between two points is a straight line.  How about a straight line, God?

Yes, it’s true, sometimes the directions God takes us and the interruptions, setbacks, and seemingly pointless diversions we experience just don’t make sense.

In her book Nehemiah: A Heart that Can Break, Kelly Minter shared: “…I have a friend who regularly says to me, ‘Lean not Gal!’  As in, ‘Lean not on your own understanding, but all your ways acknowledge Him, ‘Gal!'” (p. 97).

I love this.  I certainly have the tendency to lean on my own understanding and raise a ruckus of discontentment when God leads me in unexpected directions.

Jonah also needed someone to tell him, “Lean not, Guy!” when he, a highly successful, well-respected prophet of encouragement to God’s holy people got God’s disturbing message: Go preach repentance to an enemy nation that has persecuted and killed your neighbors and family friends.

The disciples similarly needed a “lean not” reminder when Jesus told them they were going up to Jerusalem where He would be persecuted, imprisoned and crucified.

In the same way, Paul challenged his friends and followers to “lean not” when he traveled to Jerusalem, despite being warned that he would be placed in chains and taken captive there (Acts 21).

Jonah, the famous runaway, tried to avoid the path that didn’t make sense.

What if he had succeeded? Nineveh would have missed out on experiencing what “many historians cite …as the greatest revival in human history” (Priscilla Shirer, Jonah, p. 114).

In fact:

When Jonah chose to walk in obedience to the word of the Lord, the result was a harvest of amazing fruit he’d probably never seen coming.  Not just one community in the city or even a handful of the city’s important people believed in God.  Every citizen of Nineveh, from the greatest to the least, immediately believed.  Conviction was so complete that even the animals were made to participate in the government-mandated fast.  ‘Even the great Apostle Paul never experienced anything comparable to what Jonah saw.  Paul never saw an entire city turn to God'” (Shirer, p. 118-119).

Yes, and without Jesus’ journey to the cross, we would not have the resurrection or a plan for salvation.

And if Paul chose the easier road away from Jerusalem, he would never have preached about Christ in Rome—even to Caesar himself (Acts 28).

It’s frightening not to know exactly where we’re going.  It’s terrifying not to know what will happen when we get there.

It’s disappointing when God asks you:
to step aside
to stop
to walk away
to turn around
to go back
to take a break
to cease activity
and to put aside our own plans and visions and understanding of how this crazy life should work out and make sense.

Yet, even when we spend some time standing still or making the disheartening trip apparently backwards, we can trust that God has a plan—a better plan (yes, even better than the magical candy castle!) and maybe a surprising plan (to us, not to Him)—as long as we obey.

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.

Making U-Turns

The problem of getting lost is knowing when to turn around.

I know this because I am an expert at getting lost. I generally don’t drive anywhere new without making a U-turn or two or three.

When I first suspect that I’m lost (again), my heart races.  I’m stressed and emotional.  I snap off the radio and beg my kids to stop hitting each other over the head with books and whining about the fact that the two-year-old always takes their stuff.  And no, we can’t listen to Mickey Mouse just this moment because Mommy is in fact having a breakdown and needs silence.

When I finally realize that yes, I absolutely am lost (again), I perch forward in my seat, chest practically to the steering wheel and squint at the road signs.  I’ve scrolled down to my husband’s contact info on my phone, ready to call him the very second I finally give up and humbly confess that once again I have missed the turn or misunderstood the directions or misidentified the landmark.

It’s just so hard to know when to admit defeat and turn around.  I keep hoping that my destination is over the next hill, around the next bend in the road, at the next intersection, just one . . more . .. mile.  What if I turn around and I miss out because I just didn’t go far enough and gave up too soon?

But then, what if I keep driving, persistent and stubborn, and it’s wrong?  Maybe I missed the turn long ago and this is a perpetual waste of time and gas money.

Life with it’s uncertainty fills me sometimes with the same confusion and anxiety.

Is this God’s will or is that?  Now or later?

And then there’s when you pursue what seems to be God’s will, but eventually He stops you and turns you around.

I’ve been on my knees about this lately, praying for clarity and reassurance.  It was just over one year ago that my husband and I handed in our completed packet of papers to become foster parents.

Background checks, fingerprinting, proof of car insurance, the deed to our home, proof of rabies vaccinations for our cats, references, copies of our driving record: We had collected every document that described our lives down to the minutest detail.

We did this because we had confirmation after confirmation that this was what God wanted us to do.  It wasn’t part of our own plan for our family—not yet, anyway.  We thought we were at least a few more years away from fostering or adoption, but God had moved our hearts and we wanted to obey.

Just as we were on the very last step of this process, everything stopped.  Overwhelming workloads at the Department of Social Services, confusion, people quitting and others not being hired to replace them halted the entire process for us.

I called about once every week or two and left increasingly pushy messages. Whenever I spoke to an actual person, I was assured that the very next month they would call.

But they didn’t.

My husband and I agreed that continuing to call and call and call was likely to push ourselves right on out of God’s will. So, I prayed, “Dear Lord, if this is your plan, please let them call us.”

Nothing.

So, what does that mean?
Did we miss God’s will from the very beginning?
Was this all a mistake?
Did I somehow mess it up and ruin God’s plan for us?
Was it time for a U-Turn?

I can’t say that I’ve sorted through all of this completely.  I’m still confused about why God seemed to direct us this way and then stopped us in the end.

Yet, I’m wondering if He’s always more concerned about the journey than rushing to a destination.  Maybe His goal was to stir our hearts for future things, to interrupt my own family agenda, or to see how far obedience would take us.

Like Abraham, maybe laying down our Isaac was the plan all along, and as long as we were willing to obey, that was enough.

In Scripture, we are promised continually that God will direct and guide us:

The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.
Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.
(Psalm 37:23-24 NLT)

And when I worry about messing it all up, Scripture reminds me that God’s plan will prevail, over all our insufficiencies, over every obstacle and inconvenience: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails” (Proverbs 19:21 NIV).

So, I return to prayer: “Lord, let your will be done in our lives.  I may whine about it.  It may be difficult.  But I do desire to walk in your way.”

Then I trust Him to lead.

Maybe the U-Turns are because we misheard Him or zoomed off in our own direction without seeking His opinion.

Maybe the U-Turns are actually part of His plans for us.

I’m reminded, though, that as long as we are wholeheartedly seeking after Him and truly willing to obey Him, we are never really lost.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take”
(Proverbs 3:5-6 NLT).

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: 09/10/2011

Hiding the Word:

Last Sunday, my oldest girl graduated to an older Sunday School class.  She burst out of there so excited about how great it was because they “did great crafts!”  They do something else, too . . .  memorize a verse each week.

This week, her verse is one of my favorites:

“Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”
Proverbs 3:5-6

I’m posting that around my home in the NIV translation this week to memorize and meditate on.  But, I also want to share with you the translation in the Message, which I also came across this week in my reading.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart;
   don’t try to figure out everything on your own.
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, everywhere you go;
   he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Those are freeing thoughts—we don’t have to figure everything out on our own and that it’s God who keeps us on track.  We just need to listen at all times to the prompting of His Spirit.

It’s also a challenging thought because, well, I like to figure everything out on my own. But that involves very little faith and trust in my God.

Have you picked a verse to learn this week?  Will you share it with us?

Weekend Rerun:

God’s Love Letter, Originally published 03/09/2011

Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion (Isaiah 30:18, NIV)

The other night I was fluffing my pillows before I turned out my light and I felt paper where pillow should be.  A card!  And inside, a love letter from my husband.  I cried as I read it and cried more the next day when I read it again. (No one reads love letters just once, right?!)

Everyone receives love in different ways, but words are precious to me.  Whether they are written or said, words are the most powerful way to show me love and the most potent weapons used to hurt me.  That’s because they rumble around in my head and heart and echo back to me over time.

Still, spoken words and written words aren’t equal.  Yesterday, I wrote that humans are forgetful creatures.  We so easily forget what people say to us and sometimes we mis-remember and distort conversations.  Written down, though, the words became more concrete and able to withstand time, changing circumstances, and shifting emotions.

Unfortunately, I do sometimes forget.  The other day I had a breakdown while doing my hair.  I was getting ready to go out with my husband, so I thought, “I’ll try to look nice.”  So, I painted my nails.  I’m the worst ever at painting my nails.  I’m never patient enough and always touch something before they’re dry.  In fact, it’s pretty impossible to meet the needs of three little people without touching my children, so I had to re-paint this one fingernail FOUR times!!!  At that point, when my daughter asked me, “Mommy, can you . . . .” I gave in and just took the nail polish off completely.  Then, I decided to work on curling my hair.  I love curly hair.  But, alas, I was the kind of girl who read books as a child and not a little girl who played with hair.  That means that I am now a totally clueless grown woman when it comes to curls and blow drying and styling.  After just a few attempts at curls resulting in frizz and disaster, I washed it all out and just left my hair the way it normally is.  So much for dressing up.

At that point, I forgot.  I forgot my husband loves me the way I am and he thinks I’m beautiful.  Inside, I heard the lies—“You aren’t pretty enough.  You’re a plain Jane and always will be.  You’re surrounded by women with better hair, skin, nails and clothes and you just don’t measure up.”

I need the reminders that I am loved.  Imagine if a married couple said, “I love you,” on their wedding day and then never again expressed love for each other.   Years later, the wife complains, “You never tell me you love me” and the husband answers, “I showed you I loved you when I married you.”

God showed us His love clearly and completely through the cross.  Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (NIV).  That sacrifice should serve as concrete evidence of love.

The world tells us, “Look at these bad circumstances in your life.  God doesn’t love you.”   We sin and we think, “No way can God forgive me or use me or love me.  I’m too messed up.”   We feel distant from Him, and we think, “God’s left me.  He’s no longer here by my side.”  But, we look to the cross and we remember, God loved me enough to die for me even when I was still rejecting Him.

Christ’s death on the cross was the most perfect expression of love, but God knows us.  He knows our fickle and forgetful hearts.  He knows that—like a wife in a marriage—we need reminders and expressions of love over time.   So He gives us the Bible, His love letter to us.  We don’t need to seek affirmation and fulfillment from other people or accomplishments.  At any time in a day, we can meet with God and be reminded of His great love.

I tell my two daughters at least once a week, “No matter what anybody says and no matter what happens, remember that you are loved, you are beautiful and you are smart.”   Then, they roll their little eyes at me and sigh, “I know, Mom.  You tell us all the time.”  And I do.  I tell them all the time because the media, culture, mean girls, and Satan will fight hard to tell my girls lies, to convince them that they are ugly, fat, unloved, and not good enough.  I give my daughters truth over and over again, hoping that they can identify and reject the lies.

It is in Scripture, that God expresses His love over and over again, so that we don’t forget it.  In Hosea 2:19, we read:

And then I’ll marry you for good—forever!
I’ll marry you true and proper, in love and tenderness.
Yes, I’ll marry you and neither leave you nor let you go.
You’ll know me, God, for who I really am (MSG).

Stressed out about work?  Read God’s Word and be refreshed.  Feeling like a failure as a parent?   Let God’s Word encourage and strengthen you.  Not sure that God can take care of you?  Dig deep into the Bible and remember His promises.  Struggling with feeling like you aren’t beautiful or loved?  Take down God’s love letter from the shelf and be reminded of how He cares for you and longs to lavish you with affection and blessing.

Sitting on the shelf unread, God’s love letter to us might look nice and serve as a memento.  But, it’s only when we take God’s Word down and read and re-read it that the words regain their power and become an effective arsenal against the lies we face every day.

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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