The Unexpectedness of God | Advent

I bought the gift online and the box arrived on my porch yesterday.

It was quite a large box , much larger than I expected.  I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be inside since nothing I’d ordered would be that bulky.

I dropped the load I had in my hands inside the front door and hauled the package inside,  cutting it open quickly with scissors.  That’s when I found the surprise.

My son has two things topping his Christmas wish list:  Lego sets and dinosaur toys.  So, when this particular T-Rex toy went on super-sale on Black Friday online, I snatched  it up, knowing he’d love it.  The T-Rex is  his favorite  dinosaur and he always loves this brand o f toys.  I expected it to be a few inches tall like all the other toys we have by this same toymaker.

But this was beyond all expectation.  This T-Rex stands at least 5 times larger than all  the other action figures and is so big that he can “eat” the other toys and swallow them down into his expansive belly.

My son is going to love this.

I would never, ever have bought this toy knowingly, but this accident and this surprise will  probably be the hit of his Christmas morning.  I can’t wait.

Sometimes it can be so hard to “work up” anticipation, expectation and joy during the Advent season.  Calendars bog us down.  “Must-do’s”  and “have-to’s” can stifle our spirit.  Grief and even just disappointment at how the year turned out can weary us.

I need the reminder (maybe others do also?) about the unexpectedness of God.  How He breaks down the boxes we cram Him into.   We package Him up,  and He surprises us.   He is bigger and grander and far more unexpected than our wildest expectations.

I think I know how situations will unfold and sometimes I settle into thinking that “this will never change.” I see the problem.  I see the complications.  I see the mess.

But God.

I want to  see Him, who is able to do more and to do it in the most wildly creative way.  I cannot trust in my plans or my solutions and fixes, but I can trust in our Mighty God.

I remember Paul’s song of praise in Ephesians:

Now to him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us—  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.  (Ephesians 3:20-21 CSB).

God is the defier expectations.  He is our Above-and-Beyond God.

In my Advent devotional this week, the readings began in Genesis, telling why we need a Savior, how because of our sin we needed a Rescuer and Deliverer who could restore our relationship with God.

And Adam and Eve knew this.  They heard God’s curse on the serpent:

I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel (Genesis 3:15 CSB).  

They knew that Another—a Deliverer—would come to defeat the serpent once and for all.

But what would this look like?  How would the Deliverer come?   How long would they have to wait?

Surely they could not have imagined as they headed out of the Garden of Eden how Jesus would come, how He would be born, how His rescue would come through His perfect life and sacrificial death.  Surely they could not have known the long line of generations who would wait for the coming of the Messiah.

My devotional reading says this:

“Scholar James Boice says Adam and Eve likely thought Cain was the deliverer who would defeat the serpent that God  promised in Genesis 3:15.  It’s even reflected in the name they gave him…In view of the promise of a  deliverer, [Cain’s] name probably means, ‘Here he is’ or ‘I’ve gotten him.’ Eve called her son ‘Here he is’ because she thought the deliverer had been sent by God.” (Advent, Lifeway Women, p. 14)

In Genesis 3, God says there will be a Deliverer.  In Genesis 4, Eve is pregnant and gives birth to Cain, the first human baby ever.

Maybe Adam and Eve truly thought this baby was the one who would rescue and restore them.  Cain would be the promised one.

But God.

They could have grown disappointed and discouraged with Cain’s failure and how nothing turned out the way they expected.

Still, God had a plan they could never have imagined, the perfect Savior who would come at the perfect time:

When the time came to completion, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,  to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4:4-5 CSB).

 

Bible Verses and a Prayer about Waiting

  • Psalm 25:4-5 ESV
    Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
    teach me your paths.
    Lead me in your truth and teach me,
    for you are the God of my salvation;
    for you I wait all the day long.
  • Psalm 27:13-14
    I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart and wait for the LORD.
  • Psalm 33:20-22
    We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. May your unfailing love be with us, LORD,   even as we put our hope in you.
  • Psalm 37:7 ESV
    Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way,
    over the man who carries out evil devices!
  • Psalm 37:9 ESV
    For the evildoers shall be cut off,
    but those who wait for the Lord shall inherit the land.
  • Psalm 40:1-3 ESV
    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 62:5 ESV
    For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
  • Psalm 130:5-6 NIV
    I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
    I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
  • Isaiah 30:18 ESV
    Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,
    and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.
    For the Lord is a God of justice;
    blessed are all those who wait for him.
  • Isaiah 40:29-31 HCSB
    He gives strength to the weary

    and strengthens the powerless.
    Youths may faint and grow weary,
    and young men stumble and fall,
    but those who trust in the Lord
    will renew their strength;
    they will soar on wings like eagles;
    they will run and not grow weary;
    they will walk and not faint.

  • Isaiah 64:4 NIV
    Since ancient times no one has heard,
    no ear has perceived,
    no eye has seen any God besides you,
    who acts on behalf of those who wait for him.
  • Lamentations 3:25 ESV
    The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul who seeks him.
  • Micah 7:7 NIV
    But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
    I wait for God my Savior;
    my God will hear me.
  • James 5:7-8 HCSB
    Therefore, brothers, be patient until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth and is patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. You also must be patient. Strengthen your hearts, because the Lord’s coming is near.

Say to those with fearful hearts

At the amusement park, after we’ve parked  the minivan and handed over our passes to be scanned and our bags to be checked, we head for the measuring station .

Only one of my kids still needs to be measured.  My girls have long since passed the point where they can ride anything in the park because of their height.

My son, though, is still tracking his growth progress through wrist band colors.  Each color tells him what he can ride based on how tall he is.

Somehow between the start of summer to the early fall, he shot up through three different colors on the ride chart.   That means technically he can ride his first big roller coaster.

This is thrilling to him.  He announces to each member of the family what color he’s on now.

But when I ask him if he really wants to ride any of the bigger rides—any of them at all—-he says, “I’ll do that when I’m 7.”

He’s taller than he is brave.

I remind him that the colors don’t really matter if we’re not going to ride any of the higher, faster rides, but he’s thrilled just the same.  He celebrates physical growth and that’s enough for him.

Not all of my kids have been like this, but most of them have (three out of the four).  We are timid about these things,  more likely to enjoy the small swings,  the bumper cars and the kiddie roller coaster long after others have moved on to bigger thrills.

We’re not born brave.  We’re  not naturally bold.  Courage isn’t part of our DNA.

(I’m still not a thrill-seeker.  At almost 40 years old, I’d rather not ride any rides at all . Even the spinning teacups aren’t my favorite.)

I can have fun at an amusement park without the speed and the rush and the drops that I hate so much.

But in life, fear can be so  much more crippling than this:  stealing joy, stealing peace, stealing boldness for the gospel and courage for Christ, stealing sleep.   It’s not about preference—rides or no rides.  It’s about fear holding me back from obeying Christ or keeping me from fully entrusting myself, my family, my kids to God.

Sometimes, all the anxiety over taking a next step can be utterly paralyzing.  What I really need to  do is just do  it.  Just take the step.   Just have  the conversation.  Just sign up or just step down.  Whatever God is asking me to  do, I need to do in obedience.   Faith over fear.  Trust over timidity.

Still I waiver so often.

Still I feel that paralysis of indecision and anxiety.

Still I try so hard to keep control over the many things I cannot control.

In the Everyday with Jesus Bible, Selwyn Hughes reminds me of what fear does and why it’s our enemy:

Fear sinks us:  When Peter stepped out of the boat, he “saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord,  save me!'” (Matthew 14:30 CSB).

Fear knocks us down:  When the disciples saw the glory of the Lord at the Mount  of Transfiguration, their fear sent them to their knees.  But, “Jesus came up, touched them, and said, ‘Get up; don’t be afraid.'” (Matthes 17:7 CSB).

Fear hides our treasures and gifts:  The man with one talent in the parable said, “I was afraid and went off and hid your talent in the ground.”  His talent was wasted, buried in the earth and shoved into a hole in the ground because of fear.(Matthew 25:25 CSB).

Fear puts us behind closed doors:  After Jesus’s resurrection, the disciples gathered in secret, “with the doors locked because they feared the Jews. Jesus came, stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.”” (John 20:19 CSB). 

“Fear drives us underground:” Joseph of Arimathea was “a disciple of Jesus—but secretly because of his fear of the Jews” (John 19:38 CSB).

I wonder how often I let fears from my past hold me back in the here and now.  Maybe I’ve grown. Maybe I’ve gone up a few colors on the growth chart, and yet I’m still sticking to the same-old same-old, the easiest and the most comfortable things before me instead of moving on.

Isaiah the prophet said:

Say to those with fearful hearts,
“Be strong, and do not fear,
for your God is coming to destroy your enemies.
He is coming to save you.” (Isaiah 35:4)

Maybe these are words we can speak to fearful hearts around us.

Or  maybe this is the reminder our own fearful heart needs:  “Be strong, and do not fear, for your God is coming….”

It’s because of his presence, His strength, His might, His mercy that we fearful ones can take the next courageous step.

 

Snow Boots without Snow

One year, I wrapped my kids’ feet in Ziploc bags before tying on their shoes and sending them out into the snow.

I live in southeastern Virginia, where we get snow sometimes.  Some years it’s a lot and other years not so much.

So, it’s a gamble, you see, whether purchasing snow boots and snow pants is a worthwhile investment or a complete waste of money.

That one year when all my kids were little and had snow boots, I can’t remember a single snowflake sticking to the ground.

But the following year, I had to resort to Ziploc bags inside the sneakers because I hadn’t bought snowboots and inevitably we had buckets of snow.

Since then, I’ve begun hunting for snow boots in all seasons and in all sizes at consignment shops in thrift stores.  I don’t want to pay full price for them, but I do want to have them on hand just in case.

This year I have put my thrifty shopping skills to work and found snow boots and snow pants in all the sizes for all the kids.

Of course, we’ve had a virtually snow-less winter with just one fluke snowstorm in early December.  It’s plenty cold here, but our snow attire is sitting completely unused in a bin in my closet.

I realize as I write this there’s probably some monumental snow event on the horizon for us.  For the record, I’m not saying I want a blizzard!   I don’t love shuffling plans and appointments around because of unexpected weather.   And I really don’t like having to make up any snow days by going  to school during a vacation.

But it’s always just worth a shake of my head and a slightly exasperated giggle that on the years I feel most prepared for snow we are virtually snow-less.  And on years I decline to prepare, we experience snowmageddon or something equally apocalyptic.

Maybe the lesson for me is that preparation in itself is worthwhile.

There’s not always going to be this direct, easily  visible connection to usefulness, but God can be trusted.

Some years, I’ll buy snow boots and there will be snow.  I’ll feel prepared and justified, wise, and ready.

Other years, I’ll buy snow boots and it won’t really snow.  But I’ll tuck them away and pull them out for a future storm when they’re now hand-me-downs for another child.  I’m still prepared, but the connection wasn’t as clear or as direct.

It’s God’s sovereignty I can trust.  His wisdom.  His all-knowing ability  to work in me now, in my life and in my heart and in my mind, all that He wants to do in me.  Maybe it’s for next week and maybe it’s for decades from now.  Maybe it’s for heaven.  I will not always see His purposes, but I can trust Him just the same.

Being in His presence, digging into His Word, learning to know Him, learning about  Him, serving with Him, walking  through hard seasons and wondering i f there will ever be a harvest—none of it’s ever wasted.

This is what I see in David, this young shepherd boy who invested a whole portion of his life in shepherding a flock of animals and who ultimately because the “shepherd of my people Israel” (2 Samuel 5:2 CSB).

It wasn’t clear and it wasn’t right away.  David spent time in Saul’s palace, time in the battlefields, time hiding out in caves and time living among the Philistines surrounded by enemies of the Lord.  Maybe his past experience with sheep and a harp seemed worthless when Saul was hunting him down.

But God did the work, the long,  steady, complete work.  He chose a shepherd of  sheep to be a shepherd to His people, nothing wasted, everything working for His good purposes in His perfect timing .

I can overthink this.  I can be like  an eager student with my clipboard, my paper and my pencil quizzing my Divine Master.  “What are you trying to teach me, Lord?  What can I learn?  How are you going to use this?  What are you doing  now?   Then what’s next?”

I want purposefulness.  I want clarity. I want intentionality.

But instead I learn to rest, knowing that seasons aren’t always so well-defined.  Sometimes it snows in October and I wear short sleeves in February.  Some years I need snow boots and some years I don’t.

I don’t need to worry about identifying the season I’m in or labeling the season or determining the purpose for the season.

I can just remain teachable, yielded, open, prayerful, submissive, humble, willing, submitted ever single day. “Lord, teach me,” and let Him do it.  Let Him use all of this, every bit, to change and transform me and prepare me for His plans, His will, His timing.

This is where we are

 

I’ve been sending kids to preschool now for nine years.  That’s four kids, three girls and one boy, all with different personalities and obviously different birth order.

I’ll tell you what’s the same .

Being the line leader is a big deal.

A really big deal.

I haven’t ever given birth to a child who apparently finds the end of the line satisfactory.

It’s not just line-leading that my kids love.  It’s also often been about prime seating spots around classroom tables or for morning circle time.

One of my daughters refused to  wear her jacket well into November during her preschool days.  We had a big to-do each morning as we headed out the door to preschool.  I insisted that it  was too cold to go jacket-less; she broke down into hysterics over wearing a jacket.  It took me several weeks to  root out the cause—hanging up her jacket in the morning slowed her down and meant someone else usually sat next to  her best friend at calendar time.  She’d rather freeze or come down with pneumonia rather than give up a place next to  her buddy.

And then there was another daughter who declined to take dance classes for three months because one little girl  always insisted on sitting on the triangle spot instead of taking turns.  After all, sitting on the circle was unsatisfactory.

Prime place, favorite positions, the perfect spot–we want to be where we want to be.

And then, sometimes,  God puts us down in a place we don’t want to be and it’s a stretch to our souls.  Maybe we  feel we could snap with the tension and the pull of the longing versus the reality.

Over there is where we want to be, but this is where we are, and that is hard.

It’s when prayers are  answered with a “no” or the hoped-for doors close in front of us or the one thing we hoped would never ever happen does happen.  It’s loss and grief and brokenness with deep disappointment underneath it  all.

What then?

Today, I re-read Psalm 23 and I remember what my Good Shepherd does:

He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake (Psalm 23:2-3 NASB).

The  Lord my Shepherd guides and leads me, but He isn’t always leading me where it’s cozy or comfy or always convenient.  Instead, He’s leading me in these paths of righteousness “for His name’s sake.”

He’s not working for my pleasure; He’s working for His glory, always for the glory of  His name.  And that means I might end up munching on some  lush grass and drinking down some  cool water. Or I could be walking on paths of righteousness  that are rockier than I’d like them to be or steep or shaded and deep in the valley.

I  have to trust Him, believe deeply and with full assurance that this path He has me on is for His glory and He will lead me where I need to go. He will restore me and refresh me with the meadows and the calm streams when I need them the most.

He will not abandon me.

But I also read this in Jennifer Rothschild’s study, Psalm 23:

I can be wrong even on the right path (p. 99).

It’s not just  trudging along that path of righteousness, begrudging, unhappy,  complaining,  maybe even bitter that makes me right with the Lord.   That may be obedience, but it’s not the obedience God desires—the yielded heart, the trust, the love.

My attitude matters.

Jennifer Rothschild says it this way:

We don’t control the path.  All we control is  our attitude and actions on the path.

So I grieve a little and Jesus understands.  He has compassion for me in the middle of the brokenness.  He is gracious and gentle as I lay down what I hoped for and what I prayed for.

I give it over to Him and I try to follow my Shepherd on this path of righteousness, this hard and rocky path, with a yielded and trusting heart instead of a begrudging or fearful one.

Because He is my Good Shepherd.  And He will  work out even the hardest seasons for the glory of His name.  And it  will be good.  And He will  refresh and renew.  That is who He is and this is what He does.

The desperate longing for something that doesn’t change

“I would like to stay to a kid forever.”

That’s my son talking.  He’s happy to be four.  Who wouldn’t  be?

Most of my kids have wanted to rush right on through childhood and into adult life.  They try to plan out their whole lives while they’re still in middle school.

I’ve had to reassure my 11-year–old repeatedly this year that she doesn’t have to  choose a career in sixth grade.

But my son gets it.  He gets all the beauty of being four years old.

Specifically, this week,  he’s been thinking about his “little, soft blue blanket” and how he’d rather not give it up.

It doesn’t cover his whole body any more.   He snuggles into his blanket as best he can, but his feet inevitably stick out, so he needs  a supplemental blanket to provide full coverage.

But this blue blanket is loved.  I  dare to suggest he might be too big for it soon, and his answer is quick and clear:  “I would like to stay to a kid forever.”

He’s my resident Peter Pan, not wanting to grow up, and the comfort of the blue blanket makes never-ending childhood oh so worth it to him for now.

I appreciate his happiness with the “now,” the willingness  to  just enjoy all that life offers in the present tense.  He’s not worrying about the future or even trying to escape to the past.  He’s four and he’s pleased to be four.  That’s a beautiful thing.

But I also see in his little heart this desire for permanency, to cling maybe a little too strongly to  what is good but what won’t last.

The truth is he’s going to keep growing out of this blanket.  That day will surely come.

I understand his struggle, though, because I’ve been longing myself for something permanent, some reassurance that I won’t wake up to a new day and find life all shaky and unsure or find my feet sticking out of my favorite blanket.

I have this longing for peace,  peace in all  the places.  Peace in work and ministry and home and friendship.  No relational conflict.  No disappointment in people.  No workplace surprises.  No undercurrent of trouble unexpectedly rising to the surface.

But “in this world you will have trouble,” that’s what Jesus told us, and just when peace settles into one place, it seems it shatters in another.

That’s bad news for a girl like me who longs for the comfort of a perfect plan and knowing all the details in advance.

But here’s the good news.

All that shakiness in the world around me and all those times I’m tumbled headlong into another season of change or uncertainty makes me desperately long for solid ground, for a permanent, unshakeable place to stand.

This longing drives me right to Jesus.

Scripture tells us that we can have that safe place.  We can have an unmoving,  never-changing, solid, trustworthy foundation that we can count on no matter what earthquake rattles the ground beneath us.

Even if we get the phone call, the email, or the bad news, we can always return to this safe place, this refuge.

We can be confident in God’s character.

Hebrews tells us that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (13:8 CSB) and James reminds us that our heavenly Father “does not change like shifting shadows” (1:17 CSB).  The Psalmist prayed, “But you are the same, and your years will never end” (Psalm 102:27 CSB) and reminded us that God’s “faithful love will endure forever” (Psalm 138:8).

God has been strong in the past and He will be strong.  He has been able and He will be able.  He has been mighty  and He remains mighty.

No circumstance and no conflict changes His goodness or His compassion, His sovereignty or His power.  His love endures.  Right in the middle of whatever has tossed us into uncertainty or fear or fretting, God’s love remains steadfast and sure, and we can hide ourselves away in the shadow of that unfailing love.

 

We can be confident in God’s Word.

Jesus promised that “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (Matthew 24:35 CSB) and the Psalmist declared, “Lord, your word is forever; it is firmly fixed in heaven” (Psalm 119:89 CSB). 

Peter said,

All flesh is like grass,
and all its glory like a flower of the grass.
The grass withers, and the flower falls,
25 but the word of the Lord endures forever  (1 Peter 1:24-25 CSB). 

Forever. 

Forever is what I need on the days my feet stick out of the blanket and I realize change is in the air.  Forever is what I need when I long for peace, but it seems elusive.

I can hide myself away in God and His Word without fear.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask

Weddings can be confusing to a four-year-old.

My son is actively preparing for his role as ringbearer in a family wedding this weekend.  By actively preparing, I mean we periodically hand him a pillow to hold and ask him to walk it across the room slowly.

He’s been thinking about this a great deal.  Randomly as we drive about town, he’ll call out questions about all this wedding activity from his seat in the minivan.

“Mom, why do they want girls  to throw flowers?”

There is no context for this question. We’re just driving along.  We ‘re not in church and we haven’t been talking about the wedding.  So, it  takes me a few seconds to  place his question and then it takes me a few more seconds to figure out an answer.

Because—seriously—why does the flower girl drop flower petals to  the ground as she walks?

He also wants to know why he has to carry a pillow?  Why will there be rings on the pillow?  Why he has to look “handsome” in suspenders and a bowtie?  And whether or not he can “run-walk” up the aisle (which apparently is a steady paced walk with an occasional quick-step shuffle forward thrown in).

This is all before he’s even seen the rehearsal.  I can only  imagine the questions he’ll ask after he’ sees the full gamut of wedding traditions, including bouquet-tossing, candle-lighting, and more.

For now, my little guy still considers mom and dad the official source of all knowledge.  He brings us his questions about weddings and more in a fairly steady stream and he trusts us to know or to find out.

That’s something I’m considering because I’m a question-asker myself from way back. I’m always the girl asking the most questions in any meeting or gathering.

And that’s okay, because  I’m also the girl who knows I  can bring all those questions to Jesus.

That’s why I’m stunned as I read this in the gospel of Mark:

But they (the disciples) did not understand this statement, and they were afraid to ask Him (Mark 9:32 NASB).

Jesus declared that He would be “delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later” (Mark 9:31 NASB).

It makes sense to us in retrospect, but it didn’t make sense to the disciples at the time . He’ll be killed?  He’ll rise again?

They didn’t understand, but they were afraid to  ask.

Why?

Were they worried that Jesus would chastise them for not understanding?  Were they too embarrassed?  Did they fear the answer?

Whatever the reason, the disciples didn’t trust Jesus enough to ask Him the question they all had on their hearts.

That doesn’t have to be us.

In Judges 6 when God called Gideon to lead Israel to victory, Gideon answered the way I would have.

He answered with questions:

“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian…how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.” (Judges 6:13, 15 NIV).

So many questions might exhaust me as a parent, but God was always so gentle and patient with Gideon.  He didn’t berate, mock,  or condemn.

Instead, He redirected Gideon’s need for answers to seeing that God IS the answer for the overwhelming and the frightening.

God’s answer was this:

“….Am I not sending you?….I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” (Judges 6:14, 16 NIV).

He sent Gideon.  He would be with Gideon.  And He promised Gideon victory.

The NLT Personal Worship Bible says this:

The God whom we worship is  not distressed by our questions. He knows that, like Gideon, we often feel weak, inadequate, or overwhelmed by life. He desires our honesty in worship  and wants us to bring to him those issues, questions, and doubts that are on our minds.

And here’s what’s true—the answers he gives might not always be what we’re looking for.  We might not get details we want.  We might not get the confirmation we’re looking for.

But we will receive the reassurance of His presence and His character.  He will be with us, just as He promised  to be with Gideon.

So, keep bringing your questions to Him and trust His answers.

Bending and not breaking

She’s my daughter, after all, a miniature me in many ways.

So, why didn’t I expect it?  Why did I treat her less gently than God treats me?

Such a simple parenting issue: Daughter colored instead of reading before bed.  She ran out of time. Lights out, no reading for the night.

But then there was the reaction, like dynamite-meets-fire because the routine was broken and she couldn’t be flexible, couldn’t bend, couldn’t change up what we always do .

She and I both struggle here.  We cling to routine for personal sanity and prefer the scheduled, the planned, the known, the normal, the everyday and the expected.

Every night, she reads before bed.  Every single night.  Even before she could read, she flipped through the pages and invented tales about the pictures.

That’s me.  Whether it’s 9:30 or midnight when I finally ease into my own bed, I must read also.  Not that I prefer it or casually enjoy it.  I must read, even if I only scan through one single page before I pass out on my pillow.

So, surely I should have expected that when I asked her to bend and skip the evening marathon reading session for one…single…..night, she wouldn’t bend at all.

She’d break.  And break she did.

I am brittle like this, too: Snapping or shattering into pieces of emotional disaster when God nudges me out of the comfortable beauty of a planned day, or week, or year, or season of life.

And it’s not that God allows me to live life so rigid and in-control.  He won’t let me stay in this place of “needing to know the details” and “always having a plan.”

No, He asks that I trust Him.

He asks for faith without seeing.

But He teaches me gently, nudging me with the unexpected–a phone call, an appointment, a sick child, traffic, a cancellation– and then cleaning up the mess of me as I fluster and stress, react and over-react.

Still He leads me out in faith and then comforts me when it’s hard, always taking me one step farther into the faith-life and the blind-walk and one more step away from my day planner and kitchen calendar.

I’m grateful for the grace.

Surely, I’m not the only one who hates the surprises and plain-out hyperventilates at the unexpected.

I consider the 72 followers, sent out by Jesus with instructions that would probably make me tremble:

 Carry no money belt, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ (Luke 10:4-5 NASB). 

They had no travel agenda, no itinerary, no schedule, no advance contacts or fall-back positions.  No money for the hotel when hospitality failed.  No change of shoes for weather fluctuations or suitcases stuffed with extra underwear and layers of clothing “just in case.”

“Whatever” house they entered, is where they sought rest and provision.  Sometimes they received it.  Other times not.

Peter may have loved this unexpected lifestyle.  He was a speak-what-comes-to-mind, do-whatever-pops-into-your-head kind of fellow.  Eager to hop out of fishing boats and walk on water, willing to shout out promises and convictions at the slightest whim. He lived for the adventure not the agenda.

Peter mystifies me a bit.

But Thomas I understand, and what if Thomas was in the mix of 70?

He always wanted the facts and the proof.   Yes, Thomas and I would be the ones studying the maps and searching for hotels, phone numbers, restaurants, and recommendations on Google before we set out on any journey of “faith.”

And perhaps we’d be the ones laying awake at night because we liked our own bed with our own pillow and cup of tea and a book to read before sleep.

Jesus would send us out anyway.

We might struggle and maybe we’d even have a meltdown and need God to piece us back together with superglue, but Luke writes that in the end, “the Seventy returned with joy” (Luke 10:17 HCSB).

Maybe Jesus indulges me in my nighttime reading habits and doesn’t ask me to travel from town to town without a packed lunch or luggage.

But when He asks me to ease my death-grip on my daily schedule and my long-term plans and the way I’ve always done things, after the aftermath of my mess…. there is joy.

Because it’s when He shatters the confines of my expectations that I feel His peace, not the comfort of being in control, but true peace and the settled assurance that Yes, He can care for me.

That’s when I see His glory.

That’s when I’m finally bending and flexible, no longer too fragile for Him to use.

Originally published 5/3/2013

An invitation for those who thirst

Just when I needed it most, my friend invited me to “come have a cup of tea.”  It was fifteen years ago, but I still remember, and not because the tea was fancy or the venue impressive. Not at all.  She was a fellow teacher who saw me about to have a mega-meltdown in the school office one day.  I was a young newlywed making my first out-of-state move and just when everything seemed to fall apart with our moving plans, she asked me to tea.

She gently took my hand and led me to her classroom where she had a “peace corner” set up with a small electric kettle, pretty cups and saucers, a variety of tea choices and sugar all laid out on top of her filing cabinet.

The tiny cup of tea she poured for me helped me pause enough to breathe and breathe enough to remember God could handle my need.

Now, I’m the one pouring cups of tea.

When a friend messages me because she’s scared, this is what I ask: Can we meet for tea (or coffee if you choose, but tea for me!)?

When my tween daughter stresses over a bad day, I put the kettle on the stove and set out the teacups.

It’s not the tea, of course, that soothes the soul.  It’s the invitation to be still, to breathe and rest and refresh.  It’s drinking in slowly and sharing it with someone who cares, someone who will listen, pray, and just be there, fully present in the moment, not scattered, distracted, rushed, and busy.

The beauty is in the offer itself:   Come as you are.   Come weary and come thirsty.  Come overwhelmed and beaten down.  Come frightened and anxious.

Just come, rest here, and drink.

It’s an invitation that echoes God’s heart for us.  After all, our God is an inviting God. He beckons us and draws us in when we’re broken, emptyhanded, exhausted, and when we’re thirsty.

The prophet Isaiah shares God’s invitation:

Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price. (Isaiah 55:1)

When we’re filled with fear that nothing is going to work out because all our plans have fallen apart and when it feels like perhaps God has forgotten or abandoned us, we might wonder if God is even listening.  It can feel as if we’re banging uselessly on heaven’s door with our prayers, shouting in desperation, “God, hear me!  See me!  Answer me!”

Right in that place of emptiness and need, we can take comfort because we don’t have to fight for God’s attention.  He has already invited us to come, to bring that parched, dry, and empty soul right to Him.  He is the One, the only One who could fill us anyway.

So we can stop frantically doing.  Stop searching for the perfect solution and attacking the problem with all our personal might and resources.  Stop trying to make it all work out on paper or Google-searching our way out of the mess we’re in.

Isaiah tells us the invitation is for those who have no resources of their own anyway.  It’s for those who “have no money” and it’s the same invitation in Revelation:

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price. Revelation 22:17 ESV

Let the one who is thirsty come but also let us drink.

Max Lucado writes:

“You can stand waist deep in the Colorado River and still die of thirst. Until you scoop and swallow, the water does your system no good. Until we gulp Christ, the same is true” (Come Thirsty, p.  14).

So, when He invites us to come and drink, let His peace seep down into the cracked places in our heart.  Let it saturate our fearfulness and drench our worry with the reminder of His might, His goodness, and His salvation.

I’ll take a snow day if I don’t have to make it up

What I really want, what would make me really and truly thrilled with winter each year is snow days without makeup school days.

I’m not trying to be greedy or demanding, truly I’m not.

We love our snow days and all the joy of the unplanned day off, the surprise family day complete with play time and hot cocoa, homemade cookies and Crock Pot soup and canceled evening activities so  we can all stay home and warm and relaxed in the evening.

But then, we wait for the phone call, the one that tells us, “oh by the way, now you have to come to school on President’s Day.”

Or, “we’re now shortening your spring break and lengthening your school year.”

It’s the payback we dread, the consequence for the rest and the fun.  It’s the bad news that we expect hanging over our heads the whole time our kids are jumping around the kitchen for joy.

My sixth grader says her science teacher actually delivers an annual speech that goes something like this: “Oh sure, you THINK you love snow days and you all want to do your snow dances and hope they close school because of a few flakes, but do you want to be in school all summer?  There’s  a price to pay!  You have to make those days up, you know!”

He’s right,  of course.  There is a price.  There is the bad news mixed in with the good that taints it a bit.

So, it’s outrageously impractical of me to ever hope we just get those snow days free and clear.  I know there’s not going to  be a superintendent’s message on my phone that says something like, “Have fun, everybody.  Be safe.  Enjoy the day.  This one’s on us!”

But that’s what I long for, and even though it can’t happen in the practical, day-in-day-out details of all these ordinary days, maybe it’s something I can have spiritually .

I want mercy, not just the trickle of it or the drip-drip-drip of it, but the outpouring of mercy.

I want the abundant grace, the kind that drenches you so much you can wring out your shirt and more comes  pouring out on your feet.

I want the overwhelming flood of God’s goodness poured out, rivers of His goodness just dumped all over us.

But instead, I  start expecting less from God, asking for less, praying for less, settling for less.

Faith isn’t really faith because I’m not believing Him to be wonderful or to be able or to be mighty.  I’m believing Him to fit into practical, average boxes and do ordinary, reasonable things.

When God gives me the blessing of a “snow day,” sometimes I wait for the bad news mixed in there somewhere.  I treat Him like He’s stingy or demanding or skimpy.

But God is abundant.

He is abundant in power, in mercy, in goodness, in peace, in love, and faithfulness.  That’s what Scripture says.  (Click here to read Bible Verses on the Abundance  of God)

He fills us up and satisfies our souls and leaves leftovers.

That’s what Jesus did when He fed the crowd of over  5000 who lingered on a hillside to listen to His teaching.  He took such a meager gift: a few loaves and fish, just a little boy’s packed lunch—and then he fed the multitude. They didn’t have to hand out crumbs at the end either.

No, they had leftovers.

And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost” (John 6:12 ESV).

Not just that one time.  Jesus did it all again.  He fed the 5000 one day and then on another day when he was teaching another crowd, he performed miraculous multiplication yet again, feeding over 4000 people with another handful of bread and fish.

And this is what happened there, too:

They ate and were filled. Then they collected seven large baskets of leftover pieces (Mark 8:8).

Jesus didn’t just do the miracle that was necessary or practical; He fed those people and left baskets of abundance and then he did it all again.

So, why do I discount God’s bigness? Why do I worry over my need as if I have to be the one to fill it and I have to be the one to figure it out?

Why do I fret when God gives good things, superstitiously thinking that bad is coming next?

His abundance offers us rest.  His abundance means we can trust Him and we can let Him do the work and we can worship and rejoice because our God is full-to-overflowing with the very mercy, grace, love, and goodness that we need.

Oh, how abundant is your goodness, (Psalm 31:19 ESV)

Great is our Lord, and abundant in power (Psalm 147:5 ESV).