I Want to Be a Dandelion

Flower-Wallpaper-in-Spring

Last Sunday, I took a little walk around town after church. Here in the mountains of Colorado, it may be nearly the middle of April, but we’re hesitant to actually call it spring for another month or two. There’s a chance we’ll get a foot of snow this weekend. In some places, wildflowers won’t make their appearance until July. We’re stuck in a sort of seasonal twilight; it is not as cold or snowy as winter, but the plants and animals are not ready to commit to the abundance of spring.

Which is why I was pleasantly surprised to see clusters of dandelions growing up from several cracks in the sidewalk and dotting yards here and there. Dandelions are one of my favorite flowers. They are soft, cheerful, and bright, they are still beautiful and enjoyable after their yellow fades and they turn into puffs made for children’s delight, and there is something about their stubborn, tenacious personality that makes me cheer more for them than for the landscapers who would try to banish them.

As I was admiring the dandelions, it occurred to me that we as Christians should be more like dandelions. These little yellow flowers can teach us a lot about living as children of God. How so?

  • They have strong roots which make them hard to destroy.
  • They can grow anywhere; they don’t need “ideal conditions” to thrive.
  • They are simple and cheerful; they do not need to be flashy or popular.
  • They serve many purposes and fill many needs – they nourish, heal, and encourage.
  • They are resilient – attempts to destroy or discourage them only make them stronger.
  • They spread seeds far and wide; they give of themselves and multiply in the face of strong winds and the changing seasons of life.

So what do you want to be? A beautiful but temperamental and fragile flower like and orchid, or will you be a dandelion?

Woven with Thanks

Last night, somewhere between midnight and 4am, I spent a good portion of an hour lying awake for no good reason. This is par for my course as a pregnant mom of a toddler (who still wakes up at least once a night because he needs a graham cracker/there’s a moose in his room/he got lonely). I don’t think I’ve actually slept a whole night through since sometime in 2012. But that’s not the point.

During these midnight musings, I have learned that our parents lied to us as children. If you just close your eyes and lie there quietly, well, it will be quiet and dark. It will not help you fall asleep, and you mind will not suddenly think to itself, Oh, she’s trying to sleep; I’ll quit bothering her with the task list for next week and the panic about whether potty training is damaging her child’s psyche. Since I’m too lazy to be one of those people who say, “Well, I guess I’m not sleeping, I should probably clean out the garage,” and I’m too pregnant to take large doses of sleeping pills, I knew there had to be another way to quiet my mind. So I turned to prayer.

Not prayer that I would fall asleep quickly. I’ve tried that once or twice in the past, and I’ve come to the conclusion that God’s not really in the Ambien business. No, I start praying through the needs of my friends and loved ones. (That’s where Facebook really comes in handy. You know exactly what kind of prayer your friends need, even when they haven’t asked for it, if you know what I mean.) I usually get through several before I start to drift off.  

I haven’t found anything that calms my spirit in the middle of the night like bringing the people I love before God. Not only does it bring peace, but in my intercessions for others, I find God speaking to me. Take last night, for example.

I was starting to run through my list of people and their needs, when that nagging voice of some Sunday school teacher from childhood piped up, “Always begin your prayers with thanksgiving,” (presumably so God doesn’t think you’re taking Him for granted and ignore you). For a moment, I thought, Well how am I supposed to thank Him for divorce or mental illness, Mrs. Holypants? Hmm? But then He showed me a picture of how we can thank Him in even the most joyless situations.

I suddenly imagined our prayers as a basket or cloth being woven. We go in and out, up and down as our lives and circumstances change. We weave the threads of supplication and intercession all through a framework of joy and thanksgiving. Lord, give strength and wisdom to my single-mom friend. Thank you for the ways you have provided for her and the people you have surrounded her with to support her. The struggles I am praying for on her behalf lead me to recall how faithfully God has upheld her even in the midst of a life-storm. Father, bring peace and healing to the one struggling with depression. Thank you that she is bringing awareness to her condition and that she is encouraging others. I want to see her mind and spirit healed, but in the meantime I rejoice in the courage and boldness she has found and in knowing that her transparency is going to bless others.

Thanksgiving is an absolutely integral part of our prayer life. It’s not a magic password to the throne (Thank you, God, that all of the past seasons of NCIS are on Netflix. Ok, I’m listening. Did you see Season 10, Epsiode 5? I mean, yes, go ahead with your request. Um, yeah, could you heal my friend’s sister’s cousin’s dog? I think he’s got mange or something yucky.) Prayer is about change. The more I pray, and the more I find ways to thank Him, the more I am changed, which I believe is the true purpose of prayer.

Prayer, in my personal opinion, is not meant by God as a means for us to manipulate the divine providence and sovereignty. If it were, no one would die from cancer, parents wouldn’t bury their children, and the innocent wouldn’t suffer. So Mrs. Holypants from 4th grade is right, we do need thanksgiving if we are going to have a meaningful prayer life.

Not because it gives us points towards answered prayers, but because as we thank God, we see where He has already answered our prayers and provided for us in ways we never thought to ask. In light of His faithfulness revealed by our thankfulness, we see how pain and tragedy really are part of God’s merciful plan to draw us into a deeper knowledge of Him. Our sufferings become less about how we feel or how we are affected in the immediate, and more about how God’s grace is weaving through a story that began long before us and will continue long after us.

Thanksgiving fills us with hope. It reframes our perspective. It reminds us of God’s promises and His faithfulness that never fails. It reassures us that His mercies are new each day, just as we need them.

 

How are you thankful?

Selfish Faith

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There it was, right between posts selling old lawn furniture and telling me how I wouldn’t believe what happened next: a mind-bomb that I didn’t see coming. Right next to each other in my Facebook newsfeed were two posts. The first was one of those inspirational quotes showing a healthy, happy, financially secure woman with words to the effect of “my God can do anything” in fancy script. The second was a sobering reminder of the plight of thousands of Syrian refugees. It featured a picture of a mother and child in rags walking through the desert past a vast tent city. I might have given them both little thought, if that hadn’t been so perfectly juxtaposed.

The absurdity of the contrast hit me right between the eyes. When I say, “My God can do anything,” I’m thinking about how He can help me get through a busy week without getting angry at my husband and son (especially since my next spa day is a month away, seriously!), or how He can provide a million dollars to build our church a new building with enough classrooms and bathrooms. At the very top of my faith game, I’m believing that He can sustain us when there’s an unexpected job loss, or that He can heal a loved one. My God can give me anything. 

But what about the mother who lives in a refugee camp, or a migrant worker camp, or in a city of shacks built from trash scrounged from the dump 100 yards away? She’s not trusting that God will help her get her next college degree, or that He will help her husband get a raise so that they can take their family on a Disney cruise. She’s trusting Him to help her find enough food to keep her baby from starving. If God is really feeling like blessing her, there will be enough food for her child to eat and not cry from hunger afterwards, and a real miracle would be if she had something to eat as well. She’s trusting Him to protect her family from those who would take advantage of them by stealing from, raping, or enslaving them. If her God can do anything, maybe one of these days He will make a way for her family to live in a real home, with no more fear of hunger or of what their fellow men might do to them. But for right now, she’ll be satisfied with daily bread. Her God must do everything, because she can do nothing. 

A part of me wants to rail against our selfishness as comfortable American Christians. How dare we even pray for a pay raise when others are praying to survive? How selfish is it to ask God to bless us with tropical vacations and newer cars? Certainly, we should be more thoughtful about why we are asking for what we are asking God for. We can ask Him for things we don’t necesarily need, but we should be very cautious about gauging God’s blessing in our life by nonessentials. 

This is not to say that we, who mostly live in (or at least come from) the “first world” and the middle and upper class, do not have real problems or need real faith. I’ve been blessed to see friends cling to God in incredibly difficult and painful situations, and He has surely carried them through. Nor is it to say that one of the posts I saw this morning was more true than the other. I happen to know that both posters have great love for the Lord and for people, and they both trust Him to use them to express His love for others.

What those posts were was a much needed reminder for me of two things. First, that I am already blessed with so much, and should be so much more thankful for mundane things like leftovers, a car that runs, and 24/7 access to medical care. Second, that my problems need to be put in perspective. Even if my husband were to lose his job and we had to leave our little town that we love for him to find work, there is almost no chance that we would end up living in a tent or starving to death. Even if I worry about my children, there is virtually no chance that they are going to be trafficked or kidnapped for use in global terrorism. Even if my worst fears came true, my God would be able to make something beautiful from my ashes, to be glorified in my sorrow, and to restore my joy.

So it seems to me that much of our faith in God’s abilities is selfish, whether we are a displaced refugee trusting Him for our most basic needs, or a happy homemaker trusting Him for a little bit extra. We believe that God can do anything for us. And that’s okay, because God is personal with us, and so our personal fears, needs, and desires are important to Him. But if we have this great faith that God can really, truly do anything, shouldn’t we be a lot more generous with our prayers? This is where I was convicted this morning. I pray for myself and my family a lot. I pray for my church family and other friends whenever they ask. I occasionally pray for something I see on the news or on social media. If I’m honest, though, I don’t spend all that much time praying for people like the Syrian refugees, the victims of the Nepal earthquake, or the riots that seem to be regularly breaking out across the US. If I really believe that God can make something beautiful out of these situations, shouldn’t I be fervently asking Him to do so? Of course I should. You should too.

Let’s do it, because our God can do anything. 

Somebody’s Baby

Hello again. Last time I wrote, I talked just a little about how having a son has been changing my life. Today I want to share a profound way that my son has changed my perspective.

 

To start, I have a confession to make, and this is something I’m really not proud of. So here goes. Sometimes when I’m out and about and I encounter a person who is somehow ‘odd’, I get a little uncomfortable. I know intellectually that there is no reason to be, but it’s an occasional gut reaction. And, sadly, I imagine that I’m not the only one who reacts this way.

 

There’s something about our human nature that reacts poorly to those we perceive as different. It’s the basis for all prejudice, be it racism, sexism, ageism, or any other form of discrimination. To an extent, our snap judgments help us quickly process the myriad of inputs we experience as we go about our lives, so they are useful. But when it comes to people, we need to use our metacognition – our ability to think about our thinking – to reach the truth, not just first impressions.

 

As I said, I have often found myself confronting these first impressions, and my usual rebuttal to myself is to go through the litany of “You don’t know them or what their condition really is; they’re just as important and valuable as everyone else.” Which is completely true. The problem was, I was addressing a gut reaction with a mental process. Sometimes that works, but often we need an emotional response to an emotional problem. We need something to strongly affect our core in such a way that it changes not only the way we think about things, but also the way we feel about them.

 

That is exactly what happened to me when my son was born. I remember one of my first forays into the outside world after he was born, I encountered one of the regulars at the store I was visiting, a person who, on first impressions, can make me feel a little uncomfortable, even though I know that I have no reason to be. This time, though, a new thought went through my mind: “He is somebody’s baby.” Just that. Just imagining, for a second, that at one time, he was a tiny, precious newborn, no different from his peers; someone small and helpless and sweet, and just as perfect as every other baby. Someone who was the absolute center of his or her parents’ heart. The moment I realized that, it completely changed the way I look at people. It spread not just to those who make me uncomfortable on first glance, but also to the people who irritate me, the people I am quick to judge.

 

And then something truly miraculous happened in my heart. I began thinking more and more about this idea of a parent’s love for a baby. I thought about how much I love my son, a love that I couldn’t even begin to imagine before he was born. As I was thinking about it, I realized that God loves my son far more than I love him. That realization has helped me so much in trusting God to care for my son. And then I realized that God loved all those people, the ones I struggle with judging and loving, as much as He loves my son. That was an amazing realization, because it dawned on me that God’s love for humanity is so much more than a kind, general benevolence. I love my son with an indescribably fierce and all-consuming love, and yet God loves him, and by extension everyone, infinitely more than that, because He is infinitely more capable of loving than I am. Wow – that changes the way I look at people when I begin to understand the way God sees them. Mind officially blown.

 

But then God decided to take the smoldering shreds of my mind and completely destroy my old ways of thinking about one person in particular. The one person I had the most difficulty forgiving, the one I was the quickest and harshest to judge. Myself. It was like God spoke clearly to me and said, “You know how much you love that little baby you’re holding right now? You know how deep, and fierce, and strong that love is, how you are constantly telling him that there is nothing that can change your love for him, that you love him no matter who or what he decides to be? Now, do you remember how you just figured out that my love for everyone is infinitely greater than that? Do you realize that you are one of those people? I love YOU infinitely more than you love your son. You, One-Who-Fails-Daily. And I sent my Son, whom I love even more than you love your son, to die for you. Even though you can’t begin to deserve it, even on your best days.

 

Very rarely do you get such clear spiritual breakthroughs, and to have three of them cascading all at once left me speechless. To change how I see my community, my child, and then myself, to begin to really appreciate the value God has placed on each of us, to have even a fractional understanding of how great a price He paid to redeem us – this changes everything.

 

My hope and prayer for you is that you begin to see how treasured you are, and that you look at those around you with a new appreciation of their worth. May God blow your mind too!

Out of Control

Hello again. I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me. Just about five months, to be exact.  The last time I posted, I was bemoaning the impossible length of the last weeks of a pregnancy. Well, just days after that post, my pregnancy journey ended and the great adventure of being a mother began. These past four months have been nothing short of amazing. They have also been exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and thrilling, sometimes all in the same moment. Time has flown by, and I cannot believe my tiny little baby is now a chubby, cheerful 4-month-old whose life goal is to sit up alone. On the other hand, it’s hard to believe that there was ever a time that he wasn’t a part of our lives. Every day is full of new discoveries, new challenges, and new ways to fall in love with a short, fat, bald guy.

 

Being a parent, especially a new parent, is a major learning experience. Learning how to care for your child, learning what each cry or expression means, learning how to function normally on 2 hours of sleep. For me, it has been more than that though. While I have learned a great deal about my son, I may have learned even more about myself. God has been using my daily (and nightly) experiences as a mother to teach me about my own shortcomings and strengths.

 

While I’m learning and growing in many areas (patience, planning, time management, multitasking), the central issue that God is working on with me is control. While I can’t say that I am always in control of things, I certainly like to feel that I am. I am a planner, a list maker, a spreadsheet-thought-organizer. I like to sort, label, and rearrange. When I found out that I was pregnant, I started planning. Planning the nursery, planning how I would feed my son, what kinds of diapers he would wear, how I would get him to sleep through the night, how I would discipline him once he got older. I researched online, read every book I could get my hands on, spent hours sipping tea with my mommy friends picking their brains. I was ready to have control of the parenting situation.

 

And then I started noticing that I had no control. Actually, I noticed that from the moment my husband and I decided that it was time to start our family. I had absolutely no control over if or when I would get pregnant (even though I had two specific dates in mind that I wanted to have my baby – haha!) I remember those few days testing to see if I was pregnant and feeling panic as I waited for the lines to show up – panic if I was pregnant, and panic if I wasn’t. Then I found out I was indeed pregnant, and I went to the doctor to confirm. I really like my doc, but I didn’t like what she said. I was 5 weeks pregnant at the time, and she wanted me to come back at 10 weeks to “see if it’s actually a viable pregnancy.”

 

That planted the seed in my mind that I could lose my baby at any time. I knew so many women who had suffered miscarriages, stillbirths, and birth defects, and my worrying mind started running wild. I asked my sweet husband to reassure me multiple times a day that there was no logical reason to worry. I filled my head with statistics to prove that there was very little chance of anything going wrong with my baby. But it didn’t shake the fear. Every symptom that I had or didn’t have sent me off to the internet to have my doom sealed. I was banned (by my wise husband) from searching those things anymore. And still the anxiety circled me. I knew it was unlikely that something would go wrong, but things do go wrong, and what was there to assure me that I wasn’t one of the 2% of this or 10% of that?

 

Finally I did some positive web-searching and looked for affirming words for pregnancy. What I found was something even better, something I should have been looking for from the beginning. I found a blog (Grace for Moms) that listed 10 Bible verses specifically addressing fear and worry. I clung to those verses, pulled out my fancy colored markers, and wrote those verses out. I taped them to mirrors, my closet door, and the head of my bed. I said them over and over as I brushed my teeth, changed my clothes, and fell asleep at night. And miracle of miracles, my fears didn’t have control over me anymore. Did they sometimes pop up? I’m embarrassed to say, yes they did, especially the really idiotic ones (such as, will a body part that clearly showed up on the first ultrasound somehow be missing on the second one? Not too proud of that thought process – I’ll blame the hormones!)

 

As predicted by my husband and statistics, nothing did go wrong with my pregnancy, and I delivered my beautiful, healthy, all-body-parts-accounted-for little boy on one of the two days I had been crossing my fingers for (though I realized that I had absolutely nothing to do with that). But again, in that process, God was teaching me that I have no control. During my pregnancy, I had spent hours studying and practicing the techniques needed to enable a drug-free birth. For me the idea of the natural-ness of a drug-free birth, combined with the safety net of delivering at the hospital seemed ideal. I would labor at home as long as possible, and then go to the hospital only when I felt that I was getting near the actual birth bit of this process. I have a pretty high pain tolerance, and a good ability to use my mind to control pain, and so I thought it would be a piece of cake. Okay, I thought that I could make it, anyway.

 

The short version of my very long labor and delivery is that after over 48 hours of contractions, I was still untold hours away from being ready to deliver. My doctor suggested, and I agreed, that I should get the epidural anesthesia and a bit of something called Pitocin to help my labor move along a little faster. If I hadn’t received the drugs, I don’t know if I would have had the energy to push the baby out when the time came. It was not the “natural” birth I had hoped for, but I could no longer control the pain. Nor could I control the progress of my labor or the timing of my son’s birth. Almost exactly 24 hours after we arrived at the hospital, I first saw and held my little boy, and the world around me ceased to exist for a moment. I could try, I could use all kinds of descriptive language, but I still could never explain to you what that moment was like. If you’ve had a child, I think you can probably imagine it pretty well.

 

The next day they sent us home, and God decided that it was time to teach me even more about how little I really could (or needed to) control. Before my son was born, I had pretty clear ideas of how I was going to train him to eat and play and sleep with a careful routine that would minimize any negative impact on my own schedule and productivity. I wasn’t going to be a schedule freak, but I was going to be very regimented, and my baby was going to be very textbook. Yes, yes, I hear all of you who already have children snickering behind your hands at me. Okay, now I hear you laughing out loud the more you think about the ridiculousness of it all.

 

Sure, I can try to keep a general pattern of activities throughout the day, I can encourage him to nap when he seems tired, I can give him cues about when it’s time to go to sleep or time to play, but I cannot control my child at this point, because I cannot control his needs, and at this point in his life, everything is driven by needs, not by behavioral training.  Not to start any arguments about parenting styles, but based on my experience so far, parents who are able to “control” their babies at this age are either being fooled by a baby who naturally does what the parents are wanting (i.e. sleeping through the night), or they have controlled their child’s behavior at the expense of some facet of the child’s emotional well-being. When my son “decides” that he is hungry earlier than I was expecting, then I feed him. When he wakes up in the middle of the night because he is hungry, because he had a scary dream, or because his tummy is bothering him, I do my best to meet his need. I learned very quickly that we are both happier when I focus more on bonding with my son, learning how he communicates and meeting his needs, rather than trying to make him meet mine.

 

Not that there aren’t times that I get a little frustrated that nothing is getting accomplished because my whole day was spent feeding or soothing a little boy, or that I don’t feel exhausted when I’ve been up three times in the middle of the night feeding or burping or changing him. Not having control is inconvenient. In some circles, being a parent without total control (even of an infant) is not popular. But I’m less stressed when I embrace the fact that I don’t have control.

 

Not having control is also scary at times. Every parent struggles with fears about the health and safety of their children. I suppose it is even worse for first time moms. One example of this for me has been the fear of SIDS. If you have had a baby in the last couple decades, you know that there is an entire litany of rules for reducing the risk of your baby dying suddenly and inexplicably in their sleep. The rules may change a bit over the years, but every mom pays close attention and does her best to avoid the myriad dangers that apparently lurk during sleep. We must not have crib bumpers or blankets or stuffed animals in the crib. We should have our baby close to us and have a fan running to move the air around. The baby should always, always sleep flat on their back (if you let them sleep on their tummy or side, you are just asking for trouble, apparently). With all these warnings, which do indeed have merit, the new mother brings home a baby and, if she’s anything like me, becomes a basket case the first time she sets her precious newborn in his bassinet or crib for the first night.

 

It’s not so bad during the day when you walk by and check on them constantly, but at night, when you should supposedly be asleep, you worry that if you sleep for even a moment, your baby will stop breathing and you’ll wake up in the morning to your worst nightmare. But the fact is, you can’t really control something like SIDS. Now sure, you can follow the precautions that make it much less likely that something would happen to your child in his sleep, but there is a reason that SIDS exists as a cause of death for infants  – it is sudden and not explained by any other cause. You can’t prevent what can’t be diagnosed or determined.

 

While I still find myself peeking over the edge of the cradle and look for that rise and fall of his little chest when I happen to wake up at night, I’ve come to realize that there are some things I can’t protect my son from, and so no amount of staying awake at night or never leaving his side can ensure his health and safety. In fact, I know that at some points in his life, bad things are going to happen to him, things I cannot prevent. I wish I could, but life doesn’t allow me to completely control what does or does not happen to my child. The best I can do is use common sense to prevent the “bad stuff” that I can, and trust God for the rest.

 

And there we come to my biggest area of fear and lack of control. Ah, that trusting God with “the rest”. Like I said earlier a couple of times, bad things are going to happen. To all of us. Some things may seem worse than others, but none of us are immune. The risks for those really disastrous things may be statistically small, but if you’re the person they happen to, the statistics mean nothing. And that is where fear continues to try to get a new grip on me: something terrible is not likely to happen to me, but I cannot guarantee that it won’t. I can’t use the Christian/spiritual cop-out of “It will be okay; God is in control,” because while God is in control, I might still suffer tragedy. The real answer is that bad things are going to happen to all of us, but because God is in control, we can survive the tragedies and struggles of life, and we have the promise that something good will come out of our suffering. I don’t know what lies ahead for me or for my son, and I cannot control much of it, but I can trust and have a relationship with the one who does know and control the future.

 

Anticipation

You probably all recognize these lyrics from the Carly Simon song, “Anticipation”:

Anticipation, anticipation
Is makin’ me late
Is keepin’ me waitin’

That has been my mental theme song for the last few days as I count down to the uncertain birth-day. I’ve been physically and mentally ready for about 3 weeks now. In fact, today could be the day. I’m definitely feeling different things, new things, much less comfortable things, and it is his due date. But then again, he could be tenacious (or lazy) and hang out on the inside for another week or two. I can’t really be sure.

 

And that’s driving me crazy. I don’t like that I can’t really make any specific plans, because I never know when I’ll end up in the hospital. I don’t want to start any big projects, because they may get interrupted indefinitely. And my energy seems to decrease a little every day. (If he does stay in another week or two, they may accidentally admit me to the hospital for experimental zombie-reversal treatments instead of labor and delivery.) To add to the crazy, my hormones (oh, wondrous things, those) have decided to rebalance again, and so I find myself on the verge of a mental breakdown at least once a day. Yesterday I broke down in tears over a cell phone.

 

Yes, I admit it. I ordered a new, shiny, hopefully-not-demon-possessed cell phone, and was so excited about getting free overnight shipping. Then I woke up and realized that my beautiful new technological umbilical cord was being overnighted to my mom’s house, not mine. I would have to wait a whole day longer to get my phone. Cue the irrational, inconsolable pregnant lady waterworks. I was kind of embarrassed to be with myself, it was that silly.

 

I quickly realized that I wasn’t really crying about the phone though. I mean yes, there was the chance that my old one would go up in a puff of smoke before I got the new one, leaving me virtually cut off from the whole world (!), but it wasn’t really a big deal. No, what I was crying about was having to wait. The stress of waiting for my little guy to come had found a way through my usually calm outer shell, and I had to admit that I didn’t think I could do it anymore. I was just so tired of waiting.

 

I bet you’ve been there too. We all have to accept waiting as a part of life. God often asks us to wait for things. Sometimes it’s to build our patience and perseverance. Sometimes it’s because His perfect timing says, “Not yet.” The longer we live, the more we wait. And yet, it doesn’t necessarily get easier, does it? All we can do is what I did yesterday – cry out to God and ask for His grace, His strength in the waiting. It’s okay to tell Him that you don’t feel like you can do it much longer. It’s okay to tell Him that your patience feels like it’s about to run out. He already knows, and He very much cares. If He’s asking you to wait for something, He is also offering to sustain you in your waiting.

 

I don’t know if my little guy is going to come tomorrow, or if he’s going to wait until next week. But I do know that I can make it, however long the wait is, because I’m not relying on my own strength to get through. You’re waiting on something right now, I just don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s for that soulmate you so long for, or maybe for your own child, whether just a hope, or a wiggling, kicking reality. You might be waiting anxiously for the results of your lab exam, or your final exam. You might be waiting for a cure. You might be waiting for that job to call back, or just for something to change.

 

I know it’s hard. My waiting has a time limit, a known, happy outcome, and it’s still hard to wait, so I know that it is even harder for those of you whose times and outcomes are more uncertain. Please know that for the Father, the outcome is not uncertain, and the time is in His hands. He loves you and cares for you, and He will not make you wait forever, nor wait without a purpose. Trust Him, take heart, and look forward. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith is being sure of what we hope for, and certain of what we do not see.” Have faith, my friends, have faith.

Tuesday’s Truth – If You Can Only Say Something Nice, Don’t Say Anything At All

Hello everyone! Just a short bit of a public service announcement this week. In this latest season of my life, I have become so aware of the trials and sufferings of those around me. I’m not talking about starving children in Africa or politically oppressed people in Asia, or impoverished South Americans. I’m talking about the people in our families, churches, and neighborhoods who are dealing with pain and difficulty right now. The middle-aged man who is suddenly and unexpectedly a widower,  the couple struggling with debt and unemployment, the parents caring for a chronically, critically ill child, the small-business owner wondering how many months they can stay open or afford to employ others, or the parents who lose a child to an illness or an unexpected accident.

 

I’ve addressed the issues of trials, suffering, God’s plans and the like in past posts. I’m not here to go over all of that again. What I want to address today is how we respond to those in our lives who are experiencing pain and struggle. So many times our first reaction when someone shares a trial or tragedy with us is to try to make them feel better. We say things like, “God is in control,” “Everything will work out,” “God’s going to do a miracle,” “They’re in a better place,” “There’s a purpose in this,” “Just lean on Him,” or many similar things. Many times, these things are completely true. God is in control, He does have a plan, and there is a purpose in our pain. But stop and really think about it. Does saying any of those things really make someone feel better? Is it even really possible to make someone feel better when they’re really going through something life-alteringly painful? I don’t think it is. The only one who can truly comfort someone in those types of situations is God, and He works directly on the heart and spirit of the sufferer, not through their ears.

 

It is possible for us to do something, however. We can offer support in many ways that opens the door to God’s comfort and healing. Sometimes there are practical things that we can do to care for those who are hurting. The old saying is very true: “Actions speak louder than words.” In fact, one of the best things we can do for our suffering friends and loved ones is just keep our mouths shut. I can’t say I’m always good at that. I mean, I write this blog every week because I like communicating and expressing the things I’m learning and discovering about God. I never got in trouble in school for my papers being too short, but for them being too long. I can over-communicate very easily. Once in a while, though, I get it right. I remember one situation where I took my own advice, and I can look back and see how much more effective it was than if I had tried to pull out all my “great wisdom”.

 

A friend had suffered an incredibly tragic loss. I’m pretty sure one of the first things I said on the phone was, “I don’t have any words.” Just things like “I’m so sorry,” and “I’ll be there as soon as I can”. And when I did get there to support her, I ended up (not by my own brilliance, I confess) just letting her tell me the whole story, with all the good memories, and all the painful details. We laughed a few times, cried a lot, and actually had a very beautiful time together. Did I make her suffering go away? No, there was nothing I could do to fix it. Did I say something profound that put everything in perspective? No, there’s not a lot of perspective when you suffer an immense loss. I would have loved to have taken a measure of her pain away, but all I could do was help her carry it for a few days. Over the next several months I followed the same course and spent time listening on the phone when she would get overwhelmed with the grief. Again, there was nothing I could do to make it better, but I could still offer support. Probably the most surprising thing to me was how I was changed and affected throughout the process. I saw God’s faithfulness, my friend’s trust in Him and her growth, and the miracle of God’s healing in spite of overwhelming emotional injury. If I had tried to spout wisdom, make things better, and run my own mouth, I would have missed the opportunity to be blessed and learn from God’s work in someone else’s life.

 

So as you come across the pained and hurting in your own life, shut down the urge to try to fix things with your words, go against your natural instincts, and just keep quiet. Support, care for, and uphold the sufferer, but do it through caring actions and loving listening. You may be surprised at what God will do in your life too.

Tuesday’s Truth – You Can’t Handle It!

Hello friends. Yes, I realize that I was AWOL last week. I confess that the reason was an emotionally and spiritually crippling case of fear and self-doubt related to the impending birth of our son. Of course, all first time parents wonder if they are ready, if they’ll do well raising their children, etc. etc.  I, on the other hand, was suddenly sure that I couldn’t do it, that I was doomed to be an awful mother and that my child(ren) would come to resent and despise me. I wondered what on earth I had done in conceiving this child; not that I didn’t want to have my son, but that I was pretty sure he wouldn’t want to have me for a mother. My sweet husband let me sob out all my fears and uncertainties without interrupting me to tell me how irrational I was. I spent a good hour or two with my journal. Through those two things (as is usually the case) God opened my eyes up to the truth of the matter, and renewed my spirit.

 

Here’s the truth that I found. In a way, I was right all along. I can’t do this. I can’t be a great mother. I could quite possibly be a really bad one, there’s a small chance that I could be an okay one, but on my own, there is no chance of me being a really good mother. I am far too impatient, selfish, lazy, and critical to provide the loving and nurturing environment that my son needs and deserves. I don’t stand up well to extreme stress and sleep deprivation. All of that just adds to the fact that I’ve never been a parent before. You can see why I was indulging in some serious self-doubt last week!

 

But the truth is bigger than my absolute inability. The second, and much better, part of the truth is that I don’t have to do it on my own. I have an amazing support in all this. Now, I’m not talking about my husband, even though he is unbelievably helpful and supportive, and will be a fantastic dad. No, I’m referring to the fact that God is my support and strength in this calling just as much as He is with someone He calls to be a missionary, a writer, a doctor, or a preacher. Just because my mission is contained within the walls of my house doesn’t make me any less called or divinely equipped for the task set before me. I have the unlimited power and wisdom of the Creator of the universe backing me up as I take on this new challenge.

 

Here’s the thing. There’s this saying that goes around Christian and pseudo-Christian circles that always raises the hair on my neck just a little bit: “God never gives you more than you can handle.” It sounds so reassuring, doesn’t it? Well, the bad news is that it is 100% pop-religion positive malarkey. (There’s another term for it that my own mother would be horrified if I used, but you get the idea). What we should be saying to each other is, “God will never give you more than He can handle.”  If God didn’t give us more than we could handle, then we wouldn’t have much of a need for God, would we? What’s more, history, both in the Bible and beyond, is full of examples that prove my point.

 

Let’s name a few of them, just for fun.

  • Noah couldn’t have handled building the first boat in recorded history and proclaiming a coming flood amidst widespread mockery if God hadn’t given him the plans and the power.
  • Job was not naturally immune to loss, disease, or disaster. He simply trusted his God.
  • Moses was unqualified to speak before Pharaoh, to lead the Israelites, or to be the first and most revered prophet of Judaism and Christianity.
  • Gideon was not prepared, inclined, or qualified to lead an army against the Midianites.
  • David was not qualified, nor was he inherently capable of killing Goliath, or of later ruling the nation of Israel.
  • Mary was not naturally equipped to withstand the scandal and scrutiny of her unusual pregnancy, to raise the child-Messiah, or to endure the crucifixion of her son.
  • None of the Apostles had any pertinent skills or training for becoming religious leaders, with the exception of Paul. And he was in no way likely to be a first choice for leading Christianity into the wider world.
  • Martin Luther had no special background or qualifications that would have prepared him to be a leader of one of the biggest changes in organized religion since the break between Judaism and Christianity.
  • William Wilberforce had no particular talents or qualifications to spearhead the movement to end slavery in Great Britain.
  • Mother Theresa was not naturally equipped to run outreaches to millions, nor to become a global spokesperson for justice, compassion, and Jesus.

 

I could go on with even more personal examples of people who had been given far more than they were capable of handling on their own.  The fact is, God doesn’t choose us for difficult tasks because He knows that we can handle them, but because He knows that we will trust Him and turn to Him to get us through.  This is our reassurance: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13) “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

 

Here’s what I know: parenting is going to be hard. Not just learning how to bathe and feed and calm my newborn, although that will be enough on its own for several weeks. There will also be the discipline issues, the teenage troubles, the first heartbreaks, the sibling conflicts, the spiritual guidance. I can read all the parenting books in the world, and still not be completely prepared for what is coming as I raise this little boy and any other children we may have. If I try to tackle it on my own, I may have an occasional success, but I am guaranteed a high number of failures. If I turn to God as my strength and wisdom, though, I am guaranteed a high number of successes. The failures will come, but only because I will fail to rely on or listen to God, not because He fails me.

 

If you’re facing parenting struggles right now, whether they be with an infant or an adult child, you can join me in taking comfort in the fact that you can’t handle the situation on your own, but that you have access to the God who can handle it all.  Maybe parenting isn’t your struggle right now. The same rules still apply. You’re going to get more than you can handle. But you also get the One who can handle it.  If you trust that God cares about you and your situation, if you believe that He is able, and if you will surrender yourself to His will, He will do amazing things for you.  “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” (Ephesians 3:20-21)

 

Tuesday’s Truth – Handmade, Handpicked

Welcome, Friends!

 

I hope your week has been filled with opportunities to find joy. Although I complained about the weather in Kansas in my last post, I have to confess that I had a wonderful week. I particularly enjoyed spending time with my grandmother, getting her to share memories of her childhood. I highly encourage you to probe the memories of the older people in your life. And don’t just ask about the big events; get them to share stories of their siblings, pets, their favorite foods and activities. It can be a wonderful way to connect with them. I always find it fascinating to trace the story of someone’s life and see how different circumstances and experiences have shaped them into who they are now. It makes me wonder what my current experiences and surroundings are preparing me for.

 

With this already floating in my mind this week, I read Isaiah 49. Two verses jumped out at me, probably because of my recent train of thought and because of my own pregnancy. The first is verse 1, in which Isaiah states, “The Lord called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.” (Isaiah 49:1)  The second is verse 5, where the author goes on to say that the Lord “formed me from the womb to be His Servant.” (Isaiah 49:5) The Lord told the prophet Jeremiah almost the same things as Isaiah, “I chose you before I formed you in the womb; I set you apart before you were born.” (Jeremiah 1:5)

 

Now, clearly, we have not each been chosen to be a prophet on the scale of Isaiah or Jeremiah. But I couldn’t shake the idea that God knows us and lays out a plan for us from our very earliest moments, whether we are destined to be a great prophet, or a stay-at-home parent. My mind immediately went to other scriptures that speak to God’s knowledge of each child from before birth. David, in the Psalms, proclaims God’s active influence on the development and growth of each child, both physically and spiritually: “For it was You who created my inward parts;You knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalm 139:13)  From there I traveled to the New Testament, where Paul tells us that as believers, “We are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10)

 

It’s clear that God’s work in our lives does not start at birth, it does not start when we enter school, it does not start when we choose to accept and follow Him, and it does not start when we feel we are ready. It starts before we are even the proverbial twinkle in our parents’ eyes. God doesn’t move us around like chess pieces, reacting to current events and situations, hoping that He can keep ahead of the other side. He has all the moves mapped out before a single piece is placed on the board. He has it all planned out for you, and what’s more, He handcrafted you as the specific piece you are. You are not an assembly line product, but a masterpiece made by hand, not to be sold to any customer, but to be enjoyed and loved by the Master Creator.

 

Such a thought should fill you with joy and wonder. I cannot fully comprehend the idea that God made me exactly as He wanted me, and that He has some special purpose for me to fulfill. I feel rather ordinary most of the time, and even less than ordinary on occasion. And yet, if I believe what Isaiah, Jeremiah, David, and Paul say, I am unique, wonderful, special, chosen by the King of the universe for His service and pleasure. When I really believe that, I look at myself differently. Not with pride, because I can take no credit for any of it; but with thankfulness, respect and love towards the One who made me.

 

But not only do I think of myself differently, I must view others differently too. When I look at you, my child, or my neighbor, I ought to see another example of God’s master craftsmanship. I ought to regard others with respect and wonder because God created them and planned their purpose from the earliest moments. I cannot regard any person, regardless of their stage of life or their perceived abilities or inabilities, as less or more valuable than myself, because they have each been knit together by the same hands. Knowing and believing that we have been handmade and handpicked by God should color our every thought and action, whether it is in regards to ourselves, or to others.

 

Your mind may be quickly turning to issues of sanctity of life, the treatment of those with physical or mental handicaps, of the variety of prejudices we as humans may hold. And you would be right; those issues are a perfect place for this truth to inform our thoughts and actions. But to only focus on those issues would be a mistake. This truth should also influence the way we speak to our spouse and our children, the way we treat the cashier at the grocery, the way we perceive the old man in the park. God’s truths were never meant to be stored in a box and only brought out for special occasions and grand debates. They were meant to be carried with each of us, guiding and counseling us in every area as we walk through life.

 

Meditate on these verses this week. Allow them to shape and change your mind as you view yourself and those around you as God’s special, chosen ones made for a wonderful purpose.

 

Tuesday’s Truth – The Gift of No

Welcome back, friends! Today I’m writing you from the unbearably hot and humid state of Kansas. Every time I see The Wizard of Oz, I wonder why Dorothy doesn’t do a little happy dance when she says, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” It alternates between blast furnace and Roman steam bath. But I digress.

 

What I really want to talk to you about today is an important parenting principle. Before you dismiss me based on the fact that the only parenting I’ve done so far is poking my belly to keep my little guy kicking, let me tell you that I’m not going to actually give you advice on how to parent your children (although if you pick something up from this, that’s great). What’s really going on here is that I was inspired recently by a parallel between parenting and God’s ways with us.

 

Like any first-born, first time mother who is paranoid and certain that she will completely ruin her child, I’ve been furiously reading every parenting book I can get my hands on. (Note: this is not actually a good idea.) There are many rules, schedules, tips, and tricks that you are apparently supposed to follow to ensure a healthy, well-adjusted child. Some will probably prove useful, others to be a useless burden, but there is one that has really stuck out to me even before I’ve had the opportunity to try it out. It just makes sense to me. I call it “The Gift of No”.

 

The basic principle is that it is important for you to tell your child no (although not necessarily to use the word itself) on a regular basis. Your child will develop better emotional and psychological health if they do not get everything they ask for. It’s good for them to be denied once in a while. It’s okay if they don’t get every experience, toy, or opportunity. It’s healthy for them to be allowed to fail because you don’t solve all their problems for them. From my time teaching young children, I can see that this is a true principle.

 

But as I thought about it more, I wondered why it was true. What is it about being judiciously denied certain things that helps a child become emotionally strong and healthy? It seems to me that there are four main things that the Gift of No teaches children. First, it teaches them that they are not the central, most important thing in the world. They learn that their desires do not outweigh the needs and desires of others. This kind of humility makes for a thoughtful, caring person. Second, it teaches patience and self-discipline. When a child does not immediately get everything he or she wants, it develops the ability to deny self. This helps a child learn to either wait for a better time, or to choose not to indulge themselves. Third, it teaches contentment. Through experience, the child learns that he or she can still be happy and fulfilled even without many of the things that he or she may initially desire. Fourth, it teaches the child to prioritize. When you can’t have or do everything you desire, you learn how to choose what is most important to you.

 

Now, you may be thinking, this is interesting parenting advice, but what does it have to do with issues of spirituality and Christian life? Well, as I was thinking through they why’s and wherefore’s of the Gift of No, it suddenly dawned upon me that this isn’t a new principle at all, but something that God instituted from the beginning of Creation, and that it is not just true in raising children, it is true in God’s development of us as well. Those four character qualities that we find important in the emotional health of our children are equally, if not even more  important in our spiritual health. God wants to develop in us others-centeredness, self-discipline, contentment, and right priorities. Those four are cornerstones of a healthy spiritual life. The Bible is full of examples of God giving the Gift of No to His children. Think through them with me:

  • God told Adam and Eve, “No,” when it came to the forbidden fruit in order to develop discipline.
  • God told Moses, “No,” when it came to entering the Promised Land because Moses had not prioritized obedience over expedience.
  • God told David, “No,” when it came to building the temple not only because of David’s prior actions, but also to teach both David and Solomon discipline and others-centeredness.
  • God told John and James (and their mother), “No,” when it came to promising them positions of honor in His kingdom to remind them that they were not more important that His other followers.
  • God told Paul, “No,” when he asked for the ‘thorn in his flesh’ to be removed to teach him contentment.

 

There are many more examples throughout the Bible, and in the lives of Christians throughout history. You’ve probably heard someone say that God answers our prayers three different ways: Yes, No, and Wait. We like the Yeses. We’re okay with the Waits. But we like to try to make all of the No’s into Waits, don’t we? We need to come to terms with the fact that sometimes God is flat-out telling us, “No.” Not because He doesn’t love us. Not because He wants us to be unhappy. Not because He is being arbitrary. He tells us, “No,” precisely because He does love us, and wants us to be emotionally and spiritually healthy. When we accept that a “No” from God is just as loving and gracious as a “Yes,” then we are one step closer to being the healthy and whole person that He made each of us to be.

 

May you grow in grace!