Refreshing Hearts One Sentence At A Time
In this world you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world.
If anyone understands having trouble, or hassles, it is me. I’m sitting at my brightly lit computer screen with a ton of programs open, documents needing to be printed, and I can’t print them because the printer uninstalled itself and I have no idea how to fix it. There’s a stack of papers to my left. There’s a stack of papers to my right. There’s a stack of toys, musical instruments, and more papers, and weights on the couch across the room. They are homeless and have taken up residence on that futon. A stack of trash bags and boxes sits by the back door. There are three bags full of stuff that I need to get out of the car. There’s always something to get done, to be accomplished, and there’s always something breaking. In fact, my email window won’t close and there’s a white box just sitting in the middle of my screen that won’t go away. Insert coffee here.
I went to Sunday School this morning. I’d been asked to teach the lesson because the usual teachers weren’t there. In fact, nobody who was usually there showed up. I stood at the window stirring my coffee, about ready to leave and go home, when one couple came in, apologizing for being late. “But hey,” the man said with a smile, “Where two or three gather, there God is with us.” The three of us sat down at the big white, round tables and chatted about some random fun memories and the chaos of 8th grade boys.
After the coffee was sipped, we began the lesson. See, I am an online instructor but I don’t do a lot of Teaching. I read papers and post comments about them, helping students write better. So I was excited and quite nervous, because lately I seem to be fading away in the quiet roar that is 2015. I was excited because this was interesting stuff to be learning – John 16. This is one of the chapters following the Last Supper, where Jesus gives his last important message to the disciples. He ends this chapter with one of the best verses in the Bible: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (33).
I was nervous because I’m just little ol’ me: me who is klutzy, me who is tongue-tied; me who is short and has super-thick glasses; me who hosted an open house to which nobody came; me who sits at a computer trying to write sense into a world of advertisements, fake headlines, and captioned pictures; me who watches Netflix before bed because those characters feel like friends; me who really loves sunshine, movies, great books, and fun walks, and cuddles with my baby girls.
So while I was standing at the window and stirring my coffee, silent thoughts of defeat crept in. The sun shone in through the windows, but the empty room dimmed. Silence reigned, and a solitary, little ol’ someone wondered if it mattered if she existed and what would be the repercussions if she were gone. Nobody would be there to miss her.
Except somebody showed up, just in time.
“Did you notice?” my Bible asks in bold, black print. Did I notice? Did they notice as they walked in? Shake it off, I thought. Let’s begin. I’m so done with this church thing. Nobody cares if I’m here or not. See, having a baby has its challenges, and among them are the time restrictions. Nap time takes a lot of precedence with me because with a disturbed nap is a disturbed night’s sleep, which is a disturbed nap, which is a disturbed night’s sleep, and pretty soon there’s a vicious, grumpy, bleary-eyed cycle. And if I’m at home while baby sleeps, then I certainly can’t be at activities or with groups of people. Which means there are a lot of “No, I can’t do that’s,” and, “Sorry, I have to leave early’s.” And soon nobody notices if you aren’t there, because they expect it. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the cloud hovers lower.
In John 16, Jesus informs his friends and followers that he is leaving them, going back to the One who sent him. He is sending his Counselor to be with them instead. “It is for your good that I am going away,” Jesus tells them (v 7). They don’t understand but instead are consumed with grief. “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear,” Jesus adds (v 12). They pass looks among themselves, confused, hearts wrenching. Well, they wonder, where is he going, and when is he coming back? Is this a quick trip to the mall, or what? He informs them that he is leaving them in good hands, hands that can only be there if he is gone. He is leaving them hands that reach far beyond what one person can grasp, but hands that can touch lives and hearts throughout the ages and among the global population. The men continue to stare at him, mouths agape. Jesus even adds that they will have trouble – they will be kicked out of church, that they will be challenged, that they will be forgotten by their friends and families – and in fact they will even abandon him (v 31). Of course they vehemently shake their heads in bewilderment and denial. They are too full of grief and misery to hear any more from him. And seeing this on their faces, hearing the whispers of their thoughts, he adds, “But take heart! I have overcome the world!”
Matthew Henry is a great commentator and researcher of the Bible. His commentary adds this: “By only looking at that which was against them, and overlooking that which was for them, they were so full of sorrow that there was no room left for joy. It is the common fault and folly of melancholy Christians to dwell only on the dark side of the cloud” (405).
Did you notice? Jesus isn’t here. He’s not at Starbucks, he isn’t knocking on doors in khakis and a tie, and he certainly is not yelling on a street corner holding a sign. However, his Spirit, our great Counselor, has been sent in his place, to wrap our spirits into His. “The Spirit will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you (v13-14)…The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God (v 27).” The men sitting around Jesus’ table were still perplexed. Henry states, “The notion of Christ’s secular kingdom was so deeply rooted in them. When we think the scripture must be made to agree with the false ideas we have imbibed, no wonder that we complain of its difficulty; but when our reasonings are captured by revelation, that matter becomes easy” (407). As my favorite author stated once, “That’s how things become clear. All of a sudden. And then you realize how obvious they’ve been all along” (Madeleine L’Engle). Here we come to a paradox, and a paradox that makes the difference between life, death, hope, and loss for many people: I am small. I am often wrong. I am only one. But God loves me. Jesus said it right there, in his living, breathing Word. I believe in Him, that he is the truth, that he is hope, that he is love. And he loves me. The same applies to you: you are small. You are one. But God created you, piece by piece, strand of hair by strand of hair, and you matter. You matter simply because God loves you.
This revelation may not seem large, in fact it may seem obtuse and too simple. It may not be the answer you are looking for. Sometimes I sincerely question if it matters if God loves me, because there are a billion other people on the planet as well, so if there’s a billion other dots of dust on the ground, does one even count.
That’s why He is God, and you – and especially I – are not. We are still in the dark. God sees from beginning to end, and he knows your high value. “Wait till God shall reveal even this to us” (Henry, 407).
My questions of value and significance often occur when my little world shifts away from peace. Lately the schedule has been busy and full of lonely, draining hours. There are children to feed and care for, classes to teach, and restless nights. The next few weeks will only hold more of them and that knowledge in itself is a binding force. However, I suppose I ought now to take hold of Jesus’ words to his followers, and as Henry put it, “Being forewarned are forearmed” (405).
“Peace in Christ is the only true peace,” Henry states. This brings comfort and healing. Are you seeking light in the relentless dark? Here He is. This world holds trouble – “Men persecute [Christ followers] because they are so good, and God corrects them because they are no better. So between both they will have trouble” (Henry 410). So indeed, whether you are following the directions or upholding the guidelines, or simply trying to get home with ten sacks full of groceries in the 100 degree heat, there will be trouble. Expect it. And at the same time, know that you are NOT alone. You ARE armed with the knowledge and constant presence of the creator of the universe, if you will but acknowledge your sometimes-silent companion.
“In the midst of the troubles of this world it is the duty and interest of Christ’s disciples to be of good cheer; as sorrowful indeed, in compliance with the temperament of the age, and yet always rejoicing, always cheerful, even in sufferings…’Take heart,’ Jesus says, ‘I have overcome the world.’ Never was there such a conqueror of the world as Christ was, and we ought to be encouraged by it. Christ has overcome the world before us; so that we may look on it as a conquered enemy” (Henry 410). Gather strength, harness it, and unleash those words in your utter weakness.
When the car breaks down, when the five-year-old spills her cup of milk, “when the pieces seem too shattered to gather off the floor” (All Sons & Daughters), when nobody seems to notice if you even exist, this is still the truth. These things are all simple tasks to help you see God’s presence. I’m not always certain of the Why behind those sufferings. We don’t always get that answer. But we do get the warning, and we get the comfort, and we indeed get the Spirit, our Counselor, who links arms with us in the pouring rain. We get the How. How do we bear it? The tools are gathered in a great Book in your suitcase, and can be revealed to you if you ask.
Did you notice? This day can be brighter. Did you notice? You are held and loved. Did you notice? “Where two or three are gathered….” Be one of the two or three, and just show up. Even if showing up means you rush in late, with messy hair. You never know where Church can be held, and you offer utter significance with your presence. Keep waking up. Keep your eyes open and look up. Dwell on the bright side of the cloud. Take heart. In the errands and the chaos, and in the quiet hours, your Almighty offers the universe. He has already overcome it. Now it’s your turn.
Henry, Matthew. The NIV Mtthew Henry Commentary: In One Volume. Edited by Rev. Dr. Leslie F. Church, Zondervan. 1992.
The tickets were purchased, the map was defined, supplies packed and ready, clouds parting in the sky to reveal a cosmos so blue and sunny that tropical islands yawned in jealous torment; the adventure was set to begin in three, two -- and wait. Hold on.
Pause for a moment.
The phone is ringing.
It's the realtor, and we have a closing date! It is.... tomorrow! Tomorrow? Tomorrow!? That means I need to call -- I need to pack -- I need to unpack -- I need to text Mom -- I need to go to the --
And a new adventure began instead.
"Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on him, because he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:6
Let's get a few words out of the way before we go any further. The word, "exalt," means 1)honor, 2)fill with sublime emotion, 3)heighten or intensify, 4)raise in rank, character, or status. Humble is both an adjective and verb, meaning 1)inferior in station, 2)marked by modesty, 3)of low station, 4)cause to be unpretentious, 5)cause to feel shame or hurt the pride.
I like to make plans. I like to make lists. I like to make plans that incorporate my lists, and then check off the boxes in order. And yes, my clothes closet is ordered by the colors of the rainbow.
Sometimes I make plans for my life. Sometimes I say, “I will go to the park tomorrow,” or “I will get groceries tomorrow,” or “I will watch Bones today.” I am learning that the long-term plans are the ones that seem to fall through. I am learning that not all of the boxes get checked off in order. I am learning that I don’t like it when my boxes are not checked off in order. Where is the excitement in last minute changes, and where is the thrill in flakiness? Um, I’m really not as stuffy as that last sentence makes me sound. I just like an order to the chaos. An order which I create.
But do I look for the adventure?
What if there is an order in the chaos, and I’m simply unaware of it?
I don’t think people plan for loss, broken water heaters, floods, earthquakes, bug bites, and job changes. I don’t want to speculate that most people plan their own worst-case scenario. Do you plan your own worst life? Do you look for ways to hurt others or yourself? I don’t, so I’m going off of my own ideal world. Mine is one similar to that of Neverland or Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, where there are lush, green, open fields rolling in the distance, and parks with flowers, and laughing friends nearby, ready to do something fun.
So there’s a gap between the real world and what-could-be.
Because in this real world, the adventure has been filled with rain clouds, plane rides, tears, shiny skyscrapers, hugs with my daughter, bitten nails, crashed computers, divine lunches, and inconsolable loss. The adventure included boat rides, beaches, bridges, boxes, and paradise. The darkness crept nearby, watching with dollar signs in its eyes. He imagined destruction and whispered threats of loneliness. The new adventure was unlike anything I had imagined.
But I did get to ride a camel in the sand.
He moaned at me, arching his long, tan, furry neck toward me, groaning and baring his crooked, yellow teeth. His trainer smacked him smartly on the neck with a small brown stick, demanding some unknown command in Arabic. After a few more moments of groaning, lips quivering and teeth snarling, he began arching his back legs to a standing position. I gripped the saddle horn as the back-end rose higher, and his front knees eventually began to quake and burst with movement upward. Then he was walking, one slow step after another, moaning further, shaking his head in disagreement, as if he was done with the pony ride. I sat far on his back, gripping the old leather, ten feet in the air, on this beast towering above the tourists below. He roamed in a slow circle around the hot, sandy area, guided by the man in the khaki tunic. The camel settled in his spot, front side first, bowing into the sand, folding his legs under his thick, hairy torso. Rocking and quaking, I settled back on the ground and climbed off his back.
And all too soon, I had to fly away from those shiny buildings, sand dunes, and my sister’s warm hugs.
What can I say about riding a camel?
Hold on tight, especially when starting out and ending, because the fall forward could be a hilarious sight to see, though painful for the fall-er.
What can I say about the new adventure?
Hold on tight and a grab a ginger pill, because there’s turbulence up ahead.
Another part of the new adventure was moving to our first house, then turning around and helping my parents leave their house – my “home” – of 25 years. So in between the boxes, airplane rides, boxes, broken computers, leaky house fragments, boxes, shimmering anniversaries, and golden hotel rooms, the year 2013 has been --- an adventure. It’s a tale of remorse, angst, distilled silence, and fresh morning sunshine streaming in through the window. It has been salted and spiced with hummus, take-out, large bills, extraordinary views, pecans, boxes, emptiness, and tears. In the preparation of moving, unpacking, moving, packing, and readying for flying, there was teaching classes, coordinating ministry events, and home-making.
And since the first leg of the adventure, the shiny drama has dissipated into unmotivated laziness. I partially think I’ve earned it. The Big Year is not even halfway over, but all the oil is used up. The Tandoori powder is prepped but the chicken is already eaten.
My husband – my sane half – says this unmotivated feeling is just a let-down after vacation. He says that it is post-year’s-worth-of-suspense-leading-up-to-an-adventure. Now that we bought the cow...we have to care for it. Now that we’ve been to paradise…we have to live with central Texas in a drought.
Not that I’m complaining, really. I’m very grateful to have seen what I’ve seen, to be able to hear the sounds of foreign instruments, to have tasted authentic food, to have stayed up way too late talking with my family, to have stood on the tallest floor on the planet. And I’m grateful for the home I get to come back to, for the soft carpet underfoot, the warm sunshine and cooing doves out the back window. I’m just trying to figure out the emotions that roll along in this tidal wave. What do you say when the grey seems dimmer and the silence seems louder?
My heart has been heavy, my arms weak, and my legs sore. And not just from working out. Although that is a factor.
The clock has been winning recently, ticking along merrily, leaving me behind. The adventure continues into chapter three, and I’m still trying to figure out what happened in chapter two. Each page-turn I fall a little farther behind, and lack the motivation to read along. So I watch tv. Because it is happy. Because it is easier. Because it is observing, rather than having to react myself.
I’m riddled with fear, with this deep sadness, sometimes, when I think about how this adventure continues on, and I’m not ready for it to do so. I’m content with the springtime, and yet the wind continues to steadily blow across the field. Who am I in the midst of this changing planet, this controlling government, this judgemental society? Who am I, that one little session of dusting or creating a website will add to an eternity of importance? What are my words that my viewpoint will help others carry on?
I’ve avoided writing lately. It’s the motivational thing, but also some other feelings of inadequacy that have been whispered into my ear as of late. I was wiping up the mud on my kitchen floor today, the mud my daughter tracked in after playing in the muddy backyard, after the plumbing guys had left the hose in the open back door, after which they had told me we would need a new hot water heater, after which we had found water seeping up in our bathroom. I was wiping up the mud by hand because the Swiffer vacuum is broken, and have been waiting for the next payday to get a new one because I didn’t see room in the budget to get one. It’s a good thing we didn’t have room for a $40 gadget. I’d sure hate to have to buy a new water heater or something.
And I thought, you know, I really want to be dramatic about this. I want to be depressed at how we have had to pay for a rushed passport, and a computer that the cable company broke and refuses to pay for; I want to be depressed that we will not get back the deposit from our apartment because of some silly miscommunications; I want to be depressed and dramatic because this whole new home-owner experience has been just as expensive as I expected.
But there’s a measure of sanity in the back of my mind that speaks the truth of, “God will provide.” Cast all your care on Him, because he cares about you. He doesn’t just care for me and my silly and expensive broken water heater, he cares about you and your dust bunnies, your sunny day, your bad choices, your sore back, your justified goals, your fears. He cares, and he has a plan.
I want to be dramatic about the many ups and downs on this rollercoaster ride. I want to sit back in silence and let the game play itself out. I want to have more money in the bank.
However, this adventure is more than dollars and cents. This adventure is a cliff-hanger, where the reader isn’t sure if the traveller will be required to dive into the deepest, darkest, underwater caves, or if this is the chapter of flashbacks to the good ol’ days. Is this the chapter where the audience gets a little insight into the protagonist, or is this the chapter where the protagonist gets thrown into the tar pit and has to fight off the monster alligator-dog?
Regardless, the protagonist has to endure it. Why? Otherwise, it wouldn’t be a very good adventure story.
"Humble yourselves therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on him, because he cares about you." 1 Peter 5:6
I hear a lot about having humility. I think it’s a good practice. But I think there’s a fine line between having just enough, too little, or too much humility. Because I know God has a better plan than I can ever make, but he gave me this adventure so I can become a better version of myself. I can’t be timid, shy, or a quivering sack of dirt. I have to have grit, heart, and spunk. There has to be determination, tenacity, and guts. Who really wants the alligator-dog to win? I think the audience would rather see the under-dog win. Therefore I will remember that I am a character in the story, but one written into the story with purpose and creativity. Because He cares about me.
And remember, he cares about you, too. He has a mighty hand, a mighty plan. So if you have to scrape the dirt from your floor, on your hands and knees, wondering what kind of cents all of this makes, notice that you aren’t alone. And maybe the wind will whisper the promises of a steadfast Creator as you wipe. Use the grit and be refined as a more steadfast being. The chapter continues to play out, and sometimes the reader’s speed is breath-taking. But the Author controls the storyline. He will honor you; he will lift you out of the pit; he will fill you with peace; he will strengthen your character. Use this crazy adventure to become more like your Author. Maybe one day soon he will allow you to see more of his storyboard.
The grass is faded to a dry brown by the harsh sun beneath those golden, sparkly shoes. Stand firm with outstretched hands. Cool air massages the shoulders, wrapping cold hands around the waist as the warm sun lingers overhead. Direct your eyes and aim for the target ahead, barrels locked and loaded, ready for the unknown to shatter within your grip. Pull the trigger.
I can’t tell you how often I am my own worst enemy, my greatest disadvantage, and my own antagonist. I think and rethink a decision, hope and wish, tarry and linger, where instead I ought to act. Some of my best decisions have been impetuous. This new List has somewhat been an option plaguing me. Should I try to attempt this? What will people think? Will people think I am trying to be a know-it-all? What if I can’t do the entire thing? What if I’m too busy and don’t have time?
This whole “life” thing is not for the faint of heart. Just keep walking straight ahead.
Is there only one path we ought to follow? Where do our decisions fall on the scale of glorifying God and living according to his plan? Is there just one correct path? These questions keep coming to mind as I see health and sickness, holidays and organizational tendencies come to fruition. In the realm of funerals and weddings, birthday cakes and budgeting, what is the best option?
Is the correct path the one that asks God to walk alongside, wherever that road may lead?
This past week, my little family of three was invited to a friend’s home for the holidays. I made Messy Potato Casserole, the Thanksgiving MUST (it is actually an any-holiday MUST, as I have found, and any holiday is just not right without Messy Potatoes), and threw together my chocolate chip cheesecake. We can’t visit without bringing a little something, can we?! Chuck, Little M, Chuck’s sister Kay, and I packed up the car and drove to the outskirts of Wichita Falls, Texas, for a gracious, Southern homecoming. There were croissants, roasted turkeys, juicy hams, the biggest pan of stuffing I have ever seen, spicy breakfast sausages, crisp autumn air, giggles from the little girls, dusty gravel roads, black cows in the field nearby, and golden sunsets out the front window. The little brick house was filled with tasty food, hugs for family, and a quiet peace of the countryside. I always love going to the city, any city, with the bright lights and multiple radio station choices, but there is something to be said about the bright white beads of the stars overhead, the whisper of the wind across the fading grass, and the soft groan of the porch swing.
What I’m learning to be grateful for is people. For people who accept you into their lives just because you are around. Without stipulation or agenda, those willing and generous souls speak into my life in more ways than they will ever know. Those people who ask you out to lunch or coffee, their smiles a welcome sentiment, and don’t judge you because you’re a klutz, stammer a lot, and often get right confused with left. And they even choose to let you shoot guns with live ammunition while fully aware of these traits.
These kinds of people teach me lessons, and not just the obvious lesson of How To Shoot A Gun, but the sub-lessons that go along with them. Lessons like: every plot has a subplot, conflict drives story, and action makes a scene.
On this particular sunny day, the wind whipped across the dry field and around my sweatered shoulders, the casseroles baking in the oven, while our group killed off a few hours. My husband’s long-time friend Michael*, whose parents had been so hospitable as to invite us, suggested we use the guns he brought with him. Okay, I’m trying to give you some good imagery for this, but I’m still new to the terminology. That last sentence took me about ten minutes to formulate.
Michael let us work with his .22mm handgun and revolver. He let me ask questions and watch him load the guns, showed me some safe methods of handling a gun, and showed me how to fire into the pond behind the house. We took turns with the different firearms, aiming at old tomatoes we threw into the pond. The bright autumn sun dawdled overhead, echoes of simple shots popping in our ears, we laughed, aimed low, and I got to cross Item #5 off my list. I really enjoyed the activity, learning how to aim a gun, seeing what a big factor the wind is, and actually testing my aim and skill level in a new way. I had no idea the effect of a gunshot on the ear drums – afterwards my hearing was muted like after a loud concert, but only for a few minutes. Michael’s uncle came out and they shot his gun, a larger .45mm whose shell casing and shot were twice the size of the revolver’s.
Chuck says that the time I shot a BB rifle in middle school doesn’t count, so this was my first time to participate in the activity. There are quite a few endeavors I’ve either been afraid to try, thought was not my “thing,” or feared failing at any attempt. Let’s face it: taking risks is an opportunity for embarrassing moments, falling down, and failing. Risks are also a chance to make friends, gain experience, and learn something new about yourself. I really enjoyed shooting those guns. I nervously held the weapon away from my body, holding my arm steady, unsure of what would happen next. Eh, so I never hit a tomato dead on, but I got close. I found myself wistful for the continued chance to aim at a target. I sure would hate to live my life missing out on excitement because I was afraid to try.
For those experienced shooters, I’m sorry if my beginner’s terminology was offensive, but hey, I had half an hour with a revolver, so that’s a start, right?
Why was this particular activity on my list?
A few months back, a friend of mine firmly stated my husband should know how to shoot a gun, and even own one for our own protection and defense. The statement got me to thinking, because I grew up in a household of females and guns were not in the picture. Barbies and bows, yes; firearms and weapons, not so much. Now that we are grown I believe my dad either owns a gun or is in the process of hoping to acquire one, although I can see how a papa of three girls would want a rifle for intimidation. This isn’t a discussion of the right to bear arms or gun control, but that statement really made me aware of a topic which I had not previously considered. My husband owning a gun? My husband shooting a gun? Well, why shouldn’t I know how to shoot one? Shouldn’t I know different methods of protecting myself, whether with some sort of training like self-defense classes or with a weapon of some sort? Pretty sure Katniss used her hunting skills more than once in the Hunger Games. Why do I maintain the idea that others should know how to take care of me, rather than knowing for myself? Why would I depend on anyone else to know what I need to know?
K and M*
That’s the basic idea behind this list. I want to be prepared, to be aware, to be ready, to fully experience this life. I don’t want to cower in fear or tremble in trepidation. While skydiving did NOT make the list, I may still look into the basics of how it works. After all, if I’m going to be in an airplane, shouldn’t I know what to do if there is crisis? Why would I drive a car if I don’t have some working knowledge of its composition? And could I possibly inspire art and life in others?
Ultimately, I want to seek God in all that I do. What can he teach me about his heart? How can shooting a firearm bring me closer to my Creator? (Without, you know, physically taking me closer to my Creator.) How can learning and doing inspire a love for my Lord that encompasses my actions, motives, and heart?
“The proverbs of Solomon son of David, king of Israel:
for gaining wisdom and instruction;
for understanding words of insight;
for receiving instruction in prudent behavior,
doing what is right and just and fair;
for giving prudence to those who are simple,
knowledge and discretion to the young--
let the wise listen and add to their learning,
and let the discerning get guidance--
for understanding proverbs and parables,
the sayings and riddles of the wise.
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and instruction."
Solomon asked God for wisdom. I often pray for the same thing, to more fully understand God’s heart, and to see his hand at work in my life and the lives of those around me. I would be lost without him. But he has given me extraordinary opportunities, and I want to thank him by seeing just where they lead. What an exciting adventure. And as Edward said to his father, “Carlisle, I've never thanked you for this extraordinary life.” Can I turn down the opportunity to show gratitude?
In this new jot down Learning Lane, I seek God’s presence in these items so that I can feel the warm sun on my shoulders, taste the richness of provision, and utilize the mind God has secured.
“The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant” (Genesis 39:2-4).
Even on the broad horizon, where the sun meets the far seashore, God will guide.
“For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you” (Isaiah 41:13).
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
Tarry not, look to the horizon, and accept the open road. That’s the answer I am putting in my pocket for now. God gives us options and we choose the one that can display his creativity, his splendor, his provision, and utilize his presence.
And so we stand firm. The grass is faded to a dry brown by the harsh sun beneath those golden, sparkly shoes. Cool air massages the shoulders, wrapping cold hands around the waist as the warm sun lingers overhead. Direct your eyes and aim for the target ahead, barrels locked and loaded, ready for the unknown to shatter within your grip. Pull the trigger.
I like watching One Tree Hill. I admit it. I enjoy the writing:
“You gotta open up your heart to somebody. You gotta let someone discover how staggering you are.”
I think we all deserve to be told that at least once in our lives. We spend so much time trying to make ourselves better, improving upon what we are, that we don’t see how fabulous we currently are. We are quite often small and insignificant, a little overweight, clumsy, and forgetful, but we were made by flawless hands. We were created in the depths of perfection, in the shadow of unspoiled eyes.
You are staggering.
It doesn’t matter if you can name your faults or claim your failures. That’s beside the point. David was just a kid going up against a 9-foot tall sack of muscle and hair, and look what he did. He owned his place with his Creator, saying, “Then all the world will know that Israel has a God, and this whole assembly will know that it is not by sword or by spear that the Lord saves, for the battle is the Lord’s” (1 Samuel 17:46b-47). I’m guessing he said it rather loudly. I would. I mean, that is a well-phrased group of words. If you got something good to say, be loud with it.
The battle is the Lord’s. That insurmountable guilt, the fear, the melancholy, the grime between your toes, the dusty floorboards; eh, it’s just a little housework to the one who made it all. I’m not a big fan of housework. And I’m not sure why dust exists, I mean, really, gross. I guess dust exists to remind us of our vice and folly, and that even as we continue to wipe the shelves and chair legs, so our Father wipes away our tears. Wipes away our scandals, wipes away our fears.
But He made us, he keeps us, and maintains our presence if only we stay. And I think we need to quit reminding ourselves that we aren’t worth it, that we have to keep improving. Because it’s not really up to our abilities. We can’t earn the privilege of being staggering. Jaw-dropping. On fire. Compelling. We are God’s workmanship, created to do the good works he prepared for us to do. The good works may not always feel like fun works or easy works, and they may not be in the place where you want your work to be, but they are prepared specifically for you. Very often I wonder about my work and if I’m doing any good at all. Because sometimes as your toddler pushes the power button on the computer as you are completing an order and you just want to yell, or when the husband leaves his shoes in the middle of the room even though you specifically put a basket for shoes by the door and you trip over them while carrying hot coffee, or when you notice you are saying something obnoxious and don’t stop yourself in time, it feels like pointless failure. That’s when we need some kind of reminder that this world around us isn’t the last word.
Pick up a rock and throw it. God will aim it and finish the task.
I need to make myself a sticky note and write that on it. As a stay at home mom, there are a lot of quiet moments when the daunting tasks easily overwhelm. So I put quotes or Bible verses around where I will see them when I need them the most.
“All of your toil is ever before him.” ~ Beth Moore
“We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” ~ 2 Corinthians 10:5
“Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air.” ~ 1 Corinthians 9:26
“But all this happened that we might not rely on ourselves, but on God who raises the dead.” ~ 2 Corinthians 1:9
(Apparently the Corinthians speak to me.)
But here’s another one that applies just as well, courtesy of One Tree Hill:
“The greatest rewards come from doing the things you fear most.”
Sometimes those imaginary monsters like The Laundry Pile or Vacuuming or Asking For Forgiveness or Losing Weight or Getting Out Of Bed need to be told who’s boss. It doesn’t matter how tall our adversary; it doesn’t matter how musty, ponderous, or devastating it may seem. It is all incredibly small compared to the Lord of Hosts. You know, a synonym for “host” is “master of ceremonies.” The person with that job knows the show inside and out, front to back, and has a backup plan if there are technical difficulties or someone isn’t in place at the right time.
David also said, “You come against me with a dagger, spear, and sword, but I come against you in the name of Yahweh of Hosts, the God of Israel’s armies – you have defied him…The Lord will hand you over to me. Today, I’ll strike you down, cut your head off… Then all the world will know that Israel has a God… He will hand you over to us” (1 Samuel 17:45-46). Take that, toilet grime. Take it and eat it, clumsiness, ache, hunger, rejection, despondency, and loss.
Remember it, wear it in your heart, and do not lose grip on the most powerful weapon that we will ever have to face the day, to continue on; he is our Creator, our great love.
He is staggering. And he made you, just the way you are.
There’s a song that I heard (probably on One Tree Hill) that the lyrics apply here:
Anything to make you smile
You are the ever-living ghost of what once was
I never want to hear you say
That you'd be better off
Or you liked it that way
But no one is ever gonna love you more than I do
No one's gonna love you more than I do
(Band of Horses)
And shouldn’t we remember that. Our great Host, our Maker, our Only One; no one is going to love you more than the one who designed you. If you are caught between a grassy field and a desert, drowning under the waves, or wedged into a dark hole, look up. Pick up a rock and throw it.
You are, after all, staggering.
Take the hand of the one who made you and walk in his steady stride, until the giants fall away.
These days a fitness trend is to run a marathon. From programs like “Couch to 5K” to television shows about the trend (see episode of The Office labeled “Fun Run” in which Michael organizes a fundraiser to help out Rabies. It’s funny. Trust me.). I’m not a runner. In fact, I usually joke about how my favorite hobby or pastime is to be as lazy as possible. Then I typically delete or erase that sentence and write the truth, which is that I spend my time reading, watching TV, going to movies, playing with my daughter, making homemade cards, dancing in the living room with my daughter, trying to clean the apartment, or helping with several programs at church. And after all of that, I like to be as lazy as possible.
Sometimes when a challenge presents itself I prefer to shy away from the thing, skirt around the issue, or type it into my phone’s To Do list with the blue dot instead of the urgent red dot. Eh, I’ll call about the leaning apartment building tomorrow. Ah, yeah, the laundry can wait until it is not raining outside. Yup, I definitely don’t need to get those pictures printed until another paycheck comes in. Notice none of those things were really a challenge, but what can I say. I’m lazy at heart. I hide it under obsessive compulsion. Ha.
So when a true challenge arises, the situation can kind of get out of control. Imagine if Procrastination clashes with Punctuality. One swings a left hook, the other falls to the ground and huffs, “Dude!” It’s kind of an uneven fight.
Each day brings new challenges, extraordinary plotlines, fresh ideas, unusual events, unique activities, and distinct possibilities. There are also the old narrators, ancient ruins, and stale bread with a bit of mold lying in the cupboard. The new and the old combine to create whimpering toddlers, deflated stroller tires, cotton ball clouds, dewdrops on the green grass, and stacks of bills on the table where last night’s dinner napkins still lay crumpled and crisp. Some days are easier than others. On some days, we have to do hard things.
“An ultramarathon (also called ultra distance) is any sporting event involving running and walking longer than the traditional marathon length of 42.195 kilometres (26.2188 mi)… There are two types of ultramarathon events: those that cover a specified distance, and events that take place during specified time (with the winner covering the most distance in that time). The most common distances are 50 kilometres (31.069 mi), 100 kilometres (62.137 mi), 50 miles (80.467 km) and 100 miles (160.934 km), although many races have other distances. The 100 kilometers is an official International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) world record event” (Wikipedia).
“Sixty one year-old Cliff Young became a household name in 1983 when he beat all of the starters and won the first Westfield Sydney to Melbourne Ultra Marathon. He wasn’t known before the race – but was certainly know after that” (www.ultralegends.com). At 61 years of age, the potato farmer joined in the ultramarathon which comprised of 566 miles and took him five days, 15 hours, and four minutes to run. One website says, “Now, around the time of the 1983 edition of this yearly race, your average world-class uber-android athlete could complete this course by running the equivalent 21.6 marathons back-to-back-to-back over the course of 7 days, with a daily regimen of sprinting for 17 hours straight, sleeping for 7, then getting back up and doing it again the next morning.” Cliff Young finished the race nine hours faster than any previous record holder. And he did it wearing overalls and rain boots.
“He arrived at the start with the feeling that the other runners were looking at him with disdain. He knew he had something to prove,” (ultralegends.com).
You see; we can do hard things.
When I was younger my parents rented a movie called, “The Unsinkable Molly Brown,” about a woman on board the Titanic who survived; and not only did she survive, but she helped others along the way. She is best known for her actions on the Titanic, but she was actually a woman who lived an extraordinary life. Margaret “Molly” Brown was born in 1867 in Missouri to Irish immigrants. Her parents encouraged a strong education for all people and allowed her stay in school until the ripe old age of 13. She began working in factories then followed a line of work to Leadville, Colorado, where she met her future husband, J.J. Brown. Many rainy days in the mines, years of hungrily scratching through the mud, and thoroughly researched hunts later, the two became millionaires after a gold discovery. With the help of this added wealth and status, Margaret participated in social reform projects, serving in soup kitchens, feeding the poor, and finding housing for children on the streets. “Margaret’s commitment to social reform grew, and in 1901 she attempted to win a seat in the state senate. This action defied the common maxim, touted by her own husband, which stated that a woman’s name should appear in the newspaper only three times: at her birth, upon her marriage and at her death” (http://www.mollybrown.org/learn/about-molly-brown/).
I don’t know about you, but that would totally tick me off.
Anyways, to continue on, Margaret and J.J. loved to travel around the world, which brought them somewhat together, but the two quietly separated after 23 years of marriage. She continued to receive money from J.J., traveling and continuing in her “philanthropic endeavors,” which led her to board the Titanic in order to return home to visit a sickly grandson.
“Shortly before midnight on April 14th the Titanic struck ice. Margaret described her experience in the Newport Herald, ‘I stretched on the brass bed, at the side of which was a lamp. So completely absorbed in my reading I gave little thought to the crash that struck at my window overhead and threw me to the floor.’ After the crash, Margaret heard increasing confusion in the hall causing her to investigate further. ‘I again looked out and saw a man whose face was blanched, his eyes protruding, wearing the look of a haunted creature. He was gasping for breath and in an undertone he gasped, 'get your life saver'.’ After helping fellow passengers she was taken a hold of and with the words ‘you are going too’ was dropped four feet into the lowering lifeboat #6. Lifeboat #6 was equipped to hold 65 passengers. However, it pushed off from Titanic with 21 women, 2 men and a twelve-year-old boy on board. The women in the lifeboat rowed for hours. At 4:30 a.m. Margaret saw a flash of light. It was from the approaching ship Carpathia, which was the first to answer the distress call. After some difficulty, lifeboat #6 pulled up alongside of the Carpathia, and the occupants were pulled aboard one at a time.
Margaret, though sore, tired and cold, began to take action. Her knowledge of foreign languages enabled her to console survivors who spoke little English. She also rifled through the ship to find extra blankets and supplies to distribute to women who were sleeping in the dining room and corridors. Margaret realized that many women had lost everything -- husbands, children, clothes, money and valuables -- and needed to start a life in a new country. She rallied the first class passengers to donate money to help less fortunate passengers. Before the Carpathia reached New York $10,000 had been raised” (mollybrown.org).
You see, we can do hard things.
“Emma Edmonds was one of approximately 400 women who succeeded in enlisting in the army (either Union or Confederate) during the Civil War. Her uniqueness is that she not only succeeded in remaining in the army for several years, but was also eminently successful as a Union spy -- all while impersonating a man” (http://www.civilwarhome.com/edmondsbio.htm). Emma is one of the more fascinating ladies who, happening to be buried in the military section of Washington Cemetery, in Houston, Texas, caught my eye in middle school history class and will always garner my respect. An abusive father led her to run away from Canada to America, where she enlisted with the Union Army. “She cropped her hair, got a man's suit of clothing, took the name of Frank Thompson and tried to enlist. It took her four tries but finally she did in fact get sworn into the Union Army (at that time the physical consisted merely of asking the enlistee questions -- no medical examination). On April 25, 1861, Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson became a male nurse in the Second Volunteers of the United States Army” (civilwarhome.com). When Emma heard of a position in General McClellan’s division, she “studied all she could find on weapons, tactics, local geography and military personalities and when interviewed for the position, Private Thompson so impressed the staff that the position was his (hers)” (civilwarhome.com).
Playing this role as a part of her new life, she carried out eleven successful espionage infiltrations of the Confederate army. She darkened her skin with silver nitrate to play the part of a black man, Cuff; she acted the part of a fat Irish peddler woman named Bridget; she wandered into Louisville, Kentucky as a Southern gentleman named Charles. She worked as a nurse, she listened to gossip, unearthed valuable information about “Quaker guns” (look it up, it’s awesome), was injured while riding a horse during battle and still made it back to camp, and she unwittingly defected from the army because of a bout with malaria.
“After the war Emma wrote her memoirs titled ‘Nurse and Spy in the Union Army,’ which became a very popular book selling thousands of copies. Emma gave all of her profits from the book to the U.S. war relief fund. Once the book was completed Emma became homesick for her native Canada; when she returned there she found love. In 1867 Emma married Linus Seeyle and went back to the United States, initially to Cleveland, Ohio. The marriage was happy, and Emma raised three sons, one of whom enlisted in the army ‘just like Mama did’. While happy in her family life Emma continued to brood over being branded a deserter in the Civil War. With the encouragement of her friends she petitioned the War Department for a full review of her case. The case was debated and on March 28, 1884, the House of Representatives passed House Bill Number 5335 validating Mrs. Seeyle's case… On July 5, 1884, a special act of Congress granted Emma Edmonds alias Frank Thompson an honorable discharge from the army, plus a bonus and a veteran's pension of twelve dollars a month” (civilwarhome.com).
You see, we can do hard things.
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going...
By faith Abraham, even though he was past age—and Sarah herself was barren—was enabled to become a father because he considered Him faithful who had made the promise...
By faith Moses’ parents hid him for three months after he was born, because they saw he was no ordinary child, and they were not afraid of the king’s edict...
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter...
By faith the people passed through the Red Sea as on dry land; but when the Egyptians tried to do so, they were drowned...
By faith the prostitute Rahab, because she welcomed the spies, was not killed with those who were disobedient...
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them... God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (excerpts from Hebrews 11).
You see, we can do hard things.
It may mean leaving comfortable surroundings, pretending to be something we are not, hoping for more than we can see, loving the unlovable, cutting off hair and old ties, ignoring disparaging remarks, pushing boundaries, welcoming strangers, listening to the banter of neighbors, losing visible love, and running more than you could ever imagine, wearing what may appear to be the wrong equipment, rowing through the cold night, and running away at just the right time. Sometimes it is following the fire in your heart or the calm voice in the quiet. We make mistakes, we misstep, we falter; but our God is faithful. Sometimes we don’t see the promises entirely fulfilled when we are around, but God builds kingdoms one brick at a time.
In all these stories of triumph, victory, and success, significant factors are the conflict and antagonists which ignited the fires of these people. Would Emma have left home if her father was benevolent instead of maleficent? What if Margaret listened to her husband and all those men who said women shouldn’t make the news? What if Cliff didn’t have to herd sheep? Our challenges are what make us better. To be honest, I get totally tired of challenges. I get tired of the brick-laying. I want to feel that inner motivation, that euphoric bliss of palm fronds waving in the breeze against a blue-sky backdrop. But sometimes I look back and see that I wouldn’t have the experience and knowledge I have without those mistakes, wrong turns, broken ideas, and plot twists. I sure wouldn't have all the stories to go along with them. Emma didn’t gather her information all at once, but through conversations, making stew, and fleeing in the rain. Cliff kept running through meal times, nap times, and even when his crew fell ill. Margaret had to ignore the negative husband and continue helping the needy and poor. Hard things are accomplished slowly, with perseverance, gratitude, and moments at a time.
Overcome evil with good. Overcome exhaustion with prayer. Overcome poopy diapers, lost naptimes, empty pantries, grumpy neighbors, long lists, dwindling bank accounts, toppled plans, with faith and knowledge that God is at your side the whole time.
I saw a craft on Pinterest that inspired me, and some days I really need some inspiration and a reminder that God works through me even when I don’t know it. You can do hard things. I can do hard things. Click here for a little project on the days when you need to remember that you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.
“Because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you,” we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid” (Hebrews 13:5b-6a).
Maybe you’re the hero, the underdog, the tired mom, the empty glass, the sinking ship, the abusive father, the faker, the fat Irish woman, the miner, the reticent spouse, the defector, the runner in rain boots, the spooked horse, the lost child, the missing spy, the fearful parent, the veteran or the nomad. God has put you in the story; what are you going to do with the role?
But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
Sara's Lemonade Stand