How to be a Difference Maker

 

Julio Diaz gets off the train like it’s any other day. His mind is fixed on grabbing a bite to eat at his favorite café. It’s an ordinary day in an ordinary place, and nothing about the day leads Julio to believe he might change someone’s life forever through the unforeseen chain of events that will soon unfold.

As Julio gets off the train, a young teenager approaches with a knife. The teen wants Julio’s wallet.

After giving up the wallet, Julio turns to the young man and hands him his coat, saying, “If you’re gonna be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

What kind of love is this?

I put myself in the place of the young man with the knife. Surely he was overcome with shock. Disbelief. Awe.

Because really, haven’t we all been the boy with the knife – thinking only of self, thinking only of immediate needs and the flesh and moving up in the world for our own purposes. Not thinking a single thing of how our actions might affect someone else on a practical level.

Julio convinces the young man to join him for dinner, and he says to the boy, “What is it that you want out of life?”

The boy doesn’t know.   His expression is filled with sorrow. And really, haven’t most of us faced this dilemma? The empty canvas of our lives leaves room for endless possibilities, but we feel utterly stuck. Utterly clueless.

When the bill for dinner comes, Julio convinces the boy to return his wallet and treats him to dinner. He offers the boy twenty dollars in exchange for one item: the knife. The boy agrees, and for Julio, the story seems to end here.

~~~

I read this story on The Daily Good news sight not long ago, and it seems the story ends with Julio’s gift of money and the boy’s surrender of the knife. But surely, the story doesn’t end here.

Maybe the boy grew up to be a respectable man. Maybe he quit threatening people and asking for their money. Or maybe he went out the next evening and robbed ten more people. We might never know.

But what we do know is that an act of kindness never falls on blind eyes. Even when no one notices, even when it seems our sacrifice failed to make the difference we hoped, God sees every quiet act of act of kindness, and he is pleased.

It’s easy to grow frustrated when our kindness is met with disdain. It’s easy to throw in the towel when our sacrifice doesn’t seem to make the slightest bit of difference in another person’s life. Choose kindness anyway.

When a family member crosses you, and your blood boils wildly, choose kindness. Choose it if no one will see. Choose it if you don’t think you can.

When a young mom or elderly man struggles to put groceries in the car, choose kindness. When your toddler throws his seventeenth fit of the day, choose kindness. When you’re cut off in traffic, choose kindness. When it’s entirely tempting to have the last word – when you know you can win this verbal showdown – choose kindness.

I spent a decade as a youth leader at the church we’ve attended for eleven years. Throughout the years, I joined teens on trips to places like Brooklyn and Tijuana. I spent sleepless nights counseling hurting girls, sacrificed family time to invest in young lives, and poured my heart into the ministry.

There were times when I was met with defiance instead of gratitude and criticism instead of kindness. There were times when I wondered if the investment was worthwhile.

Years later, I now have the opportunity to see some of the fruit from those years. Many of the teens have grown to adults and moved away; however, a few remain. They live near our hometown, where they now serve as youth leaders, teachers, Bible study leaders, and loving contributors to ministries ranging from raising their own children to serving in very public careers.

We never know where the ripple-effects of our kindness might reach. Even when it seems to make no difference at all, choose kindness. And above all, remember that your kindness pleases your Maker. His pleasure is reason enough in itself.

 

References:

A Case for Kindness: Lisa Barrickman

http://www.dailygood.org/more.php?n=3678

 

When the Next Step Feels Scary

 

It’s late August, and the ironweed boasts deep purple blossoms among fields of green and gold. We stand at the end of the driveway with anxious hearts.  I honestly believed I’d be more nervous than our extroverted five-year-old, but it seems she’s the one with the jitters.  We review the directions to her classroom for the third time, and I remind her to focus on eating her sandwich at lunchtime and review the importance of washing her hands in the restroom.

As the engine of the school bus groans its visceral call and carries my precious firstborn to the care of people I hardly know, I’m surprised I don’t cry. Instead, I walk quietly back to the house with thoughts of her little brother asleep in his crib.  It seems this transition to kindergarten is simply a necessary part of the progression of her life, and I’m at peace about letting it unfold.

The evening is a different story. Exhausted from her first long day in the classroom, the child I’ve enjoyed for the past five years is nowhere to be seen.  Instead, an exhausted shell of a little girl crashes onto the couch with demands about juice and absolutely no desire to comply with any of my motherly requests.  She wakes up an hour later with frantic tears about the moment she couldn’t find the classroom and how scary it was and how she doesn’t want to go back.  My heart breaks just a little.

A year later, we’re staring down the face of first grade, and little Bekah is excited and only slightly nervous. She can’t wait to see the familiar faces, deliver a gift to last year’s teacher, and dive into all the fun that awaits.  I find myself remembering how scary the step into kindergarten often felt for her and how sometimes, there’s just no way around the next frightening step.

I wonder if this is how God’s people felt after wandering in the desert for four decades. They finally reach the gateway to the land he has promised for them, and the formidable Jordan River lies between the people and the land they will call home.  Joshua, their fearless leader, proceeds to command the Levites to step into the water.

These are the holy men who have been carrying the ark of God toward the Promised Land. They are set apart for special service.  They literally carry the presence of the Living God.  And they are called to step into the flowing waters of the river.

I wonder if this step was scary. I wonder if they questioned the command and if they hesitated.  They were well aware that God had the power to move the water, as evidenced forty years earlier when Moses raised his staff and the waters of the Red Sea parted.  But the waters of the Jordan showed no signs of parting, and yet they were asked to step into the river.

Sometimes we’re called to step into the next assignment before we see a comforting amount of evidence that God is working in our midst. Sometimes we’re called to step into the water when there’s no sign God’s going to part it.  Sometimes we’re called to step into a new place of ministry or a new season of life before we have confidence that God really will make a way.

While we’re not to make unwise decisions without consulting God, there are times when we must take the first step without knowing the final outcome or even seeing the immediate provision.

Feet in the swirling water, the Levites held the ark. They watched, as after the first step of faith, God performed yet another miracle with the water.  He drew the river back and provided a way across the Jordan on dry ground.  They simply had to step out in obedience for the miracle to take place.

Starting kindergarten is a large life event, but for those of us who have conquered the challenge, it now seems quite small. But we all face challenges on the horizons of our lives.  Often, the best thing we can do is pray it through, ask God for direction, seek wise counsel, line it up with the Word of God, and when all of these steps confirm the decision, step out in faith.

And so we lay out the clothes for the first day of school this year. We pack the backpack and stock the cupboards with small containers of applesauce and granola bars.  We pray for Bekah’s teacher and her classmates and the children who will be her close friends.  And we step into the water.

 

Six Reasons Why a Vacation is Worth the Work

After two months of frequent weekend trips, I recently found myself remembering the week-long vacation our family enjoyed two summers ago. It was a precious week of memory-making moments.  Today I’m reminding myself of why a vacation is worth the effort.

Wisps of grey-white fog lay low over rolling fields of golden wildflowers, and I watch the sun ascend crimson through the haze. I take a moment to breathe in the promise of what lies ahead.  A week at a cabin in the woods with my husband, parents, 9-month-old Caleb, and 4-year-old Bekah feels like work right now, but I know I’ll be grateful when we arrive.  I also trust I’ll be refreshed when we return.  I cling to these hopes and begin the daunting task of packing food for seven days in the woods.

Vacation requires sacrifice.  Sometimes I wonder if the sacrifice is worth it, but the work required seldom disappoints.  Darrell shuffles to arrange someone to cover him at work, and he works long overtime hours for two weeks before the trip.  I make countless lists, checking and rechecking what we’ll need for our excursion.  Then there’s the task of finding someone to feed the pets and the detailed instruction notes.  Attempting not to leave the house in complete shambles while somehow remembering 786 items for everyone in the family is enough to put the steadiest of women into a full blown panic attack.  We find ourselves asking, “Is it even worth it?”

I contend that vacation is well worth the effort and sacrifice required. We live in a society of overworked, stressed out, exhausted individuals.  Productivity is highly praised, and rest is spurned.  Prioritizing vacation time breaks the cultural expectations that leave us weary and burnt out.  Prioritizing vacation opens us to quiet encounters with the love of God, meaningful encounters with friends and family, and a renewed sense of wonder in our lives.  Let’s examine these reasons, and more, as we contemplate the reality of making vacation a priority:

Reestablishing a rhythm of restful living

God designed the human body to require rest. The simple fact that doctors recommend eight hours of sleep per night indicates that rest is essential.  The person who follows doctor’s orders will sleep away approximately one-third of his life.  Our requirement for physical rest is a reminder of our need for mental, emotional, and spiritual rest as well.  Jesus extends this invitation: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

We need to be intentional about incorporating rest into our lives. Planning a vacation is one way to establish rest by removing ourselves from the rigors of work, extensive social schedules, volunteer activities, and home maintenance.  When we set aside time to rest for a vacation, we are reminded to reestablish this rhythm in our daily lives as well.  We are refreshed by the rest that comes when we step away from our routines, and we are prone want more.  Stepping away from daily life allows us to assess priorities and eliminate the parts of our lives that are leaving us weary, replacing those parts with restful priorities.

Interrupting the routine offers fresh perspective

Sitting with my kids along a creek in the wilderness opens my eyes to beauty I don’t notice in my daily life. It slows me down.  It invites me to ponder my decision-making and assess my goals for my personal and professional life.  I have space to reflect on my use of time, the relationships in my life, and my relationship with God.

Regardless of where we spend our vacation time, changing the routine of life forces us to reflect on whether life as we know it is working well, where adjustments might be helpful, and how to better prioritize our time.

Windows of time for deep communication without distraction

Whether vacationing with a spouse, the entire family, or friends, vacation offers windows of time for deep connection. Campfires, lingering over coffee, hours relaxing on the beach or in the pool, hikes through the forest, and hours in the car are all opportunities to talk and share.  Some of the best conversations with my husband took place on a 36-hour road trip across the country.  Quiet space allows us to reveal parts of our lives we might not otherwise consider sharing.

My daughter is most likely to share what’s really on her heart when we’re both relaxed and enjoying a time of peace and rest. She shares her fears and worries with me most often when we take long walks, away from technology, friends, and the listening ears of her brother.  Vacation offers countless opportunities for these interactions.

Authentic community is established

When we embark on a vacation, we open ourselves to simply “do life” with others. Whether it’s a spa vacation with girlfriends, a golf trip with the guys, a big beach vacation with the entire family, or a weekend on the lake with a spouse and kids, vacation positions us to need each other.  It also positions us to sacrifice for each other.  Eating an hour earlier than usual, because Aunt Carol gets hungry at five o’clock, heading the grocery store with your five best friends, and figuring out a schedule for the shower all force us into community.  Living in community, planning together, and sacrificing for each other molds us into the image of Christ, who willingly left the throne of heaven to walk among us.

Experiencing the wonder of new things together is deeply unifying

Gazing at a picturesque mountain lake, exploring a museum, experiencing the thrill of a rollercoaster, or kayaking down a lazy river with a loved one unifies us. Experiencing the wonder of a sunrise on the beach or the luxury of a picnic beside a waterfall creates memories that last a lifetime.  When we take time to experience new things with our loved ones, we open the door to relational growth, and we grow closer to one another.  A relationship that is growing dry is often revitalized by the joy of experiencing new things together.  A vacation is an ideal opportunity to step out of the normal realm of daily living and experience new sounds, sights, and adventures.

Opportunities for doing nothing

The most refreshing moment of a recent vacation to a mountain lake was the realization that I was sitting on the shore with nothing to do but wait for my hair to dry. The sun soaked into my skin with a warmth that breathed life into my weary body.  I closed my eyes and embraced the quiet moment of doing absolutely nothing. Vacation time is a beautiful opportunity to pursue deeper relationships, pursue God, and simply rest in his affection.  When we’re not forced to ponder the next project at the office, the next issue on the home front, or the next item on the to-do list, we open ourselves to simply rest in the affection of God, doing nothing at all.

 

The week in the woods with my family proved to be among the most revitalizing times in my life as a mom with young children. We made memories, connected with each other, and I connected with God in a way that was deeply life-giving.  It was well worth the sacrifice.

 

 

When You’re Wondering If You Really Have What It Takes

 

The thick Carolina air presses on my lungs like I’m caught in a stranglehold, and I wonder if I just might suffocate under the weight of it. Lavender thistle blossoms bow and rise in unison, and yet there is no breeze.  They must be praising their Maker.

I join them, and the heaviness in my chest seems to lift. Perhaps it wasn’t the Carolina heat after all.

I’ve been wrestling hard this weekend. I’ve wrestled with the realization that I am different than the 800 women at this conference.  It’s a conference for women who are called to write, speak, and lead, and I’m still not convinced I’m one of them.  I’ve wrestled with the invitation to take a step of faith like this: leaving my husband to tend to two little ones who happen to be fighting the stomach bug at this very moment; stepping away from my calling as a mother, wife, mentor, and other things; driving eight hours through the Blue Ridge Mountains like I’m chasing down a dream.  Something about it all makes me feel small and vulnerable.

It also feels like a risk I’m not sure I wanted to take. Am I risking appearing a fool if this dream never takes flight?  Am I risking the well-being of family?  I know, for sure, that I’m risking things I’d rather hold with tightly clenched fists.  Letting go feels like slow death dripping from my fingertips.

My morning jog down the Carolina Thread Trail slows to a walk. Queen Ann’s Lace blankets the trail’s edge like a gentle reminder of home.  Pennsylvania.  Where the air is lighter and these questions don’t press with such poignancy.

I think of the words Liz spoke last night, and I discipline my racing mind to stop. To rest at the feet of my Lord and wait for what he might want to speak to me – through me.  And in this place, their faces come to my mind, one by one.  I see the faces of the women whose paths divinely crossed mine in the beautiful conference center with the Bible verses hanging on banners from the ceilings and the colorful bouquets on the tables.

I see their faces, and I want to encourage them to keep pressing forward, keep following the calling, and keep trusting in his timing. I want to remind them of these things too:

You belong

I know you had a moment of scanning the crowd and wondering where you fit in. I know you felt a wave of anxiety when you saw their beautiful outfits and perfect hair.  I did too.  Each one of us looked for where we might fit in the crowd.  We wondered if we really belonged.

You do belong. You belong among the throngs of women who are passionate about fulfilling a life calling that is something greater than themselves. You belong in the calling of your everyday life, and you belong in this place that looks like stepping out in faith to follow a dream.  God is pleased when his children step out in faith and trust him to lead.  We are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a people belonging to God.  Keep sharing the praises of him who called you out of darkness and into his marvelous light.

Your words matter

It’s easy to fix our eyes on the ones who seem to have arrived. It’s easy to stop telling our stories when we’re told they aren’t marketable, when we’re told they’re not the right fit, or when we’re told someone else is already saying the same thing – and saying it better.  These words cut to the heart, especially when the words we want to share are birthed from our deepest places of pain, heartbreak, vulnerability, and passion.

Don’t let the critics get you down, child.  Keep telling your story.  Keep speaking it to the masses and to the cashiers at the grocery store.  Keep writing your triumphs, your failures, and your grief.  If these words touch one person, you have glorified Christ.  Don’t go silent now, sweet friend. It’s only just begun.

You are crazily loved

I stood with close to a thousand women this weekend – women who want to glorify God with their lives. We worshiped before the throne, just our voices, singing of his greatness.  I was reminded of one simple truth.  It’s a simple truth that’s enough to transform the whole sum of my weekend, my month, my summer, and my life: If you only knew just how much he loved you . . .

If you only caught a glimpse of the joy he experiences when he sees his children stand before him in unified adoration, you would live as a marked woman. Your life is a fragrant offering, and it is beautiful to the King.  He sees your imperfections.  He sees your failures and your sin – past and present.  His blood is enough to cover it all, and clothed in his righteousness, you are spotless.

You are loved more than you can fathom, and every time you take a step of faith, whether it’s stepping into your job with eyes set to find someone to love, whether it’s writing your first blog post, starting your first page, or opening a new chapter, your Father dances over you with sheer delight.

Keep pressing on, friends. There is more to come in this journey, and it all points to the King.

*The sweet woman in this photo is my prayer partner from the weekend.  Thanks for exuding joy and speaking words of encouragement, Barb!

 

For When You’re Feeling Less-than

 

Muddy water rolls onto the rocky shore like waves of hope, and I count my blessings with the rhythm of the surf: this perfect day with cerulean skies and just the right placement of high cirrus clouds, sailboats on the horizon, these rolling green hills that speak of life and abundance, a date with a six-year-old, and the fact that she begged me to bring her to this place with a Bible. It’s almost too much to really believe this is my child and my life.

I watch her as she watches the waves beside me. She’s past the age of hurling rocks and sticks for entertainment.  Today she simply wants to watch the boats and the clouds drift by.

I pray for words that might capture this moment and speak truth into the deepest recesses of her being. I want to make the most of the moment, make it teachable, and be intentional.

Her delicate hair dances in the wind, and she looks right through me with penetrating eyes. She wants to know what I’m thinking about.  I tell her I was watching her watch the waves, and I think she’s beautiful.  I tell her I’m so grateful for this time together.

That’s when I remember.  I remember Ann’s words from this morning:

“The world will say they will love you if you’re beautiful —but the truth is you’re beautiful because you are loved.  “God Loves YOU. He who is Love loves you unconditionally. Living as one truly loved and cherished by God is the cross- beam that supports an abundant life in Christ. Belovedness is the center of being, the only real identity, God’s only name for you, the only identity He gives you. And you won’t ever feel like you belong anywhere until you choose to listen to your heart beating out that you do—unconditionally, irrevocably.” ~Ann Voskamp

My daughter is beautiful because she is loved. She’ll face bullies in the days to come.  She’ll face boys who will promise to love her if she’s beautiful, but how can I teach her that it’s not the love of boys or the admiration that comes from other women that makes a woman beautiful.  A woman is beautiful because she’s loved by God.

I want her to know who she is without hesitation. She’s not simply pretty or smart or funny.  She’s not defined by her social status, her hobbies, or her aspirations.  Before all of these things, she is first beloved.  Belovedness is the center of her being, her only real identity, and God’s name for her.  How can I teach her this?

I open the Bible on my lap to Romans, and I tell her: “God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. This is how we know for sure that we are beautiful: God showed us that we are beautiful and beloved when he sent his Son to die for us.  This is the ultimate act of love.  You are beautiful because of this.”

I think of the labels with which I’ve defined myself: athlete, teacher, backpacker, wife, mother. I remember when the injury happened, and I could no longer call myself an athlete.  I remember walking away from my career to pursue full-time parenting, and I could no longer call myself a teacher.  I remember the day I realized it had been six years since I’d worn the old Kelty backpack into the mountains, and I could no longer call myself a backpacker.  What then?

What do we do with all the labels that are eventually stripped away? Who am I if it’s all stripped away?

Ann’s words ring true: The only identity that never changes is the identity that says I am beloved.

Blaise Pascal said it this way: “Not only do we know God through Jesus Christ, but we only know ourselves through Jesus Christ.”

I tell my girl that the only part of her that can never be stripped away is the love of Christ that is sealed over her life. No matter where she goes, no matter what she faces, she is still beloved.  There’s no need to prove herself to the world or make much of her life for the sake of a simple label.  She is free to live and love as one who is fully defined by the love of Christ.

She crawls onto my lap and listens intently. “Does this make sense?” I ask.

“Yes,” she says, “God loves me, just because I’m his.”

I kiss her damp hair. “Yes, just because you’re his.”

~~~

For more thoughts on parenting, sign up for your free copy of 22 Questions Your Kids Need You to Ask

 

 

 

 

 

A Simple Strategy for Greater Joy

 

The multiflora rose bushes are exploding with white blossoms when it hits me: I’m living on autopilot again. We all have our own versions of autopilot – the thoughtless brushing of teeth and consumption of coffee, the drive to work that’s the same every day, and the daily routines that make up the foundation of our daily lives.  We push through our days with little thought, no margin time to notice beauty, thousands of stressors streaming through our minds, and a lingering lack of simple enjoyment.

I stop along the road and stare at the white roses. Never in my life have I noticed these invasive, injury-causing plants in blossom.  I’ve grimaced as their needle-like thorns penetrated my clothing and pierced my flesh.  I’ve clipped them away from trails and dug them out of the hedgerow.  But I’ve never noticed them in bloom.  I’m astonished that something so beautiful could emerge from something so menacing.

What if there is beauty awaiting me in countless unseen corridors of my life, and I’m too busy solving problems and worrying about thorn bushes to notice?

I smell the white roses. I literally put my face into the thorn bushes I’ve cursed upon and breathe in something beautiful.  I wonder how much joy autopilot has stolen from my life.  I wonder how many sunrises I missed on the way to work because I all I could think about was how to get the progress reports finished by Friday.  I wonder how many conversations I missed because I was too worried about raking leaves or logging miles or hanging curtain rods.

Is this the gateway to the joy and fulfillment I crave? Take my life off autopilot and refuse to slip back into this thoughtless way of living.

Jesus said it like this: “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). In him we have peace.  Trouble will come, but he has overcome it.  He wants us to walk in peace.

He also said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).  If autopilot is destroying my days, it is certainly not from the Lord.  His plan is that I will have an abundant kind of life.

The opposite of autopilot is intentionality. When I live with intentionality, I slow down to notice the people in front of me.  I slow to observe beauty in the architecture of my community, the wispy breaths of high cirrus clouds, and the jade buds sprouting from the spruce tree in the yard.  Embracing these things feels like actually living.

Tasting the food I eat, drawing on the sidewalk with chalk beside the kids, and lying in the grass while geese pass overhead are each gateways to joy. And somehow, opening my eyes to what’s around me feels like opening my eyes to God.  When I see the good in it all, I am drawn closer to his beating heart.

Joe Rigney speaks of this kind of observation in his book, The Things of Earth.  He calls it indirect godwardness: “a subconscious focus on God while engaging with the world that God made” (121).  He goes onto explain that indirect godwardness increases our direct focus on God “by creating new mental, emotional, and spiritual categories for our enjoyment of God. It keeps us from being vague and indistinct in our minds” (126).

I meander slowly away from the white roses and gather a bouquet of daisies along the roadside. A barred owl calls from the valley behind, and I’m thankful for having noticed.

 

 

For Anyone Who’s Been the Last One Chosen

 

I open the refrigerator in search of milk, but the sticker on the outside of the door catches my eye. It reads: “Star Student Award.”  It’s the size of a small nametag – white paper creased and worn and dirtied and so very well loved.

She wore it for two days. The first day, she bounced off the school bus in the blazing heat of a mid-May afternoon with a fleece jacket over her shirt.  She said she wanted to surprise me.  She ripped the coat wide open to unveil the prize she’d been longing for all year: the principal’s star student award.  She was spotted helping a friend, and someone noticed.  It feels so good when someone notices.

I convinced her not to slap it onto her pajamas that night, but she wore it to school the next day, gently pulling it from her turquoise T-shirt and placing it on her purple dress. She’d been chosen, and she just couldn’t wait to show the world.

After the second day on display, the sticker found its final resting place on an index card, and we taped it to the fridge for good measure. A treasure.  A reminder to be kind.

Staring at it in the early glow of morning’s rising light, I find myself thinking of what it means to be chosen. I think of a dozen times when I so desperately longed to be chosen . . . but wasn’t.  There was that day on the playground in second grade with all the boys.  I wanted to join their football game.  When the members of teams were drawn – one by one – I wasn’t last, but I was near the end.  I made sure to run faster and play harder than the rest of the boys, and from that day on, I was never near the end again.  The adult friends and family who have walked with me since childhood can attest to this.

I remember that boy in eighth grade. I desperately wanted him to dance with me, but he never walked across the wide span of gymnasium.  He asked the girl with the blonde hair and poufy bangs instead.  Two feet apart, they swayed to Boyz II Men for the full three minutes that could have been mine.

I turn from the sticker on the fridge and make my way to the couch to open the Word that will speak life into my day. I read, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ,  just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Ephesians 1:3-4).

Chosen. I chew on the words.  I am chosen by the One who created the stars and the clouds and the mountains and the seas.  Before the foundation of all these things, he chose me.  I wasn’t always chosen for the team, chosen for the dance, or chosen for the promotion, but I am chosen by the Lord over all the earth to be his.  More than this, I am chosen to be blameless.

Me, with all my failures, all my besetting sins, my quick temper with the kids, my stained past, and my addictive personality – chosen to be blameless. Only the cross could have accomplished this.  Only the cross, with the shedding of innocent blood where the Lamb of God was slain for my failures.  Only the cross makes me blameless.

I swallow down the truth, and Bekah comes down the stairs with her hair matted from the pillow.  I hear her brother talking on the monitor – playing with the toys in his bed and singing with the little pink computer that sings the alphabet song.

She walks to the fridge and runs her little fingers – nails painted cobalt blue – across the sticker that reminds her she was chosen. I run my fingers across the pages that remind me of the same thing.

When she folds onto my lap, we talk about the sticker on the fridge, and I read words of life to her, praying they’ll sink straight into her thrumming heart. She smiles wide, truth sinking deeper.

 

How to be Happy with What We Have

Today I’m welcoming a writing friend as a guest blogger. While welcoming guest bloggers to my site isn’t something I’m regularly pursuing, Daisy and I met long before I ever imagined I’d have a blog, and her words have been an encouragement to me.  We met through Grove City Alliance Church, and Daisy passed her role as the Prayer Shield Coordinator onto me a few years ago.

We reconnected this spring, and it’s an honor to share her words with you today. Daisy is the published author of Homespun Faith, a compilation of devotionals.  She writes on her own blog at homespunfaith.com.

How to be Happy with What We Have

By Daisy Townsend

Recently I became obsessed with finding a rug just the right size for a floor area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. The size rug we needed wasn’t easy to find, not being a standard size. I measured several times and pictured what the different-sized rugs would look like in our bedroom. I hunted at Ollie’s and online.

One day I noticed the carpet remnant on the family room floor left over from when we’d had our upstairs carpeted four years ago. The longer I looked the more sure I became that this carpet remnant was exactly the right size for the area we wanted to cover in our bedroom. (A standard size rug would easily replace the remnant in our family room.)

When Donn and I carried the remnant to our bedroom, we found it was a perfect fit! I kept thinking of the irony of how hard we’d tried to find the perfect rug when we already had exactly what we needed. I wondered how often in life we do the same thing─go out searching for what we think we need when we already have it.

One woman I knew had been married many years to a good man but decided she wasn’t happy. Eventually she left her husband and found the man she thought she wanted. Things didn’t turn out well. I asked her gently, “Do you have regrets?” Sobs shook her whole body as she nodded. “So many regrets.”

I read of a similar case of a woman who spent many years complaining to her calm, easy-going accountant husband and her friends about the unexciting life they led. When Tim died of a heart attack in his forties, Diane found the man of her dreams. He was debonair and charming, an exciting date. However, after they married, she discovered he wanted to party every night and cared little about managing finances. Later, Diane told a friend, “I wish I had married someone who was content to stay home and good at managing money.” Her friend looked at her and said, “Someone like Tim?” God had given her exactly what she needed, but she’d been too blind to appreciate him.

This reminds me of two of my favorite children’s books: Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest. The moral of each story is the same. In Old Hat, New Hat the bear sets out to buy a new hat. He tries on or looks at 31 different hats, but finds something wrong with each one. (Do you remember? “Too big. Too small. Too flat. Too tall. etc.”) In the end, he puts on his old hat, looks in the mirror and says, “Just right! Just right. Just right. Just right.” He leaves the store wearing his old hat with a smile on his face.

 

In The Best Nest, Mr. Bird loves their nest and sings often, “I love my house. I love my nest. In all the world, my nest is best!” Mrs. Bird has a different opinion but in the end, after looking at many other nests, Mrs. Bird also realizes that the nest they have is, after all, the best nest.

Old Hat, New Hat and The Best Nest have happy endings because the “people” come to appreciate what they already had. However, in the real world, as in the other two stories I shared, the endings aren’t always happy. We may leave a marriage, a job, a house, or any number of places or situations, and later, when we realize the value of what we had, we discover it’s too late.

Charles Stanley recently said many people love to quote Psalm 37:4 (Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart), but fail to understand that the promise has a condition we must fulfill. Psalm 90:14 says, “Satisfy me early with your love that I may delight in you all the day.” As the Lord becomes our delight, He aligns our desires with His.

If we find ourselves unhappy and dissatisfied with our marriage, our job, our church, our home, perhaps the first step shouldn’t be to look for a new man/woman, job, church, home. Perhaps the first step should be to ask God to satisfy us with His love so that we can delight in Him and trust Him to give us the desires of our hearts. In many cases, we may discover that He already has.

Father, forgive us for trying so hard to find what we want that we’re blinded to the fact you’ve often already given us what we need. Amen.

 

–Daisy Townsend

 

 

 

God’s Desire for Communion

“The irony is that while God doesn’t need us but still wants us, we desperately need God but don’t really want Him most of the time.” – Francis Chan

The curtains wave in the breeze, and a dozen songbirds chatter on the lawn. I sit with iced tea and a craving for something I can’t quite name.  It’s quiet time at our house – a designated hour of rest and silence.  Caleb sleeps.  Bekah plays quietly in her room, and I gaze into a long list of goals to achieve by the end of the week.

Francis Chan speaks through the computer screen. There’s a tent on the stage where he stands before a crowd – a red and white camping tent: a modern-day illustration of the place Moses once went to meet face-to-face with the Creator of the world.  Francis speaks of the awe with which God’s people once approached him – how God spoke through thunder, lightning, and fire.  He speaks of reverence and glory.

He says: “And what’s crazy to me is nowadays how we treat this time with God as ordinary or even burdensome – to where we try to squeeze in like five minutes at the end of our day, like I gotta try to get some time with him . . . I feel guilty ‘cause I only got like two or three minutes . . . And now it’s like a burden, and we have pastors that beg us . . . just give him a few minutes –  just try, please, please.”

I think of our morning: me with coffee, racing through the daily Scripture reading, while Caleb murmured on the monitor. Just trying to get it done.  I think of last evening: a chapter before bed, but my eyes glazing over and sleep settling in before I absorbed a single word.  I think of all the times it feels more like one more chore on a long list than the greatest honor a human could ever receive: The Creator of the universe wants to meet with me.

And here I am giving him six minutes and checking it off the list. Six distracted minutes.  Six minutes that were more about finding direction for my day and getting my needs met than actually connecting with his heart.

What if every time I opened my Bible, I actually expected God to speak to me? Doesn’t he?  Isn’t there a promise that every verse is God-breathed?  Isn’t there a promise that no word from this book will ever return empty?

I put down the list of tasks and silence the sermon from Francis. I open the Bible and expect God to speak.  I read:

And foreigners who bind themselves to the Lord to minister to him. . .  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. (Psalm 56:6-7)

If I bind myself to the Lord, he will bring me joy. If I keep seeking, pursuing, and attending to him, he will bring me to his holy mountain.  If I draw near to him, he will draw near to me.

I sit with the Book and the curtain and the songbirds. I don’t cross even one task off the to-do list.  And somehow, when the quiet hour ends, it feels like I’ve accomplished the very best thing.

~~~

 

For practical suggestions on growing in relationship with the Lord, enter your email to receive the free print out in your inbox: 10 Ways to Go Deeper with God.

 

Francis Chan, “Entering the Presence of God,” April 10, 2017, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VdtNkjR-wFs

 

 

When He Speaks Your Name

 

I remember it with the poignancy of yesterday. I’m fiddling with the latch on my green Care Bears lunchbox, when Mrs. Nagel gently encourages me to take a step to the left.  It seems I’m the juxtapose member of an otherwise pencil-straight line of kindergartners.

I’m missing my mom like it’s nobody’s business, and this whole mess of leaving her for approximately 3.5 hours a day is just about more than my five-year-old heart can take. I have no idea how I’ll ever get married and leave the house.  But I leave that thought alone and just try to swallow the tears that rise every time I think of her throughout the long half-days in the kindergarten classroom.

The colossal correction from Mrs. Nagel triggers the tears again, and I gulp hard, staring at the Care Bears and the rainbow on my lunch box. That’s when I hear the word.  “Stacey,” she says it gently, and somewhere behind the words, I hear all the love in the world, and something about her voice reminds me of my mom.  But it doesn’t bring tears this time.  I look right into her eyes, and I see a kind of compassion that wraps me comfort.

When she says my name, I know she sees me. I know she sees my heart, and she’s telling me it’s alright.  It’s all going to be ok.  We’re going to get through this, and she’s going to walk with me.

“No tears now,” she softly says, touching my arm tenderly.

I nod. I want to tell her I’m trying not to cry, that we’re on the same page, that I’m on board, and that we’ll get there.  Instead I just nod my little head and clench my lunchbox handle with two hands, eyes straight ahead.  I’ve got this.  I’ve got this standing in line thing, and this getting on the bus thing, and this leaving Mom thing.  We’re gonna make it.

We did make it. Mrs. Nagel and I soared through kindergarten together, and by the end of the year, the tears were a rarity.  Her kindness and gentleness walked me through the hard transition.

This is the memory that comes to mind when I read the account of Mary, searching for the body of Jesus at the tomb. Her grief is deeper than that of a kindergartner missing her mom, but it is grief, nonetheless.  She has come to anoint the body of Jesus with oil, and something about the act feels like a comfort to her.  She has lost him, but she focuses on what she can now do for him in his death.

She arrives at the tomb to discover the body is gone. Double grief.  Not only is she grieved over his death, she’s now distraught over the fact that someone has taken his body.  It’s disturbing.  It’s disheartening.  It’s terrible.  Someone is going to rob her of the final consolation of at least giving him a proper burial.

That’s when it happens. A gardener comes to the tomb beside her.  She glances at him, then begs him to tell her where they might have put the body.  Her mind is racing, and her eyes are blinded to the reality that this is no gardener; this is the very Lord she vehemently seeks.

She doesn’t know it’s him until he says it. He says her name, “Mary.”

I imagine the tone. It’s direct, yet filled with compassion.  It’s an assertion that he sees her.  He sees her heart and her desperation.  It’s an assertion that good things are coming.  Surely, he knows the awe that will fall upon her when she recognizes him.  Surely, this brings him joy, and there’s anticipation in the proclamation of her name.

She recognizes him the moment he says her name. She responds, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).*  And from that moment, everything changes.  The redemption of humankind is at hand.  His body was not stolen; he is alive!

The scene reminds me of Mrs. Nagel’s gentle proclamation of my name – of the day she saw into my heart and reminded me we’d get through it. It also stirs in me a deep longing for the day when I stand before the throne of God and hear Jesus speak my name.  It reminds me of the way he drew me to himself as a young girl.  It reminds me that just as he knew Mary by name, he knows my name.  He is watching, waiting, and walking with me through this season.

Jesus knows your name too. Imagine the day he looks into your eyes and speaks your name.  The day will come for each one of us.  Let’s live with prepared hearts, waiting, longing, and anticipating the day he calls our names.

 

 

*John 20:16