In the Meantime

A few years ago, my sister said something that has resonated with me almost every day since I heard it: Every circumstance you are placed in is preparing you for something else.  It’s a concept I’ve seen at work in my own life, which makes me so grateful for how sovereign and crafty our God just is.  For instance, out of college, I went to work for a government agency as a secretary, not the most glamorous job in the world, but I learned accountability, patience, the value of team work and not feeding the gossip beast, a few years and unpleasant jobs later brought me to a some formative years as an editorial assistant, and what I learned here was invaluable: that what I had to write meant something, that some people (namely research scientists) actually valued what I had to say, and of course with any job there were the non-related work circumstances that taught me quite a bit too.  Finally, more recently, personal life circumstances gave me the material to write a book and begin a blog so all of that built on itself: the work ethic, the knowledge, and the humbling circumstances with which to relate to my reader. 
I had a chance to look at this practically when reading to the girls yesterday from a kid’s biography on Winston Churchill.  Winston grew up in a political family, had a few fits and starts with behavior, schooling, and in both of those arenas early on in life, things were looking a little bleak.  However, it took a few people to really invest in him, namely his nanny and to see his passion for leadership and serving in the armed forces to really draw this boy out.  You see, for a long time, Churchill desperately wanted to be a politician like his father, to influence, to lead, BUT, he had to start somewhere, so he began to write and what he wrote he began to speak and when his writing became so good, he was asked to travel and write, which landed him in a bit of hot water (namely, prison) but he managed to escape and in the course became a hero, from there his bravery increased and throughout his life he got into some circumstances which were really out of his hands but formed his character.  Which got me to thinking on the value of starting where you can.  Churchill has huge aspirations for himself but he started with what he could do.
Here’s my encouragement to you, whether you are 17 or 72, start humbly at the bottom.  Do the menial tasks, the hours in the copy room with you and the rumbling machines.  Sweep up when no one is looking, be consistent, follow through.
With my life taking a 180 in the past few years, of course I’ve had the question, “Will things ever get back ‘on track’?” But God may have a couple of different ideas on what that track looks like and I have to be content with that.  I need to realize that whatever dreams I have, big or small, it means doing to grunt work at the beginning:
1) Continuing to write when it doesn’t feel like anything is happening and no one is paying attention
2) Being a good mother to Little A
3) Being consistent and accountable in my jobs
4) Maintaining personal relationships the best way I know how with lots of prayer
Some of these are expansive and require lots of bullet points underneath, others, like faithfully writing are straightforward.
I know we are almost into June already, but now may be just the time to jump start those New Year’s goals or come up with a few new ones, it just may transform your meantime.

Riding Lessons

Creative Commons Arturo Sotillo
It happened yet again in that parent moment yesterday, as I tried for the first time to teach Little A to ride a two-wheeler.  Helmet? Check.  Brand-new Huffy?  Check.  Willpower?  Healthy dose of fear?  Check and check.

You see, we hadn’t intended on skipping the training wheels stage, but it just happened that way.  I bought training wheels when I bought the bike with every intention and effort to install them, and after an hour or so on the sidewalk with two of my neighbors and the bike in various stages of disassembly, we concluded that no, this was not the kind of bike that accepted training wheels. I knew in my head, though, that Little A could do this.  She could touch the ground while on the seat and that was all I was asking for.  It would take some work, but I knew she could do it.
Then came the coercion, forcing, prompting portion of our day, finally ending in, “We’re going to the park whether you like it or not.”  Me thinking, We’re getting this thing done.
So, we loaded up and at the peak of toasty Georgia day and we started practicing. 
I’m not going lie to you, there was a lot of tears. 
Little A cried too.
Pedal, pedal, push, push.  Became our mantra.  I felt like a combo riding coach/midwife.
I found myself crouching down, towards the beginning of our lessons, getting eyeball to eyeball, saying to her after a lot of body-shaking tear-filled gasps, “I know this is really hard, but Mom wouldn’t have put you on this bike if I didn’t think you could do it.” 
It was that very phrase that hit me in the gut.  You know those phrases, the words that seep out of our lips that we know our Heavenly Father have been saying to us for some time now. 
I wouldn’t have asked you to do this if I didn’t think you could handle it. 
More than running after my daughter, hand on the back of her seat, coaching encouraging, coaxing, it was that phrase that left me breathless.
And then came that moment, that beautiful moment, after about 10-15 minutes or so, when we are speeding through the park grass (it’s just safer that way–I’m not completely insane).  Repeating Pedal, Pedal, Push, Push, she’s got the speed up, bike pointed towards minimal imminent threat and I just let go. And she is one her own, pedaling and pushing, narrowly avoiding the trees and my heart soars and I do a little victory dance inside as I run to congratulate her. 
Remember the moment of Jesus inviting Peter out on the water?  Jesus simply said was “Come” and he did and that was all it took.  No fancy promises, 3-point sermons or motivational speeches, just “Come.”
Has He been speaking to you in the same way lately?  How will you respond?

Woman, Why are you Crying?

Yes, this would be your typical Easter text, and yes, I may be just a few weeks late on this one, but it wasn’t until today that I was able to really flesh this out in my mind.
On the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene went to the grave of Jesus expecting to mourn, to cry out, to try to put the pieces back together of a life that was cut short in its prime, really, but instead she witnessed something that would scare the robe off anybody: angels, an empty tomb and some discarded grave clothes.
In John 20:13, the angels ask, “Woman, why are you crying?
And in Matt. 28: 5 The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.  Come and see the place where he lay.  Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee.  There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”
Luke puts it this way: the angels asked, “Why do you look for the living among the dead?”
Why are we searching for the living among the dead?  This isn’t a treatise on why we need to give up hope, but it is a challenge.  God gave Mary Magdalene specific instructions, specific important instructions.  If we keep our eyes to the ground, or worse yet, on what once was, we will miss the gift in front of us: this gift of a Savior, of a miracle worker, of new, regenerated life.  This was the woman from whom Jesus cast out seven demons.  God had already done a huge work in her life.
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.  Suddenly Jesus met them.  “Greetings,” he said.  They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.  The Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid.  Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me. (Matt. 28:8-9)
Funny thing is, the text clearly states that the women were afraid, but at the same time they were FILLED with joy. What does that mean for us? 
1) We have to step out and do the things that cause us fear, chances are, if Jesus had not gone ahead of the women, the disciples would have just seen it as crazytalk.
2) Come, see what God has done, be my witnesses–tell others about how amazing Jesus is and how he keeps his promises
3) Go, tell what you have seen and Jesus will be there
This speaks to me because I am going back to Uganda in 42 days. I am going to be a storyteller for the things that I see.  I already know that God is going to do amazing things while we are there this summer, but still, the trip is a little daunting, the fundraising, getting to know new people, the variables we are certain to encounter while there…but Jesus has already gone before us, in fact, he is waiting for us there.  He is in the little hands that will be reaching out to take ours, he’s in the teachers that work so hard at the primary school, he’s in the hearts of the big kids there who have seen and experienced more hardship than most of us can comprehend.  He’s there in the hearts of the few men who have stayed behind to disciple a generation of young men who will grow up to be fathers and providers and leaders in their own families. 
So wipe those tears, go, tell, be His witnesses, his storytellers for what He has and what he will do.  Beyond any doubt, He will meet you there.

Rinse, Repeat

Creative Commons by edenpictures
I’ve found myself chaffing–a lot–lately over the Lord’s discipline.  Don’t you just love it how stuff will come up in your life that causes you to dig deeper–and deeper still, and without knowing it, you’ve come back to the gods that you thought you had knocked down, trampled over and left in the dust?  I came to this conclusion in my reading of the first few chapters of Judges this morning; the only thing that I can take comfort in in all of this, is that I am not alone.  The Israelites  went back to their gods again and again in the dessert and here I am in 21st Century America guilty of the same thing.
Judges 2:6 After Joshua had dismissed the Israelites, they went to take possession of the land, each to his own inheritance.  The people served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had seen all the great things the Lord had done for Israel.
Then, Joshua died and was buried.
Joshua 2: 10-22 After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel.  Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals.  They forsook the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of Egypt.  They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them.  They provoked the Lord to anger because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.  In his anger against Israel the Lord handed them over to raiders who plundered them.  He sold them to their enemies all around, whom they were no longer able to resist.  Whenever Israel went out to fight, the hand of the Lord was against them to defeat them.  They were in great distress.

Then the Lord raised up judges, who saved them out of the hands of these raiders.  Yet they would not listen to their judges but prostituted themselves to other gods and worshiped them.  Unlike their fathers, they quickly turned from the way in which their fathers had walked, the way of obedience to the Lord’s commands.  Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, he was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them.  But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshiping them.  They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.
Therefore the Lord was very angry with Israel and said, “Because this nation has violated the covenant that I laid down for their forefathers and has not listed to me, I will no longer drive out before them any of the nations Joshua left when he died.  I will use them to test Israel and see whether they will keep they way of the Lord and walk in it as their forefathers did.”
Skipping ahead a few verses:
3: 1-2: These are the nations the Lord left to test all those Israelites who had not experienced any of the wars in Canaan (he did this only to teach warfare to the descendants of the Israelites who had not had previous battle experience)…
Can’t we see that the Lord’s discipline is a reminder that he loves us?  No, God does not tempt us, but He does test us.  He wants our character to be refined over and over again, he wants the sparkly shine to come out all over us, but that is only done through rubbing, through crushing, through trial.  To be honest with you, I still haven’t got to the point where I “consider it pure joy” (James 1: 2) whenever I do face a trial.    I still cry and scream and stomp my foot and whine and fall down in despair, but God has proven over and over and over again that we don’t want to get to that state of neither knowing the Lord nor what he had done for us.  So, he brings us back, he allows us to feel defeated, so that he can prepare us for bigger things ahead.  Sanctification is a process, as really long, ongoing and in my opinion, can be a painful process.
There is nothing that I would want less than for the Lord’s mighty hand to be against me.  I want his favor, his blessings, his goodness upon my life.  I want to live a life that is full of his unspeakable joy and gladness, a life that is content and at peace throughout life’s trials.  I think, no, I know it’s possible because I have seen it happen before.
Is there something in your life that God is trying to sanctify you through?  It could be a relationship, a work situation, a trial that has you knocked flat on your back.  Will you let this obstacle refine you or will you try and kick at it, climb over it or run around it altogether?
Lord, replace my pride with servant hands that are willing to get stained and dirty.
Replace my greed with a desire to give way past when it starts hurting.
Help me to reach out.
Help me to be transparent when everything inside of me wants to crawl under the nearest rock.
Help me to think of others.  Period.
You do not owe me, life does not owe me.  The only person indebted here is me for the price you paid. Amen.