A former pastor used to say we’re all either entering a trial, exiting a trial, or in the middle of a trial.
It sounds pretty rough, I know. But those of us who have been walking with the Lord for a while know this is true. And, honestly, as I look back on a quarter century as a Christian, I realize that the times I feel closest to God is when I am in the middle of a trial. It’s in those times, difficult as they are, that I am desperate for Him. I need time in His word, in prayer, in fellowship with others, to get through each day. I know God allows trials, in part, to do that – draw us to Him, remind us that He is our strength.
But what about the in-between times? I’m there right now – though I’m slightly afraid to admit it. (As if I could “jinx” myself. Silly.) I am, in my former pastor’s words, “between storms”. The “storm” of moving and the difficulties involved in that have abated. The storm of having my first child leave the nest is on the horizon, but it’s not here yet. Life is pretty easy right now.
And that’s the problem.
I find myself pushing “Snooze” when I should be getting up and spending time with God. I allow my thoughts to drift to lesson plans and grocery lists during church. I choose staying home and reading over getting together with friends. I don’t “need” those things. So I do my own thing.
As a result, I am feeling distant from God. I am missing the passion I have when I’m in the “fire” – not that I want to be there! But I do want that closeness, that longing for God, that nearness to Him. I don’t want to have to enter a storm to force me to His side. I want to live there, to dwell in the shadow of His wings.
After 25 years of knowing Jesus, I feel like I should be better at this! And there is certainly growth, don’t get me wrong. But I still get lazy, complacent. I still allow the fire of passion to get dulled in the daily routine of a comfortable life.
In short, I still need Jesus. Even in the “in-between”.
We’ve all been there. Someone we care deeply about is contemplating – or actively pursuing – something (or someone!) terrible. What do we do?
As a confrontation-hater, I like to “just pray about it” and avoid the person. God can change them, right? And He is in control. So He will make sure that loved one gets the message. I’ll jump back in once God has done His thing….Until, as a confrontation-hater-that-occasionally-explodes, I just can’t take it anymore and then I say something I deeply regret.
This strategy doesn’t really work all that well.
And it’s definitely not biblical.
God certainly calls us to pray for our brothers and sisters. But we are also called to action. Galatian 6:1 tells us that believers should seek to restore someone who is in sin. Matthew 18 shows us how to do it: 1) confront the person one-on-one 2) if he/she doesn’t listen, bring in another person 3) if the person still doesn’t listen, bring him/her before the church.
God takes sin seriously. Sin keeps us from fully experiencing His purpose in our lives, from doing what God has called us to do, from knowing Him. How can we say we love someone, then, if we allow him/her to continue in sin? If we “just pray about it”, but do nothing to stop him/her?
This means that even us confrontation-haters need to confront – one-on-one first, then with someone else, if that isn’t effective. We need to be willing to bring in church leaders, as necessary, if the second step fails.
We don’t do this because we’re angry or harsh or judgmental, but because we love people too much to allow them to continue down a path that will destroy them. Occasionally, this means that we have to establish boundaries that mean a relationship is put on hold. Again, not because we are angry or trying to hurt someone, but because sin is serious. We are called to reflect God in every way – His love and His righteousness.
Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend…” Sometimes, the greatest love we can show someone is to refuse to enable them to continue walking down a path that will destroy them.
When I began my AP Literature class this week, I told the students the key to success in that class can be stated in two words…
Students who rush through the AP readings (complex literature with many layers) miss most of what the passages are about and can rarely analyze the passages correctly. But students are so conditioned to rushing through so much of life – the downside of having the world at your fingertips – that the idea of slowing down is foreign.
As I wrote those words on the board (Hangman-style, as requested by the students), I realized that I need to follow my own advice. Not for AP Lit, but for life. I tend to rush through much of my day. I multitask far too often and still find tasks that I have forgotten. I finish one day while planning the next. Too often, I only half-listen to my husband when he talks to me because my mind is somewhere else – where are the kids? Did I leave the coffee maker on? Did I make the copies that I need for tomorrow…?
I need to slow down. To enjoy each moment. I don’t want to keep looking back at my days and realize I spent them distracted rather than engaged. There’s nothing wrong with planning. But rushing in life, as in AP Lit, can keep me from missing the true beauty right in front of me. It can prevent me from enjoying the people God has placed in my life right now.
Worse, it can keep me from God Himself. When I am rushing, I fly through my Bible study and prayer time because I am thinking of what comes next. How many lessons has God wanted to teach me, lately, that I have missed because I am not slowing down and listening to His voice? How many people has He placed in my path that I have ignored because I am too involved in my own plans to consider His?
This teacher needs to follow her own advice and Slow. Down. Enjoy each day because God hasn’t promised us tomorrow. And because tomorrow has enough worries of its own. And because God is here, today, and He has plans for me today.
Maybe you need this reminder, too. It’s so easy to rush, so easy to be distracted. So incredibly easy to focus on the temporal and neglect the eternal. But there is a remedy: Slow. Down.
“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Ps. 118:24 (emphasis mine)
Several years ago, my friend Amy told me about a book she read that discussed how parents celebrate the “firsts”, but often miss the “lasts”. Usually it’s because we don’t know when those “lasts” will be…the last time we read a book to our child in bed, the last lost tooth, the last Band-Aid we apply.
Tomorrow, however, is a “last” that I am very aware of. Tomorrow is Emma’s last “first day” of school.* That also means that, after more than decade, it’s the last day all three of my kids will start the same school together.
This is the last year we’ll have a “first day” picture with all three kids, the last year my girls will play volleyball together, the last time I’ll teach Emma in my English class, most likely the last time I’ll direct her in a play.
All our lives will be different next year. Ellie and Thomas don’t know a world without Emma in it daily. And, while I am aware this is part of the “deal” as a parent, knowing that my nest will soon be emptying is a sad thought. My kids are two years apart – by the time I get over Emma leaving, Ellie will be a senior. Then Thomas…
These pictures are from the kids’ first day at school (in Madrid, Spain) – the first time all three were in school together. It is hard to believe I took those 10 years ago. Hard to believe we’ve been to three different schools since then, moved across the Atlantic and across the US. Hard to believe those adorable little babies are now all amazing teens on the brink of adulthood.
So I am celebrating this “last”. I am pausing to thank God for the years He has given me to parent my children, to buy school supplies and go to volleyball games and kiss hurts and host slumber parties. I am thankful for kids who love Jesus and love each other and bring us joy. I am thankful that, while this may be a “last”, Lord willing, there will be many, many more “firsts” to come.
*We are on a modified year-round schedule: school starts in July and ends in May.
I love to go to the beach. With its sounds and smells, the feel of the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair, ahhh. It is so relaxing. And since I live fairly close to the beach, I can go pretty often.
When we lived in Florida, we went most often to the Gulf of Mexico. I remember lying on my towel and looking out at the water – the same Gulf that kissed the shores of Florida also touched Texas and, of course, Mexico. And when we ventured to Florida’s east coast, I looked out at the Atlantic and thought how amazing that ocean went all the way to Europe! I may not be able to visit England, but I could visit a body of water that touches England.
But the Pacific Ocean…that thing is HUGE! The waters I touch in the Pacific also touch the shores of Australia and China. My sister and her family, missionaries in Southeast Asia, over 8000 miles away, can see the shores of the same ocean that I visit. I can’t even fathom the magnitude of that much water. To visit my sister would take a day’s travel by plane and a passing through of 14 time zones! But the Pacific Ocean is both there and here.
Psalm 103:12 tells us “He has removed our sins as far away from us as the east is from the west.” When I read that verse, I think about the ocean. As far as the east – America – is from the west – Asia. That’s how far my sins have been removed. Some translators say this refers to the sun setting – as far as daybreak is from nightfall, that’s how far our sins are removed. Either way – our sins are long gone!
I might wish to take a swim across the Pacific and visit my sister. But, even if I weren’t ridiculously afraid of what’s in the ocean (Shark Week doesn’t help!), I could never make it. It’s simply too far.
I need to apply that same understanding to my sins. When God forgives me, that sin is long gone. I can’t reach it. It can’t come back for me. I don’t have to live with the guilt or shame of it. It is GONE. As far as the east is from the west.
What a wonderful, gracious God we have to take all our sins – every one of them – and toss them “as far as the east is from the west.” Let’s not live as if they are nearby, let’s not allow the Enemy to bring those sins back to our minds. They are GONE. Let us live in the joy and freedom of a forgiven life.
Having moved several times in my adult life, I am jealous of folks who have lived in one place their whole lives, whose parents, siblings, and extended families live close enough to share Sunday dinners and holidays. Sometimes, I get a little bitter that I didn’t get that story. I long for roots — deep, decades-long roots – in one place. Instead, I have shallow roots all over.
This week, God has been reminding me that I do have roots, I do have a home. The permanency I long for is a reality. At church on Sunday, our pastor spoke of Heaven and said, “Imagine…what is most precious here on earth is the asphalt of heaven.” In my Bible study, I am nearing the end of Revelation, where John describes the beauty and majesty of Heaven.
Far too often, I get too caught up in this life. I get overwhelmed with “to-do lists” and worldly concerns, with minor details and passing problems. I allow those temporary issues to keep me from focusing on the eternal. I live as if this life is all there is.
But this life is not all there is. Not even close. In fact, compared to eternity, this life is a blip on the radar. So why do I live like this life is all there is? Why do I worry about things I can’t change? Why do I get jealous of people who have “roots” here when I have the greatest roots ever? I get an eternity to live next to family and feast with my Father!
I don’t know about you, but I constantly need the reminder that I am not of this world. I am a stranger here. Someday, though, I will have my longed-for “forever home”.
“My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?” John 14:2
As a parent, I hate seeing my children in pain. Yet, in the 17 years I have been a mom, I have had to do just that: three broken bones, two surgeries, a concussion, countless shots and skinned knees and cuts and who knows what else.
Sometimes, though, I have to make the decision to inflict pain on my children.
I had to do that today. My son needed oral surgery to remove an impacted tooth. If this tooth weren’t removed, it could have messed up his whole mouth, causing major pain in the future. But in order to remove the tooth, the doctor had to cut into his bone, extract the tooth, and stitch Thomas back up. You squeamish folks just got a little sick reading that sentence. Imagine having to sign the paper giving permission for it to happen? It’s awful.
But the alternative was worse. So I signed the paper. I took Thomas to the surgeon, sat and watched while he was put to sleep, and then waited impatiently until the nurse came back to tell me he was out of surgery. Tonight, I am feeding him chicken noodle soup and dreading the moment when the numbness wears off and the soreness kicks in.
What comforts me, though, is the knowledge that once he recovers, this won’t be an issue again. That tooth is out, his other teeth will be fine, and life will go on. This momentary pain really will be worth it in the long run.
Sometimes God, the perfect Father, has to do this for us. He allows pain because there are areas in our lives that are “sick” – relationships, or circumstances, or activities. We may not even know there’s a problem. But God does. And He loves us too much to let that problem fester and cause greater pain down the road. So he removes them or him or it from our lives, and we are left bleeding and hurting and confused. Why would a loving God do this??
When we told Thomas he would be having this surgery, he didn’t scream or cry or argue. He trusts Dave and me, and he accepted that this is something he needs. He wasn’t excited about it, but neither did he go in with a bad attitude.
If Thomas can trust his very imperfect parents to do what is best for him, why can’t we trust our very perfect Father to do what is best for us? God is good. He loves us. And He knows far more than we do what we need.
Maybe the purpose of the pain you are experiencing right now is for good, because God is protecting you from something worse. Trust Him. Cling to Him. He’s a good, good Father.
I watched the Tony Awards Sunday night. I love watching the Tony Awards – love seeing the performances, love celebrating the winners, love the theater. Always have.
I was a “theater kid”, and I had the amazing opportunity to grow up near one of the best community theaters in the country, surrounded by “theater people”. I spent most of my childhood and teen years on or behind or near the stage. The theater, for me, was like the baseball field for other kids. It was my happy place, my safe place. It was home.
But as I watched the Tony’s, I felt like an outsider. Even though I laughed and cried at the opening. Even though I know most of the shows – all the revivals – and could totally take James Cordon on in Broadway car karaoke. Even though I have loved theater for almost four decades and direct musicals in the Christian school where I teach because I want the next generation to love theater, too.
Even though I still identify as a “theater kid”, I feel like an outsider.
Why? Because I am a Christian. But not just any Christian. I am a “radical” Christian. I believe God is real and Jesus saves us from our sins, and the Holy Spirit lives in those of us who accept the forgiveness Jesus offers. I believe I am here on this earth for God’s glory, and that I must follow the instructions He has given us in his word.
I don’t believe in hate, but I do believe in Truth. I believe I need to live in that Truth and follow that Truth and point others to it because I believe that living in the Truth brings the greatest joy imaginable. I don’t “shove” my beliefs down anyone’s throats, and I certainly don’t call people names who disagree with me. But I do have firm beliefs that guide every part of my life, and if you are around me, you’ll end up hearing me talk about those.
In that way, I’m really not different than my theater friends. Or, for that matter, any other thinking person on the planet. We all believe in something, and most of us are passionate in our beliefs and think everyone else should believe what we do. We all talk about our beliefs and can get frustrated when others disagree with us.
So, theater people, if you’re reading this, please know: It is possible to be a Jesus-loving theater person. We exist. And we love you. And we don’t want to be mocked during the Tony’s anymore than you would like being mocked at our churches (which you’re not…not at my church!).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ll step off my soapbox and go back to listening to the “Hamilton” soundtrack…:)
This summer, my kids are seeing friends and family they haven’t seen in a year. The first response – especially for the younger two – is “Wow! You have grown so much!!”
And they have…well, the younger two. Dave, Emma, and I pretty much look the same. Emma hasn’t grown since 8th grade. (Neither have Dave or I, for that matter. Not in height, anyway!)
All this listening to folks in shock over how much my kids have grown physically made me think about spiritual growth.
It’s easy to measure physical growth: measuring tape and scales can tell us exactly how much we’ve grown. But how can we tell if we’ve grown spiritually?
We can tell in much the same way my kids discovered how much they grew — by asking others and comparing ourselves today to ourselves a year (or two or three years) ago.
You should have people in your life who know you well enough to tell you, honestly, where you are: parents, siblings, best friends, adults you trust. Ask them. And ask yourself: What was I struggling with last year? Anger? Consistent devotion times? Pride? Insecurity? Where are you now in those areas?
Don’t expect perfection – that won’t happen here on earth! But you can expect growth.
When I was growing up, I used to sing in church a lot. I used to come down from singing and all I could think about was whether or not people would complement me after the service. If they did, I was happy. If they didn’t, I was bummed. God did some major work in my life my first year of college – specifically in the area of pride. Sometime after that year, I remember singing in church and walking down off the stage and NOT thinking about whether or not people would complement me after the service. I really just wanted the words of the song to bless others.
I was so excited! Not that I was pride-free. But, through the power of God at work in my life, that particular sin area had been overcome.
There are lots more areas where I have seen God “grow” me. All are exciting to see, but none happened overnight. And there are lots of areas where God is still working. And some areas He hasn’t even revealed to me, yet, because He is far too gracious to show us ALL our sin at one time!
Maybe you’re still growing physically, like Ellie and Thomas. Or maybe, like Dave, Emma and me, you’re done with that. But you should always be growing spiritually. If you’ve been “stuck” for a while, ask God what you need to do to grow.
“If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” James 1:5
William Henry Brush, Jr joined the Army at the beginning of WWII and retired as a Lieutenant Colonel quarter of a century later. He won a Purple Heart during WWII for taking a bullet from a Nazi and still managing to carry a wounded soldier back to the base. He was stationed in Korea, Japan, Germany, Paris, and finally, Washington DC, where he worked in Military Intelligence (during JFK’s Presidency and assassination!).
He was a hero.
But so was my grandmother, Marie Brush. She stayed home and cared for my mom, the house, the bills…everything in the months that Grandaddy had to be away. And she packed up and moved…and moved…and moved when she needed to do that, too. Grandaddy was able to concentrate on doing the best job he could do because he knew all else was in the capable hands of his wife, a woman who sacrificed her personal comfort not just for her husband, but for her country.
Grandaddy went to be with Jesus over twenty years ago, and I still miss him today. Because he wasn’t just a great soldier, he was a great man. He was loving and funny and told great stories. He was a man of God and a man of convictions. He wasn’t perfect, but, to me, he was pretty darn close.
I am blessed to still have my grandmother here. She remains the strong woman God helped her become as a soldier’s wife. Widowhood was heartbreaking – she loved her husband dearly – but she knew how to continue on, even in difficult circumstances. She didn’t fall apart, but kept going. At 87, she still brings meals to the sick and visits friends in the nursing home and finds great joy in studying God’s word.
As I celebrate this Memorial Day, I celebrate this amazing couple. I am proud to be their granddaughter, proud of the heritage they handed down: love for this country and a commitment to the God of the Bible that this country was founded on.
“The legacy of heroes is the memory of a great name and inheritance of a great example.” ~Benjamin Disraeli