• Tag Archives Biblical encouragement
  • All Good Deeds

    No good deed goes unpunished. It’s a cliché that often, unfortunately proves true in daily life. Sometimes, when I finally get the guts to do something, events do not go in my favor, and I end up feeling battered when all I wanted to do was accomplish something good.

    Last month, I saw on Facebook that a woman from my church was having a rough time to close out a really rough year. Her husband had been very ill with one thing after the other, the latest being cancer. She is his caregiver, and now was experiencing some debilitating health issues as well. I felt such compassion for her and wanted to do something to help.

    Of course, doubt immediately chased the heels of my good intentions. What could I do that would be helpful? Maybe I could cook a meal. Hello, inferiority complex! My cooking isn’t good enough. I don’t know what they like. They probably wouldn’t like it even if I did cook something.

    Nothing I could possibly do would ever be good enough.

    I stopped myself, trying to shut out all of the excuses. I knew I could easily talk myself out of doing anything. After all, I have my own family to feed, I do all kinds of things for other people, I had already exceeded my “kind quota” for the month, and I had a mile-long to-do list begging for my attention. No one would think less of me if I didn’t take on this one.

    But I would.

    Is giving nothing better than giving my something, no matter how inadequate it is? If I tried, at least my friend would know I cared. But if I talked myself out of it, she’d never know that I cared and longed to help make things better for her.

    “When it is an act of kindness, there should only ever be one answer to the question of ‘maybe I should.’ The answer should always be ‘Yes.’”

    It is a line I wrote in a book that haunts me every day. When I wrote it in “A Cinderella Christmas,” I didn’t realize that it would change my own life so profoundly. Now, when a compliment to someone pauses on my lips or I wonder if maybe I should do something to try to help, the same doubts always creep in as my mind tries to talk me out of the work and the risk. Then that line comes back to me., leaving no room for my escape. I take a deep breath. Lord with your help…  And I say yes.

    I reached out and found out that several members of our church were already signed up to take meals, and I volunteered to be one of them. I decided to do myself a favor and do an easy meal that I make all the time for my family—chili and cornbread. My kids love it, so I hoped it would be good enough.

    The day arrived, and I was optimistic. I let my kids choose a dessert, and I made chocolate chip cookies first. Those came out pretty well, with me managing to only get one batch a little too toasty. Then I prepared the chili. I usually make chili in my Instant Pot, which I love, but sometimes, if I brown the meat in the pot, a layer of chili sticks to the bottom and prevents it from reaching pressure. To play it safe, I browned the ground beef separately on the stove and then transferred it to the rest of the chili in the Instant Pot. I then made the corn bread. It’s a very easy family recipe that I do all the time, and my kids love it.

    I put the cornbread in the oven and saw that I was running behind schedule. Then I looked at the Instant Pot. To my frustration, It was not reaching pressure. I called an immediate “abandon ship,” and hurriedly transferred the chili to a pot on the stove. Then I checked the cornbread. The picture should adequately describe my horror.

    What had I done? The simple answer is that I had forgotten the baking powder. Obviously, a little baking powder goes a long way. And without it, cornbread goes nowhere at all. I make this recipe all the time and have never forgotten the baking powder—until the night I was making it for someone else.

    Frantically, I grabbed a new bowl, which was difficult since I’d already managed to dirty every dish in the kitchen. I ran to the pantry to grab my ingredients again. My 8-year-old got in my way, and I snapped at him. (Cue guilt and an apology I gave later.) I mixed up more cornbread while I hollered for my husband to come help clean some of the dishes so I had something to work with. More cornbread in the over, texts sent telling my sweet friend that I was running late on dinner, and uncooperative chili finally simmering on the stove.

    Long story short, my husband made the dinner delivery about thirty-five minutes late. The chili was cooked, the cornbread was fluffy, and the cookies weren’t burned. But I, myself, was left way over-cooked, not fluffy at all, and a completely burned-out mess!

    No good deed…. And yet my friend knew I cared. My meager inadequacies were still better than nothing, and for me, that was good enough.

    My kids made her get well cards that we took with dinner. They also knew what happened. They saw me struggle and keep going to serve someone else. And they’ll see me do it all over again the next time I feel led to help another person.

    If I attempt an act of kindness and completely screw it up, ending up frazzled, embarrassed, and wondering if I never should have done it in the first place… you know what? The answer is still yes.

     


  • When I Fail

    I’ve spent the last few weeks putting in many hours on a big project. It required learning many new systems and multi-step problem solving that eventually got me to a new newsletter platform and a publishable short story to give away to newsletter subscribers. After many bumps against frustration, last week I was up late reading through everything one last time before pushing the publish button to let the various puzzle pieces go live on social media and release my short story to the world.

    In that moment, after all the work I put in, I suddenly didn’t want to do it. Everything I’d done—all the newsletters, the story, and even the idea itself seemed utterly silly. After all, I’d literally written a story about a paper bag. Who would even like that?

    So I prayed the same prayer I pray every time I release a book. Lord, this is yours. You gave me the idea. I did all this work for You. Please bless it and get it to those who need to read it. And if I fail, it’s all Yours anyway.

    Now, I know that sounds kinda pretty, but what I actually do is shove it at God and tell Him, “Here it is. Take it!”

    I wish I could say that prayer extinguished all of my worries, and my strong faith prevailed. Instead, with my heart ridiculously pounding, I hurriedly pressed the buttons to put everything live before I lost my nerve. There was no going back now. When I finally went to bed, I actually woke my sleeping husband to tell him that I’d finished and I was sure it was all going to be a big flop. See, some faith!

    You see, this is not my first rodeo. I’ve flopped before. I’ve been extremely blessed with my writing, and I can’t say that any of my stories have been epic fails (knock on wood!). But there are many other instances in my life when I’ve earnestly believed that I was doing what God wanted me to do. But it didn’t work out at all. I can recite a long list of those moments. They seem to live perpetually in my head waiting to sashay through my mind whenever I get ready to jump. Hey, remember that time when… That didn’t work out at all… Maybe this one will be the same… But this time, everyone will know about it.

    Sometimes I even remind God of those times. Hey, Lord, remember that time when I crashed and burned… so, why was that?

    I’m not talking about the mistakes. I’m talking about the times when you think you’re doing the right thing, and it just doesn’t work out in any definition of success. You’ve prayed about something, the doors seem to be opening, you dare to dream that just maybe you’re about to step onto a magic carpet and be whisked up into success in both man’s and God’s eyes. But then, what actually happens is that you find you’re not on a magic carpet at all. Instead, it’s a plain, old, ugly rug. And it’s just been pulled out from under you, leaving you flat on your back with the wind knocked out of you.

    Hey, God, remember that time when you pulled the rug out from under me? So… why was that?

    Oh, how I’d love to know the why! Sometimes we get to see something good come out of our failures. I would say that most of the time we don’t. The why has to wait for heaven. And I suspect that when we finally get there, all those little whys won’t even matter. They’ll dissipate, becoming insignificant in the reality of all that we have ever longed for.

    I could fail. I could do everything right and still fail. And I may never know the reason why. That sounds like a pretty lousy deal. Why even bother? Why did I push the buttons to publish? Why do I keep putting one foot in front of the other even though experience tells me that I could be flat on my back with the next step?

    Because He owns it all. I gave it to Him. I gave Him my work. I gave Him my steps. I gave him my success and my failure. He owns the rug, and He is the one who chooses whether or not to pull it.

    As I was thinking through all of this before I fell asleep that night, I said another prayer. Lord, if I fail, please let me serve you better in spite of that failure. Then I stopped and corrected myself. No, when I fail, let me serve you better because of that failure.

    God doesn’t work in the “in spite of” He works in the “because.” I believe that every success and failure has a purpose even if I never know what that is. But if God can use those heartbreaks to draw me closer to Him and serve Him better, shouldn’t that be an adequate “because”?

    I think therein lies the challenge. When we fail, especially when we are sure we were doing everything right, it’s so tempting to be angry and shoot whys God’s direction. It’s a lot more difficult to draw closer to the one who pulled the rug and seek to love Him more. As Job says, “Though He slay me, yet I trust Him.” Job 13:15 Maybe that is the true gift of loss—recognizing that your faith exists regardless of your circumstances and that you will still trust God whatever may come your way. But it is a gift only given through tears.

    Notice also I said when, not if. It looks like I’m not going to fall flat with this project, but I’m not on the magic carpet either. Like most things, it’ll probably end up somewhere in between. I’ve already heard wonderful feedback on my paper bag story that has touched readers. While thousands haven’t read it, touching those that have is more than enough to call it success for me.

    However, not all of my efforts will always end well. It’s inevitable that sometime I’ll find myself looking up, gasping and wondering what just happened to my not-so-magic rug.

    When I fail, let me serve you better because of that failure. 

    And here I am again, finger hovering over the publish button on this article, wondering if it will fail but praying that God will use it to touch someone.

    To anyone else out there who is hoping to fly on a magic carpet but fearing you won’t even cross the room upright, make sure to turn around and look at who is holding the rug.

    And remember, you don’t need to ask  Him the why. Just ask Him for a because.

     

    P.S. If you haven’t yet read the free paper bag story I talked about in this post, please scroll down or click this link.

     


  • The Words You Need to Hear

     

    Last week was a rough one. Nobody was sick. No tragedy occurred. In fact, there really was little worth complaining about. It was just one of those weeks, like so many in typical 2020, where you get to the end and think, “Whew! That was rough!”

    Part of what made it tough for me was that it was tough for one of my kids. I remember my mom saying that when you have multiple kids in the house, every day is a bad day for somebody! Since my heart walks around on four different pairs of legs, the chances of it hurting are pretty high.

    In this case, some of the “tough” had to do with my son’s math test.. It’s been a tough math year so far this year, so he was pretty nervous about it. Don’t get me wrong, he’s extremely smart and good at math, which makes the challenge of this year even more frustrating. The night before his test, he reviewed and studied for about three hours. I sat beside him, checked his answers with my own work, and made sure he was understanding the steps of the oft-times complex algebra problems. At the end of the night, I was confident that he knew his stuff. I was wiped out tired and reaching back decades to remember how to graph little numbers and letters on a grid I could barely see. He ended up telling me what I did wrong when our answers didn’t match and understood the material inside out and backwards. I prayed with him before bed and called it good, feeling confident that there was nothing more he could have done to prepare.

    The next day, I got an email from my son while he was at school. Obviously very upset, he told me he’d gone in at lunch to finish his test and scored the lowest grade he’d ever gotten on a math test in his life. Honestly, my first inclination was to try to find out exactly what went wrong. Did you not check your answers? How exactly did you mess up? Fortunately, I read between the lines of his few words. My easy-going, Pollyanna boy was frustrated and saying things like “take me out of this class. I can’t do it.” I took a deep breath and a few minutes before responding. He was frustrated, upset, and worried about how I would react.

    What does he need to hear right now?

    Then, slowly, I typed only a few words in reply: “It will be okay. We will figure it out. I love you.” Then I clicked send.

    He soon replied with only two words: “Ok, thanks.” But even in those two words, I knew that the waters of his emotions were calmed. Because he believed me. He believed it would be okay. He believed I would help him figure it out. And he believed I loved him.

    As I drove to pick him up at the end of the day, I was reflecting and thought about how many times, even as adults, we just need someone to say those same words I spoke to him.

    Then I heard a gentle whisper. Don’t I always?

    I then realized that the Bible proclaims that very message in every page. God has written it there for all to see. But His message to us is even more beautiful and powerful than mine to my son. For God’s words say something slightly different.

    It will be okay. I have it figured out. I love you.

    We often feel like we’ve gotten ourselves into a hopeless situation that we can’t manage to get out of. And we’re probably right. But no situation, no screw up, no tragedy comes as a surprise to God. He knew it was coming, and He already has a plan to get us through it.

    One of the most frequently misinterpreted verses in the Bible is Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” People often whip out this verse as a band aid when someone is going through something tough. However, if you read the context of the verse, you realize that God didn’t say this at the end of a tough time, but at the beginning. After those words were spoken, things went from bad to worse, at least if you were keeping tabs on the outside circumstances. But God doesn’t work the short game. Through that verse, He was telling His people that things are going to get bad. You’re going to face tragedy, persecution, and dark times. Not everyone was going to make it. But, I know the plans I have for you. They will bring about your eventual good.

    In many ways, this context should be even more comforting. Just because bad things happen doesn’t mean that God has abandoned you. Even if they go from bad to worse and your life gives Job’s a good competition, you can take comfort in knowing that God plays the long game. He has a plan, and His plan is good.

    I don’t know how my son’s math will turn out. I don’t know if he will manage to get a decent grade. But even if he doesn’t, I’ll be right there beside him to figure things out and help him through. And I am confident that whatever happens will be for his eventual good.

    It’s 2020. You pretty much never know what craziness tomorrow will bring. I do know that tomorrow is the election. People are very divided. No matter who wins, one set of people will be happy and celebrate while the other side will be upset and think that times are about to get very dark and tough. Let me encourage you that whatever your circumstances—if your candidate loses, if you’re crying tomorrow and convinced the world is ending, if you’re sick, if you’re facing tragedy, if 2020 has just been a tough one, or if you just bombed a math test…

    Listen to the gentle whisper that echoes an entire Bible of the same message:

    It will be okay. I already have it figured out. I love you.

    Then believe Him.


  • Who’s Got Dibs

    So, what are your kids doing for school this fall? It’s the burning, million-dollar question I’ve both asked and been asked over and over the last few weeks. I’ve weighed so many different options, done endless research, read countless articles, and changed my mind at least a dozen times. The short answer is that I have no clue.

    Everything is constantly changing. As soon as I make up my mind one direction, the rules of the game change, and now I have to decide between my new options. Do I send my kids to school with masks, do we do this hybrid schedule, do I opt for a distance learning model with the school district, do I sign up for a different online program, or do I throw everything out the window and do it all myself? Some people have strong opinions, and their opinions make sense and are entirely justified. However, I suspect that the silent majority of us are smack in the middle. We don’t know what to do and can’t figure out if we are coming or going.

    At one point during the last few weeks, I was sure we’d do the remote learning provided by the district. At another point, I decided that we’d just go back with whatever plan the schools had in place for in-person learning. At still another point, I was researching different online schools and the differences of each. Then there was the co-op plan where my sister and I brainstormed dividing schooling duties.  And then, there was the time I was pouring over the grade level standards for my kids’ different grades, looking at homeschool curriculum, and deciding how to do it all myself.

    Then there is the mask issue. Political? Not political? Effective? Ineffective? Harmful? Safe? I have no idea. I do know that I don’t want my kids to have to learn through a mask. But, I also don’t want them to go to school without one if that’s what they need to stay safe. Do we? Don’t we? Who do I listen to? Medical experts? Media? Politicians? Education experts? Facebook? You can pretty much find any “research” to support your view. The problem is that these articles and research often tout completely opposing “facts”!

    And friends. Will my kids’ friends be at school? I know some of them won’t. What if all of the “good kids” stay home? I have waking nightmares of seeing my shy 11-year-old wondering around outside without anyone. But then again, they’re not supposed to socialize, right? Best friends six feet apart?

    What’s all of this going to look like? What if it changes every few days and is a mosaic of complete chaos? Do I make a decision based on health or education? How do I know what will truly be best for my children and family? I want them to get to do the classes they want and have the best learning experience possible, yet I can’t handle it if the thought of one of the kids getting Covid and spreading it to the vulnerable people in our family.

    So, what are you doing? Are you sending your kid

    I. Don’t. Know. What. To. Do.

    It drives me crazy. I’ve felt an intense amount of stress and had migraines almost daily for the last month. This post is in no way meant to tell you what to do. I don’t even know what I think and feel. And, if you wait five minutes, I’m sure my plan will change. If you tell me your opinion and why you’re choosing a certain route, chances are good that I will completely agree with you. Then, if I talk to someone else an hour later, I will absolutely agree with them, even if they have a completely opposing view to yours from an hour ago. The weird thing is that I’m not lying to anyone. I’m being completely honest. In those moments, opposite opinions are completely true representations of how I feel.

    About a week and a half ago, I was praying through my stress, fears, and concerns. I say “praying” but that is really a very loose definition. In reality, I’d start to pray, but then my thoughts would get distracted and I’d forget who I was supposed to be talking to. Soon, I’d be back to worrying, weighing the different options and panicking because I didn’t know what to do.

    For me, faith wasn’t the issue. If I just knew what to put my faith in, I’d be okay. But I didn’t know whether to send my kids to school and have faith that God will keep them safe, or homeschool them and have faith that they would be okay, get what they need educationally and socially, and still be on the right track when the mess is finally over. What should I put my faith in?

    As soon as the thought left my mind, I got an answer.

    It’s not a question of what to put my faith in. It’s a question of Who! My faith is in God who created everything and is more than qualified to handle whatever may come. With my faith secure in His hands, none of the “whats” actually matter.

    With that thought, a lot of the pressure rolled off. No matter what happens, no matter what I choose, God is the one in control, not me. I will pray for wisdom and try to make the best possible decision, but I’m not going to mess things up more than God can fix them. Choosing one way will not be a sin. The Bible doesn’t list sending or not sending your kids to school during Covid as one of the highlights of the ten commandments. It is a choice. One that God is allowing me to make. Though it feels like I’m walking on a tightrope high over the ground and that I’ll fall with any wrong move, He’s got the safety net under me.

    I don’t know what we’ll do. Not for sure. And it’s not even restricted to school issues. There are big unknowns all over my life, as there are for everyone in this twilight zone. For today, I’ve decided which direction we’re head, but everything can change tomorrow. Today’s decision is not tomorrow’s, and I reserve the prerogative to change my mind multiple times in between days as well.

    But I do know Who is in all of my tomorrows. He’s already there. He has a plan even when I don’t. Whether we go to school or don’t… Whether we get Covid or don’t… Whether 2020 deals us another unbelievable hand… Whether tomorrow is sunny or stormy… We’re going to be okay. God’s already in our tomorrows and will make sure that all things (even the tough, yucky ones) work together for my family’s good, according to His purpose. And He’ll do the same for you.

    Yes, I still feel the stress. I still haven’t shaken the migraines. I still have a book due in about three weeks, and it isn’t writing itself. I still feel anxious every time I find out a parent I respect is making a decision that might differ from my own. I try to tell myself that just because what I do is different than what you do doesn’t mean that I’m right and you’re wrong. Nor does it mean that you’re right and I’m wrong. We’re both simply trying to make the best decisions for our families and circumstances, and neither one of us owns a crystal ball. So, I’ll pray for your decision as you try to sort out the wisest, safest, smartest, most responsible, best decision for your family, and you pray for mine. And if they don’t look the same, that’s okay.Maybe I’m taking door #1 and you’re choosing #5. Eventually, I believe that we’ll recognize the same Guide leading us different routes to the same destination.

    Despite the continued uncertainty, I feel a peacethat I didn’t feel before. Every time the stress closes in, I start to panic, not knowing what to do as I run the endless maze of trying to separate the good decisions from the bad ones.

    Then I feel God quietly whisper. Whatever your decision, whether it’s a good one or a bad one—I’ve got dibs.

     


  • Blessings

    I’d like to tell the story of someone who changed the world, and you probably don’t even know her name. She wasn’t famous, she didn’t make great achievements in science or politics, and when she passed away, most of the world never knew to feel bereft. Her name was Dorothy–probably one of thousands of Dorothys born in the 1920’s. But this Dorothy was my grandmother.

    She was the sweetest person I ever met. She was very intelligent, witty, and had a positive, optimistic personality, so much so that we called her a Pollyanna. The name fit. I never recall her ever saying a negative word about anyone, even if they truly deserved it! I remember once my mom asked Grandma her opinion on an outfit she was trying on. My mom didn’t think it looked very good, and it actually looked quite terrible. Before stating her opinion, Grandma paused and then said, rather hesitantly, “Well, I think it looks a little less than pretty.” And that was the most negative thing I ever heard her say.

    I won’t take the time to relate her many virtues, how she quietly cared for others, supported her minister husband, and made the best family meals. She wasn’t perfect, by any means, but she knew how to love, and she lived her faith in a quiet, but profound way that was perhaps most greatly exemplified in how she died.

    After my grandfather passed away, my grandmother went downhill. She developed Alzheimer’s. I had recently had my first child, so I had the privilege of keeping Grandma with me during the day. It was heartbreakingly difficult, and yet I call it a privilege because my Grandma had always cared and loved me so well. Her presence was such a source of comfort to me. I felt blessed that I now got to care for her. If you’ve ever had a loved one go through the process of Alzheimer’s, you know how excruciating and senseless it feels to have that person slip away. The way I was able to convince Grandma to stay with me during the day was to tell her I needed her help. Then, of course, she would come, eager to serve me. She would fold my laundry and match socks. The socks wouldn’t actually match, and we’d have the same conversations over-and-over. But the fact that she was able to “help me,” is something I will forever cherish.

    I remember how devastated my mom was to watch her sweet mother suffer and lose her memories. It made no sense. Why would God take away the mind of someone who had served Him wholeheartedly all of her life?  Though we didn’t recognize it at the time, I realize now the answer was that she wasn’t done serving.

    It reached the point that we were not able to care for Grandma full-time, and she went to live in a facility that specialized in memory care. One of God’s waiting rooms, as they are sometimes called. My mom visited her every day, often telling her that Grandpa was off fishing when she couldn’t remember that he was gone. This made Grandma happy to know that he was doing something he loved.

    The workers at the facility loved Grandma. Alzheimer’s never changed her sweet personality, and she was always wanting to help, even when she lost the ability to do so. One day, one of the nurses asked my mom what “make me a blessing” meant. My mom replied that it was the lyrics to a hymn. The nurse thought that was interesting and remarked that Grandma walked around the home softly saying the words “make me a blessing” over and over.

    This woman who was stuck in a locked facility, stuck in her own mind, and at the end of her journey was now speaking the words aloud that she’d prayed in her heart probably her whole life. She who had absolutely nothing and could do absolutely nothing still wanted, above all, to be a blessing to others. Though her mind and body failed her, her soul still reached out to her Savior.

    And He answered her prayer. Even in heaven’s waiting room, Grandma still had purpose in every breath she took. She was a light to those around her, her faith pointing to the Lord. Her muttered words spoke a testimony that would not have the same meaning if God had asked her to walk a different path. And her prayers! Oh, how I’m thankful for those prayers, and I don’t even know what they were! But I know she prayed. And I know I was loved and prayed for.

    Because of what is going on in the world today, many of us feel stuck. We are literally stuck at home and unable to serve God the way we would like. Our independence is gone, our loved ones unreachable, and our “purpose” put on hold. After all, how can we bless others from a proper “social distance”?

    If you can’t think of anything else to do, please do as my grandma did. Pray. There are no limits on prayer. Pray for your family, your friends, your country, and yourself. Pray that God will somehow make you a blessing. Though your mind and body may be weak, let your soul rise up and converse with the One who is not stuck in any way.

    When my Grandma passed away, I wrote a poem about her that included these two lines.

    She died and nothing changed.
    Because she lived nothing was ever the same.

    I will never know what impact Grandma truly had on the world. I do know the influence she had on my own life. I have evidence that she made a difference to her last breath when she stepped out of the waiting room and into heaven. And I have faith that the prayers she spoke are still before the Lord right now, her influence reaching into our circumstances today.

    While I knew of the hymn, “Make Me a Blessing,” I’m rather ashamed to say, I never looked up the actual lyrics until today. Those four simple words Grandma spoke had such influence today, at this moment, that when I looked up their full context, I started crying because it so fit what I felt and where we are. May this be my prayer, today, as it was my grandmother’s many years ago:

     

    1
    Out in the highways and byways of life,
    Many are weary and sad
    Carry the sunshine where darkness is rife,
    Making the sorrowing glad.

    (Refrain)
    Make me a blessing, make me a blessing,
    Out of my life may Jesus shine;
    Make me a blessing, O Savior, I pray,
    Make me a blessing to someone today

    2
    Tell the sweet story of Christ and His love,
    Tell of His pow’r to forgive;
    Others will trust Him if only you prove
    True, every moment you live.

    3
    Give as ‘twas given to you in your need,
    Love as the Master loved you;
    Be to the helpless a helper indeed,
    Unto your mission be true.

     

    I hope that at the end of my journey, I won’t leave the world the same as when I arrived, and that, like my Grandma, God will make me a blessing.


  • For Such a Time as This

    I have a confession. I like to skip to the end of the book. Now, I don’t read the end of the book. I just scan it. Especially if it’s a really good, exciting book. I just take a peek—catch a line and a name here and there to make sure I’ll like it and it’s worth reading all the middle stuff to make it to the end. (BTW, this in no way gives any readers permission to skip ahead to the endings of my books.)

    These past few weeks, I have felt caught in a ridiculous plot that I didn’t like at all and made me wish I could fast forward to the end. Even a quick peek would be enough. Could I just scan for a date of when we get to leave our houses and do normal stuff?

    It’s so difficult not knowing. It’s overwhelming when we don’t know when the tunnel ends and we can’t see even a small light. Yet, this week, one thought has replayed over and over in my mind, and it’s helped me feel a little more peace in these present circumstances.

    The verse that keeps whispering to me is the one from the book of Esther. It isn’t even the complete verse, just “for such a time as this.” These were words spoken to Esther, and we seem to usually think of them as a summation to her calling—a banner to wave over her story proclaiming her success in saving her people. But actually, if you look at the verse in context, Esther may actually be being reprimanded!

    Here she is the queen. She had it made and could play life easy being pampered, eating delicacies, and not at all concerning herself with those outside the palace walls. To do anything would risk her life. Her message to Mordecai was telling him the reasons her hands were tied. His response was very near a rebuke, telling her that she just may be in her current position because this was what she was meant to do. If she chose not to do it, then God would save His people another way. But he asked her to consider that God had given her the tools and the position to do exactly what she was being asked to do in order to save her people. And now He was giving her the opportunity to do it.

    Esther’s response was to accept the purpose and risk her life to go to the king on behalf of the Jewish people, saying “If I perish, I perish.”

    Of course, the obvious question is what does this have to do with our present circumstances?

    Hopefully, one of my favorite verses will explain my thoughts:

    “Your eyes saw my substance, being yet unformed.
    And in Your book they all were written,
    The days fashioned for me,
    When as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16

    God knew what each day in April 2020 would bring for me. He didn’t just know, he planned it. And He gave me the tools and position to serve him on this day, just as He gave Esther on the day she appeared before the king. Who am I to say that, like Esther, God has not put me right where I am for such a time as this?

    I don’t have any plans to save a nation. But maybe my purpose doesn’t need to be one with a capital P. Maybe my purpose in serving God through this is to give comfort and encouragement to others. Maybe it is doing something kind that shows God’s love to someone else. Maybe it’s giving a listening ear to someone who is struggling. Maybe it is enduring something difficult and coming out stronger and more able to help others. Maybe it’s giving my kids extra snuggles and games in between the stress. Maybe it’s writing my thoughts down and pressing “post.”

    God knew we would go through this, He planned it for us, and He designed each of us individually so we could serve Him through it.

    Ok, so that sounds like pressure, and I really don’t like pressure right now. I can’t really handle any thought of purpose when the great expedition of the week is finding TP. I’d honestly rather sit back with my eyes closed and eat chocolate. But then I realized that it doesn’t really have anything to do with me; it has everything to do with God, and I get the benefit.

    Esther chose to step away from what she’d rather do and appear before the king, but God gave her the courage and tools to do it. God gave her favor with the king, when he caused him to extend his gold scepter to her and grant the bold request she made.

    I know that some people feel utterly lost right now and God seems silent. Locating a purpose seems more difficult than finding a needle in a large haystack of pointlessness. But a person is not in charge of purpose. God is. Put one foot in front of the other. Breathe in and out (with your mask in place) and wait for God to bring you an opportunity to serve. Remember, you don’t have to save a nation, purpose can wear infinite fashions. Maybe it’s a single conversation, desperately drawing close to God, taking care of others, spending time planting a garden that will later bless others, letting someone know you care or admire them, taking the time to earn a smile from a child, or even just enduring through a time when you don’t get to see God’s purpose until the end. The point is, God meant for you to be here. Right now. And He will not only get you through it, He will make you and others better for it.

    Why is it important to recognize we have purpose in this trial? Purpose changes attitude. It changed Esther. She went from timid to bold, recognizing that she would do what she was called to, even if it cost her life. If I know I am supposed to be here, that changes my perspective. I’m no longer wishing to skip to the end, but I’m looking for what I should do in the now. The Bible is full of countless examples of people who endured horrible things all because they knew they were where they were supposed to be. Noah built an ark when there was no rain. The apostles endured great persecution because they knew that sharing the gospel is what they were meant to do.

    My achievements won’t be preserved for all time, but I am just as convinced that I am meant to be here. I have purpose in this yuckiness, and I am eagerly looking for opportunities where I get to be a part of God’s larger Purpose in all of this.

    When I write books, I don’t include fluff. Every scene I write has a purpose, whether it has to do with furthering the plot or developing the characters. I write so that if a single scene is removed, the book isn’t the same. It’s pretty amazing to recognize that God is a much better author than I am. He doesn’t waste scenes either. Even when the world is crazy and we are stuck in our homes, God is not wasting this time. He has a dual purpose, one that will benefit us and benefit his kingdom through us.

    Every scene, every event in my life is there for a reason, even if I don’t recognize the why.

    After all of these thoughts, I’ve come to one conclusion:

    I want this chapter of my story to be a good one. I want to recognize how God has prepared me for “such a time as this,” and I want to step forward to serve God on this and every day.

    None of this means that I am required to like my present circumstances, that I won’t have my fair share of crying in the car episodes, or that I won’t eagerly look forward to the end of this storyline. However, it does mean that when I do get to the end of the chapter, hopefully I’ll be able to look back and see that, yes, I was created for such a time as this. And, just maybe, I’ll recognize God’s fingerprints on every page.


  • Great Expectations

     

    The other night I had an unsettling dream. It wasn’t a nightmare, and strange dreams that make no sense are familiar territory for me. But it still bothered me, and only later did I figure out why.

    I dreamed I was attending a baby shower. By nature, I’m an introvert, so large group settings are difficult for me and things I typically force myself to participate in. I didn’t want to go to the baby shower, but I felt like it was the right thing to do. I wanted to show my friend that I cared, and from personal experience, I know that simply being present speaks love. She probably wouldn’t remember what gift I gave, but at least she’d know that I attended.

    So I went to the shower, and it was unexpectedly packed with over a hundred people in close quarters. It was a great party, with everyone socializing and eating while I tried to smile in the right spots and pretend that I didn’t feel excruciatingly awkward.

    Then, I suddenly remembered something. We were on a “stay-at-home” order because of Covid-19! We weren’t supposed to be socializing or meeting in any kind of group! In fact, with that revelation, I was certain that every one of the hundred-plus people at that dream baby shower had Covid-19, and they would surely infect me! Then I would take it home and give it to my family, and it would be all my fault!

    I held my breath and tried to weave my way out of the room, trying to avoid contact and escape. Unfortunately, I never got the satisfaction of making it out of the room. Instead, I woke up.

    From the second I woke, every minute of my day crammed with multiple needs. Four children all trying to adjust to homeschooling in this crazy time equals pure chaos. I have a degree in Elementary Education, and yet I would rather teach thirty children in a classroom at a school than my own children at home in these circumstances. It’s hard. There’s no way around that fact.

    Also unfortunate–we were out of food and other necessities. I needed to venture out into the world, while my husband holed up in his office working and hoping the four kids wouldn’t actually bother him while I was gone. I gave each of the kids instructions on what they needed to work on, put an educational video in for my youngest, told my husband he was on-call, and hurried out, praying to get what we needed quickly

    I went to three stores looking for toilet paper (everyone’s crusade right now), finally finding success with a single package. At every store, there seemed to be different protocols. In some stores, social distancing was impossible with the cashier and with narrow aisles. Other stores had marks on the floor showing where you’re supposed to distance your cart, plexiglass between you and the checker, and still other rules and regulations on what you can and cannot buy and can and cannot do. And yet, even in the most regulated store, you cannot maintain six feet of separation in aisles that are barely six feet in width!

    Of course, shopping right now is stressful. You can never find exactly what you need. Still no flour, sugar, oatmeal, soap, and many other products I normally buy. I did the best I could, but further complicating matters was that it was my husband’s birthday. I wanted to make him a special dinner and a special dessert. However, we have three different, difficult, medically-necessary diets in our house, which makes such a feat as dinner and dessert complicated, especially with limited supplies.

    The whole time I shopped, I wondered how the kids were doing, if they were fighting or bothering Brian in his meetings, if I’d find what I needed to give him a special birthday, if I could manage to get every kid through the school work they were supposed to accomplish, if I was maintaining social distance, if I would ever manage to find toilet paper, if I was following all of these new, unwritten rules correctly, if I was getting everything so I didn’t need to come back to the store tomorrow, if I was spending too much money, if the massive mountain of laundry would every learn to fold itself, and if I could get my own work done while the kids were home. Worst of all, I worried that I would somehow manage to get infected with the virus while at three stores and then bring it home to my family.

    My last stop of the day was at my children’s school. My son’s teacher had said I could pick up a packet of work between certain hours. After arriving, I called the number she’d given in her instructions. The school was locked, but she’d said, when parents called, they could then let them in to pick up the packet. The school secretary let me in and returned to her station. Inside the vestibule, teachers had obviously left boxes of papers for pick-up, but I didn’t see a label with my son’s teacher or his name. Without further instructions, I wondered if I was supposed to go down to the classroom to pick it up. I started to walk that direction, but the secretary stopped me, asking if the packet wasn’t in the boxes. I said, no, but I could look to double check. While I returned, she called down to the classroom and told me the teacher would be right up with the work. I stood to the side to wait. The office area was actually very busy with multiple teachers working and talking. I hadn’t waited to the side very long before the secretary told me, “I’m not wanting to be rude, Amanda, but we really need you to wait outside. We’re just trying to keep everyone healthy and safe.” I immediately replied, “Of course! I completely understand,” and hurried outside.

    The packet was soon delivered, and I made it back to my car.

    I shut the door, put the packet on the seat next to me, and lost hold of my tears.

    I took deep breaths, feeling angry and frustrated with myself for losing the battle with my emotions. I didn’t even have a good reason to cry! I even felt guilty about it. After all, a lot of others had much more reason to cry than I did. But arguing with myself did nothing to stem the hot tears burning my eyes and sliding down my cheeks, even as I tried to dash them away and deny their existence.

    As I sat there arguing with myself and wondering why I was crying, I finally realized the reason. I wasn’t upset with the school secretary. I think she is amazing, and I absolutely applaud and agree with any effort aimed at keeping people safe in these crazy times. I didn’t mind standing outside at all. I would have gladly done that from the very beginning had I known that was the procedure I needed to follow.

    And that’s why I was upset.

    Expectations.

    I didn’t know what to expect when I stepped foot in the school, just like I didn’t know what to expect in any building I’d visited that day. Every place had different rules, procedures, and expectations. You might get people smiling and handing you your receipt across a distance of three feet, or you might get someone stepping out of a building before you reached it and telling you to “halt!” And it isn’t just the stores. In no part of life do I now know what to expect.

    What were my expectations for Spring 2020? I expected to watch my boys play baseball and play piano at their recital. I expected them to go to school and help them with their projects as they finished their grade levels with success. I expected to get to see my son play the lead role of Aladdin in his school’s drama production. I expected to watch my daughter dance ballet in her recital. I expected to watch my boys do their music recital and festival that they’d spent months preparing for. I expected to spend time with my mom and my sisters and see my new  baby niece. I expected to continue two years of work and get to vote on new high school for my community. I expected to get out of town in our new trailer. I expected a big RV trip that we had spent a year planning with my parents and in-laws. I expected to go to the store and find toilet paper and other necessities. I expected to finish writing three books by June. I expected to be able to do something special for my husband’s birthday. I expected to go into a school and not have to wait outside.

    The basic problem is that from minute to minute, to day, to week, to month, to however long we are faced with this crisis, I do not know what to expect. And nobody else does either. Nobody expected this virus to change everything. Nobody expected its impact on the economy. Nobody expected to lose their job, face illness, or lose loved ones to tragedy. And nobody in any store, schools, or house in the entire country has any more idea than I do of what all this is supposed to look like. None of us has experienced this before, and we’re all just making it up as it goes along.

    And somehow, my core fear is that in my effort of trying to do all of the right things and go to the “baby showers,” I’ll turn around and realize I’ve somehow done the wrong thing. I’ve screwed everything up, violated some rule that I didn’t even know about, not prepared the way I should, and maybe even put the ones I love at risk.

    I suspect that I’m not the only one who feels this way. We’ve all had our expectations completely dashed, and in return, we are not permitted any expectations whatsoever. You won’t know what to expect when going into any building. You won’t know what tomorrow will bring. You won’t know how long this will last. You won’t know if and when we’ll get back to normal.

    You won’t know if on the same day you cry alone in your car, you’ll be making that birthday dinner only to have the house start shaking in a 6.5 earthquake, the likes of which hasn’t happened in 37 years. (Yes, that did happen.)

    All you can hope is that this is not the “new normal.” There is nothing normal about it. And if sometimes, you need to sit in your car and cry over everything and nothing, then go right ahead. May my story give you permission to grasp hold of one last, very real expectation: you are not alone.

    You are not alone in how you feel, and you are not alone in your present circumstances. In all of those, seconds, moments, days, and weeks that I mentioned, not a single one of them exists outside of God’s control. While I’ve lost all expectations in my circumstances, there are still some expectations that will not disappoint.

    I can expect God to love me and my family. I can expect that He will never leave me. I can expect that He is good and that even the yucky stuff will be for my benefit. I can expect that He has a plan and already sees the end. I can expect that the God who made it all has not forgotten us and is fully qualified to carry us through. And I can expect that He sees every tear I cry, knows how difficult things are, and will give me His strength to make it through the next moments.

    What if I could let go of my expectations for myself and cling to my expectations for God instead? It sounds crazy, but even as all of my other expectations have dissolved, I still manage to have some rigorous, unrealistic expectations for myself. I struggle with realizing it’s okay to not do everything right. It’s okay to grieve and feel angry. It’s okay if the kids don’t get all the schoolwork done and the house is a disaster. It’s okay to cry when you really don’t know the reason.

    Lord, help me to expect less of me and more of You!

    And if, you just so happen to find yourself sobbing in your car one day because it’s all just such a mess, please know that God is there to catch every one of your tears. And also, take a look around. I’m probably in a social-distanced car crying, too.