• Tag Archives Christian inspiration
  • 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.


  • Unanswered Prayer

    Have you every prayed really hard for something really important, only to have your prayer go unanswered? I’m not going to fluff this up and list all of the clichés that don’t give the issue the struggle it deserves. It is tough. It is something every Christian struggles with. Our prayers are supposed to be answered, right? But sometimes they aren’t. So what do we do with that?

    I am not a Biblical scholar, and I don’t know the church answers. All I do know is that I recently had first-hand experience with this question that seems to plague the faith of many, if not all, Christians at some point. Though not the first time, last week, my desperate prayer went unanswered, leaving heartbreak in its wake. But to tell the full story of my unanswered prayer, I really need to start at the beginning, for it is actually not my own story.

    My cousin, Mitch, was more than a few years older than me. He lived next door at my grandma’s house off and on until he graduated high school. I remember waiting at the bus stop and Mitch singing about “roly poly fish heads” just to tease us little kids. We would beg him to stop, and he would keep singing.

    Yes, Mitch was an incurable tease, but he also had some issues that even as a child, I was aware of. How did I know? Because I remember my grandma’s tears. I remember her crying over the bad decisions Mitch had made, agonizing over what would happen to him, and constantly praying for his salvation. Decades passed, and she never stopped praying for him. Even with heartbreak and seeing zero results to her prayers, she still loved and prayed for Mitch constantly. She prayed for him to turn to the Lord, for him to turn his life around, and she prayed that she would turn around to find him in heaven. On her better days when her faith was strong, I remember her speaking about Mitch as if there was no question in her mind. “I have prayed for Mitch.” And that settled that.

    Grandma didn’t live to see her prayer answered fully. My understanding is that some of Mitch’s trouble continued into his adult life, though I don’t know the details. However, Mitch celebrated his 51st birthday recently, and I’m happy to say that his life has changed. He turned to the Lord and became a Christian, and not just in name only. A year ago, he married the love of his life. She had three children, and they became Mitch’s children in every way that mattered. Mitch’s Facebook posts have been filled with him marveling about how blessed he is, especially with his wonderful wife and kids.

    I’ve had a chance to get to know Mitch more the past few years. We’ve seen him in fun and sad times. We’ve laughed at family reunions and cried through funerals. Mitch and I have an aunt who lives on the coast where he lives. When my aunt lost both her sons a couple years ago, Mitch really stepped up. He was ready to help in whatever she needed and always told her, “I’ll always be here for you.”

    Mitch hadn’t been feeling well recently. Things got so bad, that he went to the hospital, only to be life flighted to a larger hospital in an effort to save his life. As they were taking him to the hospital, he was still reassuring our aunt that he would be fine, he was strong, and he would always be there for her. Unfortunately, they discovered Mitch had MRSA in both lungs and Influenza A. His body was in such bad shape that they said it would take a miracle for him to live.

    Oh, how I prayed for that miracle! Our whole family did. Mitch’s wife and kids desperately needed him. Our aunt had already faced such tragedy. Another one was incomprehensible. God is good and merciful, and I prayed based on those traits that He would save Mitch.

    A few days after he was admitted to the hospital, we received word that Mitch’s kidneys were failing, and he wasn’t going to make it. After hearing the news, I had to drive home from dropping my daughter off at preschool. I cried and said audibly over and over, “This isn’t okay, God! It isn’t okay!”

    And it still isn’t okay. It isn’t right that Mitch was called home when he was needed on earth so much. It isn’t okay that he got his life right only to lose it. It isn’t okay that such a positive, kind, generous heart stopped beating. It isn’t okay that our family is hit with another unthinkable tragedy

    Part of me was angry and very frustrated. What’s the point of praying if God isn’t going to answer? And I was so very weary of feeling like my prayers aren’t answered.

    Then I felt a gentle knowledge seep into my spirit. It wasn’t a voice, and I don’t even know the moment of realization. But it was an awareness of God clearly saying. “I did answer a prayer today.”

    And I knew. I had prayed with all my heart, but someone else’s heart had been poured into prayer long before mine. God answered the prayer that came first. He answered the prayer that had seemed unanswered for decades, and yet that prayer had remained until the day he chose to answer it.

    Grandma had prayed for Mitch to make it to heaven, and today, he made it and found her waiting.

    Who was I to criticize the way God answers prayer? While I had prayed for God to spare Mitch’s body, Grandma had prayed for God to spare his soul. As much as I don’t like the result here, the answer to Grandma’s first prayer is infinitely more valuable than the answer to my second prayer.

    So why do we pray? Because our prayers are more powerful than we can imagine. Each one reaches to God in such a way that it remains even after your time on earth is gone. Even though God took Mitch home, I still believe that my prayers for His goodness and mercy will be answered for Mitch’s family. Sometimes I think we get too wrapped up in the time aspect of our prayers, and it takes prayer for us to communicate with God and understand that He is without the constraint of time. In the book of Revelation, the prayers of the saints are described as incense before the throne of God. That’s a wonderful image because incense is of great value and is something pleasant you are aware of in every breath you take. I believe that’s how God sees our prayers. They are not temporal like the world in which we live. Instead, they remain before Him, waiting for the day when God says, now is when I answer this one.

    This is not a new concept to me. I remember the very last thing my grandfather told me before he passed away. He was dying, and I had to leave. I knew I would never see him on this side again, and he knew it as well. He told me, “I am praying for you.” I think in the moment, I said something like “No, Grandpa, I’m praying for you.” Only after did I realize what precious final words he gave me. He was praying for me. His final moments as his body failed were spent in prayer on my behalf, and those prayers have lived so much longer than his last breath. He was giving me the gift of his love and influence in God’s provision for me that would likely carry me to the end of my own life. Years and years later, I have great comfort knowing that he prayed for me. Those prayers are before God still today, and He is acting on them.

    So, let me encourage you to keep praying. Keep praying when the situation seems impossible. Keep praying when you don’t get the answer you think you need. Keep praying regardless of time and years of not seeing results. Keep praying through senseless tragedy. Keep praying when the world is chaos and everything is definitely not okay. Keep praying as you seek to better understand God, His will, His plan, and your place in all of that

    Though you may not get your answer here on earth, you can definitely leave a legacy of prayer that God will continually hear long after your physical words are silenced. It doesn’t make tragedy okay or understandable. It doesn’t answer the “why” questions of now. But someday, when you are enjoying eternity, maybe you’ll turn around and see that which you have longed for. Maybe, like Grandma, you’ll see that, today, God answered.


  • And The Fish Died

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    When my oldest son, Caleb, was 3, he won a goldfish at a local fair in our town. This wasn’t one of the “quality” aquatic creatures, but a simple feeder goldfish.

    Now, the life of a feeder goldfish usually has one of two paths. One, he is bought and fulfils the destiny his name suggests and becomes food for another animal. Or two, he is given to a child. In most cases, it really is a draw as to which destiny gives the fish the longest life span.

    Caleb was oh-so-proud when he won his goldfish in the goldfish races and didn’t seem to notice that every other child also got to keep their free racing fish, whether they won or loss. He won a goldfish to take home, and that’s all that mattered. When we got to the car, Caleb asked me how we were going to cook him. Yes, he wanted to eat his little goldfish. This boy was a fisherman, still is, and to him getting a fish apparently meant a meal, not a pet.

    After I explained the difference, he warmed up to the idea of a pet, so we brought the fish home and stuck him in a bowl. I was not a novice at the fish-keeping business. I know the drill. You get a fish for free. You are prepared to be a good pet owner, so you buy all the equipment. Two days later, said fish dies and you are left with a bunch of boring equipment.

    So I waited to buy any equipment. I think the first day, Caleb named him Nemo, but to my knowledge, he has never been referred to as Nemo again. We have always just referred to him as “the fish.” Surprisingly, several days later, the fish was still alive, and I went ahead and coughed up the money for a small aquarium. I wasn’t going to buy a huge one when I was sure the little thing was just waiting for me to spend money on it.

    So I got the little aquarium set up. And I waited. But the fish still didn’t die.

    He didn’t die when Caleb was 4 years old either. Or 5. Or 6.

    No dead fish at age 7.

    8 was a good year too.

    Caleb is 9 now.

    And the fish died.

    For six years I have cleaned his little tank. Bought his food and tank filters. Made sure he was cared for whenever we had to leave for a few days.

    I was the one to feed him. I tried to have the kids help, but the entire jar of food would end up in the aquarium every time, so instead, it became my job. The fish grew big, and didn’t really fit in his little aquarium any more. His long beautiful tail filled the tank nicely as he’d sashay around.  But I never bought a larger aquarium because I just knew he was going to go belly up any day. He then made the move from our old house to the new house, and I managed not to spill him out as he sat beside me on the car ride over. And he still lived, his box aquarium parked on our counter.

    For six years, I waited for the fish to die.

    But then, I didn’t want him to.

    I have bad guilt. I may have forgotten to feed him a couple of times. My head knows the fish didn’t starve to death. After all, he’d been sick for a few days and stopped eating. In terms of being a feeder fish, he lived an exceptionally long time. But I still have the guilt. Poor little fish with no name!

    Then I got to wondering why the death of our little nameless fish was bothering me so much. The reality is that I’ve been in a pretty bad mood about it and definitely channeling attitudes from Eeyore and Grumpy the dwarf.

    I guess I feel sentimental because we had him for so long. I never really wanted a fish, and I don’t want another. Our little fish tank will not be getting a new occupant. Like I said, I’ve been waiting for him to die for six years. But I’m still sad to see him go.

    But my bad mood is more than that.

    It’s the exhaustion from caring for a baby and three other young children.

    It’s the stress of trying to remember everything for everyone.

    It’s the worry that I’m not doing enough.

    And the fish died.

    It’s the fact that I have a million things on my to-do list and no time.

    That I rarely get to mark anything off the to-do list.

    It’s looking around my house and seeing the mess of three tornados and no hope of fixing it.

    It’s the hundred things I’d like to put on my husband’s to do list if he actually had time to do any of them.

    And the fish died.

    It’s the books I have floating in my head, pestering me to be written and no time to do it.

    It’s the best sellers that have come to visit my brain and left before I could capture them on paper.

    It’s everything that others say need to be done in order to be successful.

    It’s the driving need to push myself and do what I love and feel called to do.

    It’s the worry that it will all disappear before I can write the next book or put the time into my career I need.

    And the fish died.

    It’s the frustration of a ministry my husband and I have felt called to do yet have been in the waiting mode for several years.

    It’s the confusion of not understanding what God is up to.

    It’s the fear that somehow we will or have screwed things up.

    It’s the constant worry that I’m not good enough.

    And the fish died.

    Headaches. Kids fighting. Concern for my extended family.

    Caleb is playing tackle football, and I am TERRIFIED!

    Am I good mom? Am I a good Christian?

    What am I missing? What am I making for dinner?

    Did the 3 year-old get his teeth brushed this morning? What about yesterday? A week ago? What smells so bad? Oh, it’s me.

    What am I forgetting?

    And the fish died.

    In short, it’s life.

    As I thought of all of these real reasons behind my attitude, I felt my agitation increase. And then, before the worry could completely consume me, two beautiful thoughts popped into my head.

    1. The minutes of a day is like chocolate. There is never enough. I shouldn’t be wasting so much chocolate (I mean minutes) worrying about things that I really can’t change.

    Instead, I should turn them all over to the only One who really can change them.

    1. I should take all those worries plaguing me and count them out to God like counting dollar bills into his hand. And then… I shouldn’t accept any refunds.

    Giving my worries to God is difficult because I like to take them back. It’s something I need God’s help on. And while God is still working on me, I’m going to try to focus more on the little things. Life. Enjoying the moments that include free fish with no names and being thankful that the rest of us made it through another day relatively intact.

    Eventually, I won’t feel so sad that the fish died. Life will go on. I’ll figure out what to make for dinner (McDonalds?), and today’s worries will be paid off by the One who owns them. And I will be thankful that for six years, we had a fish that lived.