• Tag Archives Christian living
  • 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.