You’re doing it right when…

When I was 16, I served as a camp counselor at a Christian camp in the mountains of Virginia. I was so excited about the opportunity to do something so cool with my summer vacation! Until, mom and dad dropped me off at camp and left. Then, reality set in and anxiety cranked up. I became a bit of a nervous wreck…and stayed that way for 9 weeks.

Throughout that time, I listened to stories from the missionaries who were staying at camp that summer, stories of God’s faithfulness and protection on the mission fields. Africa, Australia, South America…bazillions of miles away from home. Butterflies fluttered in my tummy whenever the missionaries talked about their ‘call’ because I worried God was going to call me farther away than I already was…and that 90 minute distance from my mama was far enough!

During college, I remember telling my mom that I just couldn’t wait to get married and have kids because I just felt like I had so much love in my heart that just wanted to be used. Mom promised me that if God put that there, He was going to use it…at the right time. And the worry that maybe He was going to send me and my full heart to a galaxy far, far away resurfaced.

Well, I did get married, and I did have kids, and I have shared my love with them, and God has just filled my heart with more love to give away. So I started working with my church to find more ways to share more love.

Enter Jason Stanley. He came to our church four years ago as the associate pastor. We had our first talks on the playground and in the nursery. Unbeknownst to me, these two locations were pretty much setting the stage for my ministry work with Jason.

Over the next four years, he allowed me to experiment with different activities with the kids at church, delegated jobs for me to do in children’s ministry, and supported me in writing/creating curriculum for children’s worship. I took piles of old curriculum and compiled them into reusable, two year rotations of Sunday School lessons so our church could save some money. We collaborated on ideas to minister to young families, including Parents’ Night Out events and Family Mission Nights. We solidified annual church events for kids…Advent activities, Easter Egg Hunt, Vacation Bible School. We introduced new traditions…Blessing of the Backpacks when school starts, Family Thank You Meal in November, Project Sundays each month to share God’s love with various needy populations. My heart has overflown with love and outreach and ministry and love…finally. I have found my ‘calling’ in children’s ministry.

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Sad to say, Jason has recently moved. He gave me four months notice, during which I agonized about his departure. We had worked so well together to create this well-oiled machine of children’s ministry…I didn’t want to see it fall apart. But slowly during those months of knowing he was leaving but still working with him, I realized, I was no longer afraid of ministry. I didn’t want my friend to leave, but my 20 year fear that God was going to call me to be a missionary away from my family was resolved. God wanted me to be a ‘missionary’ right where I was…in my church…because through children and family ministry, I was spreading His name and His love to so many.

You’re doing ministry right when you lead people to a deeper relationship with God. It doesn’t have to be in Africa, though some people can’t wait for their opportunity to go there. It doesn’t have to be as a full-time pastor, though God certainly needs those willing souls. When you can open the eyes of fellow believers to see God at work …and then empower them to be a part of that work...you’re doing it right. That’s what Jesus did. He lead his disciples to know God, to comprehend His love and grace, and then to go tell others about it so they could live in it as well.

My last interaction with Jason at church was during the exciting chaos of VBS. I nostalgically considered how appropriate it was that our final activity together wasn’t having good-bye coffee or best wishes dinner, but rather it was up to our elbows in ministry. Loving God and loving others via graham crackers and foam shapes.

I hate walking into the church office and seeing Jason’s office empty, but my heart is still full of love to share. My list of mission projects is endless. And God’s work still goes on.

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Well done, good and faithful servant Jason. You’re doing it right.

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‘Is it gone?’

My peaceful night’s sleep last night was interrupted by a screaming six year old at my bedside. I grabbed my little daughter and pulled her into bed with me, hugging her while she sobbed. I could barely understand her terrified words. Something about it being big, really big, with long legs, in her room, on the gray chair…it was so big….so scary.

When I turned on the lamp on the nightstand, I saw fear all over her face. Huge blue eyes overflowing with even huger tears. Cheeks red with exhaustion and terror. Precious little mouth trembling as she tried to explain. The words were so frightening…recounting what had happened made it seem so real again.

She had awakened and apparently noticed movement across her room in a small chair. As she looked, she saw the long legs, the round body, the creeping threat of a spider as big as a coffee mug. She gestured to a mug on my nightstand. ‘Well, it wasn’t quite that big,’ she gasped, ‘but it was close’…and the sobbing began again. And the hugging continued.

Ten minutes later, Daddy returned from the fight. ‘Is it gone?’ her trembly, tiny voice inquired.  Brave Daddy stated that he had vanquished (captured and flushed) the foe (a grandaddy-long legs). Her bedroom was safe to sleep in. She clung to me and begged not to have to sleep in there, but I assured her that I would come too.

As I snuggled with her in her safe, cozy bed, listening to her broken sobs turn to whole, peaceful snoozing, I thought of what she had asked her daddy…‘Is it gone?’ Her ultimate concern. The fear needed to be gone. It had come upon her unexpectedly…catching her at her weakest moment…in her most peaceful place. The fear had shattered her security.

I considered the bravest of the brave in the Bible…the ones we are supposed to look to as examples of faithful living…and how they had their own nighttime battles.

Childless Abram, worried about the future of his family and nation, was reassured by the word of God saying  Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.”  God used the darkness to answer Abram’s question.

Young Samuel met God for the first time in the night.Samuel went and lay down in his place. The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” God spoke to Samuel in the darkness, revealing the plan He had for the young boy’s life.

Jacob wrestled with his worries at night and found God in the midst of the struggle.  When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”

Nicodemus came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

Night should relax us, but instead, our minds unwind and rewind our worries. Shadows creep and crawl around us, hiding truth and exaggerating reality.

Consider this: Jesus was born at night. Angels shattered the blackness of the night sky with the bright splendor of His glory and praise. Shepherds joyously sought His birthplace in spite of the darkness. The star lit a path in the night sky for the wise men to follow for months. God controls the night…he works through the darkness.

God knows the struggles, the fears, the tears, the spiders that creep upon us, shattering our peace. We crave light and answers. He is in the dark , and He has answers. And to answer our ultimate question, ‘Is it gone?’… yes. The fear is gone.

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https://www.etsy.com/listing/124387663/thou-wilt-keep-him-in-perfect-peace

 

Prodigals

 

prodigal son 2Through all the flannel graph retellings and VBS skits and heart-wrenching life stories of the selfish prodigal son, I envisioned God having mercy on me. Isn’t that what the story is about? Self-centered, self-serving, immature whippersnapper goes off to prove he (she) knows best. Enjoys independent, riotous living until the funds run out. Learns hard moral of own life story. Returns home with remorse and wisdom. Greeted with unconditional paternal love. Goody two-shoes brother is jealous. Happily ever after. The end.

Well, yes, that is what the story is about…but there’s more to it than that. This past Sunday, Pastor John presented insight I had never known before regarding this story: ‘prodigal’ has two meanings.

1.  recklessly extravagant

2. lavishly abundant

Both of the sons were  prodigally selfish: the younger with his desire to have what he wanted, when he wanted, and the elder child was thinking only of his loyalty to his father, not the joy of his brother’s safe return.  Both sons were prodigally immature, neither thinking of the eventual effects of their behaviors. The young whippersnapper took his money and ran to pleasure without a plan for his future, and the self-absorbed elder missed the point of his brother’s return.

The parable does not tell how long the young son was gone. He may have quickly spent his inheritance on wine, women, and song, or he may have rollicked in revelry for years. We know that it was several seasons because he had to endure a famine and survive on his own for a while after.

The son who stayed at home must have been aware of his father’s worry for the lost child. But rather rejoice upon the child’s return, the elder brother begged for his father’s attention. Luke 15, verses 28 and following recount, “Then he  became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ ”  I imagine this son blocking the father’s view of the homecoming party, waving his hands in front of his dad’s face, begging for attention. How lost this son was, too, lacking so much compassion. Lacking in joy for the revelation his brother had experienced. So prodigal in his ignorance.

Oh, but the prodigal father. The lavishly abundant father. So patient with both sons in their impatience. So wise in the midst of their ignorance. So gentle in the midst of their tumult. Oh, precious prodigal father.

I know that I screw up. Daily, I want to smack myself in the forehead or on the wrists or otherwise punish myself for my own stupidity. I react in ignorance instead of waiting for discernment. I respond to momentary circumstances instead of considering enduring outcomes. I am selfish and ungrateful for what I have, and I seek more of what I don’t really need.

But for as rotten as I am, God is prodigally good. He regulates my imbalanced selfish scale. He erases my stupidity with his hugs of grace. He welcomes me into his perfect presence with open arms rather than shunning me for my foolish humanity.

Lamentations 3, verses 22 and 23 remind me

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,
    his mercies never come to an end;
23 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.

Prodigal Father, I beg protection from my own prodigal self. Daily. Amen.

prodigal son

 

Waves

The theme of any recurring nightmare I have is that of drowning…or near drowning. A definite overwelming of water.

One nightmare has me in the car with someone else, driving across a flooded bridge; we arrive midway and the bridge washes out, in front of us and behind.

Another involves being in a hotel room with a large panoramic window looking out to the ocean, a typically luxurious view…until the tidal wave washes in, multiple stories tall, and crashes into my hotel room.

Water has always scared me. I didn’t learn to swim until I was out of college because I was afraid to get in too deep. Bless those dear friends who taught me how…in my over-sized child state of panic. I know it was not a pretty sight, and I appreciate the lack of social media at the time.

Water is big and powerful. Yet water is fluid and changeable. Send a snake in my direction, and I can find something to smash it with. I can barricade myself again a tornado. I stay out of the woods so bears aren’t a real threat. I know some trigger points to hit if an assailant attacks me. But water… that’s stuff’s slick. And slippery. And strong. And dangerous.

I know when I have one of those nightmares that it means something in my life is stirring up anxiety. Something is feeling overwhelming, too heavy, pressing down, burying me. Past panic attacks have left me gasping for air, like I’m helplessly bobbing inches above my own watery grave.  When my sleep is tormented with tsunamis in my vacation room or being stranded mid-river in a metal vehicular coffin, then my days must be filled with stressors beyond my solutions.

Lately, I have had those visions during the day. I can predict that the ringing phone is going to mean trouble before I answer it. The children are not going to play nicely while I shower. The event I have planned is not going to run smoothly. The mouthy student is going to continue to be mouthy…and his mother will be joining in soon.

Waves. Rolling waves. Getting taller and crashing closer with each opportunity.

The neighbor has a problem with our dog. The tournament we’d made plans to attend gets cancelled. Another unexpected bill. Another late night at work.

Higher waves. Angrier crests. Tidal fingers reaching for me, bringing all their depth and breadth of fury along with them.

Undiagnosable skin irritation on her. School struggles for him. My best friend is moving away.

The water is coming for me. I am its target. It will find me. No wall can stop it. No barrier will slow it. It is too powerful. It’s taking me under. And I can’t swim.

It’s all just too much sometimes. There’s no breathing room. No one else can do what I do…and everyone in my life needs stuff done. I can’t take a vacation day…the waves would find me there. I can’t take a nap…the waves would find me there. I can’t stop moving ahead because I have to stay ahead of them. And the panic that comes with them.

The waves of anxiety. The waves of fear. Rivers of discouragement. Rivers of sadness. I can’t swim through them. They are too strong for me.

Sometimes, I can only doggy-paddle and gasp and cry. And hope that all this struggle will eventually make me a good enough swimmer that I won’t be so damn afraid of the waves…the next time they come.

Psalm 61:2

From the ends of the earth I call to you,
    I call as my heart grows faint;
    lead me to the rock that is higher than I.

Read more of Psalm 61.

 

 

Kindling

It was a small piece of wood…probably 4 inches in diameter, 2 inches thick…but it was my hero this morning.

Here in central Virginia, it started snowing last night around 6 and has continued throughout the day. Our woodpile was covered with a tarp, thank goodness and husband. However, our kindling pile was buried under several inches of heavy, wet winter precipitation this morning. If you’ve ever started a fire before, you know the dire need for dry scraps of wood, especially if the logs you’re going to toss on are pretty cold and maybe a slightly damp.

I brought in a few pieces of wood and began to look for paper to ball up as fire starter, and I sent the kids to get the bag of lint from the laundry room. For the better part of an hour, we sat in front of the fireplace, huffing and puffing like a family of big, bad, wolves, praying and mumbling and wishing. I tried squeezing balls of paper between the two logs; I tried shoving lint balls in the crevice as well. More huffing and puffing. More shifting of wood. Waiting, hoping, blowing, sighing. After gently shoving the logs closer together and stirring up the old ashes a bit, I saw the tip of a piece of wood sticking out. A circular slice of an old log that had somehow survived some recent fire. I pulled it out and rejoiced quietly, hoping THIS would be the single most magical lump of dry  kindling ever.

And it was!!!! That perfect little, previously hidden chunk of wonderfulness, slipped perfectly into place between the two desperate logs worked a bit of a miracle. It made the fire successfully burn as all my efforts had been unable to accomplish. Thanks be to God!

IMG_6850As I sat there, saying silent prayers of appreciation that God showed me that ideal missing piece, I thought of perfect timing and perfect placement. Those people who have showed up at the perfect time to be catalysts of change or encouragement. Those who have been in my life, doing their thing, their true purpose hidden until the time was right.  Pastors who dust off the ancient words of truth and bring them to light, sparking change. Friends and family who stay closely distant until a need surfaces for their enlightening words of life. Neighbors who have survived their own fires, to live to light another. Strangers who act in randomly kind ways, brightening up dark moments.

Catalysts of change. Kindling of kindness. We are all that, just biding our time beneath our own old ashes. We have lived through blazing heats and unspeakable droughts. We have seen destruction around us…but we have survived. Our job is not done yet. We have not been destroyed because other still need us. To be their light, to bring them heat, to share our warmth, to beat their chill, to spark them onward.

We are lumps of wonderfulness, waiting in our own ashes, to light the fire of others.

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I Peter 1:6-9

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 8: 18, 28

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

Further Inspiration:

Romans 8

James 3

 

 

 

 

It’s a Tangled life

In the movie “Tangled”, baby princess Rapunzel is taken from her palace home when she is an infant. An evil old woman named Gothel kidnaps her and her sun-drop magical gift.

Mother Gothel raises Rapunzel in a tower distant from all human connection. Rapunzel occupies her time with painting, playing with her chameleon Pascal, cleaning, painting some more, reading, cleaning, pottery, ventriloquy…waiting for her life to begin, as the lyrics go. She watches out the tower window and notices what happens to the world around her. Her favorite event is the annual light show that occurs in the sky from the nearby kingdom. After a few years, she realizes that the lights appear in the sky on the night of her birthday. Finally, she asks her ‘mother’ if she can go see the lights as a birthday gift.

Mother Gothel replies (in Disney song) with a list of all the terrors that are out in the world, thus hoping to burst Rapunzel’s bubble of hope about the outside world. “Ruffians, thugs, poison ivy, quicksand, cannibals, snakes, the plauge…” (artistically sung and choreographed, of course). And her scheme of discouragement works. Rapunzel changes her mind about wanting to leave the tower.

Enter Ryder Flynn, criminal extraordinaire. When Gothel left the tower to acquire supplies to mix more paint for Rapunzel, Ryder unexpectedly arrives, hiding from other thieves whom he has insulted. Through a series of events involving various (and humorous) whacks with Rapunzel’s frying pan, this ‘ruffian’ agrees to take her to see the castle lights, in exchange for the safe return of his satchel of loot.

Rapunzel struggles with her conscience as she begins her adventure out of the tower. “Mother would be so furious…this would kill her…this is sooooo fun…I’m a horrible daughter…I’m never going back…I’m a despicable human being…Best Day Ever!!!!’

Rapunzel’s experiences thus far remind me so much of my own life. Locked in a place that looked like home, seemed like home, had the ‘comforts’ of home for years. Told truths of safety and security. Encouraged to make the best of where I was, not to try anything risky. Warned of dangers known and unknown. Promised that ‘mother knows best’. And truthfully, isn’t that simple, uncomplicated life ideal? Isn’t safety desired?

Well, when I look at the life of Jesus, I see so much more. I see him mingling with questionable characters. I see him encouraging people to have faith in something bigger than they can earthly imagine. He says, ‘Step out and walk on the water.’ Walk around city walls and watch them fall. Hold up your arms and the sea will split, the sun will stand still. Love your enemies. Rejoice when persecuted. Pray and give and you’ll be rewarded. You’re watched and cared for more than anything else in creation, so don’t be afraid.

You see, like Rapunzel, we were stolen from our original family. We have been told the lie that earthly goals and mankind’s dreams are the best we can do. ‘Mother knows best’ comes in the form of ‘they know best’, ‘the media knows the whole story’, ‘the Joneses are the ones to keep up with’…lies, lies, lies. Our Heavenly Father knows best. He speaks truth always. He tells us that it won’t be easy; we will be persecuted, times will be hard. But he is with us and has, from the dawn of time, has greater plans for us than our sheltered tower life can provide.

I love the lyrics to the song “I See the Light”…because it describes exactly how my life changed when I realized what I could do with God in my life.

All those days watching from the windows
All those years outside looking in
All that time never even knowing
Just how blind I’ve been
Now I’m here blinking in the starlight
Now I’m here suddenly I see
Standing here it’s all so clear
I’m where I’m meant to be

And at last I see the light
And it’s like the fog has lifted
And at last I see the light
And it’s like the sky is new
And it’s warm and real and bright
And the world has somehow shifted
All at once everything looks different
Now that I see you.

It’s a Tangled life. Mixed messages, broken promises, twisted confusions… but it all gets straightened out when we acknowledge that God is greater than all the mess. He wants us to be brave enough to take that first (barefoot) step out of our comfort home to seek the adventure he has for us.

image from http://www.etsy.com

Scripture references:

Exodus 14 (Crossing the Red Sea)   Joshua 10 (Sun standing still)

Joshua 6 (Jericho’s walls fall)          Matthew 5-7 (Rejoice when persecuted)

Matthew 14 (Peter walks on water)

 

 

 

Chains

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When I was a kid, I really enjoyed making paper chains at Christmas time. Maybe it was the challenge of how long it could grow when competing with school  friends. Maybe it was the monotony of rolling, stapling, rolling, stapling…a menial task with maximum benefit in the midst of holiday rush. Maybe it was the simplicity of the decoration…paper and staples could fill a lot of gaps on the tree when ornaments were scarce. Whatever the reason, I liked making paper chains.

As my Christmases have become more umm…involved over the years, I haven’t had the pleasure of sitting down with a pile of colored paper, scissors, and staples in a while. Until tonight. These post-Thanksgiving days have been uncharacteristically relaxed. The weather has been balmy and perfect for children to run their vacation energy off outside. Their ages make it easier to release them to an independent activity while I relax on the couch a bit. It has been eerily calm.

While my son was biking with friends this afternoon, I was working on cutting some paper for a church project tomorrow (first Sunday of Advent!). I had a pile of decorative FullSizeRender(1)paper spread out in front of me and some scissors, some loosey-goosey little paper scraps and a roll of tape. I asked my nearly-six year old daughter if she’d ever made a paper chain. She said she didn’t think so. As she is methodically minded like her mom, I figured she would enjoy this project. So I grabbed the stapler (I know that makes it more rewarding, more quickly) and showed her.

StarFullSizeRender(3)t with a circle of paper, stapled together. Slide a strip of paper through the circle and staple it to itself. She grasped the simple concept within a few loops and began to connect them herself, just asking that I do the stapling. ‘This is fun!’ she observed after about 8 loops. I knew she was hooked.

As I recalled the last time I made a paper chain, probably elementary school, I considered how much my life has changed. How the plans I had then didn’t exactly happen the way I expected. I had visions of a chain of life events, a certain color scheme, a certain length, but that wasn’t the order God had for my life.

Each little loop of the chain of life has a special meaning, a connection to the rest of the sequence. A preschool friend who has grown up with me, my first job FullSizeRender(5)where I overcame my shyness, my few athletic successes, the job I didn’t get, the guy who shattered my heart, the day I saw my future mate, the church who allows me space for my visions, the book that opened my eyes, the evenings of mommy failure…each momentous connection to others adds a loop to my chain.

Long before paper chains were invented, Seneca said ‘Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.’ (That wasn’t just a late ’90s Semisonic lyric…) More recently, though not much, the psalmist David recorded, ‘You have taken account of my wanderings. Put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book?’ Our days and weeks are full of new experiences, some we want to cherish, others have brought us tears. They begin, they end; new ones begin and become old and end. But God keeps an account of it all…he has a list of our life events, our chain of events. And through those events, he crafts colorful connections to other people, those who need us…and those we need.

We don’t know how long our chains will be, but we can appreciate the simple beauty of the fact that they exist. Each twist or turn, new or old, makes another link that forever joins us with those around us.

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Nervous dogs shed

We adopted a dog from our local animal shelter about a month ago, and he’s great. Loveable, lazy, spoiled rotten…he’s our Dodger Dog. He’s settling in well now, playing a bit with the matron dog of the house Mia, and he’s relaxing in his worries about thunderstorms as well. (See previous post about his Stormophobia).

We were a little worried about him while we were on vacation last week, knowing he was still in his adjustment period. But  with a dog-loving neighbor kid checking on him and Mia to keep him company, we figured he’d be fine. And evIMG_5143[1]en though there were dreaded thunderstorms nearly every night we were gone, he was okay.

I noticed a strange phenomena when we returned home last night, though. His hair was all over everything. I noticed this because he had previously been virtually shed-free. Upon our arrival, I began to notice his little white hairs were on the couches (clearly, he took advantage of our absence…), in tumble weeds rolling down the hall, in piles bales in the kids’ rooms…everywhere! As I sucked up heap after heap with the vacuum, I realized that his panic during the storms and probably his anxiety from being left ‘alone’ must have come out through hair loss. I recalled a vet telling me that dogs’ dander comes out, as well as their hair, when they are nervous. Our vacation was too stressful for Dodger, and he let us know he missed us by leaving remnants of himself everywhere. Good thing we weren’t gone any longer…

IMG_5048[1]This anxiety-behavior cycle made me think about our own human responses to worry. Kids who are fretted will often wet the bed or retain bowel movements. They will display abnormal-for-them behaviors, such as hitting, feuding, or biting. They appear to be belligerent, but deep down, they’re scared. And don’t grown ups act out when they’re worried, too? Their responses are a little more cryptic, though. The snarky comment, the pity party, the passive-aggression…they’re disguises for anxiety. Anxiety that change may occur, worry that control may be lost, fear that some secret may be revealed. We adults may be taller, but we’re still so child-like inside. Scared, frightened, nervous kids wondering what’s going on around us.

So what’s your anxiety-behavior? Biting other people’s heads off? Hiding in your room? Throwing tantrums? Does it leave a bigger mess after it’s over… or a mess for someone else to clean up? Maybe it’s time to try a new response. Check out these possibilities instead…

Psalm 34

1 I will praise the Lord no matter what happens. I will constantly speak of his glories and grace. I will boast of all his kindness to me. Let all who are discouraged take heart. Let us praise the Lord together and exalt his name.

For I cried to him and he answered me! He freed me from all my fears. Others too were radiant at what he did for them. Theirs was no downcast look of rejection! This poor man cried to the Lord—and the Lord heard him and saved him out of his troubles. For the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence him.

Matthew 6

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ 32  Indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

34 “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Proverbs 3

5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
    and do not rely on your own insight.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him,
    and he will make straight your paths.

Stormophobia: a dog’s life

We adopted a dog from our local animal shelter last week. I’ve been requesting a second dog for a while, but my husband is a ‘one dog man’. But when my son’s best neighborhood buddy moved away…well, he needed a young whippersnapping companion to take the boy’s place. (wink, wink) Our old family dog is more of a sleeping companion these days.

So, we brought home Dodger, a white boxer with the face of a grumpy grandpa, the snore of a motorcycle, and the flatulence of a Mexican restaurant. He’s a sweet, sweet fella, and he’s fit right into our family. Even our ol’ gal Mia, who has been with us for almost eleven years has accepted him as her brother.

This evening, we had a summer thunderstorm, not uncommon around these parts. Our family usually snuggles up together on the couch and listens to the thunder, the wind, and the rain. We might even open windows to smell the fresh air. Tonight’s storm rolled through just as the kids were dozing off to sleep, and they missed our snuggle time. But Dodger was totally aware of what was coming along.

From the first distant rumble, he was on guard. He began pacing through the house, looking for shelter. Up and down the hall, up and down the stairs, staring at me, locating my husband, and back again. Whimpering occasionally, he was in constant motion…trying to find his haven in his new home. Or maybe, he was just trying to get away from the storm altogether. He hopped on the couch with me (usually forbidden) and sat at attention, eyes darting from window to window, wherever the lightning flashed or rain sounded loudest. Then, he hopped down and returned to his pacing, pausing briefly to have an explosive blowout on my son’s floor (I hope that was just something he ate and not a storm-triggered behavior. Otherwise, it’s going to be a long, disgusting summer…)

As I was thinking about how to comfort Dodge and how to break this cycle of panic, I thought of his past. He came to us from a home where he was always kept outside, due to a family allergy. If the behavior I saw tonight was his response to being inside during a storm, I can only imagine how terrified he was being outside through each storm. I hope that the more storms he ‘weathers’ inside with us, the more settled he will become…and the pattern of panic will be broken.

This behavior caused me to think of people who are trying to live a new lifestyle and how hard it is to break out of the old response patterns. Breaking free is liberating, but first it’s terrifying. How do you know who to believe or trust? It’s like Dodger looking for his own solace…his own place of shelter because we humans couldn’t be trusted to make the storm go away. Starting over often means that you can only depend on you because others have failed so often and so deeply.

It takes courage to want a new response, to be tired enough of the old panic-and-poop to find a new way to respond. It takes strength to pull out of an unhealthy situation and pace around looking for a new, healthier way. Though fear may be a driving force, it still drives us on to seek something better.

I will be researching how to settle Dodger’s storm fears, but I won’t forget his first storm with us…or the impression it made on me. That utter panic of ‘This has got to change!!!! How can I make this stop?!?!!’ made me recall my own past panics and how infinitely thankful I am to have survived and thrived.

God is good. God is always with us in our storms. He sees us wandering and wondering how to make it all go away. And he reaches out to us to show us the way. He wants to wrap his arms around us, stop our shaking, and hold us until the worst is over. We just have to be willing to trust his love more than our own methods of comfort.

Psalm 147: 3

He heals the broken-hearted and binds up their wounds.

Psalm 103:1-5

1 Praise the Lord, my soul;
    all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
    and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
    and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
    and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
    so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

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VBS: It’s not just for the kids

As we belted out the lyrics to a great Chris Tomlin song and learned the motions choreographed to go along with it, I heard the message for the first time. The closed-captioned words popped on the screen as the kids watched the singers and followed their motions…and I just stood there reading the song that I’d sung dozens of times before.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Huh…our strength will increase while we’re waiting on God. Lemme ponder that a bit.
I watched Connie, our 78 year old volunteer, dance just as enthusiastically as her second grade counterparts. I admired the excitement that flashed in her eyes. She saw me and said, ‘I love it!’ At her veteran place in life, she was learning new moves and new praises to God.
Other class leaders, moms-returned-to-full-time-work, were using the bond of VBS to spend with their own children because their new schedule limited the customary family time.
One grandad was helping in the snack area because his wife, one of our usual snack helpers, had a stomach virus. He had an opportunity to serve kids, his wife, and his God.
The classrooms were pleasantly stocked with youth helpers, cutting, pasting, tying, wiping, shushing, leading…finding their own niches in service.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
Each adult present in VBS has had his/her fair share of waiting times. Waiting for a loved one to come through surgery, waiting for a diagnosis, waiting to find housing, waiting for a job interview, waiting for the check to come in the mail so bills can be paid…the waiting can be so long and weigh so heavily on us. But according to this inspiring praise chorus, which reflects Scripture, our waiting is what develops our spiritual muscles. Just like our physical body improves its tone with strength training, so does our spiritual self.
My dear dancing Connie has waited for health, family, housing, security…and it has brought her to a place of laughter and love to share with VBS kids.
The working moms have worked waited for interviews, financial stability, growth of children…and it has brought them to their knees in service to the kids of VBS.
The grandad has,no doubt, waited on his wife, his children, his grandchildren…and it has brought him back to waiting tables, doling out cheeseballs and lemonade, in the name of Jesus.
The youth have waited to grow up, to find their paths, to be independent…and it has brought them to church, in the summer, to serve little ones half their age.
‘Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord, as we wait upon the Lord…’
If we are confident of the one we are waiting on, we can doing the waiting. If we look back at what he has done, in our lives, in the lives of others, in the Bible… we know that the waiting is worth it. He is faithful. He will not faint, he won’t grow weary…so neither should we. I admire my VBS colleagues and each of the stages of life they represent. They have waited…and will continue to wait…but they know that the waiting isn’t really so bad when you consider what strength is being built…
Isaiah 40:31
They that wait upon the Lord will renew their strength.
The will mount up with wings as eagles.
They will run and not be weary;
they will walk and not faint.