PLOT TWIST!

When I am teaching my students about making predictions and inferences while reading, I remind them that they have to ‘update’ their thoughts as they gain new information. One of my favorite picture books to use in teaching this concept is Suddenly by Colin McNaughton  . This book is the opposite of predictable. When the

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reader tries to guess what’s going to happen next (the pig will walk out of the school house into the wolf’s clutches), something far less predictable happens (the pig returns to his school desk for money and leaves out the back door instead.) On every page, the reader is flummoxed when the plot takes a completely unexpected twist (the wolf crashed into a wall instead  of nabbing the pig at the supermarket!).

I love thinking about this in the realm of God’s work in our lives. And the Bible has so many examples of plot twists! We think we’re the only ones who get our hearts set on something and then feel disappointed when it doesn’t work out…but then get happy again when something better occurs. Well, that emotional roller coaster has been ridden for centuries!

Genesis 15-18, Matthew 1-God shows Abram the countless stars in the night sky and promises that Abram’s descendants will outnumber them. {Wow! Amazing! Thrilling!}  PLOT TWIST: Abram is nearly 100, and Sarai his wife isn’t too far behind. {Wait, what? That’s crazy! And darn near impossible!} PLOT TWIST: God did it anyway…and Jesus was born from that infinite number of Abram’s descendants.

Daniel 1-3–Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were  wholesome, Godly young men who prayed daily and didn’t defile themselves in Babylon, the land of his captivity. They were promoted in Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. {Yay! Young Jewish men take a stand and are making positive influences! Hooray!} PLOT TWIST: King Neb threatened them with death via fiery furnace if they didn’t bow and worship the idol he made. And then he did it! He put them in a flaming furnace!!! {Whaaaaaa? That’s seriously messed up! } PLOT TWIST: God sent an angel to keep them company in the furnace…aaaaaaand when they came out, ‘the fire had not had any power over the bodies of those men; the hair of their heads was not singed, their tunics[f] were not harmed, and not even the smell of fire came from them.’ (NRSV)  {Boom! Not even the smell of smoke on their clothes…and Neb had tried to extinguish their faith. } Not only that, the king made a decree guaranteeing the security of these guys.

Daniel 6-– As Daniel’s life continued, he remained honorable and trustworthy, so he continued in the service of the upcoming rulers of Babylon. In fact, he was about to be promoted into a place of great power. {So great! A Godly young man rising in the government…the world needs more of that! What an example!} PLOT TWIST: Daniel’s colleagues weren’t so fond of him, and they manipulated the king into decreeing Daniel’s daily prayers illegal. The punishment for praying to anyone except the king was being thrown to the lions. And the ignorant king went along with it.  {Whaaaaaaaaaa??? Seriously? Daniel’s the good guy…how can the king agree to such nonsense?} PLOT TWIST:  God closed the mouths of the lions…until the king’s advisors came along the next morning. The king realized the error of his ways and reinstated Daniel…and his scheming sidekicks were lion breakfast.

Acts 9–Saul was a dreaded Christian-killer. Daily, he sought worshipers of Christ to imprison and stone to death. {That’s terrible! What a ruthless, horrible man!} PLOT TWIST:  On his way to capture worshipers in Damascus, God spoke to him from heaven, questioned his motives, and blinded him for three days. {Yeah! There ya go! Get him, God!} PLOT TWIST: When Saul regained his sight, he gained a new identity…Paul, the apostle of Jesus Christ, that was largely responsible for the spread of the Gospel to Europe and Asia.  {Well, I did NOT see that coming! What a miracle! You sure did ‘get him’, God!}

And there are so many more! Reading through Joseph’s life is a tale of twisted truths and flat out lies until it’s relieving resolution.  The death of Lazarus was heartbreaking to his sisters, until they saw that Jesus could untwist Lazarus’s burial clothes and restore him to his life’s story. Zaccheus was a stinker of a little man, until Jesus untwisted those purse strings and heart strings and changed the plot of that tax collector’s story.  In the glowing stories of Ruth  and Esther , these brave women were writing their own versions of ‘herstory’, following the paths that they believed that God had planned for them, when their plots were severely twisted. Death, immigration, and conspiracy wound around the secure cords of their lives and snapped the comfort right off. But then, God restored the story. He gave them back their lives…in abundance.

How often we get caught up in the plot twists that are happening to us right now. We miss the bigger story that God has written for our lives. In each of the Bible stories above, the people were ‘minding their own business’, doing what was daily expected of them, when disaster struck. I’m sure that they questioned what was happening…especially Saul and Zaccheus who had yet to develop a connection to their Heavenly Father. But those other saints, they must have had their questions. ‘But Father, I was doing what I thought was right?’ ‘Abba, wasn’t I doing what you told me to do?’ ‘Forgive me, Father, if I misread your directions. I thought I understood.’

Just like us. We question ourselves. We question God. We question others. But what we need to realize is that it’s just a plot twist. It’s not curtain drop. We’re not at the end of our story until we die. The Author and Finisher of our faith is thoughtfully considering each event that occurs to us…and how it will ultimately accomplish our perfection and His glory. Others will ‘read’ our story and note our unfailing faith…or our faith struggles and restorations. God wants our tales to reach audiences beyond ourselves. That’s why our story goes on…after the plot is twisted.

Lamentations 3:19-26

19 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness
    is wormwood and gall!
20 My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.
21 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:

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.
24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul,
    “therefore I will hope in him.”

25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him,
    to the soul that seeks him.
26 It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.

 

Lamentations 3v22-23 Vinyl Wall Decal 2

 

photo credit: wildeyedesigns.com

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I know something you don’t know

In two days, my son will be getting four teeth pulled…and he doesn’t know it yet. We had this appointment scheduled a month ago,  but there was a miscommunication with the dentist, so we had to reschedule. The week leading up to that appointment was torturous for his anxiety-prone little mind. So, this time, we’re opting for telling him the day before, to eliminate stress…for all of us.

I feel as though I’m being a little bit dishonest by not telling him, but I know what he went through last time. I know that this is truly more comforting for him. He doesn’t need to lose sleep, work himself into a panic, or become as jumpy as a late summer grasshopper. He hasn’t asked, so I’m not lying…and I won’t lie to him if he does ask.

Our family is in a waiting season currently. Several transitions are looming in our future, and we’re not sure which ones will affect us in what ways. Being in this place of uncertainty has driven me deeper into Bible study and prayer, for which I am thankful. I am confident that my faith has deepened in this time.

That said, having this ‘omniscient’ perspective on Brady’s upcoming surgery has given me a new understanding of God’s timing. He doesn’t reveal his upcoming plans to us completely to protect us from overreacting, overthinking, or overdoing.

Though He was leading them out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites balked when they saw the plan God had involved the Red Sea…and they wanted to return to Egypt. (Exodus 14)

While Moses was on the mountain, receiving guidelines from God Almighty about living in peaceful community, the awaiting Israelites grew impatient…and built a fake god to worship. (Exodus 32)

The fall of Jericho wasn’t enough to convince Achan that God was in control of the future of Israel. He had to take some of the spoils of the battle as treasures, which was in direct defiance to God. (Joshua 7)

Eve couldn’t trust that God’s plan was infallible, so she chose to listen to evil guidance. (Genesis 3)

Lot’s wife wistfully looked back at the debauchery of Sodom and Gomorrah rather than following God’s gracious exit strategy. (Genesis 19)

Even the Pharisees couldn’t imagine the forest of God’s mercy for the planting of their self-righteousness. (Matthew 16)

This is not a crowd I want to hang out with. I don’t want to be listed with these of little faith. I want to learn from them, but not repeat their haste and misdirection. Knowing that God has something better ahead than what I can see now needs to give me the faith to hold on until He demonstrates his plan.

My faith, tiny and tired though it may be, is the ‘substance’, the shred, the sliver of light that directs me to the things I hope for…says Hebrews 11:1. He’s not showing me all of the plan right now because I might mess it up in haste to make it happen faster. I could greedily snatch unnecessary treasures…or sample forbidden fruit…or stroll toward unhealthy decadence… If I knew what was ahead, I might avoid it, change it, or rush it.

I am not God. I am not omniscient. And anytime I try to be, I detract and delay His good work in my life…and even for the lives of those that I love.

In the morning, Lord, you hear my voice;
    in the morning I lay my requests before you
    and wait expectantly.                ~Psalm 5:3

Lord, I wait for you;
    you will answer, Lord my God.

                                                            ~Psalm 38:15

I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord
In the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
Be strong and let your heart take courage;
Yes, wait for the Lord.                ~Psalm 27:13, 14

 

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“Sometimes when you’re in a dark place, you think you’ve been buried,                                                             but you’ve actually been planted.”                                                                                                                 ~Christine Caine

 

 

 

Do something about it

When I was a kid and I was discouraged about something…or as a teen and battling anxiety and depression, my Pollyanna mom repeatedly gave me the same sound advice. “Get up and do something for someone else.” While self-care is vital, wallowing in pity is detrimental.

Our nation has undergone some serious changes lately, changes that have sent many reeling into bouts of national anxiety. Others have responded with anger and threats. And others are just speechless.

It’s time to pull ourselves up out of our pit and get active for others. If you’re mad, change something. If you’re depressed, help someone else. If you’re hopeful, spread it around. Regardless of your present emotional state, do something about it.

Here are some options. Each of these organizations has opportunities to help nationally and internationally. Put feet to your faith. Go and do.

http://www.umc.org/how-we-serve

http://www.ywca.org/site/c.cuIRJ7NTKrLaG/b.8481993/k.4AE9/Services_at_YWCA_Local_Associations.htm

http://www.allowthechildren.org/projects/

http://www.redcross.org/about-us/our-work/international-services

http://www.salvationarmy.org/ihq/zones

https://donate.worldconcern.org/44cents-spiritfm?utm_medium=banner&utm_campaign=fy17_spot_radio_44cc_spiritfm&utm_source=spiritfm#amount=44.00

http://www.bloodwater.org/about-us

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Be the change you want to see in the world.                                      ~Ghandi

Lice…and other giants

Anxiety attacks are no fun. I had them during my adolescence and single years. They came on again during my post-partum recovery. And this weekend.

If you’ve never had the joy of this experience, try to imagine this. You feel like you are not in control of anything anymore. You are in your own skin, which may be tingling or itching, but you are just moving through your day in a fog. Any task is too  much. Any demand just brings you to your knees in helplessness. Tears, trembling, vomiting…they’re all close to your delicate surface. You can stand in the middle of your familiar kitchen, and not truly recognize how to do anything. One dirty dish or one full clothes basket is an immense challenge…a moutainous task that will take all day to accomplish. And it feels like the rest of your life is doomed. No one is your friend anymore, everyone has abandoned you. You are all alone and helpless.

This was my feeling this weekend as my husband was leaving for the week…and then we got snowed in…and then we discovered that we had lice. I thought I was going to lose it.

Having gone through the emotional torture of these attacks before, I knew what was going on, but I still had to ride the waves. Stuck indoors, with nasty, insidious, darn-near-invisible bugs invading my family. I find it difficult to even articulate the panic I experienced. Overwhelmed. Helpless. Shrinking inside. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t sit still, couldn’t think straight. I texted some friends to ask for prayer, but I couldn’t even speak prayers myself.

And then, a God-sent friend came to the rescue. She had the contact information (from her own personal experience) of a lice removal specialist, a nurse, trained and certified in lice removal. 100% clearance rate…with a take-home comb and plan of action.

Providentially, our family got an appointment quickly and spent 5 hours in the precious care of a Godly woman who educated us (and ridded us) of the nasty little beasts.

And we talked about God. Sweet balm to my soul…we talked about God. His love for his people. His 10 plagues on Egypt (which included lice!!!) to get his people back from Pharaoh. His might to open the sea AND TOTALLY DRY UP THE LAND for his (million)people to escape.

Being in the presence of this woman was so healing to my oppressed spirit. Her dedication to her mission healed our bodies, but her spirit revived my soul.

I woke up during the night last night with the panicky feelings returning, but I recalled the God we had talked about…the God of Big Love. The God who stood with little David when he faced the giant Goliath. The God who sat with Daniel in the dens with the hungry lions. The God who stood with Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego INSIDE the flaming furnace. The God who rained down fire on Elijah’s soaking wet sacrifice in the presence of Baal’s prophets. The God who sent an ARMY OF ANGELS to protect his prophet Elisha and his servant.  The God who rode with the unwed Mary to find shelter in overcrowded Bethlehem. The God who brought his own son BACK FROM THE DEAD. The God who defeats big challenges with little people.

I recited Psalms to myself in the night, as my momma had taught me to do. “God is my refuge and strength, an EVER-PRESENT help in time of trouble. He is my rock, stronger and taller than I. He is my fortress. He goes before me. He sets up a table of rejoicing in front of my enemies…” This God cares for the little guy (gal). This God knows the ways of the birds and cares for them. He knows the life patterns of the flowers and he cares for them. How much more does he care for me…and want me to rise up out of this funk?

I’m not discounting medication for anxiety…oh no. I’m not surviving this time in life without chemical intervention. Anxiety runs in my genes, and I do take meds to help. I also take a magnesium supplement to keep myself balanced. But while those things take care of my chemistry, I need the knowledge of God’s strength to take care of my mind.

I’m just a little person, but I know that God has used me in big ways, and he will continue to use me in big ways. The giant of anxiety is my occasional foe, and I’m so glad there are stories of heroes who have overcome immense obstacles that can remind me of truth in the midst of emotion.

 

 

I know what you’re getting…

This year for Christmas, I’m turning the kids’ playroom into a ‘maker space’. As preschool is long past, the building blocks and baby doll strollers are just taking up space. Now that the days of elementary school are here, new hobbies have arrived. img_9070

B likes to work with his hands, often to the detriment of household items. The kitchen whisk has been untwisted, his alarm clock met an untimely demise, and several remotes are  remotely useful now. To save our sanity and his college fund, we are just giving him his own construcIMG_0012tion/destruction space.

D likes to craft, write, draw…and be generally artistic. She draws on paper, pillows, bouncy balls, doors! While we have had to establish some boundaries for her crafting, we have also realized that art is her hobby. She also needs a place to work out her talents.

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Bizarre storage unit, before it got some lovin’

Sooooooo, rather than giving them more toys to scatter throughout the house, this year, we’re giving them space. I bought a card table for $10 at a yard sale for him, and for her, I repurposed a table from elsewhere in our house. I found a bizarre storage unit and some pegboard in my parent’s basement to use for housing the kids’ respective supplies. After a trip to the dollar store for little storage containers and labels, and a trip to the hardware and craft stores, badda bing, badda boom…Christmas is on its way.

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Notice the space, not the dangling monitor, which has since been removed

This project has been in my mind since September. I’ve been slowly gathering materials, planning layout, removing old toys, cleaning the empty space, and waiting for the big set-up night. The kids have NO idea this room makeover is coming. They think I’m just on some crazy cleaning spree. Now that they’re home for Christmas break and antsy for something to do, I am more and more convinced that this room of creativity is desperately needed. I’m so excited for them…and I can’t wait for Christmas morning!

A thought occurred to me today as I was buying the final item for the room and considering my own excitement. Is this what God feels like when he’s waiting for things to fall into place in our lives? Is he watching us and saying “Just a little bit longer… and things are going to change for the SO MUCH BETTER.” Does he smile at our restless talents, knowing that they have specific purposes in the future? Does he bite his holy lip and suck in his holy breath when we are on the verge of making a decision that would really just postpone our happiness? Does he keep certain events a secret until the time is right because we would probably interfere if we knew too soon? Does he say to himself, “I really want to tell you what’s coming, but it’s just not time yet”?

Thimg_9419is year, I’m as eager as the kids for Christmas morning because I know they’re going to love what we have planned for them. And now, I have a new perspective on how God sees us when we’re in the waiting times.

The prophet Jeremiah had an incredible message from God for His children in exile (ch. 29) God told them to build homes, plant gardens, get married. He knew what was in their future. He told them to settle down and chill out a bit. His ultimate plans weren’t ready to unfold  just yet…and they wouldn’t be ready for DECADES! Verse 11 has this promise: For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” He wanted his people to maintain hope and trust in him during the waiting times and believe that he had  really good things planned for them.  13 When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations…”

I struggle to keep my holiday cheer for a few weeks when life is going well, much less maintain my trust in God’s goodness for decades! This project has given me his perspective briefly, as a reminder that he always has good plans in mind for us.

I hope that as the ‘new room’ becomes a part of our lives that I’ll remember the excitement I had in knowing what was coming for the kids…and beaming at the thought of it. And I hope that I remember that’s how God views the plans for my life. He beams when he considers my future and my fulfillment.

Psalm 37

3Trust in the Lord, and do good;
    so you will live in the land, and enjoy security.
Take delight in the Lord,
    and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Commit your way to the Lord;
    trust in him, and he will act.

 

 

Image result for i know the plans i have for you
photo from www.justtherightway.com

 

Beautiful mess

Her sweet, warm, sleep-reddened cheeks were hidden behind a tangled mess of blond hair. The same twice-conditioned hair I had combed for 15 minutes last night, hoping to ward off the dreaded tangles of sleep. The morning began with that mess.

And he stumbled out his room, rubbing sleepy eyes, leaving behind a twisted pile of pee-soaked bedclothes on the floor. The same bedclothes I had just washed yesterday and replaced on his bed last night. Sigh…another mess.

The spill of coffee grounds, the puddle of milk, the jumble of who’s dropping off where and when is who picking up whom. The mess of the day continues.

As I drove to work, recalling her tangle of golden hair and my sleepy-eyed fella, I thought, It’s a beautiful mess. All of it is…living is just a series of beautiful messes.

I thought of the Israelites, heading to their promised land, coming upon the Jordan River. The mess of chaos as they traveled through the path God made in the river. The beauty of the stack of stones left behind, an alter of remembrance and praise.

The death of Lazarus, a drastic loss to his sisters. A mess of emotions and finances. But then, Jesus showed up…and Lazarus did too, leaving behind a beautiful mess of burial cloths.

The mess of a heathen giant threatening to eat the bones of the cowardly opposing forces. The beauty of his silence.

The mess of persecution heaped upon new believers by the over-zealous Saul. The beauty of his repentance.

The mess of a boat of panicked fishermen in a storm. The beauty of peaceful waves.

The mess of the ark. The beauty of the rainbow.

The mess of crucifixion. The beauty of resurrection.IMG_5339

The written account of the Bible may have ended thousands of years ago, but we continue to live the out the grace of God through our beautifully messy lives. If the Bible were being written now, my sloppy days wouldn’t make the canon to be included.

But I would love to think that my faith in the beauty through the mess would rank up there with the heroes of the faith that have gone before.

Lord in your mercy… img_6877

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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