You know how life can be kind of confusing?
Maybe you are wondering whether you should take that new job, get out of an iffy relationship, or (if you watch the ads on Fox News at night, like we sometimes do) talk to your doctor about whatever it is that you think you might have.
Or maybe you’ve just gotten yourself into a slightly awkward position, and you aren’t quite sure what to do about it:
Anyhow…there’s a prayer for that.
Way back when Jeremiah was in prison (and maybe wondering why he ever got into the whole prophet gig), God made him a promise: “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know.”
That pledge wasn’t just for Jeremiah; the accessibility of God’s guidance is a theme that runs throughout Scripture. When we aren’t sure which way is up (or even what we are looking at, options-wise), God can help. When we need wisdom and direction and answers, he promises that, if we earnestly seek him, he will deliver.
Whatever your need or uncertainty is today, call on God. Seek him. Make Jeremiah 33:3 your own personal prayer:
Heavenly Father, I am calling on you now. Please answer me, and tell me great and unsearchable things that I do not know. (Jeremiah 33:3)
I once read that you don’t need to worry all that much about dust. If you simply ignore it for six months, the tipster promised, it doesn’t really get any worse.
Or maybe it was a year. Or two. I don’t remember.
But I can tell you this, based on my own actual scientific research: There is no discernible difference between the way that an un-dusted trophy looks after five years or ten.
There is this really high shelf that marks the perimeter of Robbie’s room. We started throwing the trophies up there when he was about five years old: the Black Knights, the Purple Wolves, the Buckeyes, the Shark Attack, and even the Coronado Flower Show (Robbie snagged top honors in the “bean plate” division) are all represented. Eyeing the collection from time to time, I would occasionally think to myself, “I should probably dust those some day.”
Well, “some day” finally came. Last week, I pulled the hardware down and got out my all-time favorite cleaning product. (And seriously. If you get nothing else out of this blog, you should at least try The Original Bee’s Wax. It’s pricey, but it literally works great on everything. Even as I type this, I am thinking about squirting it on the dogs, just to see.)
Anyhow, the trophies didn’t look as bad as I thought they might, after so many years.
Looking at them jumbled together on the floor, I was reminded of something C.S. Lewis said about time and the effect that it has on sin:
We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin.
It doesn’t, of course. But, as Lewis observed (and if you want the full treatment, check out The Problem of Pain), we have this idea that long-gone offenses – the “cruelties and falsehoods committed in boyhood” – don’t matter anymore, or that they are of no real concern.
“But mere time,” Lewis said, “does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.”
The fact or the guilt of a sin. Like dust on the trophies, I guess, these things might not look any worse, over time. (They might even be less noticeable, on a day-to-day basis, particularly as we get used to living with them.) But they certainly don’t go away all by themselves. The need the spiritual equivalent of The Original Bee’s Wax.
They need The Cross.
Talk about a product that works on everything. Truly. It doesn’t matter how long the dust has been gathering, or how thick it is. The trophies that are our lives can be made new again, more beautiful than we could ever have imagined. All it takes is repentance and a willingness to accept the forgiveness – the cleansing – God offers.
And I don’t know about you, but I want that. I want my life to be something that showcases God’s glory, something that proclaims the victories he has accomplished – in spite of my layers of dust.
I don’t know if God has a trophy case, but if he does, I definitely want to be in it.
And if you clicked on this post in search of a recipe, I’m sorry. This pic was from a food tasting (which is probably the best part of wedding planning), and when I saw it in my camera today, I couldn’t help but think of Psalm 63.
David wrote that psalm when he was in the desert. Physically and spiritually, he felt dry and tuckered out – but when he turned his attention to God, everything changed. He knew God’s love had the power to sustain him. “My soul will be satisfied as with the richest of foods;” David wrote, “with singing lips my mouth will praise you.”
How’s your soul doing today?
If you or someone you love is feeling overwhelmed, tired, spiritually dry, or just plain hungry for something more, try turning Psalm 63:5 into a prayer. It might not be a recipe for beef tenderloin, but it sure can help turn an achy soul into one that sings for joy!
“Heavenly Father, satisfy my soul as with the richest of foods; may my mouth sing praise to you.” (Psalm 63:5)
She didn’t know it back then, but more than 20 years ago, I tapped Susan Alexander Yates to be my mentor. I read her books, attended her speaking engagements, even booked her to come give a parenting talk at our church. Slowly (and perhaps because she sensed that I wasn’t going away, and she figured she’d rather have a buddy than a stalker), we became friends. And today, with a heart that is bursting with gratitude for Susan’s writing as well as her friendship, I am thrilled to welcome her to the blog.
First, though (and with a nod to Ricky Ricardo), I’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.
It’s about this picture:
Not too long ago, Susan and her friend, Barbara Rainey, came out with a book called Barbara and Susan’s Guide to the Empty Nest. Since I’d read all of Susan’s books (my personal favorite being And then I had Kids, which details what happens when a woman looks askance at other people’s snotty children running around with no underpants…and then has five kids of her own in seven years), I quickly snapped up this one when it came out. Robbie was about six months away from his college launch when he saw it lying on our kitchen counter. Certain that I was already measuring his bedroom for drapes and filing cabinets for my new office, he sent me a snap with this caption:
“I’m not gone yet mom.”
True. But I was a girl scout for about five months before my mom decided she didn’t want to sell cookies, and I still live by the motto: Be prepared.
And I must say, Susan and Barbara got me ready! In the book, they tackle the sorts of questions that every new empty-nester grapples with: Who am I now? How will my marriage be affected? Does anyone need me? How do I relate to my children? Is it okay to feel sad? Or thrilled?
These gals write with wisdom and candor, and if you or someone you know is about to jump into this new adventure, their advice will certainly ease the transition. (Robbie’s snapchat doesn’t do the Empty Nest cover justice; to see a better image, or to order the book, click here.)
Anyhow, Susan is a wealth of good family intel, regardless of the season you find yourself in. When she heard I was looking at two weddings in four months, she weighed in with some advice, which led to this blog that I will share with you now.
(Finally, I know.)
And just so you know how cute Susan is, here’s her pic:
Here she is, in her own words:
“And then we had Weddings!”
We had five kids in 7 years, including a set of twins. In those early years I simply staggered through each day, waiting for someone to fall asleep or for my husband’s car to pull in the drive so I could run away or at least hide for a few minutes. Physical exhaustion was my constant companion. I didn’t spend much time thinking about the teen years and the emotional exhaustion that would hit all of us during that season.
And weddings? They were way off my radar screen.
However Allison, our eldest, ushered in this new season for us when she and Will decided to get married one week after college graduation.
It was uncharted territory for me and I desperately wanted to “do it” right.
“Allison, you are our first and Dad and I don’t know what we are doing,” I said. “We want this wedding planning to go well but we are most likely to blow it so if I get too bossy or say the wrong thing please tell me.”
And I did – and she told me. It was a time of learning together, of my letting go, and of granting grace to one another for the mistakes we made.
A few years later we had 4 weddings in three summers. Our twins got married the same summer – just six weeks apart. Since these were to be our 4th and 5th weddings, I hoped I’d learned a few things. But the sheer complexity of two large weddings so close together was mind-boggling. I felt like I should have been a pro by then, but it seemed that every time I turned around there was another decision to be made, another contract to sign, another detail to cover.
One morning as I was praying over plans these words came to me:
Susan, remember you are not merely planning an event. You are building a family and relationships are more important than details.
I wrote this message out and taped it to my refrigerator. As things got crazy, these words helped me to remember what really mattered.
When our kids get married, our priorities radically change. No longer is my relationship with my child the priority. Instead, the relationship my child has with his or her spouse becomes the priority. And that means I have a new role. Now I have to take a step back. Now my job is to encourage their marriage to flourish and to pray for them. And now, when a child calls and asks for advice, I need to remember that I am no longer the “first responder.” Now, my first question should be, “What does your spouse think?”
Change is awkward. It takes time to negotiate new relationships. As you work to establish what your relationship with your married child “now” looks like, here’s a little encouragement to see you through: Lower your expectations, assume the best of each other, choose laughter over irritation, and always be willing to ask for forgiveness.
The best is yet to come!
(Jodie’s note: Can you see why I find Susan so encouraging? Even if you’re not in a wedding season, you can tap into Susan’s wisdom for families via her blog, or check out her “One Word” tweets – nifty posts that detail an attribute or character trait of God – which you can find @susanayates.)
(And in the interest of social media fairness, if the links don’t work and the Twitter address turns out to be bogus, don’t shoot me. Remember, I am a techno-moron. Just post a comment on this blog and I will find a way to hook you up with Susan. You can’t steal her as your mentor, but you can still benefit from her wonderful insights for living!)
The Bible says that, as far as it depends on us, we are to live at peace with everyone (Romans 12:18). Sometimes, that can be a tall order – especially when we aren’t sure how to get there, or what we can do to promote peace or “make things right” with people.
Happily, we don’t have to figure it out on our own. Luke says that Jesus came to shine on those living in darkness, and to guide our feet into the path of peace.
If you find yourself at odds with someone today, or even just craving peace to quiet your own anxious heart, why not ask Christ to help you? After all, that’s what he came for, right?
Here’s a simple prayer you can pray today for yourself, for a troubled relationship, or for someone you love:
Heavenly Father, I feel like I am living in darkness. Shine your light on me, and guide my feet – my thoughts, my words, and every step I take – into the path of peace. (Luke 1:79)
Twelve years ago, when we began renovating our home, the bathroom guys cut a giant oval out of a piece of plywood to make a hole for the bathtub. The kids were young, underfoot, and more than a little interested in the whole construction process. In an an effort to keep them from firing nail guns at each other or sawing off someone’s foot, I sent them outside with the egg-shaped wood scrap and a bunch of paint and said, “Easter is coming. Make something.”
And “The Egg” was born.
The contractors attached a wooden easel and sharpened the stakes so that the kids’ masterpiece could be displayed in the front yard. Holy Week was just a few days away, and we hatched what we thought was a brilliant plan: In the same way that Jesus’s resurrection came as an awesome surprise to his followers, we thought we would “surprise!” our neighbors by thrusting the sign into their yards, all under the cover of darkness. We taped instructions and a Sharpie marker to the back of The Egg, encouraging each lucky recipient to sign the back and then, the next night, move the whole contraption to a new location as a way to share the love of Easter all week long.
What could possibly go wrong?
Well, for one thing, tub decks are made of sturdy stuff. The Egg weighs about 70 pounds and, at nearly 6-feet tall, it’s not like it fits comfortably in the passenger seat. Or even the trunk.
Not only that but, as it turns out, not everyone wants an Easter surprise.
One garden club guru (whose yard is truly spectacular) caught wind of our scheme and assured us that, while she certainly did believe and endorse the “Risen” message, The Egg would be “happier elsewhere.”
A prominent local businessman got up in the middle of the night, spotted the moonlit orb from his bathroom window, woke his wife (“What the heck is that thing??!”), and then literally ran outside in his boxers to remove it, lest any of our Jewish neighbors (who were also his clients) see it on their way to work.
As word spread, husbands everywhere began to regard The Egg with distrust, knowing that it had the power to puncture a pipe and destroy an entire sprinkler system.
And so, to save both relationships and hydrangeas, we made a new plan.
Now we no longer surprise anyone. Instead, very late on Easter Eve, long after it gets dark, Robbie taps an able-bodied child (this year, it was a fiancé, which is all part of the on-going hazing plan to be sure the guys know what they’re in for with this family) to help him lug the thing out of the garage. Together, they wrestle it out to the street and set it up on our corner, where – we hope – it will bless the neighbors. (If they don’t find themselves cheered by the “He is Risen” message, I figure that they can at least be happy that The Egg didn’t wind up in their yard.)
And I like to think it is blessing people. For years, we’d come home from church and make our kids (and any weekend guests) stand out on the street, posing with The Egg for the Annual Easter Pic.
Recently, our neighbors began doing the same thing; this year, The Egg showed up in at least three different Instagram posts.
Maybe the neighbors know that time is short. The wood is splintering, the pointy stakes wobble, and the 12-year-old paint job (which never looked all that good, even to the untrained eye) is starting to look what might actually be considered “bad.” I doubt that The Egg will see many more Easters.
But, happily for all of us, its message will: He is risen. He is risen this Easter, he is risen next Easter, he is risen forever.
I’m filing this blog under “Try this.” For those of you who want to make yourselves an Egg, be my guest. But for those who don’t (which I would guess might be all of you), the “try this” factor is simply this: Know that the resurrection doesn’t just pave the way for our eternal salvation. It also comes with power for daily living, as in right now. It comes with hope.
Which is certainly worth trying, with or without your own piece of plywood.
I can’t imagine.
You know that song, How Deep the Father’s Love for Us? There’s a line in there that always undoes me, one that kicks off the second verse:
How great the pain of searing loss, The Father turns his face away…
The Father turns his face away. As I said, I can’t imagine.
Incredibly, though, it is the very agony of abandonment that Christ faced that throws wide the door for us to draw near to God. There is no pain or betrayal that he does not understand or hasn’t experienced. And our sin, no matter how ugly or frightening, is never bigger than his obedience.
Hebrews 4:15-16 reminds us of all of these things, and more. Let’s make it our Good Friday prayer, knowing that God will never again turn his face away.
Lord Jesus, thank you that you understand our weaknesses and that you faced all the same testings we do, yet you did not sin. Remind us, particularly when we feel rejected or forsaken, or when we struggle under the weight of our own inadequacy and failure, that we can come boldly to the throne of our gracious God, where we will receive mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most. (Hebrews 4:15-16, NLT)
(Click here to for the Phillips, Craig, and Dean version of How Deep the Father’s Love for Us, written by Stuart Townend.)
In any case, it’s short and to the point – and it’s a good one to have in the memory bank for whenever you or your loved ones need an attitude adjustment or a little divine motivation to “just do it.”
Heavenly Father, help ____ to do everything without complaining or arguing. (Philippians 2:14)
When it comes to college students and their Spring Break plans, I thought Robbie and I had seen it all. Our kids have done missions trips (aren’t we good parents?), the booze cruise (okay, so forget I asked), and pretty much everything in between. And, over the years, we have dished out all the usual pre-travel parental guidance: Don’t go out alone. Don’t forget your sunscreen. Don’t drink the water.
Clearly, though, we forgot one critical piece of advice: Don’t jump out of an airplane.
Especially in a foreign country.
With a man you know only as “Ollie.”
Not that any of these tips would have mattered to Virginia. Maybe it’s a birth-order thing (she’s third in the line-up), but this child has developed a keen sense for how things are apt to go down. If she thinks we’ll be on board with whatever plot she is hatching, she welcomes our input. If not, well, there is always forgiveness.
Like, how sorry was Virginia, really, when she held up her hand (“SORRY MOM + DAD!”) so that her new pal Ollie (the one who strapped her into a backpack without anything remotely close to a signature required) could take a mid-air selfie?
(Seriously. Does she look sorry to you?)
When Robbie saw the Instagram post, his comment was quick and to the point: “You’re dead.”
I refrained from commenting, not because I had nothing to say, but because I had already commented on an earlier post and I know better than to go on record, publicly, with anything that might be mistaken for an excessive interest in my 21-year-old’s life.
But I was eager to hear about the jump, and when I finally got Virginia on the phone, she summed it up perfectly:
“It was John 10:10, Mom. It was amazing!”
Now I’m not sure Jesus had skydiving in mind, but his promise to his followers – “I have come that they might have life, and have it to the full” – actually fits. That’s the NIV translation; other popular versions describe a life lived “more abundantly” (KJV), one that is “rich and satisfying” (NLT), and one that is “more and better…than they ever dreamed of” (MSG).
And while I wouldn’t necessarily advocate jumping out of an airplane (even with Ollie, who I am sure is a very safe person), I do think there is a metaphor here. I mean, when we make a decision to trust God – as in, really trust him, with all that we have and all that we are – it can feel a little scary.
A little like losing control.
A little like jumping into the clouds when you can’t see the ground – or even, for that matter, the Person you have decided to strap yourself to.
Trusting God is all of these things, and more. It takes faith (and sometimes even guts), but it opens the door a “rich and satisfying” life, one that is “more and better” than anything we could ever imagine.
And, at the end of the day, it’s amazing.
All week on the blog, we’ve been talking about sexual assault and how to prevent it. I am grateful to author Wendy Blight for her willingness to share her story (which, if you’re just checking in, is the subject of her book, Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God’s Story).
Today, I want to offer a prayer for anyone who has ever been a victim of sexual violence. Please join me in praying this for yourself, or for someone you love:
Heavenly Father, may your light break forth like the dawn in _____’s life. May her healing quickly appear, and may your glory be her guard. When ____’s calls, answer her. When she cries for help, let her hear you say, “Here am I.” (Isaiah 58:8-9)