Endurance

A lot is swirling in my spirit right now and I may not make much sense here, but I feel the need to try to make sense of some of it by just getting it out in writing, even if it ends up a disjointed mess… and seeing where the writing takes me.

Just heard a talk on the topic of endurance, which is interesting since that’s the title to a book I’m reading about astronaut Scott Kelly, who spent a year living in space. A fascinating book – seeing how he went through so many challenges and deprivations, and he is a completely non-spiritual person, doesn’t seem to have any hunger for God. A total mystery to me, how that could be, but, whatever. That’s not my point now.

ENDURANCE. Doesn’t your inward self just groan – even a little bit- when you hear that? My lazy flesh certainly does. Because you’re never called to endure lovely, happy, comfortable things – it’s always the difficult stuff that you have to endure. And yet, endurance is important to God in the formation of our character. There are so many verses that mention it. There’s that one from James that I wrote about a  couple months ago. “Consider it all joy… testing produces endurance….Let endurance/patience have its perfect work that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” Ah, yes. It’s important for our maturity. We need to “do hard things” in order to be stretched, to grow, to gain confidence, to see His faithful provision in making a way through for us.

I see this in raising children; I’m trying to train my eldest especially these days, as he is fast becoming a young man – you can do this tough thing. You can take on more chores, more responsibilities, a more complex piano piece. He wilts: “It’s toooo harrrd.” I know I am doing a disservice if I coddle him too much, let him take shortcuts. “I KNOW it’s not easy but you CAN do it. Just *don’t*give*up.” And then I have to turn around and laugh at myself when I find myself wanting to whine about an irritating situation that I am sick of enduring. Oh! What’s good for the children is good for the mother. It’s like God is saying, “Remember what you’re trying to teach your children about doing hard things? How they need to grow up and mature and move up to the next level of responsibility and character? This is what I’m trying to teach YOU.”

Endurance feels negative, initially. It presents a picture of gritting your teeth, toughing it out, hanging on by your fingernails, waiting for the pain to be over. It feels focused on the present suffering. But after tonight, I don’t think that’s a fair representation – I don’t think that’s how God wants us to see it. I think about the verse that talks about Jesus: “…who, FOR THE JOY SET BEFORE HIM, ENDURED the cross…” Yes, the cross was pretty much the worst suffering ever endured. But He went through it BECAUSE there was something joyful, beautiful, WORTH IT on the other side. Endurance isn’t just about waiting out the problem – it’s an arrow, pointing to something else. It’s about trusting that there’s something BETTER coming because of the suffering. It’s a tool that God is using to cultivate the fruits of the Spirit in our hearts… ” that we may be perfect and complete, lacking in NOTHING.” Wow – those words have weight, “LACKING IN NOTHING.” The world is crying out with needs. He offers us a way to be complete, whole, fulfilled, wanting for nothing.

We don’t usually choose the situations we are called upon to endure. No one chooses to live with depression, Parkinson’s, cancer, a loveless marriage, physical limitations, allergies, a childless womb, loneliness, a family member who seems to perpetually frustrate or disappoint us, hereditary traits that seem to confine, temptations that dog us. And yet, these are the gifts God has given to us. They don’t seem like good gifts, after you open the box. You gave me WHAT?! What were you thinking, God? I don’t want this! It may have even looked really good at first… You marry your sweetheart – and they turn out to be addicted to gambling, which turns your marriage, and your life, into a living hell. You want to have a child, and he is born with disabilities. You invest yourself in people, and they betray you. You thought you were getting something good – and it ends up a living nightmare. You thought you were being so careful and wise and choosing safe paths for yourself and making sure that you surrounded yourself with good people… and you STILL ENDED UP IN A MORTAL CAGE MATCH, fighting a relentless, seemingly unchangeable circumstance. Shouldn’t life be a non-stop conveyor belt of delightful gazebos, turquoise bicycles with baskets, and charming Japanese lanterns in the evening!? That’s what we’re trying so hard to make it – a life out of a magazine. But God only gives good gifts, and so these things, these situations we are called to endure, these are His way of turning us from our false ideal of the good life – the gazebo/bicycle/Japanese lantern life – to what we really need –  utter dependence on Him.

And, personally, I think there are going to be a heap of Japanese lanterns in heaven, so we’re really not missing out on anything, in the long run. Just gotta endure, for a little while longer, for the joy set before us.

 

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The mess and mystery of grace

We had a recent bout of the January doldrums here.  Well- that’s not completely accurate. Doldrums are peaceful and quiet – this thing we just went through was more like a raging typhoon. It was probably the combination of several factors, but the one that pushed me over the edge like never before was multiple digit multiplication. I never liked math as a child, and now it is coming back to haunt me again as a homeschool mother. I thought I could appease the math gods by working for Math-u-see years ago, but apparently, my efforts failed.

Well, the thing that really got my goat was God. Or rather, my perceived abandonment by God. Facing daily meltdowns about math with my eldest, I was acutely aware of my need for patience, wisdom and grace, NONE of which come naturally. (Funny – I used to think I was a patient person – before I had children. ) So I made sure I spent EXTRA time in the mornings, before I even set foot outside my bedroom, seeking God’s help, making sure I was specifically asking for those things I needed to deal with the daily challenges. There came a moment recently, when after another emotional confrontation with a child, I ran, literally squawking, to my closet, to cry and take deep breaths, putting my head between my knees because I felt so defeated and desperate. I was mostly just mad at God because, after all, I HAD BEGGED HIM FOR HELP. And there WAS NO HELP. I felt as though God was completely falling down on his end of the bargain. WHERE WAS THE PATIENCE I was asking for?! It wasn’t as though I was asking for a million dollars! I was asking for something GOOD- something necessary- something VIRTUOUS and GODLY! And it felt as though God was sitting on His hands, not lifting a finger to help me. Of course, in those moments, suddenly everything mushrooms into a giant gloom cloud, and everything you don’t understand about your life seems to present itself as incontrovertible evidence that God cannot be trusted. It’s not just that I’m failing as a mother! People I love are suffering. Things that I once depended on seem to be falling apart. Long standing difficult situations in my life seem to be expanding into an inevitable forever. The disappointments seem to be stacking up against God.

I have rarely been so disturbed. I drove to work that afternoon, crying. I couldn’t seem to shake the lie that all my prayers were a huge waste of time and that it didn’t matter what I prayed – there was simply no point to it.  I know that it was the devil, trying to take advantage of a weak moment and get me to make “an agreement”, in John Eldredge terms. But it felt like a cold, hard truth at the time, and it was a dark and bitter place to be in.

And then God, in his kindness, directed my attention to an article on the Desiring God website: “Waiting for God to Text Back” by Matthew Westerholm. It was exactly what I needed to hear, although not especially what I wanted to hear. The main idea is encapsulated in this quote: ” God has a particular glory that He displays by moving slowly.” He does this so that no one else can claim the credit for the wonderful things He does. I just have to quote a big chunk here, so you can get some of the flavor of this great article:

” If we look at the immediate flurry of activity around us, we can become anxious. Things seem to be going terribly wrong. It is in these times that we must trust in God’s character and labor for his kingdom without seeing ourselves as indispensable. This will drive us to prayer, seeing ourselves as dependent on God rather than depending on ourselves for quick fixes. We must be steadfast and immovable – not frittering or frantic, but gentle, peaceful, and purposeful. We need to develop eyes that can see God’s slow-motion activity, an appreciation for the ways that he works over generations. If we don’t, we will be unaware of his work in our lives and become easily discouraged. Even ungrateful.”

Ahem. Yes. I see that now.

And then this: ” We are more likely to underestimate what God can do in a lifetime if we overestimate what he will do today. The impatient world thinks God is wasting his time, and so our time with him is wasted – and they could not be more wrong.”

Oh, WOW.

Do you see how I felt like God was chucking me under the chin with this?! It was so kind.

God is not a vending machine. I do not approach a box, press a button for patience, and then a bottle of patience is dispensed into my hand. I still don’t understand how He is going to get me to Point B from where I am right now, but I guess I’ve been encouraged to ease up on the gas of my rage-mobile, and to tell myself the truth that THERE IS hope. Somehow, through some mysterious process, He is going to work patience in and through me. THERE IS GRACE FOR ME.

Because that was another lie I was believing: there is no grace. I texted B in the midst of the awful day and he said that “just the grace to keep on for another day” was evidence that God knows and loves me. I thought to myself, ” I do NOT have grace even for today” because I felt so at the end of my rope, exhausted from banging my head against the same problems. I was stewing in my complete failure. I still do not understand what that experience meant that day when I felt so devoid of hope and disconnected from grace. How can I make sure that doesn’t happen again? I still shudder when I think of the fact that I know more meltdown days undoubtedly lie before us. We haven’t even hit Algebra yet! I think I need to work on understanding what grace really is so that I can learn to identify it, even when it seems camouflaged against a bleak backdrop…because I think grace may be less obvious, less pronounced than we would like it to be. I tend to think it’s got to be God swooping in with a huge windfall of success that saves the day, and am disappointed when the grace turns out to be something completely different – something more subtle. In this case, grace turned out to be the chance to get out of the house that afternoon, by myself, even if it was just to go to work, and that my student wasn’t ready for me, so I scrolled through Facebook for 5 minutes, and just “happened” to find that article. Through reading that, a quiet, sweet hope was kindled – that God really is at work in our home, that His ways are NOT my ways, that He will be glorified in my disaster, and that my prayers to Him are worthwhile. That was my grace for that day.

Grace can be a lot of things, but for me, I think, in this season, it includes a big God showing up in small ways, to remind me that He’s doing great things, through avenues I could never have foreseen.

Sleep

I just want to record this small memory so that I will remember it in 20 years. My husband, kids and I were having a discussion over dinner a few weeks ago about why God created us with the need to sleep every day. We talked about different ideas, and then I wondered aloud whether, at creation (before the fall), God may have intended us to be able to stay awake for longer periods of time – weeks or even months. After all, according to Genesis, for many generations after Adam, man lived hundreds of years. So maybe everything was different – maybe sleep was a rare thing. But then A piped up and said, “But in the Bible it says that when God created Eve, Adam was asleep…” B and I looked at each other, amazed. It made me smile that even though we pump Scripture into them on a regular basis, it still surprises me when I find it coming back out of our kids. Not to say that he definitely shut me out of the sleep debate ( God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep – maybe because sleep WAS such a rare occurance!), but it kind of thrills me to see him using his reasoning skills, as applied to the Bible.

Can pinkeye = joy?

I was roaring through my Friday afternoon with an ambitious agenda, when I was stopped in my tracks by pink eye. My three year old’s pink eye. I had noticed it was slightly red in the corner of his eye that morning but not enough to really concern me. I’ve seen his eyes a bit bloodshot before and it had cleared up as the day went on. But this didn’t. And suddenly there was bright green stuff oozing out of his eyes – in prodigious quantities. My heart sank. The afternoon’s agenda was scrapped as we headed to the Walgreens clinic ( his pediatrician’s office was already closed), and got a prescription. Easy peasy, right? Sigh. All seemed to be going well until Saturday afternoon when he just started screaming and crying, “It hurts! It hurts!” I had done everything I could do – and it was a horrible, helpless feeling to realize, there was nothing else I could do. He would sleep for half an hour and then sit bolt upright and scream, rubbing his eyes. There is no way that a three year old is going to NOT touch his infected eyes – yes, now it was in both of them- no matter how much you tell him not to. On and on. So pitiful. This was in the midst of the stress of trying to make sure the other kids  – and B and I – did not get it. I felt like I was washing my hands every five minutes. And then there’s the fear of, “What if it somehow gets worse than this? Do I take him to the ER? What if he can’t stop screaming?”

In the midst of this, during a few minutes of downtime, I saw someone had posted on FB that verse from James. You know the one. “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.” James 1:2-4. GAHHHHHH. NOOOOOO. WHAAAAAT?! Consider it all joy when your child contracts pinkeye. Just come out and say it, James!

This does not compute. It felt like a cold slap in my face.

And yet, as my mind reluctantly wandered to the rest of the verse, it started to make sense. Because my faith WAS being tested. Not the faith of “I’m saved and going to heaven” but the faith in the character of God. Is God really listening to my prayers for my son that I’m frantically shooting up to Him? Is He good? Is He everything He says He is? Is He… trustworthy?

Rubber? Meet the road.

So. The testing of my faith is producing endurance. Patience. Lonnnng suffering. What are these things? Fruits of the Spirit. Evidence of the Spirit’s indwelling power. Proof that I’m living a life with Him. And what’s another fruit of the Spirit? Joy. It’s kiiiind of a package deal, I’m thinking. Maybe. I don’t know. Maybe I’m making up my theology as I’m going along here. Feel free to call me on it.

Anyway – the end result of all this is that I will be “lacking in nothing.” Complete. Whole. If THAT doesn’t equate with joy, I don’t know what does.

We’re still getting there. Putting the ointment in his eyes is like wrestling an insane, screaming octopus. It took both me and B to get it done. My sleep last night was patchy at best, felt like I had a newborn. And then at 1:00 am he threw up in his bed. I’m earning my Mother’s Day card right now. Today- more crying but not as much. He’s fighting a fever now. I don’t know what the next couple days will look like. He is making some progress – sleeping more calmly now. And of course, the plan for the week is very much up in the air now. Oh yeah – and it’s Thanksgiving week. And we’re having peeps over for the big dinner. It doesn’t rain but it pours. Whatevs.

Answers are coming – just not how I expected. And I keep going back to that passage from the book of Daniel, ( paraphrased) “And if not…He is still good.” Because working these things into me, the proof of my faith, the endurance, the trust in Him…this is His design. This is His way to joy. Right through the middle of pinkeye.

 

 

Signs

On the flight home from our trip to Maine this past weekend, I was scrolling through the Delta movie titles, and came across an old favorite – Signs. I originally fell in love with it, not just because of Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix, but because of its faith affirming message. I found myself getting worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to finish the movie on the flight so I skipped less essential parts to reach the satisfying conclusion. There are about two minutes towards the end when everything up to that point in the story that seems wrong, sad, disjointed and useless and even horrifying, suddenly come together in a beautiful, redemptive resolution. I choose the word resolution because that’s a big part of the reason I love these couple of moments – the musical motif throughout the movie has been a series of three anxious notes…building, building, building. And then suddenly, there is a breakthrough and a huge shift from tense horror to victory, and joy…and peace. Resolution. It all makes sense, now… at last. I don’t know how many times I’ve watched this movie – but I watch it all for the resolution.

This evening I felt familiar pangs of anxiety rearing their ugly heads in my stomach. There’s a situation that I’ve wrestled with for years, and it seems to be coming to a head in the last few months. The future looks dark on this front. I feel a particular kind of hopelessness – that no matter the outcome, there will be hurt. My choices will cause suffering. I fear this thing. I’m heavy and tight with the dread of it. But tonight, I found comfort and hope as I remembered Signs. Yes, things are ramping up in this complex situation. Tensions are mounting. What about these elements that don’t seem to make sense – that seem just plain doomed? I feel myself PUSHING FORWARD… but not simply to GET IT OVER WITH…but because faith sees that something good can come from it. Somehow, someday.  I feel like Jacob, wrestling with God – GIVE ME THE BLESSING! Right now,  I’m living in this three note unresolved musical motif of deep fear that seems to be getting more and more discordant and strident and negative… but I cannot accept that this is where I must stay. I can’t live like this – it’s not sustainable. I know it’s not right. I know it’s not what God intends.  I know He has better things. Bottom line – I do not believe this situation brings Him glory. My circumstances are what they are – I cannot change them by myself. All I can do is cry out to God for grace to endure until the musical score reaches its climax. The tiny fingers of faith in me are reaching out, trying to grasp the resolution, trying to claw my way to claim the breakthrough. I know it must be there.

Surprised by going home

I recently returned from a month’s long visit to NH. It was a good visit, filled with lots of heart-satisfying connections with loved ones and memory making moments. But as the weeks wore on, I grew more and more impatient to get home. I missed my husband. I missed my routine. I missed my bed, and all the little comforts of home. And when we got home, it was just. SO. GOOD. I walked around my house, reveling in the clean floors   after a month of living with everlasting grit underfoot (the remnants of a nearby sandbox that the kids tracked in every day.) ( Not that my floors will stay this clean for long…but at least there’s no sandbox abomination on the premises.) And experiencing the joy of reunification with my husband made all the absence worth it.

The next morning, Brad took the kids to church while I stayed home for some peace and quiet. It was an almost magical time. I blasted glorious music, played my guitar, went for a walk, read my Bible, all the while exulting in the sunshine and the extravagant luxury of being alone – and alone with God. And I thought – Wow- as much as I anticipated coming home, the reality of it is so much better than I could have imagined. Even remembering how much I looked forward to coming home, I felt almost sorry that I hadn’t longed for it more. And, suddenly, I realized, this reaction is a small shadow of what my entrance into heaven might be like. I think I’m going to get there and realize,” I didn’t really let myself anticipate this enough – how utterly good this is. I was so consumed in my former life with the petty, everyday fluff of existing in the flesh that I didn’t lift my eyes nearly enough to the beautiful horizon where I was headed.” The reality of the glory of being in the presence of God, the freedom from the filth of sin, the joy of leaving all possibility of sorrow behind – FOREVER- if letting your heart expand with longing a little bit more, reaching forward and claiming that reality by faith as yours NOW… if that doesn’t just blow your socks off with awesomeness… I’d say check your pulse. It is so WORTHY of getting excited about – right now! You can’t daydream enough about the amazing future ahead of us – Eye has not seen, ear has not heard, nor has it ENTERED INTO THE HEART OF MAN…all the good things that God has in store for us.

When God laughs at my monkey wrenches

Two little things from my day today.

I chose not to do school today. We ( Brad and I) got back from Mexico last night, and somehow, just coming home and picking up the laundry/groceries/errands/refereeing whiny kids routine was enough for today; I didn’t feel the need to add resuming school to the juggling act. But we still did “Morning Time” – a somewhat abbreviated version – a hymn, Bible reading, and “A Little Princess.”

The hymn we started today was “Amazing Grace.” On Mondays, when we introduce a new hymn for the week, after the singing, we then read the story of the author/composer on the opposite page, which sometimes includes the details surrounding the writing of the particular hymn. We read about John Newton and how he lived a rough and sinful life as a slave trader. Even after he was initially converted, he continued in this profession for several years before eventually coming to the realization of how wrong this was. He said, ” I was greatly deficient in many respects…. I cannot consider myself to have been a believer in the full sense of the word, until a considerable time afterwards.” He also wrote: ” God works powerfully, but for the most part gently and gradually.” I struggle with explaining these types of things to the children. I end up using such clunky phrases. I said something about how at first, he started to understand God’s ways, but he didn’t really “get it” until later – and that sometimes when we start to follow God, it doesn’t always make sense at first, but changes happen slowly.

This afternoon, as we were getting ready to go out, A asked for help in tying his shoes. Part of me inwardly rolls my eyes, because, come on, he’s nine years old. He knows how to tie his shoes, but he likes them to be TIGHT, and he can’t seem get them as tight as he would like them to be by himself. So I helped him. And he said something like, “I’m kind of like John Newton. I sort of get it, but not really… yet.” I just had to laugh. And I was excited – something STUCK! Something I said – even though it was minor and poorly articulated- impacted him, even in a tiny way. I love that boy.

So, our first errand this afternoon revealed a depressing fact – my debit card was fried again. My own fault – it’s the stupid magnet on my phone; if the phone gets too close to the card, the magnetic strip won’t work. It’s happened before, more than once, and I knew what I had to do – go to the bank and get a temporary replacement. And I knew that I had to do it TODAY or else it wouldn’t get taken care of at all this week. I really couldn’t put it off because I need to fill up the vehicle with gas soon. My soul GROANED with a mixture of despair and helpless rage at the thought of lugging three children into the bank lobby and waiting an INTERMINABLE amount of time with them, in said lobby. ( Memories of similar past ordeals haunted me.) But it could not be helped. And I felt like God’s Spirit was saying to me – don’t you remember that you committed this day to me – and that I order all things for your good? I have to admit, I sort of rolled my spiritual eyes. Going INSIDE the BANK? With CHILDREN? It’s one of my worst nightmares! That’s on par with going to the post office! How can that be GOOD? I felt like I had a really mixed response. Part of me sincerely left a part of my heart open for God to do something good. And part of me was like, “Yeahhhh, sorry, God, I challenge you to make ANYthing good come out of this. There are no two ways about it: it’s going to be BAD.”

The library was on our itinerary ( we had to return a book) so we stopped and ended up amassing a hefty stack of new books to check out ( not unusual) but when we got to the bank, the Holy Spirit gave me a brain wave – bring the books into the bank! It was like magic. The kids, even J, sat quietly and happily for 30-40 minutes, devouring the new books. Also- not unusual- they do this in the car on the way home, and often after we get home from a big library trip… But the combination of this beautiful, familiar habit with a new, unforeseen monkey wrench in our schedule – it was like God was laughing at me – in a nice way. And then, I met the nicest bunch of senior citizens while we sat waiting in the lobby, who were amazed to see children READING ( ?!), and raved about them being so well behaved. Seriously- four different women commented to me. I tried not to be too much like – “I KNOW, RIGHT?! This is as shocking to me as it is to you!” I tried to tell them it was all due to the new library books – it’s kind of like they were drugged at this point. And I also didn’t want to be too much like, “The glory ALL goes to God…” because I didn’t want to seem too… I don’t know… Full of the humble-brag? Phony-Holy? Pentecostal? And then we got talking about homeschool…. The lady says, ” I THOUGHT you were homeschoolers!” And then she told me I had Natalie Wood’s eyes. Whaaaat?! ( She was shocked that I even knew who Natalie Wood was.) Okay- I’m coming to the bank every day now! Not really. But honestly- it taught me a lesson: commit your day to God, watch your attitude when the monkey wrenches fly, stay open and surrendered, and then just get out of the way and watch what God can do. Because, even though I am not Pentecostal, writing this out on the blog is my way of saying to the world, The Glory Really Does ALL Go To God. Keepin’ it real, folks.

Now to remember this TOMORROW…when school starts…and rubber meets road…