A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Off-season: When you’re not where you wanted to be, when you wanted to be there

Why does it seem like everyone else my age is promoted, and I’m stuck in Gruntwork Land?

I should be married by now.

I am so. Tired. Of the little kid season. Why did I quit my job?

He started at the same time as I did. How did he get so much further ahead?

Who goes back to school at my age?

I had no idea w hat I gave up when I got married.

What was I thinking?

Everyone else has a baby.

Why in the world did I major in that? I jeopardized my entire career.

 

Ever feel like your season of life seems..off?

Maybe it feels like you’re on the wrong side of a three-legged race. Something’s dragging. You’re lurching. Everyone else seems to fluidly gallop ahead, while you’re stuck with a mouthful of turf.

This is not the life I pictured.

One of my dearest friends started seminary about a year and a half and ago. She’s in her mid-sixties, with lovely silver hair and an infectious grin. They call her a “non-traditional student.” But you know what? She’s killer at it. She’s riveted by loving God with all her mind through concepts like soteriology and eschatology. But more than once, she’s admitted to me she wishes she’d done it decades earlier. Couldn’t she have given away to others more of what she’s learning? And wow—she would have done things so differently if she knew then what she comprehends now about God.

But as I look at the sprawling, intricate tapestry of her life—I’m beginning to glimpse why God needed her right there, right now. For such a time as this.

As she loves to quote to me, God determined allotted periods and the boundaries of [our] dwelling place (Acts 17:26). What I read from that: God determined your best when, and your best where.

Last week, I read over again about the clockwork-like timing of Jesus’ death; the three specific feasts to coinciding perfectly that specific year with His death and resurrection (Passover, the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Firstfruits—when Jesus, the first fruits of God’s harvest, rose from the dead). When Jesus was hung on the cross, at the time of morning sacrifice, thousands of fathers were leading their lambs to the slaughter in Jerusalem. He died at the time of the evening sacrifice. And when blood and water gushed from His chest, blood and water were sluicing down the channels within the Temple. When I compare God’s immaculate timing to the theories about the star over Jesus’ birthplace—all of which were set in place at the time of Creation, millennia before—well. Precise doesn’t even begin to cut it.

Jeanette Walls, in her excellent memoir The Glass Castle, wrote of a conversation with her dying, atheist father:

If every action in the universe that we thought was random actually conformed to a rational pattern, Dad said, that implied the existence of a divine creator, and he was beginning to rethink his atheistic creed. “But if the physics — the quantum physics — suggests that God exists, I’m more than willing to entertain the notion.”[1]

If there is not one rogue atom in the universe, then perhaps my season isn’t as off as I thought.

God, it seems, is not so preoccupied with my productivity as I am. I so easily, so frequently, confuse my value with my usefulness. 

I am so easily intoxicated and blurred in vision by the poison of comparison, envy, and discontent.

I so easily tire of loving well, and of faithfulness without visible success.

Of waiting.

Perhaps you’re reading this in a place where your season has resulted from someone committing evil against you, or someone who simply has not loved you well. I still find you in remarkable company with Joseph: You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. I’ve witnessed this with my friend “Sarah”, whose two years of harrowing childhood abuse have been slowly restored by God to help, in part, uncountable others navigate their own trauma.

In God’s economy, evil never gets the last word.

Or maybe this finds you beneath a sucking undertow of regret, overwhelmed with choices you wish you would have made. Even then, I find that—as my mom is fond of saying—you cannot deal God a card He can’t play. Or as Proverbs declares it, Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the LORD that will stand. Tim Keller’s words, posted last week, moved me:

Worry is not believing God will get it right, and bitterness is believing God got it wrong.

Clearly there are some times in our lives when our off-kiltered seasons are all the more reason to be strong and courageous; to actively seek change and more appropriate alignment with our gifts, passions, and longings—or far more, where God longs to send us. I suppose my encouragement, to you and to myself, is to search out that fulfillment not in flailing fear, but in the peace that blooms from faith in God’s impeccable purposes for us.

Jen Wilkin has said, Our limits point us to worship our limitless God. Perhaps your limits—like an enslaved Joseph; an exiled, orphaned Esther; an unwed, pregnant Mary—are holding you precisely, tenderly where God can maximize His honor and your flourishing.

 

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[1] Walls, Jeannette. The Glass Castle: A Memoir. New York: Scribner (2006), p. 265.

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10 Questions to Take Your Relationship with God Deeper in 2017, Set #2

Last year, I kicked off 2016 with 6 Ways to Take Your Relationships Deeper, parts I and II and dug into that a little with six sets of questions help tug your most intimate friendships to the next level. 

This year, I’ve kicked off 2107 with questions to help us pursue our relationship with the most potential for fulfillment and gut-level happiness, no matter what’s around the corner. (Check out the previous set here!)

 

1. At times when I feel most worshipful, what am I doing?

2. Spend time thanking God for ten people who are gifts to you in this present time, and ten people from your past.

3. If your life were a tank of gas, where would the gauge be right now? (Check out these questions to Know Your Stressed Self.) It’s not realistic to think we’ll always be on “full”. But what holes are you sensing in your life where you need God’s presence, beauty, truth, and/or power?

4. When you get to heaven, what questions do you hope to ask of God? What truths do you have now to grant you peace amidst your unresolved questions?

5. What is one regret you have of your past? Have you sought forgiveness from God and the people you’ve affected? Of what truths do you need to remind yourself surrounding that regret?

6. Lord, how is my marriage/singleness? How would you specifically have me love better?

7. Father, how is my parenting? How would you specifically have me love better?

8.  In what times/circumstances did you feel particularly loved by God, as an individual?

9.Take time to ask one person who’s close to you: What are my blindspots? What is one way I could really honor God more, be more like Jesus, or love others better?

10. Do I have any untended “wounds” (shame, rejection, pain…) in my heart right now that I need to keep clean (through honesty, Christian lament, “unpraising” deeds others have done to me causing me shame [as author Ed Welch writes], prayer, etc.)?

 

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Guest post: He loves me, He loves me not

Do you remember the moment that first made you wonder if He truly loved you?

I don’t know if I remember the first one. But I remember the first big one, and I can trace the crooked, faltering lines of the rest of them through my past. (Fear has its way of searing itself upon the conscience.)

For me, unbelief usually blossoms as fear; as worry. My unbelief stems directly, stealthily, from its taproot in my heart. He loves me? He loves me not?

Perhaps I should ask you what it is always good to ask myself: This year—or, just today—what makes you afraid?

On many of the Wednesdays of 2017, I’ll be helping my friend Barbara Rainey, on everthinehome.com, explore what she calls “prayer lessons”: ideas to pray for ourselves, our most critical relationships, our communities. Today’s post begs God to fill us with belief, to root us—always first and immovably–in His love.

I hope it encourages you today, wherever this finds you.

 

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Guest post: On Giving our Kids the Gift of Hard Work

The idea bubbled up not long after my kids’ grandpa helped them each weave their own survival bracelets: eight feet of 500 paracord specially plaited and buckled around their wrists. The idea is that if you were in an emergency situation, you could use it, say, for a tent; a tourniquet; a climbing aid.

But even those neon colors couldn’t outshine the sparkle in my nine-year-old daughter’s eyes when she realized she could start a business with those little bracelets.

Her little business she started recently tumbled our family into a (lovely, really) domino effect of initiative, knowledge, community, work ethic, and perseverance. I love the dynamic it continues to create among my kids!

And I have to side with my friend Kristen Welch, on whose blog (We are THAT Family) I’m posting today, that there are direct implications to hard workers becoming less entitled. Hop on over and check out this post on giving our kids the gift of hard work–by helping them start a business!

 

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Essential Social Skills for Kids (and Ideas to Teach Them), #1-4

Think of these social skills as little golden keys to the future for your kids: They can get your kids into a lot of places! Bummer is, they can shut some doors, too, when our kids don’t master them. (Disclaimer: Writing this post does not declare my children in mastery of said skills.)

Social skills are key because manners are a form of loving others well. They lubricate the potential friction of social interactions.

(Some of them I’ve broken down because of my own experience with my son’s ADHD, such as giving him “scripts” for social situations; see #1.  I won’t speak directly to special needs in this post. But some of these ideas might work to put tangible steps onto often intangible skills.)

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Doubting the Dream Weaver

Ever buried a dream?

I suppose this precious concept of dreams is inlaid in most of us as Americans. We’re corn-fed on them from the time we can walk, or at least munch popcorn, mesmerized by the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio: The dream that you wish will come true!

From posters scotch-taped to the walls of the library, to credit card commercials, to career week in sixth grade―we’re in a love affair with doing what you’re made to do.

And why not? From the perspective of my work in Uganda—this level of self-actualization is a privilege; an unspeakable gift. What percentage of the world is physically able to not only seek out and understand how they’re made—and like they say, do what you love so you never work a day in your life?

But honestly? Lately—all these references to dreams make me viscerally cringe. Right now I kind of hate dreams. Or at least talking about them. Yours are fine; I’d love to talk about yours! Just not mine. Continue reading

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10 Questions to Take Your Relationship with God Deeper in 2017, Set #1

Last year, I kicked off 2016 with 6 Ways to Take Your Relationships Deeper, parts I and II and dug into that a little with six sets of questions help tug your most intimate friendships to the next level.

This year, I’m gonna party like it’s 2107 with a few questions to help us pursue our relationship with the most potential for fulfillment and gut-level happiness, no matter what’s around the corner. I’m raising my glass: to the One who fills every soul-hole this year. Cheers, friends!

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Friday quotables #5: For a Devoted New Year of “Open Windows”

friday quotables

 

“To be able to look backward and say, ‘This, this has been the finest year of my life’–that is glorious! But anticipation! To be able to look ahead and say, ‘The present year can and shall be better!’–that is more glorious! I have done nothing but open windows–God has done the rest. There has been a succession of marvelous experiences of the friendship of God. I resolved that I would succeed better this year with my experiment of filling every minute full of the thought of God than I succeeded last year. And I added another resolve–to be as wide open toward people and their need as I am toward God. Windows open outward as well as upward. Windows open especially downward where people need the most!

“…There is nothing that we can do excepting to throw ourselves open to God.”*

-Frank Laubach (1884-1970), missionary to the Philippines, estimated to have been responsible for teaching half of the 90,000 people in his area to read and write, and to have reached out to the Mohammedan Moros, who regarded the Christian Filipinos as enemies

*As quoted in Foster, Richard J. ad James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. New York: HarperCollins (1993), pp. 101, 105.

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“As a bow to the violin”: FREE printable chalkboard art

Today’s quotable is from Frank Laubach (1884-1970), missionary to the Philippines. Laubach is estimated to have been responsible for teaching half of the 90,000 people in his area to read and write, and to have reached out to the Mohammedan Moros, who regarded the Christian Filipinos as enemies.  Laubach wrote in the new year of 1930,

It is exactly that “moment by moment” every waking moment, surrender, responsiveness, obedience, sensitiveness, pliability, “lost in His love,” that I now have the mind-bent to explore with all my might. It means two burning passions: First, to be like Jesus. Second, to respond to God as a violin responds to the bow of the Master.* (emphasis added)

I’m including a free chalkboard printable of this last portion, in hopes that in 2017, our lives will reflect that sort of staggering beauty from His hand. Happy New Year, friends!

 

*As quoted in Foster, Richard J. ad James Bryan Smith, eds. Devotional Classics: Selected Readings for Individuals and Groups: A Renovare Resource for Spiritual Renewal. New York: HarperCollins (1993), pp. 101, 105.

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Prayer in a Broken Christmas

Yesterday was one of those days when I felt like I was walking against the wind so much of the day: straining uphill, my too-thin sweater tugged around me as I grimaced, head down. As my husband and I lifted down plates for dinner, I recounted the parts that made me want to tear my hair out. (Or maybe a small tuft of my children’s. …Joking.) In the course of things, I did remember some good points. Somehow, as I relayed them, they grew a little. I tucked my head with a smile.

He put his hands on my shoulder, leveled his hazel eyes with my blue ones. “I want you to know,” he said, “that you are incredibly blessed.”

Somehow, those words triggered that out-of-body sort of viewpoint I needed, to survey my life not from the perspective of loss, but of gain. Of beauty. Incredibly blessed?

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I am.

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