Shine Bright

On July 29, 2019, I drove my two oldest boys to their first day of school of the 4th and 2nd grades.

The week before that had been a blur. We had joyfully arrived back home from “The Great Monster Road Trip” that spanned four weeks and nine states, leaving us about seven days to unpack and clean everything before school would start. And then… my husband ended up breaking his leg the evening before the first day of school.

The first day of school looked considerably different than I had expected. My husband was in a lot of pain—so much so that I was unsure about leaving our 4-year-old son with him at home. Twenty-four hours earlier, I imagined that all five of us would go together to drop off the boys. But here it was, just me and them taking the 15-minute drive to school, still reeling quite a bit from our world being shifted right under our feet the night before.

I didn’t want them to go. I didn’t want the summer with them to end. I loved being with my children. I loved being one of the main influencers in their lives. I was feeling uneasy about my oldest starting 4th grade–it just seemed so old and independent! Was he ready? What would he face? Would 2nd grade be a struggle for my active middle child? Would he make good friends? The unknowns of my husband’s sudden disability seemed to magnify the unknowns of the coming school year.

I was worried, driving to school that day, but I was also crystal clear with my boys. I let them know how much I loved them. I let them know that I was proud of them and that I believed in them. And I let them know that my prayer for them that day and that year was that their lights would shine bright. I knew they were headed to a place where they would not be taught about God, but I reminded them that the light of God in their lives could make an impact with their friends, in their classes and in their school.

We turned up TobyMac, snapped our fingers and sang all the way until we reached the parking lot.

The boys didn’t hesitate to get out of the car and, with a quick, sweet look back at me, they re-entered the routine they knew so well.

I saw them leave my watchful eye… and worked at entrusting them to the watchful eye of God.

Months passed. My husband had surgery and lots of PT appointments. My boys went on field trips and made new friends. They learned new math concepts and improved their writing skills. They played at recess and ate at the lunch tables. My husband’s ability to walk on his own returned, and he started driving himself to work and the boys to school. More months passed and COVID hit California. All of a sudden, no one was taking the boys to school. No one was going anywhere. School would now happen on a folding table just off of our living room. I was once again the main influencer in my sons’ daily lives. While I loved the opportunity to spend so much time with them again, I grieved that they couldn’t play with their friends or learn {directly} from their teachers. But their school year ended at home, with just our family, feeling pretty distant from the school community that had served as their second home for much of the year.

On Tuesday morning, my son, Noah, got to say goodbye to his 4th grade teacher. We had a 2-hour window where we could drive through the pick-up loop and grab his last remaining items from the classroom. Our car windows had been decorated with art and words to let her know how much he loved having her for a teacher and would miss her. Her joy-filled smile could be seen despite her mask. It was such a sweet moment. And then she said some words I hope my son will never forget: “Noah, I saw the light of Jesus in you every day.” My heart swelled as I looked at my son’s beautiful brown eyes; oh, he was for sure taking this in.

As we drove away from the school, my own eyes widened as I remembered the song that I played for my boys that first day of school. There it was. In true, almost-unbelievable fashion, God had answered my prayer from that day so long ago (not only for my first-born, but also for my second-born!). I never could have known on that shaky day last July how this year would have unfolded. In the midst of that unknown, I brought the desire of my heart to the Lord, and I trusted {albeit a little timidly} that he could take care of the things that I could not see. And, amazingly enough, he did.

What is a prayer that you could be praying for the people around you right now? Do you anticipate that God can answer it? How can you let your own light shine bright in the darkness?

Who Am I? Losing Part of Myself

Hi. Wife, Boymom, Writer, Jr High Confirmation Teacher, Creative Thinker, Outdoor lover here.  

All those things describe me, but lately, most of those have taken a back seat. And that’s left me a little disquieted. 

Two really big things happened in my life. I bet you can guess one because it happened to all of us. 

 

Yep. Quarantine. 

 

Quarantine shut down not only our world but parts of ourselves. I know you have felt this. Not always blatantly, but it comes out in conversations I hear from friends and people around our world. We are NOT feeling normal.

 

My number two big change: 10 days into quarantine, on my middle son’s 8th birthday we found out we were pregnant. 

 

With our fourth. 

A complete unplanned surprise. 

 

A year ago at this time we had talked about how 3 was our number and we were going to make it official. But you know how that works right? We know how that works. We just continued to live our life and God blessed us with the fourth I had always wondered about. 

 

BAM! Not done.

 

IMG_1173
A “shock walk” the evening of my son’s 8th birthday. Even then, God was showing me beauty.

Have any of you had an identity crisis? Sometimes people call it a midlife crisis or maybe more a crisis due to trauma. I don’t know that I am in crisis mode, but I will say I have been in an identity whirlwind for most of this quarantine. I struggled in the beginning with the idea of quarantine, but started to understand the need to flatten the curve as info came out. I’m an extroverted, non-germaphobe, who loves to be spontaneous and march to the beat of her own drum. I’m not opposed to planning, joining the crowd for certain things, time by myself (as if!) or washing hands. All have a place and are needed. But none of these things come natural to me, and I had to come to terms with what I assumed was going to be a lengthy time ahead. 

 

When God threw new baby in the mix, holy moly, it just stirred my pot even more. My husband and I, on the evening we found out, sat down and wrote out our fears on paper about doing this all over again. I expected his list to be long and heavy. It turns out, mine was longer and I had been the one that was never really sure we were done. His had to do with work and finances and my career on hold again. All things I expected and knew. You know what the first thing I wrote was? 

 

“Losing my boymom identity.”

 

I think I even caught my hubby a little off guard with that one. Not because he didn’t expect it but because it was something he saw as manageable. Less scary. 

 

But let me explain myself a little more deeply. This was something I grew into. I have been known to say, it’s all I never knew I wanted. When we had our first, we did the surprise thing. Ready with a few names for either a boy or girl, we found out his gender when he was born. When we found ourselves pregnant again a year later, we decided to find out at the mid- pregnancy ultrasound. Why? Because I needed to know then I wasn’t having a girl to rid myself of any disappointment before the birth. And when our third came along, we found out again for the same reason. I was hoping for a girl, but would be happy with either. After 3 boys in 4 years, we took a break. A nod of thanks to the one in charge there. 

 

It took me no time once they were all here, to take on the identity of boymom. Our pediatrician would even come into the patient room and say “I love boyworld,” when he’d see my 2 year old hanging off the sink wearing only a diaper and the 4 year old spinning around on the doctor’s stool while I was nursing the baby. 

 

Not only does boymom describe me, but it is a group I find comfort with. My mother-in-law is a boymom of 4, and all her boys have boys. That’s right! All boy cousins on that side, one every year for 8 years. I have friends who I bond and commiserate with over disgusting bathrooms, wrestling, constant competition and getting them to SIT for dinner. This has nothing to do with a lack of love for girls. And some of this may even describe your girls. But you just bond so closely with those in similar situations, right? 

 

As my boys grew, I grew into loving all that it entailed. Busy, rambunctious and full of adventure described them quite well. I think the great part is, some of those things can describe me too. So watching and guiding them through early life became a sort of solidifying of who I was. Some of it I knew about myself already, and some of it brought a whole new side of me to learn and grow through. I was a boymom and have been a proud supporter of the “Boymom” company out there that makes hats and shirts and sweatshirts.

 

This is why I wrote what I did at the top of my fear sheet that night.  I have grown into a role that I didn’t know existed for me. I knew motherhood was something I wanted, but boymom is a special little niche I took on. I had started to think, if we ever got pregnant again, I’m pretty sure I’d be rooting for a boy, because it’s what I love and am comfortable with. God has brought me so much joy in this identity. 

 

But much like the quarantine, identity can abruptly change throughout life. Why? Because circumstances change. Maybe you moved away from a town you loved, and you are struggling to find joys around this new place. Maybe you were forced out of a job that was perfect for you and are now facing uncertainty of the next steps and who you are apart from that role.  Maybe you always considered yourself able to roll with the punches but find yourself ready to pull out hair at this time. Maybe all you once trusted and leaned on is shaky at best.

 

In the past when working with youth and talking about identity, I have found it can be exciting to help them grasp and understand parts of themselves and learn about what really makes them tick. It’s like discovering the work of art God made in each of us. But because we are human, even we must grow and change. So if we can’t even trust that to stay put then what are we to do?

 

 Identity isn’t just about who we are, it’s about whose we are.

 

When I get to know myself and then circumstance or feelings change, I can head very quickly into a pool of anxiety, wondering what in the world is happening.

 

When I understand that I belong to Jesus and am his dearly loved and forgiven child, that…THAT lasts forever. The world and even my feelings can go through ebbs and flows that threaten to take away things I’ve always known and loved, but STILL– I am a dearly loved and forgiven child of God. To know something doesn’t change in this ever-changing world, and right now, ever-changing minute–it brings me a lot of peace. 

 

Knowing this also helps me worry less about losing parts of myself, and see that growing sometimes necessitates this very action. In the Bible the prophet John the Baptist says this simply as he shares about Jesus “He must become greater; I must become less.” (John 3:30)

 

I appreciate the time God gave me to hide out during this first trimester (when things are not so good for me anyway) even if it felt quite rotten to be holed in at times. I don’t love all the shifting in this world, nor do my kids. It’s hard to live in a time where we can’t make plans or simply be around people we love. My husband and I prayed that night over our fears and gave them to God. An attempt to make Him greater and give our future-blind eyes peace. Within the week after that prayer, my fear turned to wondering about what it might be like to have a girl for these 3 crazy and sweet boys. 

 

Until we find out about our little one, until the day I can again roam the earth and walk up to someone without worrying about 6ft of distance,  and until the day I’m with Jesus in eternity, I can rest my heart and mind knowing I’m His no matter what might change. 

 

*Boymom is just one part of my identity that I’ve struggled with as part of being pregnant. Bringing a baby into the world at any time is an exciting and nail-biting event. As one prepares, the body changes, and the mind reels, we have to remember how very precious this child is to the Creator. And he, in his infinite wisdom, chose me at this time to be a caretaker for his special child. As I look at the changes ahead for our family, I try to keep this at the helm. Not only am I God’s child, but the little one I carry is his child. Encourage the scared pregnant mamas out there with this news because it can be an especially challenging time to bring life into the world.

 

Thoughts on moving, again

I have been around for 23 years and have made a significant location change only four times, one of which doesn’t count because I was too young to remember it. Based on the three moves I remember, I have determined that moving is hard, emotionally, physically, and logistically, and I don’t love it, but it is often worth the trouble in the long run.

My most recent location change was almost two years ago, in August, to Muncie, Indiana. This was because I had enrolled in a graduate program at the university there. It was a business move, for professional purposes. I feel the need to clarify this point when I tell people about moving to Muncie, because I don’t want to be held personally responsible for the decision to move to Muncie. (That’s all I’ll say about that; I’ll leave you and Google to draw your own conclusions.)

When I moved, my mom came with me, and we did all of the things that you do when you’re moving to college. We drove from my parents’ house in Missouri separately, because both of our cars were stuffed with my belongings, and we called each other to coordinate rest area and snack breaks. My boyfriend at the time was moving to Muncie, too, and he had dinner ready for my mom and I when we rolled into his apartment parking lot in the evening. We ate, and then the three of us drove to the other side of town, to the house I had never actually seen in person but was moving into for the year. We dislodged boxes and miscellaneous un-boxable items from the two cars and heaved them into my new room until I was at the stage of moving where all your things are technically all inside of your new space, but everything’s in boxes and you don’t know where any of it is. The only unpacked items were a twin mattress laid directly on the carpet for me and a blow up mattress for my mom.

What I remember about the first night is this: the blinds on my one window were no match for my next-door neighbor’s blinding fluorescent house light, and I was laying directly facing the window. Also, the blinds were no match for my next door neighbor’s late night house party noise.

I should interrupt this story to let you know that I was not thrilled about moving. I was decidedly thrilled to live in the same town as my boyfriend (it worked out; we’re married now). I had overall positive feelings about the graduate program I had moved for (remember: professional purposes). I was optimistic about making my way in a new place (in particular, trying food from new restaurants.) I was not thrilled about getting used to new neighbor noises and lights and sleeping on a twin mattress on the floor amongst unpacked boxes in a room with bare walls; namely, moving.

What necessarily followed from such a night was my mom and I going to Meijer to buy a very thick black out curtain and a small but noisy fan, which I could blow directly into my ears to drown out the neighbor noise. One problem solved, we proceeded with more moving to college activities, which are things you do to stall for time before the parent has to leave and you have to stare at your empty bedroom walls and unpacked boxes and do something about it. We had breakfast at a local restaurant, my mom bought me a sweatshirt from the campus bookstore and took a photo of me in front of a sign for the university, which I appreciated because that’s one more shred of evidence supporting the fact that the move to Muncie was for professional, not personal, purposes.

And then, eventually, we were out of getting-dropped-off-at-college activities, and it was time for my mom to leave and  for me to stare down the boxes. We hugged, and cried, and I was sad about moving and I like my mom so I walked out to the front porch so I could wave while she drove away. I remember what I was wearing: bare feet and a dress. When I couldn’t see the car anymore, I went back up the steps and across the porch and jiggled the doorknob of the locked front door.

You guys. The locked front door. And I was on the side that I didn’t want to be on, wearing just bare feet and a dress, and I could tell you exactly where inside the house my phone, wallet, and house key were located.

There is more to the story. I will spoil it: I get back in. I used a neighbor’s phone to call our landlord, who unlocked the door for me (and wasn’t even that begrudging about it). But the important part of the story, and the reason I think it’s burned into my brain two years later, is that if being locked out of your new house in a new town with no keys and no phone and no shoes and no wallet doesn’t exactly portray what moving to a new place feels like, at least right at first, I don’t know what does. You don’t even know which direction to start walking, even if you have shoes on. You don’t know who to ask for when you need to help, or where to find them. You feel somewhat stuck, and you’re unsure if you meant to be stuck there. Pretty much all you have going for you is the kindness of strangers.

I’d hate to leave it off there, because that was only the first hour. So I’ll tell about today, almost two years after the lockout that has apparently really tainted my view of moving. Today I woke up and sat with my husband on the couch in a different house, one that we picked after driving all around Muncie, touring rentals and competently navigating streets that used to be foreign to us. I made myself a cup of coffee with beans from the local coffee shop that’s become my favorite. I grocery shopped, and I knew which grocery store to go to first and which would carry the weird, random item on my list. On my way home, I dropped off groceries for a couple from our small group who’s staying at home because of the pandemic, and I got to their house by memory. In the afternoon, I met a friend to lift weights in a tree-shaded grassy area on our university’s campus that we discovered and claimed as our outdoor gym last summer. We’ve met there at least two dozen times, and we’ve run or lifted weights together multiple times a week for the last 18 months, with few exceptions.

There’s more to the story. I will spoil it: I can’t tell you exactly when it happened, but sometime during the last two years I learned which way to walk to get to the coffee shop, and to the park with the farmers market, and to campus. I learned the roads with street signs and the ones where the signs have been stolen and you just have to guess. I joined a small group, and made friends with the people, and as of today, I know that I can get to their house from memory. I started regularly exercising with a friend. I committed to a coffee bean subscription from the local coffee shop.

My parents moved recently, too, and when they did someone told them that the third year is when you really start to not feel new, when it no longer feels at all like you’ve moved. I’ll be moving again at the end of the summer; I won’t get to test his theory on Muncie. But with the trajectory I seem to be on, I believe it. Now that you know I’m moving, you might have realized that I couldn’t leave off at being locked out of the house on the first day in a new place; I had to remind myself of what today was like, too. And then when my parents are following me and my husband to Colorado this summer, with stuffed cars, I can read this and remember that moving feels like being locked out of the house, barefoot, with no idea who to call an no way to call them, but there’s more to the story and I’ll spoil it: I get back in.  

Present.

Note: This devotion first appeared in the Adult Leader Rest Area devotions at the 2019 LCMS Youth Gathering in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It has been edited to reflect the Campfires and Marshmallows audience in the time of COVID-19. I pray these words are an encouragement to all who read them.

Emmanuel. A beautiful name of God that often gets packed up in a little box on December 26th and set up on a basement shelf, waiting again to be opened on the first Sunday of Advent. We are so eager to welcome God With Us into our homes and churches as a cute little baby about whom we sing on candlelit evenings while soft snow falls in the background. Perhaps the promise of a fresh start in January gives us the freedom to welcome Christ into our lives. “I may not have it all together now, but you should see my New Year’s Resolutions this year…” And isn’t there just something so precious and innocent about gazing at a brand-spankin-new human that calms performance anxiety and the need to impress?

But where is He now in the middle of a worldwide shut-down? When the reality of our failings bring to mind God With Us in the cleansing of the temple. Filled with righteous anger and zest for purity to be restored, God With Us clears His Father’s House with a less-than-gentle approach. Is this the image that we fear? Our unholiness faced with His perfect presence?

David tackles this fear in Psalm 139, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?” (verse 7). He wrestles with the fact that no matter where he goes or how much darkness surrounds him, he cannot escape the presence of God. While terrifying, David exclaims, “such knowledge is too wonderful for me” (verse 6). David embraced the fear and knowledge of God With Us because he understood the attributes of God’s behavior.

David understood “The Lord of Hosts is With Us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Psalm 46:11). No matter what, God is With Us. Think back on this week. Is there anything that causes you to cringe? Moments you think, “this would have been perfect if she hadn’t…” or “everything has gone smoothly except that I forgot to…” or even, “I can’t wait to get away from my family and rest from all the craziness we’ve endured.” Guess what? God is With You through it. And if everything is smooth sailing right now? God is With You through that, too. As an adult, we often feel the pressure to have it all together “for the sake of the young.” We need to have the right words to say when approached with a big question, and we certainly can’t be seen snapping at anyone else out of exhaustion. The pressure is enormous. But what happens when we are late to the dinner that we emphasized needed to be timely? What happens when we are caught crying from exhaustion or emotion? What happens when we don’t have the words to say? God With Us. We run to Him, we run to our fortress.

David spoke to God because he knew God’s presence was near. And thousands of years later we can rejoice that we live in the time of God With Us – God Made Flesh – who “dwelt among us…full of grace and truth” (John 1:14) and who has sent his Holy Spirit to remain with us.

David pleads, “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!” (Psalm 139:23) David trusted that God’s knowledge of him was not a scary prospect, but rather one of peace. God knows us intimately, and yet he still chooses to be God With Us.

Sometimes this is difficult to accept, which is why we are given a community of believers. Dietrich Bonhoeffer speaks to this, “Therefore, the Christian needs another Christian who speaks God’s Word to him.  He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth.” We need community because God’s presence is in community. God With Us presents through the kind, encouraging word, or needed correction from a trusted voice. While the world may look different, and human interaction has changed, I pray that you experience this deepest sense of community despite social distance. I pray you can be this community to others. Above all, I hope you know as David did that you are deeply known and deeply loved by God With Us, who is present with you at all times, through his Word, through his Sacraments, and through his people, no matter what.

Are you still trying to use Training Wheels?

Tonight, my youngest son rode his bike without training wheels for the first time.

It was the plan, all along, for him to take them off on his 5th birthday. I knew he was ready, but he wasn’t so sure—he needed to wait until he was five. Today is one week before that little joy of a boy turns five. As I replaced a tube on my 7-year-old’s bike in the garage, my almost-10-year-old boy helped take the training wheels off of the bike for the almost-5-year-old boy. And just like that, before I could even look up from what I was doing, Simon was cruising up and down the street, free of hindrances, smile as wide as the sky.

I finished putting the fixed wheel back on the bike I was working on, and bolted inside to grab my phone, feeling a twinge of failure that I hadn’t captured my little boy’s first attempt at riding solo. When I got back outside, Simon was in high heaven. He was so pleased with himself, and so empowered by his new skill; he was giddy.

no training wheels

When it was finally time to come inside, Simon walked his bike up to the garage. He took off his helmet while I was putting away all the wrenches. He was expressing his joy at his new skills, and I was letting him know how proud of him I was. I took a picture of his old training wheels, then threw them in the garbage. That’s when he said to me, “And we’ll get new training wheels for the bikes I get after this one so I can get used to them.”

I love the way little kids think.

I assured him that something amazing happened that day: that once you have ridden without training wheels, you would never need them ever again.

bye bye training wheels

It was a sweet moment that reminded me… again… that my children are growing up before my very eyes. That moment has lingered with me throughout the evening, and I can’t help but think there are some gems of wisdom in there for us.

I hope I remember Simon’s joy as he turned sharp corners and went up and down slants on the sidewalk without a problem. I hope I remember how useless the training wheels looked there on the floor of my garage. I hope I remember the silly question Simon had about getting training wheels again for his next bike.

As I seek wisdom and think about applying this to my own life, I wonder what “training wheels” God is waiting to remove in my life. I wonder if I am trying to hold on to training wheels in areas where I already am capable—old aids for new things. I wonder if my actions sometimes look as ridiculous to God as the image of Simon putting training wheels on his future bikes. I wonder how often I miss out on the joy and exhilaration of riding freely the way God knows I can, only because I prefer the safety of keeping my training wheels on.

Three times today, I have heard the story of Gideon. (If you’re not familiar with it, it’s an easy read in the Bible—Judges chapters 6 & 7.) Gideon was absolutely one of those individuals who did not feel ready for the task God gave to him. He was comfortable with his “training wheels,” if you will. But God spoke amazing things to Gideon, giving Gideon a glimpse into the way that God saw him. And even in the midst of uncertainty from Gideon, God took those training wheels off of him (and the Isrealite army), so that they could experience the joy of freely following the God who loved them and provided for them like nothing else.

I’m still working through the above questions for myself, although based on the stories of Gideon and others like him, I know there are areas in my life where God desires to remove training wheels I no longer need. How about you? Are trying to keep your “training wheels” on? Or have you learned to trust God’s timing as he encourages you to ride freely?

I’d love to hear your “training wheels” story around the fire today!

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…

photo (35)

I feel like I am in a time warp. It was just several weeks ago when things were somewhat “normal” and now it feels like ages ago! So much has happened, so much has changed, so many questions. My “ordinary” and “comfortable” have been disrupted and my inner self is being a little rebellious. I want to do things “the old way.” I want to go back to my comfort zone. I don’t feel ready to handle some of the tasks/situations that lie ahead. I can’t wrap my brain around so many things at once, and then when I do, they all change again! These have been some of the thoughts that have rolled through my mind over these past weeks. I am sure that all of us have felt this way at some point in time. Sometimes I wish I had a magic mirror that I could peer into that would tell me everything that was going to happen…or do I? 

 

While circumstances that surround us may short-circuit our brain and cause us to doubt, fear, or worry, there is one thing that remains constant…God’s love for us. It sounds cliche, but it is oh, so true! Let me give you some perspective. 

 

Do you think Abraham understood how he could be the father of many nations when he gazed upon all of those stars up in the sky? Do you think David understood why he was running for his life through the wilderness instead of sitting on a throne? Do you think the Israelites thoroughly understood that the walls of Jericho would fall as they praised God with a victorious shout? These people in these situations had no magic mirror, but they trusted in a God who loved them infinitely more than they could imagine. That same God exists for us today. 

 

Even in the midst of dire situations, God worked (works) it for good, someway, somehow. We might not always have the privilege of seeing the “answer” this side of heaven, but that does not mean that God is not working behind the scenes. He most certainly is! The reason that we are able to praise God in the middle of the storm is that what we know about God is far more important than what we don’t. This is what I do know: I know that God will never leave me because He loves me (John 3:16). I know that God is for me, not against me (Romans 8:31). I know that God’s promises are true and that He wants what is best for me (Psalm 33:4). The obstacles in front of us are what drives us to our Savior. And these obstacles, dear friend, develop in us a discipline of faith that will bring us into a knowledge of God that would probably otherwise not have been impossible. Those words of promise are our lifeline. 

 

So getting back to the title of this article, “Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall…”

My 8th-grade class (with help) created a framed mirror several weeks ago for our school auction. The mirror was set amongst an array of tiles that bore their confirmation verses written in their own handwriting. As I pictured this mirror in my mind, my thought was this…This is the exact mirror that each of us needs on our walls so that we can start our day being reminded of God’s promises as we see a reflection of His creation (Me! You!). We don’t need a mirror to tell us the future. We already know what the future holds for us because we believe the promises of God over the lies of the world. We are His. He is our Shepherd. “Have no fear, little flock; Have no fear, little flock, for the Father has chosen to give you the kingdom; Have no fear little flock.” (LSB 735)

Boat Hopping

 ACTS 27: 30-32

Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, the sailors dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight.  In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow.  Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it fall away. 

Desperate times call for desperate measures or so it seemed in this harrowing account of Paul’s journey to Rome.  Despite his warnings, the ship stayed the course in the midst of threats of stormy weather.  This decision put the entire crew at risk.  The sailors recognized an opportunity to escape through an out of sight lifeboat but Paul advised against it- stating that all would be lost if these few men were let go. Surprisingly, the Centurion and soldiers in charge of  Paul ( who was their prisoner!) listened to him.  They cut the ropes and the sailors’ escape plan went floating away.  

This account that comes towards the end of Paul’s life always fascinates me.  Despite being a prisoner he appears to be in charge.  We see no one else stepping up to navigate decisions in this storm.  Paul’s confidence certainly didn’t come because of a title or position. It didn’t come because he had vast experience in captaining ships and organizing crews. It didn’t come from watching a YouTube video he could quickly google when the storm clouds rolled in.  It came from his God that had remained faithful from the day they met on the way to Damascus.  He had 100% God-confidence and that had always served him well.

Similar to the apostle Paul, ALL of us are being asked to unexpectedly navigate our own ships in an unprecedented storm.  And as you may have heard many times as I have, we are all in the same storm but very different boats.

The same storm.

VERY DIFFERENT BOATS. Hmm…

Some of our boats are filled with small children we are being asked to educate at home while continuing full time jobs. Some of our boats hold job layoffs and loss of income. Some of our boats include increased income because unemployment pays more than our work. Some of our boats include separation from aging parents. We may relate to others in similar boats but there are days where their storm seems easier and they are navigating the storm better. Other times our storm seems lighter and we get judgmental about the challenge others appear to be having. Not a lot of black and white in this one. We find our selves in a dangerous place when we start to compare boats or even start hoping in and out of the ones surrounding ours. Let me explain.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling fantastic. It was a gorgeous morning with promise of the glory continuing. I felt rested from a good night sleep in a room cooled by the outside air. Don’t you love sleeping with the windows open? There were several events planned for my day, including a virtual game night with my daughter and son in law in Indiana, that I was looking forward to. I headed for my coffee and some time with God in my morning bible study. It was wonderful.

Tuesday Morning Coffee – It was glorious

And then it all changed.

As I put down my journal I picked up my phone …. and started scrolling… and then I started hopping… boat hopping if you will. I saw post after post of people in the same storm as me but very different boats. Not everyone had woken up with the same delight for their day as I had. I read about people struggling. I read funny memes. I read a few blogs. And my joy was gone. Boat hopping is exhausting. When I read the mom posts of 2020 seniors having a hard day as they continued mourning the loss of things that wouldn’t be for their child… I thought…. ” Oh I should probably feel more sad today.” ( NOTE: I have felt incredibly saddened by the losses of my class of 2020 daughter – shed more than one tear. But I wasn’t there on Tuesday). I saw posts of friends that have the virus and thought “Wow – I should be so much more productive – I’m healthy!” With each post I hopped …. out of my boat and into one not intended for me. My heart and soul had boarded the emotions roller coaster and I was on a full out ride of steep hills and tight cork screw twists. When I realized my mistake and the ride came to a stop I had a decision to make. I had to stop the boat hopping. It was serving no one and it certainly wasn’t honoring God. I had taken my eyes off of all I had been grateful for and my head and heart felts scattered and unsure.

Like God’s advice through Paul in Acts 27 – I believe he wants us, you and me, to stay in the boat. In our respective boats.  He wants you in the boat he has placed you in, that he planned for you long before you were born.  He wants you with your people, all your people, through the entirety of this storm. The good news is your ability to navigate your placement has nothing to do with your years of experience, your strengths, your weaknesses, your enneagram number, or your Myers-Briggs, but everything to do with our God who put you …. In that boat.

  All through scripture we see God calling the seemingly ill-equipped to carry out his plans.  More than one person questioned his wisdom when he reached out with a job offer:  Moses, Gideon, Abram…. So it’s ok if you do too.

Never before in the history of mankind has it appeared that the playing field is so level.  No one has walked this path before or sailed this storm.  No matter how many years we’ve lived – there is not one person professionally trained or otherwise that has wisdom grown from this specific type of experience.  Always before in the history of mankind has there been a God that promises wisdom, peace and answers. Always before in the history of mankind has there been a God that can back up his promises with evidence of his power through a sacrifice so great – the sending of an only son to OVERCOME death and the grave.  This same God, the father of the Savior of the world is with you in  your boat.  He knew this storm was coming.  He knew you would need to be right where you are,  even if the current round of waves feels  too big and too strong. 

Each of our days in the sea of this storm will look different. They emotions we each feel are real. I’ve heard it said the greatest gift we can give each other right now is to believe each other. To be ok with days that others are sad and you are happy. And to be ok when you are struggling to function and others are setting the world on fire. Same storm, different boats….. all navigated by our all powerful, all knowing, unchanging, loving God.

If these words find you ready to climb out, jump over, cannon ball out of your boat…. I urge you to stay.  The middle of the storm, in the boat God has placed you…..it’s the safest place you’ll ever be.    

Responding to the nudge

From Beth: A couple of weeks into our current season of crazy I received a sweet note from a friend. It popped up in my FB messenger app while my family and I were playing what will probably be one of hundreds of games of CATAN. I asked her if I could share her words around our weekly campfire. I included her first sentences because I feel they are so important. I hope my friends decision to pause, reflect and document her feelings, despite her thoughts that she is NOT a writer ( I respectfully disagree:) in the middle of all of this encourage you to do the same. Writing has the power to slow us down, to really see… see what God is doing around us. If you are moved to do something that feels out of your wheelhouse, not your skill set I hope you’ll go ahead and give it a try. Never in our lives has it been more clear how important it is to realize we are all on the same team, this is not a competition, and we are not playing in the who’s got life harder olympics. I believe if there is a desire inside of us to share something that could impact even one person for good, it is most likely not a selfish ambition but a God given nudge. So glad my friend followed her divine push on this one. Welcome my sweet anonymous friend to the fire.

Ok, here are all the feels…..and it is not my thing!! I am not a blogger. I do not share my feelings. I keep to myself. And….I am not a writer! However, the lesson I am learning currently is profound. I pray my children see it too.

We are building memories…..beautiful memories in the midst of all of this. We are snuggling on the couch. We are getting muddy in the yard. We are spending more time together. Time we took for granted before. 

We are learning…..learning that we should be thankful for bread, milk, and eggs. This is temporary, but nonetheless a luxury for now. We should not be wasteful. Our wastefulness will require purchasing more groceries. Groceries that will take away from meeting the needs of others. It will take away financial resources that may be needed later. All of which, we should have been doing all along. 

We are thankful. Let me say that again. WE ARE THANKFUL! Thankful for our pastors who keep sending God’s word to us. Thankful for teachers who are working hard to meet our children’s needs. Thankful for our local pharmacy who dispensed medication we needed this week, knowing that each person they come in contact with may expose them to infection. Thankful for our grocery store and the employees that are working hard to keep food in our homes. Thankful for our local doctor’s office who takes care of us now too. Thankful for our long term care staff who is proudly taking care of those that led the way for us all these years. You are indeed greatly valued. Thankful for each member of our community that I have overheard talking about how they can help. These are just a few encounters we have had this week that have shown us how fortunate we really are. The list goes on. Now matter your role, it is very important and our family is thankful for you. 

We are blessed. We are blessed to have the opportunity to learn and be thankful in the midst of chaos and uncertainty. We are blessed to live in this community who is very good at taking care of each other. 

Good is good. He is good at all times and in all ways. We just need to be sure to see it.

Landing

Two years ago, my husband and I took our two young sons, ages 2 ½ and 10 months, to a conference in Phoenix, Arizona. My parents attend the same conference every year, so we looked at it as a working family reunion of sorts. My husband elected to fly out on the (cheaper) redeye with only a personal item, but in an attempt to keep bedtime consistent, the boys and I would leave earlier in the evening, meeting my parents at their hotel. After a somewhat hurried trip to the airport, we discovered the earlier flight was delayed. Good news: my husband could wait with me at the gate. Bad news: our flight would now only leave an hour before his. So much for keeping bedtime.

What trouble could these two possible get into? Playing on the hotel bed after our harrowing adventure.

When boarding finally began, I was worn out and ready to fall into the hotel bed. However, we still had a 2-hour flight and a 10-minute shuttle to the airport hotel ahead of us. And, despite the hundreds of flights I’ve traveled in my lifetime, flying still makes me a little nervous. My heart raced through takeoff and initial turbulence, but when the pilot indicated we had reached cruising altitude I settled a bit. I settled into my seat to read “Curious George Goes to the Hospital” another twelve times and pass out the remainder of the stickers and Cheerios from my carry-on bag. Finally, we began our descent into Sky Harbor airport. I could see the flashing lights of the landing strip and felt myself relaxing. I counted down the seconds until touchdown, “5-4-3-2…” But all of a sudden, when it seemed as if we were just feet from safely landing, the engines gunned to life again and the plane shot back up into the air, immediately turning sideways in a sharp turn. My heart raced, and I heard others in the fuselage questioning out loud–“What is happening?” I did my best to appear calm for my sons’ sake as we circled above the airport for a terrifyingly long seven minutes. Finally, the flight deck came over the loudspeaker to inform us we had been too close to another landing plane and had been directed to circle for another few minutes before trying again.

My boys are seasoned flyers! Here is Titus (6 months) sitting on my dad’s lap on his first airplane ride.

Difficult seasons often bring false endings.

This has been a hard year–we’ve said our earthly goodbye to two very special people and to two very special places. My husband’s work responsibilities tripled as he taught three math classes and organized the accreditation process in addition to his normal administrative duties. Worn down, tired, and ready for some reprieve, we looked to the calendar for hope. We counted down the days until the end of accreditation and our end-of-school-year family trip.

And then the world flipped. Social distancing, remote learning, COVID-19, quarantine, and questions without answers fill every day. We try to remain calm for the sake of our kids, but inside we beg for answers and assurance. While my role as a stay-at-home mom has not altered much, my role as a prayer warrior and friend changes every day: family members have lost their jobs, fear for their safety, or are working triple overtime in the medical field or police force.

About two-thousand years ago, eleven friends huddled together. The world as they knew it had shattered, and they were filled with fear. John 20:19a reads, “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders…” They knew what Jesus had said before his death (Matthew 16:21, “From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”) but those words must have felt so distant after the horrifying events of the weekend. They had counted down the days and were waiting for answers, everything feeling surreal and a little too real at the same time.

Watching worship on mommy’s laptop

It all feels a little bit surreal and a little too real at the same time. It’s almost like we’re circling above, watching the pandemic play out, unsure of when and how we’ll be able to land from this crazy ride.

It’s Holy Week. Every year I look forward to this time of worshipping with my church family as we recall the events of Passover, Good Friday and the Resurrection. The symbolism, songs, and celebrations push me to meditate on the every-day reality that Christ’s death and resurrection bring: hope. But I know the ending of the story. I walk out of the Good Friday service sorrowful because of my sin, but the promised hope of the Sunday sunrise service (and hot breakfast!) keeps the sorrow from overwhelming me. But this year, Easter will look different for all of us.

This Easter, we’re huddled in our rooms, gathered together in groups of less than ten, disappointed, confused, lonely, angry, full of anxiety and fear. Our Jesus feels absent.

But there’s hope. John 20 tells us, 

“Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb …“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.

He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”

Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”

Jesus said to her, “Mary.”

She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).

Jesus didn’t say, “stop crying, Mary” or “why didn’t you trust me?” but instead asked Mary to share her sorrow with him.

Two years ago the plane landed safely and without any other complications. We went on to enjoy a wonderful conference filled with family and sunshine.

Right now we’re unsure of exactly when and how the circling plane of COVID-19 and effects will land, but this we do know: our God is faithful. This Easter, with all of the extras stripped away, I want to come near to Jesus and tell him why I am crying. And I want to see, as if for the first time, that He came. He died. He rose. He will come again. 

Down the Drain

Hey friends. It’s good to be around the campfire with you again this Thursday. I imagine that we’re closer than 6 feet apart, and that brings a little healing to my heart. I hope you snuggle in close for some warmth today.

Can I just tell you about something that happened this last week?

Now, believe it or not, the people in my house want to eat dinner every. single. night. It’s incredible, really. Recently, I decided to make this delicious Crab Pot Pie for my family. As soon as my picky four-year-old Simon got wind of what I was making, he stated, “I’m not going to eat that.” (Typical.)

I let him know that I was working hard to prepare this meal, and that I would not be making him an alternative dinner. Then I must have said something along the lines of, “You can make yourself a different dinner if you do not want pot pie, but I am not going to help you.”

My little guy got to work. He made himself a ham and cheese sandwich.
“No crust, Mom.”
“I need two more pieces of bread, Mom.”

making sandwiches

He peeled carrots. (I caved and helped him with the cutting.)
“This pot, Mom?”
“Do I put them in here, Mom?”
“Mom, is that enough water?”

peeling carrots

He gathered a yogurt tube out of the fridge, along with some applesauce and a banana and a cup for water.

He was definitely finished making his dinner before I was.

About the time he finished, our kitchen was smelling like butter and onions and creamy pot pie. All I needed to do was add the corn kernels and crab meat. I couldn’t wait to eat it. I opened up the can of crab meat I had purchased at the store. (It was one of the few cans that was still left on the shelf–thank you, corona-panic–during my last trip to the store.) I had only used imitation crab meat before, and I was a bit surprised at how the canned variety looked so different from what I was expecting. It smelled okay, so I took a leap of faith and dumped the crab contents in. Ahhh, now for the last taste test, I was thinking to myself. This baby’s almost done.

I took a bite from the big pot, and stopped mid-chew. Something is not quite right. I began adding spices and a little more corn and a little more salt, but no matter what I did, the grainy, flat taste of canned crabmeat had permeated the whole soup! There was NO WAY I could serve it to my family (and expect them to eat it).

So, I did something I have done only once before: I poured our entire dinner down the drain. All my prep work, all those yummy vegetables, all that precious milk—GONE. WASTED. It was a very hard pill for me to swallow.

dinner down the drain

Pause. Have you had to see something you’ve worked hard for slip out of your hands during the trials of this past month? Maybe the coronavirus has devastated all the good you had been working so hard on. And, like my little can of crab, it’s “ruining effect” might have a far reach. …Friend, I’m sorry you are having to go through that loss. I’m sorry for the grief and worry that have followed. I can’t fully know what that must feel like.

Here’s what I do know: I know that the Bible is true, and that the things that it tells us about God are trustworthy.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in times of trouble.” Psalm 46:1
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” Genesis 50:20

Back to my dinner story. Thankfully, my oven was a piping-hot 400 degrees already, and there were pizzas in our freezer. I mixed together a bagged salad, and bam! Dinner version 2.0 was on the table in less than 15 minutes.

Was it as delicious as a good pot pie? No. Would I have liked to redeem the past hour of my life? Yes. Did I like it that my four-year-old seemed to out-wit me? Definitely not, though I did find some humor in the irony…

Did we still eat? Yes. Was my family together for dinner? Yes.

Did we have everything we needed? Yes.

dinner version 2-0

If you are struggling because you are watching something precious to you go down the drain, I hope you can gain a little courage from this silly little pot pie story. Things are probably not going like you planned right now, but that does not mean that all hope is lost. God is able to work good, even when we can’t see past our grief. I trust that God can give you everything you need at this time. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll even get to laugh at your witty four year old in the process.

“And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Phil. 4:19