The Joy-Robber

The Joy-Robber

I’ve recently been thankful for the character growth that happens when school events give me an opportunity to help my kids to understand and frame their experiences.

As my daughter’s spring concert approached, she lamented that she wasn’t chosen for a speaking part or for a solo. I responded out loud that not everyone gets to do everything, and I reminded her that one of her friends had practiced hard every week to develop her singing ability.

It was a very short conversation, and we moved on. My daughter’s concert came and went, our whole family watched to support her and her classmates, and she loved it.

A couple of weeks later, my daughter mentioned during our walk home that some of the girls at school were asking their friend, “Why did YOU get to do the solo?” And my daughter said that she was sad that they had that attitude.

First of all, I totally understand that attitude – because I’ve felt it often before in my own self. Envy: it’s ugly, it robs us of joy, and it starts so early in life.

As I walked with my daughter, I tried once again to find some words to help her process this experience. I told her, “I’m so sorry that they are saying that. It probably hurts your friend. But the girls need to understand that…” And I trailed off, trying to find just the right words that were full of truth and grace.

“…that not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things,” my daughter filled in quickly.

I was in shock that an 8-year-old had just spoken words that I hadn’t even thought of, but words that are so true, not only for children but also for us as adults.

How often do we long for an opportunity that we don’t have? Or wish that we had a better yard for our kids to play in? Or constantly check social media, hoping for more re-tweets or likes? Or want a job that more enjoyable, or meaningful, or more financially beneficial?

Those desires are not wrong; often they can motivate us to learn, to take a risk, and to grow. It’s not wrong for a child to want a solo in a concert and to take the steps to make it a reality. It’s not wrong to want a fulfilling job or better experiences or more connection with other people.

The trouble comes when we see others who have those things and then begin the comparison game. Envy turns us against other people. We long for the opportunity that someone else has. We walk past our neighbors’ yards and wish that those yards were ours. We feel downcast and lonely because someone else is getting the amount of re-tweets and likes that we were hoping for. We do our jobs with drudgery because what we really want is the job that our colleague or our acquaintance has. Envy puts walls between us and others, and it steals the joy and delight that we could be experiencing. It’s no wonder that the Bible labels envy and selfish ambition as “demonic” (James 3:13-16).

It’s true – I have desires and plans for new things. I don’t want my life to be stagnant in relationships or in purpose. But I love the freedom that comes from knowing that what I’m doing now is also important. At this very moment, I cannot do everything that other people can do, but I am doing something important. Knowing that truth gives me freedom to cheer other people on and to savor the opportunities that I have right now. And I will refuse to allow envy to rob me of joy. I hope that we can experience that freedom together, and I will be ecstatic if my kids can grasp that early in their lives.

“Not everyone gets to do everything, but everyone gets to do important things.”

 

When Mother’s Day is Hard

When Mother’s Day is Hard

Mother’s Day can be hard.

For me, this year at least, it’s because we are finally seeing light after a full 10 days of a virus coursing through our children’s bodies, causing our home to become a quarantine hospital and school, with me as the doctor and headmaster. I took two – yes, two – naps today. Eventually, I will recover. But maybe not before Mother’s Day.

Mother’s Day 2008 was harder. My work involved a camp that overlapped Mother’s Day, and one of our thoughtful male colleagues had bought flowers to give to each of the mothers who were spending their special day with university students instead of with their own children. It was so sweet, but my mind was already full of remembering my first little baby who had died from miscarriage just 5 months earlier. As he came around with the flowers, I was torn. I was a mother but had nothing to show for it, no child to hold.

Mother’s Day can be hard for a lot of other reasons as well, ones which are not so familiar to me but are well known to some of my dearest friends. Mothers and children are distanced from each other, either physically or relationally. Women long to have children, but that desire seems impossible to fulfill. Mothers have passed away, leaving so much wisdom untapped. Children have died, leaving an aching void in their mother’s hearts.

In our exhaustion, our loneliness, our wrestling, we thirst for a place where we can be honest about how we feel on a day like Mother’s Day. What I love about the Bible is that so many of its prayers, poems, and songs are incredibly raw, and the words resonate with those cries of our hearts that are difficult to speak aloud.

There is the story of Hannah, who was ridiculed and bullied because she was childless. 1 Samuel 1:10 records, “In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly.”

Then there is Psalm 13:

“How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

How long will you hide your face from me?

How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

and day after day have sorrow in my heart?”

But the psalm ends with a change of tone so abrupt that it almost feels like whiplash.

“But I trust in your unfailing love;

my heart rejoices in your salvation.

I will sing the Lord’s praise,

for he has been good to me.”

How can the writer so confidently affirm his trust and joy, while still in the midst of sadness?

The answer is in the “salvation”. Isaiah 53 stirringly describes the agony and the beauty of the death of Jesus Christ that would actually take place hundreds of years after Isaiah’s writing. It explains that he took the punishment that we deserved because of the ways that we have rejected God and hurt other people, so that we could have forgiveness and peace when we trust in him. But the fullness of salvation doesn’t end there.

Verses 3-4 say, “He was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering…” (highlights mine).

Luke records a time when Jesus stood up in a synagogue, read a portion of Isaiah 61:1-2, and claimed that he had fulfilled those words. These verses, along with verse 3, are helpful to our understanding of Jesus’ purpose. Here are some highlights.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted…

to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion-

to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.”

You see, with Jesus Christ there is space to be vulnerable and real, because he intimately knows pain. But we can also expect healing and restoration of joy, because he took our pain for us so that we don’t have to carry it forever. Sometimes we hang on to our pain because we don’t know there is another option or because it has become familiar, but Jesus wants to comfort us, to bestow us with beauty, to anoint us with joy, to clothe us with a spirit of praise. And because he defeated death by rising to life, we know that he has the power to give us these things.

There I sat, on Mother’s Day 2008, in a room with many other mothers, unsure of whether I was worthy to take a flower. Thankfully, I had shared very openly with my team about my loss and heartache, so everyone knew what I was processing. They had given me space to be real. As my colleague came near with the flowers, I decided to reach out and grab one. Even as I was still grieving in that moment, I received a measure of healing from my community and from the Lord. And the healing process would continue.

Maybe for you, this Mother’s Day will be the day that you will take your flower, that you will begin to receive healing and joy. Maybe you will seek out someone who can give you a safe space to be honest but will also believe and pray with you for the healing that Jesus offers. Maybe you will spend time with the Lord alone, handing your pain to him and asking him to give you joy and praise in return. My hope is that you know from experience, this Mother’s Day, that you are deeply loved.

And just because I can’t do it for you… feel free to go out and buy yourself a flower.

A special note of thanks: Thank you to the women – great-grandmas, grandmas, aunts and great-aunts, babysitters, teachers, and friends – who have invested in the lives of my children. Your love and support of them is priceless. Thank you also to my dear friends who remind me to enjoy the gift that my parents are to me.

Lingering

Lingering

Beautiful moments present themselves unexpectedly. If we move on busy, hurried, rushed… we will miss the treasure offered in that time and space.

The first time your newborn baby warms your chest. Nurses may have hands on their hips, boring holes into you with their eyes as they wait until they can weigh and bathe that little one. But this moment is worth lingering.

The walk through the canopy of cottonwood trees, tiny seeds wrapped in silky fuzz floating through the air by the thousands. You may be on the way to a meeting or running an errand. But this moment is worth lingering.

The sacred experience when the Spirit of God fills your soul, so tangibly you can feel it. The sanctuary may empty as others file out or pack up the sound system. But this moment is worth lingering.

Today, may you and I have the grace to push back the pressure of hurry and to embrace the gift of lingering.

Taking Flight

Taking Flight

Even youths grow tired and weary,

And young men stumble and fall;

But those who hope in the Lord

Will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles;

They will run and not grow weary,

They will walk and not be faint.

            – Isaiah 40:30-31

We all face times in our lives when we need to step into the unknown, when a rejection of taking this risk would result in self-protection based in fear. Some of these situations happily force themselves upon us, such as marriage or graduation from high school or from the university and the necessity to set the course for the next stage of our lives. Others slam us hard, like a job loss or an unforeseen change in relationship. And still other opportunities are created from a calling, an unrest, a longing.

Whatever the situation, the question all Christians must answer in transition is this: Do I have enough trust – enough confidence – in my God to move forward?

One year ago, Josh and I boarded a plane bound for China. There is something eerie and terrifying about leaving your children on the other side of planet Earth.

Flight Map

That May flight, the first of five 24-hour flights that we would make in the course of three months, began our look-see trip, the one in which we visited the prospective city to make sure we wanted to go ahead with applying for the job opportunity.

But in those three summer months, and in the five months before that, what impacted me most was not the physical flight, but the spiritual and emotional flight that accompanied the transition.

I think that the Lord knows I need recurring themes in my life so that I can finally learn the main point of whatever He is trying to teach me. Those themes don’t usually come in the form of mental pictures, but I am grateful that one did, which I will tell you about now.

Twelve years ago this summer, I stepped into my first season of work and career. I sat at a round table with five other new staff, in a room of 200 more just like us. In the midst of a highly intense 10-day training, and at this table, God placed an image in my mind. I was visibly shaking and sobbing as I emotionally processed what this might mean.

My group leader asked me what was going on, and I explained the picture to him. In this image, I saw myself standing at the edge of a high cliff. Everything beyond the cliff was enshrouded in darkness. I sensed the Spirit of God beckoning me to jump off of the edge, into the abyss.

It was obvious to me that this referenced the new work I was stepping into, since I had little clear idea of what lay before me for the next five plus years. All I knew was that I did not want to fall off of that cliff.

I no longer remember my group leader’s exact response (and I’m pretty sure there’s a meme around now with this same idea), but the essence was this: What if, instead of falling, God gives you wings to fly?

And He did.

A few moments over the next eleven years of work felt like I got banged up on the side of the cliff, but even with that, my trust and confidence in God built as I saw Him come through for me over the long haul. He developed in me strength, endurance, vision, and faith that I didn’t have before responding to His invitation into the unknown.

10 ½ years later, I again sat in a room full of staff, this time 2,000 of them. I had grown restless, feeling trapped and looking for a new passion.

I shared with a colleague that my husband, just that week, began pursuing a potential job in China. I asked my colleague to pray for discernment in the situation, and he wisely asked me how I was feeling and thinking about all of this. He listened intently as I explained my desire for a new adventure and opportunity for myself and for my family.

When I had finished, my colleague described to me the image God placed in his mind as I was speaking. He had envisioned wings on my back, spreading out more and more as I spoke. I was ready to fly.

Of course, taking flight did not come easily. I grieved the loss, albeit temporary, of people and places that I loved. And once again, I found myself launching off into the darkness, this time unsure of my purpose, my passion, and my calling.

I don’t know what risk God is asking you to take. Obviously, assessing God’s call needs to be done with wisdom and with the counsel of wise people. But after discerning clearly, going for it is the best thing you can do for your spiritual life. Maybe your risk of faith looks like serving your spouse, or giving up your summer plans, or giving your life to Christ, or moving overseas. The size of the risk is not important – after all, Jesus tells parables about servants who are faithful in small matters being put in charge of larger matters.

When you take a risk, you might not get the outcome that you expect. This is why the Bible says that those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength, as opposed to those who hope in a certain outcome. When you answer God’s invitation to take a step of faith, you are saying, “Yes”, to the God who knows and loves you.

Taking a risk of faith, even a small one like tangibly loving someone or speaking truth, is… risky. But it’s exhilarating and freeing. It places us in the position where we HAVE to depend on God to come through for us. Trust deepens when we experience that the God who asks us to jump will teach us to fly.

I will leave you with the song that has been my anthem of trust for a year and a half now. To borrow the words of the song, may your faith be made stronger in the presence of the Savior.