Halfway Blessings, Halfway Thanks

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This is Part 2 of a two-part post. If you haven’t already, you may want to read Post 1 before reading on…

If you remember, we left off here:

My run involved ten minutes of semi-dodging wheelies, one sweaty hand holding my cell-phone timer, one hand scrolling through all 34 chapters of Deuteronomy before I could get to the next real song (which was a slow one anyway), and one jogging stroller running into the grass while I tried to push it with my forearms…

This was the routine that continued for a couple of weeks. One afternoon, after a 25-minute run, I was making my way back along the busy road to our home. Every ten feet or so I would have to pull off to the side of the road while a car or two came speeding by in the lane closest to me. Lydia was eagerly asking to get out of the stroller to “run with you!”, which can’t happen until we are off the busy road and closer to the house. I was hot and tired and wishing for a longer stretch between cars so I didn’t have to keep exerting all my energy to roll the girls into the grass and wait for more traffic to pass. I wanted to get home, get clean, and get some water.

Then I saw in the distance a red truck pulling a noisy trailer. I continued walking along the side of the road with my eyes glued to the truck, waiting until the last minute to pull off into the grass again. Just as the truck closed in on that particular distance when I have to turn off my path, the driver changed lanes. He turned his big truck and trailer into the left-most lane and zoomed by at a safe distance so that I wouldn’t have to pull off into the grass.

He made my day. I was so happy I didn’t have to do any wheelies or take any breaks. I just kept walking on that skinny bike lane on the side of the road. And, as I rejoiced in that little blessing I was struck by my attitude change. I was still making an inconvenient trek from the trail where I could safely run, but I was rejoicing in a blessing instead of sulking over the inconvenience.

There were so many factors about my runs that I was considering “halfway blessings”.

The stroller that allowed me to go running…but didn’t maneuver well.

The cell phone that kept time…but was hard to see and couldn’t strap to my wrist.

The charged mp3 player that gave me good running music…but a whole lot of other content too.

The running trail that allowed me to run without stopping for cars…but the distance I had to walk to get to it.

The sidewalk that made my trek a little easier…but was only five houses long.

OR

The red truck with a trailer that came zooming by…but changed lanes so I wouldn’t have to stop.

It is so easy to focus on the half of my circumstances that aren’t what I want them to be. But how much happier it is to focus on the “blessing half”. Isn’t that true all throughout life? The grass is greener on the other side, where the stroller wheels swivel and the sidewalks don’t end. But watching that “greener” grass grow does nothing but leave me grumpy and unthankful.

Thankfulness. It’s been a theme lately, and I feel like I’m just learning the same lessons over and over again in different ways. But even as I write this I think…

I’m learning to be thankful…but I’m just going to have to learn again.

I’m so glad God doesn’t give up on me.

Halfway Blessings…

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I don’t enjoy running.

When I was in seventh grade I joined the cross-country team. I dreaded every practice. The thought that kept me going during each race was “Before I know it…I’ll be done…”, and then I would picture my water bottle and my couch. I finished the season. I stayed on the team. And I ran every race without stopping to walk. At the end of the season I was devastated when I lost my team picture and later my team t-shirt was also lost in the laundry. There was no evidence that I had ever survived the whole season or that I had even joined the team.

After seventh grade I quit running until my college days. There was gym just across the street from my apartment that I could get into for free with my college ID card. For a few weeks I walked to the gym every weekday and ran around the track. Then I came down with a cold and decided to rest rather than run. My resting continued right up through college graduation. That was my second attempt at running.

When I was pregnant with Lydia, another Mama gave me a brilliant idea. She had trained couch-to-5K after her fourth baby was born, her fourth c-section at that. What a great way, I thought to get back in shape after nine months of pregnancy. I took that idea and decided to follow the same plan after Lydia was born, and then again after Abby.

I succeeded in my Lydia-5K, but then Abby came along. Training for a 5K with two littles is a lot harder than training for a 5K with one baby and a daddy who is in school and home often enough to babysit. After a couple of false starts at my 5K training this year, Dan and I both decided my running wouldn’t be able to continue until we invested in a double jogging stroller.

So began my search. Every day I would get on Craigslist and check for a stroller that was in usable condition but within our price range. Finally, after a handful of disappointing emails and texts (Please, take your item off of Craigslist when it sells!), we paid $25 more than we wanted for a blue baby trend double jogger and I got to start my training again.

Day 1
I realized that we don’t even own a stop watch so my only timing device was my cell phone. Not ideal, but I could carry it while I ran and check the time whenever I ran underneath some shade. (The screen is too hard to see in the sunlight). I buckled up the girls and we took off for a short walk/run to test out the stroller and get my training back under way.

My long-awaited jogger has a fixed front wheel, so I have to do a wheely every time I want to turn. Since the stroller was lightweight, I didn’t think it would be a problem. Right? Wrong. Our neighborhood is all curves. The neighborhood across the street is all curves. And the neighborhood next to ours is all curves. By the end of my short run, my arms were aching. To make things worse, all the neighborhoods around are tiny one or two street neighborhoods, fine for a 5-minute run, but not practical for anything longer.

Day 2
I decided to find a route other than the neighborhood across the street. I ventured out onto the road, but that road is busy. Very busy. Semi-truck busy. And there is no sidewalk. I started the run in the “bike lane” but the first car that zoomed by at 50 miles an hour was far too close for comfort. I ended up jogging with my eyes and ears parked for the next batch of cars. Whenever some cars came I stopped my jogging, did my wheely to get off the road, and waited in the grass for the next break in traffic. All those wheelies were giving my arms a workout, but the stop-and-go running wasn’t what I had envisioned.

The good news: there was a sidewalk for the stretch of about 5 houses. Five houses of non-stop jogging.

Day 3
This time I didn’t even bother to jog for the first 15 minutes. I repeated the previous route along the busy road with the tiny patch of sidewalk until I made it to a bike trail. Then I was able to complete my run in all its glory with no semi-trucks, to stopping, and fewer wheelies.

By now my runs were up to more than ten minutes and it was definitely time to bring along some music. I was happy to find my mp3 player but disappointed to realize the USB cord was packed away in some hopeless location and the player was dead.

I was back to running without music. And you know I don’t like running.

One day I had the idea to try Dan’s phone charger on my mp3 player, and it worked. My next run was so much happier, but with one down-side: the music last loaded onto the mp3 player also included the entire King James Version of the Bible, all 1,189 chapters of the KJV Bible. Great for listening, but not while running.

Now my run involved ten minutes of semi-dodging wheelies, one sweaty hand holding my cell-phone timer, one hand scrolling through all 34 chapters of Deuteronomy before I could get to the next real song (which was a slow one anyway), and one jogging stroller running into the grass while I tried to push it with my forearms…

TO BE CONTINUED.

I promise I am going somewhere with this. It’s a lesson, and a good one. But baby nap times only last so long, I have a counter full of dishes to wash and two loads of laundry to fold so you are all going to have to bear with me and wait patiently for the next post which will contain the rest of the story…

A Lesson from Almond Butter

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A couple of weeks ago Dan and I started buying almond butter. Our peanut butter consumption is at an all-time high, and almond butter is healthier than peanut butter, so we finally made the switch despite the price difference. Now we alternate between almond butter and peanut butter.

Lydia loves it. She calls it just “butter” and asks for it every day when we’re eating breakfast. Yesterday morning we were having some oatmeal when she asked me for “butter in a circle”, which means she wants me to draw a circle on her oatmeal with the almond butter. Circle drawing is easy with things like honey or ketchup, but not almond butter. So, she got an almond butter “glob” instead.

She strategically spooned the glob into her mouth without getting any oatmeal in the process and asked for another “glob”. I told her no.

She had a minor breakdown before I explained she could have more almond butter after she ate some oatmeal. Almond butter is, after all, much more expensive than oatmeal and we’re not going to eat straight almond butter for breakfast. Lydia shoved one spoonful of oatmeal into her mouth, threw her spoon into her bowl, and demanded more “butter”.

Again I told her that she had to eat more oatmeal, and the scene repeated itself. She was, as I had instructed, eating more oatmeal, but this wasn’t at all the attitude I was hoping for, so I started to explain,

“Mommy will tell you when you can have more. I just want you to eat your oatmeal until Mommy decides you should have some more almond butter.”

But even as I was talking, God was taking my words, turning them around, and directing them back at myself. (again)

How many times have I been waiting for something that I really want? And I pray to God and ask Him for it.

And God tells me, “Not yet.”

So one day goes by and I ask again.

“Not yet. Just wait.”

And another day, another breakdown. “God, I can’t wait any longer, I need it now.”

“Not yet. I’ll give it to you when you should have it.”

And the scene repeats itself.

Then this moment happened and God said, “I will tell you when you can have more almond butter what you’re waiting for. I just want you to eat your oatmeal wait until I decide you should have it.”

How many times have I waited impatiently like Lydia and even demanded what I want? A baby. An apartment. A job for Dan. A baby to come home from the NICU. Or sleep through the night…the list could go on.

God opened my eyes this morning to see in a new way that I need to always, no matter what the issue, wait until He decides the timing is right. It was such an easy lesson to recognize, but, oh, so hard to do.

One thing I do know. Most of the reason I denied Lydia almond butter was because of its price and our budget. God is not denying me anything because of its price or His lack of funds. His timing is for the best.

The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the person who seeks Him.
It is good that he waits silently for the salvation of the Lord.
Lamentations 3:25-26

Sweet Potato Prayers

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This Thursday will mark six weeks of basement living for our family, and, as we don’t have an accepted offer on any houses yet, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel. I daily ask God to provide the right house for us in His timing, but that His timing would be soon. It was during one of these prayers that I realized a change (for the better) that has come over me in these past few weeks. I am more desperately depending on God for help. For me, that looks like lots and lots of praying. It’s not the kind of “close yourself in your closet and get on your knees” praying. It’s the “in the middle of the chaos” sort of praying.

And as I pray, God answers. I don’t want to forget those answers, and I thought it might be fun to share some little answered prayers from this past weekend.

Friday was Lydia’s birthday. We had big plans of spending the whole morning at the playground. We were even going to eat lunch there and come back for a later nap time than usual. Then, as Lydia and Abby napped, I was going to clean up and cook up a Mexican feast which was to include this sauce that Lydia loves. She affectionately refers to this as simply, “Sauce”.

Somewhere in the middle of our morning (pre-playground trip) I realized that I didn’t have a sweet potato for Lydia’s special sauce that I had promised her. And Dan had taken the car to work with the stroller in the back seat. Bummer. I prayed that God would somehow provide me with a sweet potato for Lydia’s sauce. I decided to go to the playground without the stroller and just eat lunch at home. And I went on with the day.

After breakfast I asked Lydia to go to the bathroom so I could brush her teeth. She scurried off and I took care of a couple of things before heading off to join her. When I got to the bathroom, the door was shut. And locked. And Lydia didn’t know how to unlock it. After messing with the lock for a while myself I went upstairs to get RJ (the real homeowner) to ask for help. He graciously came down and we spent the next twenty minutes trying to explain to Lydia how to unlock the door while he tried various tools in the lock.

She had been in the bathroom for almost half an hour when RJ went upstairs to look for some different tools. I had been praying silently all along, but after unsuccessfully trying to explain one more time to Lydia how to unlock the door I decided to pray out loud. We asked God to help us get the door unlocked and within minutes RJ tried the right tool and Lydia was free.

I had been on and off the phone with Dan all along and called him once more to tell him the emergency was over. Then we got ready to go to the playground. Just then, the door opened and there was Dan! He had been sent home to work for the day because they didn’t have the internet working at the office. And Dan brought home the stroller and the sweet potato.

Lydia enjoyed the rest of her birthday with a long-awaited visit to the playground, a necessary nap, and a Mexican feast, including her special sauce.

God gave us a sweet potato, an unlocked door, and even a stroller (an unvoiced prayer) all in one short morning. These are just a few examples of the daily ways God hears our calls for help and gives us what we need. One of these days I believe He will give us the house we’ve been praying for, but in the meantime (and long after) we will be thankful for answers to our “sweet potato prayers”.

Just Ask

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This girl is a lot like her daddy. She’s very independent. “I do it” has long been one of her most used phrases. And, she’s a little bit perfectionistic. Ever since she was a three pound bundle in her NICU isolette, she’s been feisty, getting frustrated when she doesn’t get things done right, the first time, by herself.

A few days ago she was having a grand time playing by herself with her umbrella stroller. She had a baby doll in the stroller, a purse over her shoulder, and was pretending to be a “big girl Lydia” who gets to drive a car and change diapers. But the fun ended when the umbrella stroller folded up and she couldn’t get it open. I was in a different part of the basement doing some for-real grown up thing, probably folding laundry or washing dishes, when suddenly I heard her sudden outburst of tears and yelling. Abby was sleeping so I snatched up Lydia as quickly as I could, raced into her bedroom and sat her on my lap.

I’ll admit, I was frustrated too, annoyed that she had to have such an outburst that could have woken up Abby when she could have just asked me for help. But I took a deep breath and decided to make this a teachable moment.

Justine: Lydia, what happened?

Lydia (angrily): I couldn’t get the stroller open.

Justine: And did you get frustrated and yell?

Lydia (sheepishly): yes.

Justine: What should you have done?

Lydia: Obey, right away, all the way, happy way? (that’s what we’re teaching her these days)

Justine: Well, no, you should have just asked Mommy for help.

Lydia: Will you help me please?

Justine: Why, of course, I’d love too.

And that was that, we headed out, I opened the stroller, and she was happily (and quietly) playing once more.

Except, that wasn’t that. I wasn’t three lines into that conversation when the lesson hit me like a brick wall. Suddenly, even as I was talking to Lydia, I could see myself having the same conversation with God. Because I, too, have gotten frustrated in these circumstances. And I, too, have had sudden outbursts with tears and yelling. It’s hard living in a basement, after all. It’s hard moving a lot. It’s hard having two little ones. And there have been times in the past few weeks when I have responded just like Lydia. So there I was, sitting on my Heavenly Father’s lap having the same conversation.

God: Justine, what happened?

Justine (angrily): Lydia wouldn’t obey. The place is a mess. This is hard!

God: And did you get frustrated and yell?

Justine: (sheepishly): Yes.

God: What should you have done?

Justine: Obey?

God: You should have just asked me for help.

Justine: Will you help me please?

God: Of course, I would love too.

Sometimes I get so focused on trying to accept the circumstances God has placed me in, trying to just obey what He wants me to do right now, that I forget how much He really cares. Now, the past week had already gone much better, ever since my summer sausage incident. But I have been earnestly putting this lesson into practice daily sometimes hourly. And God is helping me. Every day. Every hour. And the best part is, He (unlike me) never gets impatient with my asking. He never has to stop washing dishes to wipe his hands. He’s always there, instantly, ready to help.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7

And Yet I Will Rejoice

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There has been a reoccurring pattern in the life of my family that goes something like this: Dan and I prayerfully make decisions and plans and then watch as God totally changes them. To some extent, this is true of everyone, but in the past year or so for our family it has seemed kind of extreme. Housing. Jobs. Babies. Not to mention the little things in life.

I haven’t been handling our “temporary” housing situation very well lately (I put temporary in quotes because that is another one of our plans). Maybe it really is a difficult situation, or maybe it’s just that there have been a lot of difficult situations and I’m getting burnt out. I’m not sure.

One of the agreements to our living in this basement (in the home of a family from our church) is that every Tuesday our church hosts a Bible study. Here. In our little “temporary” home. Combined with the Bible study we normally attend on Wednesdays this makes for two very late nights in a row.

Well, this week the Bible study turned out to be a very good thing. Between conversation and prayer, I was reminded (for the millionth time and I know I’ll need it again) to rejoice.

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that 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

…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.
Romans 5:3-5

Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

So it was as the clock approached 11, the last stragglers were about to leave, and the girls were very sleepy. I was encouraged and had a new resolve to rejoice and trust that this crazy, windy road God is taking us on is not without purpose. And then, as if to test my new resolve, Lydia threw up. I had given her a couple of slices of a summer sausage during snack time and, as we don’t normally eat pork or sausage, the combination didn’t treat her very well.

We said hurried goodbyes and I cleaned up the floor while Dan cleaned up Lydia. I’d say we handled the episode relatively well and soon enough Lydia was tucked in watching an inning of baseball with Dan while she fell asleep. I set out a (literally) midnight snack for Dan and I to enjoy together so we could actually have a few moments to talk before going to sleep. Just as I was about to take my first bite, Lydia threw up again.

Well, we made it out ok. I was still rejoicing and lighthearted despite the surprise attack by that summer sausage and we finally got to go to sleep. Dan was up at least once more with Lydia during the night but I didn’t know that until morning because a couple of hours after resting my head on the pillow I found myself running to the bathroom wishing I hadn’t eaten that sausage either.

It was bad. The sort of bad where you spend an hour in the bathroom just praying your stomach would surrender and empty itself so you could go to bed in peace. But, do you know what? By God grace I kept rejoicing.

I think if you could have been there (I’m glad you weren’t) to see me and hear my thoughts, it might have been almost funny. I was sick and in pain and tired and completely convinced that God loves me and is going to use this all for good. I may have even been smiling there in the bathroom at two in the morning. It was crazy. Knowing trials have a purpose, even if you don’t know what the purpose is, makes them so much more bearable.

The next day we were well enough to eat some breakfast, at least a rather bland breakfast of plain oatmeal, bananas, and tea. By Wednesday night we were all well enough to go to our own Bible study. And so far I’m still doing well in my new resolve. I know this is a lesson I’ll have to learn again. And you’ll probably hear about it when I do. For now I will keep on rejoicing, trusting God’s good plan, and staying away from summer sausage.

First Month of Thankful

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It has already been more than a month since I started keeping track of a blessing-a-day, and what a month it has been! Little did I know when I started this project that I would wrap up my first month living in a new home and house-hunting. The past week has been very busy with last minute packing, moving, cleaning, rearranging, and unpacking, but I’ve managed to keep my resolution so far and I thought it would be fun to share some of the things I’ve been learning along the way.

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1. I am so very thankful for my husband and kiddos. Can you tell? The munchkins make it in to the majority of my pictures and even the ones that don’t include a munchkin usually represent a moment that did involve one or both of them. While two little ones make life busy and sometimes overwhelming, I certainly am grateful for my girls and wouldn’t trade them for anything in the world. Not clean floors or grown-up conversation or free time or sleep or anything else! As for Dan, I’ve been resisting the urge to write down “Dan” or “time with Dan” or anything of the sort, saving those ones for special days. No repeats allowed, you know.

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2. I love weekends! I actually keep a journal and during my quiet time each day I try to write down at least three things I’m thankful for. One Friday I looked back and realized that “Friday!” was making the list over and over (exclamation mark and all). I love Fridays because once Dan comes home from work, he doesn’t leave me until Monday. (I do not love Mondays). Saturdays are my Dan day. Sundays are nice too, but with church we spend more time talking to others. My “Fridays” haven’t made it into a picture yet because it feels too easy. I’m trying to make myself be specific.

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3. The real lesson I’ve been learning is that it’s just not enough to be thankful for one thing a day. I can quite vividly recall fuming in frustration one afternoon. I was standing in my kitchen looking out at the messy living room, upset that the day had gone so terribly. There was not a grateful bone in my body as I stood there and this lesson hit me. It wasn’t working. Not that day anyway. And I realized that it’s not enough to make a little list of blessings, even if you do it every day. I want my life to be one of continual gratitude and joy, in each moment, in each difficulty, trusting God and rejoicing in the blessings He’s given me. I am learning to count my blessings and trust God’s long-term plan. It’s not quick or clean or easy, but I can see that God is making me a more grateful person. But I always come back to the place where I am so thankful that it’s not based on me at all but on what Jesus did for me. I’ll never be good enough. This project is just another way that God is showing me I’m not and never will be. Thank God I don’t have to be. He is.

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And so wraps up one month of twelve. One month closer to my 27th birthday. One month behind me filled with little happy moments. Eleven months to go.

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Meijer Meltdown

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A couple of days ago I decided it would be nice to get out of the house. So I packed up my girls and we headed out for a morning walk to Meijer. I’ve had a couple of small projects in mind for a while now and wanted to check out some prices. So begins my story, but first allow me to fill you in on some necessary background details.

A couple weeks ago, during another Meijer trip, I introduced Lydia to Sandy. Sandy is the brown horse ride every Meijer seems to have that only costs one penny. I told Lydia that, if we found a penny on the ground, we could use it to ride Sandy. We did not find a penny. We found a nickel. So you all know what that means, right? Five rides on Sandy. No, not all in the same day. I don’t know how it is at every Meijer, but the Sandy we know and love is in very high demand and it would be inconsiderate to take more than one ride in a row. Anyway, Sandy was a hit and has since become an almost necessary part of every Meijer trip. Lydia loves her, and for only a penny, how could we say no?

The second thing you need to know to thoroughly appreciate this story is that I have been pondering two small projects for a while now. The first is a “Bible Memory Book” for Lydia. She has done so well learning her verses (she’s up to five now), that I thought it would be fun to document her work. I was looking, on this particular trip, for a sturdy blank notebook. Whenever Lydia learns a new verse, I plan to record the verse and the date she learned it, then let her draw a picture. Just think how much fun she’ll have looking back at that ten or twenty years from now.

The second project I’ve been thinking about is a “Mommy Book”. I wanted a pretty journal to start recording special moments with my kiddos, birth pictures, inspiring notes and verses, that sort of thing. When I get stressed out or frustrated, or am just having a hard time doing my job, I can pull out the book and be reminded of how much I love my job and my munchkins. While Lydia won’t enjoy the project directly, I think she’ll benefit from its fruit.

So, back to my story. We headed to Meijer and all was going well. The air was cool and fresh and it felt good to be outside. As soon as we got to Meijer, Abby started crying. She cried through the aisles and all the way to the notebooks. Lydia wandered off to the end of the aisle where there was a collection of children’s books, while I priced out notebooks and journals and tried to keep the stroller moving so Abby would quiet down.

Then a lady asked, “Is that your baby screaming?”

“Uh, yeah…” I started to feel uncomfortable.

After she left, more and more people began to walk by. Maybe it was just my self-conscious imagination, but I was sure they were all annoyed at the crying baby and thinking me an incompetent mother. So I decided, sadly, it was time to leave without the notebook or journal. I grabbed Lydia’s hand and moved out of the aisle only to find myself with two very upset children. Lydia didn’t want to go home. So I decided it was really time to go and turned around to return the children’s books that Lydia has snuck into my basket. Then she really lost it. She wanted those books!

We hurried through the store, me pushing crying Abby and holding screaming Lydia. Oh dear. When we got to the doors the ruckus got even louder because Lydia realized she wasn’t going to get to ride Sandy. The rest of the morning was an absolute nightmare. Lydia wouldn’t put on her coat without riding Sandy. I wasn’t going to reward her outbursts with a Sandy ride. So I tried to get Lydia’s coat on, while the girls cried in harmony. Every time I put an arm in, Lydia took the other one out. Then she tried to unbutton it. And I’m sure every one within hearing distance thought I was just a monster for refusing to let my child ride the one cent pony.

The amazing part of the story was that I never lost it. By God’s grace I made it home completely unflustered.

After we were home again and the shoes and coats were put away, I started to think a little more about that trip and God showed me a lesson for my own life.

I am Lydia. I want those children’s books and I want to ride that pony. I don’t want to walk any farther and I don’t understand why God is taking me down a boring aisle to look at notebooks. I want what I want and I certainly can’t imagine that whatever He is doing is something I could possibly appreciate any more than that pony ride and those children’s books.

Let me break it down a bit more.

Lately God has taken Dan and I through changes we never wanted. Job changes. Housing changes. NICU changes. And we follow Him and I think of all the nice things I want. A nice house that we get to live in for more than a few months. A job where Dan can be home all of the time and love working at more than he loves playing baseball. A baby that makes it to a full 40 weeks and only spends two days in the hospital. And, as God takes me where He wants me to go, I look at all these other things and think how lovely they are, and I ask God for them. Meanwhile God is elsewhere working on something else that I don’t understand at all. But, like my projects for Lydia, I know that God’s plans are better, longer lasting, and for my own good. Someday I will look back and appreciate the trip we took and the gifts He was preparing. Someday I will be grateful that He didn’t do what I wanted and just give me a kid book and a 30 second ride on a pony.

I’ve been continuing my project: one year of thankful, but I’ve realized something more. While noticing blessings along the way will make the trip more enjoyable, the thing that makes the real difference is trusting that God has something good planned, something better than my own plans. Good for me. Good for my family. Good for Him. Good for His kingdom.

Kids have meltdowns in Meijer. It happens. And I’ve totally learned not to look down on a parent when their kid is crying because he didn’t get to ride Sandy. But grown-ups have meltdowns too. Sandy will always be a reminder to me, to trust God’s plans. They are better than the 30 second pony ride I think I want.

Romans 8:28
And we know that God causes all thing to work together for good to those who love God,
to those who are called according to His purpose.

One Thing Christians Should Keep Saying

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Dan was on the phone with an old friend the other day. After chatting about the long winter and the latest developmental milestones of their children, his friend turned the conversation to work.

“How’s work these days?”

For those of you who don’t know, Dan is trained in math and computer programming. He says the buzz word for his work is “data scientist”, but everyone I’ve ever told that to has never heard of a data scientist. So now I just tell people he sits at a computer all day doing hard math.

Dan answered his friends question,

“I’ve been really burdened. As luck would have it, last year was the most prosperous yet for my company. And it looks like this year I’ll be making even more money.”

The words came out of his mouth without much thought. It was like brushing his teeth in the morning or “Goodnight” after tucking Lydia in to bed.

No, this didn’t really happen. And, no, that is certainly not what Dan would say.

I’ve noticed an article floating around Facebook lately called “The One Thing Christians Should Stop Saying”. Now, I don’t make a habit of clicking on every link I see posted on Facebook because I would spend my whole day reading articles of questionable value. But when I see the same link posted over and over by people I know, I tend to skim through it. This particular article was one such example, but as I read through it I started to feel disturbed. As I talked it over with Dan, we both came to agree that the writer, Scott Dannemiller, has missed the point.

You can check it out yourself, it’s not very long. The thesis of the article is that we need to stop referring to our material prosperity as a blessing from God.

He makes the following points:

– When our businesses prosper, we shouldn’t announce to others that our year was blessed.
– When “material windfalls” come our way, we shouldn’t automatically credit them to God.
– God doesn’t give us material things as a reward or incentive for our faith.
– Calling ourselves blessed for our “stuff” can offend poor Christians and promote the “theology of prosperity”.
– The beattitudes (
Matthew 5:1-12) and claims that Jesus is defining the word, “blessing” by his list (the poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart). – – In fact, those who do prosper in this life aren’t blessed at all, states Dannemiller, they’re burdened.
– Our ultimate blessing comes from knowing God, not having stuff.

There are certainly some important points brought up in this article. God does not guarantee material prosperity or a comfortable life to His followers. (Second Timothy 3:12 says, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.) And we are to find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in God, not money or stuff.

But nowhere in the Bible does God tell His followers to seek poverty, discomfort, or persecution. God wants to give his children good things, and, yes, those things can be material. God rewards Job’s faithfulness with an abundance of material possessions. Joseph suffers throughout his life and God brings him to a place of authority and prosperity. Solomon, when he pleases God by asking for wisdom, is promised wealth and honor in addition to wisdom.

And, while the Bible doesn’t teach a prosperity Gospel, there is often an earthly blessing in following Godly wisdom and principles. The Proverbs offer advice on acquiring wealth (work hard, practice generosity, and don’t cosign on loans). Nations that repent and turn to God are protected. Nations that turn against God suffer judgement, including pain, suffering, and famine.

The thing Christians need to remember is that the Lord gives and the Lord takes away, and giving or taking, He is to be thanked and praised. When our country prospers economically, we should thank God and give Him credit. When crops do well, the weather cooperates, milk and honey abound, and businesses prosper, we need to give Him thanks. These things are not “material windfalls”. They are not mystical or random. God is sovereign over all things, and He is not happy when people forget that all good things come from Him.

As for the beatitudes…I would argue that Jesus is not defining the word blessing. Blessing means happiness. Jesus doesn’t need to say, “blessed are the rich” because nobody needs to tell them that. They have their blessing already and they know it. He’s challenging our thoughts and encouraging His followers. God is sovereign in all situations, plenty or want, sickness or health.

Psalm 107:8-9
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wondrous works to the children of man! For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.

Romans 1:21
For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Deuteronomy 8:10
And you shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.

Jeremiah 5:24-25
They do not say in their hearts, ‘Let us fear the Lord our God, who gives the rain in its season, the autumn rain and the spring rain, and keeps for us the weeks appointed for the harvest.’ Your iniquities have turned these away, and your sins have kept good from you.

So, no, don’t expect to prosper just because you are a Christian. Don’t promise new believers an easy life. But, yes, give thanks to God for the material prosperity that He gives. Call it a blessing from God when you can afford good food for your family and a soft pillow to sleep on. Yes, give God thanks when life is happy and easy and comfortable. And continue to thank Him when things get hard, you lose your job, or babies are born two months early. Be responsible and generous with your abundance. But don’t forget where all good gifts come from, who they come from.

Break My Plans

I mentioned a little while ago that God has been teaching me not to depend on my own plans. He’s still teaching me. As I think back over the past year, it seems like we’ve been struck by blow after blow of changed plans with only a couple of months in between each new change. I’m naturally a reflective sort of person, but over the past week I’ve found myself reflecting more than normal.

During one such reflecting time a song burst into my mind that I hadn’t heard or thought of in years. It’s called “Break My Plans” and, while the story it tells is much more serious than our own lately, the chorus hit home.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

Since popping into my head last week it has continued to repeat. Over and over. It has become my prayer.

During church this Sunday more stories, verses and quotes filled my mind in a sequential order that we now joke of as my own special conference featuring guest speakers: Darlene Deibler Rose, Job, and Hudson Taylor. Later, C.S. Lewis shared his two cents as well.

I was struggling to sing songs of worship when things down here were feeling hard and God felt so far away. That God knows and cares didn’t feel true.

The words of Hebrews 11:1 welled up, unbeckoned, to fill my mind: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” The evidence of things not seen. Evidence not seen – that was what I put my trust in – not in feelings or moments of ecstasy, but in the unchanging Person of Jesus Christ. Suddenly I realized I was singing:

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace,
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

I was assured that my faith rested not on feelings, not on moments of ecstasy, but on the Person of my matchless, changeless Savior, in Whom is no shadow caused by turning. In a measure I felt I understood what Job meant when he declared, “Though He slay me, yet will I trust in Him” (13:15). Job knew the character of the One in Whom he had put his trust. It was faith stripped of feelings, faith without trappings. More than ever before, I knew that I could always put my trust, my faith, in my glorious Lord.

(Darlene Deibler Rose)

“Then Job arose and tore his robe and shaved his head and fell on the ground and worshiped.”
(Job 1:20)

“But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life.”
(John 4:1)

“To know that ‘shall’ means shall, that ‘never’ means never, and that ‘thirst’ means any unsatisfied need, may be one of the greatest revelations God every made to our souls.”
(Hudson Taylor)

“We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.”
(C.S. Lewis)

 

Break My Plans
by This Hope

The praise songs of a nation flowed from his hand
And in a world of dark oppression he made a stand
They told him to be silent, and led him away
Ten years was the sentence, a prisoner of faith

As he waited for God’s timing
Another winter chilled the air
And when he thought of his own family
He was filled with despair
So he cried out for justice, was there any other way
But then he gave it all to Jesus, as he began to pray

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord

I know I’m called to suffer and take up my cross
But sometimes I grow so fearful when I count the cost
Still my heart wants to follow, and walk in Your ways
To be counted with the faithful, Lord guide me today

With all my heart, my strength, and my soul
I will love You, God
So use my life and take complete control.

Break my plans, shape my heart
Take my will to where You are
Move my mind through Your Word
‘Til all that I am lives to love You, Lord