Every Detail

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Have you ever searched online for a recipe using the ingredients you actually have in the house? Have you clicked on the suggested site and then had to plow through the details of the cook’s day before finding the instructions way down at the bottom under photos of her aunt’s birthday party? Have you ever said to yourself in exasperation, “All I want to know is how many eggs?

Have you ever been trapped by the expectation of polite silence placed on the captured pew audience and listened to a rambling sermon that seemed to include a dozen unrelated illustrations plucked at random from the Good Book. Have you wondered where this was going, if anywhere?

Have you ever said to someone, “How are you?” and they took your question as a literal invitation to recite their medical records? Have you wondered if you should send flowers now or wait for the funeral should they actually succumb to toenail fungus?

Have you ever wanted to say, “I don’t have time for this. Please just get to the point?”

I’m sure people have with me. One of the advantages of writing is the ability to edit out superfluous detail. People don’t have time to travel rabbit trails with me, and frankly, even the most caring among us does not have the capacity to listen to every detail, let alone delight in it.

Have you ever asked your child or grandchild about the classic movie a friend took them to and been delighted to hear every detail, from the story of the kid who spilled his popcorn in the lobby to a description of the hero’s father’s home planet? Our delight is not in the movie. We’ve seen it. Our delight is in the relationship. We rejoice in the child’s joy.

People who have lost spouses or friends, or have been separated from them for long periods of time, tell me the hardest part is not having anyone to share good news with. Someone who cares about the details of your day, someone who doesn’t communicate with watch checking or key jangling that they just want you to get to the point, someone who actually enjoys being in your presence is one of the greatest gifts to our souls’ well-being.

Here’s the most beautiful thing about our relationship with God. He has all the time in the world. He has an infinite capacity to care. He delights in you and every detail of your life.

When I first started on a journey to get to know God better I decided to go on a long walk with Jesus. I didn’t know what to say, so I told him about a movie I had seen. I pretended I was holding his hand like I was a child. I didn’t listen much. I didn’t know I could. After a few days of telling him about the details of my life no one else seemed interested in, he began to tell me about the things he cared about. It began with a flower in the woods, and a bird in the tree.

I began to listen. I wept with him. I rejoiced with him. Because he listens.

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The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
He delights in every detail of their lives.

Though they stumble, they will never fall,
for the Lord holds them by the hand.

(Psalm 37:23, 24 NLT)

Save

Love-a-ly

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“What a love-a-ly day! We are going to have a beautiful day today, Nana!” my little granddaughter said as she ran down the trail down to the lake. “Look! Look! Look!”

Soon other children joined her to watch a flock of birds swooping over the turquoise water.

“That’s so amazing! Wahoo!!”

I love the way children greet the morning with enthusiasm. They teach me the joy of wonder.

Yes! It’s here! A new day! And it’s beautiful. Wahoo!

Thank you, Lord.

Praise, my soul, the King of Heaven;
To His feet thy tribute bring.

Ransomed,
healed,
restored,
forgiven,

Evermore His praises sing:
Praise Him, praise Him, alleluia!
Praise the everlasting King.

Trust Me

 

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I have encountered enough narcissistic and sociopathic personalities in my lifetime that if a charming new acquaintance says, “Trust me,” I’m pretty sure I should do just the opposite.

In this time in history the Lord seems to be exposing hidden corruption in formerly trusted institutions. Whether revelations involve government, media, medicine, education, religion, or even dark family secrets mouldering away in too many basements, it is easy to become jaded.

When the foundations are crumbling, what can we do?

We are facing a national and international crisis of trust. Who do we believe? Who is not secretly self-serving? This is not limited to individuals who lack empathy. Special interest groups and even entire countries seem to be following a me-first narcissistic agenda.

Many people are shouting, “You’ve got to do something!” Few people have helpful suggestions.

As I face situations all around me which I cannot possibly fix and am tempted to go into over-responsible eldest child overdrive I hear my heavenly Father’s voice.

Trust Me.

I do, Lord. Mostly. I wish I could trust you more. I just don’t know how.

Grace.

Grace?

Grace not only allows you to see who I am, it reveals who I am not. My Grace trumps the world’s expectations.

I pondered this. My past experience taught me to expect punishment, criticism, disapproval, disappointment, nasty surprises, betrayal.

Then I watch the little grandchildren I have been caring for. They are so sweet. I don’t have to be fashionably attractive, or legally vetted, or financially well-endowed, or Good Housekeeping-approved to earn a genuine spontaneous hug. They trust me.

I make mistakes, and accidentally step on toes or forget which coloured bowl they prefer, but I adore them and would never intentionally do anything to harm them. They know that. They trust me to protect them, nurture them and have their best interests at heart. They take me at my word and don’t question my motives.

Jesus said, “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Our Father in heaven is not like the authority figures who have let us down. Not even close. A lot of the process of learning to regain child-like trust involves letting go of lies we have been believed about God.

A song from my childhood has been playing in my head this week.

“‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus
Just to take Him at His word;
Just to rest upon His promise,
Just to know, “Thus saith the Lord.”

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him!
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er!
Jesus, Jesus, precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more!” 

-Louisa M. R. Stead

Here’s the thing. Babies don’t trust parents because they have read a resume or done a performance evaluation or run a background check. Babies trust because they have no options. Becoming like a child is simply resting and letting God be who he is – someone who knows and loves every hair, every cell, every heartbeat.

Unlike our own parents he will never drop us on our heads or use us to serve his unmet needs. He will not place responsibilities upon us that are too heavy for our level of maturity, nor will he enable learned helplessness by restricting our freedom to grow.

I hear him say, “So you’re out of options. I’m not. Trust me.”

IMG_0224But Jesus called the children to him and said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” (Luke 18: 16,17 NIV)

On his lap. It’s the best place to be.

 

Freedom Training

Hiding

As the reflections of our pride upon our defects are bitter, disheartening, and vexatious, so the return of the soul towards God is peaceful and sustained by confidence. You will find by experience how much more your progress will be aided by this simple, peaceful turning towards God, than by all your chagrin and spite at the faults that exist in you.
– Francois Fenelon

A few years ago, when he was a wee lad, a child I know and love was becoming accustomed to the concept of both freedom and taking increasing responsibility for his choices. I watched him as he encountered one of the first steps to maturity: potty training.

Spiderman underwear was fun to wear and all, but sometimes the burden of getting up and walking away from the sandbox or the Lego blocks when he was in the creative zone was too heavy. Sometimes you don’t know what your limits are until you’ve passed them. And he passed them.

We noticed (eventually) that in moments like these the little guy disappeared. We went looking for him. His daddy called and called but he made no response. Finally, following his nose, his father found him hiding, sometimes in the closet, sometimes behind the furniture, sometimes behind the drapes.

You see, part of the problem was that he had an older sibling, a sibling who taunted him with, “You’re in trouble now! Wait until Daddy gets home! You’re in for it.”

Daddy was perhaps disappointed, but not angry. He understood the weakness of little boys. He did not expect perfection in the learning stages. He wanted his son to succeed and he loved this little boy with a love so big he would have laid down his life for him. Poopy pants was not a deal breaker.

I realized one day that this is often our reaction when we fail to live consistently with changes we want to make in our lives. Like the wee lad we run and hide in shame from the only One who is able to clean us up and set us back on our feet in a refreshed state. Sometimes we sit alone in the closet in poopy pants for days, or even years,  avoiding the very One who offers us mercy and forgiveness. Our heavenly Father loves us so much. He is not surprised by our weaknesses but wants to help us gain freedom from stinky habits by showing us a better way.

Lately I’ve been aware of older sibling-type people who get out their social media megaphones and preach the bad news of “Wait until Daddy gets home! You’re in for it now!” For some reason they are surprised when people don’t run in the direction they suggest. Instead of encouragement older brother-types tend to heap on larger and larger piles of shame that keep those who cannot keep up to standards hiding in dark places.

Jesus Christ says, “Come to me if you are weak. Come to me if you find the burdens placed upon you too heavy. Come to me and I will give you rest and peace in your lonely souls because I am meek and lowly of heart.  I am willing to get down to your level and put my arms around you and love you just as you are, poopy pants and all. Let me clean you up. There is so much more I want to show you! Let’s do this together.”

It’s called grace. Amazing grace.

 

Because You Are Good

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The older kids had already run out the door to catch the school bus. She was in her jammies, her hair matted in a wad of fine blonde fuzz at the back of her head and a greying blankie hanging like a loose toga over her shoulder. Her voice, crackling with the residue of sleep was hard to hear.

“What would you like, honey?” her Mommy asked, as she added raisins to my little granddaughter’s oatmeal.

“Can you put on worship?” she asked again, a little louder this time.

“Sure. I can do that. Which one?”

“Kids worship, please.”

Mommy started a video on the computer on the kitchen desk.

“She asks for music every morning,” she told me. “This is the way she likes to start her day.”

The song played and my little three-year old granddaughter grinned at me.

Your goodness never stops
Your mercy follows me
Your kindness fills my life
Your love amazes me

I sing because You are good
And I dance because You are good
And I shout because You are good
You are good to me!*

Yes, my beautiful young one. You continue to teach me. This is how to start the day.

 

*From Bethel Music Kids/ Come Alive

Choking Hazards

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I bought my granddaughter a jewellery-making kit with 25,000 colourful beads. When I took it out to wrap for her birthday, I thought a while, then put it back in the closet and bought her something else. I was pretty sure she would like it, that was not the problem. The problem? A little sister who got into everything and sometimes put those things in her mouth. Depending on a child’s age this box contained either 25,000 pieces of potential pretty jewelry or 25,000 potential choking hazards.

I was also an eldest child. I know what it’s like to have younger kids’ needs veto mine, but I looked at my granddaughter’s harried mother and her incredibly curious toddler sister and decided to choose safety this time.

But it bugged me. It wasn’t just the memories of having to forego activities because of offendable siblings (because as a mother and grandmother I’ve done this many times without complaint); this time it triggered something else. I realized it represented another problem I am struggling with – when potential choking hazards limit older believers’ spiritual growth, when topics are kept simple to avoid offending people who are still toddlers in their spiritual growth (and I do love toddlers).

Many years ago I volunteered to help a large family. I assumed the mother must really like kids to have so many.

“Actually it’s the babies that I love,” she told me. “When they start getting independent my arms feel empty. I just adore cuddling babies. I can’t imagine home without little ones. They are so much easier to manage than teenagers. If they don’t want to move you just pick them up and move them yourself.”

I looked around. This home was completely centered on the needs of the youngest children. No potentially dangerous toys or tools and definitely no boxes of beads or junior chemistry sets. The older children were expected to look after the younger.  Some of them were remarkably responsible. But some of the teenagers were unhappy and rebellious. No one had time to encourage their individual interests and talents or listen patiently to questions that would lead to long that-depends kinds of conversations. They were set adrift to learn on their own. Some of the older kids did not fare well. They left home as soon as they could, but lacked preparation for life outside the nursery.

I realized that some church communities I have been part of could be a bit like this. When the emphasis is on producing new Christians and teaching them only to the point where they can turn around and serve the needs of the less mature, a kind of stunted growth becomes the norm for some and restlessness begins to emerge in others. Often those who fit into the niche of evangelism and service giftings are happy. Often those who tend to pose hard questions are not.

Service is a very worthwhile undertaking. The problem arises when older “children” in the family lack the opportunity to go beyond the basics, to learn about and explore everything Jesus said and the apostles taught, when they are expected to be satisfied with milk because meat is a choking hazard. They don’t develop discernment because the messy stuff and complicated stuff is kept on a high shelf in the back of the closet, or out of the house completely. The result is often apathy, vulnerability to the world’s philosophy, learned helplessness, and a whole bunch of people dependent on an overworked pastor/parent figure who is just trying to maintain a safe environment where everyone can play nicely.

The writer of Hebrews expresses it this way when trying to explain a deeper understanding of Christ-centered faith: We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity… (Hebrew 5:11-14; 6:1 NIV)

Some of the “elementary teachings” mentioned later in this chapter are not even taught as basics in a lot of church family circles these days. More complex concepts can’t be packaged in a Sunday morning twenty-minute sermon or a week day Bible study with accompanying fill-in-the-blank, tell-me-what-the-author-thinks-verse-six-means study guides. Some questions have answers that require years-long conversations and don’t fit into blanks designed for one sentence. Not even close.

Research shows that a large category of people leaving institutional churches are the ones who have served for years. They are actually looking for more God. (A.B. Simpson called it “The Deeper Life” and in his day had to leave the established church in which he was ordained to pursue it.) These folks are not saying “I’m done with faith.” They love the Church – the body of Christ, the family of God. They are just saying,  “Hey, wait a minute. Is this the glorious church, or is there more, Lord?” They often feel torn between love for family and a drive to pursue more.

If you’re looking for an answer to the question of how to be considerate of people yearning to learn and grow to maturity as well as nurturing new believers vulnerable to choking on hazards or frightened by voices who don’t agree, I don’t  have one – only more questions: What is love? What does grace look like in a household of faith? When do we emphasize security and when do we exemplify freedom? How does honour build everyone up to become God’s temple of living stones?

All I know is that a loving family is concerned about making disciples and equipping all its members to be everything God intended them to be. And we have room to improve.

Days of Preparation

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The horse is prepared for the day of battle,
    but the victory belongs to the Lord.

(Proverbs 21:31 NLT)

This morning Facebook reminded me of an old post I wrote when my granddaughter was about three years old. I enjoyed her ability to give directions around her city when I was babysitting for a few days.

“Go past the tower (tall building) and wait for the green light. Then turn and go past Costco and there it is – Walmart!”

This amused me, so when we needed groceries after her swimming lessons I asked for directions to Superstore.

“Nana, have you been to Superstore before?”

“Yes, dear.”

“Then look into your memory and you can find the way there all by yourself.”

Today I face another battle where the odds are seemingly against me. I’m doing much better at avoiding panic this time, but I needed this prompt to remind me to look into my memory and acknowledge the times when we did all we could – and it was not enough. But God took what ever preparations we made and did something greater than we ever could have imagined.

Resting in the Lord is not about passively flopping on the ground and awaiting rescue. We pick up our five smooth stones, gather as many empty vessels as we can, prepare a sacrifice on an altar, stand before Pharaoh’s armies with nothing but a stick, march around a city seven times, pick up our beds, walk all the way to Damascus to pray for a guy who wants to kill us. We make preparations, we prepare the horse for the day of battle (again), but we know that the victory belongs to the Lord.

That’s resting in the Lord too.