Tag: control (page 1 of 3)

What Do Formation and Escape Have to Do With You?

As I write this, I’m sitting in an airport lounge in Seoul, Korea.

We’ve been in the air over 17 hours and have 5 more to go in order to reach Hanoi, Vietnam, our destination.  I have something to drink, and a soft chair, and an internet connection, and I’m blessed to be heading to see the work of God in a new part of the world (to me). This is the best case scenario.

Still, travel represents one of the everyday experiences God can use for transformation. When we travel, so much is out of our control.

Think cancelled flights, lost luggage, crying babies, delays, and slow people who clog the TSA lines.

It doesn’t matter if it’s international travel, or going to Target with two toddlers in tow, our formation often comes in situations we want to escape from.

I think of another “traveler” – Moses – and his “toddlers”, the Israelites. If he had had his choice he probably would have gone it alone, and preferred straight line from Egypt to the Promised Land, bypassing the 40 years in the desert wandering thing.

When the Israelites are being difficult, Moses says, “What am I to do with these people?” Which is exactly the question you may be asking today.

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Worst. Parents. Ever.

Do you ever feel this way? Like you must be the worst parents ever?

Do you feel like you’re perpetually living a Plan B Christmas? Like NOTHING is going right?

Amazon was out of the Syma S107 Remote Control Helicopter so your child will probably have to be in therapy because they will be warped – devastated by disappointment, and labeled with a huge L.

You ran out of time, so instead of homemade cookies for the Christmas pageant reception you ran through Target to scoop up some store-bought ones, which actually took you an hour and 17 minutes (almost as long as it would have taken you to bake them).

Decorating the Christmas tree was supposed to be a fun family activity, but your 4-year-old swooped around the tree in his superman costume and knocked off two of the heirloom ornaments from your mother, breaking them into tiny pieces which the dog immediately ate. You’re still cleaning up glittery dog vomit.

You’re not alone.

Have you ever thought that maybe Mary and Joseph felt like the worst parents ever?

Trying to adapt to a Plan B life, they’ve absorbed the loss of a traditional wedding and “It’s a Wonderful Life” family.

Now they’ve had 9 months to adjust to the news that Mary is growing, you know… GOD in her womb, and like any expectant parents they’re probably nervous but preparing to do their best.

Maybe Joseph has made a cradle. Maybe Mary’s mom is ready to come and help out when the baby arrives. They probably have a PLAN for Pete’s sake!

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I’m guessing that walking 90 miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to register for the census was not part of their plan.

What do you think they felt as they traveled? Did their fear of the unknown come out sideways in anger or impatience with each other? Did their out-of-controlness in the big things cause them to be controlling with each other in the little things?

Maybe Mary figured that since she was carrying royalty, God would alert others in Bethlehem and someone would put her up in a beautiful home. Nope. Didn’t happen.

Did they hope that at least Plan B would include a modest room and a little privacy?  No luck there either.

In the stable – stinky, dirty, crowded, what were they thinking? Were they feeling like the worst parents ever?

We can’t know the anguished labor pains that may have come from Mary, or the desperate pleas that Joseph may have given for help because they aren’t recorded.

Did they felt confidently carried in the will of God, or did they felt panicky, like when company shows up early and you’re not ready?

What we do know is this. They did what they could. They accepted the unexpected with commitment and creativity. And that’s all we can do as parents.

“Help” is a prayer that is always answered. It doesn’t matter how you pray–with your head bowed in silence, or crying out in grief, or dancing. Churches are good for prayer, but so are garages and cars and mountains and showers and dance floors. Years ago I wrote an essay that began, “Some people think that God is in the details, but I have come to believe that God is in the bathroom.” – Anne Lamott

God is with you. In the dirty stable, or the bathroom or when you think you’re going to lose it with your mother-in-law.

You aren’t the worst parent ever. But you’re not the best parent ever either, because He is.

 

The Fields Preached Me a Sermon

In the predawn dark I see twinkle lights have dressed the trees on the square outside my Starbucks, but the fountain will be on for a few more days.

We’ve had a frost, but half the leaves are still holding on for dear life, like a climber dangling from a rocky cliff precipice, desperately clinging. They share one final gasp of color – a last hurrah.

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It’s that in-between time when change is coming and it may seem dark and ominous like that spooky abandoned house, or maybe to you it’s an invitation to comfy hibernation – a soft place by the fire while the wind howls in the dark outside.

Creation is my spiritual pathway. I love seeing more of God and myself through His hand in nature. When I walk I love to ask, “Lord, what do you have to show me about yourself and myself today?”

The other day this line struck me from my morning reading

The fields preached me a sermon. Proverbs 24:33 MSG

Isn’t that great?

One of the things I love about waking early in the morning is that when I walk to Starbucks, the stars are still bright and are such a powerful reminder that I did NOTHING to put them there, or keep them there, or guard them through the nighttime hours. They were there yesterday, and will be there tomorrow. Because God.

I breathe deeply and relax in His sovereignty. I am not the boss of the stars, or the leaves, the fields or the streams. They will keep growing, waking, sleeping, flowing. Because God.

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William Bebe was a friend of Teddy Roosevelt’s. He said the two of them would go out on the lawn at night and search the skies for a certain spot of star-like light near the lower left-hand corner of the Great Square of Pegasus.

Roosevelt would say: “That is the Spiral Galaxy in Andromeda. It is as large as our Milky Way. It is one of a hundred million galaxies. It consists of one hundred billion suns, each larger than our sun.” Then Roosevelt would grin and say, “Now I think we are small enough! Let’s go to bed.”

Lift up your eyes on high And see who has created these stars, The One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; Because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, Not one of them is missing. Isaiah 40:26

When our eyes look up, our anxiety goes down.

What sermon do the fields, or the stars, have to preach us today?

Living a Plan B Life

I’m taking a blogging sabbatical this summer, but will occasionally be sharing some posts from the past. Hope you’re soaking up God’s goodness and catching glimpses of His everyday grace!

Ice cubes.  6 small potatoes.  A get-well card.

Sometimes in line at the grocery store don’t you feel like the check-out folks are wondering, “What’s she really up to??”

In this case, each item represented “Plan B” on a day that screamed “I live a PLAN B LIFE!” in big and small ways.

  • The ice cubes were for our broken ice maker. (first world problems, right??)
  • The potatoes for a recipe gone wrong.
  • The card for a friend having a double mastectomy.

But this was just a small glimpse of bigger realities of disappointments and losses that got me asking questions like:

  • Lord, why is everyone else always in control and why do I never get my way?  (Clearly no Theresa of Avila here!)
  • Where are You in this and what are You trying to teach me?  Submission?  Humility?  Trust in your redemptive power? (Could I have Door 2 instead please?)
  • Is there anyone not living a “Plan B” life?  (Hard for me to think of anyone, but then I didn’t really want to think about anyone else cuz this was all about ME!)
  • How did Your Bible guys handle Plan B’s?  (Moses, David, Abraham, Paul…wow, a lot of Plan B’s)

Somehow, the most important Plan B discipline for the Bible guys seemed to be leaning in.  Not understanding necessarily.  Not having 1-2-3 answers.  But having the faith to say, “I choose to believe in you, God, more than this disappointment.”

Perhaps the spiritual discipline of Plan B involves giving up the illusion of control…giving up trying to write our own story and letting God write His story through us.

Or this…One line stood out in my Bible reading yesterday morning…

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone?…How much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” (Mt.7)

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I wonder how often God’s bread just looks like a stone to me because I think I know better than Him how my good gift should appear.  Part of the discipline of Plan B seems to be trusting in God’s goodness...His identity even when we can’t see or understand His activity.

Clearly I don’t have this figured out.  This is just me, wrestling with God after a Plan B day in a Plan B life.

I like to have a plan for everything.  And like all people, I like the plan to go my way.  Plan B is not my strong suit, but maybe it is actually my sweet spot (and yours), because it puts me where God wants me, needing to lean into Him.  For His grace.  His presence.  His power.  His understanding.

What’s your Plan B situation?  What are you learning in it about spiritual discipline?

Choose Your Own Adventure??

Remember those Choose Your Own Adventure books maybe you read as a kid ?

In each story, you, the reader, get to make choices that determine the main character’s actions in response to the plot and its outcome.

We like Choose Your Own Adventures because we have control, right?

But real-life God capers aren’t necessarily like that.

ADVENTUROUSLY EXPECTANT is my One Word for this year.

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike “What’s next, Papa?” Romans 8:15

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Recently I received an invitation to participate in a trip and project with World Vision. It was totally unexpected. I was grateful for the invitation, but I wasn’t sure I was the right person for the project, and it is at a very inconvenient time when I’ll have to miss out on some meaningful events at home.

This isn’t just about me. Our two daughters recently had new job opportunities to consider. A young friend of mine is trying to discern where to go to college, and another started her own business.

When an invitation comes or a new opportunity presents itself (think new job, new project, new challenge), consider these steps:

  1. Ask friends to pray and give feedback.
  2. Ask questions:
    • What are the expectations of me before, during and after? (Every time we say “yes” to something, it means saying “no” to other things)
    • Are my gifts in line with this opportunity? Will I potentially add value by saying yes?
    • Is this opportunity or move likely to draw me closer to Jesus, or distract me from following Him?

3.  Pay attention to the promptings of the Holy Spirit (not your ego).

This recent invitation made me think of the story in the Bible of Paul and the man from Macedonia. Take a look, and try not to get bogged down in all the weird names.

Acts 16:6-10

6-8 They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas.

9-10 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. 

It’s not wrong to make plans as long as we’re paying attention to the ways the Holy Spirit may want to tweak, refine, or change them.

Like I wrote at the beginning of the year, I’m trying to learn more about my “One Word”, so I read this and I reflect…What can I learn about God and myself?

  • God’s adventures are sometimes often inconvenient. I like convenience.
  • God’s adventures require open hands. I like control.
  • God’s adventures need us to pay attention. I am spiritually ADHD.

Sometimes the adventure lies in saying “no”, sometimes in saying “yes”. After prayer and counsel, I said “yes” to this opportunity. What about you? Where are you in the process of being adventurously expectant?

How do we Live a Plan B Christmas?

Last week I had the privilege of speaking at a women’s event in the Chicago area. As I prepared, I felt prompted to speak on kind of a strange topic for Christmas: Fear.

AKA worry, anxiety, angst, hot messiness…

The shepherds, Mary, Joseph, Zechariah… To each of them an angel says, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. Don’t. be. afraid.”

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It’s the most often repeated command in the Bible so I’m thinking there must be a lot of people dealing with it, right?

Fear is a weird emotion to associate with Christmas, but as I reflect on the shepherds, Mary, Zechariah and Joseph, it isn’t “CHRISTMAS” they are experiencing; it’s just LIFE – their ordinary, everyday walking around life.

And they lose any illusion of control, any illusion of “life as we know it” the moment an angel shows up, right?!!

LIFE isn’t going according to their plans.

They are living a life interrupted.

They are forced to adapt to a Plan B life.

The Plan B life may not be as safe, or predictable, or comfortable, or boring as they’d like, because there are new circumstances. But more than that, there’s a new character in their story. The main character has arrived; the messiah cleverly disguised as a baby in the muck and mess of a manger.

How many of us are living our Plan A life? Really.

  • You thought you’d have your dream job by now and you don’t.
  • You thought you’d be pregnant and you’re not.
  • You thought you’d he’d live and but he died.
  • You thought you’d be married by now and you’re not.

Plan B. Life is not going as we thought. Or hoped. Or dreamed.

But the main character, a baby has entered our Plan B life to be with us; to redeem and restore and make the story come out right in the end. 

Aaaannnd…spoiler alert: Love wins.

But how do we get from the fear or anxiety that comes with Plan B to the joy promised to all of us? Continue reading

What to do When You Don’t Know What to Do

I’m trying to get my feet back on the ground after a stretching season, so today, a re-post from 4 years ago. 

I ran into a 23-year-old friend the other day and asked how she was doing. “Being in your twenties is…awkward!” she answered.  “All these questions about what you’re going to do with your life…who you’ll be, where you’ll go…what to say ‘yes’ to.”

That same day I had coffee with a fifty-something friend who said her son is wrestling with some of the same unsettledness, and she herself is in a time of transition that has raised questions about God’s direction.  She said, “I thought by this age I’d have it figured out and be cruising along!”

24 hours earlier I had had dinner with a thirty-something friend who said, “My life looks a lot different now than I thought it would.”

Each person’s situation was different, but there was a common theme.  If I were God (a job that’s apparently already taken) I’d give detailed instructions like:

“Susan, I want you to move to 673 Elm St., Provo Utah,  join the Church-of-People-on-the-Right-Track, take the job with State Farm, (not General Mills), and order the tomato soup at Panera for lunch.”

And sometimes in the Bible God does that, like when God gives Ananias specific instructions (Acts 9:11) to go to the house of Judas on the street called Straight, (Love it!), but often it’s a bit fuzzier, like in Acts 15:28 where Paul writes, “It seemed good to us and the Holy Spirit…”

When I’m in seasons of discernment and transition, the three words that I feel like God often whispers to me are “Open your hands”

  • Open your hands…to release your plans in favor of God’s. Acknowledge your dreams, but don’t clutch them.  Release them to God to change, add, refine…
  • Open  your hands…to receive counsel from wise advisors who know you well, but don’t clutch it either.
  • Open your hands…to use what God has put in them, whether that seems like saying “yes” to dramatic invitations, or something that seems very small and quiet.  Respond to what God has put right in front of you.

That’s just me.  What has been helpful to you when making life decisions?  What have you sensed God whispering to you?

Why we Need the Discipline of Looking Up

Have you ever thought about what down-lookers we are?  Everyday I get stuck looking down.  Down at my to-do list, and at the pairs of feet in line in front of me. Down the city street at traffic holding me up, down at my computer screen, down at the veggies I’m cutting up for dinner, and down at my shoes striking the pavement as I run, dodging ice or slush.

That changed for awhile this week when I had the incredible joy of joining a friend for a play date in Florida.

And in addition to all kinds of play and laughter and good conversation, we took time to look up.  A lot.

We looked up, towards the stars and the sun and the horizon and the magical rhythmic dance of day and night and day again.

We watched the sunset every night and marveled at the shape and color of the clouds and the crazy pelicans above, who in one moment can glide gracefully in formation over the water like the Blue Angels, and in the next minute plop straight down onto the water to catch a fish in the most UNgraceful mini cannonball move. IMG_9214 IMG_9222

As I was watching the sunrise this morning, and thinking how it was nighttime for my friends on the other side of the world, I also thought how this looking up is one of the most important disciplines of my life with God.FullSizeRender-2 Continue reading

5 Questions About…Risk

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Sharon is a dear friend who both inspires and intimidates me with her amazingness.  She has guest-posted here before.  I’m so thankful that in the midst of a busy, stressful time, she was willing to share some more of what she’s learning.  Here’s the next in our 5 Questions About…series.

1. Recently you took what must have felt like a huge risk. Can you tell us about it?

Eight months ago, I resigned from a job I had loved and made the leap to running my own business. This happened after an extended season of prayer and discernment, so by the time I made the change, I felt certain it was the right thing to do.

Yes, there were practical risks involved: leaving a certain income, benefits, 401K; losing the familiarity of my office and team. And as a single person, I didn’t have a safety net of a second income, back-up insurance, or a support person to pick up slack in other areas of life. But I was also very clear about why I was making the change: 1) to be faithful to what I understood God was putting in my hands; 2) to learn and grow through a new challenge.

So when I framed it that way, I realized that even if my business failed (and I had to move into my parents’ basement), I would experience God in deeper ways and learn things I wouldn’t otherwise. Continue reading

One Thing I Want to Know When Life is Hard

It’s summertime, and if you’re anything like me you’re drinking deeply from the cup o’ awesome.  The smoky smell of barbecue and friends gathered on the patio, an icy drink after a sweaty bike ride, boating on the lake as the sun sets (EVERY lake in Minnesota is THE lake), the smell of fresh cut grass, and kids running through the sprinkler… This is my neighborhood.  This is my summer.IMG_2316IMG_4309

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But this Norman Rockwell and Mayberry picture exists in stark contrast to the conversations I’ve been part of the past few weeks.  Conversations permeated by the aroma of despair and disappointment, a thirst for redemption and healing in hard situations where spouses aren’t showing up, and parents grieve over the choices their kids are making and people can be just plain mean.  And we want to fix it all, using our plans, our timeline with a little bit of God sprinkled on top.

Isn’t that THE story of all of us, starting way back with Adam and Eve?  We want to be God.  Period.  We want control, but we’re not capable. And so God brings us to the end of ourselves time after time  And we once again bow down, draw close, seek Him…and submit to a plan better than ours – a plan that we may not see clearly this side of heaven.

In all of these conversations, hearing so much heaviness, I’ve been asking myself, if not to fix, what IS our role in community?

One small inkling from the Holy spirit came from an unlikely place.  We decided to host a backyard bbq for our neighborhood.  DSC00423Now, as someone who hosts a lot of gatherings in her home, let me tell you, these things are always messy and never turn out the way you plan (much like life).

It rains, or people don’t rsvp and then show up, or come at the wrong time, or you remember about their peanut-gluten-dairy-banana allergy as they walk in the door.  You can’t “fix” it, you just have to show up and welcome whatever comes. Continue reading

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