Tag: dreams

When God’s Answer to Prayer Looks Different Than we Expect

It seems like infertility comes up in at least half of the conversations I’m a part.

Or, someone mourns the death of a dream – what feels like unanswered prayer.

I’ve never dealt with infertility personally. I can’t begin to understand the depth of pain, confusion, and frustration that couples experience. But I do know what the death of a dream feels like. I can recognize the expressions of weariness, longing, and “what’s wrong with me that God doesn’t answer this prayer that I feel like is coming from a pure place?”

I have godly, faithful friends who have prayerfully entered into IVF or adoption. They have dreams, but open hands, desiring to be responsive to God’s leading. They do their part. They are responsible. They read and ask questions and look at finances and trust God. They pray for guidance and clear direction and step forward in faith.

And then, and then…. There’s no pregnancy, or no adoption match, or the adopted child endangers the rest of the family and has to be released to a different home.

And my friends are left asking, “Whaaat? God we trusted You!!! We thought we were following your leading!!!! Where did we go wrong?  A + B is supposed to = C! What is wrong with OUR MATH? Don’t you love us? Aren’t you a good God? We thought you were!”

It saddens me when I see people grieving and at the same time, beating themselves up for “Reading God wrong.”

As followers of Jesus we really want to be honest about the desires of our hearts. We also really want God’s direction and want to submit to His will that may look different than ours.

Many years ago, when John and I had been married for a few years and were serving a church in a suburb of Chicago, we began to feel that our time there was coming to a close. We prayed and began to be open to churches that would write John asking him to consider being their pastor.

When I reflect on this time, I think we were as sincere in seeking God’s will as we possibly could be. Our motives were both as pure and as selfish as human motives can be.

We sought counsel from other wise believers. We asked questions. We thought we were listening well, but who knows.

We had interviews with several churches over time and ended up sensing a called to Washington D.C. where John would be the executive associate pastor at a large church. We prayed a LOT about this.

The senior pastor and his wife were godly leaders who would mentor us and became close friends. But other than that, NOTHING was as we expected. NOTHING was easy.

We moved away from our home and family for the first time.

We had no money and moved to the city with the highest cost of living at the time.

I went 8 months pregnant with our second child (the first – Katy – only 19 months old).

We knew no one and moved to a fast-paced, power-obsessed, transient community.

The church, in an urban area drew people from a wide radius averaging 30 minutes away, so we didn’t see the people from our faith community in our neighborhood during the week.

Here’s the thing… We prayed like crazy, but the circumstances didn’t change during the years we lived in D.C. It was just HARD. And it left us questioning, “Did we MISS something, Lord? Is THIS hard thing really Your will?”

I’ll certainly have questions when I get to heaven, but in the meantime, here’s what I see:

  • Circumstances may be hard, but God is still faithful. Rest in His character more than you wrestle with your circumstances. During our time in D.C. He knit us together as a family and drew us to Himself in dependance.

  • Because the answer to our prayer doesn’t look like we expect doesn’t make it any less a good answer.

Mt. 7:11 So if you sinful people know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.

  • God’s will isn’t necessarily the easy thing. It isn’t necessarily the hard thing. He is God. His ways just aren’t our ways. (ugh!)
  • God is not a gleeful trickster with ONE right door for us to choose. There may be more than one choice that will be pleasing to Him, and IF we get it “wrong” He can still redeem it. He is the God of infinite chances.

“Once we can accept that God is in all situations, and that God can and will use even bad situations for good, then everything and everywhere becomes an occasion for good and an encounter with God.” Richard Rohr

 

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You are Elizabeth

Elizabeth is a woman in 1st century Israel. Strike one.

Elizabeth is old. Strike two.

Elizabeth is infertile. Strike three.

Elizabeth experiences the death of a dream to be a mom, to be valued among her family and friends.

And then when God miraculously blesses her with a child, it’s not one who we might imagine to be the straight A, class president, organize of “Meet me at the Pole” prayer day. He’s a weird loner who eats bugs, doesn’t marry, and is beheaded as a young man.

You and I are Elizabeth.

We have things about us that make us feel “less than”. We’ve experienced the death of a dream. Or two.

Here’s the thing about Elizabeth and dreams and us.

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For years, Elizabeth held her dreams with one open hand, but clung to God with the other. 

The challenge for me each day is to hold my dreams in one open hand, while clinging to God with the other.

Our faith is in the character of our God, not the conditions of our day-to-day life.

Might we pray with one open hand, telling God about our dreams and relinquishing them to Him to refine or change as He will? 

And pray with one clinging hand, reciting all about God that we trust in – His goodness, His presence, His strength, His mercy…?

Not Taylor Swift

This morning you will wake up to tweets about “postpartum Taylor Swift disorder” and news about how Kim Kardashian is the hottest mom on the planet.

I want to tell you about someone you won’t see in your Facebook newsfeed, or on the Today Show.

This is one of my new friends who lives in a slum in Lusaka, Zambia.  Her name is Faith and she wears it well.

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Her husband is a pastor. She helps him with the ministry, and cares for six children.  And so that they can make ends meet, she raises chickens in her house.

200 chickens inside her house.  Because she can’t afford to build an outdoor coop. Continue reading

Longings, Set-backs, and 3 Keys to Small Victories

When you wake up each morning, what is it that you long for?  After getting your teeth brushed and perhaps a lunch or two packed, and checking your to-do list, what do you want?  REALLY?

You might answer that a lot of different ways, but I’m betting on one thing.  You long to know that you’re achieving something significant.  I’m with you.

Maybe there’s a goal you’ve gone public with, or one that you’re afraid to say out loud.  It may be big and long-term (like starting your own business with kingdom values, or becoming a lawyer who will help advocate for the least and the left-behind, or raising godly kids.)  Or it may be smaller, but still valuable and significant to you (like losing weight or hitting a certain score on the GRE)

Big or small, overtly spiritual or not, our goals and longings can be used by God in eternal ways.  Our dreams are tools He can use to form our character.

Most of you remember that I had a goal last year to run a half marathon with Team World Vision in order to draw attention to the need for clean water around the world and raise money to dig a well in Zambia.  I’m so grateful that I was able to accomplish this (praise Jesus!).

But in the process I got injured and have been dealing with various forms of tendonitis ever since.  SOOOOO FRUSTRATING!!  What about all the “next things”?? The “GREATER THINGS”?

Have you ever had a set-back in a goal or something you’re longing for?  And you want to say,  “JESUS!!! Come ON!!

Well, running is just a tiny example in my life.  As hard as it was, it gave me great joy.  It helped me achieve something for a greater good (clean water).  It gave me a sense of accomplishment.  And the experience taught me a lot about spiritual formation.

So this year-long set-back has been maddening. I’ve worked hard.  I’ve been to the dr. and physical therapist a bazilliionty times.  I’ve had some false starts as impatience got the best of me, but my goal was to begin again September 1st.

September dawned beautiful, dry, and 75 degrees.  I had no excuses, but I confess,  I was scared.  I was back at square one. Have you been there?photo-167

The “what if’s” plagued me, not just about this little run, but about All Of The Things.

What if I’m just not good enough, healthy enough, strong enough, determined enough to achieve __________________?(fill in your own dream)

Well, it was ugly and painful, short and slow, but I finished and I cried with joy and texted my wonderful running partner (daughter Katy) as I stumbled home.

Confession:  I wanted to quit after ONE BLOCK.  How the heck did I go from running 13.1 miles a year ago to wanting to stop after one block?!!

My little starting-over run doesn’t matter so much but I share it because of how God used it to remind me of some stuff when it comes to our dreams and discouragement.  I’m “preaching” to myself here!  There are other goals I have right now where I’m super discouraged and it’s hard to stay motivated, so here are three things I’m trying to do:

1.  Set new goals. Sometimes you have to adjust your expectations.  Sometimes God is doing a different work in you than you want.  I hated continually adapting and down-sizing my goals as I tried to heal, but even that was formative.  Now my goal is just to run a 5 mile Turkey Trot at Thanksgiving.  That’s MY goal, but I need to keep being open to God’s refinement. What new goals might you set? Which ones might need to prayerfully be tweaked?

2.  Do the next thing.  The finish line isn’t the victory, the next thing is.  What’s the one next thing that you can do?  That’s a victory to celebrate today.  What’s that one next thing you can do?

3.  Your playlist matters.  Honestly, I think we underestimate the power of what plays in our head.  At the end of a recent run I was totally ready to throw in the towel, but then I put on my running playlist and “Can you Do This?” and “Roar” propelled me forward.  Do you have a theme song for your dream?

Beyond the music that motivates you, think of the voices that keep you putting one foot in front of another.  Who’s a partner in your dream who you can count on to encourage you?  This response from Katy will keep me going for awhile.  Find someone to cheer you on.

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What’s one longing or goal you want to pursue?  How can you apply one of the 3 things above to get on track?  Let’s encourage each other! 

 

 

Reflections on Being Thirteen in Minnesota and Uganda

You know this blog is about the relationships, experiences and practices God uses to form us, right?  Well, today I’m putting up a guest post from our daughter, Maggie.  Most of you remember she worked in Northern Uganda this summer, doing an internship for her Masters in Public Health.  Her experiences with the poor, and particularly with women, have formed in her, a heart for justice – the justice I believe is in God’s heart too.   I’m sharing this as a little background before I post an update on the ways you have made a difference, joining in her work there.

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When I was 13 years old and growing up in Eden Prairie Minnesota, my most pressing concerns included: getting the braces off my teeth as soon as humanly possible, convincing my mother to allow me to wear a two-piece bathing suit (or get my cartilage pierced – I varied my advocacy agenda to better my odds), and counting down the days until I would finally get my first period. I was in a big hurry to grow up and these experiences seemed like pivotal pieces of my maturation strategy. Continue reading

How do You Carry a Tree?

Fourteen years ago we took our daughters to Africa for the first time.  We spent a month there on a sabbatical.  One day we saw a woman walking down the road with a tree balanced on her head.

Yep, you read that right.  A whole tree.

You see people balancing a lot of unusual things on their heads (or on their bikes) in Africa, but this was the first and last time we saw a tree. (apparently it’s not THAT rare cuz I was able to Google this picture!)

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That night, our daughter, Maggie, walked into our room, carefully balancing a book on her head.

“I’m working up to a tree.” she said.

Since then, Maggie’s “tree” has been a dream of helping underprivileged girls and women around the world to be healthy and happy and to carry their own dreams. Continue reading

Heavy Lifting

I nod, sleepy, trying not to doze as I look out on a pool of black, inquisitive faces patiently waiting, waiting, for things to start as they bake in the hot sun

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I hear mamas caring for babies out back.

DSC00525Someone is pumping water from the new well to the right of where I sit.

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I feel a drop of sweat meander down my back even though I have a seat of honor in the shaded porch of the school.

I watch the children, trying to focus on each individual child’s face instead of the nameless group.  I notice the musical instruments these Zambian kids have fashioned out of bottle caps, wood, string, and cardboard.

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It’s hot and I’m nodding, nodding.  The faces blur as in slow-mo my eyes close and then I jerk awake, lifting my head again.  It’s the story of my life.  Striving to pay attention. To not miss the God-moments. Continue reading

Sprinkles and Naming Stuff

It’s Fearless Friday!  I hope you’ll join us on our One Word adventure this year.

Recently I was with two different friends, at different times, in different places who, with hesitation and eyes cast down, admitted their dreams to me.

You know,the big dreams of what they’d really like to do and be. They were afraid to say them out loud.  Afraid they’d seem too…big.  Too crazy.

But they were brave and told the truth.  And it made me think of this video I saw recently.

I watch this and I think, aren’t we all just like this little guy with evidence smeared all over, afraid of admitting to God what He already knows?

Afraid to name either the smelly garbage or the shiny brilliant hopes that seem crazy, but that are as clear to Him as the sprinkles on our face.

What is it that you’re afraid to name?

It’s not like God doesn’t know, but still He graciously asks us the same the questions He’s been asking for centuries.

“What do you want me to do for you?” (Mark 10:51)

“Why are you here?” (1 Kings 19:9)

And maybe most importantly, “Why are you so afraid?” (Mark 4:40)

You know what terrible thing happened when my friends shared what was in their hearts with me?

Absolutely nothing.  They didn’t implode and disintegrate.  Bob Costas didn’t come on T.V. and broadcast the ridiculous news that two idiots had said some wacko stuff.

When they told me I was delighted!  I was excited for them and I wanted to enter in and roll up my sleeves and help.  And with my response, there was, on their faces this look of relief…and almost wonder that they had named this big thing and were still there and it was ok and not so scary after all.

Could it be that even though God sees all of our sprinkles – the evidence of every hope and fear, every dream and sin and wound – He invites us with His questions to come to Him and name it all so that we see that it’s not so powerful or scary after all.

And then He brushes the sprinkles off our face and says, “Let’s roll up our sleeves and get to it!”

And so begins His work of refining and redeeming, equipping, and guiding.

What is something you’ve been afraid to talk to God about – a crazy dream, a deep wound, a secret sin, a profound desire – and what’s happened when you’ve named it with Him?

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How to Build an Airplane

I have a friend who is building an airplane.  Seriously.  Not a model.  A real, live, take-off-and-land-in-a-different-state airplane.

She sent pictures in her Christmas letter and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.  It makes me think of those pictures you see of Rosie the Riveter from World War 2 posters.

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Well, I’d like to build an “airplane” this New Year.  Sound impossible?  Yep, sounds that way to me too.

I love big hairy audacious goals.  I love the idea of going after a dream that is destined to fail without divine intervention.  I don’t want to let fear dictate my decisions.  I want to take a flying leap of faith.  But that doesn’t mean flying blind.

So I’ve been thinking my New Year’s resolutions and about what Gayle is doing to reach her remarkable goal.

She has a team.  She’s not doing it alone.  She has professionals coaching, guiding directing her.  Her family members are putting in hours of work by her side also.  So ask yourself, “Who’s on my team?  Who are the people who can advise me, give feedback, teach me?” and then go ask them for help!

She has a plan.  And the plan isn’t just “build a plane today”.  Ask, “What are the smaller steps that are going to help me reach this big goal?  How can I break an airplane down into parts?”

If your goal is to lose weight, what are the daily habits that are going to set you up for success?  If your goal is to write a book, how many words are you going to discipline yourself to write each day?

She has a work ethic. Gayle’s plane is being built in a hangar in Oregon and she’s required to put in a certain number of hours of work over a year’s time.  This is not a Bewitched-twitch-your-nose-and-get-it-done kind of deal.

What are the excuses that keep you from setting the alarm an hour early?  I love what Jon Acuff writes…”Sucker punch Monday morning and start your day before fear has a chance to find you.”

Another friend of mine likes to say, “Work like it depends on you.  Pray like it depends on God.”  Building a plane may not sound like a very “spiritual” endeavor, but how sad if we leave God out of any equation.  And how exciting if we set kingdom goals that we can see clearly will honor God, feed the hungry, encourage the brokenhearted, bring justice…

So anyway, that’s what I’m thinking about this morning.  What airplane are you hoping to build in the New Year?  Or what airplane are you afraid to tackle?

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