When Your Ducks Don’t Do This

I get this immense satisfaction when I leave for work in the morning with nary a wrinkle in my clothes, my makeup smudge-free and my hair looking as sleek as it’s going to in this super dry climate. Ideally, I’m also leaving behind a clean house, paid bills and folded laundry. Better yet, I somehow managed to squeeze in a workout, make a dentist appointment and write down that plot twist I thought of at 3:00am.

Ah, put-together.

It’s a glorious state of being, prized by women everywhere. It’s also elusive (if not an outright fantasy).

It became frustratingly elusive for me as July rolled into August. My manuscript was due during the same week as I was trying to get a week ahead at work in preparation for the vacation I hadn’t even begun to think about packing for. My ducks weren’t in a row, they were tumbling about in a frenzied yellow mob. Put-together was replaced with very different descriptors.

Flustered.
Overwhelmed.
Stressed-out.
Anxious.

These words remind me of the reluctant Old Testament hero, Gideon. Chosen by God to deliver Israel from the oppressing Midianites, this man faced a daunting task. I don’t blame him for asking God more than once for a sign, some assurance of victory for him and his underdog warriors. To our trembling hero, God said this:

“The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, lest Israel become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’” Judges 7:2

An army of over 30,000 men was whittled down to 300. Yet they conquered their enemy.

Sometimes, in those moments when we feel the least put-together, the unfathomable power of our God finds its opportunity. “And He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weakness, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” 2 Corinthians 12:9

Friends, if you’re feeling flustered or overwhelmed, remember that your help comes from a God who loves to save those who realize just how desperately they need Him.

Give Up

I love snow.

I realize it’s a risk, saying those words in February. If you’re one of those people who think snow has no business falling after it’s done its duty by providing you with a white Christmas, I apologize.

But since I love snow . . .

There’s nothing like venturing into a wintry forest, seeing the blankets of snow heaped on the glistening evergreen branches overhead. Or strolling across a bridge downtown, the usual bustle of the city softened by the newly fallen snow that renders footsteps silent.

Unfortunately, before snow, there’s November. The wonder of October, with its red-and-gold fall splendor, gives way to brownish-grayish gloom. The trees have released their glorious leaves.

But maybe that’s the point.

A wise woman once told me that she’d pestered God for direction in her life, but the heavens remained silent. Finally she went ahead and gave up. (Gasp!) It seems we’re told from the time we’re kids to never give up. As Thomas Edison famously stated, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

Yet this woman gave up. Like the trees that relinquished their leaves in the fall, she relinquished whatever elusive heart’s desire she’d been pursuing. And that’s when God answered her. That’s when she found the direction she’d been looking for.

I don’t think she was undermining the value of working hard to make dreams realities. But for her, the change came when she emotionally let go and surrendered to God’s plan, even if it didn’t match her own.

Here’s the amazing thing about God: His plan often unfolds amid twists and turns, setbacks and seeming dead-ends, making way for possibilities we’d never have imagined. As it says in Isaiah 61, He gives us beauty for ashes.

He does it every year. Once the October trees release their leaves, we must brave November . . . and then comes the snow.

You Should Pack This

I recently flew from Nevada to Virginia on a super fun, all-girl trip, and discovered what most everyone else probably already knew:

TSA regulations allow you to carry your liquid toiletries on the plane with you—provided you can cram your entire beauty/hygiene regimen into a quart-sized Ziploc bag. Otherwise, you have to pay to check your luggage.

So, before buying a bunch of made-for-an-American-Girl-Doll-sized toiletries, I decided to call my travel-savvy sister Sarah and glean from her wisdom. Her take on the situation?

“You can fit quite a lot into those Ziploc bags.”

Well, I’m here to tell you . . . you can’t.

Or at least, you might want to redefine “a lot.” If you, like Sarah, look great wearing nothing but chapstick for makeup, and your hair routine consists of a finely-honed system of washing and air drying, you’re all set. On a side note, a toddler could have hoisted Sarah’s bag into taxi cabs for us.

Not so with my bag.

But of all the many tangible things I brought on this trip, there was something intangible I’d packed as well. And it was the intangible that turned out to be most precious.

While reading my Bible before the trip, I came across Psalm 91. I recognized it, this Psalm being a well-known one about God’s protection. I’m not a fan of flying and, knowing I’d be airborne soon, I decided to memorize the chapter.

It was such a comfort to me on my flights. I recited those verses mentally over and over. They silenced my own thoughts, my own fears. His thoughts, His whispers, His promises filled my mind.

Before you start on a journey, think about asking God to give you something special to take with you. Your journey may be an actual, physical journey, or simply a new undertaking—like getting married, starting a new job, raising a child or volunteering for some worthy but challenging cause.

Whatever the journey might be, I recommend packing an intangible essential, in case of turbulence.

The Usefulness of Bella

Bella Wilfer and Lizzie Hexam were two very different women.

Bella was a spoiled, self-proclaimed gold-digger who longed to be nobler than she was, Lizzie an impoverished, self-sacrificing saint who was noble by nature. Bella lived in a mansion, Lizzie in a dark corner of the docks that was “river-washed and otherwise not washed at all.”

Bella Wilfer and Lizzie Hexam are the heroines in Charles Dickens’ book, Our Mutual Friend. Though from such different worlds, the women met one day at a funeral, and a friendship was formed.

I love the scene after the funeral, when Bella had a conversation with the book’s hero, John Rokesmith. Bella said, “I shall be happy, Mr. Rokesmith, to be of the least use; for I feel, after the serious scene of today, that I am useless enough in this world.”

I find Mr. Rokesmith’s response profound.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it for anyone else.”

Bella Wilfer, though not without her faults, lightened the burdens of Lizzie Hexam.

A similar commendation could be given to a man in the Bible named Philemon, who received a letter from the Apostle Paul. In the letter, Paul wrote, “For I have come to have much joy and comfort in your love, because the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you, brother.” Philemon 7

Refresh hearts, give comfort, bring joy. Or, in other words, lighten burdens.

Most of us, in the course of a typical day, wouldn’t need to go far to find someone with a burden. He or she is probably already in our lives, at our workplaces, waiting in line at the bank, ringing up our produce at the grocery store . . . sitting next to us in the pew at church or eating at the table in our own homes.

I challenge you to make it your day-to-day mission to lighten the burden of someone else. It could be a simple encouragement, like a smile and generous tip to the waitress who brought your dinner. Or it could be something more profound, like being a lifelong friend to your Lizzie Hexam.

You Can Count On It

In the dead of the harshest winter they’d ever seen, in a fledgling town on the Dakota prairie, the Ingalls family almost starved to death.*

The town, barely evolved past its beginnings as a railroad camp, depended on the train for supplies. But whenever workers started to dig out the tracks, buried under mammoth snowdrifts, another blizzard would hit. The stores had run out of food, the frozen prairie was devoid of game. Pa was a good hunter who always brought home meat for his family, but he hadn’t seen so much as a rabbit’s track all winter.

The day came when the family was down to six potatoes and enough wheat to grind for that day’s bread. Just before supper, Pa left the house with an empty milk pail, for reasons unknown to Ma. She watched him go, no doubt feeling helpless and hopeless. They had four children to feed, children who would starve if he didn’t bring home food . . . yet, how could he?

He could, because he knew something she didn’t know. Or at least, he guessed something she hadn’t guessed.

One of their neighbors, a hard-working young farmer, had brought seed wheat west with him from Minnesota. Knowing that his brother, a feed store proprietor, would sell the wheat if the townspeople ever got wind of its existence, the farmer built a false wall in the store and hid the wheat behind it. Pa had noticed the discrepancy between the dimensions of the outside of the building and the inside, and figured someone had built a false wall. He’d somehow guessed the rest, about the wheat.

That evening, Pa paid the farmer a visit with his empty milk pail. The young man was happy to sell a little wheat to keep the Ingalls family from starving.

And now I come to the part of the story that never fails to inspire me.

When Pa came home with that pail of wheat, Ma sifted her fingers through it, rocked back and forth and said these words:

 “Oh, Charles. Oh, Charles. I might have known you’d provide for us.”

It’s like she realized she’d been caught up, understandably, in the bleakness of her circumstances. So much so that she’d forgotten to consider the man she knew. Had he ever failed to provide for his family?

And here he’d done it again, during a time when it seemed impossible.

Of course, people can fail us. But this story reminds me that we can depend on God to do the very thing Pa did that day. God will faithfully take care of us, no matter how seemingly impossible the situation. We can count on it. “The most glorious promises of God are generally fulfilled in such a wondrous manner that He steps forth to save us at a time when there is the least appearance of it.” C.H. Bogatzky

We need to look up, metaphorically speaking, not around us at our circumstances. “I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber.” Psalm 121:1-3

Our help, friends, comes from God, the creator of the universe. Our creator, the One who loved us enough to die a cruel death on a cross. Remember Him. Not the circumstances . . . Him.

*Story taken from The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder

Planners, Dreamers, and Freshly Mown Grass

Are you one of those people who always have The Plan? You know, that overarching road map that details how your life will go?

If you’re like me, The Plan often changes, but one thing stays the same: once The Plan is fulfilled, your happiness will be complete. Until then, there’s a part of you that says, “Just imagine,
someday . . .”

Ever since we bought our house, our backyard has been a diamond in the rough. Slowly but surely, my husband is transforming it according to my rather ambitious Yard Plan. I daydream (aloud) about the day when we’ll sit in our cushioned wicker recliners, sipping cold drinks and listening to the waterfall on a perfect summer evening. He often replies, “Why don’t we just buy a couple lawn chairs and go sit out there right now?”

“But—but—but . . .”

I’m sure all of you planners can finish the sentence for me.

“. . . it’s not finished yet!”

Another thing about The Plan is this: if it doesn’t unfold in a timely fashion, or worse, doesn’t unfold at all, the planner tends to get annoyed. Discontentment wedges its ugly self between the planner and this gift called the present.

The same is true of the dreamer and The Dream.

“Let not our longing slay the appetite of our living.”
~ Jim Elliot, martyred missionary to the
Huaorani tribe in Ecuador

Today I encourage you to live, not merely long to live. Turn your eyes from the future, from the nagging discontentment of that delayed plan or unfulfilled dream, and onto the blessings of the present. That might mean ignoring the bright blue tarp that’s hiding your fledgling mess of a waterfall, and concentrating instead on the fragrant summer breezes and perfumed scent of freshly mown grass. Never mind that the smell of grass is coming from the neighbor’s yard—it smells great, doesn’t it? 🙂

Your Own Task

What do Ananias in the New Testament, Jonathan in the Old, and a man named Hercules Mulligan have in common?

Ananias obeyed God by finding a known hunter of Christians on a street called Straight in Damascus. He reached out to this persecutor and healed his blinded eyes.*

Jonathan rescued his harp-playing, giant-slaying friend more than once by warning him of deadly plots hatched against him.*

Hercules Mulligan, tailor to British aristocrats in 1770s New York City, risked everything to save the larger-than-life commander of an army—twice.

All three men were closely connected to famous movers and shakers in history. All three became lost in these great men’s shadows. Most importantly, all three faithfully performed the tasks set before them, however little glory came their way as a result.

Ananias overcame fear and met with a man then known as Saul, now known as the Apostle Paul, writer of much of the New Testament and emissary of Christ’s gospel to the Gentile world.

Jonathan befriended and vigilantly guarded the safety of a man destined to sit on a throne that, by lineage, belonged to Jonathan. The man was King David, future ruler of Israel, author of many Psalms, ancestor of Jesus Christ. Jonathan knew of God’s promise to David, yet he didn’t let envy stand in his way.

Mulligan lived the dangerous double-life of a spy, sewed red coats with his ears pricked-up, and smuggled the information he overheard to the Patriots. His intel twice saved the life of General George Washington, Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, future president of the Constitutional Convention, first president of the United States of America.

These three men tackled the tasks God gave them with bravery, determination and a commitment to their causes that didn’t leave room for ego.

What tasks are you facing today?

If you’re like me, it’s difficult not to be distracted by the greener grass of someone else’s task. The waitress longs to be the restaurateur, the stay-at-home mom yearns to wear the high-power pantsuit and chair the business meeting, the . . . you fill in the blank.

But today I hope you’ll find it freeing to stare right across the fence into that greener pasture and think, “That’s her task, not mine.” And then, return your gaze to your own task—and give it your best effort.

“Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” Colossians 3:23

*See Acts 9
*See 1 Samuel 19 and 20