Learning Joy in Failure

 

learning joy in failure

The Arkansas State Police is a happening place to be, especially in the motor vehicle office and even more so from one to four when they are administering driving tests.

I recently took a family member to fill out some paperwork, which provided me plenty of time to sit in the waiting room and watch people coming and going. Anxious teens milled around, some of whom were too cool to show their jitters. Nervous mothers smacking gum contrasted against parents who rolled their eyes, muttering to the person on the other end of their cell phone that young Anthony “better not fail again. I’m tired of dragging him down here over and over if he ain’t gonna study.” Middle aged men getting their CDL and motorcycle licenses, female bus drivers, terse police officers and everyone in between. It felt like a cross between the DMV and America’s Got Talentdrivers test ecard

The hour long wait provided me quite an education in one particular area: the art of failing. During that entire time, only one kid passed his permit test. Just one. He, of course, was all smiles. The others…well, that’s an entirely different story.

Some slunk out of the room with a scowl, shoving their paperwork at their parents with a grunt.

“Didn’t you pass?”

“Do I look like I passed?”

Others bit back tears or merely shrugged with a careless attitude. “No big deal. I’ll try again later. I didn’t really care about it anyway.” One particular boy stomped up to his dad and glared. “Stupid test. That’s the fifth time I’ve taken it. I think they deliberately make it harder and harder each time. They want me to fail!”

Some parents offered hugs or condolences. Some told their child, “You’re right. It’s just not fair.” My favorite parent was one very wise mother who, after her daughter had fussed because she’d flunked, stared her down and spoke with a stern calmness I envied. “You know why you flunked? Two reasons. Your attitude stinks and you haven’t been studying like you should have. Both reasons tell me you’re not mature enough to drive yet. So guess what? We’re not coming back to try again next week. We’ll try again in six months.”

Go, Mom!

My favorite of all was a sixty year old man who’d taken his CDL exam. He ambled into the waiting room and stared at his wife. She put down her magazine and stood.

“Well, let’s have it. Please don’t tell me we drove all the way down here for nothing. Again.”

He chuckled. “Sorry, sweetheart. I failed.”

She groaned. “Dale, that’s makes the fourth time.”

He walked up and kissed her on the cheek. “The good news is I only failed by one question this time. Only one! I’m getting better each time. I’m failing my way to success. Next time I should have it. I’m learning all the ways not to pass my CDL test!” His wife giggled. “Say, you in the mood for cheeseburgers or Mexican?” And off they went.

That sweet man is the perfect example of how to find joy in failure.

failure vs successLife is a series of mistakes with a few successes thrown in. Some of us have become so paralyzed by fear of making a mistake, we’ve stopped learning. Stopped discovering. Stopping crawling outside our boxes and exploring the beauty around us. We hold on the illusion of control, somehow thinking all will be right. No pain, no discomfort…that is, until we fail and our world tips on its axis.

How you handle failure reveals more of your character than how you handle success.

ryan-riggins-216051Adversity reveals our true nature. Pressure, heat, resistance…all of it is like a hand squeezing around a toothpaste tube. It isn’t until the fist squeezes that we see what is truly inside. When pressure is applied, the inner man is revealed. It’s easy to blame others, the system, or any other host of issues for our mistakes, but we still won’t learn a thing, will we? We may even find some folks who will agree with our finger pointing, but then what? It doesn’t bring us one step closer to our goals or dreams.

The only way to learn from failure is to embrace it.

Some of the most beautiful things can be birthed from the messiest. God has shown it to me over and over in my own life, but it takes a heart willing to say, “I have no pride. I have no agenda. I want to learn, both what to do and what not to do. Teach me. I’m Yours.Failing doesn’t feel like failure at all in that state of mind. It’s just…learning.

What a great place to be.

Rods and Staffs

God’s presence. How I long for it. There are days when I feel nearly desperate for it. For Him. In some ways, it’s an odd longing. Didn’t Jesus already promise He’s with me until the end of the age? (Matt. 28:20) Absolutely. He said His Spirit is living inside me as a deposit of the promises yet to come. (2 Cor. 1:22) Yet, there are days when I don’t always feel Him with me.

I’m not alone. When I googled “God’s presence” I racked up a whopping 37 million plus hits. If Jesus is with me and living inside me, why do I still struggle to find that heightened state of an awareness of His presence?

thaddaeus-lim-40018The chaos of living in a media-crazed culture certainly plays a part. The rush of schedules crammed too full of go-go-go make it worse. But digging deeper, I think these things are band-aids slapped on to hide a deeper problem. We keep ourselves drowning in noise because silence is too condemning. We let our busyness anesthetize us from the wounds and pain we have no desire to confront. We long for quiet. Every fiber of our soul screams for it, but we are, in equal parts, terrified of it. Why?

 Because sitting at the feet of Jesus requires change.

Since “presence” is my word for 2017, I’ve been giving it some study. In the Scriptures, God’s presence is mentioned as He led Israel from Egypt into the promised land.

13 Now therefore, I [Moses] pray you, if I have found favor in Your sight, let me know Your ways so that I may know You [becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with You, recognizing and understanding Your ways more clearly] and that I may find grace and favor in Your sight. And consider also, that this nation is Your people.” 14 And the Lord said, “My presence shall go with you, and I will give you rest [by bringing you and the people into the promised land].” 15 And Moses said to Him, “If Your presence does not go [with me], do not lead us up from here.” ~Exodus 33 (AMP)

 God’s presence is also mentioned numerous other places, like Psalm 139:7-10.

rod and staffWhere can I go from Your Spirit?
Or where can I flee from Your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, You are there;
If I make my bed in Sheol (the nether world, the place of the dead), behold, You are there.
If I take the wings of the dawn,
If I dwell in the remotest part of the sea,
Even there Your hand will lead me,
And Your right hand will take hold of me. 


I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the beautiful words of Psalm 23:4.

“Yes, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”

Here’s what I’ve noticed about these verses in regard to God’s presence. The majority of them revolve around adversity. Pain. Lengthening shadows and the mysterious unknown. Rejection. Abuse. Wounds. Betrayal. Grief and loss. But where pain abounds, His love abounds in greater measure. his love abounds

We tend to think of God’s presence as our quiet time when everything is picture perfect and quiet. The kids are behaving, things are going right for a change and we can have a little jam session with God. But it rarely works out that way. (At least, in my house.) broken piecesSitting, loving and living in the presence of God is much deeper. It’s coming to Him with all your messiness and broken pieces and laying them bare before Him. It’s giving Him full access to the shadowed places of your heart you’re ashamed for anyone else to see, and then gratefully basking in the knowledge that He loves you wildly, despite the mess.

Suffering requires us to relinquish something. A dream. A plan. A person. A place. Whatever it is, grief is involved. But there is beauty in our suffering when we learn to worship at the feet of Jesus, and say, “Not my will but Yours.”

Then His love moves in to fill the cracks where our hearts bleed.

Seeking a deeper walk with God is kind of like seeking humility. All of us want to be humble, but most of us don’t want to endure what it takes to get there.

Walking close to God may require a walk through the valley. “I will not fear. Your rod and your staff, they comfort me…” 3 nails

Keep your eyes fixed on the Shepherd. Trust Him with your messy, broken places. In His presence is healing. In His hands are love.

Living Like Sugar

Our house was hopping this weekend.

Teenage girls and giggling preteens were everywhere. Nate zoomed through the chaos in his normal Hulk-ish style. Movies, candy, tasting challenges, raucous laughter, Youtube videos, card games…there was noise coming from every direction.

Most in the house had a blast…with the exception of our dog Sugar.

Poor thing. She’s ten years old. Far too elderly for whooping and hollering, high-pitched squeals and pounding feet. She’s suffered enough living with Nate.

In the middle of the bedlam, I moved to the kitchen sink to wash the dishes. Another shriek. A crash. A burst of giggles. And then I felt it. A warm, wriggly body pressed itself between my Nikes, shivering and shaking. sugar-at-my-feet

I looked down to see Sugar seeking refuge at her Momma’s feet.

It’s not the first time she’s done it of late. It’s getting to be the norm. Odd though that she never sought protection or solace from me when she was a puppy, or even in the first half of her life. No, she was too busy defending the world from evil. Too busy yapping and charging forward to solve things her own way.

But as she’s gotten older, she runs straight to me when trouble, or even perceived trouble, heads her way.

Maybe she’s finally figured out doing things her own way doesn’t work. Or maybe she finally realized Momma is bigger and stronger than she is so why should she do the fighting? Momma can do it for her.

Or maybe it’s simply the fact that Momma makes her feel safe. Sheltered. Loved when the screams of chaos erupt.

boy-hiding

Whatever the reason, she no longer fights her own battles. She lets me fight them for her. And when I reach down and gently rub her ears, she leans into my fingers with a sigh and her trembling ceases.

I want my relationship with God to be like that. No striving. No need to put on a brave face or make feeble attempts to fight battles in my own limited strength I can never win. I just want to run to my Savior and rest in the shadow of His love.

I’ll never forget what my mentor Marie once told me. This courageous, faith-filled woman, who handled every storm with such beauty and grace said, “Tara, trusting Jesus gets easier the older you get. As He weathers storm after storm with you, you don’t need Him to prove Himself to you anymore. You just…know. You trust. You don’t even question Him after awhile. You face each moment and reach for His hand, knowing He’s there.” hand

That thought was never more real to me than this week when my Mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor. Instead of fear or anxiety or a dozen other knee-rattling emotions, Jesus swept a peace through me unlike anything I’ve ever known. It’s gentle and whole. Kind and deep. He whispered to my spirit, “I’ve got her. I’m with her. I’m with you. All is well. No need to fear.

Oh, there have been some tears, a hundred questions, but more than anything, there is peace. God’s peace buoying my spirit into a place of sacred rest. He loves her. He is for her and His perfect plan is being stitched into the beautiful tapestry of her life for His glory. All will be well.

trina-christian-19571Most of us know the verse reminding us to “Be anxious for nothing…” (Philippians 4:6-7), but sometimes, despite our best intentions, fear grabs us by the throat and refuses to let go. Even with a string of good, peaceful days, there may be moments of panic and with them the self-condemnation, “I shouldn’t feel this way.” Yet the cold dread curls through our stomachs anyway.

Everyone is afraid sometimes. What matters is Who we run to.   

We can join the chaos, try to fight the battles in our own strength or take shelter in the shadow of the One Who has already promised the victory.

Living like Sugar is the way to go.

john-16_33

Sippy Cups: When It Seems God Doesn’t Care

hope (1)

Have you ever felt God has forgotten you?

Perhaps He showed you something phenomenal He’s about do in and through your life. The arrival of a long awaited child, a gift or talent maybe. Perhaps it was a vocational change or ministry calling of some sort. Perhaps it’s a long-held dream right on the cusp of fruition. God revealed that glimpse to you, confirmed it and reminded you again for good measure. Your excitement mounted and it seemed like a million dreams were about to be fulfilled. You lived each day in breathless anticipation. When would it happen? When would He move? You’re there. You’re ready, and then…

Nothing happens. waiting

Days turn into weeks. Weeks turn into months. Months turn into years. In the waiting, the rosy bloom of promise seems to fade. Excitement turns into confusion. Restlessness. Fear. Perhaps, even anger.

You begin to wonder if you heard Him correctly. Maybe He hadn’t revealed what you thought He had. Did you misunderstand? Did you do something wrong? Was He even listening to you anymore? He seems so silent. In your weakest moments, you might even wonder if He loves you at all.

Yes, God’s ways can sometimes feel confusing. Agonizingly slow. Even counter-productive or cruel.

Notice I said they sometimes feel that way. But they really aren’t. This concept never became more clear to me than during a recent incident with a sippy cup. sippy-cup

I was working to prepare dinner one evening, when my two-year old boy toddled into the kitchen, his lips puckered into a pout. Pointing his chubby finger at the refrigerator, his wish became clear.

“Juice.”

I smiled. “You want some juice?”

He grinned and reached up his dimpled arms for me. I scooped him up, knowing he was thinking our juice-fetching routine would remain the same as every other day. Normally, I pick him up, open the frig, we peruse the already juice-filled sippy cup selections together and he picks the one he’s craving. However, this day, things were not the norm.

I had already washed his sippy cups and placed them in the cupboard…the cupboard on the other side of the kitchen. Propping him on my hip, I moved away from the refrigerator to pull a sippy cup from the cabinet. Nate didn’t understand what I was doing. In his little mind, he wanted juice and I had just shut the refrigerator door in his face and pulled him away from his prize.

He screamed. He wailed. He wanted his juice and he wanted it now! All he knew was that I had walked completely in the opposite direction. He panicked and flailed in abject terror that he would surely die of dehydration. Poor guy. The strung-out little dude truly thought I was heartless, abandoning him in the middle of his need. Didn’t I understand that he was thirsty? Possibly on the verge of death?

What he failed to realize is that there could be no juice without the cup. Though it seemed like I was pulling him farther away from what he craved, I was actually positioning him to enjoy the gift. I was making him ready. I was giving him what he needed. Though I stepped away from the refrigerator, I was actually moving him closer to his cup and ultimately, his goal.

It’s the same with God. Though at times His ways seem confusing, even counter-productive, He is positioning you, preparing you and making you ready for the good work He’s had in mind all along. Thrashing, wailing and screaming only slows down the process…and makes it much more painful.

Isaiah 55_8-9 - Iceberg

Consider Joseph. (Genesis 37-45) Even from a young age, God gave this fellow an inkling what purpose his life would serve in God’s plans. When Joseph dreamed his brothers bowed down to him, it must have made him a tad excited. After all, what you’re passionate about is what you talk about and Joseph was blabbing that choice piece of news all over the place…so much so, that his brothers hated him for it.

Was Joseph eventually in a position of power and authority over his brothers? Yes, but it didn’t happen right away. Actually, the journey looked nothing like what Joseph could have ever imagined. Kidnapped, sold into slavery, wrongfully accused and thrown into prison. This wasn’t a couple of days in the slammer either. No. For two long years, Joseph sat in prison, no doubt wondering if God had abandoned him. Had he only imagined the crazy dreams of yester year? Why didn’t God free him? Fight for him? What purpose could he possibly serve sitting day after day inside a lonely, filthy cell?

Joseph’s story is filled with breathless twists and shocking turns but what God promised is exactly what came to pass. It always does. When God speaks, it’s as good as done.

Abraham and Sarah had their own sippy cup experience. God promised them a son and so they waited and waited and waited. Sarah feared God was moving her farther and farther away from her dream and thus decided to help the process come about in a speedier manner. The results were disastrous. (And still are.)

She had her own moment of confused-cup-meltdown but in her hurry, all she did was make the situation harder to bear. And, just like always, God delivered that much anticipated son twenty-five years later on His own time table, in His own manner, for His glory.

Why do we ever doubt Him?

Child of God, don’t fret if His promise seems to be taking longer than you imagined, or via a manner you never dreamed possible. He’s working all things together for your good and His glory. He’s positioning you, getting you ready for amazing things. Hold out your hands, praise His Name and wait.

When He places that long-awaited cup in your hands, it won’t just be full. It will be overflowing with good things.

overflowing cup

“For I satisfy the weary ones and refresh everyone who languishes.” Jeremiah 31:25

Have you ever waited for something so long you feared God had left you? What have you learned during the process of waiting? 

The Window Washer: Fear-Defying Faith

The past week was a taste of paradise. I was overjoyed to attend a writers retreat for the authors who are signed with the fabulous agents of Books & Such Literary Agency. Boy, did they spoil us! We met in Monterey, California to enjoy a time of learning, fellowship, planning and fun. My brain is overwhelmed with everything they taught us, the creativity and joy were contagious and the view couldn’t be beat. But best of all were the friendships forged. As you can see, the love between the authors of Books & Such are a rare gift.

me-and-lauraine-snellingme-and-sherry-kyleme-and-anita-draper

With my hilarious author friends (left to right) Lauraine Snelling, Sherry Kyle, and Anita Draper.

Something interesting happened during the last afternoon, however. Several of us had walked outside for a fresh breath of ocean air during our break time. As we leaned over the hotel’s third floor balcony, I just happened to look down and my heart slammed against my ribs. Directly below us was a window washer, standing atop a six foot ladder perched on the edge of a narrow walkway on the second floor, calming whistling as he attended to his tasks. Although it’s hard to tell in these pictures, there is absolutely no ledge to keep his ladder from sliding to the rocks below. None.

window-washer-monterey

I watched him in fascination for several long minutes. Every time he moved farther down the walkway and he swung that ladder wide over the air, dangling the metal contraption into space, my stomach clenched all over again. But the man’s step never wavered. His whistle never stopped. If anything it was like the task was second nature to him, no different than breathing or eating.

If it was me wobbling on that ledge, the scene wouldn’t have been nearly so tranquil, I assure you. The whistle would have sounded more like the screeches of a dying cow rolling down a cliff.

And that’s just me getting to the top of a ladder, the second story ledge not included.

The window washer was comfortable because he had done his task so many times, fear was no longer a factor. He knew the ledge. He knew its strength and its width. He’d tested it over and over again. He could move in freedom, without thought and with a song on his lips while an ocean raged behind him and sharp rocks sat like teeth underneath because he had faith the ledge would hold him up. And it did.

cliff

It’s the same with God. The older I get, the easier it is to trust Him. Why? Because He’s proved Himself faithful over and over again. The storms are just as strong, the fire just as hot, the enemy just as diligent, but the fear doesn’t rattle me as it once did. Oh, there’s still some fear. I’m far from what I should be. But the goal is imperfect progress as the Father molds and shapes us into the image of His Son.

Perfect love casts out fear. The deeper we move and live in the knowledge of God’s love for us, the more the fear shrinks.

Maybe someday, I’ll even be able to whistle atop a ladder perched on a second story ledge.

I would love to hear from you. Do you struggle with fear? Have you found it easier or harder to trust God as time goes by? Why or why not?

A Father’s Love: Monster Chasers and Hallway Protectors

Our little family was recently reminiscing over funny memories from way back when. You know, when the girls were three and six, instead of the mature ten and thirteen year olds they are now. Especially in light of this coming Father’s Day weekend, my oldest daughter remembered something very sweet about her daddy. scared

“Dad, remember how I was never scared of monsters in my closet, but I was always terrified of monsters coming down the hall?”

He laughed. “I remember.”

She grinned. “But instead of getting mad at me for worrying about monsters coming through my bedroom door, you would grab a toy rifle and march up and down the hallway every night before I fell asleep. Remember that? And you would chant silly soldier rhymes like, ‘Hut, two, three, four, no monsters gettin’ past my girl’s front door!’

super dad

My heart melted hearing the treasured memory she had stored away. Why had that particular remnant from her childhood held fast when so many others had siphoned away? Because protection is powerful. It shows the measure of true love and the lengths it will go to save the one it loves.

Real men, real fathers protect. Whether the fear is real or imagined, good fathers fight away the dragons while their princesses clutch their battered teddy bears until those quivering shadows melt into sweet slumber. And even now as a thirteen year old, I frequently have to remind my daughter that Dad’s rules about modesty that seem so outdated to her, or the rules about technology that seem so rigid, are born from the same protective heart that marched up and down the hallway for hours chasing away the monsters…his goal is ever and always to protect her.

dad daughter

Maybe you’ve never known the love of a father like this, a man who would give his very life to save yours. Earthly fathers and husbands, even the good ones, will fail us but there is One who is desperately yearning to call you His daughter. He’s waiting with open arms. Best of all? He will never fail you. Ever. His specialty is unconditional love and it’s best seen in the way He protects His children.

“To You, O [God] my strength, I will sing praises; For God is my stronghold [my refuge, my protector, my high tower], the God who shows me [steadfast] loving kindness.” ~Psalm 59:17 AMP

“A father of the fatherless and a judge and protector of the widows, Is God in His holy habitation.” ~Psalm 68:5

If you’ve spent your lifetime searching for the love of a man, whether that be a father, a husband or a boyfriend, and you’ve been hurt over and over again, broken and left more empty than before, run to the One who wants to be the Father you’ve dreamed of. He’ll be your comfort, Protector, Friend and Savior. He’ll be the Daddy willing to march up and down the hallway chasing away the monsters that leave you trembling in fear…whether they are real or not. What is important to you is important to Him. He sees you. He loves you. He’s waiting. daddy daughter

“I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From where shall my help come?

My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.

He will not allow your foot to slip;
He who keeps you will not slumber.

Behold, He who keeps Israel
Will neither slumber [briefly] nor sleep [soundly]
.

The Lord is your keeper;
The Lord is your shade on your right hand.

The sun will not strike you by day,
Nor the moon by night.

The Lord will protect you from all evil;
He will keep your life.

The Lord will guard your going out and your coming in [everything that you do]
From this time forth and forever.” ~Psalm 121

I would love to hear from you. Do you have fond memories of ways your father made you feel loved? In what ways has God been the Father you’ve always longed for? How often do you think of God as your Protector?

 

The Heart Beat

The scream jerked me out of a dead sleep.

I groaned as my feet slapped against the cold floor. Not again.

I padded to Nathan’s room, grunting as my shin collided against the sharp edge of an unknown object in the dark house. More nightmares. The interruption of sleep was wearing thin.

I opened the door to my son’s room with a soft creak. My weariness melted away when he reached out his pudgy arms for me, sniffing and crying out in relief, “Mama.” nightmares

“Oh, baby. Did you have a bad dream?”

I scooped him up in my arms as he wiped his tears away with chubby fists. Kissing his forehead, I snuggled down with him in his bed and hummed a lullaby, alternating between wordless melodies and prayer. “Dear Jesus, please help Nate sleep without fear…”

He patted my face as we kept our vigil for a few minutes longer. His breath grew even and calm. I lifted up my head, thinking he was asleep. I was wrong. Nate sat up and frowned.

“No, Mama.”

I chuckled and laid back down beside him. But this time, instead of patting my face like he usually wants to do, Nate pressed my head to his chest. I heard every thrum of his little heart.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Each time that beat grew slow and easy, I gently raised my head up only to find a chubby fist push my head back down again.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum. heart beat

As I lay there listening to his heart beat, I thanked God for my stubborn, wild little boy. He’s exhausting, but a joy nonetheless. Then my thoughts drifted to another little boy and a mother who might have had nights similar to this one. Oh, I know there are few similarities between Jesus and Nate. Jesus is the Savior and well, my son needs the Savior. But relationships bond people together the world over in experiences so we can feel another’s pain, sense another’s sorrow, see life through another’s eyes. jesus as little boy

What was Jesus like at the age of three? Was he ever awakened with nightmares? It’s an odd thought, I know. The King of creation, afraid? Still, Jesus was just as much little boy as much as he was God. Did He call out for His mother to soothe His fears? Did she run and gather Him in her arms? I wonder if He ever pressed her head to His chest in an effort to draw her close.

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

I am no hero. I can’t breathe life out of nothing or fight dragons or calm storms. Yet, I have a Father who can do all of those things. Indeed, He has done them already and will to do them again.

“I will fight for you; you need only be still.” Exodus 14:14

When the enemy hisses his lies in my ear, when giants loom over me causing my knees to buckle in fear, when I can’t breathe for the pain squeezing around my chest, I have a Father I can cry out to. Before I even finish His name, He is cradling me in His arms and pressing my head to His chest. god's heart beat

Ta-tum. Ta-tum. Ta-tum.

Always strong. Always steady. Always the same.

Maybe the little boy Jesus was never scared. If He called out for his mother in the night, perhaps it was so he could calm her fears. And isn’t that a mind bender?

The heart beat of God is a powerful thing. It reminds us of His presence. Of His protection. Of His love. The same heart beat that thrums with a steady cadence calling the weary to find rest is the same pulse He poured out and emptied at the cross.

I pray Nate’s nightmares cease for his sake, but I don’t mind being awakened by them so much anymore. Every time I hear his heart thumping, it reminds of my heavenly Father’s. A Father Who never slumbers or sleeps.

And that makes for some very sweet dreams.

 

 

 

 

False Evidence Appearing Real: When the Lawnmower Stole My Mother

My super hero son didn’t understand.

Mowing the grass

I climbed on the lawn tractor to chop down the rapidly growing grass surrounding our home. Nate watched. He blinked. Frowned. I thought he didn’t like the noise the large piece of machinery churned up. Oh, but his frown sprouted from so much more.

Over the clatter of the tractor, I heard high-pitched squeals of laughter. My two girls were doubled over with giggles. What was so funny? I glanced behind me to see my three year old son running towards the moving tractor as fast as his chubby little legs could carry him. His face was puckered into a scowl. He held a broom in his hand and was charging towards the metal monster, a look of death and determination in his eyes.

Think Braveheart, if you will. braveheart

The little stinker was preparing to attack the mower with a broom. I had to gas it all over the yard to escape his blood-thirsty tirade. It suddenly hit me what the problem was…he thought the big metal monster was trying to take away his mom.

I burst out laughing until rocks started raining down on me. My little hero was chunking stones as fast as he could, desperate to defend his poor mother.

Needless to say, that was the most adventurous mowing experience to date.

It must have been confusing to see a noisy, thundering metal monster whisk his mother away. Even more baffling was the way the vibrating beast kept circling the yard, refusing to spit his mommy out. So little Nate had done what any valiant soldier would do—attack.superhero nate

I thought the whole thing was pretty cute until those rocks started pelting me.

It’s endearing to watch a scenario like this play out from an adult’s viewpoint. Not so much from a child’s perspective. Nate reacted on a gut level out of fear. The assumption he made was the same one each of us make, often on a daily basis. We lash out with knee-jerk reactions based on partial information and false assumptions.

Put another way…we live and make our choices based on false evidence that appears real.

fear false evidence appearing real

Poor fellow. From his knowledge of the world and his childish experience, the tractor was loud, noisy and scary. Even worse, this metal beast stole his mommy away. Surely she was in danger. Surely something terrible was going to happen. Anything that loud must be dangerous.

But he was wrong.

He didn’t know what I knew. What he saw as a disaster, I knew was a necessity. What he thought was dangerous was actually much safer than letting the grass grow and snakes infest the yard. I could see the big picture. He only understood a tiny portion of it.

When our circumstances threaten to overwhelm us, when are shaking in fear, when we let our emotions spiral into negativity and ‘what ifs’, we need to remember that we only see a tiny splinter of God’s plan. He is writing our stories. We shouldn’t assume we know the ending based on the problems of page one.

My crime-fighting son nearly hurt himself running at the mower with that broom. If I hadn’t zoomed out of his reach, he would have thrust his weapon into that running mower, and, well…I shudder to think of the outcome. When we live in fear, when we make knee jerk reactions based on partial information, over-active imaginations or our ricocheting emotions, we end up doing a lot of damage. To ourselves, to others and especially to our walk with God. The peace of God cannot dwell with negativity or fear. The two are polar opposites.
pug in blanket

Fear is normal. It’s real, but don’t wallow in it. Don’t allow your thoughts to set up residence inside its cold grip. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than false evidence that appears real.

Sometimes, it even resembles a metal mowing monster.

Do you struggle with fear? What do you fear the most? Have you developed techniques to fight those metal mowing monsters away? I would love to hear!

Worry Squashing: How a Princess Can Get Rid of the Peas Under Her Mattress for Good

On Wednesday nights, I’m teaching a group of teen girls about being God’s princess. We’ve used classic fairy tales as a springboard into learning what it means to be an heir with Christ. It’s been a fun and exciting study, and now we’re embarking on a new princess. A less famous princess than some: the poor, exhausted girl from The Princess and the Pea. peas

Remember her story?

Through a series of misfortunes, she arrives drenched and mud-splattered at an enormous castle. In her disheveled state, the king and queen doubt her claims of royalty and, as a test, the queen places a single pea under the enormous stack of mattresses constituting her bed. Poor Petunia (that’s what my teens girls named her) tossed and turned all night, bothered by the pea wedged under her tower of a bed. The queen then knew Petunia was a real princess because of her sensitivity. bed

Yeah, I know. Weird. But there’s something all of us can take away from Petunia’s story. Something I suspect we’ve all dealt with at some point. The proverbial peas under our mattress: worry.

Worry keeps us up at night, tossing and turning, running a thousand disaster scenarios through our minds. It steals our joy, our peace, our bodies, our emotions, and even the health of our spiritual selves. Worry is allowing the enemy to set up space in our minds and wreak havoc.

Worry is old-fashioned fear.

Fear of loss. Fear of death. Fear of the unknown. Fear of change. Fear of being rejected. Fear of loss of control. Fear of messing up. Fear of success. Most can be boiled down into two groups: external fears (ex. my knee knocking fear of anything snake related) or internal fears (more emotional and/or spiritual in nature.)

Some of us are more prone to anxiety than others. Most of the time, I’m pretty much worry free. It creeps up on me sometimes but I’m not plagued by it continually.

One of my daughters, on the other hand, struggles with it from the time she wakes up each morning until her exhausted head hits her pillow each night. The poor thing is a nervous wreck if she thinks she’ll arrive late to an event. She worries about bizarre scenarios and refuses to fly on an airplane since she saw an episode of Duck Dynasty where the airline lost Willie’s luggage. Yeah, she’s more worried about losing her luggage than the plane going down.

Poor thing. This kind of anxiety runs in my family.

My Great-Aunt May was a colorful character, even more so as she grew older. I don’t know whether it was from years of living wild or the simple by-product of old age, but Aunt May soon began having frequent visitors to her retirement home apartment. Little green men. Lots of them.

Did I mention dementia also runs in my family? Actually, it doesn’t run. It gallops.

Yes, Aunt May began seeing little green men. The little boogers began visiting her apartment at all hours of the day and night. Shooing them away didn’t work. Yelling at them to leave didn’t work. Chasing them off with a broom didn’t work. There was only one logical thing left to do: drown them.

She turned on her bathtub and drowned them out all right. In the process, she also flooded her apartment and the apartment below her. mark twain worry

I’m telling you all this to say that sometimes what we fear isn’t even real, nor will it ever be. Just like my Aunt May on her noble quest to drown her imaginary green men, we can make ourselves crazy worrying about things that will rob God’s princess from her much needed beauty sleep.

What If?

In the writing world, there’s a much loved technique for brainstorming new ideas. It’s the “What If?” question. “What if a CIA agent fell in love with a terrorist?” “What if an entire society lived on a speck on a fuzzy flower?” “What if monkeys ruled over man?” (Do any of these plots sound familiar?)

Unfortunately, those of us who aren’t brainstorming a new story still ask “What if…?”

            What if this relationship is doomed for divorce?

            What if the diagnosis is cancer?

            What if I lose my job?

            What if my child never gets his life together?

            What if no one ever accepts me?

            What if…what if…what if…

“What If” is great for writers but a terrible way to live your life. “What if”s are nothing more than worry and worry is a subtle way of telling God that you don’t think He can do what He promises He can do. land of what ifs

Ouch.

Too many peas under a mattress will turn the calmest princess into a worry wart.

I recently looked up the word origin of “worry wart” and was surprised to learn more of its root. In our modern day, worry means, “to be anxious” but it’s earliest form meant, “to strangle”. Isn’t that an interesting definition? When we give in to worry, we are strangling the peace that God gives us.

“Wart” is even more interesting. We usually think of it as a bump on the skin but back in the 1800s, a wart was “an annoying, obnoxious or insignificant person”. The term “worry wart” grew popular in the early to mid 1900s when a comic strip called Out Our Way was featured in newspapers. Worry Wart was a character from the strip, a boy who, ironically, was not plagued by worry but caused worry in others.

When we are worry warts, we not only lose our own peace of mind but can drag others down too. Nervous Nellies quickly become Debbie Downers. Something else to worry about!

Our enemy Satan wants us fearful. Fear makes us take our eyes off God and gives our attention to the mess around us. We start thinking about our circumstances and our rock solid faith begins to wobble and shake. Anytime our eyes aren’t trained on our Savior, we leave ourselves open to the enemy’s schemes. Fear makes us ineffective, double minded and unstable.

Squashing the Peas

The good news is we don’t have to toss and turn all night like poor Petunia but it doesn’t come naturally. Unless we make an effort to get rid of the peas under our mattresses, we will  naturally fall back into worry mode. You don’t have to be a victim. There are several things you can do to squash those annoying worry peas.

  1. Measure the size of that pea. Measuring-peas

It’s critically important that, whether we’re worry warts or only experience rare moments of anxiety, we measure those ‘worry peas’ against size of our God. When we get a glimpse of how incredibly big God is, if we remember what He’s done in the past and what He’s promised to do in the future, those pesky worries shrink. If we can trust Him with our eternity, trusting with the details of the here and now should be easier than we make it.

  1. Perfect love

In talking about slaying fear, the verse I’ve heard all my life is 1 John 4:18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.”

Perfect love casts out fear. It sounds good but this concept always seemed a bit foggy to me. What is perfect love? What does that really mean? As of late, God has impressed this thought on my heart, though I’m not certain that it’s the full completeness what He meant in the scripture: perfect love is grasping hold of the knowledge that God’s love for me is so complete, so perfect that I have no reason to fear. He won’t allow anything to happen that doesn’t ultimately lead to my good and His glory, no matter how confused I may be at the time. His love kicks fear out the door.

  1. Kill the over active imagination.

Too much imagination, too many pretend disaster scenarios can mess with your peace of mind. Don’t over think everything. Remember my Aunt May. Much of what we worry about will never exist. Think of your overactive imagination as a dragon that must be slain, only this time your knight in shining armor can’t do it for you. You and God slay the dragon together.

God doesn’t live in the land of “What If”s. He’s I AM. He is. When God promises that He will be with us to the end of the world, He means it. What He has declared, no one can stop. And what He stops, no one can move. Don’t dwell in a land of impending disasters. Focus on what you know, not how you feel or the what ifs.

  1. No worries. Pray. praying 2

Every time you’re tempted to worry, turn that moment into prayer. My pastor often says that it’s impossible to worry and pray at the same time. If your concern is worth worrying about, it’s vitally important to pray about it. And if Jesus needed to take time to pray, how much more important is it for us?

For those peas that just won’t budge…

If you’ve done all you can and you’re still struggling, you may need to see a doctor or a Christian counselor. Talk to your parents or a Christian adult you trust. Anxiety can sometimes be a symptom of a deeper issue. One thing is for sure: God never intended for His princess to be wracked with fear.
…for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” ~ 2 Timothy 1:7

One thing I have to mention is that sometimes our worries stem from something other than living in the land of What Ifs or from focusing on our circumstances and not our Savior. No, sometimes there’s a whole other issue that’s messing with our heads: a faulty view of faith.

I’m not saying that if you worry your faith isn’t strong. Please don’t misunderstand me. What I’m saying is that sometimes our definition of faith is different than the one God gave us in His Word.

A lady once told me, “I used to have great faith in God until one of my children died. Now I feel like I’m in no-man’s land. I have nothing to rest on. No foundation.”

Understandable. But what this lady failed to realize is that her definition of faith is different that God’s. Her faith definition was, “I will trust in God unless He allows something bad to happen in my life.” It’s another way of saying, “I believe God as long as He does what I ask.” Her faith rested on how often and how well God said, “Yes” to her prayers.

Forgive me for being so blunt, but that mindset isn’t faith at all. That kind of faith depends on our wants and exists only by what we see.

corrie ten boom train

But what did the writer of Hebrews say in chapter eleven? ” Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Things not seen…

True faith is not dependent on God accomplishing our will but lies in Who He is.

Corrie Ten Boom is one of my heroes and a lady I can’t wait to meet in Heaven. She put faith this way: “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.”

A perfect illustration. Faith is knowing that God ‘can’ do it. Whether or not He does is up to Him. Do we base our faith on what God does or who He is?

This kind of faith, knowing how big our God is and resting our security in His power, will squash those peas for good.

Embracing Inadequacy: The 300s.

“I can’t do this. I don’t know how.” 

“It’s too hard. I’m not any good at this kind of stuff.”

“I’m not qualified.”

“I’m too old.”

“I’m too young.” 

“What if I fail?”

“People will laugh at me.”

“It’s too risky.”

“There are people better at this than I am.”

Do any of these excuses sound familiar? I confess, several of them, if not all of them, have found their way into my but-I-can’t repertoire at some point.
scared

So insecure. So scared. Sometimes, just so lazy.

The older I get, the more I’m learning this simple, terrifying truth: usually, what God calls us to do is far outside our comfort zone.

Walking with God often resembles the famous Star Trek catchphrase of one Captain Kirk. “To boldly go where no man has gone before…” The problem is, we don’t like going where no man has gone before. We want the easy path. The predictable way. The comfortable sameness we’ve grown accustomed to. We tend to gravitate towards “where most people tend to clump up because going somewhere unknown is crazy hard”. captain kirk star trek phrase

I get it.

However, I think part of the problem with moving into the unknown comes from a misconception common throughout human nature in every generation. We think we have to be ‘qualified’ to take on tasks of God-sized proportions.

False.

Not once do we see God telling one of His children that they will be successful because of their degrees, adequacy, skills or bravado. He doesn’t pick the “Most Likely to Succeeds” or the Supermans. Usually it’s the opposite. He chooses the weak. The broken. The vulnerable. He says success will be achieved when they lay their life in His hands.

So if you’re feeling unqualified and overwhelmed with the task He’s calling you to do, be comforted. You’re in good company.

Moses was a simple shepherd, thrust into a strange land after a murder was added to his rap sheet. So when God called to him from the middle of a burning bush with a uncomfortable assignment, Moses balked. Excuse after excuse. “You’ve got to send someone else.” “They won’t believe me.” “I can’t speak well.”

I can’t. I can’t. I can’t.

Let me share a little secret with you—God knows we can’t do it in and of ourselves. We are too feeble, too insecure, too indecisive, too easily led astray by our own emotions. He basically told Moses, “Don’t get all wrapped up in what you can’t do or what you don’t know. I will teach you. Trust Me. I’ve got this.”

“Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.” Exodus 4:12 2 corinthians 12 9

Consider Gideon. Despite Gideon’s paralyzing insecurity, God called him to lead a battle against the Midianites. 32,000 men were ready to fight , but God said, “Nope. Too many.” So He whittled the army down to 10,000. Still too many. When it was all said and done, God carved down Gideon’s army to a scant 300. They were outnumbered 450 to 1.

Gideon must surely have been a nervous wreck, but God was ready to showcase his unstoppable power. “I will deliver you with the 300.” (Judges 7:7)

32,000 isn’t always better than 300. A young mother battling addiction may not be a better provider to her children than a grandmother who was ready to enjoy retirement but is determined to mold her grandchildren into warriors of God. A super-talent may not be the better choice for worship leader than the man who can barely carry a tune but knows how to lead others to the Savior’s feet. The Pulitzer prize winning author isn’t always better than the simple no-name writer who weaves stories together to teach his friends about Christ. An evangelist who can shake down a roof with his powerful, engaging sermons isn’t always better than the humble pastor who spurns applause, yet loves the broken and gives himself away, serving them despite his own exhaustion.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Sometimes, we may not even have 300 to back us up. Sometimes, all we can do is cry out in our emptiness. “Lord, I want to surrender, but I don’t have anything to offer. No secret weapons. No spiritual arsenal. How could you possibly use me? I don’t have anything left to give. I have nothing.”

At times like that, God smiles and wraps His arms of peace around us. “Okay, so you have nothing. I can work with that too.” After all, He spoke the universe into existence. Turning your nothing into something isn’t too hard for Him. nothing into something

Our weakness is a show room for God to display His amazing, jaw-dropping power. It keeps us reliant on Him. Some folks call it ‘God margin’. Others ‘grace gaps’. Whatever you want to call it, it’s the space between our own ability and what is required for victory. He sees our cracks, the empty space where our ability yawns painfully away from success and He steps in to fill the hole. He teaches. He moves. He shields and protects. Sometimes, He even turns the world upside down to meet our need.

That’s probably the greatest thing about being given an assignment that leaves you breathless—you won’t be forging into new territory alone. The One who calls you to it, will walk with you through it. Paving the way. Guiding and squeezing your trembling hand in His.

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.” ~ Psalm 32:8

Thinking over all this, I was reminded of a sweet incident with my middle child several years ago. I was getting ready for the morning, putting on my make up (or ‘painting the barn’ as my husband so lovingly puts it) and Callie ran in to the bathroom, wrapping her arms around my knees. She looked at me with a grin. “Mom…hold me!” She was in kindergarten and loved piggy back rides. on his shoulders

I knelt down, letting her climb onto my back, and stood. She giggled when she saw her reflection in the mirror. Her blonde head was several inches higher than my own. Measuring our height difference with her little hands, she grinned from ear to ear. “Hey, Momma. I’m kind of little, but I’m big when you hold me!”

We are little, inadequate and weak within ourselves, but resting on the shoulders of the Everlasting Arms, we are huge. More than ready to take on any task He leads us to…whether we have 32,000, 300 or nothing.

Have you ever felt ill-equipped for a God-sized adventure? In what ways is God stretching you outside your comfort zone? How does it make you feel? I would love to hear your story!