He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.
~Jim Elliot, missionary to Ecuador, martyred on January 8, 1956
As we drove through the Andes Mountains in Ecuador, a breathtakingly beautiful country, Jim Elliot’s words resonated in my heart. While our team of nine from Rochester, NY made it safely home and our lives did not end in martyrdom, I asked myself often, am I willing to die for God’s glory if that is what he asks of me?
The truth is that none of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We don’t like to talk about this, but I have watched too many loved ones face loss recently and as a result it is ever present in my mind. We should make wise choices and seek to live healthy lives, but we don’t get to determine the length of our days here on this earth. The only foolish way to live is to strive after things that won’t last. Following Jesus is never foolish because only what is done for His glory will last.
I feel bold today. Perhaps tomorrow I will wake up to the pressure of trying to not rock any boats, to not say anything that will make others uncomfortable. But this morning, my husband preached on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace (from Daniel 3) Their willingness to stand firm in their trust in God challenged me to my core as it always seems to do! In verse 18 of Daniel 3, these three young men say to Nebuchadnezzar that their God is able to deliver them, but even if He doesn’t, they still will not bow down to the statue that they were being asked to worship.
This is how I want to live. With the faithfulness to stand up for what I believe in like Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego. With the willingness to lay down my life like Jim Elliot. The thread that weaves throughout all of the stories of obedience to God is the faithful God who is worthy of trust. Sometimes God takes people through difficulty and then blesses their lives immensely. Other times, faithful servants lose their lives and it’s too soon for their loved ones left behind. The question for all of us is do we trust God’s plan even if it brings heartache instead of blessing?
Yesterday, we arrived back in Rochester after spending ten days in the stunning country of Ecuador. The experiences we had there were incredible, from the new friendships we made to the work projects we were able to help with to the ministries we were able to be a part of. The way that God worked personally in each of my team member’s lives is remarkable and I am beyond excited to see what God will continue to do in our lives as we continue to step out in faith and trust him. But our time there was not without its challenges. So here are some of the lessons learned and the way I saw my teammates respond to the various difficulties we faced.
Even if our luggage does not arrive at the same time as our plane, we still will have a good attitude and continue to do what we came to do.
Even if we lose water and power and can’t get showers or host meals, we still will make the most of it and rejoice in the opportunity to get to know others even better when we shower and eat at their house unexpectedly!
Even if we are unable to communicate well due to the language barrier, we still will try hard to convey the love of Christ.
Even if we are injured or sick, we still will press on and make the most of the opportunities before us.
Even if plans change, we still will roll with the changes.
Not all of our responses were great. We were tired and out of our element and so there were plenty of times when we didn’t respond well. We were annoying or we got annoyed easily. We weren’t always kind or patient. We argued and complained. But ultimately, we sought God’s glory and I am so grateful for this.
What will God do in the lives of the nine of us who went to Ecuador? I’m not completely sure, but I have an inkling. I can seen glimpses of what God is doing in the lives of many of my teammates and I’m excited about the opportunities He has laid before me. One thing I continue to be convinced of is that when we follow God’s will for our lives, it is always good. It’s not easy, but it is GOOD!
Even if… I still will!
There has been a strange shift for me over the past few years in my blogging life. When I talk with other writer friends, I discover that I am not alone. Most of my friends who I have met through the online world are mothers and of course the inevitable has happened—our kids are growing older.
And as they grow older, it becomes more difficult to write about what we struggle with as moms, because while everyone can relate to the difficulty in parenting littles, teen struggles are much more personal. My kid’s personalities are more developed, so if I tell you that my teen is struggling with anger issues, it’s different than…
…and that’s where this attempt at a blog post ended almost a year ago. I never finished it, but when I opened my blog to write a new post today, I realized that I had already attempted to write on this very subject I have been contemplating all day. Turns out, these thoughts have been simmering for quite some time!
Having teenagers has become the biggest writer’s block of my life. Where once words came easily and poured out of me, I now find myself struggling to express how I am feeling. I flounder with words. I delete sentences. Then I delete some more.
And then an unfinished blog post sits in my draft folder for a year.
Having teenagers is lonely. I don’t want to betray their trust. Their stories are theirs to tell, not mine, but it doesn’t change the fact that just as I struggled through learning how to be a parent to a newborn, I am struggling to learn how to parent my kids who are growing more and more independent with every passing day. Not being able to process through writing has been hard.
My oldest got her permit and is asking me to drive. She’s going to a homeschool prom today. Prom!!! Her first international missions trip is happening this summer and she will be working at a camp as a counselor. I watch her spread her wings and while this is completely right and she is so ready for all of these things, I find myself reeling from the speed of it all as she rushes through life. I’m barely holding on.
My second born is growing into himself and it is equal parts thrilling and exhausting. He’s always been an incredibly sweet and thoughtful kid and I think I expected this to be true in his teenage years too. But he started taking logic classes (which he absolutely loves!) and while this is helping him to think critically which is good, he is starting to challenge every little thing. So my emotions fluctuate between being amazed at his growth and being frustrated with the unexpected teenage angst.
I observed a baby girl climbing the stairs to a slide yesterday at a playground and I caught my breath. Wasn’t it just yesterday when my oldest was that age? Later in the day, I cried as I listened to her sing a solo that she will be performing at a benefit concert this weekend. She has grown into a capable and confident young woman, but I still feel like I should be close by, making sure she doesn’t fall, looking to catch her eye to see her light up when she knows I’m there. I’m scared of the day when she no longer looks back to find me…
This is such a strange time, this “middle” between the years when they need us for everything and when they walk into the future God has prepared for them. I’m having to let go more and more, but the more I let go, the more I want to hold on.
When I remember to look for it, I am reminded that there is grace for this time. Grace that covers my failures and allows my kids to love me despite my mistakes. Grace that strengthens the bond between an easily exasperated mom and overly emotional teens rather than tearing them apart. Grace that allows all of us to see the beauty of God’s sweetness towards us.
May you continue to hold my dear ones close. Lead them and guide them through life. May they want to know you more and more and as they grow in the knowledge of you, show them how to love others well in spite of the difficulty and the suffering they will face. Give them integrity and humility. May they pursue you always and when they doubt, may they be willing to listen for your still small voice. May they never stop looking for you and may they be delighted with the knowledge that you are always there for them. Hem them in behind and before! I praise you for they are fearfully and wonderfully made!
When we started homeschooling our kids nearly three years ago, one of the first things we committed to doing as part of our day was reading through the Bible together as a family. Every school morning, we have breakfast as a family and then everyone grabs their Bible and we take turns reading through two chapters of scripture.
Since we do not read over the weekends and on Mondays (our co-op day), we have not made it through the Bible even one time yet. We finished the New Testament a couple of weeks ago and just finished Nehemiah today. There have been times along the way when I have wondered if the reading is worthwhile. Should we be doing more? Are our kids developing a love for the Word of God or do they see it as just another part of the school day that they have to endure?
As I have pondered these questions and prayed about them, God in his goodness has answered in sweet ways. One of those ways is in watching my oldest two make the decision to go on a missions trip to Ecuador this summer. In their applications, both of them stated that they are growing in their faith and want to serve the Lord. While I know that their growth comes from many different sources, I know that this emphasis on scripture in our family has set a foundation for their growth. Through the years as we have come upon difficult subjects, we have been able to have great conversation spurred on by our reading. We also use that time to discuss current events through a Biblical worldview.
When I look back on my own growing up years, I am reminded of the countless hours my family spent praying, kneeling by my parent’s bed. I told my Mom recently that I would often fall asleep as my parents droned on and on, but the truth is, those times were foundational for my own spiritual journey. I learned all those years ago the significance of prayer. I watched prayers get answered and I understood that prayer is meant to be continual and it is a discipline worth pursuing.
I know that my kids won’t always appreciate our scripture reading time, just as I didn’t always appreciate my family prayer times, but I know that God will use those times in powerful ways. My kids are already seeing that the Word of God is living and active. They have experienced the excitement of reading one portion of scripture and discovering that it explains another portion. They have been blessed by reading a passage in the morning and then hearing the same passage lifted up in song later in the day. They are seeing how scripture impacts their lives. Seeing their eyes light up when something that was previously confusing makes sense is one of my favorite things to see.
A few weeks ago, we were reading through Ezra, a book that details the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem. One day, my youngest decided to draw a picture depicting what we had read about earlier in the day. She did this in the midst of my prayers and ponderings, unprompted by me (there ARE times when I have the kids art journal a particular verse as part of their response, but this time was completely on her own). She drew men on ladders working on the building, others working with tools and others with their backs to the workers, mocking and ridiculing the work being done.
To say I was amazed is an understatement. Her work was intricate, just like Ezra’s descriptions and I was blown away.
As parents, we don’t get to determine how God will use our faithfulness. We can’t make our children love the Bible and prayer. But we can show them OUR love for God’s Word and we can encourage them to respond to it. We can be intentional about reading the Bible with our kids and praying.
The main thing I have learned from this is that our efforts do not need to be elaborate for God to use them. In fact, sometimes it’s the consistent simplicity of our efforts that God will use the most. My kids are learning that spending time with God is a discipline that they should practice, because it is meaningful and it impacts their lives in powerful ways. Being faithful to God’s call on our lives, whether that means going to Ecuador or drawing a picture might mean ridicule from others who don’t understand. But I pray that this foundation that we are laying in our kids’ lives will support and guide them all of their days.
If you are wondering where to start with devotions with your kids or if you are feeling like what you are doing isn’t working, might I encourage you to just read scripture? It won’t always be easy (the list of names in Nehemiah alone is CRAZY!!) and sometimes the Bible will be bring up questions that you might not be prepared to answer (Mom, what does it mean when it says that Lot had sexual relations with his daughters?!).
But sometimes I think we make it more complicated than it needs to be. God has given us everything we need for life and godliness in His Word. We need to read it!
Sometimes what you fear the most actually happens, but oftentimes, something remarkable happens in those moments. It’s almost as if God is saying, you can trust me! The very worst has happened, but I am worthy of your trust.
Nearly thirty years ago, my Daddy had open heart surgery, the very thing he feared the most. This is his story…
“What I feared has come upon me,
What I dreaded has happened to me.”
I first recall hearing a reference to this verse when in was in Bible college in 1972. One of my teachers made the statement, “What I feared the most happened to me”. She had greatly feared the death of her husband and it happened. But she also testified that the Lord was gracious and stood with her and strengthened her in her time of trial. In 1972, she was happily married again to a fine Christian businessman.
The second time I heard reference to this verse was at a Bible seminar in 1980, where the speaker said, “What you fear the most could very well happen”. Both these incidents were ingrained into my mind. I never forgot these words- “What I dreaded has happened to me”.
In the Fall season of 1981 (at the age of 40), I was on the roof of our home cleaning the fallen leaves out of the rain gutters, when I experienced my first chest pain. I was surprised and wondered why it happened. As I kept working another slight pain occurred a few minutes later. Every few minutes there was a slight sharp pain like someone was pinching me on the inside. I was now getting a little frightened.
For the next three months, I kept this to myself. I was experiencing these chest pains every 5 to 10 minutes. Finally, I told my wife, Carol what was happening. She encouraged me to see a doctor, someone I have always tried to avoid.
After much persuasion and encouragement from my good wife who had been a nurse, I reluctantly went. After all kinds of tests, from wearing a heart monitor for 24 hours to a stress test, they found nothing wrong but slightly high blood pressure for which I was placed on medication.
However, for the next nine years (from 1981 to August 1990), I experienced some kind of chest pain or discomfort almost every day. During those nine years, I ministered to quite a few men who had heart problems and eventually open heart surgery. So I was close to the problem, hearing and learning much about open heart surgery. And these words of Job kept coming to my remembrance, “What I dreaded has happened to me”.
I feared open heart surgery.
I could never go through that, I thought.
This couldn’t happen to me.
During those nine years of chest pains, I had a twofold experience. On the one hand, I believe I was drawn closer to my Lord and my Savior, Jesus Christ. There were times of sweet fellowship with the Lord who was faithful and stood with me and I know it was the loving hand of God.
However, on the other hand, this good experience was not always easy. There were times of fear, frustration, discouragement, and times when I longed to be free from this affliction. There were times when I prayed earnestly and fervently with tears to be healed instantly. The answer didn’t come in my way or my time, but it would come in God’s way and God’s time.
During those nine years, I kept most of what was happening to myself. I shared some things with my wife and children but not much. In 1987, I realize now that I began to experience angina pains. I continued to fulfill my ministry, but I knew that my problem was getting worse, although I didn’t know exactly what was wrong. I thought I might have blockage in my arteries, but I wasn’t sure. The angina pains began to happen more frequently with physical exertion. I could no longer cut the grass or walk a long distance. I continued to pray for strength and healing. I changed my eating habits and lost weight. I wanted to be well, but I didn’t want surgery.
And then this past summer, I was walking in the parking lot, talking to God and I made the most foolish statement I’ve ever made-
“Lord- I can’t go through open heart surgery,
I won’t go through open heart surgery,
I’ll die first, before I’ll go to a hospital.”
But God is so gracious. Our Lord is so patient and long suffering.
On August 19th, God lead me to preach on Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”- “My grace is sufficient for thee”.
On August 24th, we took Janey to Hershey for her ride to school. That night, we talked with Janey’s friend’s mother. Her husband had heart problems. He went to Hershey hospital and had the angioplasty done and was doing well. But she said something that God used to pierce my heart- “We needed him”. I began to think of my family.
On August 26th, God led me to preach on Romans 12. There was a verse in particular that God would drive into my mind- Romans 12:12. “Rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing instant in prayer.” That word from God became a source of comfort to my soul.
On August 27th, the pain was getting worse and more frequent. Pain came just sitting. It was time to go. I committed everything to the Lord. I went to see my doctor and asked him to get me into Hershey hospital. The earliest appointment was on August 29th. On August 28th, I experienced a severe pain and I told Carol, “It’s time to go”. She insisted she would drive.
The rest is history. They found severe blockage and I had open heart surgery.
“What I dreaded has happened to me”
But by the grace of God, what I dreaded did not have to be dreaded- because in my weakness, God’s peace and power rested upon me. He deserves the honor and glory for bringing me through this.
You’ve all heard or read the poem “Footprints in the Sand”. As I look back over my experience at Hershey hospital, I see one set of footprints and they’re not mine. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, carried me all the way through!
What lessons have I learned? Too many to share all with you, but I’ll share two in closing.
- There is nothing too hard for the Lord- He is able to keep us in all situations.
“God does not keep us from trials, but He keeps us in trials.”
- God is never without hope- our God is a God of Hope!
Therefore, we can overcome and endure and never give up.
After what God has done for me, I should never become anxious about anything. God goes before us. The Lord went before me into Hershey hospital. Everything was prepared by God for my coming. The Lord was in control. He turned that “dreadful place” into a haven of rest, peace and healing! I can honestly say “I enjoyed the experience” and God deserves all the glory.
Job said, “What I dreaded has happened to me”. But the Bible says in Job 42:12 that “The Lord blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first.” God has a way of making it up to us. He turns trials into triumph.
If we continue to trust Christ and cleave unto Him, there is hope, there is victory, there is prosperity in our inner most being.
“Therefore, my brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials and temptations” (James 1:2), knowing this, that God is working for our good and for His glory!