Month: July 2015

Jesus and Orange Jell-O

Jeremiah 29:11
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the LORD,
‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”

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I stood in line today to get lunch, and secretly prayed that there would still be a Rice Krispie treat left on the dessert tray by the time I got to the front of the line. After waiting for one of the servers to check a first and then a second kitchen. She brought back what I presumed were the last two. So I took it, and sat outside in the breeze, eating it gratefully.

My mind drifted back to my time in the Air Force, and a similar appreciation that I felt for a different dessert: orange Jell-O. Don’t ask why, I couldn’t tell you. But now and then, the cafeteria would offer orange Jell-O for dessert. While it seems small and insignificant, it meant everything to me.

You see, that was one of the darkest times in my life, and I couldn’t shake my feelings of depression, hopelessness, and despair. At times, I would sit on the floor, in the dark in my room, sobbing and praying and literally holding a paring knife—poised to end it all. But then I would wait. I would wait because, when all else seemed lost, there was the hope that tomorrow, there might be orange Jell-O for dessert. And whenever there was, I would breathe a sigh of relief, however brief, and would be reminded that there WAS hope, that this too would pass. And one day at a time, I made it through—thanks to Jesus and orange Jell-O.

Dessert today was much different. It wasn’t the one bright spot in a dark vacuum. Instead, it was just another little blessing, accompanied by so many more that I experience each day. Today, I can celebrate healing, redemption, purpose, passion, and vision…and on and on.

I couldn’t have imagined way back when where I would be today, back when the only thing I could find to be thankful for was a processed gelatinous mass of sugar. But God could—He knew all along the plans He had for me, plans to prosper and not to harm me, plans to give me a future and a hope—and a future full of hope.

All that is to say, if you’re feeling hopeless, hang in there. This too shall pass. And meanwhile, treat yourself to some orange Jell-O!

Signs

Judges 6: 39-40

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request.
Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.’ That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew.”

I’ve been thinking a lot about Gideon this week. If you spent any time at all in Sunday school as a kid, you’re probably familiar with his story. You may recall how God once commanded him to deliver the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites. What’s more, this deliverance came after God had whittled Gideon’s army from 32,000 men to a mere 300. It was a pretty impressive victory, by all accounts.

But I, for one, have never given Gideon all that much credit. While he was technically a man of faith, consistency wasn’t exactly his strong suit. Besides that, he always seemed to need an inordinate amount of hand holding from God in order to follow through with His commands. I mean, after all, before the call to deliver Israel from the Midianites, God commanded Gideon to destroy Israel’s altars to false gods. At that time, Gideon had asked for a sign—and God had obliged—before obeying. God had also instructed Gideon, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you? …. I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” And yet, when the Spirit of the Lord came upon Gideon, making him believe that it was time to deliver the Israelites, he asked for another sign: “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said” (Judges 6: 37). Again, God honored his request. When Gideon arose the next morning, verse 38 tells us, “he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.”

Time to round up the troops, right? Wrong. Instead, Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” If we ever needed more proof that His mercies are new every morning, it comes to us in verse 40: “That night God did so.” Finally, Gideon believed and trusted and set out to conquer Midian. He obeyed, seemingly without question, as God reduced his fighting force from 32,000 to 10,000, and then from 10,000 to 300. But in God’s faithfulness, He offered even more assurance: “During that night the Lord said to Gideon, “Get up, go down against the camp, because I am going to give it into your hands. If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp” (Judges 7:9-11). And so they did, and so they were. And God delivered Israel, as promised.

But I’ve never thought of Gideon as the hero in this story. Instead, he seems like the vessel that God had to drag kicking and screaming onto the pages of history. He was the epitome of one who had greatness thrust upon him. As such, I have never been surprised at the lack of popularity with which people have bestowed this name ever since 1880 when the Social Security Administration began keeping these kinds of records. My apologies to the 928 of you who chose that name for your sons in 2014 alone. But maybe you realized a few things that I only just considered this last week:

  • Gideon only thought that he was hearing from God. He truly wasn’t sure. It isn’t as though God actually showed up in a burning bush. There were a few signs, to be sure, but how definitive were they really?
  • Gideon probably knew about the unreliability of dew. They probably didn’t understand dew points back then, and beyond that, there are a lot of other variables that play into the phenomenon that is the morning dew. How else would you explain why the presence or absence of dew on any given morning is just as likely to depend on the type of surface or the side of the house on which an object is placed?
  • Gideon was charged with the wellbeing of 32,000 troops as well as the rest of the Israeli population. That is a huge responsibility and a matter of stewardship that Gideon obviously didn’t take lightly. And finally,
  • Gideon, like all of us, was flesh and blood and dust. He was a finite human, without the eternal perspective that God had (and still has) to see the ultimate big picture.

Just as this story tells us a little bit about a man named Gideon, I think it’s a good reflection of us. Not many of us hear from prophets or angels, and even fewer hear the audible voice of God. So when we’re faced with big and important decisions, our natural tendency is to ask for signs, for confirmation. We don’t want to proceed without assurance that God will go with us.

Thankfully, this story also tells us a lot about God. He understands us, He sees our hearts, He knows our weaknesses. And in spite of all of that, He remains faithful, just as He did to Gideon. And so, when we wish we could just step out in faith, but when God’s voice is so difficult to discern from the voices of others and even our own desires, we have this assurance: God is willing and able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20), even if that sometimes means sending a supernatural, undeniable sign from heaven.

Selfies

Psalm 139:14

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.”

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Selfies. I remember the first time I heard the term. I was watching a particularly humorous episode of Duck Dynasty. But I remember turning to my husband and asking, “What is a selfie? Is that really a thing?” I subsequently learned that it was a very prominent trend in our culture today. Is that a good or a bad thing?

Some people get down on others for taking too many selfies. In all honesty, some people DO take too many selfies. But I think that a blanket condemnation of this trend is premature, and perhaps a bit misguided.

As a mom of two toddlers, I think selfies (both with and without my kids) serve several valuable and legitimate purposes. They document our time together and our memories. If my kids’ memories of their childhood are as spotty as mine, they’ll need the reminders. These photos also document ME, as a mom. I’ve read more than one blog entry talking about how mothers are always getting stuck behind the camera, recording for posterity everyone but themselves. Then when everyone looks back years later, they ask, “Where was Mom in all of these photos?”

Selfies also demonstrate a level of confidence. Let’s face it. A lot of us moms are more than happy to take our place BEHIND the camera. The last person we want recorded for posterity is ourselves. We don’t want our weight, or our cellulite, our skin condition, or our horrific haircut memorialized for eternity on the internet. God forbid! But our kids see that…our daughters see that. They watch, they notice, they internalize those insecurities.

Am I saying that young girls should plaster scantily-clad and seductively-posed photos of themselves all over social media? No. Am I suggesting that these same girls open themselves up to potential victimization by sex traffickers and the like? Of course not. But I think selfies do have their place in our society. And while I’ve lately found myself taking a few more of them than I used to, I don’t think I should have to feel guilty about that. And I hope that—within reason—you don’t either.

Prepositions

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There’s a song that I love, by All Sons and Daughters, that contains these lyrics:

“I will sing, sing, sing,
To my God, my King,
For all else fades away…”

But often, as I sing along, I will unconsciously replace the word “for” with “‘til.” Of course, that changes the meaning. “For” essentially means “because,” which is nothing like “until.” But somehow, it fits. And really, I’ve realized that there are several prepositions that could work with those lyrics:

For: Everything else will fade away, so why sing our praises—or follow after—anything else?

‘Til: Trials, suffering, challenges—they won’t last forever. If you hold onto God, and keep your eyes on him, he will carry you through.

When: Loss and disappointment are a part of life—not always, and not only, but they can never be completely avoided. And sometimes, those experiences are so intense that you’ll feel as if everything else has faded away. And that’s when we need to cling to God even more.

Luke 21:33 assures us that all else WILL pass away. So why would we want to hold onto anything else, or anyone else? When this world crumbles, I want to be holding onto the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving God, the Creator of all else. So I will sing, sing, sing, to my God, my King…

I’ll Take It

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Early this spring, I remember driving around Waco. I noticed that it was 75 degrees outside, but a little cloudy. Still I said to myself, thinking about the cold and snow my family was experiencing up north, “I’ll take it.”

It’s easy to say that when it means embracing a few clouds in the sky on an otherwise gorgeous day. But I quickly realized that this should be my response to whatever God brings my way—not just in terms of weather, but also in terms of opportunities, experiences, and challenges. Whatever God allows is something He certainly plans on using to his glory.

James 1:2-4

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.”

1 Thessalonians 5:18

“Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s well for you in Christ Jesus.”

Of course, that’s every bit as hard as it sounds. And I don’t know the half of it. I haven’t been through the kinds of things that many of you have. I haven’t suffered the same losses or tragedies. But I know someone who has—God. He suffers with you. He hurts with you. He grieves with you. He weeps with you. What’s more, He watched as his own and only son suffered and died on our behalf. He grieved as Jesus looked at the world and at our sin and as he considered his great love for us and the sacrifice required to save us, and as he declared with resolve, “I wish it didn’t have to be this way, but for them, I’ll take it.”

So let’s follow his lead, shall we?