Sibling rivalry

I have three children. My oldest, Katie, was the center of everyone’s world for two and a half years. The first child. The first grandchild. Who needs TV? We would sit in a circle around her and marvel at the brilliant things she said, laugh at the funny things she did, and give her pretty much whatever she wanted. Then, when she was nearly 3, her sister Anna was born, and it rocked her world. Suddenly I was busy with the baby, and didn’t have time to focus exclusively on her. Anna became our focus for a while, because she was so little and cute, and had such curly hair and little shiny yellow boots and a feisty personality. Eventually, just as both girls were getting self-sufficient, along came Bobby. The first boy. Silly and chubby and then diagnosed with food allergies, we ended up paying a lot more attention to him than to the girls.

As parents, we don’t do it on purpose, but it seems to happen more than we want it to. We take care of whoever needs us most at the moment. We don’t want your kids to feel left out, and we don’t love them any less than you did before. We still know exactly where they are and what they’re doing and we’re just as interested in them. But we spend more time with the baby, whose needs are urgent, because he is helpless without us.

This could explain why sometimes, as “mature” Christians, we feel like God has left us. Or, not “left”, exactly, but that He just isn’t paying us as much attention as he used to. The love He has for us is just as strong as ever, and although we know that, we’re struck by moments of jealousy. We watch someone new to the faith, and see how closely they’re walking with the Lord, and we feel left out. Maybe it’s because we’re no longer babies; we’re children, teens, adults, even – spiritually. We’ve become a little more self-sufficient. We know how to feed ourselves the Word. We know who to hang out with, and who will be a bad influence. We think we know what He would tell us to do in a given situation, so sometimes we don’t even ask. We may not even go to Him unless we’re in trouble. When we can no longer fix things on our own, or a situation becomes dangerous, He’s the first one we call. But other times, we forget to even ask.

Consequently, sibling rivalry may flare up, with resentment and envy creating a wedge between us and the “babies” in the family. I think sometimes we just need to be reminded that we are loved just as much as ever, and that the little ones look up to their older brothers and sisters for direction.

God told us to come to him as little children. I always thought that meant to come innocently, openly, without doubts to cloud our faith. But perhaps it also means this: we can’t delude ourselves into believing we don’t need Him. He’s still our source and our provider. He’s our Creator and He adores us and marvels over every single step we take, every new thing we discover, and all the stages of our growth. When we venture out into the big, scary world, He still wants to hold our hand in His large, comforting one. He is still our loving Father, and He’s never left. Maybe He’s just waiting to hear us cry, “Daddy!” before He picks us up again and
cradles us in His lap.

The whole box of donuts

We used to always have donuts in our Sunday school class. Every week, we’d pass around the flat white boxes of Krispy Kremes and lick the icing flakes off our fingertips. Coffee and donuts. Yum. No better combination.

Once, not long after I started attending our church, I was talking to our pastor, Nathan. I had questions about the baptism of the Holy Ghost. Everybody talked about it, but I wasn’t convinced that I wanted it. I didn’t understand it, and I thought possibly I’d be just fine without it. He asked me if I’d ever watched someone being offered donuts. Sure; every Sunday morning. What does he do? He looks through the box, carefully selecting the one he wants. He eats it, and enjoys it, and it is good. But, usually he will stop there. One is enough. It’s all he needs.

That’s how many Christians are about spiritual gifts, he told me. Someone finds God, and he thinks he’s only supposed to take a little bit and leave the rest for someone else. Even just a small bit is good, and sweet, and wonderful. Many are satisfied with that much. But Nathan told me that he wants the whole box. Jelly-filled, cinnamon twists, glazed, cake, cream-filled with maple icing and sprinkles. One just isn’t enough. He doesn’t just want to read the Word without living it. He doesn’t want to pray without the Holy Spirit. He doesn’t want to read about the Apostles and not practice their acts. It’s all freely offered to us, and no matter how much of it we accept, there’s still an unending supply for anyone else who wants more. He wants it all. Me, too. Pass the donuts.

Just showing up



I am part owner of a crazy car called Lola. Last summer, my husband used a Sawz-all to turn the old Oldsmobile Ninety-Eight into a convertible, and my friends and I painted and glued and turned her into a crazy beach car. When a friend from church hosted a car show, we agreed to enter her, just for fun. (Lola’s kind of a show-off, anyway.)

To our great surprise, Lola received a trophy for best of show. It was a popular vote, and kids had stuffed the ballot box (or so we were told by some of the disgruntled serious car collectors who were there). My dad overheard some men at a meeting one night talking about the “car that isn’t even a real car,” and how it never should have been allowed to enter in the first place. “Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful” became her motto. So this year, when the car show came around, my friends and I felt strongly that we should not enter Lola. She was created for fun, not to upset anyone, so we made other plans for that day and didn’t think twice about it.

But then a funny thing happened. Several people asked about Lola at the car show, so someone called my husband to ask him to bring the car down. He was very clear that we did not want to enter her, and was told that was fine. But when he got there, he was handed a trophy. The president of the car club felt bad about the way we’d been treated, and wanted to make it up to us. So, even without entering, Lola got her second trophy. It doesn’t seem fair, does it? We didn’t even pay an entry fee. We got something for nothing.

A similar thing happens with God. We didn’t pay the price. We don’t deserve it. Frankly, we don’t even belong in the same category. But, against all odds, he calls us. And when he does, we get blessed just for showing up.

Sitting in St. Patrick's Cathedral


I couldn’t wait to see it. I walked into St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City, full of awe. Cool, hushed, and soothing, the very air inside this type of church feels holy. The ceiling arches reach hundreds of feet into the air, and the skill of the craftsmen who built them centuries ago is unparalleled. The builders of the great cathedrals went to great lengths (of time and expense) to lift up God. Intricate, elaborate stonework. Innovative engineering and design. They built these monuments to glorify God, and that’s what these buildings do.

I wandered around, looking into the chapels — ornately decorated, wrapped in flowers, gilded with gold. I saw the candles flickering in their amber glass holders, visual remembrances of individual prayers. I read the inscriptions on the plaques, and studied the stone reliefs depicting scenes from the crucifiction and resurrection. I could smell the lilies, left over from Easter, blanketing the altar. Finally, I sat in one of the pews.

I was overcome with a feeling of sadness, and I didn’t know why. Years ago, I would have thought this place felt holy. The cathedral is stunning. God is absolutely, unquestionably deserving of every bit of effort that went into building that place. No amount of glory is too great for Him. Yet tears began to stream down my face. I looked up and realized why: the tall, elegant spires seemed to be stretching to the sky in a vain attempt to reach Him. The carved stone, ceilings, arches, and ornaments appeared to be pushing Him farther away, rather than elevating Him. The magnitude of the decorated ceiling only emphasized the great distance between heaven and earth.

I realized how much my perception of God has changed over the years. Once I prayed to Him in a church slightly reminiscent of this one, knowing that way up high, somewhere, He was watching over me, and He was looking down as I prayed. Suddenly I slid out of my seat to kneel, thanking God for being so personal, so real, so touchable. We are so blessed to know Him, to feel Him, to see Him in our lives. To be certain that He is right here beside us, not some great distance away. Sometimes I think I don’t show Him the reverence that is due Him, and that I am almost too familiar with the King of the Universe. But Jesus came so we could see Him, know Him, touch Him. He came, wanting us to meet with Him face to face. So I bowed in that great stone church, in humble reverence and adoration, whispering words of gratitude and love to the One True God, who sat right there beside me.

I'm his favorite

I have one younger sister. Our dad, who loves us completely and totally and with an unconditional love, has a standing joke when we call: “Is this the pretty one or the smart one?” After all these years, it still makes us laugh, and depending on how we feel that day, we give him a different answer every time. We know he things we’re both. The thing is, my dad has found a way to always let each of us know we’re special to him. If you would ask my sister, she’d claim she’s his favorite. So would I.

One night at church, someone testified and said, “Don’t you ever, sometimes, just for that moment, know that you are God’s favorite?” At the time, I was stumped, because I couldn’t imagine feeling that way, feeling as though I was that special to Him. I wasn’t important enough. I didn’t know Him well enough. But the thing is, we are that special to Him. He would do anything for us. When He prayed that this cup would pass from Him, when He suffered the agony of the beatings, when He carried His cross, and when He hung on it, dying, He was saying, “I love you the best. I would do this just for you, even if you were the only one on earth. You, my child, are my favorite.”

Christian show and tell

My son got off the bus one afternoon, telling me his friend doesn’t believe in God. Another little boy decided he can’t be friends with the boy who doesn’t believe, because, he said, “If I’m around someone that doesn’t believe, he could change my mind.” My son chose to still be the first boy’s friend, but couldn’t figure out what he could say to him that would convince him to believe otherwise.

I explained to Bobby that day that if his beliefs are strong, if he believes them with all his heart, he has nothing to worry about. Other people won’t change his mind. Maybe, in fact, he will end up changing theirs. “But what could I say to convince him?” Nothing, I said. Sometimes, if you do things right in your life, and treat people like you should, and give God credit for the good things in your life, they will see God through you and start to believe. He said, “But, Mom, if God didn’t exist, we wouldn’t exist… I mean, it proves Genesis 1 and 1.” I wish it were so obvious and so simple for all of us.

It was a great opportunity for conversation with my child, but thoughts continue to run through my mind. How many Christians do what that one little boy wanted to do – separate themselves from the very folks who need them? We want to preach it but don’t realize how powerful it is to simply show it. So many Christians seem to want to remain apart from those who believe different things. But how will either of us ever grow if we don’t get to know each other? It is through interaction that we refine our beliefs, have a chance to share our faith, and learn to stand firm. We do need to stay fed spiritually to remain steadfast, and there are times that that can only be done in seclusion. But our wonderful Lord didn’t remain aloof. He walked out among people, and because of that interaction, many, many people believed.

Why do I know what I know to be true about God? Because someone showed me. Not by pointing out a scripture, not by singing well at church or holding up their hands as they prayed, not because I saw a big billboard telling me to believe or I’ll go to hell. But I know what I know because I have felt compassion. I have been treated with consideration. I have watched people give of themselves selflessly and without reservation, and I have seen their peace even during times of turmoil. It is true what the Scriptures say: blessed are those who have not seen but yet believe. I want that kind of faith. But I say, I have seen, and it helps me believe.

My favorite dessert

We’ve all been to weddings. White and lace and flowers and hope in the air. Some are elegant and elaborate; some are simple. Some brides and their families make the bouquets from silk flowers, some choose white roses, some select colorful bursts of spring flowers. Long, sleek red dresses, like celebrity evening gowns, may adorn the bridesmaids, or they may wear soft ruffly pastels. Tuxes — with tails or without. One attendant or twelve. Some wedding receptions consist of three-course catered dinners for hundreds of people with an instrumental quartet and dancing. Some are quiet gatherings of a handful of close friends and family. But the one thing you will consistently find at any wedding you attend is the wedding cake.

Occasionally, a bride will serve a lemon cake, or half chocolate and half white. Very rarely, you might find someone who breaks with tradition and has gourmet cheesecakes. But usually it’s the old stand-by: white cake with white icing. I think the reason for this is it’s safe. It’s tried and true. Everybody likes it, and we’ve come to expect it.

But one of the amazing things about our God is how personal He is. We’re told in the Bible that Jesus stands at the door and knocks, wanting to be let in, wanting to come in to His bride. That’s us. His beloved. He comes to each of us in a different way, and woos us based on our unique personalities and desires. If white cake is your favorite, He’s got that. But for some, it’s a caramely turtle cheesecake. Strawberry shortcake piled high with whipped cream. Sugar cream pie. Creme brulée. A Snickers bar. A box of donuts. Homemade ice cream that churned noisily for hours on the back porch in the July heat. Whatever it is, whatever is your heart’s deepest desire, that’s what Jesus has for you. He doesn’t always offer you what’s safe or expected. He created us as individuals with varied talents, tastes, and personalities. So it only stands to reason that when He first pursued me, He did it differently than when He first began chasing after you. We need to relish the differences and understand that there’s no need to be jealous of anyone else’s relationship with the Lord. He has given them just what they need. But if it’s not like the relationship you’ve developed with Him, don’t despair. Maybe instead of white cake, He’s busy baking up a quadruple chocolate cake with different flavors of fudge between the layers, and is waiting for just the right moment to surprise you with it. Open the door wide, and wait for Him to show up. It’s guaranteed that He will, and it will be sweeter than any wedding cake you’ve ever had before.

photo from istockphoto.com

Finding the blessings

My friend Callie called me one day to tell me a crazy story. Although normally at work, she was home one morning because her daughter’s school started late that day. As she prepared to leave the house, she left her daughter at the door and went back to adjust the thermostat, which they typically leave at the same temperature. Looking up, she noticed that the crown molding was shimmering with heat. She didn’t smell smoke, but she calmly called 911. They told her to get out of the house immediately.

It turns out the bulb in the kitchen pantry caught on fire, which spread to the beams spanning the length of the house. Everything above the ceiling and below the roof was burning. If she’d waited another 10 minutes to call, the firemen told her, the whole house would have collapsed.
While Callie was grateful for the Holy Spirit’s nudge to turn back, and grateful that they were all safe, the next few weeks were difficult. Her family wasn’t allowed back in their house. All their clothes and furniture were taken to a place that specializes in smoke removal. Callie, her husband David, and their three children under the age of eight were moved to an extended-stay hotel. Mornings were hectic—getting the girls off to school from an unfamiliar place… running to work… coming home and trying to cook and bathe and feel like they had a home…. I called Callie one day after I’d been thinking about how hard this all was for her, and instead of accepting my sympathy, she surprised me with her thoughts.

“You know, if someone had asked me if I would be willing to relocate my family for eight weeks while someone came in and redid my house with all new carpet, new wood floors, and new paint in every room, I would have said, ‘Absolutely.’” So, she said, that was how she was choosing to see it all: as a blessing. It’s all in how you look at it.

Cleaning out the junk drawer

Cleaning out the junk drawer one day, I came upon some small colorful tickets. Memories came flooding in. When my son Bobby was younger, in an attempt to retrain him and reinforce his good behavior, I created tickets that said, “I am GOOD!” Not only did he get tickets for good behavior, which he could eventually cash in for a small prize, but every time he looked at them he was reminded that he is a good boy. We believe what we see, what we hear, what we tell ourselves. He needed to know that even if he was getting in trouble, he was loved. He had
what it takes to be good. He is not defined by his actions; he is a good boy who happens to be doing bad things. He is inherently lovable and thoroughly capable of change. He didn’t have to berate himself for his failings; he simply had to learn to accept that we loved him anyway.

After pulling another handful of crumpled, colorful tickets out of the drawer, I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. We need that, as Christians. As adults. Each one of us needs ongoing reminders that even though we are sinners, there is something in us of value. God sees it. He put it there Himself. He wants us to remember that. Not to exalt ourselves, not to fill ourselves with pride, but to know that we should not let the stresses and worries of this life weigh us down. We are strong. We are able. And that’s because He said we are. By carrying His cross up
the hill to Calvary, He told us we were worth dying for. When we think our sins are too big to be forgiven, we belittle the price of the payment he made in exchange for them. We already know that when He speaks, things become. He spoke the earth into being. He made life, and He brought light. He also said His sacrifice would forever cover our sins, erase them from His sight. And so it is true. We simply have to learn to accept it.

Forgiving – and forgetting

I, even I, am he that blottest out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins. Isaiah 43:25

Thinking about footwashing and communion, I was pondering the idea of forgiveness today. What is so amazing about God is not even the fact that He forgives us, but the fact that He then forgets. He doesn’t see our transgressions blinking like a neon light in the background every time He looks at us. He doesn’t think, “There’s that sinner again, worshipping me.” No, He means it when He says He will forgive us our sins. They’re not just shoved aside temporarily; they are forever gone. It’s as if they didn’t exist in the first place.

It’s funny that we have such a hard time believing it. We want to bring it back up, thinking that our sins are too big to be so easily forgotten. We all do it. But by doing so, we’re belittling the price He paid to erase them. I also think, though, that sometimes we refuse to let ourselves be forgiven so we have an excuse to fall back on. “I didn’t go to church Sunday, but let’s face it, I’m
a sinner. I can’t do everything right.” “God won’t expect me to live up to His high standards — I was born with sin, so of course He will understand when I mess up. It’s inevitable.” It’s like we think He’s up there winking at our purposeful “mistakes.” Here’s the problem with that: accepting His forgiveness is an important way for us to show the Lord that we trust Him. That we believe His word. That we acknowledge the tremendous price He paid to release us from that sin, and that we understand the inestimable value of His life and the eternal life He has promised to us.

So, the next time I need to forgive someone in my life, it is my prayer that I will truly be able to forgive and forget. That I will honor that someone with the gift of my trust. That I will believe what they say. That I will acknowledge the sacrifice it took for him or her to apologize, and that I will not get in the way of the blessings waiting for both of us as we try to live as Christ would live.

Up to my neck in boxes

I’m up to my neck in boxes. Chaos reigns in my household, but only for a couple more days. We’re getting ready to move – just around the corner, but we still have to sort and wrap and box everything like we were going cross-country. I’ve been cleaning out junk drawers, making piles for Goodwill, running to the store to buy more trash stickers because we have mounds of black, bulging trash bags sitting in our corners. It’s so hard for me to concentrate when things are crazy all around me. The visual clutter clogs my mind, making me tense and claustrophobic. I can hardly stand it.

I read a book recently about how to simplify your life. The author suggests changing the way we view our possessions. It’s not about how expensive something was; it’s about how it contributes to the vision you have for your life. Do you picture yourself having people over for spontaneous cookouts or game nights? Then keep your dining room or game area ready. Do you want to function as an efficient professional? Organize your office. Put your CDs in their cases so you don’t waste 20 minutes finding the one you want. Have too much stuff to put everything away? Then look at each item based on these criteria: has it proven to be useful, and/or is it something you find beautiful? If you haven’t used it or worn it in a year, get rid of it. You don’t need it.

As I declutter and simplify and pare my possessions down to a more manageable level, I’m finding that the weight of the stress I have been carrying is lightening. When my cabinets are neatly arranged, I can breathe easier. When I don’t have too many dishes, they don’t pile up, and I don’t get behind. I’m much less frazzled. Today it hit me: maybe I need to pack away some of my mental junk in boxes. Toss it, purge it, give it away. I don’t need that guilt. I don’t want to think about the ways a former friend wronged me a few years back. It’s not useful, and it’s not pretty. Why drudge it up? I need to reclaim the beautiful things and remove my talents from their dusty boxes to display them for everyone to see.

Sometimes there are things in our lives that were expensive. They cost us a lot – a lot of time, money, effort, trauma, or personal sacrifice. But they’re not important enough to let them get in the way of the person we want to be. We don’t want to showcase them. Yes, they were once important, but they’ve outlived their usefulness. It’s OK to let things go sometimes, whether it’s a friend that no longer uplifts you, or a hobby you thought you’d always pursue, or a commitment you once made to an organization that no longer enriches your life. Rid your life of the unnecessary clutter and keep only the good, right, valuable things God has placed in it. It’s amazing how much less cluttered your spirit will be.

Giving it away

I give gifts. Small trinkets, pieces of jewelry, books, purses and bags, vases, framed photos, whatever I see that I think one of my friends would really like. It’s like a game, my quest for just the right thing, that thing the recipient doesn’t even know she needs until I give it to her — shiny red knee-high boots for a friend who wants to be WonderWoman, a Jane Austen action figure for a writer friend of mine, the stained glass panel I made to match another friend’s nursery. I buy things because I love my friends, because it thrills me to find just the right something that will bring a smile, because I’m a shopper and an artist and when I see something really beautiful and unusual it makes my heart hurt. Someone I love should be able to have that. Sometimes I make things. In my quest for the unusual, perfect gift, sometimes I decide to take matters into my own hands. Do I think I would ever be able to find a shelf in just the right pattern to match the colorful baby nursery? No? Well, why not paint one?

Over the past few years, I’ve become more and more of a gift-giver. The less expected and the more personal, the better. But until recently, I did not see the importance of giving. As one after another friend commented about a special gift I gave them (which I only vaguely remembered giving), I saw that even when I’m not there, the presents provide a sense of presence. They serve as tangible reminders of the value of our friendship. They sit in places of honor, and become conversation starters. Even when someone moves away, or common circumstances change, the reminder of the connection we had remains. The gifts make my friends constantly aware that someone understands them and that they are loved. I know as well as anyone that friendship is not about objects, and love is not measured by gifts. Yet, an object can hold great significance.

Giving presents can be great fun, but sometimes there is not enough to go around. Things are finite. That’s the problem. If you have a whole box of chocolates, and give away half, you only have half left. If there’s only one hand-made journal, and you would love it as much as your friend who’s kept journals since she was 10, you have a dilemma.

What is so beautiful about God’s love is it is not limited. It is the one thing in this life that is not diminished by giving it away. When we reach out in love, we are more than filled back up. Both parties are blessed by the transaction. And the love we give seems to expand. The person to whom we extended our hands turns and helps the next person. So suddenly, instead of decreasing, God’s love multiplies exponentially. We never have to wonder if we’re going to run out. We never have to wonder how to get more. His love remains present for all to see. When someone gives it to us, we are reminded of how special we are, how valuable we are to Him. And so we take that precious gift, the thing that is just what we wanted, and we think, “This would be perfect for my friend/my boss/my neighbor/the waitress who just took my dinner order.” God has given us just what that person wants, just what she loves, just what will make him happy. So we willingly, happily, freely turn around and give it away.

Keeping the line open

In this age of computers, we are so spoiled. We’re used to convenience, and our society thinks faster must certainly be better. Do you remember your first computer? How about the first computer that connected to the Internet? I remember the awe I felt thinking that anything I wanted to find might be out there somewhere. I could get to it from home. I didn’t have to go to the library. I remember the long waits while I waited for the computer to boot up. I’d hit the on button, and go fix a snack, or go to the bathroom, or pick up the living room. Then I’d come back in and start the Internet connection. We all know the bouncy, staccato sound of the signal from the computer as it tries to make that connection. Then static, and then, finally, we were there. The connection felt so fragile, so tenuous. But it would usually hold. Even weak, it was better than not having it at all.

The worst part was having to tie up the phone lines in order to get onto e-mail and send a message. It was so much quicker to call someone than to go through the lengthy process of logging on to the computer and then to the Internet and then waiting as it sent tiny little bytes of information slowly across those lines. But now this has all changed. With my high-speed Internet, it runs in the background, sharing the phone line, remaining on as long as the computer is on. It’s only a second away if I need it. It allows, for all intents and purposes, instantaneous communication.

I think this relates to Paul’s meaning in I Thessalonians when he exhorts us to pray without ceasing. He doesn’t say to come in and pray, and then go out, and then when the next thing happens, or the next thought crosses your mind, to retreat back into a prayer closet and pray about that, and then to go out and wait for the next thing. Stop. Go. Stop. Pray. Stop praying. Start again.

No, he says to pray without ceasing. To keep the connection open. Once we’ve turned on our machines, and logged in to the network, we need to remain linked. That way, when we need to get a message to Him, we don’t have to work through all the logistics and technicalities to be prepared to send it. We simply send it, immediately, no waiting. We shoot it out into cyberspace, not always understanding how it gets there, but knowing that it will, without fail, be delivered. The best part of this, though, is not in the sending, but in the receiving. I might be going about my own business, and suddenly I’ll hear a “ding.” “You’ve got mail.” He replies, He speaks, but sometimes we have to wait. He doesn’t want us to shut down the operating system and come back once a day and check to see if He had something to say; He wants us to be ready to hear from Him at all times. He wants us to stay connected; to keep the lines open. As my friend Lisa told me once, it’s like keeping a radio on in the background. Always transmitting, always receiving a broadcast. We just have to learn to stay tuned and listen.

Remodeling

When we bought a new (old) house, people thought we were crazy. But I had a vision. Never mind that the kitchen had ugly gray paneling and yellow-flecked Formica and blue plaid wallpaper, or that the living room was papered in a busy, rust- and gold-colored print. I could see it. I knew what to do with it. It would be wonderful. It was perfect.

Partway through the process, though, I became less sure. Much less. Walking through the debris covering the floor from the demolition, seeing the cabinet frames without the doors, cut apart for rebuilding, I was deeply discouraged. It was so much harder than I expected, and it took so much time. I didn’t know what to do most of the time, and without the help of my dad, I never would have made it through. He came and patiently, creatively, thoroughly rebuilt the kitchen for me, one step at a time. If something didn’t fit, we recut it. If something broke, we made a new one. Each task brought forward another problem, and each time, as I was ready to cry, my dad stepped back, thought for a minute, and presented a solution. His father had been a cabinet-maker, so he knew how to do things. But sometimes they didn’t work, so we’d have to try again. I spent the summer wanting to cry, to curl up into a ball somewhere and never come out. But almost daily, my dad would call and say he was on his way, and did I want to meet him over there? Slowly but surely, the kitchen came together, and I loved the time we spent together, side by side.

I’m not even sure when it happened, when we finally turned the corner from disaster to improvement. But we did. And now, when I walk through my new kitchen, I am filled with wonder. It is so beautiful. Gleaming new countertops, colorful cabinets, pretty hardware, crisp white wainscoting, shiny floor. My mom walked in one day when we were nearly done and said, “Who knew it could look like this?” I said I did, and she replied, “I didn’t. I never thought it would look this good.”

Reminds me of how God works with us. He sees something inside us—an inherent beauty, a solid structure—and He goes to work. The change isn’t immediate, and sometimes things look worse before they start to look better. But He’s patient, and creative, and oh-so-thorough. If something doesn’t work, He fixes it. If it’s broken, He tosses it out and replaces it with something new. The solutions are never what you expect, and sometimes the remodeling creates other, new issues to deal with. Yet He steadfastly continues the work He began, knowing the end result will be glorious, better than anyone ever imagined. All He wants is to spend time with us, working side by side. All He asks is that we trust His abilities and yield ourselves to His vision. So we do, anxiously awaiting the time when we can see what He had in
mind for us all along.

Boldly approaching the throne

It doesn’t occur to him that he shouldn’t be there. He doesn’t wonder if he has permission, or even if he needs permission. My six-year-old son walks to the front of the church, up the three steps to the platform on which our pastor, Nathan, sits, putting the finishing touches on his message. The musicians are all singing. Oblivious to the microphones, people watching, or the worship all around him, Bobby scoots back in the chair, feet dangling. He looks up suddenly, scoots over to the side of the chair closest to Nathan, and leans back again, content. I watch,
smiling, thinking of my God and the faith of a child. That’s how we’re to approach Him. Boldly. Not hesitating, not being hindered by all the reasons someone else might think we’re not worthy to be up there right next to the King. Side by side, sitting in His chair, leaning on His arm, leaning over to whisper things to Him as they cross our minds, smiling with the sheer delight of being with Him. It doesn’t matter that the heavenly host is singing all around, or that the cherubim are circling and fanning up His glory. All that matters — the only thing — is that He loves us. He could be annoyed by the interruptions; He could shush us and say that he has more important things to do. But He doesn’t. He lovingly listens and sits with us. Nathan’s patient tolerance reminds me that God, too, has time for His children. All of them, always.

Not feeling it

I don’t have to feel it in order for it to be true. Sure, emotion is great. Rushes of passion are wonderful, but they’re not all that faith is. I am many things, most of which cannot be seen or even felt: A mother of three children. A wife. A graphic designer. A daughter, and a granddaughter. A sister. An aunt. A friend. An adult. A writer.

I don’t have to see the sun to know of its radiating warmth. I don’t have to feel a kitten’s fur to know that it is soft and fluffy (and that it will make me sneeze). I don’t have to taste a lemon to know that it will make my jaw twinge with its sourness, nor do I have to swallow a spoonful of sugar to taste its grainy sweetness. I don't need to look at a map or a passport to know that I live in America, in Indiana, in Crawfordsville. I don’t have to see a medication flowing through my veins to know that it has cured me. I don’t have to put my hand in the fire in order to know that it is hot. I don’t have to be with my children to know that I am a mother. A mother who has lost her child is still a mother. Some things shall always remain.

Once you’ve experienced something, you possess a certain knowingness. I’ve felt God before, therefore I know he is there. I’ve had prayers answered, so I know that he hears me. I’ve been physically bent over by the weight of him, and I know he is strong and powerful. I’ve had my heart broken by his grief, so I know that he cares. I’ve had him speak to me, answer questions before they’re completely articulated, so I know he talks to me. I’ve felt his love through the touch and actions of my friends, so I know he uses angels all around us. I have felt before that God is with me. I have understood that I am a child of God. I have experienced Jesus with me.

These are all things that I know to be true. So when I feel abandoned by God, when I feel all alone, I’m not doing him justice. He has promised, and He always keeps His word. So when He says He is with me, He is. Truly, genuinely, absolutely. I don’t have to feel it to know without a doubt that it is true.

Slow charge

A trickle charger — I think that’s what it’s called. When I plug my cell phone into the charger, it receives a slow, steady stream of energy. Sometimes I am impatient to get going, and I pull it off the charger after only a few minutes. I’ve tricked the battery, apparently, because it always shows a full charge when I unplug it, but the battery only lasts a very short time. Falsely full. It takes time to get a complete charge, and patience, and a willingness to sit still and let the power flow in.

The same could be said for our spirits. When we have been away from the Source for too long, we grow weak. Reading God’s Word, or kneeling in prayer, is how we plug in to get recharged. Sometimes we feel the flow of power, and mistakenly think we’re full after only a minute or two, so we hop up and take off again. But it soon becomes apparent that we’re only half-charged. We snap at our kids, get annoyed with our spouses, yell at other drivers on the road. We forget to show love, because our reservoirs are running low.

As I sat and prayed at the altar the other night, I couldn’t bring myself to leave. That’s when I realized I needed to spend time, waiting on the Lord, waiting to be filled, waiting to let His awesome power and love and grace flow into me, soothing all the hurting spots, reinforcing the weak spots, restoring the broken parts. It takes time to be transformed, and it takes deliberate, one-on-one time with the Lord to remain fully charged.