If We Don’t Give Up

If We Don’t Give Up

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Every time I walk out to the front yard I feel like I have super powers. (Then I walk back in, and my kids remind me I most certainly do not.) Last year, my dad gave me a shoot off his blackberry bush. It was maybe eight inches long. I planted it at the end of last summer, and now that little bush is taller than me and giving us giant handfuls of blackberries every day. We made mountains of blackberry pancakes Saturday morning and ate them on the patio while we listened to old hymns and watched Lottie try to feed the dogs bits of syrupy food. At some point, I noticed both girls had purple lips and purple fingertips and a little syrup in their bed head hair. Such is the way of Saturdays.

Beside the blackberry bush is my hydrangea. That one tested me this year. Last year I only got a couple blooms because of a late freeze. When the late freeze came this year, I batted my eyelashes at Matt (and promised snickerdoodles) and asked him to help me cover the hydrangea bush and all its tiny, confused buds with old bed sheets. We used clothespins to fasten the sheets to the branches as the ice pelted down, and by the end of it our yard looked like it had a gigantic blowfish that had taken up residence in the flowerbed. We had to refasten the sheets a few times because the strong winds kept blowing them off. I wanted to give up, certain the buds were already frozen and dead. But we kept fastening and covering until the freezing days were over. And now, all over the house, I’ve got vases and jars and pitchers full of the lacy globes.

There’s a verse I pray every day for Matt and myself, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:7-9, NIV). 

I’ll be honest and tell you I’ve never been more weary. We are taking an adoption class right now, and I’m realizing one of my biggest fears surrounding our adoption is that I won’t have the energy, the stamina, or the caffeine supply to parent well–both our biological kids and our adopted child. Loving and leading and listening–those are the good, hard things we pour into those around us. They drain us and leave us collapsed on the sofa at the end of the day. But it’s the last promise in the passage that keeps me going, “At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT).

I’m staring at a big bunch of hydrangeas on my dining room table right now, and the etching in the pitcher that holds them is throwing a rainbow onto the runner, a hidden gift since I just finished reading about Noah and the flood, about second chances and walking with God. I’ve just closed my Bible, and this stubborn soul of mine is reminded once again that this is where I get my strength. From Him. From this Love Letter He has written for me. With the light casting lines across the wood grain, I can see sticky fingerprints I missed last night. The blessing doesn’t look like a clean house or kids that always make wise choices. The blessing looks like dirty floors and piles of laundry and this messy, beautiful thing called family. The blessing doesn’t sound like awards and prestigious titles. The blessing sounds like forgiveness and vulnerability. And the blessing doesn’t make me feel like I’ve got it all together. Rather, it leaves me on my knees in acute dependence on my Sustainer. It’s with a weary heart that I discover the harvest of blessing isn’t some thing. It’s Someone.

When God Doesn’t Lay Out a Red Carpet

When God Doesn’t Lay Out a Red Carpet

Our Bible study group has been going through Beth Moore’s Children of the Day, and 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me raw. Paul has a way of doing that, doesn’t he? (Not to mention the Holy Spirit.) Last week, I learned something from a woman I greatly admire, a woman who has taught me much not just by her words but by her life. Karin wrote an amazing blog about open and closed doors. I fall into the same trap she describes of thinking that if something is a part of God’s plan for my life then it should come easily. The doors should all swing wide open, and God should lay out a red carpet for me to saunter down.

And that’s where 1 Thessalonians has been rubbing me. Paul certainly didn’t have it easy. If anything, he had every door slammed shut, bolted down, barricaded, and reinforced. But he never wavered in his faith to what God had called him to do.

So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and God’s fellow worker in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. You know quite well that we were destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know.

1 Thessalonians 3:1-4, NIV

Paul had warned the believers they would meet closed doors, that hardship and trials would come, that persecution was inevitable. The ESV translates persecution as affliction, that feeling when it just isn’t working out, it seems like it isn’t worth it anymore, the fight is too hard, and you start wondering if maybe you just heard God wrong.

There is this history timeline song Lydia has to learn for school, and right after Jesus the Messiah are the words, “Persecution spreads the gospel.” The disciples and the early believers must have known a thing or two about closed doors. Finally, their long-awaited Messiah arrives only to die a gruesome death on a cross. He is resurrected only to leave them and return to the Father. He tells them the Holy Spirit will come upon them, and then they are hunted, beaten, imprisoned, stoned, and killed. But it wasn’t a rose-petal covered path that spread the gospel. It was persecution–affliction.

This past weekend in Chattanooga, I was telling Matt about this passage and how God was working on my heart. At the first sign of affliction, I am tempted to run the opposite direction, but I think one of the reasons God has us on this adoption journey is so that I will learn to trust Him, to hold fast to Him in the midst of affliction. I want the easy road, the one where cross-country airplane tickets fall from the sky and housing values suddenly sky-rocket back to pre-bubble numbers. It’s completely in God’s power to do that just like it was completely in God’s power to make it easier for Paul and Silas and Timothy. But he didn’t. He chose to grow their faith in their affliction. While my struggles certainly don’t compare to those of Paul and to many of the people I know and love, I wonder if God is teaching me that not every closed door is a no and an excuse to drop that calling. Maybe instead He is working to strengthen and encourage my faith in the midst of my waiting and wondering.

Paul always asked God for direction, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you” (1 Thess 3:11). But he expected affliction, “For when we were with you, we kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction, just as it has come to pass, and just as you know” (1 Thess 3:4). Paul knew a closed door is sometimes an invitation to bust right on through and show the enemy the strength of an Almighty God.

“He who calls you is faithful; he will surely do it” (1 Thess. 5:24. ESV). 

Five Tries

Five Tries

DSC_3077Yesterday, Diana Nyad completed her 103-mile swim from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida, a feat that leaves me in awe. She did this without a shark cage, swimming for nearly 53 hours, her lips and tongue becoming swollen from all the salt water. But the most inspiring part of Diana’s story for me is that this was her fifth attempt. She made her first attempt when she was 29. Yesterday, she saw her dream come to fruition 35 years later at the age of 64.

As Diana put her feet on shore, feeling the ground beneath her for the first time in more than two days, she said, “I got three messages. One is we should never, ever give up. Two is you never are too old to chase your dreams. Three is it looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team.”

Never, ever give up. How many times did Diana want to give up? How hard was it to make a fifth attempt? Perseverance is never easy. What dream have you cast aside because it seems impossible? I remember reading that JK Rowling’s manuscript for Harry Potter was rejected by 12 different publishers before she found one who said yes. Twelve times she heard, “No.” but she persevered.

You are never too old to chase your dreams. Children believe anything is possible. Sunday, I asked some of my first-grade boys at church what they wanted to be when they grew up. An astronaut, an engineer and a superhero. Somewhere along the way, we let things like mortgages, bills and the 10 o’clock news shrink our dreams. If we aren’t careful, we choose comfort over adventure and safety over risk. Jesus told us to have faith like a child. When He said that, maybe He wanted us to remember that with Him anything is possible.

It looks like a solitary sport, but it’s a team. Dreamers are contagious. Hang around one long enough and you’ll find yourself dreaming again too. Last Friday, I got to have lunch with two amazing friends, two women God has blessed with incredible gifts of communication. For two hours, we dreamed together, encouraging one another, spurring each other on. Speak life into the dreams of those around you. You never know when your words might be the very wind beneath their wings, the gentle push that nudges them to take flight.

That picture above, that’s me eating the eponymous key lime pie when Matt and I went spent the day in Key West for our sixth anniversary cruise a couple years ago. Diana Nyad, congrats on making it the 103 miles from Havana to Key West in 53 hours.  Congrats on trying five times and doing the impossible. You’ve inspired me. I hope someone gets you a really big piece of key lime pie. And to all of us daring to dream, in the words of a famous blue fish, “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”