Thursday, May 5, 2016

God Told Me



God Told Me


I have always been more than a little skeptical of Christians who use the phrase, “God told me…”  Or, “I have a word from the Lord…”  You have to admit, it is quite a conversation stopper, isn’t it?   If God told you, then I guess any other point of view is moot.  Indeed, if God did tell them something, then any other piece of the puzzle is moot.   However, I suspect some Christians may, wittingly or not, say it when they really aren’t open to any other counsel.  Or when they really don’t want to be bothered with pesky details of reality in dissecting a problem, when they just want to follow their feelings.  Or worst, when they confuse their own desires for God’s voice.  But in conversation anyway, they get an awkward spiritual pass as long as they say, God told me.

On the other hand.

Which is why God gave us two hands.  He told me. ;-)

Recently some of my best Christian people have flung the God told me thing at me, and actually, maybe God really did tell them.  Whaddya know?   Three stories:

Story #1
Even as I type, Josiah and Ivy are painting our kitchen and family room.  Tom and I agonized for weeks, even months, over what color to paint the new kitchen.  I hired an interior decorator over TWICE to help me choose a color that would work well with the new cabinets and the granite.  We lived with samplings on the walls of the first color, a soft green, but eventually decided we needed a neutral instead.  We lived with a sampling of the neutral on the wall for weeks, but we just couldn’t warm up to it either.  Argh!!!

So then one day Tom sat in the kitchen for a quiet time, looked over into the dining room and noticed the dining room color, a beautiful color called Latte.  He decided God had told him that we should paint the kitchen and family room the same color as the dining room.  Eye roll.  Well, I thought, I guess that’s the end of *that* discussion. And hello, why didn’t you ask Him *before* I had paid the decorator to come over twice???  

But at this moment, Josiah and Ivy are busily Latte-ing the kitchen, and it is very, very lovely.  It’s light, airy and cheerful, the very feel I was looking for, and it works well with the cabinets.   We had been barking up the wrong tree with our other choices.

Well, all right.  Maybe God did tell him what color to paint the walls.

Story #2
I have a dear, sweet friend who, before she was a dear sweet friend, decided she had heard from God that she was to mentor me.  I wasn’t so sure about this, but I wasn’t going to be rude either.  I was helping her with some editing she needed on her doctoral thesis, so we had occasion to meet regularly over a period of time.  She was very proactive in getting to know me and my family, taking a deep and personal interest in everything to do with my life.  She was completely transparent about her own life and struggles and brought a God-perspective into every conversation.  All in all, she was irresistible, and I have found myself thankful for her wisdom and godly counsel time and time again.  I am just thankful for such a godly friend on whom I can count for prayer when I need it.

Soooo, maybe God did tell her.

Story #3
Today a friend gave a small luncheon for another gal and me.  The other gal graciously brought a small bouquet of yellow and orange flowers as a hostess gift.  As it happened, our hostess had put some yellow tulips on the table, and the new bouquet looked beautiful with them.  The gal told us that when she was at the store, she really liked the purple and white bouquet better, but something told her to buy the yellow one. 

Hmm.  Maybe God told her.

Okay, one more story!

Many years ago I attended a BSF group led by a godly woman.  At one point she told the story of how the BSF group began and how she came to be the teaching leader.  She had been meeting regularly with a group of women to pray about starting another BSF group.  Just pray.  As she was having her devotions one day during this time, she felt a nudge to her heart that she was to be the teaching leader of the new group.  

She didn’t say a word to anyone else about it.  But soon afterward the rest of the group approached her saying that they believed God was telling them that she was to be the teaching leader.  In that way she received confirmation that, indeed, she had heard from God.   

It was not her own pride talking, nor was it indigestion.  She also didn’t need to say a word to anyone or promote herself in any way.

There is only one Spirit, and He is fully able to corroborate His desires through others.  

So now let me just tell you my own little moment…uncorroborated by others.  Just a warm fuzzy between me and God.
I pray for my Reed.  I pray for my wonderful and most precious Reed quite a lot these days.  I perceive a battle for his affections in a sense – worldly versus Godly pursuits.  So the other day I was walking and praying for him, asking for wisdom, and actually, kind of wondering why God hadn’t more obviously shown up in his life yet.  I was wondering this very respectfully because I do believe that God has shown up.  It’s just that Reed, I suspect, is still playing with fire.  And so I was walking Oliver through the cemetery one beautiful day last week discussing this with my good and kind Father.

Just then Beatriz texted me:  “Hey, guess who just graduated from the 190’s!?”

Bless her heart.  Beatriz struggles with her weight.  I began praying for her even as a child and all throughout middle and high school that God would help her with this.  In college all her roommates were teeny, tiny morsels of femininity.  I was so hopeful that they might have some positive influence on her eating habits.  Instead it had the opposite effect.  Many, even most, of them had struggled with the opposite type of eating disorders (anorexia/bulimia), and so she grew disdainful of their asceticism.  Was she really disdainful, or was she using disdain as an excuse to not face her own demons?  I don’t know, but she graduated from college and moved to Chicago for her first job still overweight.

Now, now, now, almost two years out of college, she is beginning to deal head-on with her unhealthy relationship with food, specifically with her sugar addiction.  She is getting to the core of the problem.  Of course, losing weight is a high!  But she is focused first and foremost on the root of the problem.  When she does get down to her healthy weight, I believe she will be there permanently.

And God chose that moment, as I was asking for His help in understanding why any progress with Reed was taking so long, to have Beatriz text me with her progress.   

In the quiet places of my heart I felt like I understood.  All those years I prayed for Beatriz and she didn’t lose weight, God was working.  All those years, she could have lost weight in a matter of months!  But it would have been a superficial fix.  Her behavior is easy to control in the short term.  The affections of her heart that guide her behavior are another matter entirely.  And that’s where God, in His wisdom, had been working all those years I was praying for her.  He had been busy laying the groundwork for a more permanent remedy.

Just like Josiah spent so much time repairing the walls and priming before he actually got to work putting on the pretty color. 

And so my heart was comforted for Reed.  Making his behavior conform to conventional Christian standards is easy.  Any monkey can be taught to behave.  But God is interested in Reed’s heart being His.  He is interested in Reed hearing the voice of his Savior and falling in love.   He wants Reed to come to Him willingly and adoringly, drawn by the Father’s all-consuming love for his very soul.  The behaviors will follow. 

I felt like God “gave me a word.”  “God told me…”  

In the quiet place of my heart, I did feel like God had whispered a special secret into my ear.  A special secret just for me.  “I’m working, honey.  You’ll see.  It’ll be great.”

So what do you think?  Was this just personal angst mixed with hopefulness?  Was it indigestion?  Or did God really whisper into my heart?  I won’t know for a while.  In the meantime, I won’t be broadcasting it either.  It is just a moment I’ll hold onto and treasure privately. 


Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Refrigerator Trouble


So, I would like to share an amazing God moment.

We have been in the middle of a kitchen remodel.  The construction crew got through their part of it in record time.  We lived out of the living/dining room and did dishes in the upstairs bath tub for about six weeks, and in that time they -- presto-change-o -- converted our gutted kitchen-dining area into a thing of beauty.

The rest is on us now:  the painting, moldings, carpet, rehanging of doors.  They did the hard part; we do the easy part.  That's the idea of it anyway. Somehow it doesn't work that way in our family.

Several weeks after we had moved into our new kitchen, the old refrigerator still waited patiently in the living/dining room.

The week before Easter, Ivy and I wrestled it out of the living room into the family room so we could extend the table for Easter dinner.  We attempted to shove it into the garage, only to learn the hard way that it was wider in every dimension than the various interior doorways it would have to navigate in order to get there.  It would have fit through the front door, but that would have meant our being responsible, in full view of the neighbors, for its descent down one step onto the front porch, and then down another step onto the sidewalk.  If we had been able to get it anywhere near the garage, we would have had to grapple with the same couple steps.  But the outer garage door would have been closed, keeping the indignity of the maneuver private.  Because believe me, if we could have gotten it there, getting it down those steps would have been undignified.   

So into the family room it went.  And there it has stayed since Easter.

Mind you, the refrigerator is not responsible for our decorating stagnation.  Pure indecision on every front has assaulted us when it comes to not only paint color, but also who to hire to do the finishing work.  Besides being indecisive by nature, I am also aesthetically insecure.  Every time I choose a color, someone comes along with an opposing opinion and completely derails my resolve.  On top of that, we're in a quandary over which friend or family member to give the work to.

The other morning the weight of this renovation paralysis woke me from a sound sleep at approximately 4:52 a.m.  My Bible study gals were coming over the next night, and I was determined that if nothing more could be done, at the very least, I was getting that refrigerator out of the family room.

Having already learned I couldn't get it through the interior doors into the garage, I was left with contemplating other creative means to get it either into the basement or through the front door.  Necessity is the mother of invention, right?  I had hours before the sun rose to focus my prodigious creative powers on the problem.

After some consideration, I decided that sliding it down the basement steps on its side sounded like a promising prospect.  I would flatten one of the large moving boxes from the garage to put under the fridge for a toboggan-like effect.  Just to be sure I wasn't being reckless, I googled, "Does it hurt a refrigerator to be moved on its side."  Turns out the answer to that is, "Quite possibly.  In fact, probably.  But not necessarily," which was good enough for me.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I got out of bed and did some measuring though, only to learn that, again, unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), it was too wide in every dimension to fit through the basement door too.

On to the next idea -- a more conventional approach this time. I decided I would go to Home Depot and rent something called an "appliance dolly."  Who knew such things existed?!?  But it sounded promising.  I would rent one that day and bulldoze that refrigerator through the front door on those rented wheels even if I ended up widening the front door in the process. 

But first things first.  A quiet time.  I sat in front of my computer to pray (I pray best with my fingers).  I prayed from the heart.  Whine.  Whine, whine, whine.  I found a hundred things to whine to God about, and I hadn't even gotten to the part about the marooned refrigerator.  But finally I did.  I typed (and this is cut-n-pasted directly from my quiet time journal),


"But especially, Father, I’m upset that I can’t make any progress.  I can’t get the refriger..."

 The word was not even off my fingers when my cell phone went "ding!"  A text message from my friend.  Her text read, "Are you up?  Can you talk?" 

Hello?  It was 7:32 a.m.!  Not only that, I was crabby.  I was really, really crabby. And who the heck calls a friend at 7:30 in the morning???? But I thought to myself, Well, I'm going to have to talk to her eventually; it may as well be now.  So I called her.  

Never one for 'hellos,' she greeted me with HI, FRIEND!!! ARE YOU HAPPY?  (My friend is a morning person.

I responded truthfully.  "No, I'm not.  I'm crabby."  And I told her my refrigerator trouble.

She said, "No, no, no!  You're not going to go rent a dolly!  Herb [her husband] has a dolly and he does that kind of thing all the time.  As soon as he gets up, we're coming over and Herb will move the refrigerator for you."

Wow.  I was blown away.  Father, I thought, You are amazing!  I hadn't even asked You yet for help.  At the rate I was going, I may not have even been wise enough to ask for help at all.  I was just fixing to go on whining for a good while, but there You were, answering before the word was even off my lips -- or in this case, my fingers.

So Herb and my friend appeared at my door around 10:30.  Herb moved our defunct oven from the garage to the curb, which was another less pressing problem I had.  And then he tackled the monster refrigerator.  He got it onto the dolly and began to maneuver it through the foyer, guiding it somewhat blindly, working to avoid damaging any walls and corners.  I was in the foyer propping open the storm door.  The refrigerator blocked my view of the garage door, but suddenly I heard a man's voice calling, "Oliver!" My friend introduced herself to this man, but I could not for the life of me imagine who it could be.  

Turns out it was Mike, who had installed our new kitchen cabinets.  He had been working down the street at our neighbor's house for the past few weeks, and chose this moment to walk on down to say hello again to our dog, with whom he had developed a close friendship. 

He chose this moment.  Out of all the weeks he had been just down the street, he chose this moment to come on by.  The very moment Herb was about to realize that he needed another man to help him navigate this refrigerator through the front door and down the steps.  The very moment that refrigerator would have crashed to the ground unless Mike had been there to help catch it.

Does God care about the mundane difficulties of my life?  What do you think?  

What a faithful and powerful and kind God we serve!

Although it does make me wonder if my toboggan idea had God a little alarmed too.



Lily (or, Reed, continued)

Last week I was privileged to spend time in Philadelphia with my sister's family, which meant I got to see my niece and her new baby, Lily.  Lily is 17 months old now, cute as a button, with a happy disposition.  But they have become a little concerned about the fact that she isn't talking at all yet.  She "coos" in the sweetest, soft way, but no words.  My niece, Lizzy, has had her hearing tested more than once, and she has failed the hearing test twice.  Although it raises an eyebrow, somehow even that isn't definitive -- maybe her hearing will turn out to be okay after all.  So they will continue to keep an eye on things.

What strikes me about the situation however is not Lily, as much as she, in all her adorability, commands center stage.  It's Lizzy.

Lizzy loves that baby.  I mean, Lizzy LOOOOOVVVVVEEEESSSSSS that baby.   Lizzy's reaction to learning that Lily may have some form of physical defect?  Unruffled. Which  surprised even her, I think, judging by the fact that she mentioned it.

But I get it.  I totally get it.  I think that baby's arms and legs could all fall off, and ... while that might rattle her slightly ... it would in no way affect the unwavering, almost insane devotion her heart feels for that chubby little blob of cooing, drooling, gurgling, toddling humanity.

This dovetails on my (lack of) exchange with Reed.  Answer me or don't answer me, kid (see previous post). Nothing can diminish my love for you.  Nothing can derail my conviction of your worth.  Not even you can change how I feel about you.  You cannot dampen my celebration of your life.  You're SOL, kid.  I love you, and you're not getting out of it.

But here's the thing:  I DID NOT INVENT PARENTHOOD!

I did not create these feelings in myself.  My love for my children exists only as a picture of GOD'S love for HIS children.  I am convinced that my love for my children is downright tepid compared to God's love for His children.  And my love for my children is ferocious.  Ferocious.

And that is all I have to say on the topic.  It speaks for itself.  We do not live as if we have a Father who loves us with that kind of ferocity, do we?  No.  We don't.

Let's do.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Reed



My Reed.  Wonderful, creative, intelligent, kind and gentle yet adventurous Reed.  My heart swells when I think of this kid.  And yet, he is in so many ways my mystery child.  He has never been one to let me peer closely into his rich, inner world, and now he is off at school, two hours away.  

During his high school years I sensed it was important to grant him the freedom he seemed to want, both physical and emotional.  So I did my best not to pressure him for information.  My antennae were always up, looking for clues that he was “okay,” and in general I was satisfied that he was.  But (and I’m embarrassed to admit this) he never allowed us to meet any of his friends other than the ones we already knew from the neighborhood.  When by happenstance we would meet a friend from school, I saw they were generally very successful kids, great grades, clean-cut.  So why would he not bring them home or let us into his world?

I could only conclude that for some reason he just needed space.  He needed independence.  Intuitively, I understood that.  He desperately needed to not be “mommy-ed.”  Somehow that was important to his burgeoning manhood, and for the most part I tried to grant him that freedom graciously.  Well, I like to tell myself I was being gracious.  The alternative would have been nothing but a fruitless four-year storm, so maybe it was just a case of sour grapes.

When it came time for him to go away to school, he surprised me with a suggestion that he “may not be wanting what we think he wants,” meaning he may want to stay home and go to community college.  I was surprised but supportive, and began looking into his options in that regard.  

In the end, however, I am proud to have been the one to tell him, “Honey, I really think you need to get out of here, away from me and dad.  We are the problem.”  I just sensed he was pulling away emotionally because he couldn’t get away physically.  We were always there, threatening to intrude where we weren’t wanted.  If he went away physically, maybe he would feel freer to come back emotionally.   

Right?  Right.  I know I was right.

And so he did go away, and he has been deliriously happy.  So happy at school.  And I am so happy to see him happy!

But so far, he hasn’t come back emotionally.  So far, he is still far away.  He is polite and kind and warm and friendly toward me.  He loves me and he tells me so.  But he keeps his world private, and that makes me sad.  

I miss him.  I miss feeling connected to him.  It seems so long ago now since I have felt connected.  

Our primary mode of communication these days is texting, although I use the word “communication” loosely because he doesn’t usually respond when I text him.  Such was the case last week.  

On Wednesday I texted him a picture of two individual crocks of rice pudding I had made that brought back a fond memory from his childhood.  No response.  But that's okay.  It was just a nostalgic whim.

On Saturday I knew he had traveled to Iowa for a hockey tournament, so I texted him to ask how the tournament was going.  No response.  Also okay.  He was busy with his tournament and teammates, after all.

On Sunday night I knew he should be home from the tournament, so I texted him to ask if he had made it home safely and how the tournament had gone.  No response.  Hmm.

On Monday it occurred to me to actually worry that he had, in fact, not made it home from the tournament safely, so I texted him again.  No response.  He could be in a hospital in Iowa.  Or dead.

Then it occurred to me that he may have lost his cell phone, so I Facebook messaged him.  No response.  Yep, definitely either dead or seriously damagedA hockey skate to the neck, a bad hit into the boards, a car accident, I couldn't be sure.  But he was doubtless languishing in an Iowan hospital.  Or languishing no more in an Iowan morgue. 

Finally, Monday night I got a text from him: “It was good.”  Meaning the tournament.  Which meant he did not lose or break his cell phone, he did get home safely, and yes, indeed, he had been just ignoring all my other texts.  And I still didn’t know what had happened at the tournament other than he didn’t die.

As it happened, I was in Philadelphia with Beatriz on Monday when I got that text, and she read the thread.  (Is it still called a thread when it’s that one-sided?)  She took my phone and texted Reed back, saying, “Little [poop emoticon] = you.”

I was horrified.  I would never say anything like that to any of my kids.  But she convinced me a) Reed would think it was funny, and b) he deserved it.  So I left it there for a day and a half.   Then horror got the better of me.  I let him know that I had not actually sent that, and I asked him if his feelings were hurt.   

As it turns out, Beatriz was right: he did think it was funny, and his feelings were not hurt. But he did out of the blue suddenly text me and say he might come home this weekend.  See?  He is a sweetie.

 I shared the story with Dom the other night and he said, “Oh Mom, my feelings would have been really hurt if I thought you had sent that to me!”  Which prompted me to seek even more reassurance from Reed that his feelings were not hurt.  He did respond right away with that reassurance, so I think he got the message (Text Mom!).  He really is a sweet and tenderhearted kid.  I’ve always known that.

Well, there is a point to all this!  I think God has many lessons for us in the love we feel for our children.

As it turns out, I had been just a little too busy for God that week.  Nothing was wrong; I had just neglected my time with Him.  I went to Philadelphia to see my sister and her family, I met Beatriz there, I saw my nephew and niece perform in their school musical, I saw my other niece and her new baby, my sister’s father-in-law was there.  I was also busy with my Bible study gals, and on and on it went.  I didn’t take time to enjoy God or remember His love for me.  

Further, I wasn’t even praying.  I wasn’t remembering Him at all.  

Little Miss Independent.  Off the grid.  On my own.  Enjoying His privileges, forgetting the relationship from whence those privileges arose.

But God, in His kindness, gave me Reed.   

My heart leaps when Reed texts me at all.  Any communication from him is cause for celebration.  Even when he is just telling me a need: Mom, I need more contacts.  Mom, my jeans are all too short.  Mom, I need rent money.  Mom, I would love boxing gloves for Christmas.  Even then, I am happy.  I just want to hear from him.  And even when I have been disappointed for a week that he hasn’t responded to my texts, when he finally does respond, I am happy.  All is forgiven!  I’m just glad he is okay.  

Because I love him, I love him, I just love him.  I celebrate his very existence, and I long to be in relationship with him.  I yearn for connection with him.

How much more does God long for connection with us?  Not that I dare paint God as “needy,” but He loves.  And He is joyous in communion with His children, just as I am joyous in communion with Reed, with all my children.  I am convinced that this is true.  

And so I was instructed by my precious Reed.  The same joy I find in Reed's communion with me, God also finds in my communion with Him.  It is not a duty I perform that I pray and sit with Him each day: it is a relationship. I find joy in Him, yes.  But!  But.  He also takes joy in me.  Unfathomable, but true.  My Father takes joy in me, just like I take joy in my Reed. 
  
Indeed, I do take joy in Reed.  I take joy in his very essence.  I celebrate everything that makes him unique.  I love him.  I just love him.   

And that’s the way God feels about me, in all my ridiculousness.  In all my frailties, my quirks, my shortcomings.  Throughout my history of failure, self-will, temper tantrums, mistakes, fitful spiritual enthusiasm and eventual, enigmatic, painfully slow spiritual growth, He loves me.  He just loves me. Just like I love Reed.  Jesus longs for me, just like I long for Reed.   

Nothing will discourage my love for Reed.  No amount of neglect on his part could ever frustrate my enthusiasm for him or my joyous celebration of his very being.   

How can it be that my God feels that same indefatigable love for me?  

Yet how could it not be?  How could it not be?  He is the one who created my love for Reed.  Is it possible that I could love my child more than He loves His children?  Obviously not.

I still have confidence that Reed will eventually get a little better at responding to text messages.  And in the meantime, maybe I'll focus on responding more quickly to God's, eh?