10,000 Reasons

673) Offers to help
672) Unlocking doors
671) Friends who intercede
670) A neighbor keeping his promise
669) Time to listen to a friend
668) Joshua’s willing approach to homework
667) Jonathan adding secret ingredients to our breakfast

Finding God in Gum, Part 2

If you read Part 1, you read a censored view behind-the-scenes of my day. No one would have known it unless I shared it. And I never would have shared it if there wasn’t a part 2. Within 24 hours, I went from being thankful for nothing to seeing how God uses everything. We pick up where my sons are dropped off at school:

*The mother of my sons calls me back about Joshua being sick and at school. She thanks the Holy Spirit for prompting her to bring medicine to the school for Joshua. She is already on her way.
*In my spent and worthless state, I remember the principle of praise anyway. I pull out the new cd that I picked up.
*I stop at a gas station, where I never stop but always pass, to buy gum. I always hope for one particular kind, but I have not found it in months. As I walk in, I consider looking to order the gum online (seriously).
*The first words of a song that play on the overhead speakers are, “I found God..” (Song “You Found Me” by The Fray).
*I scan the gum rack and…find my favorite! I buy 3 packs; 2 for me and 1 for a coworker who shares the same favorite and difficulty finding it.
*I gush to the clerk about my excitement at finding the gum. He said that he is glad they had it for me.
*I put in the new cd, Wow Gospel 2013. The first words are, “Today’s a new day, but there is no sunshine. Nothing but clouds..” (Kirk Franklin’s song “Smile,” one of my favorites. I turn it up and sing.)
*At a stoplight, I notice a scratch of sunshine in the clouds. I make a comment out loud. The song that begins to play starts like this: “I know you’re praying for a change, To see a sunny day, Nothing good has come your way for so long.” (Song “Hold On” by James Fortune)
*The song ends when I am at a stoplight. I turn it off and simply say, “Thank you.”
*As I try to turn left for work, I skid on the black ice and go past the intersection. As I try to stop at the next side street, the same thing happens. I continue on until I can turn right into a church parking lot.
*As I return the way I came, I notice three wild turkeys next to a house.
*As I pull into work, my “sister” texts, “You ok?” I respond with “I am now.”
*Following a student out of the classroom, I encounter a young man, “Frank,” becoming physically aggressive. We engage to keep him safe. He fights, kicks, curses, and spits.
*When back in the classroom, a lady from Nursing calls me out. She offers me a caramel latte that they had in the office. I’m not much for coffee, but I partake and delight in the thoughtfulness.
*I learn that a friend is incarcerated. I text an attorney friend about it. I get back, “I already have his case.”
*During lunch I found a coworker who shares my affinity for this favorite gum. She told me that I made her day.

What proceeded throughout the remainder of the day was a barrage of people crossing my path at precisely the moment that they were needed. A list that I could not even begin to write down, keep up with, or fully explain. But I could see it. I could see God moving, and weaving, and answering my question.
My question had been “What do I have to have to be thankful for?!” What God was revealing to me was that God uses everything. Everything! In ways that we cannot see nor comprehend. We can only trust and participate. The events of this day I never could have scripted, never could have planned. At the end of the day I realized that I could take credit for one thing – showing up. Everything else was a fluid, unscripted dance. That includes my encounter with “Frank” later in the day. He looked at me and smiled, saying, “I’m better now.” The same young man who tried to kick. The same young man who screamed threats and obscenities. The same young man who spit.
An hour or so after the second encounter, I was struck by this thought: I am Frank. I fight the protection God tries to give. I kick and punch against His grasp. I curse when I do not get my way. I get lost in rage against the way things should go. Then, in time, I hope God has forgotten my mess and say to Him, “I’m better now.”
As I was winding up my adventures of the day, I pulled up to my son’s youth group. I was there because he had twice forgotten his payment for a retreat. I met one of the adults who helps out and she twice told me, “Oh, we just love him!”
Do you see it? I saw two mistakes. She told me twice how he is loved. My son, who I felt inadequate to care for at the beginning of the day, must be pretty awesome. I simply told her, “I love him, too.”
I wish that I could always say that I see God’s movement in my day. If you read Part 1, you know that I don’t. At least not in the way that I did on this day. I feel as if God gave me a special glimpse, a special treat, on this day. A reminder of truth. As if to punctuate it, the song that took me home was called “Every Moment.” It speaks to God holding every moment in his hands, even the moments of finding my favorite gum.

Finding God in Gum, Part 1

I would like to invite you behind the curtain on my private thoughts. I wish to share some of a recent 24-hour stream-of-consciousness / stream-of-activity so that you can see God working. That is, after all, why we choose to expose our weaknesses; so that God’s strength can be revealed. Let’s start with a failure, a perfectly normal place to start:

*I leave work only to discover that I did not bring the forms for the Secretary of State as I had hoped. Instead of completing that errand before I pick up my sons, I will have to swing home for the forms, pick up my sons, then do the errand.
*I begin to wrestle with dinner plans. If the errand goes too long, I don’t really want to spend money to eat out. But..
*My sons come with me from school. I tell my oldest son “No” when he asks to use his iPod in the car. His homework is not done.
*I hope for a quick trip at Secretary of State. My boys want to stay in the car, but I remember a past trauma involving police that took place right around the corner. They grudgingly come in with me.
*The line in Secretary of State is almost out the door – and that is just to take a seat with a number.
*I am given the number 46. The counter is on number 90.
*My oldest son expresses frustration that he does not have his iPod to occupy him.
*My middle son expresses frustration that he has not brought in his homework.
*My youngest son is “starving.”
*I go numb.
*When I am finally called up, 75 minutes later, the clerk tells me that the VIN on my insurance is wrong. We discover that he was looking at the old registration.
*Because the form sent to me reflected my last vehicle, and because I bought milk and bacon on my way home, I am $3 short.
*The ATM in the SOS will not work because it is out of receipt paper. The clerk sends me out into the mall to use that ATM and tells me to come back to the return line.
*Although this ATM is of a bank that I use, that is not the debit card I have with me. I have to pay a $3 just to get my own money.
*The second clerk sees the notes on my insurance now. She questions it, then realizes the first clerk’s error when I explain.
*We leave SOS 90 minutes later. Tired, hungry, and with less than an hour before Cadets. I choose to go to a buffet for dinner.
*I overeat. I have post-decision regret over the amount that I spent.
*We go home instead of directly to Cadets because Jonathan wants to change clothes.
*I tell Joshua that he will not go to Cadets because his homework is not complete. The battle begins.
*Joshua tells me his stomach hurts and begins shutting down because he is disappointed.
*I am at a loss. I spend the drive to Cadets yelling at God.
*Joshua is barely functional for his homework, and I am exhausted. I had 3 hours of sleep the night before.
*I tell Caleb that he cannot listen to Pandora during homework.
*After Cadets I tell Jonathan he cannot play the iPad because his responsibilities are not complete.
*Every one of the three boys goes to bed silent. They did not even seek me out to pray.
*I have restless sleep. In the morning, I choose to write devotions rather than prep breakfast.
*I don’t like the mess of incomplete housework.
*I reason that my sons need to learn more responsibility, so I put the weight of breakfast and clothing unexpectantly back on them.
*Joshua tells me he is still not feeling well. He is near tears.
*Our drive to school is nearly silent. I tell God I have nothing to be thankful for because nothing good or “extra” is happening.
*30 minutes before I am to spend 12 hours caring for other people’s children, I feel barely qualified to care for my own.
*And then..

G4OD, Day 18

Spiritual practice: Discomfort

I have a confession: I like to be comfortable. No, really, I do. I don’t know where it came from, nor when it began, but I like to be comfortable. But so do frogs in kettles. You have likely heard the story of slowly killing a frog in a kettle of water by gradually raising the temperature. Because of the subtle change, I have heard it said, the frog never experiences discomfort.
We are not so different. A small compromise today can remain an option tomorrow as well. This concept was discussed in my reading about purity, but it can apply anywhere. The author of The Purity Principle, Randy Alcorn, demonstrated the effects of choices by slowly pushing a book off the desk. Even though he kept praying that the book would not fall, it had to obey the laws of gravity.
Comfort. We like it. I like it. And discomfort can slowly push away from where we should be. When discomfort comes, my first instinct has been to step aside. I am convinced that that is completely the wrong direction. I should step INTO. Take skiing, for example. Among the handful of times that I have been on downhill skis are the trips 4th and 5th graders take at my sons’ school. As a new skill, I do not like it. I do not like making mistakes, but moreover, I do not like being uncomfortable. However, my youngest son has wanted – for months – for me come on his trip this year. I agreed. But what would I do?
I debated about whether to ski or not (not) and then what to say. Not wanting to lie, nor make excuse, I settled on a truthful answer if Jonathan asked for an explanation. He asked me why I did not plan to ski, and I gave him what seemed like the truth – “I’m more comfortable not skiing.” I now dislike and regret that response, but that is what I said. So I justified; I made it right. I helped students get started on their skis. I helped them put equipment on. I gave encouragement. I visited. All good things. All avoidance techniques. I was avoiding the possibility of failure.
When Jonathan became frustrated and wanted to head to the lodge, I felt like my attempt to avoid failure had put me right smack in the middle of it.
If a seed in the ground avoided discomfort, it would never bloom and grow. If animals avoided discomfort, they would not emerge from their eggs. What discomfort are we avoiding? At dinner time, a knock came on the door right after the pizza was delivered. In fact, I thought it was the delivery person who had noticed or forgotten something. It was, instead, a man who said his name was Barry. Barry said he had cancer and AIDS and would work to earn money for his medicine. He also said he was not a panhandler.
All of this made me uncomfortable. Talking with him was not uncomfortable by itself. The nagging “What to do?” question did provide discomfort. I did know a request for money was coming. I did not know what was the truth. Did he have cancer? Would he buy medicine? His story was well-oiled, as they often are. BUT, I did know this truth: something has happened in Barry’s life that has made him dependent on others. He did ask for money, which I declined. I did ask where he was staying and did tell him he may stop by any time to see me. He finally settled upon asking for a cold beverage which I was glad to oblige.
What did Jonathan and Barry have in common today? Both were looking to m for help in their mess, in their discomfort. Instead of stepping into the mess with them, I offered advice from a safe distance. I need to work on that.
Think of a time when you would say Jesus was uncomfortable. The closest thing I could think of was his torture and crucifixion. But, even in that, his exercise of self-restraint, self-sacrifice, was precisely what he had practiced all of his life. It may have been a very comfortable experience for his spirit in that it was exactly right. We would do well to follow his lead.
The other day I considered adopting a practice of engaging new experiences for three seconds. Enter into a mess for three seconds. That is long enough to settle your feet, long enough to say, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit.” Long enough to decide if that discomfort is where you can stay while you are needed. Barry was looking for a quick fix to his discomfort. So was I. What I pray I will do is learn how to embrace discomfort. Did you notice that I mentioned that Barry knocked right after the pizza arrived? There is half of a pizza in the fridge right now. Am I so dense? Suppose I had taken three seconds to say, “Father, Son, Holy Spirit”? They may have revealed to me that Barry should step in and dine with us for the evening. That would have fit well with my spirit. Instead, I turned my discomfort aside.
Jonathan, while in the lodge today, saw me being comfortable. Then he saw me operate where I am comfortable – behind the scenes. He and I talked and he received my encouragement. He bounced back and later attacked his discomfort with joy. By the end of the day, he was looking at the hills he will engage next year.
Jesus was not just “Teacher,” but he was and is the one who takes away the sin of the world. He could not do such a thing unless he first decided to step into our mess. We have the same opportunity: to step into discomfort for the chance to grow, grow in faith, trust, love, grace, mercy and so much more. Do not run from your discomfort. Engage it with the help of the Lord.
There is a creed in the Heidelberg that reminds us of our “only comfort in life and death.” That only comfort – “that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ” – offers great comfort. But what if it is true, what if that is my only comfort?
If that is true, then what are all these other things that I call comforts? Be careful, they may all be steps toward the edge. They may be steps that take us away from the center – the center of God!s will.
Take the steps you need to place yourself back there, back in the center of His will. The steps themselves may feel uncomfortable, but I am certain that they will sit well with your spirit.