If you ask for a blueberry, it shall be given unto you.

blueberryJust the other morning Nailah and Karianne (our twenty-month old twin daughters) were getting blueberries out of the frig while I was putting items back inside.  While the frig door was open they were standing on the bottom ledge of the refrigerator as to reach in and grab “Boo-berries”.  Of course,  Nailah started it, and her twin sister soon followed. Naturally when I had to close the door, I asked them to move out of the way.  As I gathered a few blueberries in my hands and offered a couple to each girl things unraveled a bit (this happens often in a house with four girls, two of them twins under two).

There reactions were a little bit different, one might say!

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Karriane (Left) & Nailah (Right)

Karianne – accepts the blueberries, smiles and eats them up, then goes on her way.

Nailah -throws her self on the floor and cries, refusing the blueberries (shaking her head no, while also saying “NO!”), and then proceeds with a full out tantrum.  All because I had the nerve to cut her off from direct blueberry access (by closing the frig door of course).

I was offering Nailah exactly what she wanted, “boo-berry” – I was even making it easier and safer, more effective by giving them to her- taking away the risk that she would spill them all over the floor, shatter the glass and get cut, slip on the ledge of the frig and get hurt, etc. I was offering her the very thing she was asking for . . .

but it wasn’t on her terms, and it wasn’t her way.

How often are we this way with God?  We ask him for something and he gives it to us, but its not on our terms. It is not our way so we don’t see it for what it is: the very thing we asked for, the very way we need it – our answer to prayer.

In Matthew 7 Jesus teaches us about prayer by saying,

“Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? 10 Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

Jesus promises us that the Father gives us the good things we need- he hears our prayers and gives us what we ask.  He makes it clear that God is not trying to trick us by messing around with his beloved children.  He doesn’t give us a stone when we ask for bread because a stone will not satisfy our hunger, and its not good for us the way bread is.  And he doesn’t give us a pebble when we ask for a blueberry – but he might give us a blueberry instead of letting us put our hand in the jar and take it ourselves. 

toddlerJesus reminds us that just as a Mama wants to give her child what she NEEDS, God too wants to give us what we need.  And he will do just that, but do we recognize and accept it with gratitude?  Or do we throw a toddler tantrum because its not our way?

Are you missing what God is giving you because its not the exact way you want it – are you missing the blueberry in your life because you want to stand on the ledge of the frig and take the blueberry out of the glass bowl yourself, instead of humbly and gratefully receiving the one be handed to you by God?

I can’t help but think, how many times do we pass up the blessings of God, not hear the gentle whisper of the Spirit, or ignore the answers to our own prayers? Why?  Because our idea of what we need OR even the way we need it is not only different from God’s, but no where near as good.

Remember what God said in Genesis 1 as he created man and woman,

“So God created humankind in his image in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them,  . . . 31 God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”

If you are created in the image of God and favored by him, if you are GOOD, then God’s promise to give you good things is not one to take lightly.  Because he loves you more than you love your own child, and he not only knows what is best for you – what is good- he plans to give it to you.

goodGod is only going to give you good things – meaning things that are good for you.  They might not always feel GOOD, seem GOOD – sometimes they might feel the opposite of good.  Remember that good means you are being molded into his image, into the person he has created you to be – and good hurts sometimes because molding and shaping is not easy.  It changes you, it transforms you, it grows you – and that can be hard. But good is what you should want and it is definitely what you need.  And it is 100% what God wants to give you.

So if you ask for a blueberry (and that blueberry is good and part of God’s plan for you), it shall be given unto you – now take it and say thank you (and eat it up). And in that gratitude recognize that God has given you exactly what you need, in the precise way you need it, at the most perfect time – and that my friend is good.

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I don’t iron my pants

As I was walking to church a few Sundays ago I looked down at my pant legs and realized just how wrinkled they were.  I mean it was pretty clear I had pulled them out of a draw, thrown them on, and headed over to the church for Worship.  I remember chuckling out loud at myself.  Oops!  I guess I am getting up in front of 150 plus people this morning with wrinkled pants. Truth be told, I can’t even say it was the first time.

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There is a question I get asked frequently, probably multiple times a week:  How do you do it? (sometimes in the form of a statement: I don’t know how you do it).  Of course this is in reference to the fact that I am a mother to four young girls (7 and under), the two youngest being twins, as well as a full time Pastor, Head of Staff, at Woodstown Presbyterian Church.  This question is often paired with a concerned face – almost as if to express the very feeling of overwhelm that fills one’s head just trying to imagine “how it is done”.  My response is pretty simple and direct: I just do it!

And that is the absolute truth – I don’t have a formula or a specific methodology – I just get it done.  But really, what is “it”?  It is balancing my kids and my church, my family and my work, my marriage and my other relationships – “it” is balancing life.  And what is at the core of my balancing act? Prioritization!  You see, I have the same amount of hours in the day as any hard-working Mama (those who work in and out of the home) and all the pressures and burdens that come with any pastorate. Be mindful that I also have all the beautiful blessings that come in being both Mom to my girls and Pastor to my church family.  And while those blessings keep me going, they don’t get “it” done.

It gets done when I learn (often the hard way) what to let go of and what to pour into, what matters and what does not, what is meaningful and what can be sacrificed , what needs immediate attention and what can wait.  It gets done when my priorities are clearly defined and attended to.  Priorities being God, Family, Church – other stuff.

So that is correct, I don’t iron my pants.  And oops, my hair is not always perfect.  My outfits are rarely new, but are from last season (and sometimes 3 or 4 seasons ago if they still fit).  I don’t dust often or vacuum regularly. I won’t be winning any fashion awards or finishing in any clean house competitions victoriously.  My girls sometimes leave the house with the same hairdo they woke up with.  Maisie, our 4-year old, chooses her outfits and her shoes are almost always on the wrong feet.  Adeline, our 7 year old, helps to herd the twins down the steps and into the car for me.  I am the Mom who forgets permission slips, is last in the carpool line, and I almost always forget a detail or confuse a scheduled appointment or dance class. I am that Mom at Target with four kids, one cart, one stroller, and utter chaos happening. And this once type A, anal-retentive, obsessive- compulsive gal, who was on time to everything – is consistently 5 minutes late (and it kills me!)

But my girls are loved, most nights I am there to put them to bed and to watch The Greatest Showman for the 15th time.  My husband and I manage date nights once in awhile, and we take time away when family can stay with the girls.  I set aside time every morning to read the Word and to pray, often with my husband.  My family of 6 is at church every week.  I invest in my relationships with friends and with family.  Priorities.  They are what matters in my life, and that is how I do It.  

ecclesiastes It is the things that matter most, those I love.  Jesus. My husband.  My kids. My Family. My friends.  My church.  It is the things that matter, the things that will last.  I don’t want to spend time chasing after the meaningless things in this world, and then allowing those meaningless things to dictate my time, my mood, my mind, my life — my priorities.

I don’t iron my pants.  Not because I don’t want to, but because for me it would mean giving up something else more important in order to accomplish it.  Less prayer time, less time with my kids, less time to prepare Sunday morning for church, less time to talk with Robert, less time on the phone with my friend from seminary that I haven’t talked to in months.  Nope – the pants are staying wrinkled and the people are getting my attention.  Priorities.

That extra hour of sleep would be nice in the morning but I won’t sacrifice my time in God’s Word or the beauty that comes in sipping my coffee in the presence of His silence.  Priorities.

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How do I do it?  Priorities.  I just do it.  It being what I love,  It being the most important things to me.  It being God, family, church, relationships – all of those blessings God has showered upon me.  The ones that come in the form of responsibilities and commitments, the ones I love.  When Paul tells us to have the same mindset as Christ in our relationships, is he not telling us just that: to prioritize the people we love and treat them as Jesus would.

So I don’t apologize for wrinkled pants, or out of date outfits, or kids with crazy curly hair – as long as it means I am loving them well and making them my priority – I am okay with it.  Let me encourage you to be okay with it too – put first what matters most and let go of the rest.  In your relationships, take on the mind of Christ and love the people he has given you to love – love them well!  Love what matters most and make your priorities those very things you love.

 

Waiting to be gracious

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#twinlife

With four girls that are seven and under there are many time-outs in the Mera house.  Time away from each other, a break for Mom, different play areas for the twins (18 months old) so they don’t pull each others hair out – you get the picture?  On the 1-2 days per week that I am home all day with all four girls there is a blessed afternoon time slot -NAP TIME.  Since three out of four still nap, that quiet time is one of indulgence for this Mama!

But I have to say- whether they are taking quiet time in their rooms for sanity purposes or naps to rest and renew their energy, there is a part of me that waits for them to wake up or for that timer to go off.  It is just so weird how my heart misses them and looks forward to their presence again, even when I desperately need that quiet break.  Even when they have done something to anger me, or harm one another – I wait to see them again.

It is even the same when Robert and I get away for a night or a weekend.  While we love the time together (and the much needed respite), there is always a part of my heart that longs for the girls.  I miss them!  I always say that motherhood ruined me for life – I need time away but when I am away I miss them like crazy.  I just can’t WAIT to see them whenever I am not with them.   Isn’t it funny how nothing my girls do, no matter how they may anger me, makes me want to be out of their presence for long.  Sure enough, I will miss them and find myself waiting to see them again.

Usually when we talk about “waiting” in our faith, it is in the context of us waiting – waiting on God.  As believers we know this is part of our story, as a matter of fact it is probably the majority of our faith journey – waiting.  Waiting on God’s timing or an answer to our prayer, for his healing, his guidance, his presence.  We are a people of waiting, no doubt.

isaiahBut the prophet Isaiah speaks to another facet of waiting (30: 18-19).  In a time when Israel was far from God, when their choices lead them away from the covenantal relationship they had with their Creator, Isaiah talks about waiting in the verse here. But the crazy thing is that it’s not in the context of Israel waiting on God, but of God waiting on her.  Israel has made some poor choices and they have aligned themselves with empires like Egypt, Assyria and turned from God.  Sin separates them from God – they have not declared their wait, but God has declared his!

In the verses above, Isaiah boldly declares that God is waiting on Israel, on her return.  But he is not just waiting to say hi and to welcome her home.  He is waiting to be gracious to his people.  He is waiting to show mercy to them.  He is waiting for them to cry to him, so that he might respond with merciful and gracious love.

As a Mom I get this waiting.  At the end of a nap when I hear Nailah or Karianne cry (even if I still need a little more down time) my gut instinct is to comfort them, to pick them up, hug and kiss them, to show them love.  I am waiting for them to wake up (on some level) because I love being with them.  Even if they were driving me mad before nap, and I needed that break . . . there is still a longing to have them back close to me.

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Things are NOT always this glamorous!

When the older girls are in time out for constant bickering or wining, for not sharing or for being unkind – I long to bring them back together to apologize, hug, and to move on.  I find that I have been waiting to show them mercy, grace, forgiveness, and love; to teach them how to show these things to one another.  Their poor choices don’t lessen my desire to be with them in the mother-daughter relationship.

God waits for us in even bigger and better ways than this.  He waits for us to turn to him when we are far from him.  He waits to be gracious to us.  But its not the image of the mother with hands on her hips and a tapping foot, whose teenager is out past curfew.  Instead, its the image of the mother whose child returns from being gone for years, arms open to embrace and forgive.

Isaiah says to Israel that God is not waiting to punish them, but to show them mercy and be gracious to them.  Don’t get me wrong, there are consequences for Israel’s sin – and there are consequences for ours.  But the desire of our God is that we be with him, that we receive his gracious love and endless mercy.

So no matter what we have done or where we have been – God is waiting for us.  He is waiting for you – to be gracious to you and show you his mercy.  Whatever your choices, your sin, your unfaithfulness, or your distance – God is waiting for you to cry to him.

god waitsSo think about it. How is God waiting on you?  In what way is your Savior calling you into his grace? How does he want to show you mercy?

Cry out to Jesus.  “He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry; when he hears it, he will answer you.”

God waits for you.

 

little faith is better than none

IMG_1650“I can do it” is the phrase that comes to mind when I think of my youngest daughter, Maisie.  At 2 years old she is smack in the middle of the “independent” phase.  Whether it is putting her shoes on, pulling up her pants, climbing into the car, or opening /closing just about anything, “I can do it” is her motto.   It always takes longer and often requires adult help (or at least supervision) but she is determined that she can do it on her own.

Until she is forced to utter those dreaded words, “I help” (Meaning I need help of course). Yes, that’s right sometimes Maisie just has to admit that she cannot do it on her own, that she needs help . . . and at times she needs saving from her failed attempt to do it on her own (i.e.: falling over with one leg stuck in her pants and the other only half way in).  She has to turn to Mama (or another adult at times) and have faith that she will take over and get things done.

As adults we face the same challenge in our walk with Jesus.  Sometimes we forget that our faith should be in Jesus, not ourselves and our own abilities, but in him alone.  Sometimes we have to admit that our little faith isn’t enough to get us where we are going, but that our Savior is.  It seems like the disciples had to learn this lesson a number of different ways.  One story comes to mind from the Gospel of Matthew . . .

22 Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

littleBefore we have little faith we have to have some faith.  Peter got out of the boat and walked on water as a response to Jesus calling him.  He had the faith to respond to Jesus when he commanded Peter to, “Come”.  Now along his journey, short as it may have been, his faith wavered, it was little.  He took his eyes off Jesus and focused on the pending threat, the wind and I imagine the huge waves it was causing.  When he took his eyes off the One who imparts faith and placed it on the thing that threatens that very faith, then his faith became little.  But when he took his first step out of that boat, and onto the water, his FAITH was big and it was real.

In order to have “little faith” you have to have some faith.

And maybe that is where we start when we feel lost, when we appear faithless.  Maybe we need to go back to the first time we heard Jesus say, “Come”.  We need to return to the first step we took out of the boat.  We must go back to the time we walked on water.  We then insist on looking past the little to the FAITH, so we hold onto the truth of the One who gave us the faith to begin with, remembering that it is about Him and not about us alone.

Jesus took Peter’s little faith and made it big.  Because unless your Bible says differently, Peter made it back into that boat.  He walked on the water, through the wind and the waves, and he climbed back into the boat through the rescue of his Savior.  But he didn’t do it on his own.  It was not about mustering up enough strength to be able to get to the boat, nor was it about breaking down and swimming (something he could have done on his own).  No, it was not about him or what he could do.  Instead, it was about Jesus and what he could do.  He took hold of the hand extended to him by Jesus and climbed into the boat – where he worshipped the true Son of God.

One thing I noticed this time when reading this familiar passage is that Jesus took Peter back into the boat.  He called him out into the water but then he took him back to the boat.  Jesus used Peter’s little faith to show him who he was and then placed him safely back in the boat with his friends.  Jesus didn’t force Peter to have faith he couldn’t yet grasp, he didn’t throw him into the waves and insist that he face a danger he wasn’t yet ready to confront.  He took his hand and led him to the safety of the boat.
And it was in the safety of the boat, with Jesus, that Peter and the disciples worshipped the True Son of God.  The wind ceased, the waves with them, and there in the calmness of that boat Jesus showed Peter, and those with him, exactly who he was: The Son of God.

mydesign.pngJesus met Peter where he was, a believer with little faith, and he saved him from drowning and put him back in the boat that he first called him out of, out onto the water.

In order to have a little faith, you have to have faith.  You have to start somewhere, and you have to do it with Jesus – trusting that he will meet you where you are (drowning in the ocean or walking on the water) and he will take your little faith and show you exactly who he is, and how much you need him to reach out and save you.

Wait . . .

34010_Vertical_Advent_CandlesAdvent.  Any decent Presbyterian (pastor at that) blogger has to mention Advent when blogging during December, right?  It would almost be heretical not to, or at least really bad.

But actually it is fitting.  Waiting.  That is what we practice during this part of our liturgical calendar.  We remember Israel waited, for the Messiah to be born.  We sit with Mary as she awaits the birth of her son, and the Savior of the world – no biggie. We wait, with anticipation, with hope, in joy.  We celebrate the greatest gift that was ever given, as we remember that we are a waiting people . . .  people who wait on God to fulfill his promise.

Advent.   It is beautiful.

IMG_0272In different ways we remember waiting, even trying to teach our kids this part of our faith during Advent.  I mean isn’t that what Advent calendars are all about?  Adeline and Maisie have one, of course Adeline is the one who really gets it at 4 and 1/2,  Maisie not so much at just a little over  at 1 and 1/2.  Every day Adeline pulls out the drawer marked with the day of the month, discovers the ornament, and decorates her advent tree.  She knows the last drawer, marked 25 of course, means Christmas is here and she can put the star at the top of the tree.  She is eager to see what type of ornament the drawer holds each morning, and the to find its perfect place on the tree (who’s daughter is she again???).  But for now, she waits, and waits, and waits – not always patiently of course –  until the last day when she gets that star!

But hold on, is it us alone as God’s people who wait?  Or do we too often forget that God, too, waits on us?  Does God wait?  Is that even possible?  Is that theologically okay to say?  I mean can’t God of the universe make things happen, any thing, any time – like when he wants to???  I mean, God never really HAS to wait . . .but does he choose to wait?

waitingThe father of the lost (prodigal) son, he waits for his to return.  We are not really sure how long, I mean its only a paragraph or so when you we read the story, but no specific time frame is ever used to describe the time he spent squandering his inheritence.  The son partied, he spent, he wasted, a famine set in . . . but was it weeks?  Months?  We don’t know.

What we do know is that the father never shows up at a party to tell him, “Enough son, I am taking you home.”   We know what doesn’t happen.  We know who is not mentioned.   Like what about the character who is missing from the story – Mom?!?!  You know, the many scenes us mothers are left to  wonder about that involve the mother begging the father to go out after her son, to save him, to get him, to drag him home kicking and screaming – and then the scene where she finally resolves to go get her son back on her own, since her husband seems to want absolutely nothing to do with it!

Yet, these scenes do not exist.

UnknownEven without such scenes it is pretty safe to assume the father and mother waited, in agony and in love, wondering and hoping, anxious at times, maybe even uncertain.  We can imagine sleepless nights for that Mom, and long days checking the road to see if a figure appeared in the distance, the silhouette of her lost son.

They waited.

The lost son, his mother waited for him.  His father waited.  Even his elder brother waited.

And then finally one day, Scripture tells us the son made his decision to return home.  And his homecoming looks a little something like this:

 So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21 Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24 for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate.

The waiting was over.  The son had returned.  It was now time to celebrate.

father-hug-son-2And the celebration began, but even before the son arrived.  The father saw him “while he was still far off” and he went to him, “filled with compassion”.  It is the waiting father who runs with open arms to his lost son, and kisses him.  It is the waiting father who meets him on the road home to embrace him.  It is the waiting father who skips right past the sons plea for forgiveness and declaration of unworthiness to a song of celebration . . .

“Let us eat and celebrate, for this son of mine was dead and is alive again, he was lost and is found!”

The time of waiting is transformed into a time of celebration upon the return of the lost son.

Of course I have imagined Mama dearest right there with their son, slapping the back of is head while asking him, “What the heck where you thinking? ” as she accounts all the ways she tried to come after him and convince his father to do so.  Then hugging and kissing him, near to death, while in her own motherly way welcoming him home.

But bottom line: the waiting is over.  The son is home.  The celebration begins.

Now, you have to pause and think about this for a minute.  As a father, now I am talking human not heavenly, there had to be times where he wanted to go out looking for his son.  But he waited. It was never easy for this Dad, but he waited.  We can imagine it was painful, hard, tiresome, and just down-right exhausting, but  — go ahead, you can say it with me —  he waited.

hopeYet even after all the waiting the father doesn’t grow weary, but remains hopeful.  In this anticipation and in this hope, he meets his son on his way back home to grab him, hug and kiss him – and initiate the long awaited celebration.

He waited, and he waited well . . .  because he waited in hope.

Advent reminds us we are God’s waiting people, the Israelites waited for the Messiah, and now we wait for His return.  We wait for his Kingdom to be fully realized.  We wait for the New Heaven and the New Earth.  We anticipate and we hope.   But still, we wait.

So the story of the lost son not only speaks to the son’s waiting but also to God waiting on us, to the Father who waits for his children.  We are not alone in our waiting on God, because he waits on us too.

Why?  I have no idea.  All I know is that he chooses to wait for us, but with open arms ready to celebrate.  At times he waits for us to hear it, to see it, to understand it.  He waits for us to grow, to change, to get it.  He waits for us to wake up, to “get it out of our system”, to care enough . . .  he waits for us to come home to him.  He waits to find us and declare in celebration, “You were lost, but now you are found.”

But the incredible part to me is that when we finally come home, he doesn’t even make us walk all the way.  Instead he meets us right where we are . . . on the path . . . and he embraces us with joy.

The “Coming Home” is the best part of the story.  Because it reminds us that God’s idea about grace and compassion blows our ideas out of the water, speaking the truth that God has been waiting on us all along.  The “Coming Home” is where expectant, hopeful waiting is transformed into a joyful celebration — what once was lost is now found.

Telling the story of my time away is not half as enjoyable as telling the story of my coming home.  Why?  Because in the latter God is at center stage and his compassion and grace are the main players.  Trust me, this stuff is way better than when the party girl steals the spot light.  Because this part of the story points to the Father who waited, never giving up hope, anticipating that day of celebration, that day his daughter would come home.

What are you waiting for?  Whatever it is, God waits with you, but also for you.  Not because he must,  but because he wants to.

As the hopeful people of God, we are called to wait.  And the beauty of Advent is that it reminds us of this truth, and encourages us to wait with hopeful expectation.  The way we wait matters.  Just like the father waited for the son to return, with expectation and in hope – prepared for a joyful celebration.  We too, are called to be people who wait in hope, ready to celebrate.  All Sons & Daughters articulates it so well in there song “We are waiting”, give it a listen by clicking on the video below.

 

 

you can’t erase history

FullSizeRender 4Fall is no doubt my favorite season.  I love being outside on a cool day when the sunshine is enough to keep you warm yet not make you sweat, as turning leaves cover the sidewalks and yards.  In the fall we take a lot of walks, slash bike rides.  That short time between arriving home from the sitters with the girls and dinner we will often walk around the block because it’s just too nice not to.

Adeline often rides her bike out ahead of us, while Maisie and I follow in her “car”.  She lasts in the car for awhile and then she insists on walking or pushing her car so she can explore the things around her, like leaves and bugs and flowers and pretty much anything.  She loves pushing the car herself.  As you can imagine, this adds quite a bit of time to our walk.  It also adds all sorts of games to the mix as her and Adeline battle it out, bike vs. car – competing for the “most stubborn child” award.  The winner is yet to be determined.

FullSizeRender 5Often we are about 200 feet from the house when Maisie exits the vehicle to walk on her own, which converts the 2 minute ETA to a 20-minute one. Maisie creates her own path home as she heads the opposite direction of our house, goes to pick every flower in sight, or stops to crunch the leaves below her feet.  Her path home becomes very different than the path set our for us, you know, the sidewalk for example?!?!?

But as her Mom, I lead her back to the path and eventually home.  That is my job.  When she walks on to someone’s grass, I guide her back.  When she heads up a driveway, I turn her around.  When she books it for the street, I grab her and reposition her on the sidewalk.  I redirect, refocus, and remind her that her path is the sidewalk and it will lead her back to our house – it will take her home.  Unlike the neighbors yard, driveway, or our street – the sidewalk will get her back where she belongs.

This is exactly what God did with me during my 8 years away from home.  Way before I acknowledged it and headed back intentionally, God was redirecting my path back to Him, where I belonged.

pathLast week I mentioned that the prodigal son’s plan was very different from his father’s.  He tried to take his own path in life when he left home.  But even when he was coming home, he attempted his own way a few times too.  First, by hiring himself out to a citizen of that country in order to survive. Fail. Second, he intended to ask his father to take him back as a hired servant; to return home with the idea of begging for simply a place as a servant, not at the table as his son.  Fail again.

At this point in the story of the Prodigal Son it becomes very clear that he has a little something to learn about the grace of his father.  He has a lot to discover about the father’s love, and even more to comprehend about what it means to be his son.

Going away was a choice the son made.  It was a choice I made.  The choices we make are not always the ones God wants us to make.  The choice to walk away from God is not his idea of the best decision for us, or his heart’s desire for his children. But God gives us the space to do it because he has a plan for our time away, and a set path for our journey home.                                                                                                                         choice11To be clear, I don’t think the Father wanted the son to leave.  It wasn’t his hope for his son.  But he could see the bigger picture.  He knew all that could happen to the son while he was gone, the many attempts he would make to “fix” things himself, and how he would welcome him home, meet him on his way back to embrace him on the day his path brought him there. 

Just like the lost son, I too had my own plans, my idea of the best path back to God or of how to “fix” things in my life. The thing I know now, that I didn’t then, was that God already had me on a path, guiding me home, steering me back every time I wandered off distracted by something along the way.  Just as I gently guide Maisie back to the sidewalk to make sure we arrive at the house before sunset, or in time for dinner — exactly when we need to be there, God patiently set me back on track more times than I can count.

In 2004 I got engaged.  I was in my second year of teaching and coaching.  My fiancé and I bought a house together, moved in, and began planning our wedding.  My life was on schedule.  I had everything you are suppose to have: a good job, a fiancé, a dream wedding on the horizon, friends – things were good.

is-something-missing-pg1-a6Yet, something was missing.  I wasn’t truly happy.  I knew it deep down, I just didn’t want to admit it.  I even remember trying to go back to church a couple of times over that first year of living together.  This was my version of the plan, a halfway attempt at my faith, a possible reconnection with a local church, and of course convincing my Buddhist fiancé to go to church with me.  This would fix things.  It would make it all better.  I could stay right where I was in my comfort zone and solve my own problems.  The unsettling feeling would go away, a simple reconnection with church would vanquish the anxiety and bring peace.  I was sure of it.  Just like the son’s attempt to hire himself out in order to afford food, my plan intended to keep me where I was and make a minor change in my life that would bring forth what was missing.

God had other plans.  Bigger plans.  A different path. A crazier path.

It took my relationship hitting rock bottom, along with my life in many ways, for God’s plan to take effect.  I was devastated after calling off my wedding only months before the Big Day, my life no longer made sense, I was hurt and alone.  So my sister and I planned a trip to the Dominican Republic to get away from it all.  7 nights and days in an all-inclusive would take care of us.  Little did I know, God was gonna use that week to forever change the course of my life.  That trip would lead to mission work in the Dominican Republic, which would carry me to Kenya, which would open the door to seminary, which would bring me to the place I am today pastoring at my home church.

God had other plans.  Bigger plans.  A different path. A crazier path.

His plan, not mine.  His path for my life, and I simply couldn’t get off of it.  I thought I was out on my own, doing things my way.  But God was simply giving me the space to learn the lessons I needed to, in order to truly grasp the grace and love of the Father.

gods pathThe thing about his path, is that it leads to him.    And no matter where we are on that path, the Father can see us, and he is waiting for us.  As a matter of fact, he doesn’t even wait for us to do it on our own.  Instead, he runs to us, throws his arms around us, and welcomes us home.  Just like the Prodigal son who,

  . . . got up and went to his father.

“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.

Grace.

The son was prepared to barter with the father for a job, but the father was ready to restore the son to his position of honor, to love him, to welcome him home  — to forgive him for leaving, squandering his inheritance, and attempting to live the life he thought was necessary.  He met him on the path, while he was still a long way off, as a demonstration of grace.

This is what God does with us.  He forgives.  He restores.  He lavishes us with love and grace.  He meets us where we are and brings us home wrapped in his compassionate arms.

 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.” (Ephesians 1:7)

Let me be clear- the things we do and the people we are with, during the time away, they matter and they impact us.  Although the father welcomed him home, the son still had to live with the mistakes he made.  His inheritance was gone.  There was no getting it back.  He now stood covered in grace, forgiven and transformed, but it did not mean the past was erased.  

The past doesn’t go away and the effects of our choices are real. Grace covers us, but we also have to live with what we do when we are away. There is healing, but the scars remain.  At least I have found this to be true.  Many of my scars are still visible.  God brought me home and restored me, and much healing has taken place.  When I look back at my time away, I see God present throughout it, in ways I was unable to see during it.

God’s grace was present in my life even when I didn’t know it or acknowledge it.  It was there when I walked away from an unhealthy relationship and avoided the possibility of a painful divorce.  It was there every time I partied too hard and made irresponsible choices . . .  every time I put my life in danger . . . every relationship I broke because of drugs and alcohol taking priority over friends and family . . . it was there in the face of loved ones who stood by me.

The scars remain: broken friendships, the after effect of drugs, the memories.  The scars are my thorns.  I often think of Paul’s cry to God to take away the thorn that plagued him in 2 Corinthians 12:

“in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”

eraseThe past is not erased.  The scars are there.  The memories are real.  The thorns remain. But they all purpose to glorify God because they point to the simple truth that his grace is more than I need. Because only God can use my scars for his glory.  God alone heals enough to restore us, while leaving us with scars that remind us that indeed his grace, and his grace alone, is sufficient for us; that he is all we need.

This is why I am telling my story.  To tell the story of my encounter with his grace and how the love of Jesus saved my life.  To tell the story that points to Jesus who healed my brokenness, leaving me with only scars. Scars that tell a story, a story that points to the Father, and that reveals the lavishing love and saving grace of Jesus.

You can’t erase the past.  But you sure as heck can use the scars in your past to tell a different story. The scars I bear point to God the Father, how he never left me, nor forsook me, but instead how he patiently and persistently guided me back home . . . even if I had no clue he was there doing it all along.

I can’t erase my past, but then again without it I would not have a story to tell.