Countdown

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I’m not sure why, but today feels like the first day of the official wedding countdown. Ten days to go. And today we got our first peak at the 10-day forecast, which depending on the website, does hold a slight chance of evening rain. Slight. And ten days out.

I’m surprised at the number of people who have told me they’re praying for good weather. Including our officiating pastor, and this makes me both grateful and curious. Quite honestly, I wouldn’t have dared to pray it on my own. I’ve always had the feeling that if all of us got our way when it comes to weather, it just might turn the whole order of things on its head, so why bother. But okay. If it’s a glorious day, I’ll know who to thank.

The boys have been asking me if I’ll cry. That day. I have no idea. Kyle, definitely. He’s much more predictable. Me? My crying hits me at the most unexpected times. Like a couple of weeks ago at church. Reaching into my communication box for my pay stub. And it hit me. There’s only one envelope. There used to be two. One for me and one for Grant. But he’s not working here anymore. Drip, drip, drip.

So who knows.

We’re all busy, some of us more than others. Mrs. Ruf is amazing. Wedding planner extraordinaire. She’s been making task lists for months, responsibilities delegated, every detail covered. And this is where she shines.

The guys are prepping speeches. Dads and best man. Kyle practices at the dinner table with tears in his eyes and his sons harassing. Dad, how are you ever going to do this for real?

In addition to his best man speech Luke’s been planning a bachelor party and a camping trip. The party’s tomorrow and overnight. Buddies and brothers and cousins whooping it up with Whirlyball and ComedySportz and burgers at The Blue Door Pub.

And then on Sunday Luke heads to Michigan for four days of camping with his pals. Florian is here from Germany, just for the wedding. (Flo is one of the Ruf’s many exchange students and a BFF of Luke’s – so of course, camping. Right?) And I assure you I am NOT afraid to pray about that.

Dress shirts are pressed, and there’s a stash of guy attire taking up a generous corner of my bedroom. Linen pants and vests, navy-blue ties, camel belts and dress shoes – times six. And I have my own stash, too, in silver hues.

Last night friends stopped by late to practice wedding music. Sweet guitar licks and glorious worship, and a few surprises in the mix. And this is where it hits me. I’ll probably want to tuck those kleenex into that little silver clutch. After all.

They’re doing such a good job. Grant and Kiana. With everything. Preparing for a wedding and a marriage and a ministry. Knowing what matters. Wanting to make it count. They even have a vision. On their wedding website. Theknot.com/wedding/Grant-and-Kiana. All you need to know about the event and registries and how to RSVP. And then there’s this:

Our vision is to battle this temptation to let self become the higher priority, and instead be givers. Givers of encouragement, givers of praise, givers of appreciation, givers of thanks, givers of time… A healthy marriage encourages the people and relationships around it. This is our vision. To live life for the King, to be givers, and to bring joy to the people around us.

It’s going to be good. This wedding. This marriage. This vision. Because even if it rains buckets and the food is a flop and the candles won’t light (which actually did happen at our wedding) – it won’t matter. Because it’s not the point, and they know it. Because this countdown doesn’t just lead to a day, but a life.

Smiles

Smile Nils

It’s cliché I know. A picture is worth a thousand words. But just look at those smiles. Priceless.

Yesterday Nils came home from his mission to Mission. Mission, Texas, and McAllen next door. And even after ten days of sleep deprivation and 30 hours one way on a bus, he’s all smiles.

I’ve been there, so I know. It’s a special trip. Every summer our high school kids head south to make a difference, and every year the real difference is in them. Their lives changed by the whole experience. The experience of daily prayer at 5 AM. The experience of loving so many new people. The experience of being stretched in so many new ways. And in all these things, the experience of God showing up, and Jesus taking flesh, and the Spirit being real. So real. Like you’ve never known before.

So I see that smile, and I hear his stories, and I read the blog and I know. This was just what Nils needed, and just in time. God is good. So good.

It’s just what we needed, too. This smile. This breath of life.

And it’s no surprise, on the heals of this victory, there’s battle brewing. Yesterday I sat by Nils at church, just minutes after the return of the bus. I opened my Bible to the text for the day. 1 Corinthians 10:13. And Nils took out his phone, flipping it over for me to see. The piece of paper attached to the back. A list of verses from his Bible study, and 1 Corinthians 10:13. He opened the Bible app on his phone, and I could hear his whispered surprise. The verse of the day. Today. 1 Corinthians 10:13.

We’d better pay attention. I whispered back.

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. 

I won’t begin to guess at everything this means. But I will say this. I’m fully aware of the battle. I’m willing to say there’s an enemy. Waiting to steal our joy.

Kyle and I sense it right away. Our own battles, heating up. Yeserday and all night, and still this morning. Battles real and some perceived. Anxiety gripping us tight. Why? Why does it have to be so hard?

It’s like we’re living two lives. One life with boys who smile and thrive. Who go on missions and plan a wedding. Who laugh and love and sing. Another life that demands all our patience. A work in progress. Our good days are hard, and our hard days are good. And we can’t quite live in the joy of the one, and we can’t quite despair of the pain of the other. And we do need prayer.

I memorize scripture. It’s salve to my soul. These past weeks I’ve been in Romans, chapter 8. Amazing. So much relevance for this season. Listen.

…the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Wait, what’s that about suffering? Adoption, yes, and glory. But indeed (not maybe) we share suffering?

And…

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 

Okay, and there’s more.

…we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

Patiently? I think not. And I’ve told God as much.

And did you wonder, like me, about the adoption? The Spirit testifying. Yes, it’s true! And then that same Spirit groaning. Waiting. And what’s up with that?

Therein, I’d guess, lies the battle. This now and not yet. We are, but we’re not. They are, but they’re not. And we, like them, groan while we wait.

A couple of weeks ago our friend and English tutor met with Kyle and me. She showed us a chart on grief and loss. A typical progression of going down and back up. And once again, God gets my attention through repetition, when a few days later it’s there again in my study. Another J-curve. Down and back up. And the author says God’s stories are always gospel stories. Death and resurrection. And he says, we must accept the death, and we can’t force the resurrection, but we can hope.

But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. 

Patiently, right. But with help.

Because, here’s what I memorize today.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 

And one thing I do know. He is good. And he does send us smiles.

Chicago

Chicago

Chicago was a last minute decision. We’d been talking for several weeks about a possible road trip. Knowing Nils would be away on his mission trip, and Luke in Nebraska visiting a friend. And maybe this would be a good opportunity to show Felipe and Jimmy something new. Canada or Mount Rushmore. Or maybe Chicago. We could do Chicago in a weekend.

They jumped at the idea. Especially Felipe. Even though it’s easy to see he’s a nature lover at heart, this boy possesses a wild obsession for our American cities, and the bigger the better.

So Chicago is was. A good opportunity to see some sights and meet new cousins in route. So we packed our bags, and packed our itinerary, too – parks and aquarium, the zoo and a sky-deck view of the city. But two memories in particular will stand out for the boys. First, midnight drag races right outside our hotel room window. (Not legal, and this will tell you something about the location of our overpriced accommodations.) And a second related highlight – a walkthrough visit to a luxury car dealership, Chicago style.

It was there, watching boys (and not just my own) ogle over cars worth more than my house, that it struck me. And not for the first time. We walk a fine line.

Last week, before Chicago, I’d been working on a project at church. Writing script and creating video to use for ministry. And the theme? Encouraging parents to lead kids toward contentment and generosity.

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19

So standing there in that glitzy showroom, slick Chicago dealers of who-knows-what eying us from across the room, this scripture comes flooding back, and it’s all I can think about. Command those who are rich. Not to be arrogant. Not to hope in wealth. To be rich in good deeds. Willing to share.

And I’m torn. Torn between wanting to be there with my boys, to enter their world, to love where they are. Yet wanting to show them something else. The life that is truly life.

Are we doing it? Enough?

Here’s the irony. We welcome these boys as our sons. We invest in something other than wealth. Hoping, at least, to put into action this life that is truly life. And then. We fill their heads with dreams. Fill their lives with stuff. And if they’re confused, it’s no wonder. It’s no wonder they demand more than thank. It’s no wonder they think Dad’s pockets are bottomless. And he’s asked the question more than once. Am I benefactor or father?

And don’t you just think this might be a question on the heart of our heavenly Father, too? 

Ah. We wondered if it was the right thing to do. If this trip was really worth it. Even though it was fun, and the boys have hundreds of pictures to prove it. Everywhere we went they captured memories on phones, right up to the sunset over the freeway driving west back toward home.

It was the drive home that made the difference. Four of us in close quarters and for a period of time conversation took the place of smartphones. And we talked. About them. What they like. What they miss. Who they are. And it was good. Worth it.

Jimmy swears he’ll never live in Chicago. Too much traffic for driving, and too much scary for walking. He likes the suburbs. Already.

This morning I’m back on my porch in the quiet. Spending time with my Father. Who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. And I think of an earthly father who’s doing the same. Will they get it? Does it matter? Now? Someday?

Do good. Be rich in good deeds. Be generous and willing to share.  

Lay up treasure for the coming age. 

Take hold of the life that is truly life. 

And, by the way. Thanks, Dad, for a great weekend.

Thank You

Chipotle

I had a hunch this was how God was leading, but it took a phone call to confirm. My friend Laurie, mid-conversation, says – I think I’m supposed to share this with you. And she’s right.

She talks about Jesus, giving thanks. When he took the few fish and the pieces of bread, and he gave thanks not for poverty, but for plenty. Not for what was, but for what was coming. And then later, the Passover meal. He broke the bread and gave thanks. And it wasn’t for the passion, but for the resurrection. Gratitude not for the miracle, but anticipation of something yet to come.

I received an email two or three weeks ago, from Mike Howard, of Revision Church. I remember it still. He’s quoting Tozer:

Perhaps it takes a purer faith to praise God for unrealized blessings than for those we once enjoyed or those we enjoy now. 

Mike says, “I want to be intentional in my own life about cultivating both gratefulness and a sense of God’s willing, gracious, abundance…”

This afternoon I sit and think about Laurie’s comments, and Mike’s. And it’s exactly what God has been saying, too. All week. Gratitude is powerful. More than we imagine.

For several weeks I’ve been keeping a journal of Yesterday’s Manna and Today’s Requests. One day at a time. Taking note of God’s mercy and writing it down. Asking only for daily bread.

But now. This challenge. It’s a different perspective. It’s not just today, but beyond. Not so much asking, but praising. For what will be.

These six months have been about survival. One day at a time, and it’s all we can handle. Manna for the desert. Not more. But the day did come when God’s children left the desert for the promised land, and the manna stopped coming. Because abundance took over.

So I guess I’m wondering. Is it time? Time to trade in our manna for milk and honey? Can we take that risk and start thanking now?

I want to. With all my heart I want to.

God. For these boys. Thank you. Thank you for healing hearts and making them whole. Thank you for renewing minds and restoring joy. Thank you for the miracle of shalom. Nothing missing. Nothing broken. Thank you for making us a family. Whole and holy.  

Oh, yes. That’s it. Whole and holy. My heart’s desire. Milk and honey.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Ah-Ha

porch

I had a spiritual ah-ha this week. It’s one of my favorite things, those ah-ha moments, and this one seemed especially timely. I had been reading and discussing a book with my friend Angie, and we’d been talking about spiritual warfare. Talking about how we’re in a battle against an enemy, and even though we know we’re on the winning side we still have to fight, and our best weapon is always prayer.

This is one of my favorite things about Angie. She’s an amazing pray-er. This gal is gifted to pray like no one I know, and it always blows me away because I get to be her friend, and I get to have her praying for me. It makes me wonder, honestly, about the intensity of my own unseen battles, that God would provide one of his fiercest pray-ers to walk with me.

Anyway. Angie and I were talking about warfare prayer, and always in these kinds of discussions I feel just a little bit inferior. Like maybe I don’t get it. Maybe I’m not doing it right. I don’t speak the prayer warrior language, and I’m really not much of a threat to the enemy. Maybe.

But then the next morning was the ah-ha. I was praying like always, early in the morning with my mug of coffee outside on my porch. I started with a bit of scripture, then paused to say something whispered to God. Telling him a bit of this and that, talking about a particular issue with a particular child. God I can only do so much. I trust you to be there when I’m not. I trust you see what I can’t. God, I trust you to fight for my kids.

And boom. It hit me. This is the way I pray every day. Engaged. In. Battle.

Trusting God to fight.

Angie had talked about praying scripture. How there are passages she uses to fight in prayer. And there on my porch I saw this, too. How the story of scripture has shaped my own prayers. The story of covenant promises. A fight to the death. My life for yours. The exchange of blood, and a God who never gives up. These images, this story. Always in my head. Always in my prayers.

There’s a passage I love, and I mention it often. I’ve told you to read it, and you really should. It’s a song of David, found twice in the Bible. Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22. And it’s the coolest description of a man caught in battle and a God who moves heaven and earth to come to his rescue. He rescued me because he delighted in me.  

And this picture, more than any other, is the theology of my prayers.

So the ah-ha was this. I am a warrior in prayer. I wouldn’t have thought it. But I am. God I trust you IS a battle prayer. And I use it all the time. I use it because I’m desperate, but also because I’m convinced. It’s my best weapon. God I trust you to fight.

Yesterday morning at church we sang a song. Perfect. As usual.

You crush the enemy
Underneath my feet;
You are my sword and shield
Though troubles linger still. 

Whom shall I fear? 

I know who goes before me;
I know who stands behind;
The God of angel armies
Is always by my side. 

–Chris Tomlin

Holiday

cabin

It was a best weekend ever. Three straight days of holiday vacation. Three straight days of trips to the lake for tubing and cousins and card games and hammocks and fireworks. And we were happy. All of us. For three straight days.

We needed it. Last week was hard. Maybe the hardest week yet for one teen in particular who seemed to hit a wall of loneliness and isolation. Part chosen, part not. Watching brothers with lives and friends and grieving what isn’t, but making choices to isolate further, and it becomes a vicious cycle. Until the weekend.

God is good. Giving just what we need when we need it most. Always. Knowing just how many hard days can be endured, and what is necessary for refining, and when it’s time to take a breather. When the lessons have been accomplished.

So one teen endures a wave of loneliness while parents fret about the darkness. And then, just when the time is right the sun comes out. The contrast makes everything obvious. Even at sixteen you’ve got to see it. Isolation is misery. Life is meant to be lived together. Together is good, and fun. And just maybe family can be your friends.

This lonely week led to another provision, too. Parents desperately seeking solutions, hunting for diversions. And – how about art? Yes, art. We Google art and teens, camps and classes. Finally we find it, an art camp just five minutes from home. A perfect solution? It started this morning, and first impressions were better than expected, and we think this just might be this week’s manna.

Today it’s cold and raining. Good for chores. Good for art. But yesterday, and two days before that, the weather was perfect. Sunny and hot. And the lake was just what he needed.

He was the one who tubed the most and lasted the longest. Wanting to stay until dark, not even noticing mosquitoes. He was the one who rallied uncles and cousins to the picnic table for cards, teaching them all a new game. So happy.

But now the weekend is over, and wouldn’t you know, all of us wake up fretting this morning. Worried about what’s next. And doesn’t this seem just a little bit like a battle built on lies? Like maybe there really is an enemy determined to steal our joy? Poking and prodding with what about tomorrow when the manna’s right there on the ground for today.

Every day, there’s only one question. Will God be faithful? Can he be trusted?

Yes. Absolutely yes. Again and again yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Take that, enemy creep.

Holiday or not. He will provide. He will be faithful. He has us covered. We need not worry. We will not fear.