Act Like You Know Him

I’ll never forget Mark’s first day of fifth grade. It was a unique situation because the building was completely new to him, but the teacher wasn’t. She had previously taught Mark second and third grade at another building but had transferred to a new position at the same school Mark had been moved to.

I did everything I could to make the transition as easy as possible for Mark. I reminded him repeatedly that, yes, the building would be new and so would all the other students. But I reassured Mark by reminding him that he would have the same teacher whom he already knew and loved. I even made two separate trips to the new building during the summer, so that Mark could become more comfortable with what would be his new school.

He was proud to be starting fifth grade and excited to see his favorite teacher once again. So, I was honestly taken aback by his reaction when the first day came. In fact, I think his feelings and actions took both myself and Mark by surprise.

Together, we entered the cafeteria where all the students had been asked to gather on the first day. But that’s when I felt Mark’s clasp on my hand turn from relaxed into a death grip. And when I glanced down to see what had happened, I noticed he wasn’t breathing. He must have started to hold his breath prior to digging his fingernails into my right hand because I noticed his cheeks were beginning to turn the same shade of purple as his backpack. Oy.

It was packed and as loud as you can imagine one room filled with over five hundred excited and anxious children would be. But I did my best to find a bit of privacy. The very last thing Mark needed was to add embarrassment to everything else that was already overwhelming him.

“Mark,” I said as calmly but as loudly as I could so that he would be able to hear me. “You’ve got to breath, Sweetie. Breath.”

When that didn’t work, I relied on an old standby; I started blowing puffs of air into his face. Thankfully this worked, but after a few hard blinks, Mark suddenly took a loud gasp of air and proceeded to let out a blood curdling scream.

“Mark, calm down,” I said as I rubbed his arms, trying to relax his stiff, tight muscles, “What’s wrong? Tell Momma.”

“I…Uh…I…Uh…Uh…” he uttered repeatedly between sobs. I could tell he was close to passing out and could do little more than stutter at this point.

The not-so-small peanut gallery of other kids and several adults that was now surrounding us didn’t escape me, either. Neither did it help. So, I grabbed Mark’s hand firmly and guided him through the crowd back to the school office.

It took some doing. The office staff did not want to call his teacher down to the office. They wanted to protect her last few minutes of free time before the start of the school day. But I knew that she knew Mark and loved him as much as I did. I also knew that if Mark could just see her, he could remember that in the middle of all this newness, all this chaos, all this emotional suffering and distress, he could know that everything was going to be okay.

Fortunately, I was convincing enough. Either that or Mark’s inconsolable tears and incomprehensible stuttering did the trick. Who knows? Maybe both helped. But it took little more than a few minutes from the time the teacher was called to the moment she appeared in front of him, kneeling down to make eye contact with Mark on his level.

“Mark,” she said so softly I could barely hear her myself. “It’s my first day, too. Can we go into the cafeteria together?” And with that, there was a transfer of security. Mark’s now sticky-with-sweat and shaking hand transferred from mine to that of his teacher. In an instant, my own blood pressure likely dropped a good 30 points!

The situation didn’t change at all. Mark was still terrified and suffering terribly. But now he knew he wasn’t going to face the day alone. He knew his place: In the middle of this new and scary situation, yes. But also in the caring and proven hands of a teacher whom he loved, knew and trusted.

The same is true for us.

We can suffer well if we also know our place. Like Mark, knowingly stepping into a most uncomfortable situation, but comforted by knowing that he isn’t alone. Our place is with God. He is our rock (Psalm 18:2), our shield (Proverbs 30:5) and He “knows those who take refuge in him” (Nahum 1:7).

What a profound privilege.

What a peaceful place to be.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Striving to Enter His Rest

Let us therefore strive to enter that rest…
Hebrews 4:11

I’m still trying to teach Mark exactly how to stop when he’s in the hurry and the pressure of the moment. But that’s okay because I know from personal experience that hitting the pause button takes practice. It takes work. And the author of Hebrews knew this, too.

Reread the Scripture verse above and take a close look at the word in bold. (The formatting is mine.) To strive means to work, to put forth effort and to make an attempt at something. If I’m honest, I often only long for God’s rest. I want it, but my choices and actions never truly show an attempt to enter into it. Simply put, God makes the gracious offer and provides the instruction on how to get there. But we must accept His invitation and take the steps necessary to actually experience it. God’s opened the door and invited us in, but we have to purposefully walk through to experience His peace-filled company.

This might sound silly, but sometimes I can’t help but think that God often feels about us the same way I used to feel about Mark during the first few weeks he was finally home.

He was two-and-a-half years old and a tiny little thing, so tiny that clothing made for three to sixth month old infants fell right off his bony, brown frame. Yet his tummy was tight and protruding from severe malnutrition. This shouldn’t have come as a surprise as we adopted Mark internationally from an extremely impoverished country, but the juxtaposition of these polar opposites was alarming.

While we knew nothing about Mark’s genetic conditions, medical issues or special needs yet, Mark did show some behaviors—or rather lack of—that were concerning. My greatest concern was the fact that Mark wouldn’t feed himself. I was desperate to get food into his hard, bulging belly. But no matter how hungry I knew he had to be, Mark simply would not lift the food to his own mouth.

“Mark,” I said. “Aren’t you hungry? Here. Eat!”

Then, I’d place a bowl or plate of food in front of him, watching and waiting to see if he’d take the bait. But sadly, Mark would predictably just sit there.

It became almost comical. I would say the same things, offer him food and Mark would do little more than flash a toothy grin at me. Nate, meanwhile, would chow down and wonder why Mark wasn’t doing the same.

It took time, but thankfully Mark finally got there. He learned that—while I would eventually spoon-feed him (I wasn’t going to let him starve!)—he would eat a whole lot more quickly if he just picked the food up and fed himself. The food was there. I gave the instructions and Nate, his big brother and dining companion, provided the example to follow. All Mark had to do was put it all to use.

Again, much to my relief, he eventually got there. Mark finally learned how to self-feed. But, oh, how my heart ached in the process, watching Mark just sit there literally starving with a plate full of food in front of him. It’s right there! Just do it! Pick it up and eat it!

Sometimes I wonder if this is how God feels while watching us suffer, too?

Come (Matthew 11:28)!
Just stop (Ecclesiastes 4:6).
Be still (Psalm 37:7).
Lean on me (1 Peter 5:7).
I’m with you (Isaiah 41:10).
Rest (Exodus 33:14).

How it must break God’s heart when we decline His invitation for rest with our actions, choosing worry, fear and doubt in lieu of His loving and easy yoke (Matthew 11:29-30).

But all is not lost, not even when we’re suffering. Just being aware of God’s invitation and instructions to rest and our own tendencies towards the opposite is the first step. The next is recognizing that we need to rest in God not just because of the obvious benefits, but because that’s what He desires for us to do (John 14:27). When we truly rest in God, it’s evidence of our faith and trust in His power, plan and timing. After all, who are we to question Him? Yet often that’s exactly what we allow our choices, thoughts and actions to do.

Like this post? It’s taken from Going for Broke: How to Suffer Well. (Click here to find it on Amazon.)

Sensing God for Perfect Rest

My husband, Jason, and I like to get creative when it comes to gift giving. It’s more creative, personal and—Bonus! —saves money. So, when his birthday came around, I was feeling pretty excited to give him my gift.

I laid a soft blanket across our bed, rolled up a fluffy bath towel into a neckroll and carefully arranged all the tiny bottles of essential oils on his nightstand. Then, I grabbed a chair for myself and asked him to lay down for a 30-minute peppermint scalp massage.

At first, he giggled and declined. But after a little reassurance, he complied. I closed the blinds and shut the door. Then, came the real surprise. I cued the music: a track of ocean waves played soothingly from the blue tooth speaker set just a few inches away. All my effort didn’t go unnoticed and settled in happily.

I placed a lavender eye pillow across Jason’s eyes, wet my finger tips with peppermint oil and got to work. Though, it didn’t feel much like work because I, too, was being lulled and relaxed by the gentle sound of ocean waves. Within about only ten minutes, Jason added his own soft snores to the soundtrack. Success!

But then, it happened…

The once quiet, relaxing sounds of ocean waves were loudly interrupted by the abrupt and loud caws of seagulls. I jerked. But Jason laid completely still, snores and sleep uninterrupted.

I wish I could say this only happened once. But I can’t. It happened several more times, each more unsettling than the last. Yet Jason continued to lay peacefully, still snoring and seemingly unaware of the jolting sounds of these sea birds.

As I quickly applied more oil to my fingertips, I wondered how in the world was he doing this?

How could this not wake him?

How could he be this relaxed?

And, man, how can I be this relaxed in God’s rest?!

Jason’s ears were open to the crazy loud seagulls just as much as mine were. Yet his rest was unbroken.

So, with about fifteen minutes left, I started to think about this question. Here’s what I came up with—and it’s helped me. I hope it helps you, too!

God gave us many different ways to experience the world around us.
We can choose to monopolize our senses with the world (including the various things that distract us) OR we can use our senses to help us focus on Him.

We can use our various senses to our advantage. They can help us remember to stay focused. They can even help us calm and manage our emotions when they threaten to run away with us.

The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light… Matthew 6:22

Surround yourself with God’s Word, so you’ll see it throughout the day. Sticky notes with encouraging Bible verses can be placed on your computer monitor or install an app on your phone that rotates a verse every day. Then, put place it prominently on your phone’s homepage.

For you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:20

Get comfortable when you’re reading and studying God’s Word. There is an undeniable mind-body connection. God intentionally designed us this way. So, use we should use it to our fullest advantage. Make an effort to ensure you’re as physically comfortable as possible when you spend time with God. This serves two important purposes. One, the more comfortable you are, the less distracted you’ll be. And, two, it is an important way of accepting God’s peace.

Remember the story of when Jesus went to visit Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)? Each time I prepare to spend my quiet time with God, I remember this story. Jesus wants us to be comfortable, so we can focus on His company, on His presence. Know this. Do this.

The ear that listens to life-giving reproof will dwell among the wise. Proverbs 15:31

Surround yourself with positive, uplifting, God-ward pointing sounds. Listen to positive music when you’re cleaning house or driving in the car. Put on reflective worship music to help quiet your spirit before your Bible time. Or, perhaps most importantly, surround yourself with people who also love and seek God.

Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31

When we eat, we’re meeting one of our most basic needs. Eating and tasting food can be a tangible reminder to practice gratitude and be thankful for all that God provides, including His greatest gift: a personal relationship with Him through Christ Jesus (Romans 5:1-2). Instead of mindless eating, we can chew and drink slowly, pausing to remember the ultimate Source of all our sustenance, both physical and spiritual.

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing… 2 Corinthians 2:15

Lastly, we can even use our sense of smell to help remind us where to keep our focus. Consider lighting a fragrant candle when you sit down for your devotional time or dab a small amount of essential oils on your temples. As you breathe in deep, focus on the beautiful aroma and remember that God breathed His very own breath into humanity through the nostrils (Genesis 2:7).  And as air fills up your lungs and you feel your chest inflate, remember that you are much, much more than the physical body that your soul inhabits. You a multi-faceted being designed and intended to experience and honor God with your whole being (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Tuning Out the Noise

We can learn a lot from the story of Noah—including how to quiet the noise around and inside of us.

Take a moment to imagine the sights, smells, sounds and stress that Noah must have experienced during all that time spent on the ark. With all the rain, the sky must have been very dark. With so many animals on board, there must have been quite a heavy stench in the air. And surely all those animals weren’t silent, not to mention the sounds that were likely made as huge drops of rain pelted against the wooden ship. The only thing that got Noah through it all was his strong walk with God—a walk that ironically enough meant a whole lot of sitting around and waiting.

Yep, I’ll bet you have even more in common with Noah than you thought!

You’re likely inundated with similarly strong distractions, too. Maybe you juggle a job and taking care of your family. Maybe you struggle with worry. Maybe you’re overwhelmed with trying to make ends meet. Maybe it’s all of the above. No matter what the noise is, we can choose to give it our attention or develop ways to tune it out.

Here are a few ideas for just how to do that:

Squash molehills before they become mountains.
Worry is adept at snowballing. So, as soon as you feel it creeping in, stop it.
Jesus told us not worry. And while this may be easier said than done—like anything else—we can get better with practice.
So, intentionally choose to accept His gracious gift of peace (John 14:27). And make room for His peace by giving Him your worries (Psalm 55:22).

Don’t ignore the noise.
Keep it contained—with the right perspective.
Sure, stress may be screaming for your attention. In fact, it may be absolutely demanding it. But keep it in its place by framing it in the proper perspective. God created us as human beings, not human doings. Our first and foremost job is to focus on, worship and bring glory to God (Isaiah 43:7, 43:21, Ecclesiastes 12:13, 1 Samuel 12:24). Everything else is secondary. Can’t seem to catch your breath? Close your eyes. Then, don’t just count to 10. Count on Him.

Get it out by writing it down.
Sometimes we truly can’t let things go or quiet our inner rumblings until we get it out somehow. This can meaning sharing with a trusted friend or spouse. But sometimes, things may be so private, fear-filled or shame-inducing, that even the idea of sharing with another person creates even more stress. So, write it down. Share it only with God. No shame or fear need be felt because He already knows (1 John 3:20) and still loves and wants to hear from us (Psalm 50:15). The act of putting our troubles (or anything, for that matter) down on paper actually helps us better process them, too. Instead of just noise, suddenly problems—and possible insights and solutions—can become much more clear. Worried about someone finding your private confessions and thoughts? Make a commitment to yourself to shred it afterward. It’s the process that’s important to quieting the noise, not necessarily the notes that remain afterward.

An Uncomfortable Cleaning

As I rummaged through the dresser one-handed, I quickly realized that all the 24 month clothing I had prepared for Mark’s arrival were simply not going to work. Nothing inside that dresser was going to fit on his tiny body.

That’s when I recalled that the shirt I had just peeled off him in the bathroom. It was the same shirt I had sent down for him several years ago. It was size 6 months. Having been told over and over again that he was growing well and getting quite large, I had already given away the bulk of the smaller clothing I had. Fortunately, though, I had kept just one tiny outfit on the off-chance that it would be needed. Recalling this, I opened the bottom drawer, grabbed it and headed downstairs.

“What can I do to help?” Jason said rushing over, clearly wanting to help alleviate the load I was currently bearing, both emotionally and physically.

“Could you spread out that towel on the counter and go grab Nate’s soap? I forgot it while I was upstairs,” I said, trying to at the same time to surmise how in the world I was going to approach this new situation with a child I didn’t know.

“What you be doing, Momma?” Nate inquired running up to see what his new brother and I were up to. “Mark be okay? Where be his clothes?”

“Oh, Mark’s just dirty from all that time on the airplanes,” I explained. “It’s time to get him clean.”

Eager to get this whole bathing business over with, I once again attempted to set Mark down. Like a fearful, wounded animal, he began letting out a meager cry while reaching out for me.

“Mark, Mommy’s got to wash you. I’ll be as quick as I can,” I said as reassuringly as I could. This was uncomfortable for me. But it was clearly terrifying for him.

It wasn’t long before Jason returned with a plethora of bath products in hand.

“I didn’t know what you wanted, so I brought it all,” he said a bit breathless.

“Thanks,” I said as I unpacked his arms. “You and Nate might want to go upstairs. He’s probably going to cry…”

“Just holler if you need anything,” Jason said, eager to escape the inevitable soundtrack that was to follow.

I was right. The next fifteen minutes were filled with screams. Despite my best efforts to coo and calm him, Mark wailed as if I were pulling out his fingernails. I imagine that emotionally that’s probably exactly what it felt like. A complete stranger had just stripped him naked and was scrubbing him clean. Sure, he was finally and forever home. Granted, Jason and I would do all we could to take the very best care of him. But Mark didn’t know that. At the time, being cleaned and cared for was an uncomfortable and scary process. It meant Mark had to be vulnerable.

And sometimes the same is true for us, too.

We have to allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to drag it all out into the light of day, so that God can transform and make us new. We have to trust that God has our very best interests at heart, even when in the moment it may not entirely—or even remotely—feel good. We have to accept that sometimes the cleaning process isn’t comfortable one, but certainly no less important.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
Romans 8:28 (ESV)

A Pocket of Crumbs

Honestly, it was getting a little frustrating. Every load of laundry was full of crumbs. And—for the life of me—I couldn’t figure out where in the world they were coming from.

But a little further digging revealed the source: pockets. This plague of never-ending crumbs was all coming from one place. This big ol’ nuisance was coming directly from Mark’s itty, bitty pockets.

I couldn’t and wouldn’t scold him. But I sure wanted to know why. Why was he stuffing food in his pockets instead of his mouth? So, I did the one thing I could. I started watching him even more carefully.

I watched Mark at every meal. I watched him when I offered him snacks. I watched him when he thought I wasn’t looking. And—sure enough—each and every time the same thing happened: a little food found its way to his mouth and some got quickly shoved in a pocket. Over and over this process went.

Even if Mark had been able to talk, I don’t think he would’ve been able to give me an answer as to why he was doing this. I think the root of this behavior went too deep, was too painful. And when I finally got to the heart of it myself, I began to feel complete and utter shame that I had wasted so much energy on frustration.

While only 2 and a half years old when he finally joined our family, Mark had already experienced profound abuse and neglect. I learned from his previous foster mom that Mark’s very first foster placement hadn’t been meeting his most basic needs. In fact, he was very rarely fed at all, likely only enough to keep him alive. Instead, that foster mother was using the money that was provided to care for Mark to care for her own biological children. This left a tiny infant Mark woefully underfed and malnourished.

Fortunately, though, after we found and accepted his referral for adoption, Mark was immediately placed in a new foster home. After over 5 months in the neglectful home, Mark was moved to the care of a new provider whom we would pay monthly fees to. To her credit, this new foster mom took phenomenal care of Mark from the age of nearly 6 months old all the way up to the time he was toddler, when he finally was able to come home to us.

But even this foster placement was in an impoverished country. Who knows how frequently food was available and provided for him. I’ll never forget the day I felt the sting of tears in my eyes as I poured animal-shaped graham crackers into bowls for both my young boys. It was at this exact moment that I realized the “why” behind all those pesky crumbs.

Nate, our biological son, gobbled them up without a second thought. He knew food would be reliably and predictably available at every meal and whenever he felt a rumble in his tummy. But little Mark, on the other hand, didn’t know that. He likely remembered all too well the burning of an empty stomach. He didn’t know food would be available later. He didn’t know his needs would be taken care of because he didn’t know us yet. Nate was just snacking. But Mark—even at only 2 and a half—was worried about surival.

Eventually, I stopped finding crumbs inside Mark’s pockets. Fortunately, it only took a few months for Mark to learn that he could depend upon us to provide for all his needs. But from time to time, I still like to remember those crumbs. They’re a reminder to me that trust takes time. Trust isn’t easily handed over. It’s earned. And the same is true for us in relationship to God.

Each and every time we reach for control, it’s paramount to saying we don’t fully trust God.

To counter this—to avoid grasping for control that’s not mine to take—I start stuffing crumbs of truth inside the corners of my heart and head. I collect and cling to Scripture verses that remind me of my purpose and place and of God’s promises. I remind myself stories of how God was faithful to care for others in the Bible, even in the midst of struggle and suffering. These “crumbs” provide me the extra security I need when I find my own faith wavering.

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
Romans 15:4 (ESV)

Bursting Bubbles

It was a beautiful sunny Fall day, so I took Mark and Nate outside to blow bubbles. But what I thought would be fun, quickly turned into a sticky, frustrating mess for my 3 and 4 year old protégés.

As I watched them quickly and forcibly blow air harder and harder through the small plastic wands, I couldn’t help but feel their frustration. Over and over again, I watched them suck air in, only to blow it out twice as hard. And aimlessly so, despite the wand poised carefully right in front of their mouths.

Try as they might, their determination and sheer force were also their downfall. They watched in amazement as hundreds of tiny, rainbow orbs emanated seemingly effortlessly time and time again from my own wand. What was the difference? Why did mine “work” and not theirs? It certainly wasn’t due to any lack of effort or will on their part.

I gently took the dripping wands from their tiny, sticky hands. I demonstrated the art of how to blow gently, steadily, purposefully. But, sadly, this skill would just have to wait. It wasn’t the right time. They hadn’t yet developed the patience to blow slowly and intentionally. They didn’t understand the finesse that was required in such a simple task. Instead, they wanted to will those bubbles into existence with brute force.

Sadly, where there is a will, there is not always a way.

Having decided that was enough practice for the day, I gathered the boys, cleaned them up and distracted them with another activity I knew they could handle: playing with toy cars. But as I returned to clean up the sticky mess of unused bubble solution, I reflected on the frustration my boys felt and how I, too, often experience this in my own circumstances.

How often I try to push, prod, poke and otherwise try to force things along when it’s not in my ability—or even place—to do so. How often I exhaust myself trying, completely forgetting or—even worse, ignoring—this truth. How often I don’t practice humility in my daily life.

Timing isn’t ours to choose. And while waiting is admittedly hard to do, it’s what we’re told to do. Fortunately, though, we needn’t sit idle. God has provided instructions for exactly what to do in the meantime: Keep His way.

Wait for the Lord and keep his way…
Psalm 37:34a (ESV)