The Struggle is Real

This summer our church has been doing a deep dive into the wisdom of Proverbs. Earlier this week some of us gathered to study this passage from Proverbs 30:

“Two things I ask of you, Lord;
do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
and so dishonor the name of my God.

When I entered the room, I thought our topic was contentment, or integrity. The more we dialed down, the more uncomfortable I became.

I have a love-hate relationship with money. Mostly hate. I don’t want to be rich. I don’t want a huge house or fancy cars. I just want enough. I want to not want.

I enjoyed a comfortable childhood. We had enough and then some. We had a swimming pool. We attended sleep-away summer camps. We could travel (my dad was a captain with Pan Am). My parents paid for my private college education.

My children don’t experience similar luxury and yet our needs are more than met. We have a comfortable home in a beautiful neighborhood near friends we love. Every time I flip through our photo albums, I feel overwhelming gratitude for God’s good provisions.

Still, money above all is the bugaboo that wakes me in the night, the hardest area of life for me to trust God.

So here’s the story:

The week Teen turned nine years old, our church held its first Mission Market, an opportunity to purchase for your loved ones non-traditional Christmas gifts (for example, socks and underwear for orphans) that benefit our mission partners. Teen wandered in on his own and found a picture of a boy his age who needed support to attend school in the Dominican Republic. Something about this boy’s face stirred Teen’s heart. They both played soccer. He said, “I found my brother.”

At the time, I couldn’t afford to buy a drugstore lipstick. But how could we deny our son a chance to learn the value of giving? He offered to take on extra chores to ‘earn’ the monthly cost of supporting this boy he’d never met. We haven’t missed a month’s support in nine years.

Six years ago we were asked to participate in a Thanksgiving trip to the DR where we could meet this boy. I thought money would be the deal breaker but, through the generosity of others, all four of us participated in a trip that forever changed our family.

This week Guy is leading a group of 20 (mostly teens) on another trip to the DR. I asked him if he’d considered inviting Teen. Both he and ‘his brother’ have now graduated high school; Teen is off to college while his brother has gone to work to support his family. This might be their last opportunity to connect. Guy responded that we didn’t have the money: end of conversation.

Of course we don’t have the money. We will soon take on a lose-my-mind loan to cover out-of-state college tuition. But something in me couldn’t let go of the idea that our kiddo needed to go on this trip. I brought it up again: “Money makes me bananas, so I shouldn’t be the one pushing this, except I can’t not… If we’re already trusting God for this massive college loan, how can we not trust God for the funds for this potentially life-changing experience?”

We asked, and Teen jumped: YES he wanted to go! Some of his best friends are on the trip. He wants to see his brother. And he wants to meet the little guy our family will support now that Teen’s brother has graduated.

We wrote a letter, inviting people to support Teen in prayer and finances. The money came in, in some cases from people we didn’t expect. And before that, in fact, the very week we made the decision in faith to register Teen for the trip, he received a small college scholarship—which felt exactly like confirmation from God that we had listened well.

Who is the Lord? The God who provides.
Lord, help me to trust…

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Thankful Thursday – Celebrate

Oh, friends, what a week!

Thursday to Thursday, I’m not sure there is any adequate way to sum it up, but let’s try this: joy, and grief, and joy… In all, celebrate.

One week ago we were in the final hours of the school year, during which both kids managed to drag out the drama and just about drive their mama over the edge. All is well, thank God, but all became well in those final hours. Sheesh!

Celebration commenced. Baccalaureate services and parties led to graduation and graduation parties. Teen graduated–hooray and hallelujah, amen! WOO HOO!

Honestly, I cried on and off (with greater and lesser degrees of humiliation) Wednesday-Thursday. Maybe I was cried out by Friday, but I made it through graduation tear-free. Perhaps it was the ear-to-ear smile Teen wore beginning to end. Or his willingness to at least quickly allow a hug or give me a quick peck on the cheek. I saw his happiness, his pride, his joy. It overflowed.

Imagine my surprise when, on the first day of “summer,” this late-sleeper woke up early and ready for yoga. When asked to choose my intention, the first word that popped to mind was “release,” which I immediately rejected: “release” held way too much possibility for full-on sob-fest! So I very carefully selected, “Celebrate.”

Yes. I can celebrate. Let’s celebrate: graduation, growth, summer, new adventures on the horizon, life lived and life ongoing.

This week we have joyfully celebrated graduations, and we have–with tremendous sadness and loss–celebrated lives well lived. Tucked between graduation parties, we attended a memorial service for an amazing man, a Navy Admiral, a gentleman who poured his life into his country, his family, his church, his business, and the Boy Scout troop in which each of his sons earned the rank of Eagle Scout.

The Troop in which my boys also participate: one has Eagled; another is on track. My boys attended the memorial service in Class A uniform, and each reported feeling impressed by the military salute (what American doesn’t bow low for a military gun salute?), the pastor’s heartfelt message, and their Scoutmaster Emeritus’s tribute to one of his best buddies, a friend of 30+ years. This man’s son and family have been our longtime dear friends. It was our honor to honor his life with them.

Monday we celebrated the first “school day” of summer, and the Bay Area whooped it up for the NBA win of our team, the Golden State Warriors. If you knew me in my SoCal life, this surprises you; but go on, be surprised at what raising two boys in the Bay Area can do for a mama’s respect for basketball!

Yesterday was the five-year anniversary of my beloved Mor-Mor’s (mother’s mother) heaven-home-going. I miss her like crazy; anyone who ever met her feels the same. When my dad was flying Pan Am jets and my dear mom was working, little Mor was it: on duty, making cookies, wooden-spooning naughty bottoms, keeping all of us–and friends–in line.

Yesterday, I read these verses in Proverbs (14:10, 13):
“Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy.
Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”

Grief and joy. They coexist in the heart. Sometimes we lean more fully to one or the other, while on occasion, they lean heavily together. Brene Brown wrote (coincidentally, of her own daughter’s recent high school graduation): “There’s a combination of joy and grief that can take your breath away. The sum of those two parts wells up inside you and holds your breath hostage until you let go of the notion that you can control the paradox and choose between joy and grief. Your breath returns only when you submit to the reality that you are caught in the grips of both delight and sorrow. Both are strong. Both are true.”

We celebrated Teen and his peers who have achieved a milestone in their yet-young lives. We celebrated the well-lived long lives of my friend’s dad and my grandma.

We celebrated the Warriors’ win. And last night we (belatedly) celebrated Tween’s 13th birthday and (early) celebrated Father’s Day with dinner and a movie [Wonder Woman, highly recommend!].

Life goes on. In each day, in daily life, we embrace emotional fullness: breath, movement, work, rest, feelings, enjoyment, mourning. Yesterday I felt like my sweet Mor-Mor moved through the day with me: through waking kids, work stuff, kid and family stuff, and family night out. I felt like she smiled down us, like she would have approved, if she could have been here to do so, that we ‘celebrated’ her departure by celebrating the lives we live in the moment.

Here’s to life, and to fully living in the moment all of this beautiful life that deserves celebrating!

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Receive Correction

When I reflect on my lifetime in God’s house, I have to acknowledge God’s grace that I’m still here. Especially in my own tween/teen years, well-intended church-going do-gooders decided it was their Christian duty to beat me over the head with (often misinterpreted) Scripture. Though they aimed to “speak truth in love” (another Scripture taken out of context), they didn’t love but judged. For whatever reason they plucked from the air that week, they insisted I didn’t measure up and had to conform. They were wise (in their own eyes) and I had reason to “fear the Lord,” they said.

Fear them, is more accurate.

Of course there are appropriate occasions for discipline. Parent to child. Spouse to spouse. Teacher to child. Mentor to mentee. Dear friends, one to another. In large part, the right to speak discipline to another is an earned privilege.

The problem comes when we set ourselves to tweeze the splinter from another’s eye—without permission, usually—when we haven’t first spent sufficient time humbly on our knees, letting God surgically remove the log from our eyes. Rather than offering relief, in blindness we risk inflicting more blindness.

Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life. We in the Church bear witness to the True Word of God Incarnate through the Truth in God’s written Word. But rather than pointing to Truth’s freedom and the sacrificial love of our Savior, we too casually wield our interpretation of truth as a weapon. We all need way more grace.

Notice I lump myself in, “we” and not merely “they.” Hurt people hurt people. I confess I’ve done it, too: been too free with judgmental words. Lord, have mercy on us all.

Sin clouds every human being and every organization, the Church necessarily included. We pray for better among God’s people but—maybe because we claim to have access to the Truth?—the Church is regularly a repeat offender. Sadly, I completely understand why so many, including people I love dearly, want nothing to do with it.

Yet, God calls us to community, to corporate worship, to life together, and so I remain committed to His beloved, broken institution. And though I strive to remain open and soft-hearted, I hold my scarred heart gingerly when it comes to receiving correction. Of course I want to grow in wisdom. I’m just careful about who claims to be offering wisdom.

God, though… He’s not safe but He is good, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. His Word, regularly studied and prayed, in truth offers Truth. 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” The Spirit of God, speaking to our hearts through the inspired Word of God, tells us what we need to know (teaching), stop (rebuking), change (correcting), and do (training in righteousness) so that we’re ready for all the good things God has planned for us.

His correction gives life. He keeps me on course, directing me on right paths. He created me and knows the intricate details He built into my wiring, and so only He truly knows how to steer me in the right direction.

You be you, says the world, but God only knows how I can be my best me. God’s love and continual restoration of this life He gave me makes spending time with Him in His life-giving Word so worth the discipline of invested time.

Deep & Wise: Uncommon Sense from the Proverbs
Week 2 – Receive Correction

Connect
Reflect on an important lesson you’ve learned recently.

Study
Read aloud Proverbs 12:1.
How would you explain the connection between discipline, knowledge, and correction?Read aloud Proverbs 3:5-8, 11-12.
According to these verses, what does it look like to trust the Lord? How is that related to correction?
Why should someone trust the Lord?
Read aloud Proverbs 15:31-33.
How does correction give life?
What does it mean to “fear the Lord”?

Live
Generally, do you tend to despise or heed correction? What makes the difference in your response?
How does the Lord offer His discipline/correction? How can you receive it?
What role does trust play in receiving correction?
How can receiving the Lord’s correction increase your trust in Him?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that you will be open to receiving the Lord’s correction.

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Pursue Wisdom

I just came from a Boy Scout Eagle Court of Honor in which ten boys received Scouting’s highest honor, the rank of Eagle Scout.

Teen became an Eagle last year, so I recognize how much hard work each has invested to bring them to this day. As a mom, I understand what this day signifies in their lives and for their families. Tween is troop bugler, a few years (and still a lot of work) away from his own Eagle court.

Several Eagles spoke about how much of the work of Scouting just isn’t fun. Who wants to spend weekends–or worse, summer days–doing badge work, which feels an awful lot like homework? Most teen boys would rather spend early Saturday mornings sleeping in than getting up early to go on a long hike or an overnight camp out. And every Eagle project, typically a 100-hour commitment, involves difficult logistical and leadership challenges.

My kids have said those very things…

And yet, each Eagle who spoke to the hard work and boredom and occasional desire to quit also said how glad they are that they stuck with it. That choosing to persevere in Scouting taught them lessons they would have missed otherwise. That investing in this area of life necessarily prepared them to meet other challenges.

Teen said that very same thing. He would not be the young man he is today without the Scouting experience.

These boys chose wisdom over folly. They prioritized what they needed in life over what they wanted in the moment.

“Need vs. Want” has been one of our family values, and I am grateful for the layers of life experience that have reinforced that for our kids. With much sadness, our sons learned that if homework wasn’t done, they couldn’t play with friends. They learned that if they didn’t get badges signed off in time, they’d have to wait half a year to receive their badge at the next court. And they’ve been taught lessons from the Bible, which clearly presents the benefits of seeking God’s values over instant gratification.

The Scout Oath says, “On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law…” Of course we want our kids to do their best. And we’re so grateful that they do their best in God’s grace. That for all the times they fail–and they have, and will, as we all do–God will pick them up and put them back on the right path.

Deep & Wise: Uncommon Sense from the Proverbs
Week 1 – Pursue Wisdom, Proverbs 9

Connect
Who can you describe as ‘wise,’ and why?

Study
Read aloud Proverbs 9 three times (if you’re doing this study with a group, invite people to read different paragraphs each time through).
Compare and contrast Wisdom (vv. 1-6) with Folly (vv. 13-18). How is each described? Where are they? To whom do they speak, and what do they say? What has Wisdom done that Folly has not?
How might vv. 7-9 connect to the invitations of Wisdom and Folly?
What does it mean to “fear the Lord” and how does that increase wisdom (v. 10)?
What are the benefits of wisdom? The perils of folly?

Live
How do you see Wisdom and Folly calling out in daily life?
Many would prefer a ‘Buddy God’ over one who expects ‘fear.’ What does “fear of the Lord” look like in daily life?
How do you practically tune your ear to hear Wisdom and ignore Folly?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that the Spirit will grow you in wisdom.

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