finishing well

It’s a really good thing you read yesterday’s post, because there might have been a remote (very remote) possibility that someone stumbling along this blog thought that a family with six kids, three cats, and special needs maintain a perfectly clean house and never spill coffee. And homeschool. And ride an exotic purple hippo to the grocery store every week.

(Which is just silly, because everyone knows we drive a Stagecoach. Really.)

finishing well: when we don't know what we've gotten ourselves into

But in case anyone still thinks this is a meticulously-run tight ship, let me share an example of how the boys’ room chore goes:

Me: “Did you clean under your bed?”

Boy: “Yes…well, I don’t remember. I think so.”

This is a sure sign that the actual answer is no.

We go check. A pile of miscellanea in the middle of the floor has already been retrieved, but I crouch down to peek into that dark underworld under the bed, and can clearly see that there is more in there still needing to be rescued.

I look back at the pile of stuff, and ask, “What are you going to do with all this?” Shirts, papers, books, a broken clothes hanger.

“I dunno where any of it goes, so I’m just gonna put it all in a baggie.” Aha. Clever. But…

“The shirts?”

“Well, I’ll hang those.”

I’m picking through, finding broken pens and dowel rods. Note to self: hide favorite pens, stop letting boys have dowel rods in their room.

“All this stuff isn’t going to fit in a baggie. You’re going to have to put it away in the right places.”

“I have extra baggies.”

Of course. Perfect solution. Note to self: stop giving baggies to Afton.

It took several attempts in fits and starts, one step at a time, but he finally put everything away in the right places. It’s supposed to be a weekly chore, but he’d been taking a bi-monthly approach to it, and the job was bigger than he expected.

Sometimes you know exactly what you’re getting into…but most of the time we don’t. The unexpected often happens: the cost is higher, the wait is longer, the deadline is shorter, or the assignment is messier.

He soon found that the thicket was closer and more tangled than it had appeared. There were no paths in the undergrowth, and they did not get on very fast. When they had struggled to the bottom of the bank, they found a stream running down from the hills behind in a deeply dug bed with steep slippery sides overhung with brambles. Most inconveniently it cut across the line they had chosen. They could not jump over it, nor indeed get across it at all without getting wed, scratched, and muddy. They halted, wondering what to do…

“Look!” he said, clutching Frodo by the arm. They all looked, and on the edge high above them they saw against the sky a horse standing. Beside it stooped a black figure.

They at once gave up any idea of going back.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And it’s okay – we don’t have to know all the unexpected details. He knows. If He had told us, we might never have started in the first place — or quit halfway, just pigeonholing the unpleasant parts of the assignment into a baggie. But we weren’t designed to be quitters, or those who shrink back.

And in this matter I give my judgment: this benefits you, who a year ago started not only to do this work but also to desire to do it. So now finish doing it as well, so that your readiness in desiring it may be matched by your completing it out of what you have. For if the readiness is there, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.

– 2 Corinthians 8:10-12

God, I’m praying tonight for those who are in the middle of a daunting task – they have to learn something new, do something hard, face the unexpected and costly – and I’m asking You to increase their courage and determination despite not knowing what’s over the next hill. Show them a fresh vision of the greatness ahead so they will not be unnerved by the details in the way.

The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

– Philippians 4:5b-7

When we crouch down to peek at the underworld, we can clearly see that there is still more to be recovered. Your calling, my calling, is crucial to the rescue operation, and we were made to finish it well. No quitting, no shrinking back, no baggies.

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This is day 26 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

behold, we live

God, it’s been a bruising day. Our community, our church body, our family have endured some pummeling. The enemy has been angry and threatening and on the warpath, and we’ve felt it today.

behold, we live: victory in the face of onslaught

The grieving, for all different reasons. For loss, for choices, for mistakes – it’s way past bedtime as I type, and I still hear a child crying, needing and yet refusing comfort. We pray for the sorrow that leads to repentance, to life, to salvation.

We pray for comfort for the mourning, those who have lost loved ones in sudden heartbreak. God, for Your comfort, protection, truth, and peace. For deep sleep tonight, and Your words to come as hearts are resting.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

– 2 Corinthians 4:6

God, I pray that the morning would bring hope and joy in the face of what seems impossible.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.

– 2 Corinthians 4:7-9

We pray encouragement and truth into hearts that are hurting. We pray renewed vision and hope into those who have been shattered. We pray freedom for the captives.

We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise.

– 2 Corinthians 6:3-8a

We pray for truth and justice to triumph over the manipulation of the enemy. We pray for healing for the sick, for sound minds in the vulnerable, and for compassion in the powerful.

We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything.

– 2 Corinthians 6:8b-10

We pray for wisdom in change, for maturity in conflict, for calm in chaos. We thank You for these things, for Your word, for Your truth, for Your victory. Because victory is here.

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This is day 24 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

about time

We finally did something we’ve been looking forward to for weeks. We’ve been waiting for fall, with its cold days and hot tea, and then waiting to finish the book we were already reading (the last one in the Borrowers series, which was sorely disappointing – boo hiss) and then waiting for a quiet afternoon between work and school hours.

about time: what we do with the days we're given

But finally, it was time. We started reading Lord of the Rings to the kids. I would fist-pump the air in enthusiasm, but that would be decidedly non-Elvish.

There were rumors of strange things happening in the world outside; and as Gandalf had not at that time appeared or sent any message for several years, Frodo gathered all the news he could.

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

We have read it before, some of us more than once, but this is the first time all of us have read it aloud together. It is for fall – for starting in fall, at least – and then to revel in for the rest of the winter as we trek through all 1200-something pages on cold nights and snowy afternoons.

You probably know this story – the fate of Middle Earth rests on the destruction of the One Ring, and Frodo has it. He is a wealthy hobbit with a coveted home in the Shire, and he can refuse to take on the task and pass it on to someone else, or ignore all the signs and warnings and pretend life is just fine for as long as possible. But he accepts the mission (you knew that) and he goes all in – giving up his home, his community, and his comfort.

“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.

“So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

– J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

And we wish certain things hadn’t happened in our time, also. I wish I didn’t have to explain to our kids what abortion is, what human trafficking is, why their brother acts the way he does sometimes, or why their sister has misshapen toes and FAS. There are a million different whys I wish didn’t need explaining, and a million different missions I wish didn’t need funding. I wish they didn’t need to exist. But they do.

Would it be easier to not adopt? Not to give? Not to go? Not to follow the call He’s placed on us? Yes. Honestly? Heck, yes – but only in the short term. Long term, it would lead to destruction, and that short-term ease would be dearly paid for by those who are counting on us not to shrug our shoulders.

Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.

– Philippians 2:4-7

Oh, my friends – you who have adopted, and then adopted again, have pivoted the direction and destiny of those kids, for good, forever. You who have slept on hard beds and eaten weird foods in a strange country have changed the future of that nation by bringing hope and healing. You who have emptied an account you were saving for a vacation in order to give to the hungry and heartbroken have planted seed that will grow, proliferate, and scatter.

Jesus, I pray for Your encouragement on those who have given up home, comfort, and community. I pray for wisdom, peace, and protection from doubt and misgiving, and victory in every battle. And I pray courage into and over those whom You have called, that they would not waver in their decision between easy and eternal.

Our hands, and many of yours, are in the mud all the way to our elbows. Our hands are dirty, the grit is under our nails, and we know we weren’t called to easy. We were called to abundance.

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This is day 23 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

 

for a generation to come

Blue collar workers. Missionaries. Adoptive families. Business owners, nerds, artists, stay-at-home moms, special needs families.

What can a little church full of these people do?

for a generation to come: what happens when God's people pray

 Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.

– Psalm 97:11

How far can they go when God tells them to go all in?

Pretty far. All the way, in fact.

Nations will fear the name of the Lord,
    and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory.

Cambodia. Burma.

For the Lord builds up Zion;
    he appears in his glory

Washington DC.  Costa Rica.

He regards the prayer of the destitute
    and does not despise their prayer.

Russia. India.

Let this be recorded for a generation to come,
    so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord

Sri Lanka. Mexico.

that He looked down from his holy height;
    from heaven the Lord looked at the earth,

Bulgaria. Belgium.

to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to set free those who were doomed to die,

China. Peru. 

that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord,
    and in Jerusalem His praise,

 Dominican Republic. Remote villages in Alaska.

when peoples gather together,
    and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.

– Psalm 102:15-22, ESV

Ireland. Uganda. 

Worldwide.

(Did I mention worldwide?)

What can a little church give? Well, to start…this:

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I love this radical family – just a bunch of normal Christians, doing what Jesus did. But they weren’t done yet.

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In a room of champions we watched the numbers jump higher.

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And then it went unglued. Giving unhinged.

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It blew the roof off this little church in Wasilla, Alaska.

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There’s a comma missing, but read: One million, seventeen thousand, thirty six dollars. From a little church in Wasilla, Alaska to the world in Jesus’ name.

Trafficking stopped. Slaves freed. Families fed. Children cared for. Pastors equipped. Nations saved. And this, my friends, is what happens when God’s people pray.

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This is day 22 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

all things for good

Last night, for the first time in two years, I stood during worship and enjoyed the full benefit of our childcare ministry. All the little kids were in their classes, and as we sang “I will fear no evil for my God is with me” my biggest distraction was trying to live that out in the moment, and not freak out about all of the potential fallout from this experiment.

all things for good: risking failure without fear

With only one exception, Andrey and Reagan have sat with us in church for two years. We attempted Sunday School classes for them when we first brought them home, quickly realized the error of our ways, and have kept them with us ever since. This, from an amazing pro-adoption church that has an incredible special needs ministry already in place. It wasn’t their fault; we just weren’t ready. But we’ve spent the last two years learning and communicating, and the last several weeks training and doing more communicating, and lo and behold: Reagan has joined class again at church. So far, so good – no fallout, no backlash. This is a huge victory.

So we went all crazy radical and let Andrey go to class, too – which leads me to the verse of the day, friends:

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

How did it go? Let’s just say…it wasn’t a victory for him. But last night was a wonderful, safe opportunity for failure. And we learned, the staff learned, and grace abounds for each of us as we navigate the details of care and communication. Andrey learned, and consequences are swiftly applied. No class anytime in the near future, because class is for big kids who don’t use their bodily fluids to manipulate the attention and time of others.

And we’re calling it good. It works together for his good, for our good, for our church’s good, because God doesn’t waste a thing.

Not our past, not our mistakes, not our ignorance and not the sins of others – nothing is wasted. In the stewardship of heaven, it is used for good, and turned in our favor.

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We see it in Joshua. A grave mistake was made in the first battle after Jericho – one man sinned, the entire nation lost the battle of Ai, and it was a devastating follow-up to what had looked so promising after the victory at Jericho.

And yet…God. They dealt with the sin, and God sent them back to Ai. He turned the failure on its head and used it for good:

And I and all the people who are with me will approach the city. And when they come out against us just as before, we shall flee before them. And they will come out after us, until we have drawn them away from the city. For they will say, ‘They are fleeing from us, just as before.’ So we will flee before them. Then you shall rise up from the ambush and seize the city, for the Lord your God will give it into your hand.

– Joshua 8:5-7

They won the city. And the next one, and the next one, and then one king came to try to help another city against Joshua and the Israelites, but that was a bad idea because they beat him, too. On and on, until they cleared Canaan, north and south. They wiped the giants from the land.

In our lives, even small setbacks and seemingly simple errands – a missed appointment, wasting time stuck in traffic, or just dropping off a movie at the Redbox kiosk – these are details that are divinely appointed, orchestrating time and events like notes in a song that come to play in just the right moment.

His timing is perfect; He doesn’t sway His plans due to our opinion of dissonance.

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I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

Yes, and I will rejoice, for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance.

Phil. 1:12-13, 18-19

We know that big leaps in progress with Andrey and Reagan are often met with significant regressions in other areas – for some reason they come hand in hand, like a baby crying during a growth spurt. But in order for them to grow and experience victory, we have to risk failure, even though we will all live with the consequences from it. And He will use it for good. Shout, for the Lord has given you the city…

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For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

– Romans 8:29-30

God, tonight I’m praying for these Called Ones, that they would know the mighty vision you have for each of them and that they would step boldly out there into it, unflinching and unafraid of failure because victory is at hand.

We must risk failure without fear, knowing that dissonance is covered with the grace of a brilliant God who can handle both our mistakes and those of others. We were meant to clear the giants from the land. We were made to win the cities.

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This is day 20 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.