thrown a curve

Don’t hate me, but my husband is amazing at doing the laundry. He tackles most of it on Mondays when I’m puttering around the house with other projects — and I guess I never noticed this before, but even though he does the bulk of it, I’m usually the one who folds the fitted sheets. I finally realized this because as I was getting fresh sheets out of the closet, they looked…well, not like I had folded them. More like they’d been used to loosely mummify someone’s forearm, and then firmly stuffed into the shelf to avoid unwrapping. Vin later confirmed that this was exactly what he’d done.

thrown a curve: navigating unfamiliar territory without fear (Copperlight Wood)

Now, if the fitted sheets in your closet look like that, I’m not judging you. I never thought fitted sheets were actually supposed to be folded once they came out of the package, but that for the remainder of their days the owners must resort to wadding them up like a fat gauze bandage. Or, like a huge replica of a salvaged roll of toilet paper after Knightley has unrolled approximately three miles of it.

But I was nurtured by a sweet and savvy grandma who not only introduced me to Jesus, but also taught me mysteries of the gospel including, but not limited to, old hymns, soup on Sundays, and the art of folding a fitted sheet. And no, height wasn’t an excuse, because she was just a wee nudge past five feet tall. Despite the fact that I had grown up thinking that it just isn’t done, she au contraire’d me and showed how simple it was:

It’s the pockets. Make sure they’re empty – no straggling socks or unmentionables hiding in there – and just tuck them in each other. Fold over, retuck. Fold in the curved sides. Fold again, with straight sides, and done – a beautiful rectangle of linen closet goodness.

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It was not impossible. It was amazing. Anyone can handle a flat sheet with straight sides, but the fitted sheet throws us because of the curves. Like so many tasks in life — dumb stuff, big stuff, life-changing stuff — what seems to be impossible is usually just unfamiliar territory.

Buttercup: We’ll never survive!

Westley: Nonsense. You’re only saying that because no one ever has.

– The Princess Bride

Every endeavor that we tackle has innumerable details and problems that we don’t know how to solve at first. Starting a business, starting a family, starting a mission, or just starting over – we quail too early, too often, when thrown for a curve. So much is at stake in our wavering.

We all know the stories about how the American Revolution was a difficult and often desperate struggle. But we forget in hindsight how unlikely it was that our forefathers would succeed. Many times defeat seemed all but inevitable. Yet that small band of patriot-statesmen achieved a victory against a long-established ruler of seemingly unlimited power and authority. They did so by remaining dedicated to America’s cause and to each other…fighting hard at every turn…knowing that their success or failure would determine whether they, or possibly any people, would ever fight again for the great cause of self-government.

– Paul Ryan, quoted from Imprimis, July/August 2014 (reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College)

I get confounded over the dumbest things sometimes. Most of them involve technology. We’re formatting Upside Down to paperback (and then we hope to move into large print…!) and it took me an embarrassing amount of time just to learn how to delete a page that I couldn’t even figure out how to access. That done, I had to remove a footnote separator that had been plaguing me for months. Little details left undone, pockets left with unmentionables hiding in them, stalling the clean look of a finished product.

It’s a learning curve, and sometimes I don’t want to learn. But after some tense touch-and-go strife with the lens cap, I even figured out how to use our new camera. Then I finally discovered how to change my contact email on most of my important accounts, and then, oh unstoppable momentum — tada! — converted to a Pinterest business account. All roads lead to Pinterest.

We tend to mistake the unexpected, unknown, or inconvenient for the impossible. But…au contraire

And the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours and save Israel from the hand of Midian; do not I send you?” And he said to him, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold, my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” And the Lord said to him, “But I will be with you, and you shall strike the Midianites as one man.”

– Judges 6:14-16, ESV

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

– Joshua 1:9, ESV

More than fitted sheets, more than irritating technology (or whatever your personal bane is), we face circumstances and events not bargained for on our knees. We do not know how to do this, we don’t know how it’s going to work out, we don’t remember signing up for this. We don’t know if we’re strong enough.

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But we do know that champions aren’t made on the easy paths, where every plan goes perfectly. Roads with curves are far more beautiful than straight highways. And maybe this is just my Alaskan bias, but rugged mountain landscapes always trump the flat, treeless prairies. People don’t stop in wonder while driving through flatlands like they do when they see the mountains and valleys wrought by tension that made the earth shake and change its shape.

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Your story, and my story, is more breathtaking with curves.

And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.

– Ephesians 2:17-19

What we really need is someone to show us the way through the unknown. We fight the feelings of it just isn’t done with the au contraire of the Father who loves us and has good plans for us in the midst of the unexpected.

called: who we are at the end of our story

There was this girl…she was very young, but she’d been on adventures.

The daughter of a king, she had risked her life to protect the enemy of her people. She was abducted for ransom, but deemed not worth saving by her royal father. Eventually she married into the enemy’s camp and sailed with her husband to another country, where she lived in a completely foreign culture and died three years later.

Her name was Rebecca Rolfe, but that’s not the name she’s known for. She’s known for the name she had earlier, when she did that amazing thing she is celebrated for – saving the life of John Smith. Her name then, of course, was Pocahontas.

called: who we are at the end of our story

For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.

– 1 Corinthians 1:26-27

There was this other girl…she was the daughter of a political activist who was assassinated when she was still a child.

She was born in the early 1900’s in a small eastern European country that had its own identity crisis to such an extent that she technically had several nationalities by the time she was an adult. She moved away, eventually to become a legal citizen of the country she served, lived, and died in. Her name at birth was Agnes Bojaxhiu, but the name everyone revered at her death was Mother Teresa.

God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

– 1 Corinthians 1:28-31

There was a man named Paul, formerly Saul, transformed from persecutor to apostle. His story wreaks fear in the enemy who would like to see people chained to their past.

 I thank Him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because He judged me faithful, appointing me to His service, though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 

The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display His perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in Him for eternal life. 

To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

– 1 Timothy 1:12-17

Our history does not dictate our future. He’s not done with us, and He’s not done with those we’ve been praying for, either — the hurting child, the struggling teen, the difficult co-worker, the angry relative, the grieving friend, the immoral business, the dishonest politician.

(I’ve heard He even saves people who voted for Clinton in the nineties – though Vince is quick to remind me that love keeps no record of wrongs)

Who we will be at the end of our story is still being shaped by our willingness to obey and follow Him. Our future is still being written. What will we be known for?

They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

– Revelation 22:4-5, ESV

God, I’m praying for freedom for anyone feeling tied to their past. You create all things new, You leave no stone unturned, You leave no person untouched. Help them to know that You’ve called them to greatness, and give them a vision of the good future You’re calling them into.

One more. Well, two more.

There was this man named Zaphenath-paneah – weird, I know. He was sold into slavery as a boy and spent years in and out of prison, eventually coming into great favor with the king. He had an idea to save the nation from famine and after thirteen years of forced labor, he became the second most powerful man in the land.

There was this other man, Jacob – he went from being a deceitful mama’s boy to the father of twelve tribes, and God renamed him Israel. Two years into the famine, his family was starving and they sought food in Egypt, where he found both refuge for his family…and also his much beloved son, Zaphenath-paneah — more commonly known as Joseph, thought to be dead for about fifteen years. The family was reunited, and when Jacob died seventeen years later, his body was actually embalmed according to the customs of Egypt. So was Joseph’s, about eighty years after that.

Neither of these men could have known what the ending of their stories would be when God spoke to them in the beginning of their journeys.

And at the end of our story, we will look back and notice the same thing.

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This is day 30 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

epic: when God redeems your story

You’ve probably heard of this guy, Maewyn Succat.

No? Trust me. You’ve probably celebrated him, even. Here’s a hint: shamrocks, green clothing, beer. Well, maybe green beer. He has a holiday named after him, often involving green beer.

epic: when God redeems your story

See, I told you. We know him as St. Patrick. But his story — most of us don’t know what happened to make a kid named Maewyn Succat become a saint named Patrick. It’s worth knowing, though.

St. Patrick was a Roman Briton of good family dwelling probably in the Severn valley. His father was a Christian deacon, a Roman citizen, and a member of the municipal council. One day in the early fifth century there descended on the district a band of Irish raiders, burning and slaying.

– Winston Churchill, The Birth of Britain

It was terror. The enemy was up to no good. It’s an awful part of our history.

The young Patrick was carried off and sold into slavery —

It gets worse and worse. But I didn’t give you the rest of the sentence, and the last two words reveal much about the rest of the story:

The young Patrick was carried off and sold into slavery in Ireland.

And we know that God was up to something, too. Regardless of what the enemy was trying to destroy, God was doing what He always does – creating redemption in an all-things-for-good, beauty-for-ashes, Romans 8:28, epic kind of way. In between the kid and the saint, God was hovering over: protecting, watching, guiding. Taking every attack from the enemy and turning it on its head, He was making history through this young man.

For six years…he tended swine, and loneliness led him to seek comfort in religion. He was led by miraculous promptings to attempt escape.

Although many miles separated him from the sea he made his way to a port, found a ship, and persuaded the captain to take him on board.

After many wanderings we find him in one of the small islands off Marseilles, then a centre of the new monastic movement spreading westward from the Eastern Mediterranean…

He conceived an earnest desire to return good for evil and spread the tidings he had learned among his former captors in Ireland.

– Winston Churchill

He didn’t just sail back to Ireland immediately, though. He obeyed, waited, and let God mold him into the saint that would save a nation.

After fourteen years of careful training by the Bishop and self-preparation for what must have seemed a forlorn adventure, Patrick sailed back in 432 to the wild regions which he had quitted. His success was speedy and undying.

– Winston Churchill

Some of you are fighting discouragement over terrible attack, an awful history, or an uncertain future. The man we now know as Saint Patrick endured all of those. The enemy can try to spin a plot twist, but God writes the best stories for those who let Him.

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ.

– Colossians 1:24-28

There is nothing He can’t do with a person who trusts Him utterly — unflinching in obedience, uncowed by the enemy, unchained to the comfort zone, and unhindered by society’s expectations.

The world does not need super-men, but supernatural men. Men who will persistently turn the self out of their lives and let Divine Power work through them.

God Calling, edited by A.J. Russell

Jesus, I’m praying tonight for all of us in the middle of the story, between a rock and a hard place, not sure how this thing ends. I pray for encouragement that breeds an increase of faith in each of us.

God isn’t done with you yet. He is hovering over you: protecting, watching, guiding, and taking every attack from the enemy and turning it on its head.

Prepare for something epic. It will be the story of your life.

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This is day 29 of Without Ceasing: 31 Days of Relentless Prayer. Find the other posts here. To get new posts right in your inbox, subscribe here.

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.