Life In and Out of The Sweet Season

Have you ever had that “sweet season,” when you just seemed to be content and peaceful? You appreciate where you are, who you’re with, and what you’re doing. Even though life isn’t perfect, it feels like “all is right with the world.” You have a sweet friendship, a sweet job, a sweet reprieve from health concerns, or something else that spurs you to breathe a deep sigh of contentment.

There’s a part of us that wishes we could stay in the sweet season, but we can’t. We can easily become discouraged when we don’t accept the reality that we can’t stay there forever. We need to thank God for the sweet season but not expect Him to keep us there. We would miss out. We’d miss the lessons of hardships and challenges. We’d miss the trust we find when we need to cling to Him through doubts and trials. We’d miss the relationships He forges through the tough times. We’d miss the conviction of correction He gives us when we get complacent or rebellious. We’d miss the appreciation of the sweet season in comparison to the chaos of the seasons surrounding it.

The sweet season isn’t the goal here on earth. It’s the exception that gives us a glimpse of hope and a moment or reprieve. It’s an invitation into appreciation, not an expectation of what we deserve to maintain throughout lives. It’s a gift, not a right.

Appreciate the sweet season, but remember the appreciation mainly comes from the context within the rest of your life.

Receive it as a blessed treat. Enjoy it. Let it prepare you for the next season, which may not be as sweet but still comes with plenty of opportunities to choose contentment and appreciation.

Just Add Prayer

waterIf you have a problem? Just add prayer.

If you need something? Just add prayer.

Everything will be just fine.

There’s some truth to this, but it’s not what we often expect it to be. We distort what God intends through prayer.

Prayer is about a relationship, not immediate gratification.

When we pray, everything will be just fine, but it’s not the “just fine” we might think. Just because we pray doesn’t mean we’ll get everything we want when we want it. In fact, I can guarantee you will not always get what you want when you want it. But through prayer, everything can be just fine when we’re going to God with a desire to rely on him instead of getting what we want. Because prayer is about a relationship, not the outcome, the simple fact that we’re approaching and trusting God through prayer provides the “just fine.” Just fine is a peace of God’s presence. It’s the security of a relationship. It’s  yielding to God’s perspective instead of expecting an accuracy of our own.

Prayer isn’t about instant gratification of getting what we want and expect and perhaps even believe we have the right to have. Selfishness doesn’t always come in the form of things that obviously pull us away from God. We can be equally as selfish about the very relationships and situations with which God has blessed us. All it takes it holding people and situations too tightly in our own hands instead of remembering that any blessing that we have is from God.

I have heard many people request prayer then later report how “God answered our prayers,” meaning “we got what we asked for.” We can potentially do a lot of damage to our own and others’ faith when we minimize God’s answers to only being that which is consistent with our own desires. God is always answering prayers, but many times he answers with a “no” or “not now.” We don’t have to like everything about our faith journeys and prayer lives. In fact, to believe we will masks the reality that we live in a messy world. Everything isn’t going to go smoothly here.

We can’t “just add prayer” and fix everything.

However, prayer does, indeed, fix something without fail. When we authentically seek God through prayer, our relationship with him grows. “Just add prayer” isn’t a quick solution to all our problems, but it’s a long-term solution to our most chronic need for a relationship with God.

The Point of the Path

My husband and I drove as far as we could on the road leading to a point near where we were staying on Oahu. The road stopped short of where we wanted to be. Technically, the road continued, but it was only fit for 4-wheel drive vehicles. We turned around and explored another direction, but our curiousity was piqued and we returned a couple evenings later to walk the road. The sun was setting quickly, so we kept a quick pace. We got as far as we felt was safe, then returned to our parked car. If we wanted to explore further, we’d have to wait until daylight.

We decided to return a couple days later. We wanted to get to the Kaena Point National Reserve. It was only accessible by foot. Since the path was technically a road, it was an easy hike, but we hoped it would be worth it since we could have spent the same time and effort hiking into the mountains. We try to choose our hiking paths strategically to experience as much as we can in an area.

We weren’t disappointed.

We enjoyed views along the road before reaching the national reserve, where we had to enter through a narrow gate, insuring only foot traffic. We continued along the path, savoring natural vegetation, birds and even a monk seal.

The view from the point was breathtaking. We sat and ate lunch on the rocks worn from years of pounding water. We watched the waves crashing into and spraying over the rocks of the coastline. We absorbed the blues of the water meeting the blues of the sky. And while our hike to the location had been quiet with no one around us, others were at the same point. There were only a few, but we hadn’t encountered them before, because they had taken the path from the other side.

Two groups of people travelling from two different areas, meeting at a point for similar purpose for a limited time.

It happens all the time. We come in contact with someone we will never know deeply but have a shared interest or purpose for a brief moment.

The point of our paths is often the interactions God has planned for us. He invites us to enjoy the journey. He exceeds our expectations. He surprises us. He wants us to be attentive, because he knows who is on another path to intersect with us. It’s not all about us. There are people who need us and people we need. We impact each other whether it’s in actions, words, or simple presence. We share experiences with people even when our paths aren’t exactly the same.

God will cross your path with others today. Stay attentive. You will not always understand the significance. You might look for the big moments and ignore the little ones. I assure you God pays attention and is intentional about every detail, large or small.

Serve. Smile. Speak.

There’s a reason you’re at the same place at the same time. Listen to God’s leading.

Jesus said to them, “After you go into the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him into the house that he enters…” (Luke 22:10)

Gratuities and Grace

I make my own bed when I’m at the hotel. If I don’t need towels or anything, I put the Do Not Disturb sign on the door. There’s no need for someone to spend time on my room when it’s unnecessary. I know “that’s what they get paid for,” but I want to consider others’ schedules and demands. After all, I’m sure someone else’s room needs a little extra attention. (I’ve travelled with young children and groups of girls!)

My husband was having breakfast with a friend early one morning. It was the friend’s turn to pay, so Tim was supposed to leave the tip. The server was particularly grumpy. When the bill came, Tim and his friend began talking about the tip. His friend’s challenged was something like this: “What difference does it make how grumpy she was? We don’t know what’s going on in her life. Should we judge, or should we extend grace? I’m paying for breakfast anyway, so why don’t you leave what you would have paid for breakfast if I wasn’t buying.”

How do we treat the people who serve us? Set aside whether or not they’re getting paid to serve or not. What do you expect from someone who serves you?

How do you respond when someone serves you well?

How do you respond when someone “falls short” of your expectations?

You may believe you are doing right, but the Lord will judge your reasons. Proverbs 16:2

We often rationalize our responses. I know I do. It’s counter-intuitive to be encouraging to someone who is judging me, positive when someone’s negative, gracious when someone is grumpy.

We need to give people what they deserve…but not what we think they deserve.

God extends grace to you…whether you deserve it or not. Yes, he also corrects you. He’s just. With grace. Extend God’s grace – through you – today. Just the fact that you yield to him and let him work through you is evidence of his grace for you.

Because (Jesus) was full of grace and truth, from him we all received one gift after another. John 1:16

Call Me

After living at college for a year and a half, I transferred to a college close enough to home that I could live at home and commute. I was a (generally) responsible young adult, and I didn’t have many rules. I was busy. Between classes and work and a couple other commitments, I didn’t have much free time, and I certainly wasn’t interested in staying up half the night and being exhausted for a full next day.

I met my (to be) husband at the end of my senior year, and he called me the night I’d graduated to see if I wanted to hang out. He lived near the college, which was an hour from where I lived, so by the time we got together, it was 10 p.m. We’d both admit we weren’t looking for a relationship, but we connected right away. We got immersed in great discussion and before we knew it, it was after 1 a.m. By the time I got home, it was nearly 2:30.

My parents were (of course) in bed when I got home, but when I got up the next morning, I was told – very firmly – that the least I could have done was call and that next time I would call. (This was in the days before cell phones.)

I couldn’t imagine there’d be a next time. The evening was great, but I didn’t generally enjoy staying up half the night, and remember, I wasn’t looking for a relationship, so why would I sacrifice sleep to hang out with someone? Well, I did…a few nights later. This time I called home.

“Hi, Dad. I just wanted to let you know I’m on my way home and I’ll be home in about 45 minutes.”

“Okay. Where are you?”

“In Bunker Hill.”

“Where?”

“That little gas station on the west side of the road.”

“Susan. That is not a safe place to be standing at a pay phone. Get in your car and get home.”

Hhm. Have you ever met one expectation just to find another one waiting for you? The truth is we live by many guidelines at once. Some are non-negotiables. Some are situational. We have to know and assess the options and choose wisely.

What are the non-negotiables in your life?

What are principles or advice you apply situationally or occasionally?

Use the tool I didn’t have years ago – a cell phone – to help keep you accountable to the principles God wants you to live by. Set the alarm to go off a couple times each day. Each time you hear the alarm, check yourself and how you’re measuring up to the guiding principles of your life.

Do not be shaped by this world; instead be changed within by a new way of thinking. Then you will be able to decide what God wants for you; you will know what is good and pleasing to him and what is perfect. Romans 12:2

When God Is Done

I recently had a big decision to make. I was confident I was following the “right” path. I had consistent confirmations I was headed in the right direction. I was faced with no hesitations or cautions…so when the first warning light flashed, it was blinding and disorienting.

Had I heard wrong? Was I completely off track? What was I supposed to do now?

“Give it to God, and ask him not to give it back to you until he’s done with it.”

I greatly respect the man who gave me the advice. He shared a personal, convicting experience with me. I was confident God was using him to guide me through the next step.

You see, I was trying to reason through the situation, making sense of it. Reason isn’t a bad thing. God created us as thinking beings – we’re created in his image, and he’s an organized thinker – but I can take it to an extreme. When my God-given capacity to think draws me away from God instead of pulling me toward him, what he gave me as a strength becomes a weakness. I was trying to make sense of something that God wanted me to rely on him through. He wanted me to rest in him.

I did.

I gave the situation to God and asked him not to give it back to me until he was done with it.

A couple days later, he handed it back to me. Done.

It wasn’t the outcome I would have expected based on the prior months. It didn’t make sense. It wasn’t consistent with what I’d experienced. But I knew…it was done. I said no to something I thought I’d say yes to, and while I wrestled with it a few days earlier, struggling to make sense of it so all the pieces fit the way I expected them to fit, I was at peace. All the pieces fit – not in a way I could explain or even understand, but in a way I could trust.

God is reliable. He is trustworthy. He is compassionate. He is just. He is good.

I’m not recommending this approach to you as a cop-out. Don’t try to give something to God, expecting him to give it back to you in a neat box, when you’re actually hanging onto it the whole time. If you’re going to surrender something to him, you’re going to need to completely relinquish it. And you’re going to need to accept what he gives you in return. It might not be a beautiful box tied neatly with a bright bow. You might not “get it.”

Getting it isn’t the goal. Getting God is.

Lord, I trust you. I have said, “You are my God.” Psalm 31:14

Milkshakes, Hugs, and God

I regularly travel, and since I live 90 miles from the airport, I usually stop close to the airport on my way home so I can get a fountain drink. Sometimes I’ll splurge and treat myself to a chocolate milkshake at Steak ‘n’ Shake. On one of those milkshake days, I missed the exit to Steak ‘n’ Shake. Bummer. But then I remembered there was a Steak ‘n’ Shake at another exit. I had never been there, but I was fairly sure I’d seen the sign.

Yes, it was there – but it definitely was not in a great part of the city. It looked old and dirty. I decided to take the drive-thru option (as if my milkshake would be a little less germ-infested if I didn’t order it inside!). Bummer. The drive-thru was packed. The inside didn’t look at crowded, so I quickly parked and made my way inside, which was every bit as filthy as I imagined. But I wanted my milkshake!

As I was waiting, a man at the end of the counter caught my attention. He wasn’t doing anything to get my attention; in fact, he probably didn’t even notice me – but I noticed him. He was even dirtier than the restaurant. It was been-there-a-long-time dirt. He looked weathered, tired, and old. But I felt a prompting…to walk over and hug him.

I’m not a germaphobe, but I’m also not fond of hugging strangers – particularly dirty older men. I started to get a bit anxious – and irritated my chocolate milkshake wasn’t ready. After all, several minutes had passed. I know the milkshakes are hand-dipped, but come on! The prompting got stronger and more persistent, and I knew it was God. I wasn’t obedient. In fact, I argued with him for a few minutes. I started to test and rationalize and finally said (not aloud), “Okay, I’m watching the clock. If my milkshake isn’t ready in three minutes, I’ll give him a hug.” Three minutes passed. No milkshake. I thought of the next test I could conjure up…but at that moment, I caught the man’s eyes. I knew.

I walked over to him and quietly fumbled with my words, something like, “Sir, I know this sounds strange, but I’m supposed to give you a hug.”

In that moment his eyes lit up and sparkled. He grinned enormously, which smoothed his filthy wrinkles, and he stretched his arms wide. I didn’t hesitate. We embraced for what seemed like a half minute and then smiled at each other. I told him to have a great evening and to remember God loves him. He smiled and nodded. I turned around and saw my milkshake sitting on the counter.

As I left, I didn’t feel dirty at all. In fact, I felt quite refreshed. And I was grateful to be in the wrong place at the right time.

Then Jesus said, “Which one of these three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by the robbers?” The expert on the law answered, “The one who showed him mercy.” Jesus said to him, “Then go and do what he did.” Luke 10:36-27 (NCV)