LEAVING THE NEST

anhinga chicksMy child, pay attention to what I say. … Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. … Look straight ahead, and fix your eyes on what lies before you. Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. [Proverbs 4:20a,23, 25-27 (NLT)]

This past spring we watched an anhinga family who’d nested near the swamp boardwalk. At first, mom and dad provided around the clock nest service for their brood of blind and helpless chicks. When the chicks were about three weeks old, rather than returning to the nest with food, the parents would perch nearby. If the youngsters wanted dinner, they had climb out of the nest and hop along a branch to get it. As the babies grew, mom and dad perched further and further from the nest until, at about six weeks, their chicks had to fly for their supper. Within two months of hatching, the youngsters were flying across the pond and the nest was abandoned. Mom and dad, however, were never too far away; perched nearby, they watched their brood learn to fend for themselves around the swamp. I wonder if they worried about their youngsters becoming dinner for an alligator while they fished or sunned on a log. Nevertheless, mom and dad knew their young ones had outgrown the nest; it was time to let them lead their own lives.

Today, my eldest grand receives her high school diploma. An honor student, she’s a delightful young woman and I know her parents are immensely proud of her many accomplishments. That pride, however, is combined with a fair amount of apprehension on their part. Later this summer, this young woman will leave the nest and move 5,500 miles to London where she’ll spend her freshman year of college. Although her parents won’t be worried about alligators, there will be plenty of other concerns that might keep them awake at night.

Our children: we love them, teach them, correct them, encourage them, support them, lead them, and guide them in an effort to prepare them for adulthood. As a mama, I know how difficult it is to let our children go, but let them go we must. After all, parenthood is a job that is supposed to become obsolete; it’s when our children are confident enough to leave home that we know we’ve done our job well. Let us praise God when we see them spread their wings and fly. No matter how far away they go, however, we still have the job of acting as prayer warriors for our children and we’ll do that for the rest of our lives.

Heavenly Father, we thank you for the gift of children and the privilege of leading them into adulthood. Reassure those parents who are struggling with letting go; may their tears of sadness become ones of joy as they watch their children take their next steps. As we release our children to your tender care, we ask you to wrap your loving arms around them and protect them from the dangers of the world. May they always walk in your ways and grow in courage, strength and wisdom. Let your Holy Spirit fill them with faith, hope, and love. Teach them, guard them, lead them and lift them so that they soar!

A wise woman once said to me that there are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these she said is roots, the other, wings. And they can only be grown, these roots and these wings, in the home. We want our sons’ roots to go deep into the soil beneath them and into the past, not in arrogance but in confidence. [Hodding Carter]

My child, never forget the things I have taught you. Store my commands in your heart. … Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek his will in all you do, and he will show you which path to take. Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom. Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil. [Proverbs 3:1,5-7 (NLT)]

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace. [Numbers 6:24-26]

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WHEN GOD REMODELS

And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. [Philippians 1:6 (ESV)]

tiger swallowtailMany years ago, we did some major remodeling on our lake house. The original structure was gutted: carpets ripped up, paneling pulled off, decks knocked down, stairs demolished, walls cut open, and our landscaping ruined. Filled with fear and misgivings, I stared at the gaping hole in the hillside and what was left of the original dwelling. The architect/builder kept reassuring me that, having drawn the plans, he knew how everything would eventually fit together. Me? I just saw the ruined house, a deep pit and piles of dirt. I hadn’t expected this devastation; it had seemed so simple on paper. How this mess was ever going to become the house we’d pictured, I didn’t know. I simply had to trust the builder and leave it in his hands. Seven months later, I stood in the same spot, thrilled with the final result; it was better than I’d ever expected!

Life can be like that remodeling project. Change can be unpleasant; at times, it may even look downright ugly and hopeless. We can rest easy when God is in charge; we’ll find that all will be good in its proper time. When God is finally finished, everything will make sense. We have to trust Him and not judge His work before it’s complete. He is a master architect and builder; let Him do His job!

Father, thank you for the beauty and joy you can salvage from our messed up lives. Help us trust your plan and timeline; give us patience and faith as we grow and change into the people you want us to be.

Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. [C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”]

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. [Ephesians 3:20-21 (ESV)]

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [Ephesians 2:10 (ESV)]

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THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS

muscovy ducklings - floridaNow they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them. But Jesus called them to him, saying, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.” [Luke 18:15-16 (ESV)]

In the comic strip Baby Blues, done by Rick Kirkman and Jerry Scott, Daryll and Wanda’s daughter Zoe has been reading Charlotte’s Web. “Think she’ll be traumatized by the ending?” Daryll asks his wife. (Spoiler alert—Charlotte dies.) In comes Zoe who loudly announces, “Today at school we had a shelter-in-place drill, an active shooter drill, and a hazardous materials evacuation drill. It was fun!” When Wanda replies, “I think she’ll be fine,” the stunned Daryll announces, “I’m not!” Not long after seeing that comic, Moderately Confused, drawn by Jeff Stahler, continued the theme. As a mother looks at her son’s schoolwork, he proudly declares, “At least I passed my active shooter lockdown drill.” When shotguns, rifles, pistols, and pipe bombs regularly find their way into our schools and threaten our children, I find no humor in these comics; they are only a sad commentary on the nation in which our children live.

When I sent my children off to school, I thought they were going to a safe place; at that time, they were. They may have returned home with the sniffles, chicken pox, hurt feelings, a skinned knee or even a black eye from a playground scuffle, but they returned home. When a student at the Santa Fe High School in Texas was asked if she was surprised by the violence, her reply was chilling: “I’ve always kind of felt like eventually it was going to happen here.” Violence in schools should be the exception rather than the expectation! We’re barely 22 weeks into the year and yet, according to CNN, there have been 23 school (K through university) shootings where someone has been hurt or killed. (That doesn’t include incidents that were resolved without injury.) No wonder our children aren’t surprised by the violence around them.

During last week’s Indiana shooting, a 7th grader texted to his mother: “Mom, there’s an intruder, I just wanted to tell you I love you.” No child should have to be hiding in a classroom behind a door barricaded with chairs and, fearing he has only a few minutes left to live, texting what he thinks are his final words. He should be writing essays not last words and worried about a pop quiz in biology rather than a schoolmate wielding a gun. Middle schoolers should be busy with math drill worksheets rather than active-shooter drills, a diploma should not be accompanied by post-traumatic stress disorder, and, when a child leaves school, it shouldn’t be in an ambulance or a body bag. We are called to care for, nurture and protect the children God has given us—not just those in our homes but also in our communities, nation and throughout the world. Sadly, we’re not doing a very good job of it.

Following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting, a cynical meme circulated on the Internet that showed an empty van with the caption: “Excellent news. The first truckload of your thoughts and prayers arrived.” We often say our thoughts and prayers are with the victims of these tragedies but thoughts and prayers are not enough; we must take action. Whether it is gun control legislation, better mental health services, metal detectors, mentoring programs, security cameras, RFD badges, locked doors, armed security guards, or armed teachers—I won’t pretend to know the solution. Nevertheless, I must seek to find it and work to implement it. Let us all prayerfully consider what each one of us can do to give our children a safe and secure future.

Father in heaven, forgive us for our failure to protect the ones you have entrusted to our care. Guide us in our actions so that we protect them not just from illness and injury but also from abuse, neglect, bullying, and violence. Show us what we can do so that they thrive and blossom rather than wither and die.

Prayer that doesn’t lead to concrete action toward our brothers is a fruitless and incomplete prayer. … Prayer and action must always be profoundly united. [Pope Francis]

Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked. [Psalm 82:3-4 (ESV)]

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SETTING THE BAR

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. [Hebrews 12:1-2a (NLT)]

nodding onion“How was work today?” asked the wife in the Born Loser comic strip (drawn by Chip Sansom). Her husband answered, “Horrendous!” adding, “It feels so good that it’s over, I’m almost glad it happened!” Having had times when my prayer was simply, “Lord, just get me through this!” I understand. Sometimes, life seems so challenging and exhausting that we’re willing to settle for merely getting through it. That, dear friend, is setting the bar far too low. God has better plans for us than just getting by and none of us are born losers.

Sarah wanted a baby so much that she was willing to settle for surrogate motherhood when, in fact, God promised that she’d give birth to a nation. When he fled to Midian, Moses just wanted to escape persecution for killing an Egyptian. God’s plans were that he would lead the Hebrews to freedom. The orphaned Esther probably just wanted to settle down with a nice Jewish boy. She never imagined that God’s plans included making her a queen who would save her people from genocide. Gideon, hiding in a winepress, just wanted to get the wheat threshed so he could feed his family. God’s plans were that he’d defeat the Midianites and become Israel’s fifth judge. The widowed foreigner Ruth just wanted to feed herself and Naomi with the leavings in Boaz’s field. She never dreamt of being great-grandmother to Israel’s second king and ancestor to the Messiah. The woman at the well just wanted to fill her water jug and go home without incident when she got the living water of Jesus. Zacchaeus, the tax man, would have been happy just to catch a glimpse of the rabbi from Nazareth. He got much more when God came for dinner and brought salvation with Him. What of the fishermen from Galilee who just wanted to catch enough fish to pay their bills and put food on the table? Did they ever imagine they’d break bread with God? Considering all that God can accomplish through us, it would seem that our hopes and dreams often are way too small.

The Apostle Paul doesn’t tell us just to get through the race—to schlep halfheartedly through the course set before us. He tells us to strip every weight that slows us down and run (not walk) with perseverance. Sin can trip us up but so can our attitude. Just hoping to make it through the day (week, month or even year) hinders our run by setting the bar too low. We must never be willing to settle for less than the best—less than the best that God has in store for us and less than the best that we have to offer Him!

Why just settle with merely getting through life? If God just met our expectations, He’d never have the opportunity to exceed them and exceed them He will! When we allow God to determine our dreams and obediently follow His plan, the result will surpass our wildest dreams. He didn’t promise a life of just getting by: He promised a life of abundance—not a life of riches—but a rich life.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. [Michelangelo]

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. [John 10:10 (NLT)]

May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. Amen [Ephesians 3:19-20 (NLT)]

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SEND ME!

But Jonah got up and went in the opposite direction to get away from the Lord. [Jonah 1:3a (NLT)]

cardinalJonah was told to go to the enemy nation of Nineveh and preach God’s judgment but, rather than obey, he ran away. Moses was also given a task—bring the Israelites out of captivity into the Promised Land. God was clear about the assignment but Moses was equally clear in his protests. Rather than run away, he listed all of the reasons he wasn’t qualified. Although God resolved every one of his concerns, Moses was still reluctant and spent a good part of the next forty years in complaint. Gideon was also given a task by God—rescue Israel from the Midianites. Like Moses, he protested that he was incapable and then dared to question (not once but three times) God’s promise to help him. Eventually, all three men obeyed God’s call but not without questions, complaint and protest.

Unfortunately, when God calls us, we usually react like Jonah, Moses and Gideon. Although we say we’ll gladly do His work, the task must be on our terms. There are places we won’t go (Africa), people we don’t want to touch (homeless), jobs we protest (speaking in public or dirtying our hands), and restrictions on our time (no more than one afternoon a week). Like our unenthusiastic Biblical heroes, when God calls us, we’re more than willing to list our inadequacies—we’re not smart enough, strong enough, talented enough, or good enough and surely someone else could do it far better! We forget that we don’t have to do God’s work under our own power. Rather than calling the qualified, God qualifies those He calls!

Isaiah heard the Lord asking, “Whom shall I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” Without hesitation, he responded, “Here I am. Send me.” For this prophet, there were no questions, qualifiers, or objections. He readily said, “Yes,” without even knowing exactly what it was God wanted him to do or how he was supposed to do it.

I understand that in the army, after the drill sergeant says, “I need three volunteers,” he simply points and says, “You, you and you!” Obedience follows without argument or stipulations. We’re in God’s army and, as Commander-in-Chief, He’s not looking for excuses, limitations, exemptions, exceptions, or even questions when He calls us to action. Isaiah eagerly said, “Here I am, Send me!” How will we respond?

It is not that we think we are qualified to do anything on our own. Our qualification comes from God. [2 Corinthians 3:5 (NLT)]

For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. [Ephesians 2:10 (NLT)]

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SWIMMING WITH HOPE

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy we have been born anew to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and to an inheritance which is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. [1 Peter 1:3-5 (RSV)]

sabatiaIn a gruesome experiment done back in 1957 (before PETA existed), Curt Richter put wild rats in an enclosed jar of water. When the rats realized there was no chance for escape, they gave up swimming and drowned in about 15 minutes. In a second experiment, other rats were pulled out of the water after a few minutes and then re-immersed several times. Later, when these rats were placed in the water jar and not rescued, they didn’t give up in 15 minutes as did the first group. Instead, they lasted 40 to 60 hours before dying. (I said the experiment was gruesome!) Having experienced previous rescues, these rats had hope of being rescued again and so they kept swimming. Unfortunately, they eventually drowned in exhaustion. I suppose Richter’s study applies to people as well as rats—if we have hope, we can survive (or at least survive longer) but, without hope, we will surely give up and drown.

In chapter 13 of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul wrote of the great three: faith, hope and love. Frequently read at weddings, 1 Corinthians 13 could be called the Bible’s love chapter. Perhaps Hebrews 11 would be considered the Bible’s faith chapter. In it, Paul both defines faith (”the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen…assurance about things we cannot see”) and then lists numerous people in what could be called the “Faith Hall of Fame.”

What then of hope; is there a definitive chapter on it? It could be 1 Peter 1. Directed to early Christians scattered throughout the world, Peter offers joy and hope in the midst of their many trials. He’s not writing about wishful thinking; he writes of a living hope—a confident expectation that our God is present, faithful and will do as He says. That hope is based on the facts and promises in the Bible. It isn’t just for today; it is for all time! Nevertheless, I don’t think there is a definitive chapter on hope—from the creation story through the last words of Revelation, the entire Bible is a message of hope (faith and love, as well).

After those preliminary rescues, the rats had hope. The scientists, however, were just manipulating them to see how they’d react. God isn’t toying with us and we aren’t subjects of a cruel experiment. He doesn’t give us hope only to snatch it away; the hope He gives us is both living and lasting. As Christians, we have good reason to keep swimming in the midst of our trials and difficulties. Even if we’re not rescued from our problems in this life, we still have hope. Whether we continue to swim or sink, we’ve already been saved and have another, far better life, yet to come!

Faith is not a contradiction of reality, but the courage to face reality with hope. [Robert H. Shuller]

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while you may have to suffer various trials, so that the genuineness of your faith, more precious than gold which though perishable is tested by fire, may redound to praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. … Through him you have confidence in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. [1 Peter 1:6-7,21 (RSV)]

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