Why Stuckedy-Stuck Frustration Has to Go

why-should-i-keep-calm-argh“I can do it, and I can do it well,” I mumbled half-heartedly. My college professor tilted her chin to her chest and said, “Say it again, but mean it this time.”

I looked down at the notecard where on our first day of working together she made me write “I can do it, and I can do it well.” I said it again with a little more gusto, but honestly, I wouldn’t come to believe it until much later. I was frustrated. Stuck.

I was a senior in college and a theater minor who at the “I-believe-in-you” prompting of another director was birddogged into performing a two-hour, one-woman theatrical production. One-woman means “all by yo self.” In front of 250 people. No notes. No net. Fully vulnerable. Rehearsal set for six full weeks directed by a talented woman who I both respected greatly and who kinda terrified me. Scary.

Now, I was up for acting the role of this historical character, Zelda Fitzgerald, who was a tragic mix of wit, triumph and mental insanity. But the short parts where I had to sing? And ballet dance? And knit!? I was totally in the red on how to even fake any of that well, and trying to learn it had me a wreck. “I can’t get it!”

I wanted to quit just about as much as I wanted to succeed. But I couldn’t. But I wanted to. But I didn’t. It was one of the best early lessons of my life that I can do hard things.

As Christ-followers, (well, as Americans), what is it that makes us so prone to frustration when things get a bit hard? Weren’t we made to do hard things? Yet I’ve had to fight this. I still fight it maybe a little every day. “God, rescue me, relieve me, fix this… God, why are you doing this to me… I can’t do this… It’s not fair… I’m just gonna quit… Will it ever get better?…” Frustrated. And instead of believing we can do hard things, we are enticed to numb or run from our discomfort.

We have become the most in-debt, overweight, addicted, and medicated adult population in U.S. history in part because we don’t believe we can do hard things, and that we can do them well. Jesus said, “…in Me you may have [perfect] peace and confidence. In the world you will have tribulation and trials and distress and frustration; but be of good cheer [take courage; be confident, certain, undaunted]! For I have overcome the world. [I have deprived it of power to harm you and have conquered it for you.]” (John 16:33, Amplified).

Jesus has deprived the world of the power to harm me, and has conquered it for me? I just say, “Okay, how do I get me a whole lot of that, Jesus?” Despite trauma, despite marital problems, despite parenting issues, despite financial struggles, despite sickness and depression, despite grief and loss and disappointment—if we get in Christ, we know because He conquered, we get to win.

How do you and I go about living differently if we come to believe that there is not one problem we face—and we’ll still face them—that doesn’t come with the gifts of His promise and His provision to walk through it. But I’ve learned that promise and provision will stop dead in their tracks to get to you if you don’t first surrender your frustration—and your contingency plan to quit.

God works to partner with a “can-do” spirit. That is our offering, and often our sacrifice. As James 1:25 says, “Whoever catches a glimpse of the revealed counsel of God—the free life!—…and sticks with it, is no distracted scatterbrain but a man or woman of action. That person will find delight and affirmation in the action.”

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7 Things I’ve Learned on the Road to Restoration

A home destroyed nearly five months ago during the landfall of Superstorm Sandy is pictured in Mantoloking, New JerseyOne week before my world changed forever, my pastor said these words in a sermon: “At any given time, people are usually going into a storm, in a storm, or coming out of a storm.” I remembered thinking, “Wow, we’ve been on a pretty good run here. It had been about four years since we had encountered a major storm.”

And then the hurricane that would be called autism rolled in without warning for our curly-headed little boy, not yet two. But the waves kept coming and crashing relentlessly it seemed over our family–dreams knocked down, childhood joys knocked down, finances knocked down, work life knocked down, relationships strewn about, rest rooted up, marital bliss torn down, the sight of God’s goodness in the land of the living mangled. Nothing seemed simple any more. How do you recover?

I’ve often thought that as bad as a fire is to go through, it has a different energy to recovery than what’s left to be faced on the other side of a flood. Fire means it all has to start over. Clean it up, get creative, and rebuild with new things. A flood means you have to deal with soggy memories, and figure out what has to get trashed and what is worth the effort of restoring. Many measures have to be taken to gut, to find all the mold and dry up the water, to take things back to the studs. Mostly, it feels like moving water-logged chaos from one pile to another for quite some time. Some would contend the wind and waves don’t recede for long enough to even recoup.

This month it’s been seven years since the hurricane hit our lives. Everybody understands what it’s like to encounter storms. It’s all relative. There is no use in comparing one person’s storm to another in efforts to either feel better or feel worse about your own storm. Can we just validate that our proverbial storms, fires, floods affect us deeply and collide with our very real humanness?

But if there is one thing I’ve learned in these past seven years, it is this: God’s intention for us is always to be moving toward restoration. Always. Storms will stun us, that’s a given. But, I contend that if we’re not then being restored, we are being consumed.

Our lives cannot be lived wishing that what happened wouldn’t have happened. Because it did. Our lives cannot be lived saying that we have no choice but to be a victim to our circumstances. God set up humans to always get to choose regardless of their circumstances or surroundings. A traveling female pastor told me something I’ll never forget. She said, “Remember, you can pass through the Land of Why, but just don’t stay there.”

The language of restoration is no longer “why” but “what now?” To play the “what now” game with God can become the most amazing adventure you’ve ever been on. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:15, “This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa?”

Here are few things I’ve learned about “what’s next” restoration:

  1. Restoration is a journey, and no one can tell you how long or short that road could or should be. That is between you and God. God can arrange short cuts that accelerate you from one place to another, but your own short cuts will usually land you into quicksand. Many of us will want a “fix” or a “rescue” from God, but His idea of bringing us wholeness means restoring us completely–and that could take some time. Even more than a journey, you could look at it as a “pilgrimage” of the soul (read Psalm 84). On this pilgrimage, God is with you, and you are going somewhere. You will more than likely encounter trials, set backs, resting spots, beauty, storms, hills, valleys, rain, drought—all of it. But through it, this is what Psalm 84:5 says, “What joy for those whose strength comes from the Lord, who have set their minds on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem (God’s presence).” Restoration usually happens on the way, not upon the arrival.
  2. There is a reason that Jesus was sent to “save” you because we all need to be saved from something. He is Savior, and that means our whole person—body, soul, mind, circumstances. Shame, hurt, offense, and frustration will try to get you to hide from His saving. Salvation is not just a one-time event. Salvation is available every day and in every way. The moment we try to save ourselves, we cannot be helped. The gap is too great. So, drag your butt and your sorry situation to Jesus. That’s all you have to do to get things rolling. “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Grace means getting something that you don’t deserve (earn). Mercy means not getting (the punishment) that you deserve. He is up for both. Just come confidently.
  3. Give God 365 days. Admit it. We’ve all been there. We get on a high that we’re going to have faith and trust in God, and then something bad happens or worsens, and we throw up our hands and say, “See, God can’t be trusted! It’s all emotional hype.” But I’ve seen that it’s important to stretch out your commitment to seeking God and seeing God work in you, for you, to you and through you. You will likely fall off your commitment. Just get back on through repentance and go again. Commit to God that you are going to learn how to do it His way for 365 days. Ask Him to prove to you that He can be trusted to hold up His side of the bargain while you follow His lead, not your own. I picked up the Bible one day and said, “God, this has to work. Your claims are too strong to just be a warm fuzzy to read about over my Wheaties. I will stick with You, but You have to prove what You say is true.” He loves to be challenged in this way!
  4. Keep a journal of questions to ask to God that you want answers for. Do your studying of the Bible, books, sermons and podcasts based on getting the answers to those questions. Get real, get raw, lay it all out there, and then ask God to show you what His perspective really is on each of those questions. I did this with about seven questions early on in my journey to restoration, and I was amazed that as I kept those questions before me, the answers began to jump out. I also consciously pursued them. Write those questions down and get them out of your head. Don’t assume God really thinks the way you’ve been taught to believe He thinks about your situation.
  5. Turn outward to other people to help them. This is one of the very best things to do. It slices self-pity in half when you just stop thinking about yourself and your own problems for a while and serve others. I don’t care if it’s random acts of kindness, getting involved in a religious or secular organization, or just offering to pray and encourage other friends consistently. “Pray for others that you may be healed” (James 5:16). You pray for others, and God heals you! What a recycling program. This is the beauty of flowing water, not a stagnant pond.
  6. Granting and asking forgiveness has to be part of your lifestyle. So, you’ve had some people hurt you to the core. That deserves justice—but justice doesn’t come from you—justice is the Lord’s job. You might think that if you forgive them, and if you forgive yourself, that you are giving them a free pass to say that what they did was okay, not wrong, and excusable. That is not what forgiveness is. So, basically, when you choose to take responsibility for your own actions, to ask forgiveness, to forgive yourself, and to forgive others it releases the power of that offense off of you so you can walk in freedom.  A position of forgiveness is the most powerful position you can have. Honestly, one of the most powerful things I’ve done is “forgive God” for not protecting me. Now, I’m not saying that He needed to be forgiven. I am saying that I was holding offense toward Him because I felt like He didn’t protect my family. A wall came down when I forgave.
  7. Learn to hear the voice of God. What does God really sound like? What does Satan sound like? What do you sound like? Just like a football coach reviews the tapes of the opponents before the game is being played, you have to get to know the character and strategies of those at play in your mind. God will never lie, play mind games, contradict His Word, shame, punish in anger, etc. If God corrects, it comes with peace and freedom attached. Satan likes to blame, to accuse, to cause self condemnation, to keep you in fear, total bondage, confusion, disorder, and chaos—yet, he is good at deceiving. Learn to smell a rat and take care of it immediately. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice—the voice of a stranger they won’t hear.” Say that scripture out loud so that you learn to tune your ears (inner and outer) to God. He really is speaking all the time to you, usually we just pass it off as us or we are so pounded with fear that we can’t hear it. This takes practice. If we tune in, God is faithful to confirm that it’s Him.

I am still on a journey of restoration. Most days still hold some pain of the aftermath of the storms that have damaged. I still really would love all of the circumstances to be awesome so life could be “easy, happy, and shiny.” But, I’ve realized the greatest part of restoration is this: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me” (Psalm 51:12).

It is the main thing that destroys the lingering scent of mustiness while we co-labor with God on making things new.

It’s Hard to Pedal a Bike on a Gravel Road

ramparHave you ever tried to ride a bicycle on a gravel road? It’s not impossible, but believe me, the effort it takes to move that bike is about as profitable as just walking. Bikes seem to show up in my dreams quite often, and they play a significant role in my history.

Between the ages of six and ten, I was amazing on a bike. My brother, who was 10 years older than me, was into BMX dirtbikes, and he stirred my imagination as I watched him do tricks and fly over jumps to a thrilling landing, and an occasional crash. He showed me a few things, so I was a bit of a tomboy in those years with my own “boy’s” dirtbike. I had to wear dresses to Christian school, but as soon as I got home, I wasn’t gonna get on a girl’s bike with pretty basket and streamers, I put on my jeans and pedaled straight to “The Dips.”

We lived in a developing subdivision on the outskirts of town in Gillette. Wyoming in those days. There was this spot where they had started moving some earth, perhaps for more houses, but construction stopped. It left a natural hill that sloped down into cultivated dirt. I’m not sure how many neighborhood kids were involved in this effort, but “The Dips” became a series of the most amazing dirt trails and elaborate jumps. I look back, and see it was a total deathtrap, but for a kid who hadn’t experienced much fear yet, it was as close to Disney World as you could get.

My friends and I would pump our bikes up to a certain point and then the hill would get so steep that we had to walk up the rest of the way beside our bikes to get to the summit. This was a stellar hill! Once you got the courage to kick off the hill, there was no stopping your tires from flying down that groove to encounter a series of dips and jumps that you were either going to land or crash on–there was no in between.

This was before kids wore bike helmets. This was before parents kept a keen eye on all of your childhood recreation. It is safe to say my mother had no idea of the crazy stunts that were going on when I said, “I’m goin’ to ride bikes!” It was a glorious time at those Dips, until one day. One day, I went to The Dips alone without my friends. I came down that hill, and I got scared at how the bike seemed to be hitting some ruts from a previous rainstorm. I lost control and nearly broke my arm when I fell. I laid there alone for a little while, calling for help. Finally a neighbor heard me, scooped me up and took me home. Mom put the kibosh on going to The Dips anymore!

Well, once I healed up, I did go to the Dips again when I was “out ridin’ bikes.” I tried to do the hill again–one I had done hundreds of times before. But, I remembered how scary it was when I had wrecked. I wanted to do it, but I was at the top of the hill and I choked with fear. I walked my bike back down the hill, and I’m not sure that I ever returned to The Dips again.

Now, one might argue that I had no business being at The Dips in the first place. The risk for getting hurt was much too high. But, wow, did I love the adventure of it! Until I learned fear from one particularly unpleasant experience out of many glorious ones.

There was a period of time about two years ago that I started having a lot of dreams about bikes. In one dream. I was racing around a town on paved roads, but I was also doing jumps off of handrails, spanning in the air across ditches, popping wheelies and just having so much fun. I remember feeling so free, and so impressively skilled on that bike.

Then, there was the dream about riding a bike on a gravel road. I actually remember doing that when I visited my parents’ construction business when I was little. In real life, and in the dream, I could barely make a go of it.

Then, there was a dream where I was riding along fine on a paved highway, but it was on a dirt bike, when something like a 10-speed would have been much preferred. It started getting very isolated and dark on that road, and I was far from any destination behind or in front of me. I felt afraid and I couldn’t see anymore.

I started wondering what the deal was with all of these dreams about bicycles. If dream subjects start showing a pattern, I feel like I should pay attention. Googling some Christian dream interpretation sites revealed to me that bicycles can symbolize trying to do something powered only by human effort; works of the flesh instead of faith; and working out life’s difficulties. That made a lot of sense to me.

I think what I’m finding is that life with God is much more an adventure than it is a trying. It’s probably a lot more like The Dips than we care to think. We have to provide the bike. We have to sometimes be willing to climb steep places to position the bike. Once we get into position, we will have some control over the handles and the balance and brake tapping, but we are putting a lot of faith in being able to clear, ride and jump over obstacles and acceleration points that we kind of are just surrendered to. God is with us. When we get scraped, hurt or broken on this adventure, fear would tell us to stop. It’s too dangerous. Please stick to the paved trails and sidewalks that you’re used to.

Here’s a little secret: I think there’s more thrill left to experience than just staying on the nice trails. I think we will discover much more joy and acceleration when we look for God to do more for us than we can do on our own. Maybe we can even get a vehicle upgrade!

This is what God says,
    the God who builds a road right through the ocean,
    who carves a path through pounding waves…:
“Forget about what’s happened;
    don’t keep going over old history.
Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?
There it is! I’m making a road through the desert,
    rivers in the badlands.

 

 

 

Mom’s Words Endure

IMG_7290 In February of 2001, I was given a most favorite treasure from my mom. Perhaps I love it so much because it is a small token of a vast spiritual inheritance my mom has been storing up, and pouring out, along the way for me. It’s a collection of poems called “To My Child,” but there’s a twist to this folksy opus. Around each tone-setting poem in the book, my mom handwrote memories, advice, prayers or blessings specifically for me. Her words are simply priceless–a mother to her daughter, and adult friend.

She wrote this at a time when the grief waves that crash on a young widow were no longer knocking her down as much–after the first year had made its lap. Pain began to give way to receiving tickets to go on sentimental journeys with room for both a tear and a turned up smile.

We had lost my dad so suddenly to a heart attack at age 55. But in the mornings she especially felt his memory close, for 35-plus years of past dawns she had gotten up to be just with him in a quiet, reserved space. They chatted as she filled his steel thermos and packed his lunch in an Igloo cooler, tallying up years of goodbye kisses before he was off to command the big yellow machines that shaped the South Dakota dirt. She sat solo now in the early mornings and jotted notes, little by little, in this book, musing on our three-kid family and what it meant to be a mom.

I received this book four years before I was a mom, and six years before I would be a mom of little boy with special needs. Autism certainly is not what any mother imagines will be in her parenting future, and no parenting books could prepare me for such a puzzling and emotionally-wavy path. As I look back at this book today, though, I realize that the words of life that my amazing mom has spoken over me all of my nearly 39 years have helped sustain me through seasons when my soul was disheveled and I’ve been out of joint. She has constantly lifted my chin. She has been a living proverb for me to look at, not because she was strong in and of herself, but because she only has ever pointed to God as her strength and her praise. No matter what came.

IMG_7292She filled that little book with things to remember about my dad, along with inside jokes and meaningful moments we shared as mom and daughter.

And then there were her gems of wonderful advice. They sparkle at me even more now that I’m a mom:

  • “Love never issues orders, love is the cheerleader of encouragement.”
  • “If you set perfection as your goal, you will be plagued by failure and self-condemnation. If you set living God’s Word as your goal, you will be surrounded by exhortation and encouragement, and thereby be perfected.”
  • “Filter the best from Mom and the best from Dad and use that as a springboard to develop your parenting. For every bad example, go to the Word and let Father God repair any damage.”
  • “If I could give you the best gifts of all, they would be of the everlasting kind. I realize as your mother, I believe I have given you the best gift–the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ and how to develop a personal relationship with Him.That was only made possible by going to the Lord and saying, ‘I must decrease so you might increase in my life.'”
  • “Love flows on a river named laughter.”
  • “Daughter, you have taught me a valuable lesson: Listening without advice-giving is a large part of love. Pray, don’t say.”
  • “My special desires for you: 1. Talk to God every day about everything and anything; 2. Call wisdom your sister and understanding your kinswoman–every day; 3. The marriage relationship is the most important relationship you will ever have. Guard it; 4. Laugh every day–laughter creates the sunlight that surrounds you.”
  • “May the pathway of your life be paved with the stepping stones of the promises of God.”
  • “The tapestry of your life has been woven with prayers in the spirit, words of love and encouragement, struggles that have led to victories–and it all glistens with the brightness of the candle of the Lord that is lit within you–a light that will never extinguish and will illuminate the way set before you. Shine on, Tahni.”

That’s my mom. These might as well be counted as formal benedictions. Happy Mother’s Day to woman I greatly honor and don’t ever take for granted. She speaks life, even at times when life growls and shows its teeth at her. She has spoken the best words over me year after year, scraping me right off the floor or ceiling many times with words that anchor, always strung to THE Word. I know this is a precious inheritance I have from my mom that a lot of people don’t ever get from a parent, but in the most amazing grace, can still receive from Daddy God.

It’s funny how one of the names God is referred to is El Shaddai, “the Many Breasted One.” He is Father, sure, but He is also like a mama. He is like a nursing mother, providing all a latched-on child needs for nurture, growth and protection. He holds close. He is all sufficient. I will forever remember being held close by my mom. I will forever remember what it’s like to hold my own child close, practically entangled with another human being that could not be more yours. I also can’t forget the days when I couldn’t be everything my son needed, feeling like I could not successfully solve a thing for him no matter how I tried. It’s that vacuum that I cannot fill, though I work and wrangle to help him along in this fractured physical development, and often don’t see desired progress.

Spiritually, though, Shaddai has nurtured us in ways beyond belief. I pray that one day my boy will be able to say of me what I say of my own mother, “She dared to speak life over me, and it has been more than enough.”

 

 

I Had to Stop Digging Up My Seeds

sowerI’m not a farmer. I’m not even a gardener. I don’t even have houseplants because I have either neglected them or over-watered them to the point where they just said, “Goodbye, cruel world.” Let’s just say, I know what it’s like to be very removed from the simplicity of the seed, the soil, the rain, the sun, the sprout, the weeds, the stalk, the bud, the bloom, the bugs, the fruit, the harvest…and all of the waiting in between!

I buy my stuff at the grocery store real quick before I have to beat it back home to get my son off of the bus. I’ll probably have to go back again tomorrow. I know the grocery store will always be there for me. If I want my food, I go, I get. I depend on others to do all of the work up to the point of my picking and choosing. I even grumble a little bit about having to bring it home and also fry it up in a pan! Sheesh.

I miss something by not knowing the process. In modern times, we’ve messed with the process so much that we barely recognize what is genuinely matured and tended anymore. If we do see it, we don’t value it enough to want it most days. I find myself wanting the wisdom of deeper things, though, these days–the old ways, the ancient paths.

I came across this verse one day in Psalm 126:5-6: “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.” I wondered why these farmers were boohooing as they planted their fields.

I found out that after the harvest, farmers will keep back a bag of seeds to plant for the next year’s crop. But, there is usually a dilemma that is represented by that bag of seeds. The grain used to feed the family and also sell to others usually starts running out about that time and the family is faced with scarcity. They could take that bag of grain, grind it into flour, and make a final cake for themselves as to not feel hungry that night, or they go out hungry and unsure, and they put that bag of seeds in the ground. They cry because it’s hard to give up the hope that they hold in their hands and toss it into the soil…and wait.

The conditions may be unpredictable during the growing season, but they have decided to believe in the law of the harvest. It’s not without its anguish because instant gratification is not how this law works. It is faith to believe that releasing those seeds into the ground will yield the intended results, and if they don’t, the disappointment would be devastating. It’s all they have.

I would call up my mom crying sometimes, feeling like my prayers and confessions and study and labor don’t ever seem to amount to anything. It’s hard to hope so much. I can see why most will resort to figuring out the modern ways of coping rather than the ancient paths of hoping. She said something I will never forget: “Tahni, quit digging up your seed to see if it has grown yet. If you leave it to the process, you will one day see that the roots have gone down so the sprout can come up.”

Interestingly, one day I was conversing with my cousin whose son was doing a project to see which corn kernels will grow the best in controlled conditions. She was saying that they should almost get together with other farmers to start a seed bank to store seed from their own previous year’s crops because the genetically-modified Monsanto seeds that are the standard these days won’t reproduce–their offspring is barren. They are good for only one crop, and then the farmers can’t save their seeds from the harvest to plant for next year, and they have to go buy the seeds all over again. Many farmers, especially in poor countries, can’t afford that and are committing suicide because they hold no hope in their own hands.

Friends, this is why a spiritual journey has to be made without always looking to someone else to do it for you. It’s a trap. The things of God are not cheap, they’re not easy, they’re not won without crying and battles and nail biting and wrestling, but through it all, don’t forget there is law that God Himself set into motion. It is the law of harvest. You will reap what you sow. He’s okay if it includes tears. He knows He will exchange them for joy after a season of growth. But, may I challenge my brothers and sisters in the faith, you have to get in the Bible for yourself. You have to feel and dialogue and cry out to and enjoy God for yourself in prayer. It is the only way you will have seeds stored up to offer up for the next planting season. What crops are you looking to plant?

 

 

 

When You Find Your Tent Up a Tree

windy-dayFifteen years ago, when my youthful husband and I were more adventurous, we bought a little tent. We were going to a Christian music festival in Willmar, MN, and thought we could save a little money by camping out on the grounds. Now, neither of us really had much camping experience, but the tent just kind popped right open and was ready to go–so a no brainer, we thought. We could do this. It would be fun, right?

Tent and sleeping bags got nicely tucked in the trunk, and we headed off on a very ambitious four-day trip. It was a crazy mixture of business and vacation. We arrived the first night and stayed in a hotel, because I had an interview a couple hours away in the Twin Cities that next morning. It stormed and rained like crazy all night and into the a.m., and that put my nerves on edge already. But, we had been looking for the opportunity to move from North Dakota to the Twin Cities and I just felt like things were lining up. I had already had two interviews for one job that I ended up not getting, but this would be the second interview for another job opportunity at a performing arts theatre. So exciting. My husband also had an interview lined up at a community TV station that would be the “bookend” of our trip. I just knew God was moving.

The second interview went great, and they said  I could call them the next day (this was before cell phones). So, we travelled back two hours to our music festival, full of optimism and ready for some good tunes. The ground was still a little soggy, but no matter. We found a spot for our tent and got it all set up so after enjoying hours of concert sets, we could just fall into our little nest. Well, we had a hard time finding the car in the dark–and the Kumbaya campfire antics by younger campers didn’t make for great sleep–but we made it through the night just fine.

Day 2 of the festival. Wow, it was windy! Really windy. But, the tunes were great so no matter. I found a pay phone to nervously make my phone call to my potential employer in the afternoon. While I did that, my husband ran back to our tent to get something. Within 10 minutes, our tune changed. I didn’t get the job. Brutal! (I had played the tape forward, confident this job was the answer to prayer I’d been waiting for.) And Joe showed up to reveal that our tent, along with our sleeping bags inside, was in a tree. Seriously, the little L-shaped tent “stakes” that came with the tent were not made to withstand a soggy ground and gale-force winds, apparently. Our tent was IN A TREE, and my new career dream was buried, as far as I could tell. This trip didn’t seem so fun anymore.

We pulled our tent down, and headed into town to find some real tent stakes and get some food. We nabbed the last tent stakes in the entire town at a local K-Mart, and then had some Sbarro’s pizza. We contemplated just forgetting the festival entirely and heading out. This was too hard. It wasn’t what we signed up for! But then, we bucked up. We decided we were not going to let this lick us, and we were going to enjoy the rest of the festival. Joe still had his interview, after all. We got back with a new resolve and replaced our 3″ stakes with 6″ stakes hammered in good. I decided I was going to worship God that night, even if I didn’t feel like it, and until I felt like it. RESOLVE!

It’s been many years later, and I can’t tell you how many times I have felt secure and settled, only for my “tent” to end up in a “tree” again! I’m beginning to wonder if this is life. Perhaps we yearn to be forever settled and secure, but a Christ-follower was made to be a responsive, flexible nomad. I came across a great scripture in the Message translation that reminded me of our tent episode:

I saw God before me for all time.
Nothing can shake me; he’s right by my side.
I’m glad from the inside out, ecstatic;
 I’ve pitched my tent in the land of hope… 
You’ve got my feet on the life-path,
with your face shining sun-joy all around.  Acts 2:25-28

I feel like I have pitched my tent in the land of hope. But, some days, I come back and find my tent in a tree. I want to live in a sturdy, secure house, not in a stupid TENT ever again, I sigh. But, here’s the thing about tents, they can be more willing and available to be moved or enlarged.

Wouldn’t you know it, even when you’ve become so fed up with how many times you have pulled that tent out of a tree, and have moved around to find your lands of hope, God will always continue to say this:

Clear lots of ground for your tents!
Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big!
Use plenty of rope,
drive the tent pegs deep.
You’re going to need lots of elbow room
for your growing family…
Don’t be afraid—you’re not going to be embarrassed.
Don’t hold back—you’re not going to come up short.  Isaiah 54:2-4

And I say to God, “Really?… Really? Okay, I believe You. My hair is a mess and I’m pretty weary from all this wind, but hand me a mallet.”

Praise: When You Think You Know, but You Have No Idea

Man-Worships-God“Praise the Lord!” This phrase rolls off the tongue often especially in casual conversation between two Christ-followers, but I was thinking one day that when we say that phrase, we mean it more like, “Phew, that was a close one! Thank goodness it turned out okay.”

“Oh, the tests came back and it’s not cancer? Praise the Lord!” Would we ever hear that the tests came back and it was bad only to say, “Praise the Lord!”? And, yet, even if the context is bad, there couldn’t be a better time to praise. David says in Psalm 34:1, “His praise shall continually be in my mouth.” Is that even possible? Why is it so hard to do that when we don’t feel like it, or because things aren’t looking too good?

I could complain and grumble easily, and I don’t even have try! Yet, complaining IS praise–it comes from the same place and with the same agreement between mind, mouth and feelings as praise to God. It’s just praise to the wrong guy. And, our enemy traffics in the complaining of God’s people.

Praise is one of those words that most of us don’t really understand as we go about our Christian lives. Culturally, I would define “praise” as encouragement and thanks; religiously, I’d say it’s an acknowledgement to God through words or a song genre. But, both of those definitions couldn’t be more vanilla. Sometimes, I have to step back, and say, “How would I explain _________ to an alien?” Prayer and praise, for instance, are these expressions to an unseen deity that are supposed to invoke or evoke something through interaction on a spiritual level that will actually have some consequence on a natural level. Logically, that seems somewhat crazy, doesn’t it? So, my curiosity gets the better of me and I have to ask, “Why would I praise God?” For whatever reason, “Because I told you so” doesn’t satisfy me.

Our old English language does us a little bit of a disservice in translating Hebrew and Greek, and in reality, coming across the word “praise” in the Bible would reveal that is talking about only one of seven kinds of praise. I want to address only one of those kinds today. Let’s take this verse for example:

I will praise you forever, O God, for what you have done. I will trust in your good name in the presence of your faithful people. Psalm 52:9

The word praise there is actually in Hebrew “yadah.” It means “to hold out or hold up the hand; to throw at or away (as a stone or an arrow), to revere in worship with extended hands; to intensively bemoan by wringing the hands; to confess; to thank.”

These are passionate words! By no means is this a mumbled, “Thank you. You da man, God. I am moved to say that because I really like this particular song.” In fact, the root of this word is “yada” which means “to be intimately acquainted with someone; to discern one’s heart; to understand and acquire knowledge of; to know through senses by investigating and proving.” And even more shocking, it means a level of intimacy that is used to describe when Adam slept with Eve to bear a child. I am challenged and convicted that my passion to praise my God rarely reaches up to these definitions.

How interesting that one way to describe praise is to throw it in God’s direction, maybe even pull it back like an arrow shot from a bow. Similarly, the Bible tells us, “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken” (Ps. 55:22). Could it be that when we throw our worries and burdens in God’s direction, He receives even those as praise? Could it be when we worry and toss our cares and fears to Satan’s direction, he also receives those as praise to him? Praise thrown in God’s direction makes us strong and steady. Praise thrown in the enemy’s direction makes us weak and victimized.

Praise is God’s language, and He wants us to learn His native tongue. It is what He responds to. It is how we enjoy Him and He enjoys us back in His presence. It is where we make exchanges of our weakness for His strength. If you were going to be intimate with someone who spoke a different language than you were used to, you would start learning their language, wouldn’t you? You would be Rosetta Stoning during your car rides, and whispering sweet nothings to them with the new romantic words you learned.

One day, that language would become fluid and natural for you. Until then, why not practice praise and what it really means? It’s an entire language, not a mere song, nor a sentiment of relief. It blesses the heart of God, and it opens up our lives with flair and gusto through many forms–a tune, a thanks, some art, a confession, a petition, raised hands, a moment to dance a little or a lot with the lover of our souls.