I came to their family late, years after Dale earned two Distinguished Flying Crosses as a WWII B-25 pilot. And years after Arlene, the consummate homemaker, raised three children, each of whom went on to serve the Lord in full-time ministry. Dale, too, served for years as an elder at their church, and as Vice President of Finance and a trustee at Ozark Christian College.
When Andy and I were dating, we spent many evenings in their home and around their table. Dale, quiet and wise and gracious, prayed before every meal that God would “help us be content.” And after dinner…ice cream.
“Arlene, these kids still look hungry,” Dale would say. “I’ll take chocolate.”
Over the years, Arlene made us afghans and throw pillows and cross stitched Santas. She shared her recipes and offered lots of cooking tips—which unfortunately didn’t “take” with me. Until recently, Arlene never missed an anniversary or birthday, and she took great pride in her closet full of scrapbooks. Not the trendy scrapbooks people make today, but giant books filled with hundreds of pictures to document their life together.
We’ve loved being near Dale and Arlene again in Joplin, even though their fading memories and health have made it bittersweet. They are less and less sure who we are now. They know Andy (although they usually think he’s still a college student) but the kids and I are mostly strangers to them. But even as the light of recognition dims, at least three things remain:
1) Ice cream. It’s still a daily custom. Andy’s main job for the past two years has been to keep them stocked up on vanilla, chocolate and butter pecan.
2) Faithfulness to one another. Not long ago, I heard Dale call Arlene “kiddo.” I want to be married for 70 years, and still be Andy’s kiddo.
3) Faithfulness to the Lord. When they came to a recent event at Ozark, Dale and Arlene didn’t recognize many of their friends. Their bodies were too weak to stand during worship. But when “Amazing Grace” began, they sang out. When bodies fail, faith remains (Psalm 73:26).
This weekend, as we drove to see Dale and Arlene one more time before their move, I prepared the kids to say goodbye.
“This is likely the last time we’ll see them before heaven,” I said. “This is goodbye for a long time.”
Anne said quietly, “We can tell them adieu. It means to God.”
Adieu…I commend you to God. I leave you to God’s care. How appropriate and beautiful.
I hugged them both.
“Bye, Arlene,” I said. “Love you.”
“Love you, too!” she answered. “What’s your name?”
But it’s okay, because even when she forgets, she has not been forgotten by the God who loves her. Even as the light of recognition dims, the light of His radiance shines all the more. We commend this precious couple to God—to His faithful care—because, after all, they were the ones who taught us to trust Him in the first place, as they have done for nearly a century.
Our freezer is full now, with vanilla and chocolate and butter pecan that couldn’t make their trip. Our hearts are full, too, with memories and legacy and gratitude for the faithfulness of Dale and Arlene Storms.
And so we say…adieu.
As little girls, Anne and Molly would twirl around in their pink and black ballet clothes. “Watch me dance, Daddy!”
When Nathan was a toddler, he’d ball up his little fists and dash back and forth. “Watch me run fast!”
Andy says it sometimes, too–usually when he’s about to do something ornery. He gets a twinkle in his eye and says quietly, “Hey, Am’. Watch this!”
“Watch me” is a statement of boldness. It isn’t arrogance–“Look at me, and only me!” It’s confidence–“Watch me, ‘cuz it’s about to get good! I’ve got this.”
After his “pardon me” angel-encounter and his “show me” fleece-test, Gideon had a “watch me” moment, too. Gideon threw out the family idols (which earned him the nickname Jerub-Baal –“let Baal contend”), and he amassed an army (which God thinned out almost completely). Gideon gave trumpets and torches to each of his 300 men, and then, the same guy who hid in Scene One addressed his troops as a “mighty warrior.”
“Watch me,” he told them. “Follow my lead.”
The trumpets were blown, and the torches shone. The mini-army shouted together, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” and “all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.”
Gideon transformed from hider to fighter. From coward to conqueror. What changed?
One word: faith. Gideon encountered God. He listened to God and obeyed His instructions. But most importantly, Gideon believed. Gideon took God at His word when He said, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.” Gideon had confidence in what he hoped for and assurance about what he did not see, and God commended him for it.
Gideon’s faith led to his famous “watch me” moment. “Watch me, ‘cuz it’s about to get good. Follow my lead, because God’s got this.”
I’ve watched my kids step out in faith. They’ve moved to a new state and made new friends at new schools, and their faith is growing as a result. In fact, sometimes I think they’re the main reason God led us here in the first place–so that they could learn to take Him at His word when He promises His presence, and courageously follow Him into battle. Andy, too, has been in a battle of his own, under attack by the Enemy himself. I’m watching Andy emerge victorious–limping a little, but still walking in faith.
But what about me? Where’s my trust level? How often do I encounter God, and hear Him, and even obey Him…but remain unchanged because I won’t believe Him? I read Gideon’s story and my heart swells. I want his boldness! I want his confidence and victory. But do I also want his faith, and the trials required to grow it?
Lord, You call me out of hiding, into Your presence. Out of oppression, into Your freedom. Faith is the only way to join You–the only way to please You. “Throw down your idols,” You say, “and pick up a torch.” So find me on the battlefield, shining for Your glory. I’ll watch You, trusting that it’s about to get good. I’ll follow Your lead, believing that You’ve got this. Amen.
“I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.”
A stubborn preference for proof? Well, I fit right in. Which reminds me of another quote I read recently:
Man says, “Show me and I’ll trust you.”
God says, “Trust Me and I’ll show you.”
I’m often in the “show-me” state, I’m afraid, and I don’t just mean Missouri. How many times have I asked God to show me the outcome in advance? To show me how He’ll provide? “I’m Your girl, God, but You have got to show me a few steps down the path before I’ll follow.”
Gideon was in a show-me state, too. After the angel of the Lord instructed him to take on the Midianites, Gideon asked for reassurance.
And he said to him, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, then show me a sign that it is you who speak with me.” (Judges 6:17 ESV)
“If You’re behind this,” he said, “then I’d prefer proof. Before I put my life on the line for something that may or may not be blessed by You, be obvious. Show me.”
Then, Gideon tested God–three times. First with a sacrifice…which God accepted, then with a dry fleece…which God soaked, and finally with a wet fleece…which God dried. God patiently waited and graciously consented to each of Gideon’s requests.
But here’s the thing: I’ve been taught not to test God. I’ve been told that a stubborn preference for proof is really just a lack of faith.
“Be careful not to fleece God,” someone once warned me. Okay, but…it worked for Gideon, right?
So what’s the difference? When, if ever, is it okay to say like Gideon, “Show me”?
Here’s what I think: Gideon said, “Show me,” to confirm he’d heard God. But I say, “Show me,” to avoid obedience. Gideon asked God to simply verify His instruction. But I ask God to make my decision for me.
“Show me a sign that it is You who speak with me,” Gideon said. I, on the other hand, need not wonder if God has spoken, because I have His entire scripture and indwelling Spirit. My “fleecing God,” then, isn’t the same as Gideon’s, because my testing comes from a lack of faith–from a blatant, fearful resistance to do what He says.
Lord, too often I live in the “show-me” state, stubbornly demanding proof rather than obeying by faith. But faith pleases you! (Hebrews 11:6) Gideon had faith, and you commended him for it (Hebrews 11:39). Find me faithful, too. Enough with “Show me.” Instead, an undying faith and unhindered obedience, Lord, may I show you. Amen.
The story of Gideon is one of my favorites.
Maybe I like it because it’s the least weird of all the judges’ stories–no tent pegs to the temple or that sort of thing. Definitely I like him because I can relate to his questions. Mostly, though, I love how Gideon’s faith deepens throughout his story–a story that opens with him hiding and doubting, and ends with him leading and conquering. Gideon’s courage grows, and God’s name is praised, and how could a story possibly end any better?
In the Book of Judges, the nation of Israel was stuck in the spin cycle–sin cycle–of sin, servitude, sorrow and salvation. Israel would reject God by sinning against Him, at which point God would let them be overtaken by another nation as punishment. Then, enslaved, Israel would cry out to God in sorrow, and He’d hear them and send a judge–a military leader–to the rescue.
(And soon enough, they’d sin again.)
It was in this cycle, while Israel was oppressed by the Midianites, that the angel of the Lord first came to Gideon.
“God is with you, mighty warrior!” the angel said. An ironic title for a man in hiding, but appropriate from a God who saw what Gideon could become.
Gideon’s polite but honest response makes me smile:
“Pardon me, my lord,” he began, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all His wonders that our ancestors told us about…?”
If you’re the God of Israel, Gideon was saying…if you’re the One who rescued His people from slavery and brought them into this promised land…then why aren’t You intervening? Why are we oppressed here, in the very place we’re supposed to be free?
Pardon me…but why?
Now, if I’d been there, right then I’d have blurted out, “Well, why do ya think all this has happened? You didn’t listen! You’re in the sin cycle!”
But God, being God, didn’t say that. In fact, instead of a direct answer, God gave Gideon a direct command. He got right to the point: Gideon’s role in rescuing His people.
“Go in the strength you have,” God said, “and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
And Gideon politely posed a second question:
“Pardon me, my lord, but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the weakest in my family.”
Pardon me…but how? You want me to save these people…but how exactly am I supposed to do that? I’m a little guy! Hardly mighty warrior material.
Now, if I’d been there, right then I’d have stepped beside Gideon, shoulder to shoulder. I’d have looked that angel of the Lord square in the eyes and said something smart like, “Yeah! What he said!” Because more than once (or more than a dozen times), I’ve asked God these questions, too. Why, exactly, has all this has happened, and how, exactly, am I supposed to help?
Pardon me, Lord…but Gideon’s right! If You see my struggles, then why don’t You do something? You call me to action, but how am I–highly unqualified Amy–supposed to bring about Your work in my life…in my oppression…in my hurts?
But God, being God, responded in a way that silenced Gideon’s questions and turned the hider to a fighter.
The Lord answered, ‘I will be with you and you will strike down all the Midianites, leaving none alive.”
“I AM WITH YOU.”
“Go! I am sending you.”
“I WILL BE WITH YOU.”
The “sin cycle” became the “assurance of God’s presence” cycle: I. Will. Be. With. You.
In the struggles that you don’t understand…I will be with you.
In the painful injustice that you struggle to forgive…I will be with you.
In the service to which I’ve called you, that you feel inadequate to perform…I will be with you.
I am with you, and I have been with you, and I will be with you…leading you, strengthening you, refining you, empowering you.
Pardon me, Lord. Please pardon my lack of faith and my disobedience. Pardon my questions, especially when I ask more to whine than to understand. Your presence turns oppression to freedom! Your presence silences my whys and answers my hows. Your presence empowers me to be all that You say I can become. May I “go in the strength that I have”–confident that You will be with me–because “You are sending me.” Amen.
The plane had three seats on one side and two across the aisle, so we took up a whole row.–Anne, Molly and I sat across from Andy and Nathan. In front of the boys sat a young mom with a new baby. Judging by her nervous look and pile of supplies–she had more stuff for an infant than I had for all three of my kids–I gathered that it was her first child.
In front of me sat three boys–brothers around 10-12 years old. They were flying unattended. The longer we flew, the more bored they grew…and the more unruly. Before long, they hollered and punched and wrestled and acted exactly like unattended 10-12 year old boys on a plane.
Once the flight attendant passed out snacks, the boys had ammo. They threw peanuts and ice cubes at one another. They tore their napkins into spit wads and shot them at each other. Across the aisle, New Mama looked anxious. She shielded her baby from their horseplay and frowned a little in their direction, but she didn’t speak.
She had not yet found her authoritative mom voice.
But I had.
The spirit of motherhood “descended like a dove and alighted on me.” All at once, I rose to my feet, reached over the seats in front of me, and–flick! flick! flick!–I flicked all three of those boys right on the tops of their heads.
I’ve never flicked anyone before or since! I spanked my kids when they were little–and they were better for it–but never ever have I flicked a single soul.
But I did that day. Three of ’em.
Flick! Flick! Flick! And all three heads snapped back to look at me, wide-eyed.
“I am not your mama,” I said very quietly, because it’s scarier, “but I will be on this plane. Knock it off.”
“Yes, ma’am,” all three whispered back. They turned around and sat like angel statues till we landed.
New Mama smiled at me gratefully and mouthed, “Thank you!” I winked back, “No problem” and sat down, pleased with myself for having saved her child.
My family, though, was less than impressed.
“Mom!” whispered Molly, mortified. Nathan chuckled and Anne hid her face in both hands. Andy looked across the aisle at me. Very quietly because it’s scarier, he said, “You can’t FLICK other people’s children!”
Thankfully, no sky marshal had seen. But now, all these years later, it occurs to me that, as a dorm mom, maybe it is my job to flick other people’s children. Not literally, but metaphorically…spiritually, academically, relationally, morally, lovingly…I flick other people’s children. And my own, of course. I’m a mom, and disciplining is part of parenting.
God the Father disciplines, too.
“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.” Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.
Discipline isn’t pleasant–not for my kids, not for my dorm sons, not for unattended boys on planes, and definitely not for me. I don’t enjoy the Lord’s discipline in my life–the Holy Spirit’s convictions and corrections. Andy says that discipline isn’t just for when I’ve done something wrong, either. Discipline can also come when the Lord simply says no to one thing in order to make way for something better. That sounds easier to take than correction, except for when I can’t see what He has in store, and when I impatiently, selfishly want what I want now.
Disciplining is about discipling–a becoming more like Christ. God the Father doesn’t flick other people’s children.–He disciplines those He loves. A flick on the head (or the heart) isn’t pleasant. It’s painful. But what does He have in store for the children He trains? Our good. His holiness. A harvest of righteousness and peace.
In other words, discipline is painful today, but later on…the future will be worth the flick.
It wasn’t the first time I’ve ridden with him–he’s had his permit since August–but today I was struck by the importance of the moment–by the fact that his sophomore year of high school is awfully close to his senior year, and seniors turn into college students, and college students move away from home and get married and make babies and leave their mamas.
As they should, of course. As they should. Andy has said since our kids were tiny that the purpose of parenting is to let them go–that we’re raising adults, not kids–that moms and dads give the best roots they can for 18 years and then watch their kids blossom and bear fruit for the rest of their lives. I’ve known and believed and worked toward that end for 15 1/2 years, but it hit me again today, in the front seat of the car, on the way to church.
As Nathan drove and I rode shotgun, my mind flashed back to the first time we ever sat by each other in the car. He was three weeks old exactly–a six-week early preemie who spent 21 days in the hospital before finally being released. For 21 days, we’d watched monitors and machines that beeped and flashed to tell us everything that was happening in his little body. And then, on Day 21, the nurse unplugged him and said he could go. We were thrilled, of course, and terrified. Andy drove us home from the hospital–at 5 MPH, because now we were parents–and I sat in the backseat, next to this tiny person whose head didn’t even reach the extra preemie headrest we’d added to his carseat.
Nathan fell asleep, as newborns do, and I got concerned. I didn’t have the machines that beeped if he needed help! There were no lights flashing to show his heartbeat. Everything felt out of my control, so I reached for his arm, took his tiny wrist in my hand and felt his pulse the whole way home.
I just wanted to make sure his heart was still beating.
Today, I sat next to him in the car again. He’s taller than I am now, so his head stretched over the driver’s headrest. Today, I reached for the dashboard instead of his wrist, and the only heart rate I worried about was my own, when we rounded the curves a little too fast.
I’m blessed to be his mama, even though I’ll only have him for 2 1/2 more years. And even if I only have him for 2 1/2 more minutes, he was never really mine to begin with. He was entrusted to me for a time–a time of such joy and blessing and fun and responsibility and learning. It’s a privilege to be part of God’s plan for Nathan’s opening 18 years, but Nathan is God’s, and the God “who began a good work in him will be faithful to complete it” long after my parenting season ends.
And what will he become–this man who can now drive the cars I once buckled him into? That isn’t mine to determine. His future belongs to the God “who can do immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine.”
As it should, of course. As it should.
Sometimes, it’s good to be different.
It’s not always easy, though, like when it comes to Andy and me. I’m an ISTJ; he’s an ENFP. I’m blue with no yellow; he’s almost all yellow. His love language is physical touch, and I once scored zero physical touch on my love language test.
Different can be hard.
My three kids are different, too, in their interests and wirings. I remember thinking years ago, “I bet they’ll turn out a lot alike, since they’re so close in age.” Yeah, not so much. They couldn’t be more different.
But in spite of the challenges, sometimes different is good. It’s good to be the only one–to stand strong in your own different way.
Like in the Old Testament, when God told Moses to scout out the promised land. Twelve spies set off–one from each tribe–and they returned with two different reports. Ten said, “No way can we take this land! Those people are big and scary!” But two spies, Joshua and Caleb, had a different view.
“We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it….”
“The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the Lord is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us.” (Numbers 13:30; 14:7-8)
But the vote was 2 to 10–really, 2 against the whole nation–and the majority won. The people chose wilderness over promise, and God chose a 40-year punishment over striking them down with a plague. God said no one over age 20 would enter Canaan, and that, since they’d doubted and disobeyed, they’d wander in the wilderness for 40 years–one year for each day the twelve spies had explored the land.
Only Joshua and Caleb, He said, would live to enter Canaan. Only Joshua and Caleb believed. God said:
“But my because my servant Caleb has a different spirit and follows me wholeheartedly, I will bring him into the land he went to, and his descendants will inherit it.” (Numbers 14:24)
Sometimes, it’s good to be different. Even when it’s hard, I’m still called to be set apart, holy. To have a different mind, with thoughts of faith instead of doubt, and humility instead of pride. To have different speech–to stop complaining and gossiping, and to encourage rather than tear down. I’m to have different priorities. The Hebrew word for Caleb’s “different’ spirit is also translated “other,” in passages like, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” My calendar, my checkbook and my relationships, then, should reflect my different priorities.
Forty years after Joshua and Caleb spied on Canaan, they entered it again. Later, as the leaders divvied up the land, the two old friends reminisced.
“I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the Lord sent me to explore the land…. Now then, just as the Lord promised, he has kept me alive for forty-five years since the time he said this to Moses, while Israel moved about in the wilderness. So here I am today, eighty-five years old! I am still as strong today as the day Moses sent me out….”
Then Joshua blessed Caleb son of Jephunneh and gave him Hebron as his inheritance. So Hebron has belonged to Caleb son of Jephunneh the Kenizzite ever since, because he followed the Lord, the God of Israel, wholeheartedly. (Joshua 14:7-14)
Caleb was wholehearted.
He had a different spirit.
And sometimes, it’s good to be different.
All. The. Time.
“You can’t get too much winter in the winter,” Robert Frost wrote, but I disagree. I can get too much winter in about ten minutes. And besides, should we really trust the opinion of someone who basically has winter in his name?
I do like to observe winter through the window, though. It’s pretty to look at, but painful to experience, and I’d really rather not.
It’s the same with spiritual winters–those life seasons when everything is cold and fruitless and seemingly dead. They’re not even pretty to look at. We went through several months of spiritual winter when we first moved back to Missouri. Soon after we arrived, Andy’s health declined. A perpetual cough sent him to the doctor, who ran blood tests and found a thyroid problem–which led to months of struggle: extreme fatigue, depression and more. It took a while to identify all of the issues, and even longer to arrive at the best solutions. All the while, it was like living with a different person. One doctor said that, physically and emotionally, it was as though Andy had plowed full speed into a brick wall. He said his body just needed time to recover. And so, in those months, we functioned–we did our jobs and took the kids to school and went to church, and hopefully did a little good with our beloved college sons–but we were surviving, not living. Getting through the winter, and praying for spring.
But now. Now, finally, the medications are helping, and Andy is returning. The winter seems to be thawing, and I see signs of warmth and fruit and life. Turns out, to my surprise, God was just as at work in the winter as He is in the spring. He knew we needed the rest–the quiet–the latency–for grieving, counseling, healing, restoring. We needed a slower pace of life so that Andy could get well. So that we both could.
However painful the experience, we needed the winter.
So that’s where I’ve been. That’s why the words on this little blog have been so few.
But, brace yourself. The Lord is faithful in every season–He makes everything beautiful in its time–and spring is on its way!
Over at Ungrind again! Lord willing, I’ll be back here soon, but…for today…enjoy this at Ungrind!