Last week, Andy stopped by the R.V. park office (yes, we still live in an R.V.) to pay for our stay here. He told the attendant that we’re leaving for Missouri—by way of a vacation in Colorado—on Wednesday.
“Let’s see,” she said, adding up our bill. “When you leave, you’ll have been here exactly 40 days.”
40! Honestly, it gave me chills. In scripture, the number 40 represents God’s perfect timing before a major change or transformation. It’s often about a period of testing, too, like Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days, or Israel wandering in the wilderness for 40 years before the promised land.
Not that Missouri will flow with milk and honey, necessarily. And even if 40 isn’t meant to be taken literally—even if 40 in scripture just means, as some scholars say, “a lot of”—well, let me tell you, we’ve had “a lot of a lot” in the R.V. We’ve grilled a lot of hamburgers, and we’ve eaten a lot of snacks purchased on a lot of trips to the camp market. We’ve had a lot of neighbors, too: people from all over the country, a family headed to Six Flags, a couple married for 56 or 57 years (they couldn’t agree which), a little boy who proudly showed off his bucketful of frogs, and more.
We’ve also had a lot of—a LOT of—talks about toilets. Toilets, it seems, are a hot topic in the R.V. community. I’ve discussed toilets enough in the last 40 days to last me the next 40 years.
“Are both valves open?” “It’s best to use paper that’s R.V. friendly.” “Make sure you keep enough water in the gray line to rinse the….” Never mind.
The toilet tip we’ve heard most goes like this:
“More water. Less paper.”
Catchy! Maybe I’ll cross stitch it and hang it in my new bathroom. Andy said something yesterday, too, that may be plaque-worthy: “When the line is clogged, it bubbles when you flush. But if it’s clear, bugs fly out.”
I’m not positive, but I think that’s in Proverbs. “A clog bubbles, but a clear line means bugs.”
Indeed, 40 days of a lot. A lot of “trailer bowling” with plastic cups and tennis balls, and a lot of goodbye meals with precious friends. Really, our family has had a lot of fun in this little house on wheels. Our “period of testing” is almost done, and we’re looking forward to the “major change” the Lord has in store. In the end, we’ll realize that, more than anything else, we’ve had a lot of God’s faithfulness, a lot of His presence, and a lot of His mercy. We’ve had a lot of Him, and that’s a lot of a lot.
“Have you been waiting long?” I asked Molly when we picked her up from school a little late. She was standing under a tree, watching all the other parents who got their kids on time.
“No,” she answered. “Just 85 seconds.”
But who’s counting, right?
I hate waiting, and not just waiting in the doctor’s “waiting” room, where I can at least bring a book or get something done. I hate waiting when there’s nothing else to do but wait—when my only option is to stand under a tree and count the seconds.
Waiting is hard. My friend is waiting to hear big news that won’t come for a few days, and I wish I could speed up the clock for her. My family is waiting right now, too—waiting between jobs, between houses, between churches. We’re waiting in an RV to finish the school year. Waiting to begin our cross-country trek to Missouri. I even dreamt a few nights ago that we’d arrived at Ozark, but couldn’t go in yet. We kept circling our dorm, around and around, but it wasn’t time. Even in my sleep…I’m waiting!
There’s always a reason for God’s waiting season, like when Joseph had to wait in prison before the cupbearer finally remembered him, or when Israel waited in slavery until God brought them out of Egypt. Waiting, to God, is about preparing and perfecting, and He accomplishes His purpose at just the right time.
And, biblical waiting isn’t about impatience or anxiety. In scripture, waiting isn’t just standing under a tree, counting seconds. Often, to wait is to hope. The Hebrew word qavah means, “to wait, look for, hope, expect.” For example:
“Wait—look—for the Lord,” wrote David, “be strong and take heart and wait—hope, expect—in the Lord” (Psalm 27:14).
Qavah is also “to bind together, to twist”—as the strands of a rope are twisted together to make a strong cord. Like if I cross my fingers when I really want something, I twist them up together in hopefulness. Waiting, then, is wrapping myself up in God, and attaching myself to Him. It’s this:
“Those who hope in the Lord—who bind themselves to Him and twist themselves up with Him—will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Waiting, then, is a good thing. It’s a chance to experience the Lord like never before—to come to know Him in the stillness, and become deeply rooted in Him, like the tree where Molly counted.
God, let me not just count the seconds until You arrive. Let me rest, trust, expect…hope. Bind me to You so securely that the wait becomes for me an assurance of Your tight grip. “Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long” (Psalm 25:5). Amen.
“Seats six with two leaves. In good condition, but top has several marks and scratches, and needs to be repainted.”
I read over my description as I contemplated an asking price. I knew those “marks and scratches” lowered the dollar amount, but I felt I should defend them.
“The red paint drips are from Anne’s birthday party two years ago,” I wanted to add. “We painted mugs, and made a huge mess, and had a great time.”
“That bumpy patch where the paint isn’t shiny happened when the girls spilled nail polish remover. I wish I would’ve cared more about their feelings than about the spill.”
“The scratches around the edges are thanks to Belle the basset hound. Her claws scratch it every time she jumps up to steal our food.”
“I made that big mark at the end when Andy was in Uganda. My laptop wasn’t working, so I lugged my heavy old desktop computer in from the garage so I could still chat with him online. I pushed the monitor onto the tabletop, and scratched it in the process–and every time I see it, I remember Africa.”
But even all that still won’t explain the table. The hours and hours of homeschool lessons I taught there. The countless rounds of Clue and Monopoly, and of course, meals! We don’t eat fancy, but we do eat together, and dinners there have shaped my kids and solidified our family and filled my heart with treasured memories.
The “heavy solid wood dining table, painted black” is also my place for meeting with God. I go there in the mornings to talk with Him in His word and sip hot tea out of my favorite cup–the green and yellow one with a chip on one side. (Apparently I like things with marks and scratches.) I often sit there to write, too, because the table gives ample space for spreading out books and binders and yellow legal pads.
Last summer, when my friends gathered around the table for Bible study, one of them complimented, “I love your rustic table!” Until that moment, I didn’t realize just how rustic it had become. It isn’t smooth and shiny anymore, and it won’t bring nearly the money that it once did.
Finally, I settled on a fair price and posted my ad. Today, a beautiful young couple came over to check it out. They’re engaged–getting married in two weeks, and buying furniture for their new home. I loved them both immediately, and knew they were just right for my table. The bride and her fiance whispered shyly for a moment, and I heard her say, “My mom can help me fix it.” It was all I could do to not cry in front of them–tears of joy for what has been, and for what will be.
They loaded the table in the back of their truck and drove away. Maybe tonight they’re sanding off the bumpy patch where the girls spilled nail polish remover. Maybe tomorrow they’ll repaint it, and it will be smooth and shiny once more. And they’ll sit around it, and play Clue and Monopoly, and eat not-fancy dinners, and slowly the table will shape their family, too.
I read once that you shouldn’t say, “It’s okay,” when someone hurts you—because it’s not okay. Instead, respond, “I forgive you,” because that communicates, “What you did wasn’t good, but I’ll let it go. I’ll let you off the hook.”
It’s like Andy Stanley writes in his book, It Came From Within. When we’re hurt, we say, “You owe me!” But to forgive is to say, “You don’t owe me anymore. You don’t have to repay that debt.”
And so, like a lot of moms, I often conclude my kids’ conflicts by making them apologize to one another and forgive each other.
“I’m sorry,” one will say.
“I forgive you,” comes the required reply, although, it often sounds more like, “Ifgvyu.”
And oh, isn’t that so neat and tidy? “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”—the debt is cancelled, problem solved, simple as that! Except, sometimes, people don’t say, “I’m sorry.” And sometimes, “I forgive you” is the hardest thing in the world to even utter—let alone mean. Some debts are harder to cancel than others. Some offenses hurt deeply, and some wounds don’t heal overnight. Sometimes, I want to forgive—truly I do!—but goodness. Sometimes, forgiveness is rough.
I hold two truths in my hands. In one hand, I’ve been wronged and wounded and it’s not okay. But in the other hand, God calls me to forgive, just as in Christ, He forgave me (Ephesians 4:32). And how do I balance both truths? I can’t. I simply must let go of one. Will I hang on to the injustice? Or will I let it go, and cling instead to the forgiveness and mercy and grace that are mine in Christ?
Because it’s only in holding on to Him that I find I’m truly free.
“Girls make friends a lot faster than boys do,” Nathan said recently, with regard to his sisters’ quick adjustment to their new school.
Molly’s reply made me wince: “Yeah,” she answered, “but girls are also a lot meaner to each other than boys are. We make friends faster, but we treat ‘em worse.”
Ladies, we know exactly what she means, don’t we? We are relational creatures, so we want to identify with one another. Tell a girlfriend what a great deal you got on your cute top, and she’ll kick up her heels to show you her bargain shoes. But if we aren’t careful, relating and identifying can turn into comparing and competing. “I identify with you,” becomes, “I’m better than you,” or “I can’t be happy for your success.” Our God-given ability to relate should be our most beautiful feature in friendships…but too often it becomes our ugliest.
And so, as my 10-year-old already knows, we make friends faster, but we treat ‘em worse.
I’m no expert on friendships. My awkwardness and insecurity…my jealousy and comparison…have hurt some friendships, kept me out of others, and even ended a few altogether. I’ve wronged friends, and been wronged by them. I’ve received forgiveness and offered it, too. I’ve shed tears over the people I’ve hurt, and over those who have hurt me in return.
It seems we do treat each other worse. But what if we determine to fight a different way? Instead of fighting with one another, let’s fight for each other–for our friendships. Let’s fight to relate but not compete. To identify but not compare. Let’s fight to honor God in the way we talk to one another–and about one another. Let’s fight to forgive, and teach our daughters to do the same.
Oh! Let’s not treat ‘em worse! Let’s treat ‘em “better than ourselves” (Philippians 2:3-4). And in the process, let’s glorify God, and represent Him accurately to a world who needs to know He loves ‘em best.
I hardly know where to start, so let me let Andy tell you in his words first. This letter went out to our church today:
Dear Real Life Church family,
Eleven and a half years ago, Amy and I felt the unexpected call of God to leave a solid, growing church in Indiana and move our family to a one-year-old church plant in a movie theater in a part of the country we knew nothing about. My, what an eleven year ride it has been! Our hearts overflow with the stories of your lives, and of God’s faithfulness. Some of you have longed for a child, and have worshiped as God answered that longing. Others have watched your children leave home and start families of their own. You have gone through hardships to learn God’s tenderness, and through seasons of blessings to learn His goodness. You have been our family – babysitting our kids, blessing us more than you can imagine with meals and gifts and friendship, crying with us, celebrating with us, sharing in our lives, and inviting us into yours.
Which is why the familiar call of God has come, once again, so unexpectedly.
As many of you know, the leaders of Real Life very generously gave me a time of Sabbatical – an opportunity to step away from my “duties” at the church to study, pray, rest, and listen to God. We couldn’t have known how God was planning to speak to me, or how quickly. Almost immediately, I fell into a conversation about a ministry opening that – I don’t know another way to say it – stirred my heart. After weeks of prayer, seeking Godly counsel, and listening to God, what started as a conversation has become a calling, and I have accepted a ministry position at Ozark Christian College in Joplin, Missouri. Specifically, I will serve as a Residence Director for one of the boys’ dormitories. The main emphasis of the role is simply to pastor, mentor, and disciple the boys in that dorm as they go through life away from home and prepare to enter ministries of their own. Amy and I will build relationships and share our lives with the students there, just as we’ve done with you.
The timeline of our transition isn’t finalized yet, but we will be moving most likely in late June, after our kids finish their school year here. As Michael DeFazio mentioned in his message this weekend, he and Beth are headed to Ozark as well, where he’ll serve on the teaching faculty. While we certainly didn’t plan or coordinate this, God has seen fit to send us there, too, and we’re grateful for a continued partnership with them.
You are a treasure to us – a blessing we could never have expected and will never forget. The sadness in our hearts is only tolerable because we know the deep love God has for each of you, and for Real Life Church. His plan for you is not finished, and He’ll be faithful in the future, just as He was in the past.
Being your pastor has been one of the biggest blessings of my life, and I know no better words than the Apostle Paul’s to describe what you mean to me. “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
With deepest love,
So…that’s the news, and now I can’t see the screen because once again my eyes are blurry with tears. Ozark Christian College trains men and women for Christian service, and I don’t know anyone better to disciple the young men in our dorm, and to model the character and faith they’ll need in ministry, than Andy Storms. Andy will also be Ozark’s assistant soccer coach, and I’m interviewing for part-time work with the college, too. Joplin is precious to us, and Ozark has been a beloved part of our extended family for years. Our parents, siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, and even a grandpa have attended and/or worked at Ozark in years past. Andy and I met as students there, and our dorm is actually the same one where both Andy and my dad lived, too. We’re beyond thrilled to serve at a place we love so dearly.
But, of course, it’s so bittersweet, because it means leaving another place we love so dearly, too. The very thought of it makes my heart hurt. RLC family, I keep recalling one of my favorite verses in the Book of John, with regard to you: “From the fullness of his grace, we have all received one blessing after another” (John 1:16). From the day we arrived in California 11 1/2 years ago, with a two-year-old and an 11-month-old and not-a-CLUE what we were doing, you’ve been God’s grace to us.
(Molly didn’t arrive till nine months later. Exactly nine months later–wink. And you were gracious then, too.)
Thank you for your friendship and love. Thank you for all you’ve taught us–you taught us far more than we ever taught you, I’m sure. Thank you for your patience and forgiveness along the way. Thank you for every moment of the last 11 years. From changing Molly’s diaper on the floor of a movie theater, to stacking and unstacking school desks at West Ranch, to worshiping together that first day in our building as Monique’s incredible voice rang out, “Worthy is the lamb who was slain…” every bit of it is precious to my heart. Every bit of it, to me, has been God’s grace.
Andy and I love you so much, Real Life Church, and we’re so proud of you. We look forward to watching all God has in store for you. Thank you for being our family. Truly, through you, God has richly given us one blessing after another!
While shopping with Christmas money last December, Nathan looked for new tennis shoes. He narrowed his options down to two: one pair was black with a little red, and the other…bright orange. Back and forth Nathan went between them—trying on the black, then the orange, and staring at his feet in the little knee-high shoe-mirror. He simply couldn’t decide.
“Which should I get?” he asked repeatedly.
“It’s not a ‘should,’” Andy responded. “Either one! You pick.”
I could tell–because I’m his mama, and because I think like Nathan–that he really wanted those bright orange shoes. He wanted to make the bolder choice. But, as he pointed out again and again, “They are very orange.”
Some people (Andy comes to mind) are bold by nature. They cannonball into swimming pools and say things like, “I don’t know what’ll happen, but it’ll be fun!” Other people (Nathan and I come to mind) have to be bold by choice. We test the water with our big toes, and say things like, “Be careful!” and “They are very orange.”
For the bold-by-choice, even a shoe store becomes a place for a faith lesson. As Nathan waffled between the safer, sensible black and the bolder, courageous orange, I prayed.
Finally, Nathan took a deep breath and decided.
“Okay. I want the orange.”
Score for faith! Score for the bold-by-choice!
Nathan texted his friend Sam about his entire shoe dilemma, and he instagrammed this picture.
“You’re more of a black shoe person, I think,” Sam said.
I loved my son’s response. “I’m orange on the inside.”
Orange on the inside! How many times have I been in his “shoes,” with a boldness that’s itching to come out?–A hidden talent, a difference I’d love to make, even a calling. But too often, I’m afraid to risk. I put on my black shoes and silence my orange. “Orange is so unpredictable!” I tell myself. “Just calm down–don’t risk it. Do what you know, and keep everything manageable.”
But, Lord, I’m orange on the inside. You made me orange, and You love it when I’m bold by choice. Let my faith please You, God. And let me live my brightest orange on the outside, for Your glory. Amen.
“Lord, we knew You were faithful,” Andy prayed the other day, “but now we know You’re faithful.”
Ever moved from knowing to knowing? Sometimes, do you just get washed over again with a sense of God’s faithfulness?–Of how He orchestrates every detail, and provides things before we even know we need them? We recently experienced one of those moments–an encounter that moved us from knowing to knowing–and it knocked us to our knees.
“My ears had heard of you,” said Job, “but now my eyes have seen you” (Job 42:5). Now I know.
At times like that, all you can do is praise.
But. Knowing doesn’t happen every day. Some days…months, years…are spent in the darkness, asking why God has left the building, and questioning if He really is who He says He is at all. It’s a place of wondering, not knowing, and I’ve lived there before, too, in the not-so-distant past.
“Why is this happening, God? Why won’t You intervene?” King David said it this way: “How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1)
And at times like that, all you can do…is praise. Praise, because He is good, even in bad circumstances. Praise, because He is at work whether we see Him or not. Praise, because recalling His faithfulness in the past reminds us that He’ll be faithful in the future, too. Praise, because sometimes praise is an act of faith, and faith always pleases God.
Where you are, dear reader? Today, do you wonder, or do you know? In the comments, maybe you can leave one of two words: wondering, or knowing. Wherever you are–whichever word describes you today–thank Him for it. Trust Him more deeply because of it. Worship Him through it. Because in wondering and in knowing, all you can do…is praise.
“Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and, considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith.” (Hebrews 13:7, NASB)
As a preacher’s kid, I heard my dad teach God’s Word more times than I can count. Week after week, I listened to his sermons—the points of which were usually alliterated, and the illustrations of which were, quite often, me.
(Maybe that’s why I tell so many stories on my kids now. Payback for my own childhood.)
I inherited my love of the Old Testament from my dad, because he loved it, too, and often taught on Moses, and David, and Elijah. And yet, even though I heard his sermons every Sunday, my dad taught me the most about faith and following Jesus every Monday through Saturday.
When Daddy preached on marriage, I’d already seen how he treated my mom. When he taught the congregation to love one another, I’d already gone with him to visit the nursing home, or leave anonymous gifts on a family’s doorstep, or deliver groceries to someone in need.
When I recall my dad’s voice, I don’t hear him preaching a sermon. I hear him laughing with me on the way to school. When I picture Daddy—when I imagine him in my mind’s eye—he isn’t on stage, standing before a crowd of people. He’s sitting at our kitchen table, up before the sun, with his brown leather Bible open before him.
Want to be a church leader? Jesus says, be a servant. Want to teach people every Sunday? Then follow Him every Monday through Saturday. Ministry happens, not in front of crowds, but in front of your family. Not on stage, but at the kitchen table. Thank you, Daddy, for a faith worth imitating.
Over Christmas break, our family played a lot of Hedbanz. What a fun game!—Guess the word you wear on your forehead, with clues from everyone else who can read it.
We wore everything from “bottle” to “Barack Obama.” Turns out, though, that the words are hard to guess if the clue-givers don’t explain the right word. For example, when one wears “Pamela Anderson” on her forehead, and one’s husband confuses Ms. Anderson with Anna Nicole Smith…well, one can be sent down an unfortunate path of many wrong guesses.
Although, I suppose those ladies do have a few “attributes” in common.
Which reminds me, the highlight of the game for me was when Andy wore this:
“Can I fly?” he asked as we all rolled with laughter, and “Do I fit in a pocket?” But what question isn’t funny, really, with “bra” on your forehead?
In all seriousness, though, playing Hedbanz made me wonder what “words” I show to the world. What do I present to the people I encounter every day? Do I wear “gracious”? Or “kind”? More likely, I show “impatient” and “insecure.”
Maybe, as with the game, we don’t even know what words we wear. Maybe our words spring from such deep, unconscious roots within that we don’t even realize what we show. “Unloved” or “ashamed.” “Conceited” or “controlling.” Do we see in ourselves the words that others read so clearly?
King David wrote, “Before a word is on my tongue,”—or, in this case, on my forehead—“you know it completely, O Lord.” David prayed to the One who knows all, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:4, 23-24).
Or in other words…God, You read the words I display. You’re acquainted with every anxious, disquieting thought that doesn’t trust You, and every offensive, idolatrous thought that dethrones You. You see them all, so search me, and change my words. Be glorified by what’s on my mind. Amen.