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True Treasure

On September 18, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Hurricane Harvey, With 10 Comments

By outside measures, Brooke and Randy Keeney look like deceptively ordinary people.

They have four kids and live in a quiet neighborhood on the West side of Houston. Randy works for an oil and natural gas company and Brooke is a stay-at-home mom who homeschools her kids on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

But when the flood waters rose and their home went under, Brooke and Randy Keeney showed just how extraordinary they really are.  I can’t even write that sentence without crying.  Because if you look at the picture at the top of the blog, while standing in their water-logged living room, every square inch of their house soaking wet, Randy holds in his hands a picture of a verse that says, “And He shall be the stability of your times” (Isaiah 33:6) and Brooke holds a plaque that says, “Choose Joy.”

And for all the world and their submerged neighborhood to see, they have walked out that verse with quiet humility and patient trust in the Lord.

They walked it out as they waded onto their street with three kayaks and a paddle boat and for three straight days, salvaged all that they could from their home.

They walked it out as they consistently spoke kindly and respectfully to one another in the tenseness of ripping out flooring and sheet rock and deciding what possessions to keep and what to throw away.

They walked it out as neither one of them uttered a word of complaint or self-pity or despair in the two days I was with them in the moldy dampness of their home.

In fact, the words I heard them speak most often were, “Thank you.  Thank you for being here.  Thank you for helping us.”

That, my friends, is extraordinary.  Because let me tell you something: speaking kindly to your spouse when every single square inch of your floor, your carpet, and your sheet rock is being pulled out from the aftermath of a storm, speaking kindly to your spouse when every article of clothing, every damp book, every single piece of furniture, scrap of paper, photo book, and memory that represents your lives is in black trash bags all around you to either be taken to the curb, taken to the car, or floated over to a neighbor’s dry house for storage is not normal.  It requires supernatural intervention.

And the radical dependence that Randy and Brooke showed on that supernatural grace that was not born in the moments of a flood or water filling their house.  It was born in the months and days and moments preceding the flood, when quietly, persistently, consistently, they chose to make the fear of the Lord the stability of their days and the bedrock of their home.  So when the hurricane hit and the flood waters rose, although their floors crumbled, their faith did not simply because their foundation was securely attached to the only floor that cannot fail – the saving, faithful character of Jesus Christ.

The Saturday before the hurricane, Brooke and I met for lunch and ate chips, salsa, and fajita grilled chicken (the best kind of lunch) while catching up and sharing stories about our summer.  Brooke shared how disappointed she was at the beginning of the summer that their family was not going anywhere on a vacation.  They chose to stay home and brave the summer heat in Houston to focus on establishing rhythm and routine with their four children and in their own lives before the school year started.

Spending a whole summer in Houston is not an easy feat, out-of-state and out-of-country friends.  It requires lots of Sonic ice, air conditioning, and two showers a day to simply clean off all the sweat. And Houston heat means you are either inside or in a pool.  Outside on the concrete is simply not an option.  There is no telling your kids, “Go outside and play.  You are driving me crazy.”  They are either inside with you or outside in a pool in a bathing suit with you.  And inside with you can feel really cramped really quickly.

But Brooke used her summer to…are you ready for this…pray.  

She used her summer months to attach herself securely to God in the daily rhythm of prayer for herself, her husband, her children, her community, and her world.  Prayer was the essence of her summer. and she spent that Saturday lunch testifying to me how much prayer had not only changed her life but the entire climate of her home.  She was so thankful those months had been spent not in packing and unpacking and vacationing…but in praying…to prepare for the school year ahead.

Or a hurricane.

Little did Brooke (or anyone) know that the hours she had spent in prayer were laying up a treasure for her that could not be taken.  A treasure she would need to draw on and from in the coming months as her family was displaced and her world turned upside down.  She had day in and day out faithfully chosen “the one thing that was necessary…and could not be taken from her” (Luke 10:42).  And she chose well.

David Platt says this about prayer: “Prayer won’t just change your prayer life; prayer will change your life.”  And Brooke’s choice is living proof of that statement.  

We all have so many choices to make on a day in and day out basis.  And we all have so many things we could do with our resources and our time.  Good things.  But when it comes down to it, like Jesus told Martha in Luke 10:42, only one thing is really necessary.  And like Brooke, the time that you and I choose to spend at Jesus’ feet, connecting to Him through prayer, praise, repentance, supplication, and surrender, is the only time that will bear lasting, eternal fruit in our lives and in the lives of those around us, and prepare us for the seasons and storms ahead in ways that scratching things off of our to-do lists and responding to emails and taking vacations never can do.

Today, this week, this season, choose the one thing.  Put all your other things down; they can wait.  I promise.  And like Brooke, choose the one that cannot be taken from you, even when the flood waters rise.

Brooke and Randy Keeney are not perfect people.  But they are praying people.  Extraordinary people.   Because they have made their treasure God rather than their comfort, or the things in their house, or the things of this world.

The rest of the verse Randy is holding in the picture says this: “And He shall be the stability of your times, a wealth of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge; the fear of the Lord is his treasure” (Isaiah 33:6).

That pretty much sums up the lives of Randy and Brooke.  Underneath the water-logged pieces of wood in their home was not despair or grief or a torn foundation; underneath was a secure foundation of salvation, wisdom, knowledge, and the fear of the Lord.  And that, my friends, is the ultimate treasure.  It just took a hurricane and a summer of prayer to pull up the floorboards and see what really was beneath.

How to Mourn Our Losses

On September 11, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 6 Comments

I don’t know about those of you who live in Houston, but for me, this last week after the hurricane was harder, in many ways, than the week of the hurricane itself.  Roads were jammed with traffic, and trying to navigate around town to get to friends who needed help, houses that had flooded, or even trying to do normal things like dropping my daughter off at preschool or going to get tap shoes for a ballet class took hours.  Hours.  

Hearing the continual drone of choppers flying overhead and wailing sirens of emergency vehicles, while seeing the trash piles and flood debris that lines almost every street, has left tension in my neck and all through my shoulders.  Navigating in our city is like navigating a war zone, and every attempt to get out on the road is one more reminder that “normal” does not exist anymore, at least for a very long time.

Just like the sheet rock and flooring so many of us have had a hand in ripping out this week, “normal” has been ripped out of our city, our day-to-day lives and routines, our priorities, and our to-do lists and left to sit out on the curb, waiting for dump trucks to come carry it away.  And confronting all the realities of the “abnormal” has left us frayed around the edges and feeling heavy and pressed down.  Seeing the realities of friends’ homes that are utterly destroyed, all of the possessions they hold dear in this life piled high on the curb, water logged, mildewed, and molded has taken its toll on our bodies and souls.

As a city, I think we are grieving the loss of “normal.”  We are grieving the loss of land and homes and streets and people the way we have always known them to be.  And we are grieving and frustrated with our own weakness and the limitations of our own strength and ability to be strong and sufficient in normal, day-to-day tasks, as well as in the aftermath of a storm.

And maybe, perhaps, we are grieving the loss of God as we have always known Him to be, at least in regards to our city and hometown – stable, reliable, protective, shielding us from disaster, the winds, and the storm.  National or international disasters always happened out there, but not here.  Not in our hometown, our churches, our schools, and our neighborhoods.

Yesterday I delivered some clothes to a family whose home flooded and realized I was very close to the neighborhood where I grew up.  Mom and Dad moved about five years ago, but for almost thirty years,they lived in a beautiful and restful neighborhood called Memorial Glen.  Their house backed up to Terry Hershey Park and Buffalo Bayou, so during the storm, we heard that their street flooded, but we did not know the extent of the damage.

So after my delivery, I slowly drove the familiar route to my parent’s house, a route I have driven a thousand times lined with quiet houses graced with big, front lawns and overarching green trees.  But instead of the familiar peace and quiet, I was confronted with devastation.  Their whole neighborhood had flooded.  Every single street, every single house, was lined with rubble.  Trash piled so high you could barely navigate the streets.  Homeowners and neighbors and friends of neighbors were out in full force, equipped with masks and rubber boots, sledge hammers and shovels and wheelbarrows, doing the work of demolition.

As I wove my way through the streets, I parked at the end of my parents’ street and walked slowly down to their house amidst piles of wood, furniture, sheet rock, and insulation.  I stood in front of the house that had been a shelter for me and so many for so many years and just started to cry.  The bayou had crept in and flooded everything in the one story house, killing the yard and grass my dad kept such good care of for thirty years, destroying the interior of a house my mom had made a home in every sense of the word.  I am still crying as I type.

I know that stuff is just stuff.  I know that and believe that with all my heart.  But I also know in the aftermath of this hurricane that stuff is more than just stuff.  And it’s ok to grieve it.  It is ok to grieve over the devastation of land we have all loved.  It is ok to weep under the weight of the trash heaps that line the streets and driveways of the homes that hold the most cherished memories of our lives.  It is ok.

And I don’t know about you, but that is where I am.  In the weeping.  In the mourning and loss and grief of missing “normal”, the tangible things and places that have held our memories, and the God we thought of as “safe.”

The passage of Scripture that has lingered in my heart and mind this week and given me courage and insight when I have needed it is Hosea 6:1-3.

Come, let us return to the Lord.
For He has torn us, but He will heal us;
He has wounded us, but He will bandage us.
He will revive us after two days;
He will raise us up on the third day,
That we may live before Him.
So let us know, let us press on to know the Lord.
His going forth is as certain as the dawn;
And He will come to us like the rain,
Like the spring rain watering the earth.

I have known God to tear up specific circumstances in my life, or even specific people, but I have never known Him to tear up my city.

But here we are.  Torn.  Wounded.  Weary.  Waiting.  In need of healing.  In need of grace.

But just as I have been reminded in the past, when He tore me apart with two miscarriages and then gave me Lillian.  When He tore me apart with Lillian’s diagnosis of cysts on her lungs in utero and then healed her at the last hour.  When He tore me (and many) apart with Kathy’s death from cancer last fall and chose to heal her by taking her Home.  He will come to heal us.  His coming to us is as certain as the dawn.

And our job, as a city, as victims of the flood and responders to the flood, is to press on to know the Lord in certain expectation of His coming.

Our job is not to press on to know the in’s and out’s of FEMA, or the best route to get our kids to school in the headache that will be here Monday morning, or the best way to help our homes, help our friends, and help our trash disappear and our city rebuild.  Our job is to press in to know the Lord.  To call on Him…in confident expectation that He will answer.  To earnestly look for Him in the renewing strength of His Word each day and then in the ways He responds to us throughout the day.  To be aware of the touch of His Hands and His summons to us to come to Him, “all who are weary and heavy-laden,” and to allow Him to give us rest (Matthew 11:28).  To be aware of not shouldering any burden that is too heavy for us to bear and to let Him do the carrying instead.  To walk only where He tells us to walk each day (since each day shold so many places we could go right now), trusting He will direct and guide our steps (Proverbs 3:5-6; Psalm 23:3).

God tears us…but only to heal us, restoring our souls.

God wounds us…but only to bind us, bringing us the comfort we so desperately need.

God allows destruction to touch us..but only to rebuild us into the people He has created us to be.

As you grieve your losses this week, know that we, as a city, are grieving right along with you.  You are not alone.

And as you press in to knowing God this week, giving precedence to the only thing that will truly put you, your family, your home, and your city back together, know that you are not alone.  We are pressing in to Him together, knowing His coming in the days, weeks, and months ahead is as certain as the dawn.

Let us be a people who mourn, and then press in together.

 

The Worst Week and the Best Week

On September 5, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 7 Comments

Last week was the worst week and the best week all at the same time.

It was the worst week because 100,000 homes in Houston were flooded by the waters of Hurricane Harvey.  It was the worst week because 72,000 people had to be rescued by boat, kayak, canoe, helicopter, or whatever way was possible over the rising waters. It was the worst week because 150 schools and 700 churches flooded, roads were washed out, and driving cars around this city is like navigating through a war zone.  It was the worst week because after the rains stopped, the waters rose from the release of waters from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs, and thousands of additional homes flooded, many of them homes of families we know and love. It was the worst week because although Houston was under blue and sunny skies from Wednesday on, four feet of water stood and still stand in many people’s homes, making the salvaging of any of their possessions or memories in precious photographs, wedding and baby albums, or family heirlooms practically impossible.  It was the worst week.

But it was also the best week.  As the rains fell, the church rose, and the people of God went out into the storm to do their Bible, not just read their Bible, and the stories of courage and faith were staggering.  It was the best week because while it was hard to understand why God continued to allow the rains to fall, we also saw Him answer prayers so specifically and amazingly it was hard to keep record of them all.  It was the best week because the mercy of God was felt in specific and tangible ways that many of us had never experienced before. It was the best week because those of us who were left by the hurricane with dry homes were given the absolute joy of coming alongside those who needed rescue and relief.  It was a joy that surpassed any outing, vacation, gift, or gathering I have ever experienced.  It was the joy of comforting others with the comfort we ourselves have received through the gospel of Christ.  And for those who lost everything, it was the best week in that it forced them to cry out to God for a parting of the Red Sea, for Him to make a way where there seemed to be no way…and to stand back and watch as He moved.

One of those Red Sea moments for me happened last Wednesday when I sent out a post asking people to fast and pray on our city’s behalf.  Margaret Austin, a dear friend who lives in Clemson, South Carolina and a guest blogger on this site, answered that plea and called to pray with me while she sat in carpool line at her son’s school.

She wept tears with me, specifically asking God to allow my husband and the other men in his family to lead people to the Lord in decisions for salvation.  She asked for people to see this flood as a need for their67 souls to be made right with Him, and I wept right along with her.

The next day after our time of prayer and fasting, Jason spent the day with a group from his office in a neighborhood of our city known as Meyerland.  They met at an address where they knew help was needed and began ripping out sheet rock and tearing up floors.  The longer they worked, the more men showed up to help, and soon houses up and down the block had hands and hearts loving on and serving them well.  Jason and a few other men ended up in the home of an elderly woman named Roberta.  Roberta is in her 80’s and was all alone in her house with the exception of her caretaker.  Roberta shuffled out in her house shoes and asked how much it would cost for the men to tear out her sheet rock and flooring.  “Roberta,” Jason said, “I can give you the best price in the city – it’s free.”  And Roberta started to weep.

As they sat on the side of her bed in a home she had lived in for decades, Jason said, “Roberta, you are going to blink, and your home is going to be restored.  You are going to have new sheet rock, new paint, and new floors before you know it.  But none of this matters unless you are certain in your relationship with Jesus Christ and know where you are going to spend eternity.  It is eternity with Him that matters and counts.  Roberta, do you know Jesus as your Lord and Savior?”

“I think so,” Roberta said, through tears.

“It’s not good enough to just think so, Roberta.  You can know so.  You can have certainty of relationship with Him right now.  Would you like to pray together and ask Jesus to be the Lord and Savior of your heart and home?”

At her “Yes,” Jason and Roberta prayed right there, and Roberta’s home was not only secured from the floods that day, more importantly, her life was secured through relationship with Christ.

When Jason came home and told me the story, I remembered Margaret’s prayer the day before.  I had never thought to ask the Lord specifically that my husband would have the opportunity to lead someone to the Lord in the aftermath of this storm.  But Margaret did.  And when she prayed, God answered.

So, I am asking you, would you continue to pray with me and for many more salvations in our city?  Salvations and rescue and relief for people’s homes, yes.  But more importantly, salvations for people’s souls in rich neighborhoods and poor neighborhood.  In white neighborhoods, African-American neighborhoods, Hispanic neighborhoods, and Asian neighborhoods.  Because that is what this flood is all about.  It’s about getting the church out into people’s neighborhoods and homes where we would have never gone before and sharing the good news of the Gospel and security from the flood we have in Jesus Christ.

At church yesterday, Jason read a story about an incident from the childhood of Robert Louis Stevenson.

Robert Louis Stevenson, the author of classic books like Treasure Island, spent his childhood in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 19th century. As a boy, Robert was intrigued by the work of the old lamplighters who went about with a ladder and a torch, setting the street lights ablaze for the night.

One evening, as young Robert stood watching with fascination, his parents asked him, “Robert, what in the world are you looking at out there?” With great excitement he exclaimed, “Look at that man! He’s punching holes in the darkness!”

Friends, there are many, many weeks ahead we have left to love, serve, and pray for the city of Houston.  Thousands of people still remain displaced.  Thousands of homes are still standing under four feet of water.  And thousands of people still need rescue from the aftermath of the storm in their home and, more importantly, their hearts.  The weeks and months ahead still have the potential to be the worst of weeks.  But they also have the potential to be the best of weeks as we stand together to punch holes in the darkness through fasting, prayer, service, boldness in our speech to testify to the God of all comfort and grace, and acts of love.

Margaret was faithful all the way from South Carolina to punch a hole in the darkness…and that hole was Roberta.  Would you continue to stand with us this week and in the weeks ahead to punch holes in the darkness as well?  They have specific names, specific faces, and specific homes, and just as He heard Margaret, He will hear your cry as well.

Please consider joining me again this Wednesday and every Wednesday hereafter for the next several months, in fasting and prayer for our city.  Please consider these requests as you pray, using Daniel 9 as your guide:

  • Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
  • Please acknowledge our city’s sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way.  And please ask Him to use the people of the church to lead many people to decisions of repentance and salvation through Jesus Christ.
  • Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
  • Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to dry up our land and specifically the areas that are still flooded from the Addicks and Barker Reservoirs. 
  • Pray and ask Him for rescue workers and those trying to salvage and restore their homes to be wise and safe.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding, and to guard against the tendency to go back to “life as usual” now that the rains have stopped. Ask Him to continue to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
  • Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.

Helping after a Hurricane

On September 1, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 1 Comment

A couple of days ago, I stood in a neighbor’s driveway and had my very first experience in welcoming an evacuated family out of a car and onto dry land.  It was something. As the two parents and four young children spilled out of the car, there were embraces, tears all around, and stricken looks on all the adults’ faces.

Less than an hour before, this family of six waded out of their house with fast-rising waters and were paddled in a canoe down their street to a staging ground where all of their displaced neighbors were being received.  Their entire neighborhood, once a beautiful oasis on the bayou, is now a lake, or, more accurately, a fast flowing river and is only a five minute drive from the house where I grew up and where my parents lived for almost thirty years.

In the hours before evacuating, my friend spent the evening watching the waters rise to her front door, trying to keep her four sleeping children safe, and then trying to pack up in the pre-dawn hours only to have the transformers blow and her house go completely dark…in rising waters. Her husband was out in a kayak from 10pm-1:30am on a search and rescue team, looking for a friend who had gone missing under the current near their home. While they did not find him that night, miraculously, he walked out of the waters on his own the next morning.

The preceding twenty-four hours and really, the previous five days, had taken their toll on this precious family. As they got out of the car, they looked like they were emerging from a war zone, not a neighborhood close by I have known and loved my whole life. Needless to say, it was a privilege to stand there with open arms, shared tears, a hot lunch, and a listening ear.

Like many Houstonians, this experience was a new one for me. I’ve never known what it felt like to love on people who just left everything under water in just a few hours’ notice. The learning curve on how to really care, really listen, and offer to do what is really helpful instead of just what makes me feel good is steep, and I found the words from this blog post a friend sent me to be extremely accurate and helpful. I thought you might find it to be helpful too.

This is a blog, I confess, I have not read very often because it gives advice on a topic that is not something I am usually known for – fashion.  (If you don’t believe me, go back and read my blog post on how camping and not showering for days on end is my idea of a dream vacation.) But I always hear great things not only about the blog, www.cstyleblog.com, but the blogger herself, Carly Lee. She is someone I would love to one day meet over a cup of coffee and a good conversation. Other than her great sense of style and my lack of one, it seems we do have some things in common, like our faith, enjoyment of a good closet purge, and our mutual lack of ability on high school sports’ teams.

But here is what Carly shared:

My cousin sent this to me from a Facebook friend, who copied it from their friend who is now both a Katrina and Harvey survivor. If anyone knows who wrote this post, please, please, please let me know. I need to credit them! I almost didn’t post it because I couldn’t give them credit. But that seemed silly, since this post could help so many of us who find our friends flooded and want to know the best way to help.

“Here are some ideas how you can reach out to your flooded friends:

Remember they are going to feel uncomfortable being in such a position of need. It’s painful to go from being self sufficient one day to suddenly not having a pair of shoes with no car to go and buy some new ones.

Try to see a need and fill it without asking “what can I do?” Flooded mamas are exhausted and overwhelmed and it’s hard to answer that question.

If you are going to help a friend clean out their homes, here are a few items that are helpful to bring.

Cleaning/packing Supplies:
Masks- ventilator
Paper towel
Disposable gloves
Bleach
lysol/clorox wipes
Cardboard boxes
Packing tape
Sharpie
Boxcutters
Hand sanitizer
Handsoap
Mosquito repellent

Snacks:
Water bottles
Fresh fruit and veggies washed and cut up (we’ve all been eating highly processed food out of bags for days)

Ideas for questions to ask:
1. Does everyone in your family have shoes? If not, can I go pick some up? What size?
2. Do you have anyone coming to help you cut out walls? If not, can I call a few water mitigation companies to get quotes for you?
3. Do you have any laundry I can wash?
4. I have hand-me-downs from my kids, what sizes would be helpful?
5. Can I help arrange playdates for your kids?
6. Do you have any medications you would like me to call about getting replaced?
7. I’m making a trip to HEB today, please tell me 3 things I can pickup for you
8. Can I pack a school lunch for your child this week?
9. Is there anywhere I could give you a ride to?
10. I’d like to take you to pickup your rental car. Please call me when it’s available.
11. Please call me when you are ready for a ride home after you drop off your rental car.
Check in with your friend a week or two later. There is a lot of help at the beginning. After a few weeks life goes back to normal for most, but flooded families are still trying to find a new normal and may be moving into apartments or juggling car research before a big purchase, etc.”

The points I found to be true and extremely helpful, I bolded. I made the mistake of asking my friend, “If you will make me a list, I will go to the grocery store for you,” and then realized I needed to say instead, “Let me come over and help you make a list, and then I will go to the grocery store for you.” Being as specific and directive as possible is really helpful when coming alongside those who are in total shock and thinking about how to save precious picture albums and irreplaceable things in their house rather than a grocery list, shoe sizes, or laundry.

So if you, like me, find yourself in new waters wanting to help those who were caught in the waters, the advice above has proved to be helpful and fruitful for a family in my own life in their time of need.

Again, I cannot say thank you for your continued prayers, support, texts, calls, encouragement and love. Keep them coming. They are a sustaining grace and tangible embrace in a time our city needs it the most.

 

Fast and Pray for Our City Together

On August 29, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 3 Comments

Friends,

I wish I could describe what it is like to be in Houston right now. Our feelings have gone from initial shock and thinking, “This isn’t happening; this isn’t really our city,” to, “This is happening; this is our city.” Over the past few days, feelings have transitioned from denial and shock, to sorrow, fear, and dread. Dread that the rains keep falling, the dams keep filling, the rivers keep overflowing, and homes keep flooding. And the thoughts that keep coming are, “What now? What next? How will our city ever recover from the rain?”

Every day in the dark hours of the morning as I listen to the rain fall on my roof, I, along with many others, lay awake, praying for specific friends, specific homes to stay dry, and for the Hand of the Lord to keep the waters at bay.

This morning I woke up with one thing on my mind – Daniel 9:1-19. Daniel 9 is a prayer the prophet Daniel prays for his city of Jerusalem, repenting for his people’s sin, while crying out for God’s great Hand of mercy to move on their behalf, not because of anything they deserve, but all because of who God is.

I’ve spent a long time this morning praying through this prayer, and what keeps arresting my attention is the phrase he uses in verse 3. As Daniel contemplates the destruction of his city Jerusalem and their needed rescue, he begins to give his attention to the Lord his God. He doesn’t give his attention to political leaders, the movers and shakers of his day. He doesn’t give his attention to local news and media. He doesn’t give his attention to well-meaning family and friends around him. He gives his attention to God: “So I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.” 

That verse and Daniel’s prayer has gripped my heart and helped to focus my attention. It’s so easy to give my attention to the news right now, to texts and websites and emails. And it is important to give our attention to what our city’s leaders are saying. But it is more important is to give our attention to what God is saying through attitudes of humility, repentance, and fasting.

After reading and praying through Daniel 9, what I am not suggesting is that this flood and the damage and devastation to so many people’s homes and lives is directly because of sin. Righteous, good, godly people have lost everything in this flood. And people who have done evil, horrible things are sitting high and dry, myself included. It is not right to say that natural disasters are a direct cause of people’s sin. God uses suffering and disaster in the lives of righteous and unrighteous people alike to draw us to Himself and meet each of us exactly where we are. His heart is for all people to repent and be saved, not just some (see II Peter 3:9).

But when disaster strikes, it is always a good idea to turn our attention to God and put our full focus on what He says in His Word, for we know His Word to always be true and never fail. And Daniel’s prayer in Daniel 9 is powerful and effective and gives those of us going through great calamity a great template for how to cry out to God.

Daniel does not pass the buck of sin and shortcomings to just certain people in his city; he claims full ownership for the sin in his city and leans wholly on God’s mercy – not because of what he or anyone else has done but only because of who God’s Word and testimony say He is – faithful, merciful, loving, forgiving, and true.

And that is what I am suggesting we do. Lean on God’s mercy. Cry out to Him to hear us, to stop the rain, to keep the waters in check, and to help us rebuild, not because of who we are, but because of who He is. And commit our hearts to turn back to Him in whatever ways each of us has followed our own way and turned a deaf ear to Him.

So…here is my request: tomorrow, Wednesday, August 30th, would you join me in fasting and praying for the city of Houston, no matter where you are, using Daniel 9 as your guide? And pass along the request for prayer to those you know who will fast and pray alongside of you.

Pick one meal or all three meals tomorrow to fast from, and use one hour of a meal time to pray. I will be praying from the lunch hour from 12-1pm, so join with me then, or please pick another hour that works for you, whatever you have going on tomorrow.

And as you pray, please pray these specific things:

  • Pray that our city would give attention to God. Pray that we would open His Word, read what He has to say, and give attention to it in our personal lives, our church’s lives, and in the life of our city.
  • If you live in the city of Houston, please repent collectively for our sin in turning away from God and seeking our way instead of His way.
  • Acknowledge the truth of who God is in your prayer – He is gracious and compassionate, forgiving, full of mercy, and cannot forget the covenant of love He has made with us (Exodus 34:6-7). He desires all to come to repentance and none to perish but for all to come to a saving knowledge of Him through Jesus Christ our Lord (II Peter 3:9).
  • Pray and ask the Lord to see our need and hear our cries to stop the rain, to dry up our land, to hold back the Addicks Dam and Reservoir from breaking, to keep the Buffalo Bayou from overrunning anymore, to keep the Brazos River and other rivers, bayous, and creeks in our area from cresting and overflowing and to stay within their banks. Pray and ask Him for many people to be saved, for homes to stay dry, and for rescue workers to be wise and safe.
  • Pray and ask the Lord to begin to help us in the process of recovery and rebuilding. Ask Him to mobilize crews of people to help, supplies and clothes and food to be provided, and for the people of God to radically and effectively show the love of God to a city in need.
  • Finally, ask for the Lord to raise up “Daniels” for the city of Houston, men and women who walk closely with God as Daniel did. People who will think and act in wisdom and humility for the rebuilding of our city and who will administer all plans and recovery efforts in justice and peace.

I cannot say enough how thankful we are for your prayers. Thank you for loving us, calling us, and seeking the face of God on our behalf. We need to hear His Voice and come together to do His will now more than ever.

Praying with You,

Susannah

King of the Flood

On August 28, 2017, Posted by , in Hurricane Harvey, With 6 Comments

My phone rang at 7am yesterday morning.  A dear friend in Georgia was calling to ask if we were ok.  If we had survived the flood.

And yes, thankfully, we have.  But many have not.  The flood waters have affected many family members and friends all over the city of Houston.

My sister-in-law’s sister spent the night in her car in a grocery store parking lot until her father could make his way through the waters in his truck and pick her up the next morning.

A family we know and love has water flooding the entire downstairs of their house.  They sent a picture of a tub of their girls’ shoes floating next to a small sofa in their mud room.  Their prayer was to ask that the “waters would not reach to the second floor.”

I received another text from a fellow school mom asking in anyone lived close to the Meyerland area of Houston and had access to a kayak or canoe.  Friends of theirs were stranded in their flooding house, the woman is pregnant with their third child, and they were on the wait list for 9-1-1 to come pick them up.

And last time I checked, water was starting to seep through the floorboards of the lowest room in our house.  Our furniture is stacked up against the wall and overflows into the bathroom.

Stories like this abound this rainy Sunday morning in Houston.  And from what the weather reports are telling us, we still have five more days of rain to expect with five inches of rain per day.  The only place is has to go is up and in unless our drainage system starts working in unexpected ways.

But there is a strange, supernatural peace in the midst of the flood when you know the One who sits enthroned above the flood.

“The Lord sits enthroned over the flood;
    the Lord is enthroned as King forever.
The Lord gives strength to his people;
    the Lord blesses his people with peace.”  Psalm 29:10-11

Perhaps peace seems strange if you are standing outside the flood; but inside the flood is strength and the presence of the Lord, no matter the height of the waters.

Several months ago, I listened to a sermon by Tim Keller on Psalm 91, an often quoted Psalm and prayer during times of distress and danger. The sermon was excellent (find the link to it here), but one truth he shared has run over and over in my mind through the last few days and has become my prayer for my city and the people I love.

The key, Keller says (and I’m paraphrasing here), to understanding Psalm 91 is verses 14-16:

“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
    I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
    I will be with him in trouble,
    I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
    and show him my salvation.”

Notice that it says God does not save us from trouble, but God saves us in trouble.  In the flood waters, not without. In the flames, not outside. In the battle, not from the battle.

And standing on top of the temple mount with Satan on the outside and a hungry stomach from a forty day fast on the outside, Jesus understood this truth best of all. For Psalm 91:11-12 is the portion of Scripture Satan quoted to Jesus during the time of his temptation:

Then the devil took [Jesus] to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. If you are the Son of God,” he said,”‘throw yourself down. For it is written:

‘He will command his angels concerning you,
    and they will lift you up in their hands,
    so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” 

Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'” (Matthew 4:5-7)

The ultimate temptation for Christ Himself was to twist God’s Word and make it mean something it doesn’t. It was to put God to the test, making Him prove to His people that by keeping us out of trouble, He loves us more than if He allowed us to go through it.

But that’s not what God’s Word says or means. God does allow His people to go through times of trouble when the flood waters rise.  Waters of emotional distress, spiritual distress, and physical distress. But He is with us, in the flood, in the fire, every step of the way.

And come what may, walking through the flood with the presence of God by your side is better than being on dry ground without Him. That is one thing I am confident of after forty years of living. We may not emerge from the flood without trouble; but we will emerge from flood with the tangible, powerful, shepherding presence of God with us, in the midst of trouble, every step of the way.

And that is where I find peace for myself, my city, and for my family and friends.

Thank you for praying for Houston; please continue to do so.  And please pray that many would come to know the One who is King over the flood and in the flood, King of our hearts, come what may.

 

The Search for Joy

On August 21, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 4 Comments

Summer is a time to take journeys.  Some journeys involve heading to the beach, lake, mountains, neighborhood pool, or even your own backyard.  My journey involved searching for joy.

It’s a journey I’ve been on ever since I was a little girl, as young as five years old.  To help me overcome shyness and a walk down the aisle as a flower girl in a family friend’s wedding with a smile on my face instead of my usual, somber look, my grandmother gave me a framed verse that says, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Nehemiah 8:10).  And while I wanted to do what the words said and walk through life with a big smile on my face (which is what I thought the verse meant), sometimes smiling is easier said than done.  Especially when you are a non-smiler like me.  I tend to live in my head, tend to think and ponder and pull back rather than press in.  And the journey for joy has been rather elusive at times, no matter how hard I’ve tried to find it and wear its evidence on my face.

But a friend challenged me to joy this summer – challenged me to let it be the mark of my life and ministry rather than the worn-out facade I so often wear.  So I went on a journey looking for joy, this time looking harder than ever before.

And I didn’t find it in a smile or in the determination to be the talkative one at a dinner party or gathering of friends.  I found it, surprisingly, in suffering.

And what I mean is this – joy isn’t found by ignoring suffering or turning a blind eye to suffering.  Joy is found by acknowledging suffering – acknowledging the daily burdens we bear or the person who is hard to love, embracing the realities of the difficult circumstances or seasons we are in, and choosing to walk through the suffering with the nearness of God on one hand and the practice of gratitude on the other.  (See the excellent book Joyful Journey: Listening to Immanuel for helpful ways to do this.)

And that discovery was a hard one.  It took looking honestly at myself and my weaknesses and the well-meaning criticism from my friend while also being true to myself and the person God made me to be.

Because try as I might, I can’t make myself flip a switch and turn into the life of the party.  I can’t wave a wand and make myself not feel the seemingly small and insignificant nuances of relationships and circumstances around me.  I feel everything.  It’s how God made me.  But I can choose to feel and allow the nearness and therefore the goodness of God to overpower the feelings of shame, despair, fear, or anger that so often threaten to rise up and overwhelm my soul.  I can choose to press in to the faithful, covenantal, unchanging love of the Lord (Exodus 34:6-7) and allow it to help me press in to others rather than withdraw.

And in that journey through the suffering, rather than stuffing or ignoring the suffering, joy unfolds.

It’s like this – I have another friend who, when he was young, saw his dad become angry over something and punch a hole in his bedroom wall.  When his mom saw the hole, instead of dealing with her husband’s anger and addressing the issue or fixing the hole, she simply moved a picture on the wall on top of the hole to cover it up and wa-la – the problem was fixed.  But not the anger.  Or the hole it had left.  Either in the wall or in my friend’s heart.

And for a long time, I thought the journey for joy was like that – ignore the hole, ignore the anger and the shame, rage, despair, and fear that caused the hole, move a picture on top of it, put a smile on over it, and poof!  You have joy.  I thought for years that my inability to have joy came from my inability to ignore the hole.  But what God has been showing me is that joy actually comes through acknowledging the hole and paying the price to fix it.  The joy comes in the journey.

The last few days of our family journey to the mountains of Idaho this summer (and yes, Idaho has mountains and not just potatoes, much to most Texans’ surprise), Jason and I went on a four day, three night camp out.  It was my idea of a dream vacation – no showers, no makeup to put on, no hair to fix, hard uphill ascension on a trail with a pack on my back, and gorgeous views along the way.  I was talking to our wonderful guide, Sara, about what it is about me that makes a trip like this enjoyable – because, let’s face it, I’ve come to accept the fact that four days in the Idaho wilderness isn’t most women’s idea of a dream vacation. 

Sara said, “These trips aren’t for everyone.  They are for people who don’t mind some suffering and hardship along the way in the wilderness to see the views on the top.”

Her statement seemed to sum up my search for joy.  Joy isn’t in spite of suffering, nor is it in the absence of suffering.  Joy is for those who are willing to suffer and endure hardship along the way, embracing the challenges and treasuring the outcome and views along the way.  And you don’t have to like camping trips to experience what Sara said.  Your trip in the wilderness and your views of the top could very well be in your own living room with members of your very own family.  Or in your very own school.  Or workplace.

So don’t get stuck in the hole (which tends to be my problem) or move a picture on top of the hole to simply cover it up.  Press into the hole by pressing into the Only One who can fix it and whose nearness is always our good (Psalm 73:28).  And while sorrow may endure for the night, joy comes in the morning, and along the way, every single time.

Thank you for your patience with me the last few months while I took a break from blogging and focused instead on writing a new Bible study on prayer.  I had hoped to have it out to you at the beginning of the summer, but the editing process took longer than expected.  It will be ready (Lord willing) at the start of the new year and is a tool I am really excited to share.  But this fall, after a much needed rest this summer, I am back to blogging and very thankful for the joy in the journey through comes each of you.  Gratefully, Susannah

Learning to Listen

On April 3, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, Motherhood, With 7 Comments

Softball season is upon us.  Two of our girls are playing in a league this year, and, by happenstance, both girls’ teams are called Fury.  Same team name, same uniforms.  It makes for some pretty cute pictures.

Dinner seems to be pushed back later and later as the light lingers longer and Jason stays out in the yard giving bp to the girls or drilling them on grounders.  I have to say, with four girls, so many of the practical life lessons or duties fall upon me to do.  For the most part, girls just aren’t going to go their dads for lessons in fixing their hair, picking out clothes, recovering from hurt girl feelings, or taking them to the ladies’ room in a public setting (a new accomplishment for Mia Grace in our house this week).  So softball is one area where daddy is fully in charge in our house, and I am loving it.  It gives the girls good time to learn how to listen to their daddy’s voice.  “Stay low…eye on the ball…move towards the ball…swing hard…hands in front…use both hands…listen to your coaches.”

One of the many things that makes softball so much fun this year is that Lillian gets to play on the same team with her cousin, Katie.  This year is the first year that the kids begin to pitch instead of the coaches, and Katie is our team’s pitcher.  Bless her.  Most of the weight of the game rests on her ten-year-old ability to pitch, and for a laid-back soul like Katie, that pressure is something to which she is adjusting.

Katie is known in our extended family as “The Teletubby.”  If you don’t know what a Teletubby is, or need a memory jog, here is a reminder:

Katie typically lives in what we all affectionately call “Katie’s World,” and her answers to questions are usually monosyllabic sounds, not words.  Her favorite animal is the unicorn, and one of my favorite memories of Katie is when, for the first grade book fair, she came in full unicorn costume from head to toe.

So seeing her in this new role as a serious, focused, softball pitcher is something to which we are all adjusting.  My husband finally had to tell his sister, Katie’s mom, to zip her yapper and stop yelling instructions to Katie from the bleachers: “Keep your shoulders squared!”  “Get the ball out of the dirt!” “Keep your hand flat!”  “Focus!”  I had tears in my eyes from laughing so hard after watching Cara watch Katie pitch.

Last weekend’s game started off well for Katie, but she wasn’t feeling great and was struggling with one of those deep-Houston-allergy-induced-chest-coughs that we all have around this time of year. By about the fourth inning, our lead was slowly being eaten away by Katie’s balls ending up in the dirt or way above the catcher’s head.

That’s when my brother-in-law, Katie’s dad, called a time out and walked out to the pitcher’s mound.  He stood there for a few minutes, toe-to-toe with Katie and spoke quietly in her ear.  Then he walked off, and the inning resumed.  And Katie struck out three batters right in a row, throwing all perfect pitches.

What was the change?  Was it a new vitamin or supplement he slipped her?  No.  Was it a change of uniform or new piece of equipment he had her put on?  No.  Was it any sort of disciplinary action he administered?  No again.  The change came from hearing her father’s voice and the wisdom that went along with it and obeying his instructions.

Her father’s voice steadied her nerves and reminded her of what she needed to do.  Her father’s voice was calm and comforting and provided much needed peace.  And her father’s voice was infused with wisdom.

My brother-in-law played in the Major Leagues for over fifteen years and knows the game of baseball as well as anyone.  He has watched pitchers struggle in the little leagues, the minor leagues, the major leagues, and even during the World Series.  He has encouraged teammates who are now in the hall of fame, and he now coaches high school and little league teams to encourage younger players.

As I sat there and watched, I realized I could learn a powerful lesson from Katie.  Life is full of stressful moments.  Every day I throw all sorts of pitches from the pitcher’s mound to my kids, my spouse, my friends, even acquaintances. A few are in the strike zone, but most are either hitting the dirt in a sharp word I’ve said or going way over the catcher’s head in moments of weariness and exhaustion.  Going through the exercises of daily life at the speed with which life happens around here with four young children in the last eight weeks before school is out leaves me little time to really stop and think about how to improve my game.  Most days, my feet hit the floor and I am throwing pitches as fast as I can just to keep everybody moving in the same direction, preferably sane, clothed, fed, and with as few tears as possible (a huge feat in a household with five women, six including the cat).

But like Katie, I not only have a good father, I have a wise father, who often calls time outs on my behalf from the dug out and ascends the pitcher’s mound.  And it is there, in those quiet places, that He counsels me, encourages me, advises and instructs me, if only I have the heart to listen.  My Father’s Voice steadies my frayed nerves when life is happening ninety to nothing.  My Father’s Voice corrects my stance and steadies my heart when my emotions are out of control.  My Father’s Voice cleanses me of my guilt and gives me second chances after my decisions hit the dirt or are so far out of the strike zone I think I should be pulled out of the game.

And like Katie, I have a decision to make.  I can let my Father’s Voice redirect the decisions I make in finishing out the game of the day, or I can try to keep playing in my own strength and skill set, with the balls hitting the dirt.

Today, like Katie, listen to your Father.  He is more skilled than the best baseball player that has ever played the game.  He is wiser than the most seasoned coach.  He is more magnificent than the greatest hall of famer…and it is your heart that He loves to coach, counsel, advise, and come alongside.  Day by day, moment by moment, hour by hour, you have access to the greatest Father a daughter could ever have.  So tune your ears to His Voice, follow the instructions He so wisely gives, and finish your game.

Yesterday, the girls had another softball game, and Katie held our team’s one run lead in the last inning.  She pitched like I had never seen her pitch before.  And when she struck out the last batter, and the game was won, guess where she ran?  Straight into her father’s arms.  Like Katie, do the same with your Father today; His arms and His Voice are waiting.

 

I wanted to let you all know that I will not be blogging as often during this season of spring, softball, and end of school. I am in the process of writing a new study for women that I am really excited to share with you all this summer. My goal is to have it ready to go by the beginning of June, so please be on the lookout for that & in the meantime, I would appreciate your prayers for the time and creative energy I will need in order to listen to the Lord and put on paper what He is speaking to my heart.  

Gratefully,

Susannah 

What I Learned From Unpacking Boxes

On March 13, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 4 Comments

So…we moved.

I kept thinking I would blog through the two week process of packing, unpacking, and eating meals on paper plates standing up in a part of the kitchen without boxes or packing paper in it…but I was wrong.

Moving kicked my tail.  I don’t think I’ve been that tired since we brought Mia Grace home from China.

But I learned a few lessons from unpacking boxes, and I thought it would be fun to share a few of them.

#1 – Friends are indispensable.  And I mean indispensable.

A few months ago when we finally nailed down our moving date and settled on the week of February 20th, AFTER, mind you, calls had been made to the moving company and all the details were in place and the contract signed, at that point, my mom called and said, “Sweetie, you know that’s the week I am going to visit my friend, Dottie, in Savannah.”  Well, now, isn’t that nice for you.  And just to pour vinegar in the wound, she then extended her stay with Dottie from staying one week to staying two.  Mom literally came back to Houston the day, I mean the day, I unpacked my last box.

I have to admit, I was a little panicky on the inside when she told me about Savannah: who would watch Mia Grace when the moving truck showed up at my house?  How would I pick up my girls from school?  Who would bring us homemade banana bread for breakfast, bright flowers for the new spot in the kitchen, and a pot of soup to eat for lunch and dinner?  Because, as much as I am throwing my mom under the bus here, you have to understand one thing: my mom is AMAZING.  If there is a need, she’s on it.  If I’m dying inside and about to lose it on the outside, mom steps in and gives me a break.  As my husband likes to say, “Susan is a gamer.”  Her answer is “Yes” before the question has time to hang in the air.  So, to be honest and fair, I was glad mom was in Savannah for the move.  She needed a break and has unpacked enough of her own moving boxes the past five years, so Savannah was the perfect place for her to be while my whole house was in the back of a truck.

But the answer to my inner panic ended up being: my friends.  My friends showed up with lattes in hand and box cutters in the other.  Corey and Jenny unpacked my kitchen while I was at our Mickey Way house getting the last of our things out.  Melissa showed up with caffeine right at the point I needed it and then brought us dinner the next day.  My sister-in-laws (who are some of my best friends – they are all amazing) brought us a full-on lunch spread, complete with a box of La Croix (thank you, Cara), let my girls come over and play on a perpetual basis and made us brownies in our oven to disguise the musty odor smell in our new house and put bright flowers in the new spot in my kitchen (thank you, Haley), took Mia Grace for the entire day we moved (God bless you, Robin), and took the girls to lunch and the park to play over the weekend so Jason and I could unpack the TEN BOXES OF STUFF FROM HIS CLOSET (thank you, Ana).

Jenny took Mia Grace for the day after we moved and fed her Chick-fil-a and let her swim naked in her pool so I could unpack the girls’ rooms and find their softball socks.

Kimberly brought us one of her delicious homemade dinners, and the morning the movers showed up, at the exact moment I realized I had forgotten to set aside breakfast food and we had NO-THING to eat that morning, Kristen texted me and said, “I was about to order some breakfast tacos and muffins.  Can I bring you some as well?”  Seriously?  And she also let me borrow her hat since my hair was going on day five of not being washed and was becoming an air pollution problem.  Lindsay brought me chocolate and carbohydrates at intervals throughout the move (because when you move, chocolate, carbohydrates, and caffeine become your three major food groups), and Tiffany, Kristen, and Corey all took my three big girls on our home school days and did every last drop of school work with them.

I.  Was.  Amazed.  Amazed.  God met each and every one of our needs before I knew I had them through my friends.  “This is My commandment,” Jesus said, “that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.  You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:12-14).  My friends lived out these words of Jesus for me up close and personal, and through them, I learned more of what being a friend really looks like on a practical, real, day in and day out basis.  I am someone prone to romanticizing life in general.  In my head, laying one’s life down for my friends looks like dying a martyr’s death and taking a bullet for them the next time we are all in a war zone together.  But practically and realistically, laying one’s life down looked like loving on my toddler or home-schooling my kids.  It looked like chicken tortilla soup on my stove and homemade brownies in my oven.  Bullets may or may not come one day, but opportunities to really and truly be a friend abound.  My friends taught me that.

#2 – Moving is a great time to clean out all your husband’s man piles.

What, you may ask, is a man pile?  Here is a picture of one, one that did not come from my husband’s side of the bathroom but from a friend’s husband’s side of the bathroom, simply to prove that man piles are universal and not only problematic in the Baker household:

A man pile is a pile of man stuff stashed in the cracks and crevices of a closet, under a bed, in a bedside drawer, lining the walls of a man’s study, or caking the sides of every cabinet underneath the bathroom sink.  Man piles are found in places and contain things you had no idea existed until a team of movers shows up at your house to clear everything out of the way and packs up ten boxes of man pile stuff from a bedroom closet meant to hold two boxes.  Stuff like bags of Christmas stocking gifts from five years ago, including fly swatters, false teeth, and ten pair of wool dress socks with the tags still attached.  Stuff like random toothpicks and knives and shoe polish kits and dental flossers and razors and hotel samples they get for free and feel the need to save for decades at a time.  Stuff like pens and pads of paper and crafts your kids have given them since their first day of preschool that they didn’t know what to do with and so stashed in man piles in their closets and bedside drawers.  Stuff like shoe horns and collar stays and cuff links mixed in with boxes of matches, cuticle creams, and empty shot gun shells.

I am overjoyed to tell you that for the moment, the Baker house is a man-pile-free-zone.  I got clear plastic bins and labeled everything Jason could possibly want to put in them – I even have one that says, “Belt Buckle Polish Rags.”  I am happy to report that we now have only three in our possession instead of thirty, and I am hopeful that with the clear plastic bin system, we can begin to cut down on our man piles, at least for a month or two.

#3 – IKEA makes a great place for a date night.

Once you clear out all your man piles and have a sense of what is needed to maintain order in your new space, when your husband calls you and says, “Let’s get a babysitter so we can go to dinner and talk face to face without boxes,” you say, “Sounds incredible, but after dinner, can we go to IKEA?”, it makes for an ideal post-moving date night.  Where else can you have great conversation with the man-pile-maker you love and then go purchase the ideal metal shelf for just $29.99, a shower curtain liner, and a gigantic pretzel all in one place?

#4 – Do not leave your toddler unattended in an empty house with a stool and running water they can reach while having a conversation with movers. While moving the stool to “wash their hands,” they will end up taking a full-on bath in the sink and have to remain in wet clothes for the duration of your two hour stay at the house.

#4 – God is not packed in a box. 

Let’s be honest here – moving is stressful.  There are so many details to remember and things to worry about.  And while I felt like I was trusting God on the outside, on the inside, whenever I had a quiet moment, my heart would race and my thoughts would turn at a rate of a mile a minute.  I had to purposefully tell my body as well as my inward thoughts to slow down and trust the Lord.

At times, it felt as if I had packed God in a box and would pull Him out again whenever I had a moment to slow down and pull Him out from all the paper.  It was tempting, even, to relegate Him to a box and to put communion with Him on hold until my earthly treasure was situated, organized, and ready to go.

And then I read this four days into our move: “If our greatest treasure – communion with the living God – is safe, of what can we be afraid?  Yet we are afraid of so many things.  So our fears can serve an important purpose – they show us where we have really located our heart’s treasure.  Follow the pathway of the fear back into your heart to discover the things you love more than God” (Timothy Keller, The Songs of Jesus, February 19th).

And I’ve been unpacking that paragraph ever since.

When my heart starts to race, and my thoughts start to churn at 3am, I try to trace my anxiety back to what I am treasuring more than God.  During the day, when I begin to be overcome by weariness or even a slight depression about all that still remains on my task list, and the perfection that is always an illusion but never quite in reach, I try to trace my fear back to its source…and realize how it pales in comparison to trusting my true treasure, the living God.

Moving has been an exercise in trust.  And God has proved faithful.  He has proved over and over again He is trustworthy.  And I have great news: communion with Him was not in a box stashed away somewhere where it took me days, weeks, or even months to find.  He was not accidentally thrown away in mounds of paper, and He was not jostled or broken or dropped in the back of a truck or damaged by human hands.  He was ever and always fully, immediately, and completely accessible – in all of His beauty and glory – at all times.  In every stressful second.  In every weary moment.  And I became aware, perhaps for the very first time, how much thanks I owed the Lord that He allowed me to have access to the greatest treasure I have ever known – communion with Him – through the person of Jesus Christ at every moment of every day.

Moving is not for the faint of heart; but it is a good exercise in strengthening our heart.  It helps us hold onto our greatest treasure in realizing how every other treasure pales in comparison to ceaseless communion with Christ.

#5 – And last, but not least, a house is not a house unless it has a few animal heads in it.

When Jason and I discussed what furniture to take to our temporary house and what to put into storage, all our conversation centered around the words minimal and survival.  We were taking only what was necessary to survive for a year and putting the rest into storage.  So you can imagine my surprise when I walked into the living room of our temporary house, and saw, on the floor, taking up almost the entire square footage of the breakfast room/living room/family room area, one mounted deer head, one antelope, and three mounted deer skulls complete with antlers.  I’m sorry, but how do five mounted animal heads fall into the category of minimalist, essential, or necessary for life and survival?  I am so thankful my friend Jenny was standing there with me when we opened the door and saw all of the antlers grazing on the floor.  My frustration quickly evaporated into hysterics, and we soon were laughing so hard we were wiping tears off of our cheeks thinking about where all of these animal heads were going to fit in our small, garage-less house.

So meet Andrew the Antelope.  He keeps watch over our living room/dining room/school room area:

And here is Ralph, who gazes serenely over the beds of Lillian, Lizzie, and Caroline, much to Lizzie’s consternation:

And here are Deer Skull #1 and Deer Skull #3, both over a chair in the room dubbed “the study”:

And Deer Skull #3 has made his home on our outdoor porch.  He is the only one who didn’t make the indoor cut (thank You, Lord):

As one friend, Rachel Hollister, so wisely said it: “I secretly love and despise moving all at the same time.  It seems overwhelming, but it is so worth the purging.”  While our move was hectic and tiring and overwhelming, it was also a template on which I saw the grace of God drawn out through the hands of my friends and the stability of God’s Presence and His Word readily available and never lost, discarded, or hiding in a box.  And while I don’t want to move again for a while, I am thankful for the lessons unpacking a few boxes taught me.  Prayerfully, they are helpful to you, too.

Don’t forget to connect with me on Facebook this week for more encouragement on unpacking boxes and the grace of God.

And as you get ready to make the final push from spring into summer, consider making Waiting on the Lord part of your journey and take the time to grow, journey, and walk with the Lord no matter what season of life you are in.

 

Cleaning Out and Moving On

On February 20, 2017, Posted by , in Encouragement, With 3 Comments

The moment I’ve dreaded for so long is finally here, and it actually feels…really good.  Packers show up at my house this morning at 8am, and it feels really good to have sorted through every square inch of my house and put it into one of four categories – temporary housing, storage, give away, or throw away.

For weeks now, I’ve worn a brown apron tied around my waits that has “Susannah’s Kitchen” monogrammed on the front.  This apron is great for the simple reason that it has…pockets.  In my pockets I keep three different colors of electrical tape and a black sharpie marker ready to label and categorize all things at all times.  The OCD in me loves every moment of this.

I had no idea my husband had ten different kinds of hair gel stashed in his bathroom drawers, nor did I know I had a collection of round brushes underneath my bathroom sink that went as far back as the 1980’s.  Gross.

I had no idea my six-year-old, Caroline, was a hoarder, and kept every deer antler, shot gun shell, and sea shell under God’s green earth behind the door in her closet, or that my eight-year-old, Lizzie, is a fiercer cleaner-outer than I am.  She took one look at the note her best friend wrote her and the at the sticker book she just stuck the last sticker on and said, “I don’t need those, mom.  Throw them away.”  Music to my ears.

But in all seriousness, cleaning out with those four categories in mind has helped me tremendously.  It’s a method I want to tuck away in my brain for future cleaning out sessions, even when we are not moving.

#1 – Temporary Housing – will we really need to use/have/own/play with this item in the temporary house we are moving into for the next 8-12 months?  (Because, as my wise and dear friend Kathy McDaniel told me many years ago, “Every house we ever live in, even the brand-new-beautiful-ones, are all temporary housing.  They are all tear-downs in the big scheme of things.”)  And if it isn’t, if I don’t have room or need for it NOW, in the present tense, give serious consideration to giving it or throwing it away.

#2 – Storage – simply put: do I actually want to pay someone to store this item for me for the next 12 months?  Is it really that valuable of an item to me?  If not, it’s time to give it away or throw it away.

#3 – Give Away.  So much in our homes is excess or extraneous.  Find a friend or family member who could use it, or have a good place on hand, like the Faith Center here in Houston, or the C.H.A.R.M. prison ministry half-way house, to take your still-in-good-condition, gently used items.

#4 – Throw Away.  No one wants my daughter’s stretched out leggings or third round hand-me-down Disney princess underwear.  It’s Time.  To Throw Them.  Away.

And living with less, not more, always frees me to focus and live more fully present to the people and in the places where God has me.

So since spring is just around the corner, or, if you live in Houston like me, and winter and spring have completely bypassed you this year and it’s already 86 degree-humid-summer-like-weather, go ahead and put a spring/summer cleaning on your calendar.  Don your deep-pocketed apron with colored tape and sharpies, and start to live more by having less.  There won’t be one ounce of you that regrets the less, even if it means you only have two deer antlers on your shelf instead of ten.  Just ask Caroline.