A Little Post About God: Constant and Consistent

I don’t know about you, but consistency has been a theme I’ve wrestled with a lot in 2020. From the way we have been advised about Covid-19, the public policies that have been <arbitrarily> enacted and revised, the election and political debate we are ensnared in, and even the strange rhythms of life… where is there any consistency? And why do I long for it?

There are some verses that have been swirling around in my head recently that are, at the core, about God’s consistent character. I’ve been using them as mantras in the last few months when I feel anxiety start to build. I wanted to share how they intersect and why they matter to me.

“The Father and I are one.” John 10:30
I’ve been thinking of this one in tandem with the way God showed himself to Moses and Elijah. Those guys were the big miracle players of the Old Testament and some of God’s biggest demonstrations of power were accomplished with them and through them. In both cases, despite the big miracles, these men were exhausted by their circumstances. God knew when they needed tenderness, and not just another demonstration of power, so he allowed Moses to “see” him (Exodus 33:17-23) and he ministered to Elijah with food and the gentle wind (I Kings 17 and 19). I am mesmerized by God being intimate, reigning in the mighty to be gentle. It’s almost more awesome to harness power than to unleash it. So in John 10:30, when Jesus says, “The Father and I are one”- that means Jesus is the same God that comforted Moses and Elijah. He mirrors that same tenderness and power. He demonstrated it when he commanded the wind and sea to calm for his disciples (Mark 4:35-41). His actions were consistent with his words.

“Jesus is the same yesterday, today, tomorrow.” Hebrews 13:8.
If Jesus and God are one, and he has the same power and tenderness that was demonstrated to Moses and Elijah and to the disciples on Sea of Galilee, then that is also available for me. For today. For tomorrow. ALWAYS. It’s consistent eternally. The powerful and tender character of God is constant over the span of hundreds of Biblical years between Moses, Elijah, and the disciples. This verse tells me that it is still true.

“God can be trusted.” I Corinthians 1:9
I came across this one today. I was reading the first chapter of Corinthians, and the first and last bits of Paul’s letters are not always theological, sometimes there’s just a long greeting and some administrative stuff, so I was skimming until this jumped off the page at me: God can be trusted. Many translations use “faithful” instead of “trusted,” and they’re both meaningful words. Trusted means “proven to be true,” and it lines up with the two previous verses and the message God has been teaching me. God has always been trustworthy. Always faithful.

When nothing is consistent; when the circumstances don’t seem to line up in any pattern that makes sense, when the people that I love and care about act in ways that depart from what I thought was true of them, when I’m rattled by the tension of decision making and little seems constant and true, those are the moments I seek God. I am desperate for an anchor that hasn’t changed and isn’t changing and won’t change. He is constantly consistent. He is consistently constant. The God of creation is the source of remarkable power and tenderness. He has proven to be so for generations. And he can be trusted today, tomorrow, and always.

I don’t know what I don’t know…

Back in 2011, we were living our best life in our happy little bubble of suburbia when my husband called me to tell me that “We had an opportunity.” If you are not familiar with the nomadic life that certain professions (like heavy civil engineering) afford, an “opportunity” meant we were moving. And it was likely not to a destination where I had dreamed of living, or else this conversation would have gone more like: “Babe- guess what? We’re moving to Fiji!” That’s an important distinction, because “opportunity” meant, “This is likely going to suck, but hopefully it will pay off down the road.”

But, I think I need to go farther back and give some context.

About a year earlier, Paul came home from work and was doing a mental dump of his day. The kids were small and playing nearby while I was cooking dinner. Something was clearly weighing on him even after he had told me all the things that had happened that day. Finally, on a long exhale, he brought it up. He had to send a group of engineers to a job in Newfoundland. Most of them, and their families, had a lot of reservations. I quickly and indifferently snapped back, “Well I guess they’ll need to get over it.” That felt as awful coming out of my mouth as it does to look at on the page. As Paul moved out of the kitchen to go play with the kids, the still small voice in my head asked, “If it were you, what would you need to feel safe, informed, and valued making a move to another country, climate, culture? What would your kids need?” Obviously, lots of information. I called out to Paul, “They’re going to need a book.” He came back into the kitchen, “What do you mean?” I thought for a minutes, “They need a manual. If you’ve only ever lived in the southeastern United States and you have to move with your kids to Newfoundland, you need a guide book. How are schools set up? Where do you register for school? What vaccinations do you need? How do you register your vehicles? What documents do you need for a drivers license? How do taxes work? …” The questions were falling off my tongue faster than I could think them. Paul agreed that the manual was a good idea and he would put some people to work on it.

So when our move to Ontario came the next year, as hard as that “opportunity” was, I had a small framework on which to build. As I grieved the loss of my happy American suburban bubble and came to wrestle with my new Canadian reality, an uncomfortable reality became obvious: I didn’t know what I didn’t know.

Not knowing what you don’t know is an uncomfortable status that most of us try to avoid at all costs. There’s a fear or suspicion that hovers in the back of your mind all the time that maybe you’re missing something that you didn’t know you were supposed to do or have, and that lack of knowledge will have repercussions later. Think taxes for example. We’re five years repatriated back to the USA, and that’s still a specter hanging over us. But I digress…

The crazy thing about not knowing what you don’t know is that it forces you to be vulnerable. I mean, you could choose not to be vulnerable, but that’s a quick trip to shame, anger and loneliness as you try to navigate territory that you know nothing about whilst making all kinds of mistakes. Vulnerability, while totally awkward, leads to community, humility, and empathy. Those were the things that sustained me during those four years in Canada.

Paul and I were taking a walk yesterday. I asked him if he thought we would have normal school this fall. “I don’t know,” he said. “If you had told me back in February this Chinese virus we were starting to hear about would have me wearing a face mask in the grocery store, I would have told you ‘the hell it will.’ We don’t know what we don’t know.”

I smiled, “We used to say that in Canada all the time. Unfortunately, we had the advantage that we could just go ask someone. Or check the manual. No one knows how this will all end. Or what’s going to happen next.”

“Why do we think we need to know how it ends? The tension of not knowing what you don’t know means that the end, the timing, the next new thing will just have to be managed as it comes. Not many people are comfortable with that, which is why there’s this low simmering rage on the surface of everything right now. People want formulas, end dates and simple solutions tied up neatly. That part of COVID-19 is scarier than the actual disease for most people,” he replied.

I think there’s truth in what he said. As I’m wrestling with all of this, I know I’m personally fighting the desire to wrap this disease up and move on. I don’t like masks. I don’t like cancelling events and plans. I don’t like hybrid school plans. I want it to end.

But I don’t know what I don’t know. I don’t know what it would feel like to lose a family member to this disease while the world holds a public debate about masks. I don’t know what it would look like to have my kid unknowingly infect their class or team. I don’t know how I would manage the logistics of traveling and then getting quarantined somewhere away from my family. I don’t know any of those things. I likely don’t know even more. But I’m willing to be vulnerable. I’m willing to listen when you complain about your uncertainties, frustrations, and fears. I’m willing to be empathetic to the fact that no matter where our feelings are on all of this- we are all wrestling with not knowing what we don’t know. And since there’s no manual, I guess we all deserve some grace.

Liam Neeson and Praise the Lord

It’s been awhile since I’ve written and I have lots of things that I’ve been thinking about and working on for 2020. I even have the outline to what I thought would be my first blog of the new year, but life sometimes leads us down other paths and so I’m pounding the keyboard with fresh thoughts in my head. Just like in life, we will see where this leads.

In a few hours, I’m going to take Stephen to school where he will take a bus to the airport and then board a flight(s) to Vienna, Austria. I started this whole blog thing last year after his school trip to London, Paris, Florence, and Rome. It was a great trip that I can testify to because I WENT WITH HIM. He’s taking this trip without me. This decision felt like a great idea nine months ago when he signed up but now it feels like the precursor to having myself checked for early onset dementia. My recent Facebook memories were the times he explained to his fourth grade class (at his small private school in metropolitan Toronto) how to skin a deer properly or the time he started a Ponzi scheme in fifth grade. What made me think that five years removed from those experiences is the perfect time to send him to Central Europe without legal guardians?

This morning I opened my prayer journal needing a Word from God. My prayer journal prompts me with a verse and some gratitude practice and I usually write from there. I needed God to show up with a verse to speak into my fears. I’m paraphrasing, but I was looking for something along the lines of: Fear not and worry not for the Lord God Almighty will surround your firstborn son with legions of angels, a wall of fire, pillar of clouds, and the United States Army Delta Force and nary any harm shall fall upon him for the time ye are apart. Also, the Lord has installed a nanny cam on his phone so you can check on him every single minute.

That was not the verse I got. In fact, when I first read the passage, I had no idea why God put it there because it made about as much sense as those passages in Numbers about the lineage of the tribes of Israel. This morning’s passage was Psalm 103: 20-22.

You who are the Lord’s angels, you strong angels who do what he tells you to do, praise the Lord!

All of you who belong to his armies in heaven, his servants who do what he wants, praise the Lord!

Yes, everything that the Lord has made, in all the places that he rules over, praise the Lord!

I say to myself: Praise the Lord!

I realize that the words “angels” and “armies” are included in this passage, but if you read carefully, they are being told to praise God, not protect and or rescue my son from harm. There is also nothing here to address my fear and anxiety. Nothing here tells me everything is going to be fine. This is not the Word I wanted this morning.

But maybe it’s the message I need? Because what if praising the Lord is what we should do when we’re scared, worried, or planning scenarios where you might have to fly to Vienna and pull your child out of a dangerous situation like some kind of Mama-Bear-Liam-Neeson-ninja. Like a Hallelujah anyway, but maybe it’s a Praise the Lord always.

Praise the Lord when I’m scared.

Praise the Lord when I’m worried.

Praise the Lord when I’m not in control.

Next week might find me blogging from a chair in the United States Embassy in Vienna or hunting down kidnappers in shady dives across Europe. Who knows? Wherever I am, I hope it finds praising the Lord.

Belonging and Worthiness

Last week I experienced a couple of the better Mom moments of my “illustrious” mothering career. I saw two of the primary emotional needs met in my kids’ life. These were not large, poetic, epic events that played out to inspirational music. They were small, un-staged but still soul-filling experiences that displayed on their faces in radiant joy and it made my heart so full.

For Lindsey, it has been a struggle to be seen. The Lord knows we have struggled in this regard. This child is clearly an introvert. She checks all of the boxes on the Susan Cain checklist. While she may get exhausted from peopling, she is not shy, she does not lack courage, and she would still like to be acknowledged for effort and ability. She gets overlooked all the time. The last two years have been hard for her. Seventh and eighth grade are not awesome times in the human experience and there have been a lot of things that have piled onto this already tenuous existence. Last week in volleyball, her coach called her aside to give her instruction but in a backhanded compliment, wound up filling her bucket more than anything I have told her for the last two months. After the game we got in the car and she told me the whole story and I could see the excitement in the glow of her face and hear it in the breathlessness of her voice. The validation in that off the cuff remark said everything she has needed to hear: You are worthy. Oh, how she needed to hear that from someone who is not related to her.

For Stephen, last Friday morning was just an exclamation point to the blessing his school has been since Day One. As we pulled up, and he was driving, there was a group of students that he is friends with, selling donuts and coffee for a fundraiser. They all came rushing to the car, calling out to him, and joking with him. As I rounded the car to change places with him, he just stood there looking at me with the biggest, happiest grin on his face. That look on his face is imprinted on my brain until the end of time because it said: These are my people. I belong.

What a blessing to see, in the span of 18 hours, these needs met and recognized on the faces of your children.

I dwelled on it over weekend, replaying the interactions and the faces of my kids. I just reveled in the fragile grace of all of it. But on Sunday as I was getting dressed, I felt God whisper right into my soul, “It was my pleasure.” It nearly broke my heart because I had not seen his hand in it at the time, but in that moment I knew it was all His orchestration. My faith has been vulnerable lately. It’s a season where I have not seen much evidence of God in our lives. There has been heavy emotional and mental stuff that has worn me down and that has been coupled with an absence of refreshment and renewal. But God knew. He knew, because in these two sacred moments when I saw worthiness and belonging poured into my children, refreshment came. Renewal came.

God sees. God hears. God knows.

We are worthy.

We belong.

I nag, therefore I am

Job performance reviews are in around here and apparently I nag too much. I nag about homework. I nag about picked up bedrooms. I nag about dishes in the sink. I nag about food left in rooms. I nag about study habits. It’s apparently out of control, at least according to my children. Since they are the ones that have offered this constructive criticism and the very ones I seek to train up in the way they should go so that when they are old they will not depart from it, I have been doing some soul searching.

I started my introspection by defining “nag.” Google dictionary defines nag (verb): to annoy or irritate a person with persistent fault-finding or continuous urging. My daughter says my nagging lacks perspective because I’m not putting her behavior in the context of what is actually important for a thirteen year old girl. She says I should look at all the bad decisions other kids make and then reverse engineer my way to gratitude that her and her small time problems are the only thing I have to worry about. This has faulty logic all over it, but there is a nugget of truth in there- nagging quenches gratitude. My son says my nagging makes him feel “inferior.” He hates the implication that he is unable to perform in the care of himself without my vocal interference.

The next thing I thought about were the emotions I felt before I started to nag. Sometimes it is frustration. I become frustrated when I feel like I am the only person invested in the care of our home. Other times it is motivated by fear and insecurity, whether that be on their behalf or my own. Still other times, I don’t have faith that my kids will make smart choices regarding time management. And do they even understand good housekeeping? We live in the South. Cockroaches are real. And finally, sometimes I’m just tired and hangry. I can nag when what I really need are potato chips and a nap.

This past weekend, I watched my husband manage my son so perfectly without any nagging. He empowered him with time management, accountability to tasks, and good faith that he was capable of all of it. Stephen would like nothing more than to spend his entire Sunday playing video games. However, he had some tasks he needed to do around the house as well his homework. Paul said to him, “I understand you have homework, yes? You also need to clean your gun (Stephen shoots sporting clays competitively). At around 5 pm we’re going to replace the headlights on the Jeep. So this day can look however you want it to look, but those are all the things that need to get done.” Full transparency- Stephen was less than thrilled about some of these tasks, but he also realized, I will still have time to do the things I like to do, if I manage my time effectively. And he did. He has developed maturity that I had not realized because I default to nagging him about each task he needs to complete.

Lindsey is a different story. I don’t know if she would have responded the same way as Stephen, but she’s also two years younger. Her exception to my nagging may have a different root cause. She told me that I’m not seeing the good she IS doing. She has told me numerous times, “I would never NOT do my homework.” And as I sit here and think about it, that’s absolutely true. She has always done her work. I can show my gratefulness for her and my trust in her academic diligence, by leaving her alone to handle it. We still need to work on her housekeeping and cleanliness habits, but maybe she’s correct that I’m focused on things that don’t matter as much in the big picture right now.

I’m not sure if I will ever fully defeat the nagging monster inside me, at least as long as the kids live here and my eyes are trained on them daily. The things that motivate me to nag still remain. I want them to accomplish everything in life they dream of doing. I want them to understand how to manage time. I want them to have clean bedrooms so they know how to take care of their living space and so we don’t get insect infestations. I want to eat high carbohydrate snacks that I know I shouldn’t eat.

So, I will probably still speak out of these emotions.

I’m probably still going to nag.

But hopefully, maybe, a little less.