Monthly Archives: April 2021

Giving God the Small Stuff


We have a new dishwasher, not because we wanted one, but because our old one leaked, destroying our kitchen floor in the process.  We didn’t know how much we depended on a dishwasher until we didn’t have one for six weeks.  We gained a new appreciation for this modern convenience, but I have an issue with the new machine.  I haven’t figured out how to arrange the dishes and cups yet.  While the dishwasher is basically the same as the old one, the prongs differ just enough that my previous methods of arranging the various lunch containers, water bottles, and glasses don’t quite work.  I’ll learn to adjust eventually, but in the meantime, I find myself frustrated on a daily basis.

So often, our lives change, not necessarily because we want them to change, but because that’s simply how life works.  The changes may not be drastic or major.  Maybe it’s just a new schedule or a slightly different set of circumstances.  We may think the changes shouldn’t affect us so much because they aren’t that big, but the little things can certainly throw us for a loop too.  The adjustments may take longer or feel more daunting than we anticipated.  But we believe we should handle the small stuff without difficulty even though that’s not always the case.  And when we face those minor challenges, we may think that we shouldn’t bother God with such things when there are so many other, greater troubles in the world.  

One of my all-time favorite Bible verses is familiar to many: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NRSV).  To me, God is saying he wants to know everything that bothers us, makes us feel unbalanced, or throws us off kilter.  We need to bring all of ourselves and every last one of our concerns to God.  I’ve realized that if I’m filtering what issues I bring to God because I don’t think they’re significant enough, I’m not acknowledging God in all ways.  Instead, I’m relying on my own insight to determine my actions, including the decision not to communicate openly and honestly with God.  God wants a relationship with us in which we tell God all the ways in which we feel lacking or that we’re coming up short.  God does not want us to hide from him because we think we should handle things with more ease.   

If we invite God into the everyday situations in life, sharing everything with God, he will help us straighten out the problems we’re facing.  God can help us see things more clearly and react more calmly.  Or God can provide comfort when we simply have to grit our teeth to get through the changing terrain of life.  When we look to God for guidance instead of relying on ourselves, our trust in God will grow, which will ultimately make our relationship with God stronger and deeper.              

Grit and Grace


I love a photo of my daughter Riley that she took of herself several years ago, but it’s not a normal selfie.  She is looking into the mirror with her arms outstretched above her head so that she can take a picture of the back of her hair.  Dressed in her dance leotard, she checks to see how her dance bun looks before she goes to dance class.  Thankfully, she’s been putting up her own hair for dance for a long time.  When she was little, I couldn’t figure out how to put a bun in her hair without using a bun maker in which we pulled her ponytail through a hole and then wrapped it around a circular, spongy circle.  But Riley now easily puts her hair up with braids and twists and dozens of bobby pins, and her hair looks amazing every time.  

To me, the most interesting part of this photo, though, is not that Riley’s bun looks pretty, but the look on her face.  She is staring into the mirror with steely determination.  One of her eyebrows is cocked and her eyes are narrowed.  She appears resolved and tough but beautiful at the same time – a perfect combination of grit and grace.  

This weekend, Riley and her dance friends return to the stage for their spring recital.  Last year, the pandemic caused the cancellation of their normal recital.  Instead, they performed at their respective homes while on a Zoom call together.  It was not ideal, but the best they could do at the time.  

Throughout this dance season, the girls learned to dance in person with masks on and to socially distance from one another while still dancing together.  They’ve shown depth of determination while continuing to grow their skills and passion.  Their dance teachers, Julie, Kayla, Amanda, Carla, DeeDee, and Sarah, showed incredible diligence and leadership in adapting to the circumstances and guiding the girls in uncharted territory.  

The daily grind of dancing challenged them both physically and emotionally.  Dancers thrive on performing and, without that opportunity, may struggle to show up every day with enthusiasm and focus.  And while their time in dance class brought some normalcy to their lives, it also reminded them that the world was anything but normal as they faced uncertainty and adversity.   

In Isaiah, a speaker proclaims to the people, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me . . . to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1 & 3).  All of us, including the dancers, will wear face masks this weekend, but the dancers will return to the stage with their hair high on their heads, their makeup carefully applied, wearing their new costumes.  We celebrate this time for our dancers and teachers because they’ve come so far.  All of us feel as though we are rising from the ashes, having endured a time of great difficulty.  Nothing is perfect or completely normal yet, but we are looking forward and believing in the future with a sense of hope.   

When the dancers perform this weekend, we will certainly enjoy the beauty of their dances.  But, knowing how hard they’ve worked in this crazy year, will make the shows even more special.  Both dancers and teachers fought with intense grit to bring forth the grace that lived inside of them.  And we can thank God for bringing beauty from the ashes.      

Revisiting the Old Pain


Recently, my right pointer finger started aching.  Immediately, I thought about the time when Ben, his mother, and I were working in the yard of our first home in St. Louis almost twenty years ago.  The gorgeous spring day turned a bit darker when I accidentally hurt my pointer finger with an electric hedge trimmer.  The blade didn’t actually cut me.  Somehow my finger wedged in place on the machine so that the back-and-forth motion squeezed my finger and made a gash the shape of a V that bled like crazy.  We discussed the possibility of stitches but decided against it.  Healing took a long time, and my injured finger felt tender for even longer.  

When my finger began hurting again the other day, I thought it couldn’t still be sensitive after all these years.  Then, I questioned whether the original injury had actually occurred on my right hand or my left hand.  I examined both fingers.  The scar had faded to the point that I couldn’t say for sure which finger had been hurt so long ago.  I don’t think my current finger ache is related directly to the old wound.  But that doesn’t matter because the new situation brought back the memory of the old pain.  Isn’t that how it works oftentimes?  The new life circumstances are not connected to the old emotional wounds, but the new brings the old to the surface.  

I’ve encountered this more over the past year than I ever expected.  My daughter Riley is seventeen, and some of her teenage dilemmas have brought up negative emotions for me that I never anticipated.  Because I’ve feared that she might experience some of the same pain and rejection I experienced, I’ve been drawn back to what happened to me a long, long time ago as a teenager and young adult.  I was surprised that those old wounds were still so tender and hurtful to me even now.  I thought I’d processed those previous issues and had matured to the point where those memories wouldn’t cause pain anymore.  I was wrong.  

I dealt with a lot of internal strife trying to help my child navigate her own circumstances while I relived some of my old emotional injuries.  I felt embarrassed and ashamed that new situations conjured such old emotions, humiliated that I was so easily susceptible to previous hurts and slights.  I’m convinced, however, that those feelings of worthlessness did not come from God.  In the Psalms, David said, “No one who hopes in you will ever be put to shame.”  (Psalm 25:3). Then, David prayed, “Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.” (Psalm 25:21).  God only wants to help us in our times of despair.  We should seek God’s help in healing our emotional pain, regardless of when that pain originated.  And God does not want us to devalue ourselves more or soak in a pool of shame because we haven’t fixed the problems already. 

When we encounter old pain that we thought we’d dismissed, let us take refuge in God.  Let us put our hope in God’s promises of love and comfort and let go of the shame that we impose on ourselves.  God does not want us to feel worse but better.  We may have to process our pain over and over before we can move on from the hurt, but God will help us every single time.        

Signs of Growth


Our eight-year-old son Alex is an extremely picky eater.  And when I say picky, I mean there are only a few foods he willingly eats.  He does not try new food items without a major argument.  Mealtimes can be a struggle to say the least.  Vacations can be tough because it’s not always easy to find restaurants that serve the correct kind of chicken tenders (not too crispy) or pizza (thin crust only).  On our recent trip to New Orleans, we lucked out and stumbled upon some restaurants where Alex actually ate.  We told him we were proud of his effort.  I guess he took that to heart because when we arrived back home, he told us he thought he’d done a good job eating while on vacation.  Then, he said, “I think it’s a sign of growth.”   He left the room, and Ben and I laughed.  What kid says that?

I’ve been thinking about his pronouncement.  Believe me, Alex’s issues with food are not resolved.  He refused to even take one bite of pizza the other night because it was too doughy.  But he decided that eating well for one week was enough to proclaim victory.  He chose to see himself in a positive light even in a situation that routinely challenges him. 

I tend to shrug off small steps forward.  I frequently focus on the negatives in any given situation.  I dismiss most any type of advance that is less than a complete and total win.  I don’t give myself credit if the job is well done but unfinished.  This approach can stunt my emotional and spiritual growth. 

For example, I love the music and the sentiment of the song “I Surrender All.”  The lyrics begin with “All to Jesus I surrender.  All to Him I freely give.”  I know that while total trust and surrender to God may be the goal, I will never achieve it.  I will never reach a point where I can definitively say that I’ve surrendered every aspect of my life to Jesus.  Do I hope to trust God completely someday?  Of course.  But knowing myself, I know that will not be my reality no matter how much I pray or try.  So, most of the time when I hear that song, I just feel like a failure.  

But I have a set of inspirational cards called “The Universe Has Your Back” by Gabrielle Bernstein.  Recently, I turned over a card that said, “When I think I’ve surrendered, I surrender more.”  I thought, yes – I can do that.  I can always try to move toward God.  I will not reach perfection, but I can be faithful in my effort to trust a little more every day.  

God doesn’t look at us in disgust when we fall short in our faith.  Instead, I’m convinced that God sees us trying to trust, to surrender, to be more like Jesus and is pleased.  God celebrates the small steps just like Alex did.  God looks at us with love and says, “I think it’s a sign of growth.”   

The Pain Before the Cross


On Good Friday, the day on which Christians commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion and death, I make time to read the story in the Bible.  I feel it’s appropriate to remember the torture and excruciating physical pain that Jesus endured as a sacrifice to save us from our sins.  I want to show respect and adoration for Jesus’ suffering and not simply skip to the happy part of the story – Jesus’ resurrection on Sunday.  But this year, I’ve found myself dwelling on the night before Jesus’ crucifixion when he prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane.  

After the Last Supper in which Jesus and his disciples celebrated Passover, Jesus took three of them to Gethsemane where “he began to be sorrowful and troubled.”  Jesus said, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  (Matt. 26:36-38).  

Then, Jesus went away from the disciples and “fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.’”  Twice more Jesus went off by himself, away from his sleeping friends, to pray, begging God to rescue him from what he feared would happen.  (Matt. 26: 39-45).  While Jesus was willing to submit to the events that were already in motion, he pleaded with God to stop them and find another way.  

In another version of the story, an angel came to strengthen Jesus, but even so, “being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”  After he finished praying, he was “exhausted from sorrow.”  (Luke 22:43-45). 

Jesus was in the depths of despair, consumed with worry and anxiety.  He was scared.  He was so distraught, he felt like he was going to die.  He hadn’t been arrested or physically assaulted yet, but he felt weighed down by the heaviness of fear and uncertainty.  He suffered emotionally and mentally.  Jesus did not feel a sense of peace or calm.  He was broken hearted and crushed in spirit.  

Most of us have experienced emotional and mental turmoil.  At those times, we may think that no one understands our pain, not even God.  But Jesus knows what it means to grieve to the point that the next breath seems impossible.  He knows how it feels to beg God out of desperation and agony.  He even knows the misery that comes when things don’t work out how we’ve hoped and prayed.  

So, when we experience anguish and darkness, we can trust that God is not a far-away deity who has never felt the way we feel.  We can pray believing that God wants to comfort us because he’s been there.  As we approach the cross and resurrection, let us remember that in addition to physical pain, Jesus knew the torment of heart and mind.  God understands us, cares for us, and loves us.  Today and always.  Amen.