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Archive for October, 2017

I recently wrote about my experience of struggling to feed my growing kids on the expensive gluten free diet, and how my way of making ends meet was to give my food to my son. However, God had demonstrated time and time again that he is able to meet my needs, so why did I respond in this way? I think we all have blind spots in our lives. We see so clearly in some areas and are able to quickly see the error of our ways, but other broken ways may be so ingrained because of our personality and upbringing that we fail to notice how we’re sabotaging ourselves.

Jesus said that he is the light of the world. “If you follow me, you won’t have to walk in darkness, because you will have the light that leads to life” (John 8:12). We all have dark places where brokenness has not been mended and false beliefs have not been exposed to the truth. The truth that Jesus had to bring to light in order for my mind to be mended is this:

God does not ask me to do for him or others what he has not already done for me.

And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19

This principle of provision can be found over and over throughout the Scriptures. God promises his provision, then lays out his instructions for how we are to live in response as we trust him to provide for us. In the old covenant, God promised the provision of land, blessing, and his very presence to the Israelites, then laid out instructions for how his people should live in response to God as their provider and deliverer. The law was given to guide them to right living so they would learn how to relate to one another and to God, with reverence and obedience.

The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. – Galatians 3:24

The law trained the Israelites to consider God in every aspect of their lives, right down to what they ate and how they dressed. God wanted to be at the very center of everything they did so that they would seek him in everything they did. While God promised blessings for obedience, it was never their obedience to the law that made them prosper; it was God’s choice to prosper them because he chose to bless them and eventually bless all nations through them (in the person of Jesus, a Jew). Their obedience to the law was meant to show their dependence on God so that the nation of Israel would be an example through whom God would demonstrate to the surrounding nations that all power belongs to God and all provision comes from God.

God wanted to bless Israel and prove his might to other nations by enabling them to do in 6 days what others did in 7, so he instructed them to observe a Sabbath day of rest. God wanted to bless Israel and demonstrate his power of provision to other nations by showering them with abundant blessings as they gave back to God their tithe and lived off of 90% of their income. God’s instructions to us are not difficult to follow when we understand that he purposely positions us to be weak so that he can demonstrate his strength! He doesn’t ask us to tithe or rest in order to earn a blessing; he does it because we need opportunities to bear witness to God’s power and provision.

The self-sufficient person has no need of God, which is why there are so many Scriptures warning of the dangers of wealth. But to those who need God, he shows up with the promise of provision. Sometimes the provision is obvious ahead of time, and sometimes we don’t see it until after we respond to God out of faith in him as our provider. Our example for this kind of belief is Abraham, who was willing to sacrifice his son whom God had promised would be his heir, believing that God could bring him back to life.

God chose Abraham to bless and become the father of the nation of Israel because Abraham believed God when God made crazy, huge promises that wouldn’t be fulfilled in Abraham’s lifetime. Because of Abraham’s belief that God would do what he said he would do, God declared him righteous (Romans 4). The law wasn’t given until 430 years later to his descendants. Abraham did not have the law to make him righteous; he had belief. Just as God declared Abraham righteous because of his belief, we are made righteous by God through belief in Christ.

God sent Jesus to perfectly fulfill the law as both God and human, to show us how the law was supposed to be lived out, and provide both a model and means to right living. Through Jesus’ obedient life, death and resurrection, God made a provision for the requirements of the law to be fulfilled and internalized through the gift of the Holy Spirit. Christ fulfilled both ends of the old covenant, paying our penalty on the cross, and providing a way for us to be made right with God. Our entry point into this blessing and provision is the same as Abraham’s: belief.

Why is this such a big deal? Because if we are trying to earn God’s favor by following rules and working hard at acting righteous, we miss the whole point of God’s gift of salvation through Jesus. We’re making our walk with God all about us and what we do for God, instead of focusing on God and what he wants to do for us, in us, and through us as we respond to him with grateful hearts. We sometimes act like God hands us an empty bucket and asks us to fill it for him, when the opposite is true. He asks us to believe by faith that he has filled our bucket with living water that will never run dry (John 7:37-39).

God does not ask us to perfectly follow a set of rules in order to be saved. He asks us to believe that Jesus has provided all we need for salvation and a holy life. God doesn’t ask us to just do our best to make ends meet and dig ourselves out of the financial messes we’re in, he invites us into a relationship of dependency on him so that he can demonstrate his love and provision for us. Everything God asks us to do is in response to the provision he has already made for us to do it.

For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him. – Philippians 2:13

We so often fail to realize that the very desire we have to obey comes from God. Without God, we are selfish and destructive. However, when God gives us a desire to obey, he also provides the means for our obedience. He equips us to do every good work he asks us to do. God does not ask us to give from our poverty, but from trust in his abundance.

Shortly before his crucifixion, Jesus knealt down to wash his disciples’ feet. He told them,

Unless I wash you, you won’t belong to me. – John 13:8

Later, he tells them to go and do likewise. First, he models what God wants us to do. He then sends the Holy Spirit to equip his followers to do what he does. Every word of instruction in the Bible is preceded by the provision of God to do it. Church, we’ve got to move past this age-old idea that righteousness is something we do for God. Righteousness is the fruit of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives as we yield to him. It is what God does in us as we believe in Jesus and remain in him. Yes, we need to obey, but it is not to earn God’s favor; it should be in response to God’s promise that he will supply all our needs if we just seek a relationship with him and trust in his provision (Matthew 6:31-33).

Oh friends, if we only knew how great and mighty is our God! Most of us come to church expecting to confront our list of sins over the past week, and be admonished to work harder and be better Christians. But what if the only sin God wants to confront is the sin of our unbelief?

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.” – John 6:29

What if we really believed that the God of the Bible is the same God today? What if our actions stemmed from the belief that God has provided everything we need through the Scriptures, the example of Christ and the work he accomplished on the cross, and the power of the Holy Spirit to guide and equip us for all good works? If we believe God supplies the provision to do whatever he asks us to do, then when the Holy Spirit whispers, “Give that homeless man $10,” we can obediently respond, “Thank you, God, for providing enough to meet my needs and the needs of others.” When we find ourselves struggling with anger, instead of berating ourselves for our failure to overcome a feeling, we simply respond, “Thank you, God, for creating me with emotions. Thank you for providing a way through Jesus and the gift of the Holy Spirit to keep me from sinning in my anger. Thank you for your forgiveness that enables me to forgive those who sin against me.” Do you see how confidence in God’s provision can be life-changing?

All we need for a life of godliness is belief that God is God, and that he will provide the means for our obedience to do whatever he asks us to do. We just need to pray for discernment to know how God would have us respond to the situations we face. Again, God has already provided the means for discernment through the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). We can confidently pray the promise from Psalm 32:8, trusting God to guide us along the path he has set out for us.

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

When Jesus shines his light on the dark places of our lives, and we respond, “I believe! Help me overcome my unbelief,” he is able to change those ingrained patterns of thought and behavior that lead to destruction. Jesus never shames us in our brokenness, but simply invites us to come and be healed. He is our provider, and nothing can separate us from his love.

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I stared at the delicious berry cobbler, its sweet aroma enticing my empty, growling stomach. I had woken up early and decided to bake a breakfast treat for my family. They had enjoyed it before heading off to school, and now it was my turn to eat breakfast. I wanted to enjoy what I had made, but couldn’t bring myself to dish it up. The square pan of cobbler made 6 adult-sized servings. Three were gone, so that meant three servings were left. If I wanted to serve it to them again, there would be none for me. The same thing happens whenever I bake muffins. A dozen muffins equals two mornings of muffins for my husband and two kids, and so I go without.

Now I’m sure some of you are thinking That’s dumb. Why doesn’t she just eat what she wants and serve her family something else the next day? If so, you have probably never tried to shop and cook for a gluten free family of 4 on a tight budget. My family has been gluten free for nearly nine years, and during half of those years we were either unemployed or living paycheck to paycheck with a grocery budget that was no more (and sometimes less) than what I spent before we had kids, when we were not gluten free.

If you’re not familiar with the upcharge on gluten free products, here are a few examples: I bought a 5 lb. bag of regular wheat flour (to make pinata paste) for $1; the cheapest 5 lb. bag of gluten free flour that I can buy is almost $12. I used to buy loaves of wheat bread at the dollar store; a 2-pack of decent GF bread at Costco is $9. Bulk gluten free oats are triple the cost of regular oats. Gluten free crackers typically cost twice as much and contain fewer ounces (although they come in the same size box as their wheat-containing counterparts). If you order a GF pizza at a restaurant, they typically charge $12 for a small, one-topping pizza that feeds one man or two kids.

$20 for 5 items

My purpose in pointing this out is not to complain about our circumstances, but demonstrate how difficult it is for a family to be on the gluten free diet without it having a huge impact on your finances. When health magazines and blogs are touting the benefits of the gluten free diet, they often fail to mention the hidden costs. Yes, we cut costs wherever we can by using naturally gluten free carbs like corn tortillas, potatoes, and rice, but when you are on a restrictive diet for years – potentially a lifetime – you have to have variety and give kids some sense of normalcy. In order to do this I’ve cooked from scratch for years and limited our use of GF convenience products.

The Dark Side of Being Gluten Free
Due to the high cost of GF foods when money was especially tight, I developed a scarcity mindset about food. I would buy GF products when they were on sale, intending to bless my family, but because the portions were so small and expensive, I struggled to actually give the food to them. I carefully doled out portions, and often held onto the last portions of something so long that the food expired before being eaten because I didn’t want anything to run out. This struggle turned into a full-blown crisis when my son hit middle school, and I realized he was still eating the same portions I’d served when he was in second grade. Every rib was visible, and while he rarely complained of hunger, I knew he wasn’t eating enough. And yet, every time he sat down with a bag of snacks and started munching, it threw me into a panic. I would hand him a bag one minute, then snatch it away the next because we couldn’t afford for him to mindlessly much on our expensive food.

About the time my son was starting 7th grade, I was experiencing a health crisis from the stress of our finances on top of my mother’s cancer, surgery, and subsequent dementia. I went on a grain free diet, hoping to heal my gut and get over the sensitivity to corn that had developed from years of eating too much corn. (One of the side effects of cutting out a food, like wheat, is overconsumption of other foods, which can lead to a sensitivity to those foods.) Since I stopped eating grains during that time, I gave my servings to my son. During the two years I did this, I lost 20 lbs. and my son grew 6 inches. I came to realize that it was the only way I could sustain our tight grocery budget while providing enough food for him to grow.

As awful as it sounds, my solution to our grocery budget problem was to feed my son by starving myself. For the past three years, I have baked for my family without eating what I bake. This morning, as I stared at that cobbler, the Lord brought a verse from Deuteronomy to my mind that the Apostle Paul mentioned when talking about the right of the apostles to be paid for their work:

The law of Moses says, “You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest. (1 Corinthians 9:9-10)

It is painful for me to admit, but for years I have muzzled myself while cooking for my family in order to make this expensive diet work, and that is not God’s way. My guess is that I am not alone. I know how moms are, and we will go without in order to provide for our kids. I’ve worn the same ratty clothes for years in order to make sure my kids have clothes. My husband and I gave up date nights for years so we could keep our kids in their activities. My guess is that you probably do this too. There’s nothing wrong with making sacrifices for our kids, unless it takes us into bondage to the belief that we don’t deserve to enjoy the same benefits as our kids.

Most of us can handle a short-term sacrifice or season of survival-mode, but when it becomes a way of life, it can change the wiring of our brains. What starts out as a voluntary choice becomes an involuntary response that is so ingrained we don’t recognize that it’s happening, and may not even remember where it started. At first, I was happy to give my son my grain portions in order to help him grow, but it is not healthy for me to stay captive to the mindset that what’s best for my family must come at my expense. The truth is that God is able to provide for ALL our needs – not just my family’s needs, but mine!

There is a financial and psychological toll to the gluten free diet, on top of the emotional toll of living differently than the world around you. That may not be what you want to hear if you’re new to this diet and hopeful that it will bring healing, but a wise person counts the cost of each decision. So these costs are something I would strongly urge anyone to consider before embarking on this as a way of life. Yes, it can help relieve intestinal issues. I do believe this diet has made a difference for my husband and son, which is why they are still on it. However, in my case, my intestinal issues were likely triggered by stress, and the stress created by the demands of the healing diet I went on only exacerbated my stress and made my symptoms worse!

God ultimately healed my intestines by helping me deal with the issues that were causing my gastrointestinal system to shut down in the first place. I discovered that during times of prolonged stress your digestive system stops working properly, so if you want to heal your gut, allow God to first heal your heart. However, as I’ve also discovered, there can be secondary issues that arise when we try to address our digestive issues with the gluten free diet, like the psychological and financial toll, which also need to be healed by God.

I don’t believe it’s wrong or bad to be on the gluten free diet. But I also don’t believe it comes without risks. Thankfully, God not only heals bodies, he heals minds. He has already helped me overcome my scarcity mindset, so I’m able to feed my two kids – who are now both teenagers – without freaking out over the cost like I used to. My way of coping with tight finances was to make everyone eat less, but God’s way was to help us pay off our second mortgage, which frees up more money for food. When God meets a need, it doesn’t come at our expense, but rather from his provision!

I believe God gave me the verse above to shine the light of truth on a place in my mind that was still darkened by years of financial struggle. When God sets us free from physical or financial bondage, he also needs to set us free from the psychological bondage that accompanies it in order for us to be totally free. If you are in a similar place, I am praying for you today, and asking God to shine his light on the dark places that hold us captive so he can set us free.

Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. (Ephesians 3:20)

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It was the end of a long, busy day at the end of a long, busy week. I was about to finally head to bed when I spotted blood streaks on the ottoman, then blood stains on the carpet. Our dog must have torn his claw on something and bled everywhere he stepped. In my state of exhaustion, I hastily grabbed the untested carpet cleaner and started working on the blood stains. The good news is that we got the blood out; the bad news is that our carpet now looks like this.

There are no words for this atrocity.

I was so irritated about the “clean” spots that have now ruined our uniformly dirty carpet that I barely slept that night. The real kicker is that when I found another blood stain later, I tried the Oxyclean that I’d forgotten was in our cupboard, and it worked perfectly to get the blood out without bleaching our carpet.

<insert your favorite Christian curse words here>

Why, Lord, why? Why couldn’t I have thought of that earlier, so I wouldn’t have these stupid bleach spots on my carpet! My husband claims that the spots represent the true color of our carpet, so if we just deep cleaned everything it would match again. I, on the other hand, feel like it would be a whole lot easier if we just muddied our shoes and used those spots like stepping stones to make them look like the rest of the carpet. I’m even willing to spill some coffee – cheap hotel coffee that’s been in my pantry for years, of course, not the good stuff – if that’s what it takes to avoid moving furniture to clean our carpet.

I wonder if you can relate. We don’t like spots that stand out and draw attention. It’s much easier to throw some mud on and try to look like everyone else rather than appear spotless and risk standing out. And yet, when Christ cleanses us by his blood shed for our sins, he removes our filthy rags of shame and clothes us with his righteousness. He sanctifies us, and whatever has been sanctified has been set apart as holy unto the Lord. But being set apart kinda makes us weird. We ought to celebrate our deliverance when God does a miracle in our lives, but sometimes we cover it with a rug or just keep silent because we don’t want to look different from those around us. Why do I have these spots on my carpet? To remind me that what Christ has done for me makes me different, and it’s time to stop worrying about blending in.

A few weeks ago, in front of a group in my church, I shared my testimony of God’s miraculous deliverance and provision for me over the past year. And I have never felt so weird. Church ought to be the place where we testify about God’s goodness, and yet sometimes it seems almost inconsiderate to say that God has been good to me when I’m surrounded by those who are suffering. However, when we’re suffering we need to hold on to hope that God is good and able to preserve us in the midst of suffering. How will we know that God still provides for his children and answers prayer if no one testifies that he does? I’ve blogged plenty about God’s faithfulness in my times of suffering. Now it’s time to share my testimony that God not only sustains, but delivers us to victory. So here’s my bleached-spot testimony because God deserves some glory for all his goodness to us.

Over the past year, God has delivered me from slavery to food after years of multiple food sensitivities and frustration with so-called “gut-healing” diets. After years of bowing down to food as my healer, God revealed himself to me as my healer. Even though my family still eats mostly gluten free by choice, we enjoy the freedom of knowing that God is able to bless any food to the nourishment of our bodies if he says he wants to because he’s the one who created it. In fact, he instructed me to go all out last Christmas with every kind of celebratory food my son loved while he was suffering from severe intestinal issues, just to prove to me that he is able to heal us in spite of an unhealthy diet. And he did. Because he’s God. Hear the Word of the Lord:

Is anyone thirsty? Come and drink – even if you have no money! Come, take your choice of wine or milk – it’s all free! Why spend your money on food that does not give you strength? Why pay for food that does you no good? Listen to me, and you will eat what is good. You will enjoy the finest food. Come to me with your ears wide open. Listen, and you will find life. – Isaiah 55:1-3

I find life in knowing that it is not bread – gluten free or wheat bread – that satisfies me, but the Bread of Heaven, Jesus Christ! God’s purpose in setting me free from slavery to food was part of his greater purpose of setting me free from slavery to fear – and I don’t mean little fears, like a fear of spiders. I’m talking heart-pounding, gut-wrenching, palm-sweating, panic-inducing, red-hot FEAR. My fear mostly had to do with people, so God started by dealing with my fear over my children. By the grace and power of God, I am now able to stand up to the enemy and pray mighty prayers of faith over my children because I know whose child I am and how big my Heavenly Father is. No matter how huge the obstacle is that’s facing my child, God’s answer is:

But the Lord says, “The captives of warriors will be released, and the plunder of tyrants will be retrieved. For I will fight those who fight you, and I will save your children.” – Isaiah 49:25

While I await the deliverance of the Lord in some areas regarding my children, my victory is that instead of speaking in agreement with the fears I used to have, I am able to speak words of faith, hope and courage. I am wired to react in controlling ways when I feel fear, so being set free from fear means freedom to respond in accordance with God’s will in situations pertaining to my children, instead of reacting negatively out of fear. One of the fruits of the Holy Spirit is self-control, and the victory God desires for me as a parent is to be directed by the Holy Spirit when I speak or react to my children. God has been in the process of rewiring my brain and changing my gut-reactions to my children so that I can now respond from a position of faith instead of fear. He has removed the chains of bondage to fear of failing as a mother, and given me this promise:

I will teach all your children, and they will enjoy great peace. – Isaiah 54:13

God has also delivered me from loneliness and slavery to the approval of people.  The day it sank in that I consider Jesus to be my dearest friend, he reached in and pulled out the root of loneliness that had been planted when I experienced rejection as a child. I realized that Jesus had filled my need for acceptance and love with his daily presence as he spoke to me through his Word, and the satisfaction of knowing there’s no need God can’t fill so permeated my heart that I was able to release others from filling my needs. Instead of caring about what people think of me, I am now free to just care about people. This is the purpose of God’s deliverance, the restoration of our relationship to him and others.

Delivering me from loneliness was not just God’s gift to me but to my husband, as well. He recently started his doctorate, which requires him to be in class or doing homework in the evenings. I am able to release him to pursue his dreams without worrying about feeling neglected because I’m no longer looking to my husband to fill what God is able to fill. I am free to love and enjoy whatever my husband is able to give without feeling desperate for attention because I know that God is able to bless me beyond anything I could ask or imagine from my husband.

For your Creator will be your husband; the Lord of Heaven’s Armies is his name! He is your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the God of all the earth. – Isaiah 54:5

As God set me free and began to restore relationships, he gave me the gift of rest this past winter. My oldest, whom I’d homeschooled for 6 1/2 years, went back to public school. My daughter remained at home, but directed her own learning. I was free to study God’s Word, worship, and rest. I experienced a desire for intercessory prayer like I’d never experienced before. Days would slip by as I soaked in God’s presence, and I felt like that was exactly what God ordained for me in that season. I sensed his delight in my delight for him! Out of this season of rest came a promise from God that he wanted to help us get out of debt by helping us pay off our second mortgage. I didn’t know how or when, but I knew God was going to help us because the day I asked him to confirm that promise in his Word, my daily reading happened to be in Jeremiah 29. The Holy Spirit stopped me on this verse, and spoke it over me as my promise:

I will end your captivity and restore your fortunes. – Jeremiah 29:14

Seven years ago, we were unemployed and had to drain every penny from our savings and start over. During that time we learned to trust in God’s provision as he met our needs. Seven months after God gave us the promise that he would restore us financially, we paid off our second mortgage with money that God provided from an unexpected source. We are not only free of debt (except for our first mortgage), we are free from bondage to the stronghold of scarcity.

I know some of you are starting to think I’m preaching a “prosperity gospel” that says if we become a Christian, we’ll get rich and everything will fall into our laps. We are not free from debt in order to bless ourselves, but in order to bless others in need. God blesses his children so that we will share with those in need, causing them to give glory to God for his provision (2 Cor. 9:10-11). The greatest delight in being set free from debt has been the renewed ability to give to others. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says this regarding his “sheep” who listen to him and follow him:

The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. – John 10:10

Rich and satisfying does not mean comfortable and easy. A rich and satisfying life comes from confidence that God is who he says he is and can do for us whatever he desires to do. The Word of God is full of stories of God’s power and ability to deliver. It is full of promises that God desires to provide for his children and bless them. Too often, we pray wishy washy prayers that lack faith in God’s ability to do what he flat out says in his Word that he desires to do for us. This isn’t about God providing for our comfort; I’m talking about God giving us victory! In some areas of my life, I have experienced deliverance – from intestinal issues, debt, fear of people – and in others, I’m experiencing the victory of joy in the midst of waiting to see deliverance.

God is not a Santa Clause to whom we pray for the stuff we would like to fill the “stocking” of our selfish desires for a comfortable, easy life. But if there’s a promise in God’s Word that God has pointed out to me and said, “This one is yours,” then I will pray for it with every ounce of faith God gives me, believing that it is mine – even before I see it. That’s how we get victory; we believe God to be God. We take our needs to him first, believing that he is able to provide. The thief wants to kill our joy, rob us of victory, and destroy our faith by keeping us focused on our areas of weakness, our failures, our needs. But the thief can only take from us what we willingly surrender. If you are a child of God, stand your ground and say out loud – as many times as you have to in order to believe it:

God is good.
He is my provider.
He is my shield.
He is my strength.
He is my deliverer.

Yes, this world is broken. We all have areas in our lives that are broken, but it’s time to stop wearing our brokenness like a badge of honor. If we believe that God heals, then let’s take our brokenness to him and pray a God-sized prayer of belief that “by his wounds we are healed” (Isiah 53:5). If you struggle with belief, God accepts you right where you are, just as Jesus accepted the man who acknowledged, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). God has not stopped doing miracles. He still heals, restores, delivers. But like my bleached carpet spots, we sometimes don’t want to trumpet our healing, lest we make others feel bad about their brokenness. Well, here’s the truth: I am broken, just like you. But I am healed, and that’s the label I will wear to the glory of God.

What has God done for you this past year? How has he delivered or miraculously provided for you? I invite you to leave a comment and give him praise. Let’s stand out as bleached spots together, giving God all the glory for his goodness and provision!

 

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As soon as I stepped out my door to go on a walk, I could smell my favorite pumpkin spice candle. As strange as it may sound, the comforting smell alerted me to God’s presence. He had invited me to take a walk with him along the canal by our home on this very difficult day, and the wonderful aroma ushered me into a time of prayer.  Several things had happened that morning to trigger my familiar sorrow that the life I had envisioned for my son was not to be. It’s not that his life is bad in any way, really, it’s just not the one I would have chosen. The death of a dream can cause grief like any other death. I knew it was time for me to let it go and accept that God’s plan was also good, so I began praying a prayer of release and trust in God through my tears.

But then God utterly surprised me. As I walked past a bouquet of dead flowers that were in the middle of my dirt path, God whispered, “Pick those up. We’re going to hold a funeral for your dream, and those are your flowers.” So I picked them up and walked for a while in silence. Then God gently said, “Tell me your dream as a eulogy.” For the rest of the walk, I clutched those flowers and slowly released my dream for my son while I verbalized every aspect of it as though he had lived it, from childhood through adulthood. While delivering this eulogy, I realized that much of my dream for him involved my dreams for myself as a mother, so there was an added layer to my grief that I hadn’t realized before. When I finished describing every detail of the plan I had subconsciously pictured in my mind as I’d held my baby boy in my arms so many years ago, God simply responded with, “That was a lovely dream.” It was a good dream. I had good plans for my boy, and God honored them that day. He did not scold me or shame me for having my own plans; he simply listened and validated my good desires for my child.

I ended the funeral with the usual statement at the end of Christian funerals, that death is not the end. Because of Jesus, we have hope in a better life yet to come. I threw away the dead flowers as I laid my dream to rest. At the same time, I committed my son to God and asked him to show me his good dream. God had listened to mine, and I was ready to listen to his. The next day, I reversed my route and walked a little farther than usual. As I was about to turn the corner to head home, I saw a huge bush of the same dead flowers I’d carried on my funeral walk, only this bush was alive and growing along the side of the dirt road. I’d never seen it before. It wasn’t growing out of someone’s backyard, but seemed to be planted in the dirt among the weeds.

This is God’s dream: my son will thrive and blossom while planted in the dirt among the weeds. My dream may be dead, but God’s is very much alive!

God reminded me of the bold – but naive – prayers I’d prayed sixteen years ago, while carrying my son in my womb. I’d asked God to pour out his Spirit on my child and make him shine God’s light in dark places. I’d asked God to set him apart and make him bold in his faith so that he would make a difference in God’s Kingdom. Oh, the things we pray when we have no clue of what we’re asking…

Over the past month, I’ve begun to see glimpses of how God is using the very qualities that frustrated me as a mother to make my son bloom in the dirt. God is answering my bold prayers by giving me a bold son. The child who argued with me nonstop for years is now the teen who is not afraid to stand up and defend his beliefs. When asked to give a speech that describes him for speech class at school, he boldly proclaimed that he is a Christian, and that God is a huge part of his life because God has helped him through some difficult struggles. He declared that in front of a room of sophomores in a public school without even considering the possibility of a negative response. I used to joke when he was a child that he had two volumes: loud and louder. I now believe that God is going to use that loud voice and boldness to testify to God’s goodness in the most unlikely places, among the weeds.

My son has never cared much about what people think of him, which seems like a good thing, except that it made attempts at behavior modification challenging when he was little. While I recognized the dangers of my own people-pleasing bent, the fact that he didn’t have one at all was often frustrating. And yet, this character quality may be the very thing God uses for his glory. The child who could not be manipulated to do anything – through threats, punishments, or rewards – is the teen who will not bow down to peer pressure. I continue to marvel that he will not do things he believes are wrong or take shortcuts just to fit in. He is content to do his own thing rather than follow the crowd or try to be anyone other than who he is. Instead of responding to my pleas that he would just fit in, God has chosen to answer my prayer that he be set apart. Set apart for what?

God woke me up at 4:30 a.m. this morning to reveal to me that the very hardships we experienced when he was young – emotional struggles, gluten intolerance, learning challenges – were all part of God’s plan to set him apart for God’s purposes. We eat differently. We did school differently for 6 1/2 years as we homeschooled and prioritized character development over academics. Nothing about our lives has been “normal,” but every one of the struggles we’ve faced as a family – the things that didn’t fit into my plan – have shaped my son’s character and trained him in compassion.

  • The child who cried tears of frustration when things didn’t go his way is the teen who tenderly reaches out to a foster girl on the bus who is struggling with financial needs, and offers to help.
  • The child with whom I repeatedly pleaded to own up to his mistakes and take responsibility for his life, is the teen who brought a rebellious teen on the bus – who’d thrown a rock at our door at one time – to repentance with his kindness, and was sent by that child to seek our forgiveness.
  • The child who struggled with materialistic desires and learned to depend on God’s provision during our year-and-a-half of unemployment is the teen who joyfully comes home from selling items at the Farmer’s Market because now he can buy the Lego set he loved as a little kid for his younger cousins, just because he wants to share his joy.

I believe that God is sowing within him seeds of compassion for others so that he will not only be willing to be planted in the dirt among the weeds, he will want to be there because that’s where people most need to be loved. (At one point, when he was tired of being harassed by some kids on the bus, I offered to pick him up from school. He said, “I’d really like that…but I think I belong on the bus.”) The life he is living is the answer to my bold prayer for God to set him apart for his Kingdom; it just didn’t happen the way I envisioned.

I’m sharing my story with you not to bring glory to my son or myself, but for two reasons. One is to give hope to parents who are discouraged over what they see as the death of their dream for their child. I want to encourage you that God sees your good plans and may even agree with you that they are good. He’s not trying to rip them from you. However, until we lay down what is dead, we won’t see where there is life. God has a beautiful dream, too, and wants to open our eyes to see it so that we can enjoy watching our kids fulfill God’s plan for their lives, and rejoice with him. The very quirks that drive us crazy may be part of that plan, which is why we need God’s vision.

The second reason has to do with something surprising I read during my Bible reading this morning. (Hang in here with me. I promise this will tie together eventually!) While reading John 7, which takes place during the Festival of Shelters, I happened to glance down at the footnote in my Bible pertaining to Jesus’ statement that all who are thirsty should come to him.

A water ceremony was held each day during the Festival of Shelters, with prayer for God to send rain in the late autumn. The final day, called “the great day,” was the climax of the festival, when the ceremony was repeated seven times. Water was poured over the altar as Levites sang Isaiah 12:3. (“With joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!”) [By saying] “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me,” Jesus fulfilled an essential element in the Festival of Shelters. He himself is the source of living water, available to anyone who believes (NLT Illustrated Study Bible).

Some Christians believe that God’s appointed festivals, as outlined in Leviticus 23, were meant as rehearsals for future appointments on God’s Kingdom calendar. The spring festivals were when Jesus was crucified as the “perfect lamb” (during Passover), and when the Holy Spirit was given (during the Celebration of the First Harvest, also known as Pentecost). The fall feasts, like the Festival of Trumpets and Day of Atonement, are rehearsals for Christ’s second coming “at the last trumpet” (1 Cor. 15:52), when he will return to bring judgment and reward. So where does the Festival of Shelters, a celebration of the last harvest, fall on the Kingdom calendar? I can’t say for sure, but it just may be right now.

After googling it, I discovered that tomorrow, October 5, is actually the beginning of the week-long Festival of Shelters, according to the 2017 Jewish calendar! Just as the Jews in Jesus’ day enacted a water ceremony and prayed for the autumn rains, I believe that God is calling his people – the Church – to pour out our prayers for his reign to come in these last days. Revelation 5:8 and 8:3 tell us that our prayers are collected as bowls of incense that are offered on the altar before the throne of God in heaven. Like the water poured out on the altar, our prayers are offered to God. Jesus has already fulfilled the prayer for rain by standing before the people at the festival and proclaiming:

Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, “Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him.) – John 7:38-39

We no longer pray for physical rain, but for God’s Spirit to be poured out during this festival of the autumn harvest. God’s Spirit doesn’t just rain down on the earth, it is poured into our hearts and intended to flow out of us, spreading the good news to everyone around us that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.

So what does this have to do with my son and the clash of my plans with God’s? Everything! I believe God is calling his people to pray for his Holy Spirit to rain down in order to increase the harvest, but if I want God’s river of living water to flow from my heart and through my children, it may require breaking down some dams. If God is going to raise up the next generation to help bring in the harvest, we have to release them to God. Jesus said that the wheat and weeds would grow side by side in the field until the final harvest (Matt. 13). If we, as parents, expend all our energy trying to uproot our “wheat” and transplant them into a field of wheat where we perceive they will be “safe,” we may be working against God. Like those flowers growing in the weeds along my path, God may purposely plant our kids among the weeds so that they will bring others to Jesus. That is God’s dream, and it is my prayer as I ask him to “send the rain” and use us for his glory. That is a prayer I am confident he will answer. That is a dream I believe will come true.

Are you thirsty for some living water that will satisfy you more than any good thing this world could offer? Come to Jesus and discover that “with joy you will drink deeply from the fountain of salvation!” (Isaiah 12:3). Would you join me in echoing the prayer prayed in Jesus’ day at the climax of the fall Festival of Shelters?

God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.
God, send the rain.

And let it begin by your Spirit flowing through me.

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