When Your “Perfect” Plan Has Crashed and Burned

It all started as a strategy for outreach. We sat around a table and began to dream out loud, trusting that the fire of shared passion and the wisdom of group process would yield creative ideas for communicating the love of Christ to our community.

I don’t mind confessing that I loved my dream. We would offer free oil changes to those in need: the poor, the elderly, single parents, come one, come all! Coffee and brownies would make the most of the waiting time as those of us less talented with a wrench would fill cups and keep the conversation flowing. We prepared colorful informational brochures about our church and its programs. We bought supplies, spread the word, and waited.

Not one person signed up.
Not one person called to inquire.

The spectacular crash and burn of my dream rang in my ears for a long time. In fact, it was all I could hear, and it was ages before my idea spigot found its way back to the on-position once again.

Tell me, have you had this kind of experience? When failure veers into your perfectly laid plans from out of nowhere, it’s hard to recover–and hard to trust again. I’m sharing my story in full today over at Rachel Lee‘s writing home, and it’s my pure joy to invite you to join me over there for the remainder.

 

Rachel Lee

 

And while you are there…

Rachel is hosting a summer series featuring Stories of Hope from women who have found hope in Christ in the context of suffering, divorce, chronic illness, church hurt, mental illness, and much more. Click here for details about the many topics addressed in the series.


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How Far Would You Go to Help a Friend?

I’m convinced that the mothers of boys view the world and read the Bible through a unique lens. For example, boy-mums recognize that two miracles took place on the grassy hillside where Jesus fed the five thousand. Of course, everyone is aware of the transformation of five loaves and two fish from Not-Enough to a Super Abundance, but it takes a trained eye to spot the secondary miracle of a hungry boy handing over his lunch in the first place.

That’s why I’m grateful for next week’s backyard opportunity to be teaching a group of kids the Luke 5 story of Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Without a single thing in the text to support my theory, I stubbornly cling to the idea that it was four brothers on the business ends of that stretcher, carrying a family friend who had been tragically paralyzed.

Jesus was inside the house, surrounded by so many listeners and critics that every door and every window was blocked. When “excuse me” and “pardon me” failed to clear the way to Jesus, things looked pretty hopeless. They were stuck outside, completely blocked off from healing and hope for their paralyzed friend, and if it were not for some creative problem solving, that would have been the end of a sad story, lost to history and never recovered.

To what lengths does a friend go to help a friend?

When horizontal measures were just not doing the job, this foursome thought vertically. Palestinian households utilized their rooftops as an extra room, so an external stairway and some teamwork facilitated the hoisting of their stretcher-bound friend to the tiled roof. Then, without so much as a conference or a committee meeting, the digging and dismantling began.

Tile fragments and falling dust would have alerted the non-omniscient occupants of the packed house that something strange was going on over their heads, but no one was prepared for the response of the only omniscient  fellow in the room. As the four warriors lowered their friend’s bed into the room, Jesus said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”

Did the four stretcher bearers roll their eyes?
Did the most outspoken open his mouth to clarify the “real need” as he saw it?
“Um, Jesus… Well, we sort of had something else in mind.”

Scripture tells us Jesus’s words gave the Pharisees what they came for that day:  evidence to initiate a blasphemy charge. For those who came with open hearts, however, it profoundly established Jesus’s identity as God the Son. And since restoring life to paralyzed limbs is a mere carnival stunt compared to forgiving sin, Jesus went on to heal the man, lifting in a flash his burden of helplessness and hopelessness.

High fives all around, and I’m sure the crowd parted for the guys this time as the newly-healed man obediently picked up his bed and went home, followed by his four satisfied advocates.

How far would you go to help a friend?

How much would you risk to bring a friend to Jesus?
Are you willing to make a scene?
Break social norms?
Break a sweat?

When God witnessed the helpless condition of humanity, he put a plan in place that cost him everything. There was no horizontal way out of our fallenness, so he thought vertically. Down he came, wearing a body that could bleed and die, because that was the only way to make things right again.

God’s great rescue plan set the stage for Paul, chief of the apostles and “chief of sinners,” to observe that “he who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) Having gone to such lengths already, what would God NOT do to win your heart?

Therefore, may I ask gently, having sat on the receiving end of such grace, having taken the “all things” of rescue and salvation from the God of the universe, how could we not also freely give?

Grateful for God’s great rescue plan,

Michele (1)

Just a Note…

My ministry focus next week will be right here in Mid-Coast Maine, so things will be quiet at Living Our Days. I’ll be working with the teens from my church who attended Christian Youth in Action, the training event I assisted with back in June. Together, we will be putting their experience to work in a welcoming backyard in Rockland, Maine. I’m looking forward to a front row seat to witness God at work in their lives as they teach and in the hearts of the children who will be attending. Lord willing, I’ll be posting updates to the Living Our Days Facebook page, so hope to see you there!

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The Quiet Miracle of Roots and Leaves

The garden is running late this year. Cold nights (making for cold soil) have resulted in pea plants that sprouted on schedule, grew to a fixed point, and then sputtered and stalled out, stunted. The prophet Isaiah had things to say about who is in charge of growth, both in the garden and in the human heart:

“For as the earth brings forth its bud,
As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,
So the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.”   (Isaiah 61:11 NKJV)

Here, Isaiah is addressing a people who had been appointed to be a kingdom of priests, a reality which will be realized in its fullest sense when Christ establishes his Kingdom, but, for now, the role and the right spills over onto present day believers, the Church.

Gardening is a hint, a reasonable guess, directed at biblical mysteries around growth, fruition, and results. In real time, here on the ground, we are called to bear witness to the bringing forth and the springing forth, the budding and the blossoming of New Covenant righteousness in the rocky soil of human nature and in the weedy fields of inborn willfulness. If our purpose here on God’s green Earth is to “put down roots” and “put up leaf,”* it follows, then, that God is with us in all our sprouting–and even in all our wilting.

Celebrating God’s Presence and God’s Work

The miracle of Emmanuel, of God with us, shows up at every garden and at every graveside. He is present for both victory and disappointment, and, therefore, our calling is clear:  We are to celebrate the miracle of his presence.

There are no blinding Damascus Road beacons in my garden, no whiplash conversions from darkness to light. There is, instead, a quiet watering of work already begun, a gentle placement of stakes that support growth and encourage healthy formation.

Ten days with a hundred Christian teens bent on summer ministry can be a clarifying experience for a gardener who frequently questions the significance of her calling to teach and train believers. It turns out that a believing teen’s struggle with apathy and hypocrisy requires the same grace from the same Savior who longs to deliver less-catechized teens from drug addiction and immorality. The turn around from shallow faith and a safely-distant following of Christ is also a significant victory, and it is worth celebrating because God is present in this work.

Emmanuel is a horizon-filling name, and it is only in his power that the beloved of God answer the call to be saints. As the roots go down and the leaves grow up, they spring forth for his glory.

May the beauty of Emmanuel change your day and your life,

Michele (1)


Image Credit: The lovely image of my garden featuring Isaiah 61 was a special gift from my friend Abby (who is also a special gift). She writes and shares her giftedness with graphic design at Little Birdie Blessings.

*This delightful phrase is from Maxine Kumin’s To Make a Prairie, p. 7.

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Sunday Scripture ~ John 1:1

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.”   (John 1:1)

John begins his story about the life of Jesus on this planet by revealing to his readers what it had taken him nearly three long years to absorb:
Jesus, the man who walked dusty Palestinian roads, who ate and drank and got tired and spoke gritty truth, was more than just a teacher or a prophet. He was God in the flesh.

John wants his readers to begin with awe and then move on into the stories of what Jesus did and what he said, for the words and the deeds will support that feeling of awe. Jesus, the Word, embodied God’s message to us. He bore witness to the truth about God and he, himself, is the message from God.

This Sunday, let’s rejoice in God’s great rescue plan, and may He help us to see the glory of it and to worship in response.

Ever in awe,

Sunday Scripture ~ Genesis 1:1

The New City Catechism asks, “Who is God?” and then provides an answer based on the very first verse behind the leather cover of your Bible:

“God is the Creator of everyone and everything.”

Whether you are personally in the business of creating by threading a needle or making music on a keyboard or by stringing together sentences on another kind of keyboard, your urge and ability to create come from your Creator.

From the time when Adam took up residence in Eden with no instruction manual other than God’s permission to “master it,” humanity has been unwrapping God’s gifts and glorifying Him as co-creators, even if some fail, in this life, to acknowledge His role in it all.

This Sunday, let’s delight in God’s creation and in His gift of creativity,

 

 

Reaching Out for the Adjacent Possible

“Nine chapters, one hundred fifty two pages—how hard can this be?” I thought, as I loaded a well-known Christian classic onto my Kindle.

Slogging through chapter two, reality began to set in.

I had always been an avid reader but felt a need to be more intentional in my reading choices. The holes in my theology needed sturdy patches of truth, and I longed to benefit from the wise words of classic Christian writers.

By the time I reached chapter three, I was seriously discouraged . . . and I never made it past chapter four. Reading G.K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy seemed like a great place to begin, but I soon learned a lot of really hard paragraphs lived between all those inspiring quotes I had swooned over on Instagram.

If I had chosen a book closer to what I’m accustomed to, would I have had more success?

Look for Small, Positive Steps

The concept of ‘The Adjacent Possible‘ has changed the way I approach adding spiritual disciplines and healthful practices to my life.

Adjacent means ‘in close proximity’.
If I am looking for The Adjacent Possible, I stop scanning the horizon for a “eureka” moment and begin looking close by for a small positive step in the right direction.

I’m writing more about this process of discovery over at Living By Design where I’m sharing a guest post today! I do hope you’ll come on over and read the rest.

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I link-up with a number of blogging communities on a regular basis. They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week. I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

Cherishing Hope for the Dream that Sticks Around

Most of the dreams that carried me forward and burned brightly in young adulthood have lost their luster years ago.

My twenty-something self would be mortified at the woman I’ve become.
I can imagine her indignant voice, hand on hip, eyes wide:

“What? No gym membership?”

“How many kids did you say you have?”

“What is this shipwreck you’ve made of our resume?”

But then, for most of us, there is a dream or two that sticks around, still cherished and yet unfulfilled.  It reminds us of its presence with a subtle pressure, like a pebble in the shoe.

Uprooting Bitterness and Planting Hope

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret.  Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams. Over and over she heard about The Promise, a major topic of Abraham’s heart-to-heart talks with God:

“The Father of a Great Nation,” God had promised.
“Children as innumerable as the stars in the sky,”

God had spoken, and Sarah had worked hard to believe.

“If Abraham’s the father, that makes me the mother. Doesn’t it? Couldn’t we get started with just one . . .?”

As the years wore down Sarah’s hope and her joints, she may have found remedies to ease arthritis, but nothing took the edge off yearning.

Then one day when Sarah was 90 years old, the promise came once again. Picture an arid landscape. Abraham, now a very old man, is resting in the doorway of his tent to escape the heat of the day. Three men approach, and the gracious old gent hops up to show lavish hospitality, Middle-Eastern style. (Genesis 18:1-16)

Is it possible that Abraham and Sarah recognized one of their visitors as the angel of the Lord? This pre-incarnate embodiment of God the Son carried news that made Sarah’s heart skip a beat as she listened through the tent wall:

“Abraham, when I see you again, your wife, Sarah, will have a son.”

Twenty-four years had passed since this promise was first spoken out loud, and for the first time, Sarah was hearing that her own DNA was also important to its fulfillment. And suddenly there was a time frame on the table! This was all too much for her heart to absorb, and the text goes on to record Sarah’s response there, in the privacy of her tent:  She laughed.

Believing Over the Long Haul

Dreams with a long shelf life can light a spark in middle age, or . . . they can become the seedbed for bitterness and regret. Sarah (Old Testament wife of Abraham and matriarch of the Hebrews 11 “faith chapter”) knew well the taste of disappointment and frustrated dreams.

And may I ask, tenderly:

 How long have you been waiting for your dream to materialize? 

While others have moved forward into solid futures that look crazily like the one you’ve imagined, you feel as if, somehow, you’ve been left standing still.

Tired, faith stretched thin, the idea that anything good could happen, that blessing could wash up on your personal shore . . .?
Pfffff . . . Snort! Do you feel a cynical chuckle coming on?

Time bound and short-sighted, we need a sinewy faith to stave off bitterness when hope has been bleeding out for years.

Together, let’s join Sarah in pressing an ear against the tent wall to hear God’s words of choosing and commission

 Let’s join Sarah in pressing an ear against the tent wall to hear God’s words of choosing and commission. Your DNA is needed in this family of God. Press hard against the Tent Wall of Scripture and hear God’s voice today saying that His ultimate plan is for fruitfulness and joy. Soak in the record of prophecy fulfilled, the promises kept, the hand of God at work in stunning intervention, and then read in Psalm 126 about the laughter of dreams fulfilled that follows the tears of sowing seed and long waiting.

Can we trust the God who filled Sarah’s empty womb to fill our empty hearts? He longs to come to your tent, to lock eyes, and to share a meal with you. Listen carefully, and let the smile spread slowly over your incredulous face, for the truth is that He brings good news — and it’s for you.

//

Image by PublicDomainPictures from Pixabay

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I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.

This post was first shared at God-sized Dreams .