Monday, April 18, 2011

Faith to Believe

I did something on Sunday that I never thought I would ever do:  I found myself texting in church.  As our pastor was speaking from the front, I pulled out my cellphone and initiated a text conversation with someone not even in the room.  I cringed as I imagined my oldest daughter, a few rows behind and to the side of me catching sight of what I was doing.  After all... hadn’t I threatened her within an inch of her life if I ever caught her doing the same thing?   Then there was the fact that I was in plain view of my pastor as well as all those around me.  I could only hope that either (1) he didn’t see me (yeah, right) or (2) he knew me well enough to know that something unusual was happening as I made furtive glances towards my phone and then slid open the keyboard to enter a reply... more than once.  Me... texting during the service.  Definitely not something I ever envisioned happening.

But, then, something else was happening that I hadn’t ever envisioned happening.  I’d come dangerously close to standing in the way of my husband’s leadership... and closed my heart to not only his leading, but God’s.   And the very thing I nearly resisted was something I’d found so easy in another lifetime.  Not literally another lifetime, of course... but it seemed a lifetime ago.  But that was before something happened that had shaken my faith.  And now with weakened faith, logic had nearly over-ruled it completely.  I can remember several years ago sitting in a meeting on the other side of that fence – me, sitting with faith, and watching logic over-rule it.  I remember crying afterward knowing that I’d just sat through a meeting where people had gutted the very programs God used to build that church because they were looking at dollar signs instead of changed lives... and forgetting the God who had always provided – usually just in the nick of time, but never, ever, failing.  Now... here I was... in another church... and I was the one clinging tightly to logic.

The small church we are now attending recently initiated a capital campaign to raise funds towards a property purchase.  We were asking members sign commitment cards  indicating a pledge over the next three years (which the bank will consider when approving a loan amount).  We were also asking for one-time gifts on this same commitment card.  Several times over the last few weeks my husband had brought up the topic of what we wanted to do.  Each time I indicated that I thought we could do a one-time gift, but I didn’t see the three-year pledge as something we needed to do.  We were, in fact, not even going to be a part of this church much longer – we were moving out of state within a couple of months.  We also had three daughters who were getting scarily close to college, a house to sell in a tough economy, the smallest amount in savings we’ve had in a long time, a lot of unknowns with the upcoming move... and were already giving above and beyond a “tithe.”   It just wasn’t our responsibility.  We’d been to a vision meeting for the campaign; we’d participated in the day of fasting; we were behind it 100%.  But... it just wasn’t our responsibility.  I had the feeling that my husband felt otherwise, but I didn’t give him much room for discussion.  It was time to take care of our family. We’re supposed to do that first, right?  All through the campaign it had been stressed that we cannot sacrifice the necessities of our own family in order to provide for someone else.

It was now Commitment Sunday, when our commitment cards would be collected.  I had woken that morning from a dream in which my husband and I had agreed on a number for the one-time gift that was much higher than what I was planning on.  It wasn’t a bad thing in the dream -- we both came to the number separately and felt good about it.  It was higher than I was comfortable with in my now-awake state, though, so I took a deep breath and asked my husband what he had been thinking and got a surprise – his number was even higher!   That was a new experience -- always before we’d been of one mind; separately coming to the same numbers.  After some talking, the number we agreed on was much higher than what I’d originally thought (and a bit lower than what he’d thought), but it was close to what I’d had in the dream.   

We arrived to church a bit late and my husband headed to the nursery where he was serving as I slid into my place behind the front desk.  We had a slow trickle of people coming in after the service started, so I stayed out front a little longer than usual.  I missed the announcements; the first couple of songs; the meet and greet time... and finally slid into a seat beside my daughter for the last couple of songs.  I can’t remember what we sang or what was said – it couldn’t have been much, since I missed most of it.  But as I settled into my seat after that last song, as our pastor said his first few words, I suddenly knew...  I HAD to text my husband... right then, right there... in the middle of the pastor’s message.  Ugh.  Feeling extremely conspicuous, I slid my phone out of my pocket, put it on silent,  and typed as discretely as I could,
“U wanted to do something per month for the 3 yrs., didn’t you?  I’m holding back what u felt led to do, aren’t I?”
I waited what seemed like forever before I saw the notification light blink.
I slid the keyboard open again, and with a furtive look up at our pastor still speaking up front, I began typing again.
“Maybe?  LOL”
He answered with a smiley/wink as I typed my next question:
“What were you thinking per month?”
The reply to this one took longer.  I tried to be patient – he was in the nursery with several babies after all.  But I had no idea at what point in the service those commitment cards were going to be gathered, so I kept staring down at the screen – like my constant vigilance would make it light up.  Finally he answered with a number.  To my surprise, it was a bit lower than the one that I was prepared to write down.  Somehow I’d expected to come to the same number like we used to.  I quickly typed in my number in reply, thinking as I did that the one-time gift we’d settled on had been lower than what he’d originally suggested, so maybe this worked out.  I waited....  and I waited.... and I waited...  trying to listen to our pastor and watch for that little green light to blink.  Finally:
“ xxx is fine with me! 
Sorry, got three  babies back here and one wants to help me text!”
I smiled and pulled out the pen to fill out the commitment card – not with a feeling of fear, reluctance, or even obligation, but gratefulness.  I listened to the rest of the message, definitely applicable to where I was.  And for the first time in a long time I realized how much we’d been given – and why.  I remembered how good it used to feel giving, knowing that God was trusting us, using us.  And I hoped maybe this small step was the beginning of healing my damaged faith.  I wanted to get back to that heart I once had – the one that trusted completely.  And I wanted to see what He was doing.  

At the end of the message, the baskets were passed for the commitment cards as our worship leader sang “Blessings” (by Laura Story) with the words displayed on the screen behind him.  I’d heard it a thousand times on the radio, but now I sang it with my eyes opened just a little wider.  Then we came to the bridge.  Somehow, I’d never really quite caught the words before.  But now they hit with full force:
We pray for wisdom, Your voice to hear
And we cry in anger when we cannot feel You near
We doubt Your goodness, we doubt Your love

My throat tightened with emotion and tears streamed silently down my face ....
As if every promise from Your Word is not enough
All the while, You hear each desperate plea
And long that we'd have faith to believe

And into the chorus, tears still flowing:
‘Cause what if Your blessings come through raindrops
What if Your healing comes through tears
What if a thousand sleepless nights
Are what it takes to know You’re near
And what if trials of this life... are Your mercies in disguise

And what if... surrender and faith comes in the form of a text message typed during the Sunday morning message... just in the nick of time? :) Seriously, I honestly have no idea what God actually used to work that change in my heart. But I’m glad He did. And I can’t wait to see what else He is up to! :)


The amazing thing? After I finished typing everything written above, I walked out to the mailbox to find a totally unexpected, fairly large check from our mortgage company – an unexpected “overage” in our escrow account. Received on Monday after surrendering on Sunday... into an open hand that had been tightly clasped the last time the mail was delivered. Amazing timing from an AMAZING God, huh? And, yes, I’m thinking this oughtta be good..... :)



Thursday, March 3, 2011

There... in the Small Stuff

I've got to admit that in the darkness of the early morning, preparing to wake my children with bad news, I briefly wondered where God was in all this.  Today was my daughter's 15th birthday.  But in the wee hours of the morning, while the kids slept upstairs, Carl and I had rushed our family dog to the ER.  As we'd knelt over her in the darkness, Carl had immediately realized the date, the importance, and cried out "Not today!"  Now, several hours later, I woke my daughter up not with a "Happy Birthday," but with the news that her dog may not make it through the day... and she needed to get dressed to come with us to the ER if she wanted to see her.  Not a good start to a birthday.

Her birthday had actually already taken a hit even before Ava's trip to the ER.  The kids were originally to have the day off from school and I'd scheduled a fishing trip for Jess.  But I'd canceled the trip when our school board had unexpectedly changed the day into a makeup day for a previous ice day.   Disappointing.   And now... now I had to tell her that today may be the day she has to say goodbye to her dog. Not the kind of news you want to break to your daughter.  Especially on her birthday.

As the kids one by one came down the stairs, still grappling with the news, my youngest pointed out that we hadn't had a chance to make a pawprint with Ava.  For all three of our previous dogs, we'd known the end was coming and had dipped a paw into a concrete stone with the kids, decorating the stone as only kids can do, and etching the dog's name into the wet concrete.  With Ava, there'd been no warning.  No time to make our traditional pawprint.   It was something Carl had already thought of in the wee hours of the morning, but I'd pointed out that our vet's office had given us a pawprint with the last dog we'd said goodbye to -- and it was much nicer than what we we had done, anyway.  I thought the problem was solved.  But Kayla stood before me and told me it wasn't the same.  The pawprint the vet would give us wouldn't be decorated.  And we wouldn't be able to set it out in a walkway like we could the others.  She was right.  So I told her maybe we could take the one the vet gave us and set it into concrete -- making our own stone, decorating it, but with the print from the vet as the center.  Quietly, to myself, I wondered what the vet would think if I asked for TWO pawprints -- one we could set in concrete and the other to sit on our mantle with the other.  I hate asking for things, though, so I let it go. We headed to the ER to pick up Ava and transport her to our vet.  Our vet recommended trying some different medications, so we left Ava in her care and went home to wait... and sleep... and I never gave the pawprint a second thought. 

I guess maybe I still didn't quite believe what was happening, because later in the afternoon when we received the call from the vet letting us know that there had been no change for the better and that a decision had to be made by that evening, the questions came full-force.  I wondered, "Why today?"  Where was God that He'd let this happen on my daughter's birthday?  ANY other day, but today.  But today?  Why on earth today?  He had the ability to push back the events of this day by just one day.  But He didn't.

We grappled with the decision in front of us -- knowing, really, what had to be done, but just not wanting it to be THIS day.  Jess, with tears in her eyes, and a tremor in her voice, proclaimed that it wasn't fair to Ava to hold on till tomorrow.  So our family of five filed into the vet's office at 6pm that evening to hold Ava for one last time as we helped her the best we could.  As I filled out the necessary paperwork, the receptionist asked me if we wanted a pawprint made.  When I answered yes, she asked what color.  I knew to expect the question -- I'd seen them ask another patient just a week before.  But I hesitated for just a moment as I tried to think how to describe the last one they'd made for us - kind of a marbled/streaked brown and tan.  In that moment of the slightest hesitation, though, the receptionist looked at me and offered, "We could do two of them if you would like."  Shocked to hear my earlier, unspoken, thought voiced by someone else, I blurted out "That'd be great" and then went on to describe the color.

Two pawprints?  I hadn't said a word to anyone about the thought I'd toyed with earlier that day.  I hadn't even thought about it in recent hours!  Two prints was not standard, I knew.  And yet... there was the receptionist, standing in front of me, asking if that's what I'd like.  Where was God in this day?  He was in the small stuff... showing He cared even in the midst of grief and ruined birthdays.  I still don't understand why it had to be that day.  But I do know He was there... in the small stuff.

And that fishing trip?  We rescheduled it for that Saturday.  Our guide had told us that the forecast was for moderate fishing at best, but Jess was anxious to get out anyway.  As we walked out to the dock, though, the weather wasn't what had been forecasted.  It was overcast and breezy.  That little weather change meant I was chilled, but it also meant the fishing was much better than anticipated!  We pulled in 45 fish, twice as many as the "maybe 18-24" that our guide had told us to expect.  And pulling up to the dock after our trip, I heard two different parties say they'd come in with just 1 fish.  Wow.  I know part of the reason for our success was our guide (Bob Maindelle of   Part of it though... I really think... was a God with a fish story of His own... giving my daughter something to grin about.  There... in the small stuff.