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Posts Tagged ‘expectations’

Pastor Jess Bousa of Restore Church tells an interesting story about a woman who called up a pastor to give the church broken pianoher piano. When they arrived to pick it up, she explained that she had purchased a new piano and no longer needed the old one. And so she gave it to the church. I am “convicted” as they say by this story. After all, is that the intention of giving to God, our second, third or fourth best? Or, is it supposed to be our first fruits? In other words, not the old piano but the new one. That’s a sacrifice, that’s giving something of true value. We so often treat the church like the used clothing store. I have been guilty of this too.

Then to the place the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his Name—there you are to bring everything I command you: your burnt offerings and sacrifices, your tithes and special gifts, and all the choice possessions you have vowed to the Lord. [Deuteronomy 12:11, NIV]

What choice possessions have I given? I am close to the full tithe. Not completely, but close. I’m still negotiating, I know. It’s fear based. I know that God will bless me if I give out of my faith. But when I withhold, my faith becomes dented, like a dip in the road. Or worse, maybe it’s whack against my foundation. For a while, my house will continue to stand, but if I allow enough whack, I shouldn’t be surprised if there’s a collapse. I’m just sayin.’

But outside of money, what else is there to give? Our church collects clothing for swaps and the like. It’s amazing the condition of items that are given: stained and torn, sometimes it would do better in the rag bag. Is there pleasure in this kind of giving? Or during the holidays, we are encouraged to “adopt” a child and purchase gifts for him/her. We finally had to spell it out, “spend $75” on your adopted kid because people were going to the dollar store, buying the cheapest things, the least valuable.

freedom-writersAbout a year after we adopted our Russian daughter who was struggling with English in high school along with white, middle class bullies. At the same time, she had never known people of color, so I took her to see the film, Freedom Writers. In this film, a teacher, played by Hilary Swank, inspires a class of at-risk students to learn tolerance, apply themselves, and pursue education (a hope for a future). But before the teacher got there, these same students, mostly poor, were given the worst supplies, the shabbiest books, and so forth. The administration reinforced the expectations that the students were unworthy. The teacher in this film took a risk and gave them new books and opportunities never afforded them before. She gave her best. And she commanded their best. [For my daughter, this opened her own eyes as well, to prejudice of all kinds and she turned a huge corner.]

Once I admired a pair of earrings a woman was wearing. She told me they were her favorite earrings and she, too, liked wearing them. The next time I saw her, she gave me a small box and inside were the same earrings. Not new, no, but the very ones she loved the most. And now, they are one of my favorite pair as well. A small gift she gave, but from the heart. She gave the earrings to me physically, but in essence, she gave them to God.

letting goI’ve been doing a lot of downsizing as I moved into a smaller house. I literally had to let go of most of my furniture and when I could, I sold it. But really, not all of it would sell. Among these things was my very expensive bedroom set. It was two days before moving day and still no one would buy it and so, I gave it away to a family in the church. And I felt better about that giving than any dollar I earned from anything else. simplicity

Slowly, I’m getting the idea. It may take one more downsize, one more letting go move, to really “let go” of the stuff, to experience true simplicity. For I’m thinking that it is out of simplicity that generosity flows. I will no longer “rate” the value of what I have and give the less or more valuable, but all of it is a feather in the wind.

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enticedWhat does it mean to be enticed to turn away? Intellectually, of course, I understand that to be enticed is to lured or beguiled by an expectation or hope for something better. But this phrase comes at the end of a long list of plentiful promises including a “land flowing with milk and honey” in which generations would experience fertility in their families and their land. They were promised a win-win. And yet, the warning came too and in the end, proved to be on target. Never enough.

 Observe therefore all the commands I am giving you today, so that you may have the strength to go in and take over the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, and so that you may live long in the land the Lord swore to your ancestors to give to them and their descendants, a land flowing with milk and honey. . . . Be careful, or you will be enticed to turn away and worship other gods and bow down to them. [Deuteronomy 11:8-9, 16, NIV]

Human beings are notorious for never being satisfied. Most of us who live in the West are prime examples. We have more than we need and we want more still. I am no stranger to this dis-ease. I am living within the norm of this culture and mind-set. Only until we travel to other countries where people walk to a pump for their water or eat the same staple food every day or die of an unchecked pandemic, do we have our eyes opened for a season.

We have it all and yet we are enticed away by the “other gods.” Do we really imagine that the mere facade of better, faster, or bigger will be the antidote to what ails us? I am ashamed at the number of times I have allowed myself to covet what others appear to have, to know, to enjoy.

Not today then. I choose to wrap myself in the armor of God’s contentment. If only for a little while, I will be mindful of “Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ when I arise, Christ in the heart of every man [person] who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.” [St. Patrick]

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expecting a miracleWe all think we know what we need. It’s part of our human nature. And honestly, in many cases, it seems pretty obvious. In the case of the lame man, he had adapted to his disability and didn’t even consider that a need any longer. He asked for alms each day to meet his immediate needs and had already decided that he could not meet these needs himself.

Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him, as did John. Then Peter said, “Look at us!” So the man gave them his attention, expecting to get something from them.  [Acts 3:2-5, NIV]

I can’t help but wonder how many times I have missed the bigger miracle while reaching out for the thing right before me.

Right now, it’s kind of important for me to keep my head, heart, and eyes clear in just this way. It’s pretty obvious that I cannot remain in our big house anymore now that I am down to one salary after Mike’s death. With no life insurance or other nest egg to speak of, I am faced with downsizing now rather than later. Preparing a home for sale and looking for miracle treesomething else is overwhelming to say the least. I need a small miracle to find something that is affordable for my new life and yet practical for house guests or boomerang children.

What is my expectation of God here? I am trying to balance the realities of looking at properties (in essence, one can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket) and believing that God has something planned for me, yet out of sight. I don’t want to jump at “good enough” if best is around the corner. I don’t want to leap out of anxiety or doubt.

Work and pray. Like Nehemiah. That’s all I know to do.

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Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Photo Art by Cathleen Tarawhiti

Like most Christians, I have been under the impression that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah was the same as the one I have been taught, that God foretold through the prophets, a savior. But that is not completely the case.

When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign [feeding the 5,000], they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.”  Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain. [John 6:14-15, CEB]

It is true that the Jews were looking for a “mashiach” (a better translation of the word מָשִׁ֫יחַ according to Judaism 101 website) which means anointed compared to “moshiah” (a word more readily translated as savior). The idea of anointing a king can be seen throughout the the Old Testament, from Saul to David and so on. And in many ways, the English word Messiah means the same, but according to the Judaism 101 scholar/writer, the Christian view of “savior” has overtaken the Jewish concept. Whether this is really true, I don’t know, but I found the discussion interesting.

What resonates most deeply for me however is the idea of waiting and what or who I might be waiting for. How easily I might miss the person or thing or experience if my bias drives my waiting. If I am waiting for a king (a lion) who will, with authority and might, overthrow my circumstances to make all things right, then I would be hard-pressed to see the sacrificial lamb, who is more interested in the “long game” than the individual “play.”

I had never heard that term before: the long game, until recently while watching old seasons of the television series, Homeland. Apparently, this is not uncommon in the “intelligence” world and spy business. Nor had I considered that the work of Christ, the Savior, is a very long game, a very long investment, a twist in the human plot that changes the direction of the world. For that cannot be denied, whatever the belief system, the appearance of Jesus was (and is) a fork in the road of humanity.

Jesus could have taken the road of mashiach, for he was anointed. And he could have overthrown the Roman empire, I have no doubt. Instead, he presented the paradox of faith in the unseen, good overcoming evil, sacrifice replacing power and set it in motion. And in this long game, we can all play a part; we can choose to engage or not.

In my own life, I have set myself up for a number of disappointments by investing my energies in a dream, or rather my interpretations of the dream. I have grasped onto a good idea in lieu of the great idea because I have been impatient or short-sighted. I got caught up in conquering instead of serving, rushing forward instead of waiting, anticipating the endgame instead of living the day itself. I have been chasing the lion.

Like the populace who lined the streets of Jerusalem with Jesus rode in on a donkey, they cried “Hosanna” which can be translated as not just “save us” but “save us now!” They could not see or hear what Jesus was saying all along, “I am saving you, for eternity.”

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mandrakeIn case you don’t know the story, mandrakes supposedly have fertility enhancing properties (along with possible euphoria and hallucinations). All the same, Reuben, oldest son of Leah (the wife Jacob didn’t want), finds some in a field and he gives them to Mama Leah to use on Jacob (knowing of her longing to be loved by the man who wouldn’t or couldn’t care less). Rachel (the sister that Jacob did love but who was barren) makes a deal with sister Leah: give me the mandrakes and I’ll “let” you have another go at the man. Great story for “sister-wives;” they should be on TV.

So when Jacob came in from the fields that evening, Leah went out to meet him. “You must sleep with me,” she said. “I have hired you with my son’s mandrakes.” So he slept with her that night.God listened to Leah, and she became pregnant and bore Jacob a fifth son.Leah conceived again and bore Jacob a sixth son. Then Leah said, “God has presented me with a precious gift. This time my husband will treat me with honor, because I have borne him six sons.” [Genesis 30:16-20, NIV]

Of course, it didn’t work. Despite Leah having her own babies again, those two more sons (and a daughter – Dinah – barely worth mentioning), only later that did Rachel have a child and apparently, not from the power of the mandrake root.

These women were operating in a world of baby competition. Children were essential to the future of the family, and in particular, to the woman in a household. And, with the promises of God doled out to the line of Jacob, these women were the brokers of their husband’s descendants. In the end, Rachel only produced two of the patriarchs of the twelve tribes, her maidservant Bilhah birthed two sons, Leah birthed six sons, and Leah’s maidservant Zilpah also birthed two sons. And yet, despite the numbers being on Leah’s side, Jacob never did come around, and loved Rachel’s boys (Joseph – famed for the multi-colored dreamcoat and Benjamin) the most, playing favorites throughout their lives.

tribemapIt’s not like Leah’s boys weren’t important in their own right: Judah’s birthright, for instance, was foundational to the Jewish nation or Levi, whose descendants ruled the Temple and interceded with God as priests. They were all on the map.

Each son had his own future and each child born had a destiny.

The mandrakes were a tool that two women tried to use to manipulate their futures, their love lives, and their progeny. It didn’t work; it doesn’t work today either.

As the mother of three adopted children and no biological children, I know the mandrake game. I tried the same thing. I could not fathom that God would actually put two Christian people together and not create offspring from them. I became a sort of Rachel, trying all kinds of tests and suggestions to make babies happen. But God doesn’t act from my mandrakes or my plans. God is sovereign.

in this houseEven when our story changed and we adopted children, I tried to control their outcomes. Oh, I know, it was all in the name of giving them the best, giving them opportunities I never had, building arenas of success, layering on the expectations. I am ashamed to confess these things for my plans created many disappointments. But, my disappointments were self-inflicted. My plans were not God’s plans [Isaiah 55:8].

My children are still God’s masterpieces [Ephesians 2:10, NLT]. And my job should have been to plow the ground and provide nutrients, but allow them to grow into themselves, into the people God intended.

Forgive me for the mandrakes in my life, Lord. And do what you will with our children, now young adults, looking for a way. Perhaps the road could have been easier if I hadn’t littered it with so many calculations.

But, just like Rachel & Leah, the one thing I gave without mitigation was my love. And I am thankful that love covers a multitude of sins [I Peter 4:8].

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Ceramic tile by Katherina Short

Imagine being in that early flush of honeymoon love and waking in the morning. The first thing I do is turn to look at my beloved. A wonder. If he has risen beforehand, I might call out the name or simply rise to seek him out. I know he is there. So it can be with God.

I Chronicles 16:10-11
Glory in his holy name; let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice. Look to the LORD and his strength; seek his face always.

To seek God does not need to be a quest, it’s just turning my head to look, to really look. It’s like being at a party and for a moment, losing sight of my date. I look for that familiar head of hair or the clothes I know he wore. There he is. All is well. I don’t need to rush over and clutch at his sleeve. We are in the same room. We are together.

Sometimes seeking God is simply a reawakened awareness of God’s proximity to me.

As children grow into toddlers, the first thing they want to do is stretch the boundaries of their independence. One of two things happen, the child ventures away but keeps checking back to make sure Mom or Dad can be seen, can be reached in need. Often, the toddler will make a number of trip back and forth, out into the bigger space and back to Mom. Yep, he knows the way and he fees secure. The next foray may be further and maybe out the door. But, if the toddler goes too far, the parent senses his absence and will follow.

I want to capture this truth today. Not just now as I’m writing, I want to pull myself away from what I’m doing and intentionally look for God–in the eyes of a friend, the walk of a stranger, the wet nose of my dog, in a handshake, in a flight of birds, in the wind or warmth of the sun.

Look! Look!

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One thing that Jesus had going that Paul did not: lack of expectations. In these verses, I hear Paul’s own disappointment and frustration. “What more can I do for you?” He’s human. . . just like me.

II Corinthians 6:11-13
We have spoken freely to you, Corinthians, and opened wide our hearts to you. We are not withholding our affection from you, but you are withholding yours from us. As a fair exchange—I speak as to my children—open wide your hearts also.

How many women get frustrated at their children and mates for a lack of appreciation of the sacrifices? Periodically there are rather humorous stories of women going on strike to “wake up” their families. “Look what I’m doing here!!!!” Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Relationships often suffer from these inequalities.

Unfortunately, love has no such guarantees. We can do and love and serve but we cannot limit our doing and loving and serving to the degree of reciprocity. We’ll always be disappointed.

Oh, if I could really get this truth into my heart. If I could stop looking out for evidence of their love for me. It’s not my job to measure. Help me this day to love without fear.

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