Offering You a Carrot

I was upstairs folding laundry when I heard Paul’s car pull into our driveway. Glancing out the window I saw Brenn barrel across the lawn towards the car, Jack hot on his heels. From down in the entryway I heard a little voice begin to call out, “Papa…PA-pa…PAPA!!!” with an insistence that only a little girl who has been thwarted in her attempts to open the door by herself can muster.  Still watching, I saw Paul open the car door, swing Brenn up on one shoulder and Jack up on the other and begin marching towards the house, the boys laughing hilariously.

I observed this unequivocally nostalgic scene until, passing from view, I heard the noise of their laughter enter the house. Meg instantly began to chime in, her little voice rising to the “piercing” level until it abruptly stopped—Paul having apparently put one boy down and picked her up, just to silence her.

That moment was perfect. It was a small gift from God, designed, I am sure, for my enjoyment of him and a delightful reminder of just how much I have to be thankful for.

Two hours later, our chronicles of Narnia chapter read, one rousing game of tackle/tickle finished (that one sibling fight during dinner and the discovery of a giggling Meg splashing away in the not-surprisingly unflushed upstairs toilet not withstanding) and I still feel about the same way. Grateful, happy and content.

A few months ago, I probably wouldn’t have felt this way. I might not have noticed God’s good gift because I was too busy fixating on my unfolded laundry or unsold house. Sad, but true. Papashome

My last few blog posts have been about those months. But in re-reading what I had written, I noticed that several of those entries seemed a little….self-deprecating and a tad morose (spiritually speaking). Most had the vibe, “my life is hard, I think that I’m failing….but, oh yeah, God is good.” Even Paul noticed the trend.

(Actually, his very helpful comment was something like “That’s not how people think of you. You sound either seriously perfectionistic … or that you are reverse bragging.”

I told him that I wasn’t reverse bragging and that from time to time I really did think that I bordered on being a failure and hadn’t he ever felt the same way?

“No” was his nonchalant (laughing) answer, “I think I’m pretty awesome and you should too.”

And that folks, is one of the biggest differences between my husband and me.)

So yes, I’ve written about some of the frustrations faced since January. Some things I haven’t written about and you’ll just have to believe me when I say, dude, those things weren’t fun either. But during those six months, the Lord challenged my thinking in so many ways. There were things that I had slowly made into idols (quiet! cleanliness! order! A clear plan for the future! Personal time in the morning without any interruptions that lasts long enough for me to drink coffee, work out, read my bible and plan the day…really?! Is it too much to ask?!) Truthfully, my love and loyalty to those things began to erode my love and loyalty to God and the people he’d placed in my life.

(I know, I know, self-deprecation. But wait! I promise it gets better : )

Unsurprisingly, God was not ok with the way my thoughts were trending.  Thus, the Holy Spirit kindly began to oppose my wayward thoughts with his powerful conviction. At first, I tried to believe that this mental/spiritual push-back was just the product of a hormonal and stressed out brain (and let me tell you being hormonal and stressed out definitely added an unpleasant edge), but I finally stopped blaming the Spirit’s work on anything else but my own extremely and uncomfortably convicted heart.

After a week or two of this unrelenting prodding, it became clear that, yes, I had lost my spiritual bearing and was headed down a path more of my own making than of God’s.

That brings me up to the posts that I wrote over the past few months. They laid out some of the ways I had messed up, gave examples of the negative repercussions suffered and ended with something like, “God is good…and… don’t be like me.” This is the trend Paul (and maybe you) noticed.

“Hmmmm,” I thought today, “Maybe, just maybe, I left out some vital information as I wrote. Maybe I forgot to give all of the ways in which re-learning to trust and obey God has brought goodness into my life! You know, a positive spin instead of doom and despair!”

Yep, I’m pretty sure that this is the problem.

I should have written and told you what it was like to experience unexplainable peace during (military-caused) chaos (Phil 4:6-7); or how, more than once, I had uncommon patience for squabbling children (Eph 4:31-32);  or how a gentle conversation touched my son’s heart in ways far superior to an angry accusation or terse comment (Prov 15:4); or how I received/gave unlikely mercy when Paul and I made mistakes (James 2:12-13); or like the gentle surprise of gratefulness during an unremarkable, I’m-just-folding-laundry, type moment (James 1:17).

You see, just like sin fundamentally hurts us (always, whether we see immediate negative results or whether the sin quietly erodes our spirits) trusting God fundamentally helps us (again, whether we see immediate results or whether that good seed blossoms into a slowly ripening type of spiritual fruit). I am so quick to brandish the “big stick” of painful consequences when it comes to admonishing my friends, my children…even myself. “If you sin, it will hurt!!!” I cry, “So don’t do it!” And it’s true. True enough to write blog posts that contain morose warnings and self-condemnation.

But I wonder how you (or my children, or my husband) would respond if I said, “Trust and obedience are really wonderful ways of experiencing our good God!!! So do those things instead of sinning!” We tend to forget our “chief end,” which is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” The Holy Spirit’s conviction was difficult and unwanted at the time. But when I turned my eyes back to Jesus in love and faith and once again began to seek him and his kingdom, his truth and his strength became my protection. I no longer had to rely on my own truth and strength and so I could mentally relax, experience (and enjoy!) the tangible grace of God. Obviously, my circumstances did not change. As you know, my children didn’t become angels overnight, my house didn’t sell the next day and the military didn’t provide me with a detailed account of our immediate future. Rather, I changed the way I lived within my circumstances.

That change is the “carrot” that I’d like to hold out to you today. That’s what God promises and that’s how the Holy Spirit works. Let come what may, any and all circumstances can only make me (and you) more like Jesus (Rom 8:28–29). This happens when we believe what God has said is true and act in faith, following those truth into their day-to-day applications.  His grace sustains us and his spirit nurtures those budding and growing traits in us that mirror God’s very character (fruits of the spirit – Gal 5:22-23).

In a book I am currently reading, the author (Paul Tripp) states,

“Insight alone is not change; it’s only the beginning. Insights about who we are, who God is, and what he has given us in Christ must be applied to the practical, specific realities of life.”

That is the truth I am living out in a real, feet-on-the-ground kind of way. The Spirit gave me insight. I saw the truth in the bible and began to change my actions accordingly. Now I am experiencing the joyful results of that change. I can have peace rather than anxiety, joy rather than impatience, love rather than irritation. This is sanctification! This is good. And I want the same thing for you. I don’t want to scare you into obeying God (and I’m sorry if I ever did!) Rather, I want you obey out of love and then gratefully receive God’s grace and help while changing. I want you to arrive at the point where you notice God’s hand in your life, even when doing something that seems ridiculously ordinary… like folding laundry.

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