Pause. Renew. Next.

Tag: God’s promises

That’s Not What I Wanted

It seems I was always meant to be a boy mom. As a little girl, I didn’t enjoy playing with dolls. You would more likely have found me making mud pies, floating boats through overflowing ditches, or catching bugs and small, unsuspecting animals. Even as an adult, I enjoy finding and exploring wildlife. I love plants and animals of all sorts!

Naturally, when we filled our pond last summer, the first thing I did was buy goldfish. I found great joy in feeding them and watching them swim around their new home. However, goldfish were not the only wildlife that took up residence in our pond. It’s as if a sonic blast sent the message to amphibians in the area to come make themselves at home too. We began finding frogs sitting nonchalantly on the lily pads. At first it was one, then two, and by the end of last summer, we were counting six frogs at a time!

Although I didn’t plan to stock my pond with frogs, this addition did not phase me one bit. In fact, I was almost as excited to have frogs as my 8-year-old son who is passionately in love with amphibians. I curiously set about trying to discover what kind of frogs we had living in our pond. Soon, I had narrowed it down to two types: the American bullfrog or the green frog.

Peek-a-boo. This is the best picture I could get of these sneaky frogs!

Stubbornly, I have been trying to figure which type of frogs we have for months. It’s trickier than it seems. Apparently, bullfrogs and green frogs are very similar and easily mistaken for one another. It turns out there are two main ways to tell them apart. For one thing, bullfrogs grow to be a lot bigger than green frogs. The juveniles however, look very similar. The other distinguishing factor are the lateral ridges behind their eyes. Getting a good look at those ridges is easier said than done, because those stubborn frogs like to hide under the water whenever I get close enough to look!

Truthfully, I have an opinion on the matter. I am hoping for green frogs. Bullfrogs tend to be bullies, and they eat smaller animals, including other frogs. If bullfrogs are around, not a lot of other small animal life will be. Plus, they’re big and ugly. I like frogs, but I tend to like them on the smaller side. The bigger they are, the more disgusting they become.

Recently, I was sitting by the pond, trying to get a good look at those sneaky frogs, praying that they were green frogs. (Yes, really praying. God cares about all of our thoughts and feelings, even if they’re silly.) While thinking about this, it occurred to me that whether they were bullfrogs or green frogs didn’t matter. My 8-year-old and I were still blessed with frogs. They might not turn out to be the kind of frogs I wanted, but they are still frogs nonetheless.

Now here is where I’m going to take a turn from the ridiculous to the serious. Buckle up while we switch gears. Frogs aren’t the only gift I’ve been given that didn’t turn out like I’d hoped.

Isn’t it true that while we pray for good gifts, when they arrive differently than we expected, we often feel immense disappointment, discouragement, or frustration. Somehow though, when the cloud of disappointment lifts, hindsight shows us that our prayers were answered anyway, and the gifts we received were beautiful in their own way.

For me, this principle has taken on many forms: from praying for a pregnancy and being given the gift of adoption instead, to praying for healing and being given the gifts of endurance and compassion through suffering I didn’t want. In each circumstance we face, the Lord is faithful to give the best gift of all: Himself. He walks with us, reassures us that His ways really are good, and reminds us that He will never leave us.

The apostle Peter learned this lesson firsthand. I love Peter. Like him, I live passionately and often find that my mouth gets me into trouble. I have a lot of compassion for his spiritual foibles. In John 21, we find Peter carrying on a conversation with Jesus, soon after He had risen from the dead. Graciously, Jesus forgives Peter for denying him in the hours before his death and reinstates him with a spiritual calling. He then gives him a vision for his future which will include not only leadership in caring for the church but also suffering and death. I guess Peter didn’t like this vision too much, because he turned to Jesus and asked about John’s future. Jesus directly responded to Peter’s question, answering:

“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.” 

John 21:22 NIV

I can imagine that this was not exactly the answer Peter was hoping for. I’m sure that if Peter had written out his own future plans, he would have wanted it to look a little more optimistic and pain-free. Still, God’s plans for him were unique and tailored to his gifts. His wisdom and leadership were fundamental to the early church. Even his suffering was used to encourage and inspire his fellow believers. He wrote eloquent and important letters to instruct them about how to suffer well. Those instructions, found in I Peter 4, still influence and teach us today.

So, what about you? What prayers have you prayed lately that turned out differently than you’d hoped? Can you trust that God’s plans and gifts for you will be good anyway? If no sparrow falls without Him knowing (Matthew 10) and if He knows every hair on your head, then you can bank on the fact that He will give you just what you need…even when it doesn’t look like what you want.

Pause: Breathe in slowly and fill up your belly with air. Now, slowly exhale. Find a quiet place and read John 21: 15-23. What stands out to you in this passage? How was Jesus offering grace to Peter?

Renew: Reflect on gifts the Lord has given you in the past year. Were those gifts exactly what you prayed for? If not, how are you learning to appreciate what you’ve been given?

Next: Be on the lookout for how you can encourage your neighbors (literal or figurative neighbors) who are in a season of not receiving the gifts they’ve prayed for. You don’t necessarily need to offer words: maybe just support in the form of a hug, a listening ear, or an encouraging verse. Sometimes gifts come in the form of comfort and friendship too.

May you be given good gifts and receive grace to appreciate them, even when they come in the form of bullfrogs!

Pause, Renew, Next!

Following Me

Many moons ago, at the beginning of my marriage and before I had children, I found myself with too much time on my hands. Given my current life situation, having too much time seems like a foreign concept. At that time, however, while my husband was at work, I had many lonely hours to fill each day. One of my favorite ways to pass the hours was to visit the park near our home and stroll the walking trail there.

Sometimes I would visit the park by myself, listening to the radio as I walked. On days that I felt up to the adventure, I would take my black lab-mix puppy, Todd, with me to walk the trail. He was always filled with pent-up energy and excitement, and without exception he would end up pulling me around the trail. It was not uncommon to be stopped by a passerby who would jokingly ask, “Are you walking him, or is he walking you?”

Sometimes, on weekends, my husband would join us for walks at the park. One Saturday morning, as we were loading our dog into the car, unexpectedly our cat, Squeedunk, jumped into the car too. Now, most logical cat owners would have lovingly taken their cat back out of the car, knowing that cats are not designed for strolls at the park. We were not those cat owners. Young, naive, and curious, we decided to take him with us and see what would happen.

When we got to the park, Todd jumped out of the vehicle, and my husband quickly put a leash around his neck, preparing him for our walk. Squeedunk jumped out of the vehicle too. We did not put a leash around his neck. As my curiosity was replaced by anxiety, I reassured myself that we only lived a mile from the park. Surely, if we lost our cat, he would find his way back home.

We began our walk and slowly, trailing us by 20 feet, our cat began strolling as well. Todd, our dog, pulled us excitedly down the trail, sniffing all of the smells and chasing passing squirrels. As we walked, my husband and I took turns sneaking peaks behind us. Steadily, in his own time, Squeedunk sauntered down the trail behind us. Just as one would expect, he stalked us in feline fashion, trailing nonchalantly, looking like he had other things he could be doing. He continued to follow us for the entire mile-long walking trail.

As we returned to the parking lot, Squeedunk walked over to us and allowed me to pick him up and put him back in the car for the ride home. It was an interesting experience to say the least. We never pressed our luck by trying it a second time.

What if goodness and mercy follow us in a similarly unexpected way? The lyricist David, ends Psalm 23, promising:

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Psalm 23:6 ESV

Following me. All the days of my life. How often do we pay attention to the way that the Lord’s goodness and mercy are following us? Is it easy for you to see the evidence of it?

I think there are seasons where the goodness and mercy in my life seem so evident that rather than casually following me, it feels they are hunting me down. Then, other times, like my cat, they seem to be trailing far behind. I find myself wondering if they are even still there. I can’t always see their evidence in the moment. Still, as I look back, almost always in hindsight, I find they have been there all along.

Sometimes goodness and mercy come in the form of tangible blessings, like money I wasn’t expecting. Sometimes they come in the form of protection, like a near-missed collision on the highway. Sometimes they arrive in the form of an opportunity, like a job or a calling. Sometimes, they show up as simply as my son’s hug and kiss at bedtime.

Regardless of how they arrive, goodness and mercy always come as love and provision from a God who infinitely cares for us all the days of our lives. What surprises of goodness and mercy are trailing you today?

Pause: Inhale and slowly exhale. Take a moment to quiet your mind. Slowly read Psalm 23 through once or twice. What stands out to you in this passage?

Renew: Take time to meditate or journal about how you have seen God’s goodness and mercy following you. Write down the large and the small ways you find evidence for goodness and mercy in your life.

Next: Keep your eyes open this week for ways that you see goodness and mercy. What you pay attention to changes your focus. As you pay attention to finding goodness and mercy, you will no doubt find them.

May we have joy on the adventure of life, knowing that goodness and mercy are following after us.

Pause, Renew, Next!

Never Alone

I think there is a good reason that the apostle Paul never names his infamous “thorn in the flesh.” By not giving it a name or a condition, we can all place our own suffering experience into the text and relate to his pain. Although I am not an expert on the subject of suffering, I certainly can relate to a thorn in the flesh. Mine happens to be in the form of joint instability and the pain that goes with it. I too have asked for my thorn to be removed. Although I hope that one day I am healed, for now, the Lord is slowly teaching me that His grace really is sufficient.

My “thorn in the flesh” journey began about six years ago. A year or two into the journey, I remember a day that I took a walk in the woods. As I walked, I was thinking and praying, and honestly feeling pretty sorry for myself. Any time I took a walk my dog, Todd, a black lab mix, walked with me. He was so enthusiastic, running ahead, chasing all the smells and noises, but constantly making sure that he was near me.  He would double back around to check in with me, before chasing the next smell.

A loyal companion

I was contemplating how faithful my dog was to me, when I felt the Lord impress on my spirit that He was the same way.  I might be going through suffering, but I would not do it alone. The Lord was with me, and He had given me a family (and dog) who loved me and would walk with me on this journey.

As time passes, even though I feel that I grow wiser, somehow I find that I need to be reminded of truths that the Lord has taught me before. Flash forward to this week, when the Lord did a similar thing for me again. Last week I was experiencing more pain than usual, and with the pain came worry, insecurity, and fear of the future. One afternoon I took a walk and was praying about it. By praying about it, I mean ugly crying and once again having a pity party. As I walked and cried, a phrase from Psalm 91 came into my head: “I will be with him in trouble.” I stopped walking, and pulled out my Bible app to read the whole verse:

“When he calls to me, I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble; I will rescue him and honor him.”

Psalm 91:15

Once again, the Lord reassured me that although I was experiencing pain, I was not in it alone.

The promises of Scripture are so rich. When we suffer, we can hold on to God’s promises more tightly, exploring the depths of them more fully.  We serve a dependable God. He is the same today, tomorrow, and forever. My feelings and circumstances change, but His grace and faithfulness don’t waver. I’m so thankful that when our perspective is skewed by pain and fear, He reminds us of His faithfulness.

In Christ, we are never alone.

Pause: Find space in your day that you have time to read, pray, and journal.  Look for promises in Scripture about suffering and God’s faithfulness (or whatever else pertains to your current life situation).

Renew: Write these verses down in a journal so that you can revisit these promises when you need a reminder.  If there are one or two verses that really stand out to you, put them on a 3X5 card and carry them with you or put them in a place that you will see them often.

Next: Take opportunities throughout this week to bring your thoughts and feelings to the Lord in prayer.  Take time to listen for His voice and to spend time in the Bible meditating on what you read there. The Lord has the power to re-frame our perspective about our circumstances.

May you have the reassurance that the Lord goes before you, behind you, and with you, always.

Pause, Renew, Next!

© 2022 PRN

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑