Guaranteed Outcomes?

I wish life had guaranteed outcomes. I really do.

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of FrameAngel at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

I wish that it worked like a vending machine; you put a certain number of coins in, you make your selection, and tada…whatever you want comes out of the little slot.

 

 

 

Or you go to the coffee shop and give them money and they give you a cup of joy with foamy creaminess.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers. All rights reserved.

Unfortunately, life does not have guaranteed outcomes. You can invest your entire life in something, only to have it collapse into a heap before your eyes. You can invest your life’s savings into a “guaranteed” investment opportunity, and watch your future disappear in moments. You can make “all the right choices” and still deal with negative consequences, through no fault of your own.

That can be especially true in parenting.

Parenting, it turns out, is much like a crap shoot. You can make your choices, but you really don’t know what the outcome will be for a very long time. And even if you do all the things that “experts” recommend, you can’t guarantee outcomes, especially as children get older. It isn’t like when they are young and you can control all the details of their environment. In the end, control shouldn’t be the goal anyway. Having worked with college students professionally and raising a few of my own, over-controlled home environments leave children weak and unprepared for the real world when they leave home, and be assured…they will leave.

But, it still seems like we should have some guarantees…some sort assured return on our investment, especially when we try so hard to be faithful. And when you don’t get the outcome you expected, prayed for, worked towards, and invested in, it is very disappointing. Such has been my reality lately. God and I have had many a serious conversation on this issue, usually involving tears, and a great deal of meditation on what the Bible says about parenting.

And what the Bible says about parents.

Which led me to Daniel.

In the opening verses of Daniel, we find out that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were all taken to Babylon after Judah fell.

What I find intriguing about Daniel and Co. is that in a generation so corrupt and disobedient that God sent them into captivity, these four young men were different…very different. They were so in love with the Law and the Law Giver that they resisted the peer pressure and indoctrination of the Babylonian Empire, remaining true to God and His ways through out their lives; Daniel for more than seventy years.

That didn’t happen by accident.

It happened because their parents did a fantastic job raising them

in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

We can tell by the outcome that these parents did a good job, in the midst of a perverse generation where so many others failed.

Judging by the results, these parents did everything right. And I am very confident watching their boys be carted away by the lawless, heathen Babylonians was not the outcome they’d expected. And they probably never knew what the real outcome was. If they were anything like me, they struggled with what God allowed to happen.

On further reflection, though, I’m struck with the reality that God loves our children more than we do. Indeed, Jeremiah 29:11 is just as true for them as it is for me…God knows the plans He has for my children, and His plans are for good, not harm…for them or for me.

Romans 8:28 & 29 talk about God’s plans as well. He promises to use everything in our lives to make us more like Jesus.

That is absolutely the outcome I desire for my children…what more could I want for them than to be more like Jesus.

I am beginning to learn, however, that it won’t look like I want it to; it won’t be the neat, tidy package all wrapped up with a bow like I planned. My children will experience heartache and disappointment. My children will make poor choices and suffer consequences…consequences I would try to protect them from. But, in my desire to protect them from pain, I might also prevent them from truly knowing God, from being able to find comfort in Him. After all, when do we get to know God the most intimately?

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Through pain.

We can’t get to know God as Healer until we need to be healed.

We can’t get to know God as our Strong Tower until we need some place to hide.

We can’t get to know God as Comforter until we need to be comforted.

It is in those moments, when we most need Him, that God helps us understand His love in a way ease and comfort never will.

Suffering can build intimacy and faith.

Suffering can develop trust and confidence.

This has been true in my life. And as painful as the process may be, it is what I pray will be true for my children…

intimacy with God…a deep abiding confidence in His character, regardless of circumstances.

As I walk a broken road with children whose hearts I can no longer protect, the One who has so faithfully carried me is proving that He can also carry them. It doesn’t get much better than that.

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A Cord of Three Strands

I’m studying in Colorado right now, investing time in theological development classes for Cru. And I’m on my own; my family is still in Spokane. That is by design; it is easier to study and work on projects or assignments without the pitter-patter of little feet.

It is also the first time in my adult life that I’m on my own. Even before I got married, I lived with roommates or at home. I’ve never had space all to myself, even temporarily. It’s actually been very nice, too, for the most part. As the mother of many, I am surrounded by noise. It’s okay; noisy children are generally much healthier than quiet children…I’ll take the noise any day. But constant noise wears you down. Sometimes it is nice to sit in silence. It is also nice to be the only one making messes; it is so much easier to keep things tidy that way. Or to leave a mess out with no fear that it will be disturbed; very convenient when working on major projects over a period of several days. Cooking is easier, food lasts longer, laundry is quick and simple. In so many ways, living by myself is easier than living in a full house.

But, easier isn’t always better.

Since I’ve been in Colorado, I’ve been sick twice. Once wasn’t so bad; I kind of knew how to manage. The other was all sorts of awful. Fever, body aches, tummy troubles, exhaustion…the whole nine yards. And I was all alone…nobody was around refill my water cup or to re-wet the cool cloth I was putting on my head. Nobody to make me a smoothie or heat soup or wash the dishes while I was down. A whole day went by where I didn’t eat and hardly got out of bed. I was sick!

That experience drove home a lesson Solomon wrote about a long time ago. Ecclesiastes 4 says “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him – a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 ESV.

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Gualberto107 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Generally I associate this with marriage. Indeed, that is the context in which I have heard it mentioned most often. And the idea that the Holy Spirit is the third part of the aforementioned cord is great for illustrating the strength available to Christian couples who rely on the Spirit in their relationship. But I think that oversimplifies and misses the point of what Solomon is saying, mostly because he isn’t talking about marriage in this passage. He is talking about community.

We use the word “community” quite loosely in our culture. We have community centers, we try to foster “community” while mourning its loss, both inside and outside the Church. We are more connected digitally connected

"Global Network Devices" Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Global Network Devices” Image courtesy of hywards at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

than ever in history, and more lonely than ever as well. I don’t think we are really experiencing the biblical idea of community, at least not as a general culture. And that is sad.

The reality is, we are all need community and fellowship. We are all on the verge of falling down or needing help to get back up, but in so many ways we’re traveling in isolation, afraid to let anyone know our weakness or potential for falling. And we are worse off because of it.

I don’t have any wonderful solutions. Just the realization that community is a good thing and I want more of it. I am also equally aware that community isn’t instant, easy, or problem-free. Sometimes the people in our community contribute to our falls. Sometimes we contribute to theirs. Community is messy. And often painful. It is the opposite of easy. But in the end, it is so worthwhile. And the fruit of walking with people, through brokenness and failure, through pushing and being pushed, through helping people back on their feet and being helped…the fruit of walking in humility and brokenness with others is the treasure of community…of being truly “known” and knowing others.

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

photo courtesy of Marchauna Rodgers, all rights reserved

That is a treasure that can not be replaced by digital devices, meet ups, or sterile community centers. That treasure can only be found in the hard work and muck of walking through life together…falling down and getting back up…in true community.

What do you value about community?

What do you fear?

How do those realities affect your choices on a daily basis, and what do you want to do about it?

 

Impostors

Last week, Rachel Dolezal was a relatively unknown part-time college professor and advocate for African-Americans in a small town in Eastern Washington. This week, her name is trending on Twitter and her story is drawing international attention, including this story posted by the BBC. Social media is ablaze with different opinions of her choices and behavior. Some are comparing Ms Dolezal’s racial identification with Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner’s gender identification. Others think such comparisons are unfair…to Jenner.

But, can I ask you a question? Why would someone, anyone, choose to “be” someone they are not? Forget the media hype and spin. Forget the rightness or wrongness of what’s been done. Step back and ask yourself the question,

What brokenness is reflected by this story?

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Then, ask yourself what your is greatest fear? Besides public speaking, or (for Millennials) having your identity stolen, many people fear being exposed as an impostor or a fraud. How would you like to have your deepest secret exposed for all the world see…and weigh in on?

Based on the response to Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power poses and how they shape us, many of us do fear being exposed…Amy describes her personal experience, and the experience of one of her students, in her TED Talk. Both of them felt like impostors, like they didn’t belong! And I’m confident many of us have felt the same way. I know I have.

We long for relationship…to belong…to be known. Yet, to be known we must risk exposure of the parts of us that we aren’t sure people will accept, even parts of us that we are sure people won’t accept – parts people have not accepted. Can you identify with that fear of being exposed as an impostor? I can!! As the homeschooling mother of eight, I know people make certain assumptions about me…I’m really organized, I’m really disciplined, I’m really patient, I’m really busy… And on some days, all those statements  are true. But on other days,  none of them are!! I can’t find anything, I waste time on Facebook and Twitter, I yell at my kids, I accomplish nothing all day. And I don’t want you to come to my house on those days!! I don’t want you to know that I’m broken, because then you might not like me anymore. Can anyone else relate to that? Or am I the only one who struggles with feeling like an impostor? iStock_000019537219_XXXLarge

The reality is, though, all of us are broken…all of us are impostors in one way or another. We pretend to be confident when we’re afraid. We are careful about our appearance so that people will accept us. We choose or avoid relationships and activities because of fear of exposure…all of us, on some level, can relate to Rachel Dolezal.

What if we treat Ms Dolezal like we want to be treated? What if we recognize her behavior, whether we understand it or not, is driven by her brokenness, just like ours is? What if we extend grace instead of throwing stones? What if…

 

Broken tile photo © Marchauna Rodgers. Mask photo from istock photos.