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.

Disappointment and Success

My three oldest daughters applied to staff a leadership camp we’ve been involved with for the last six years.

They were turned down.

I’m disappointed.

But, as we’ve contemplated why they might have been turned down, I’ve been reminded again of what is true. Acceptance and success aren’t always based on character. Sometimes people are considered successful because they have a lot of money. Or because they have nice things. Or because they are friendly and popular. Or because they are friends with the right people. Sometimes, the gems get missed because they aren’t obvious to the casual observer.

God knows.

He knew what Israel would be looking for in a king. Someone who looked the part; tall, handsome, energetic, winsome (at least in some ways). He also knew what lay behind those good looks and winsome personality; a man without character. A man who would be led astray by the influence of popular opinion and who’s confidence was in himself rather than where it belonged. God knew, when He sent Samuel to anoint the king, what the journey would be. He knew.

God also knew what kind of king Israel really needed, even though that future king was only a shepherd, and a kind of scrawny one at that. God told Samuel, in 1 Samuel 16:7, “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees…man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” NASB.

God said David was a man after His own heart, and he proved to be a good king. Actually, he was one of Israel’s best. And God promised he would always have a descendent sitting on the throne of Israel.

Even Jesus wasn’t that impressive, as far as world leaders go. He never owned a home, never led an army. Before He died, He lost all of His followers! And if you want to talk about impressive, you won’t be listing any of His disciples in that bunch. A rag-tag bunch of social misfits, they were anything but impressive. Yet, Jesus knew what lay in their hearts; He knew their unrecognized, untapped potential. And He used them to change the world! He knew that what mattered wasn’t what people could see. What really mattered was what people couldn’t.

Obviously, I’m a little biased about my children, and I am so proud of the young women they are becoming. I think the organization that rejected them was wrong. I also know that if my girls had needed the experience of serving with this organization, God would have worked it out. They didn’t, so He didn’t.

Instead, God is giving my precious, beautiful, amazing daughters (like I said, I’m a little biased) an opportunity to learn about disappointment, in the comfort and security of a loving home. It is an opportunity for them to “keep their crowns on”  no matter what the world tries to do, and to begin learning the definition of true success.

Bringing Beauty Out of Ashes

Lately I’ve been contemplating the passage in Isaiah 61 where God describes bringing beauty out of ashes. Not sure how I got started reading that chapter, or what prompted the memory, but as I contemplate those precious words, God is helping me recognize how He is at work, fulfilling that promise, all around me.

The first example is my dad. He served in Vietnam in the 60s, before meeting my mother. His tour of duty included convoy escorts, MP duty, and sitting behind a machine gun on a helicopter. He saw hundreds of buddies die during his months in country, and came home with a ticking time bomb in his mind. Almost twenty years later, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder reared its ugly head. At the time, few people (including my father) understood what was going on. Over the next several years, he suffered the loss of a very successful job, my childhood home, most of his friends, and almost all of his self esteem. It was only by the grace of God that my dad didn’t end his life, an option he contemplated on multiple occasions. 

Fast forward many years, to 2010, when my father attended a Bridges-to-Healing conference in Washington State. Not only did he hear about a biblical response to PTSD, but his survival and defiance of the odds was celebrated by the Cru Military staff sponsoring the event. That experience changed my father’s life. And, when the traveling Vietnam Memorial Wall came to our city, my father not only visited (with all of us in tow), but he was able to do so in peace. Image

 

My father’s healing is complete, and God is bringing beauty out of the ashes of his suffering by giving him the opportunity to invest in the lives of other combat veterans who are still suffering the affects of their service to our country. He is actually a member of the Men’s Ministry team at his church, where they are launching a Bridges-to-Healing movement in November, just before Veteran’s Day.

God is also bringing beauty out of the ashes of my mother’s heartache. Not only has she stayed married to a combat veteran suffering with PTSD, but she has suffered the loss of a child; my sister died from complications related to Diabetes ten years ago. This spring, a woman who lost her daughter to pneumonia sought my mother out, for comfort and help in dealing with such a devastating loss. They’ve been meeting regularly to process the agony only a grieving parent can feel. God is bringing beauty out of ashes. Another mother may be joining them in coming weeks; her daughter was tragically killed in a car accident. She was only 15.

My eighteen year old daughter is struggling to trust God will bring beauty out of the ashes of her dashed hopes and dreams. Since childhood, my daughter has dreamed of entering the Main Reading Room of the Library of Congress. Thanks to some very generous gifts, we were able to book two flights to Washington D.C. We got home the day before the House caved in on the budget and debt ceiling. My daughter spent a week in the nation’s capitol while everything was shut down (we bought non-refundable tickets, and didn’t get insurance) and missed seeing the Library of Congress by one day. It was heartbreaking; she spent part of one whole day fighting tears. I was sick to my stomach.

Sometimes we don’t know what God will do with the ashes of our hopes and dreams. We can’t see how He will bring beauty out of something so ugly and broken. Yet, in His own way, He always does. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose. But we often forget to include Romans 8:29. That verse says that those God foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son (italics added). Ultimately, no matter what else happens, followers of Jesus can count on God bringing beauty out of ashes, and whatever happens being used to make us more like Jesus. That, all by itself, is beautiful.