See the Good

I was just journaling about how discouraged I am only one and a half weeks officially into my new job. Discouraged with the time it consumes, the endless emails and virtual meetings, the feeling like I’ll never catch up. Discouraged that I haven’t found a rhythm, and that any time I try to plan how long I’ll work or what I’ll work on, my plans get pulled from my hands and stretched like silly putty in 89 different ways. Discouraged that I sometimes lose sleep at night wondering, How will I ever get it all done?

I’m one of those people who doesn’t like to leave things undone. Classic example: I normally have a clean email inbox. I don’t like unread messages, and I like to categorize what I have read, replied to, and completed. Now? I have three new inboxes, for my one new job, and each seems to have an April Fools’ “work more” code built into it. Every time I open an email in one inbox, three more appear in another. April Fools! It never ends! Somewhere, at this very moment, one of my former computer science engineering students who got a job at Google is probably laughing maniacally at the perfect revenge he’s exacted on me for making too many comments and then giving him a B (Oh, the horror!) on his technical communication papers.

Also right about now? My boss is probably reading this and saying to herself, I need to call Rhonda and make sure she’s okay. No need to call, Ann. I’m okay. Just keep reading. (She’s a great boss. I’ve been so blessed in that department, both in the past and the present.)

As I was journaling, I went through a timeline of my life just since yesterday morning, listing all that had happened and—I’ll admit it—implicitly complaining about how busy my life has become. I had just written, “I’m getting discouraged about how this job is going so far…” when I picked up my coffee mug and took a gulp of delicious (Irish) coffee. My mug that I got last week for my birthday, that I had asked for. My mug that says “See the good.”

That’s when the whisper came: Remember—this job is God’s provision for you and your family. This job is helping you keep your kids in a Christian school. This job is giving you time to serve at your local church as a weekend producer—every weekendsomething you only thought was possible if you got a paying job at the church.

Stoneware coffee mug that says "See the good" with the edge of a leather journal in the foreground

Remember to See the Good.

See, God gave me a dream and a calling, and then challenged me to let him work out the details. Working out the details, though, is one of the hardest things for me to let others do. It was when I gave up on trying to plan for the details—when I gave up the job, gave up any concrete plans for a paycheck, and just offered my time and services freely—that he stepped in and provided. God dropped a job in my lap and opened up the opportunity for me to serve at church without worrying about compensation. I’m living—in part—the dream God put in my heart, serving as the weekend producer for our church services. The rest? If they’re of God, they’ll come in time—in his time.

That’s what—who—I need to focus on. Him. God, and the good he has done in my life, and is doing all around me. He’s doing good all the time; sometimes, though, we need to have him whisper a reminder to open our eyes and see it. As I was journaling, I was reminded that I shouldn’t allow myself to get mired down by counting hours and emails. I shouldn’t allow myself to become discouraged over a job—a gift of God’s provision.

Instead, I need to See the Good.

God With Us (a Christmas poem)

entrusted to our care
the Breath of Life
drew his first breath
heaven’s earthly heir

Creator become creation
God’s Word in human form
the Breath of Life
in human flesh
God With Us
He is born

in the dark
a shining light
a solitary voice
announced his coming
to blind and deaf
a precious few rejoiced

Peace on Earth

the royal retinue
ripped through heaven’s seams
proclaiming glory
shouting praise
“This One should be esteemed!”

Creator become creation
God’s Word in human form
the Breath of Life
in human flesh
God With Us
He is born

years later
in our arrogance
we broke that baby’s trust
sin pierced his flesh
the curtain tore
and blew in Breath’s last gust

entrusted to His care
the Breath of Life
expelled to make us
heaven’s earthly heirs

Creator become creation
God’s Word in human form
the Breath of Life
returned to flesh
God With Us
we are reborn

Can I Confess and Tell You Something?

I was in a two-on-one Bible study with my youth pastor’s wife when I was in my late teens. Two-on-one meaning my best friend and I got to meet and study God’s word with her alone, together. It was at that time that she urged us to promise God that we’d spend half an hour each day with him, reading his word and praying. In so many ways, that Bible study was the foundation of this challenge.

In my late teens, I made that promise. I remember one night, a few months (years, perhaps?) later, sitting, crying, and whining in that same friend’s house, confessing to her and one other friend, “I don’t want to read my Bible today!”

Can I confess to you now, two-and-a-half decades later, that I regret ever having made a promise to God? I regret having promised it because shortly after that night (months, maybe years?) I walked away from my promise. I broke it. I rebelled, and what it came down to was I didn’t trust God to take care of the most important parts—to me—of my life.

Thank God for his grace, for going back and calling his lost sheep back to the fold, time and time again (Luke 15:3-6). I am one of those sheep.

Looking back now, I realize what an incredible blessing that time in my life was—the time of pastors’ wives, pastors in training, and youth pastors pouring into me, discipling me. Because it wasn’t just the one pastor’s wife; at one time when I was young, I was so hungry and thirsty (Matthew 5:6) and I was blessed to be surrounded by Godly men and women who took their time out to feed and teach me.

Can I tell you that if you are one of God’s workers pouring into a young life, don’t give up hope? If it looks like your work has been in vain, if you’ve “lost” someone to the world’s temptations, keep hoping. Keep praying. I’m sure someone was hoping and praying for me. And remember that even when we humans are not, God is faithful.

As I was contemplating Day 12’s challenge question—”Why do I read the Bible?” for me—I was reminded, as I often am, of that broken promise, the one I should not have made. The urge to make it was well-intentioned, but in my young heart and ears and mind it was not accompanied by the appropriate warnings (Matthew 5:33-37). I’m not saying my youth pastor’s wife didn’t mention them—I’m saying that if she did, I did not take them to heart. And I didn’t understand that the promise I was making was one that was at the same time impossible to break and impossible to keep.

Journal with a hand-written page listing reasons the writer reads the Bible, and another, closed journal sitting on the opposite page. The closed journal has a floral design and the words “Happy thoughts and beautiful words” on the cover.

What? Both impossible to break and impossible to keep? Yes.

Impossible to break, because if my promise—the intention of my fickle heart—was to spend half an hour each day with God, that was a silly, foolish promise because God is always with me. There is nowhere I can go that he is not (Psalm 139:7-8). But if my promise was to spend half an hour each day acknowledging God’s presence and spending deliberate time with him—the more literal way I interpreted it when I made the vow—then I was promising something that was beyond my control. True, most days I have the freedom to choose to pray, to choose to read my Bible. But God may someday take that choice away from me by rendering me too ill to be able to make that choice, like he chose to do with my mother who was bedridden, on pain relievers, and sometimes incoherent in her five months with terminally ill, stage four cancer. The point is that this was not a promise that was mine to make, simply because making it suggested I had the power, in myself, to keep it.

I did not.

Can I tell you something else? I am back to keeping my promise, have been back, for several years now. And these years that I have spent dedicating the best part of my day to the Lord have been the sweetest, most precious times with him I have ever spent. Because God has spent the time teaching me the answers to the reason I walked away in the first place: for several years now, he has been telling and teaching my soul, my heart, my mind, You can trust me.

You can trust me, because I love you. It struck me just how much God loves me when I read Psalm 139:1-6—the more famous verses of this Psalm are those often used by pro-life groups, verses 13-18—and recognized it for what it was: the description of someone so in love with another that he can’t help but watch her every move, memorize everything about her. Thinking of God being so attentive to me—to me—made me blush, not with embarrassment but with pleasure to think that someone could be so in love with me:

You have searched me, LORD,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise,
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all of my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, LORD, know it completely.
You hem me in behind and before,
and you lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
too lofty for me to attain. (NIV)

So yes, I read. I read my Bible not because I made a promise, but because God’s love for me draws me to it, to him. The Bible is God’s written word left for me—and for you—so that we can come to know him. So that we can come to trust him.

As a writer who thinks of writing as art, I want to leave the blog there—to just stop, and let readers be. But as someone who knows she—I—am ultimately responsible for my words, wanting them to shine and be refined in the fire rather than melt away into ash (1 Corinthians 3:11-13), I need to make two things clear:

  1. In no way am I urging you not to commit spending daily time with God. That has been one of the reasons for writing the challenge posts—to encourage people to do so! Spending time with God can change you, if you let him. And
  2. Neither am I saying that it is always wrong to make a vow to God—although some may interpret Jesus’ warning in Matthew 5:33-37 that way. Instead, I urge you to study that very question from a Biblical perspective, and look at commentary that interprets it, and determine in your own heart and mind whether it is appropriate or not—and whether the vow you intend to make is appropriate or not—before you do so.

One more thing—I can’t walk away from here without saying a huge, heartfelt Thank You to those who poured into me when I was young, whether they ever read this blog and recognize themselves in it or not. For each of you, I treasure your love for the Lord, your love for me, the time you spent with me, and your obedience to the Lord: Vicki, Kris, Trina, Tom, Micki, and Tony. Thank you.