F.R.O.G.

My twins’ second-grade teacher Mrs. M gave them the basis for a lifelong theology last year. In a classroom decorated with frogs—ALL kinds of them, even those amazingly brilliant tree frogs that look like they’ve been dipped in paint—with pet frogs in an aquarium in the corner and a teacher who occasionally wore frog-decorated clothing, my kids learned, over and over, an amazing lesson: F.R.O.G. Fully Rely on God.

That’s a powerful lesson, especially when it’s coupled with a teacher who lives it out—as Mrs. M does, in spite of some pretty heavy issues in both her past and present.

I can’t begin to count the number of surgeries Mrs. M has had. She’s also had cancer. Her mother died last year. She taught much of the 2011-12 school year with her arm in a sling; this year she’s had to use a rolling “thingie” to support one knee while she’s taught. She is often in great pain.

She models F.R.O.G.ing, not with fake smiles or a grin-and-bear-it attitude, but with a full acknowledgement that reliance on anything or anyone OTHER than God is a gamble she is not willing to take. The result is a woman marked by quiet persistence who extends honest grace to herself and to others.

The result is a woman who teaches F.R.O.G.ing not only with her words but with her life.

I’m still learning to F.R.O.G. My twins think they “learned it” last year, but they’ll find it’s a lifelong lesson. It’s so easy for us to put our trust in something or someone other than God. This life “seems” to demand it, and even though we know, deep down, that we’re eventually doomed to be disappointed by others or “stuff,” we hope—and sometimes even pray—that we will not be one of the “unlucky” ones who gets cancer, or whose spouse cheats, or whose children get sick or die. We trust in our jobs, assuming that we will not be the one who loses it and becomes homeless.

F.R.O.G.ing requires that we grip things loosely, with an understanding that all things could go “wrong,” but we are still held fast by a God who is not rocked by any circumstances. We cannot genuinely and completely F.R.O.G. here on earth. (I’ve seen people who try to F.R.O.G. in their own strength. They hold back from deep relationship with other people and live in extreme asceticism, but this isn’t true trust and it certainly doesn’t do others any good.) But a genuine desire to fully trust that is borne out of the understanding that we are not capable–not even of trusting–will be answered. God will gently deepen our trust through one trial after another in which He is proven to be, time and again, a faithful, loving, ever-present God.

This morning I read I Peter 5:7 in the Amplified version. In most other versions, it’s such a quick verse that it’s easy to blip over its meaning, but God used the Amplified version to catch my attention today: “Casting the whole of your care [all your anxieties, all your worries, all your concerns, once and for all] on Him, for He cares for you affectionately and cares about you watchfully.” I Peter 5:7

In Isaiah 30, God rebukes His people because they are trusting in an alliance with another nation. They have placed their confidence in the false prophets who told them everything would be “okay.” God reminded them that this was a wrong source of trust: “In returning [to Me] and resting [in Me] you shall be saved; in quietness and in [trusting] confidence shall be your strength. But you would not,”

Today I am grateful for Mrs. M. She is one who lives out returning and resting and trusting confidence.

And in doing so, she has given a lasting gift to many

Emily and Kelly trying out a homemade face mask they made.

Emily and Kelly trying out a homemade face mask they made.

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Trusting God in sleep

PJ, wearing my sunglasses at a soccer game

Last spring when our old Joe Boxer (literally of the boxer breed) died, he was fairly docile. He grumbled when we had the college men’s soccer team over (he was a woman’s dog), but that was the extent of his grumpiness.

He wasn’t always that way. We got him as a wild, uncontrolled one-year-old, and he didn’t respond to the regular training I’d used with all our other dogs. By the time he was 3, I was fed up with his desire to fight every male dog we encountered and I worried that this aggression might spread to people. I called a dog trainer and shared his history. She asked to see him in our home.

He was tense with her, displaying all the behaviors of an unreliable dog, and when she sat down with me at our dining room table, I could tell she was going to give me bad news.

Then Joe came over and curled up at my feet, quickly slipping into a deep, snoring sleep.

She stopped her lead-up to the “bad news” and looked at me in surprise.

“He trusts you!” she said.

“What?”

“Dogs don’t sleep like that—“ she pointed to his now fully-splayed-out position—“unless they feel secure with a person.” She looked back up at me. “I think you can work with him.”

I recently re-listened to a sermon by John Piper (http://www.desiringgod.org/) on Psalm 127:2, “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for He gives to His beloved sleep.” The most straightforward interpretation of the second half of the verse is simply that God gives us sleep and rest. He allows us the time we need to step away from life, to lose consciousness of stress and concern, heartache and pain. We ALWAYS need this break from life, but it is especially necessary when we are suffering with deep grief or pain. In those times, sleep is one of the greatest blessings.

But Piper pointed out that this interpretation, though completely valid, doesn’t fit with the phrases preceding it. Therefore, based on the context of the verse itself—and the meanings of the Hebrew words used—he suggests another interpretation: “He grants IN sleep to His beloved.”

In our sleep—a resting, trusting sleep—the never-slumbering, never-weary God works for us and in us.

Piper gave the example of preparing for the seminary classes he taught years ago. He would stay up late, trying to get everything right, and wake up stressed about the class. Finally he realized this was a lack of trust.

I identify with his example. I’ve burned the candle at both ends for much of my teaching career. I’ve regularly gone without sleep to get things done and not sacrifice time with my kids. And I’ve trusted and prayed that God would increase my strength even though I was not getting enough sleep (and, for seasons, I think this is valid).

But long-term patterns of this are not healthy. And the pattern I’m currently in of living like this is going a little too long.

Could this be a lack of trust on my part? When I’ve managed my time well and prioritized my tasks and responsibilities, should there be a clear stopping point? What would happen if I really trusted this promise? Really trusted that God will work miracles while I sleep?

Obviously this is not like the elves and the shoemaker. I’m not going to wake up to find my house cleaned and my papers graded. But perhaps the verse “the mercies of the Lord are new every morning” applies to this. At 10 at night, facing a messy house, I feel nothing but frustration. At 2 a.m., bleary-eyed, staring at a computer screen, I lose sight of anything but exhaustion. But in sleep I gain a new perspective. I see those mercies of the Lord. I gain strength. My creativity is refreshed.

Doing my best and then stopping my efforts, allowing for good rest: this requires that I trust God will increase my strength, my creativity, and my thinking IN sleep so that the next day more is miraculously accomplished than what would have gotten done had I stayed up late.

That interpretation fits with the first part of the verse, which tells me that it’s foolish (and counter-productive) for me to stay up late and get up early—in this hamster-in-a-wheel effort to get it all done.

That brings me full circle (no pun intended) to Joe Boxer and his trust in me. The trainer was right. His trust allowed me to work with him, to form a dog-person relationship that transformed him into a dog that was amazing with the twin babies I had less than a year after I talked with that trainer, and with the rambunctious three-year-old we brought home from Africa in Joe’s old age.

Could the same be true with God?

Is my lack of trust in this area hampering His work in my heart? Interfering with my focus?

Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will both lie down and sleep;

Jake, being silly and wearing my sunglasses at a soccer game (where much of our afternoon time is spent right now).

For You, Lord, alone make me dwell in safety and confident trust.”

This Way, His Way

The four beautiful Del Vecchio women: from left, niece Anna, sister-in-law Cindy, niece Sarah, and niece Grace. Not pictured from their family are my brother Mike and nephew Luke. We visited them this past week for spring break and had a great time. Thank you, Del Vecchios, for hosting our crazy family.

I give the “five minutes till we need to be out the door” call, but four of us are still together in the bathroom. I stretch over Maddie, brushing her teeth at one corner of the sink, so I can lean against the mirror and dab mascara on my lashes. Beside Maddie, PJ shoves for space to spit. Behind us Em scrabbles in the “hair stuff” drawer to find a rubber band for her braid. Then Jake wanders in. I glance at his feet.

“Where are your shoes?”

His eyes go wide.

Shoes? His look says to me. Did you mention shoes?

“Jake, I’ve already asked you three times to put on your shoes!”

“Oh, okay.” He turns to go.

“But don’t you need to brush your teeth?”

He turns back. “Yeah, but you just said to get my shoes.”

“Well you might as well brush your teeth while you’re in here. Patrick, stop wiping your mouth on your sleeve. That’s gross.”

Maddie interrupts. “Mom, what’s today?”

“What?”

“What day is today?”

“Why does THAT matter right now?”

“I want to read the verse for today, and I don’t know if you’ve already flipped it.”

I hadn’t.

I’d been too rushed.

I look at my watch and tell her the date. She reads the verse aloud, “Psalm 25:4. Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.”

And in the fussing of Jake getting to the sink and Patrick and Maddie away from it, of Emily reaching between to wet a hairbrush, I hear the Holy Spirit’s clear whisper: “This is not My Way.”

This: the hustle-bustle that I in large part created with my impatient spirit.

This: the grasping of minutes only as vehicles to “being on time for the ‘bigger’ thing” rather than as gifts in themselves.

This: moments lived without remembrance of the Giver, without heeding what He wants me to see and learn

Suddenly they are gone and I am alone in the bathroom. I lean over the sink, finally still.

Why do I have to learn this lesson over and over? I wonder, but I look again at the verse: Make me to know your ways, O LORD; teach me your paths.

I’d read Psalm 25 recently. I know what it teaches about “His Way.”

“To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust… Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long.”

Not rushing.

Waiting.

Even in busy moments, waiting—to see God’s gifts, to see HIM. I often think of waiting as inactive, but couldn’t “waiting” be “expectation”? Couldn’t I live each moment expecting that I will see Him in it? That I will learn more about Him in it?

The psalmist did. He wrote, “For You I wait all the day long.”

All the day long!

Every minute lived in expectation that God will be in it!

THAT kind of expecting would affect far more than my rushed moments. It would cause me to “lift up my soul”—my whole being— to God. It would cause me to trust in Him as my complete salvation, my full purpose. It would lead, eventually, to what the psalmist calls friendship (also translated as “secret counsel”) with God (verse 14) and a deep understanding of God’s way—so, so different from ours.

Am I going to live this way—in the hurry-scurry of my middle-class suburbia, this way that leads so easily to a life that’s self-focused and blinded to others’ needs?

Or am I going to live His way?

One small step at a time, one moment leading to the next, listening closely and expectantly to the Holy Spirit’s whisper, trusting that all the moments—the small steps—add up to the everlasting path, the Way of Life.

His Way.

Show me Your ways, my Lord, teach me Your paths.

And then, please, help me to walk, step by step, in Your Way.

Spade Work

We spent Thanksgiving with my side of the family at my sister's place in North Carolina. Here's Seth (my sister Lynda's fourth child) throwing our PJ up in the air. What an awesome image of trust!

At this morning’s first church service, I read the Scripture passage for the Advent: “John 10: 10-18, ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’” Man, I have a good reading voice. “’I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.’” I wonder if anyone out there is thinking, “What a nice reading voice she has?”

Seriously, it happened. Maybe a bit more subtly than the way I wrote it above, but it happened. Darts of pride and self-awareness were shooting at me—and not from outside—from within! I had suddenly become the enemy.

I used to watch middle-aged-and-up women (and oh-my-word, I’m one of them now) in church and think: They have it! By it, I meant that they had “arrived,” that they had conquered sin habits and lived in a state of constant peace and faithfulness.

Well, if my own journey is anything to gauge it by, that’s not the way it works. I heard a preacher say recently (Rick McKinley at Imago Dei Church in Seattle) that Christians in their twenties haven’t yet discovered how truly sinful they are.

It’s true! In my twenties (and a little beyond) I remember taking stock of my sin problems and thinking it was only a matter of time and maturity before I had them licked—with God’s help, of course! I would add.

That makes me laugh now! With every passing year I discover more darkness within my own heart. The image I get is of roots going deep into the ground. I dig and dig—and find more and more, tiny tendrils (or not so tiny!) shooting out in all directions, growing faster than I can chop them off, going down into depths I can’t even see.

But I’ve made another discovery lately, this one far more hopeful: every sin root I find is an evidence of—and an opportunity for—GRACE!

I am often shocked by my sin. Seriously! I didn’t just think THAT! Maybe Satan planted that idea in my head; maybe I saw something that triggered it. That couldn’t come out of ME!

But it does, and God’s reaction to my sin is very different than my own. He is not surprised by it. He also doesn’t have my false levels of what is ok and what is not. He does NOT say what I sometimes imagine He does: You did what, Jen? That may be the last straw for you. That’s a new low!

No, He’s not shocked. In fact, He knew about it all along and is revealing it to me at just the right time. Last year a good friend told me, “I’ve learned to thank God when I recognize a sinful pattern in myself because it’s an area where He is leading me into growth. I can’t grow if I don’t see anything wrong or lacking.”

He knew about it all along (so it’s evidence of His great grace—loving me even though I’m far worse than I ever thought I was), AND He wants to use this new recognition I have of my sinfulness to help me to grow, i.e. OPPORTUNITY!

I limit and demean God’s grace when I am shocked by my sin AND when I try to deal with it on my own, wielding my trowels, shovels, even pickaxes in self-powered attempts to dig out the new roots I’ve discovered. Contrary to that, there’s great freedom in saying, as God gave me grace to do this morning, “Wow, Lord, You can see what I am wrestling with here. I confess that I’m struggling with some pretty nasty pride. I confess that it comes from me because I’m just as human as anybody else, and this is who I am in my human state. I’m so grateful You’re not blindsided by this, and I admit I need Your help to chop this root out. I know this won’t be accomplished immediately or even quickly—because it goes a lot deeper than I can see—but I ask for Your help in turning to You again and again when it pops up.”

This allows me to keep going (in this morning’s case, to keep reading) because I realize that my guilt-wallowing doesn’t accomplish my sanctification. I’m NOT saying I shouldn’t acknowledge my sin OR that I am not responsible for turning from it. Scripture uses strong language regarding sin in the lives of believers; “Put them to death,” it says”(Col. 3:5-8). But when I wallow in guilt, I resurrect the sins. I do the same when I try to pull the roots in my own power (oh, that awful “I got this” mentality). I choose either guilt or independence because it feels like I’m doing something, but both are counterproductive. I’m actually giving life to those sin roots.

So how do I pull them out/separate them from a power source? Well, God didn’t say to “put them to death” by myself. He wants me to cry out to Him. He WANTS to help me. And I have to acknowledge that I CAN’T to do that.

The battle is really a constant “setting aside” of self-sufficiency, a “putting on” of dependency that involves a deeper and deeper knowledge of who I really am without Christ.

Again, it’s paradoxical. Growth does not necessarily mean I struggle with sin LESS; it means I see more of it and I bring it to Christ again and again. As I do this, I grow more aware of my inability to deal with sin on my own.

And I also understand more deeply how God loves me—just as I am AND with a commitment to my growth.

“6And I am convinced and sure of this very thing, that He Who began a good work in you will continue until the day of Jesus Christ [right up to the time of His return], developing [that good work] and perfecting and bringing it to full completion in you” Philippians 1:6 (Amplified).