I love it when a plan comes together.
I particularly love it when that plan involves surprising Peter Worrall. He is not easy to surprise. Or maybe I am just rubbish at keeping secrets. Whichever it is, more times than I can count, he has figured me out and blown my cover.
On Sunday, though, I managed to get him good.
On Sunday Peter was scheduled to preach at a church in Downers Grove, a charming Chicago suburb about an hour south of us. He often preaches at churches around the area. Sometimes the whole family tags along. But other Sundays—for the sake of consistency for the kids—I take them to our home church in McHenry, and we spend Sundays apart.
As Father’s Day approached, I asked Peter what he wanted to do for that special Sunday. Should we all go to Downers Grove? Or should he go alone? Should we meet up later for lunch?
Last week was a fun, but very full, week for our family, including three very late nights in a row—resulting in sometimes-cranky kiddos and a sometimes-irritable momma. So, not surprisingly, Peter looked at all of us and decided that—Father’s Day notwithstanding—an early Sunday morning trek to Downers Grove wasn’t in anyone’s best interest. I nodded with resignation, but immediately the wheels in my head began to turn.
On Sunday morning, then, Peter woke up early and prepared to go preach. He wanted to get to the church nice and early, so he was leaving at 8 a.m. Before he headed out, he came and found me—still in the big bed, cuddling both kids. He kissed us and said, “Goodbye.”
“Happy Father’s Day!” we all said. “We love you.”
Then, as we listened to Peter packing his computer bag and searching for his keys downstairs, I whispered my plan to my co-conspirators. We were going to surprise Daddy by showing up at the church where he was going to preach. The kids gasped at the prospect, eyes big as saucers.
“What?!” Amelia exclaimed. This was apparently the most incredible idea she had ever heard.
“Shhh. We need to be still and quiet until he’s gone,” I whispered. And amazingly they complied. I think they even held their breath until we heard the backdoor close.
Then, on cue, we all three jumped out of bed and flew into motion. We had just 45 minutes to get on the road.
“Daryl, you look out your window and make sure Dad’s really gone. Amelia, let’s get you dressed. What do you want to wear for our big surprise?”
“He’s gone!” Daryl shouted, jumping on his bed. “He’s gone!”
“My Elsa nightgown!” Amelia shouted, jumping around her room. “My Elsa nightgown!”
Okay. Admittedly, the initial excitement over our scheme was short lived. There were difficult debates about Amelia’s clothing choices, and once we were finally on our way, there were innumerable “when will we be there?” whines from the backseat.
But I’d do it all over again. For the surprise and the smile on Peter’s face when he saw us down the hall. For the opportunity to support the man who gives so sacrificially to all of us. For the honor of hearing that man preach about family. For the chance to hear him recount how his own understanding of fatherhood has grown and how he wants to father in the future.
So today—even more than boast about my own success at surprising him (though there is that)—I want to provide you with a link to the Father’s Day message Peter shared on Sunday from Ephesians chapter 5. He scripted that sermon, which he doesn’t usually do. Much of the material is pretty personal, and he wanted to get it just right. The happy additional benefit of this is that he could post the manuscript on his own blog, which he did yesterday. And you can find it here.
There’s a lot in there. Maybe read it in chunks, point by point. Maybe share it with a few of your favorite fathers. And maybe remind them of your support and how necessary they are—as imperfect as they may be.
I met Meredith last month when Peter and I spoke at a young marrieds’ retreat in Gull Lake, Michigan. During the Saturday evening session, I spoke from John 11 about Mary and Martha and Lazarus and Christ. If you’ve done much reading here at This Odd House, you’ve probably picked up on how much I love that chapter—what it shows us about Jesus’ sense of timing and His purpose (the glory of God!) and His power over life and death.
As a part of my message that night, I also read from my essay “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.” It’s a hard piece about our infertility journey. In it I describe—in rather raw detail—the sort of spiritual crisis I found myself in. I’ve read this piece aloud to a few groups now, and I’m nervous every time. Understandably, I think. It’s a whole lot of vulnerable. But I share it because I want to give other people permission to bring their pain out of the shadows and into the light. I want to challenge the church to come alongside of them. I want to point them in the direction of true healing and hope.
Every time I’ve read it, I have been amazed. Every time, after I’ve read, a man or a woman or a couple (or two or three) has come up to me and said, “Thank you so much. That was for me. That was for us.” Every. Single. Time.
Last month at Gull Lake after that Saturday evening meeting, Meredith approached me with two of her friends. All three of them have been working through some form of infertility. And they shared with me that they had been friends for some time—not knowing one another’s private pain—before one of them finally broke the ice and explained what was going on. Then—you can imagine her surprise—when the other two responded by saying something to the effect of “No way. Me too.”
When we talked that night, Meredith also told me about a blog she had started called “The Baby Wait.” It’s a lovely place where she is collecting stories and posting encouragement and creating community for those who are waiting.
Today I’m honored that Meredith has chosen to share a piece from our story. “Island Time.” You can find it here. And then you can read some of the other stories she’s gathered—all describing the faithfulness of our God and the many ways that He finds to build a family.
Please share this post, friends—whether infertility has directly touched your life or not. Share it because you, too, may be surprised at who of your friends is stuck in the shadows and needs just this sort of support.
“And so with the sunshine and the great bursts of leaves growing on the trees,
just as things grow in fast movies,
I had that familiar conviction that life was beginning over again with the summer.”
― F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
If you’ve seen the Disney movie Big Hero 6, you undoubtedly remember the climactic scene where Hiro and his inflatable nurse-robot Baymax enter a mysterious portal to rescue Abigail, the daughter of the vengeful Professor Callaghan.
Baymax and Hiro find Abigail, who has been drifting around in her capsule, lost and unconscious, for some time. Baymax grabs the capsule and begins to propel it back toward the portal exit. Hiro clings to the top of the capsule and navigates around all of the space debris. “To the left! Hard right! Up and over! Level off. Easy. Woohoo! Nice flying. We’re almost there.”
But then Baymax spots a huge boulder flying straight for them. He positions himself to take the hit and save the capsule. Sadly his superhero suit is crushed on impact, and it slips away in pieces into the dark unknown. His thrusters are rendered inoperable. And the only option left is for Baymax to sacrifice himself one last time on the others’ behalf.
Hiro and Baymax share a touching goodbye—after which Baymax gives Hiro and Abigail and the capsule one final thrust. Then Baymax floats off into space just like his suit before him, and the capsule hurls toward the opening. It zooms through the portal, lands hard on the ground in the “real world,” bumps a time or two, then screeches to a halt.
And that, my friends, is what June feels like to me.
I don’t know about you, but we flew through the school year at often breakneck speed, navigating around whatever life threw at us next. We had some near misses and took some direct hits and said some sad goodbyes. Now we come hurling through the portal. We land with a smack and a thud, a bit dazed and stunned, nursing a strange mix of emotions—grief and relief. We made it—if barely. But what in the world just happened?
The rockiness of the June transition is magnified for our family by the fact that Peter and I are both professors, so we have the summers together at home. Consequently, it isn’t just me who has to transition into this new summer way of life. It isn’t just the kids. It’s all of us. The whole blessed family. Bump. Bump. Screech. Thud.
Last Thursday was the first official day of Worrall summer, the first day when no one had to be at work or at school. So Peter and I met on our patio that afternoon to ask some hard questions and formulate a plan. My peonies and irises were in full bloom. The kids were playing in the sandpit. Peter was sipping a cup of tea. And I was creating lists and tables on my laptop. Obviously.
First, we typed out every task that needs to be done in the next three months, every home repair that ought to be addressed, every activity that could be attended, every purchase that could be made. We sat there with the highlighted park district flyer and the camp schedule and the emails from family regarding good dates to visit. And we tried to piece together the puzzle.
Of course, it didn’t take long to realize that there were more tasks and activities and opportunities and needs than there was time.
Staring down the calendar and the list, Peter and I were left asking—yet again—how do we decide what stays and what goes? What we allow into our lives and what we don’t? What we ought to invest in and what we ought not?
How can we live intentionally? How do we steward well each day that we have been given? How might we begin again?
We decided on three simple values, three simple criteria against which we will weigh things this summer, three simple qualities that we want for our family because they are important to us. But even more—we believe they are important to God.
- Good health. Does this thing (this activity, this to-do, this purchase, this commitment) lead our family toward greater health—spiritual, physical, mental, emotional? Or not?
- Relational connection. Does this thing provide the opportunity for a deeper connection with our family and friends and community? Or does it hinder that connection from happening?
- Eternal value. Is this thing just meaningless, a chasing after the wind (Eccl. 1:14)? Or does it build up the kingdom of God?
That’s what we want to be about this summer as best we can and by the grace of God.
How about you? What criteria do you use for how you spend your hours and your days? Please share.
So, here’s to summer and fresh starts and the sun through the leaves and tall glasses of ice cold lemonade and life beginning—all over again.
I’m still here! Really, I am—although I accept that my April “return to blogging” after my three-month hiatus was underwhelming, to say the least.
The past several weeks at This Odd House have been full of end-of-semester teaching responsibilities, end-of-school-year kiddo activities, several speaking engagements, and book editing. Then, in the midst of all the crazy, we’ve also been watching our Old McHenry House seemingly fall down around our ears. An upstairs toilet overflowed for seven hours straight, flooding my kitchen and the basement, damaging floors and ceilings and walls on all three levels. Then our old furnace sprang a leak, shut down completely, and now needs to be replaced. Then Daryl broke multiple windows with his new-found love of baseball. Then we discovered that a pipe must have frozen and cracked when the basement flooded yet again. And so on. You get the idea.
It’s been one of those seasons where I’ve been living in the urgent—putting out fires, scrambling to stay one step ahead—printing off notes just in time to run out the door to a speaking event, stitching Daryl’s costume together in the car on our way to his concert, ordering groceries to be delivered by Peapod at 10 p.m. so I have something on hand to make lunches the next day.
Things are not as they should be.
And yet, the past weeks have also been full of many wonderful moments. For example, last weekend Peter and I spoke to a group of young married couples at a retreat on Gull Lake in Michigan. A peaceful spot. A day with glorious sunshine. And a sandy beach where the kids got to splash in the lake all afternoon.
We spoke on The Life of the Mind from Acts 17, The Life of the Heart from John 11, and Faith in Action from Deuteronomy 6. As application and illustration, we incorporated several of the points from our upcoming book (20 Things I’d Tell My Twentysomething Self).
Ironically, point 7 in the book is “Learn to Rest.” And in one Q&A session, a retreat participant asked us to share how we have managed to do just that. Her comment was something like this: “Rest sounds lovely…but unattainable.” Thankfully, I wasn’t standing up front at the time because I probably would have simply responded with a glazed-over, albeit empathetic nod. Thankfully, my much-wiser husband was fielding questions on his own just then because he actually had something helpful to say. Thankfully, he was able to point them—and me!—to Philippians chapter 4.
He started by challenging our definition of rest. It doesn’t necessarily mean lounging on the sofa with the remote and a bag of pretzels and an ice cold drink. It doesn’t have to mean sleeping until noon or lying on a white sand beach, listening to the waves. It doesn’t even always mean a lack of activity.
What it does mean is peace. In the Greek, eiréné. Wholeness. Contentment. A tranquil state of the soul. Which won’t necessarily come with the click of a button or a flight to Jamaica or a tick on a to-do list. But will only come with a refocus of the mind and heart on whatsoever things are true and right and excellent and worthy of praise.
Then Peter led us through the following prayer of surrender. Of all the things we shared last weekend, several people said that this was the most helpful counsel of all. So I offer it to you. Pray through these points during your morning commute or while you’re washing the breakfast dishes in the kitchen sink. Pray through them while the kids are screaming and fighting and tracking sand through the house. Pray through them in the doctor’s office or the mechanic’s waiting room or the break room at work. And may the God of peace be with you.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of hopelessness and failure. In the safety of God’s presence, let yourself feel those things. Breathe deeply. Accept the presence of this emotion, rather than fighting it. Then—carefully and completely—lay it at the foot of the cross.
Then, with the same care and intentionality, pray through each of the following items as well—in this order…
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of loss and sadness. Lay your grief at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of fear and anxiety. Lay those concerns at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of longing or lust. Lay those desires at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of anger or jealousy. Lay those feelings at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of stubbornness or judgment. Lay your pride at the foot of the cross
Think of any area of your life where you feel a sense of adventure and strength. Lay your courage at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you are experiencing harmony and compassion. Lay your joy at the foot of the cross.
Think of any area of your life where you are experiencing wholeness and contentment. Receive the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, and then lay it too at the foot of the cross.
On Saturday I had the privilege of speaking to the wonderful women of New Life Community Church in Portage Park. I shared a part of my story from “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down.” Then I recounted the story of Mary and Martha from John chapter 11–the story of what must have been both the worst and the best week of their lives.
I’ve written about John 11 here and here. It’s a favorite passage of mine. And the first point that I highlight from this narrative any time I get to talk about it is this: “Jesus hears, but He does not hurry.”
And—bam!—there it is. That theme of waiting yet again.
If you visited This Odd House last fall, you know that we spent considerable time looking around the waiting room. Several of my friends wrote about their experiences and what God showed them there. And I shared a few waiting-related pieces of my own.
But on Saturday afternoon, during a follow-up Q&A, one of the women asked a question that I don’t think we have thoroughly answered yet. She wanted to know: What does “waiting well” look like? Practically speaking, what should I do?
So I thought it might be good to return to our conversation on waiting this week to address that how-to piece. Here are a few of my ideas, a few things that have helped me. Please, feel free to share your own below.
Look around. When we are in the waiting room, we tend to fix our eyes on the exit sign. We keep listening for our name to be called, so we can get out of there and move on to what really matters. We long so much for a future ideal that we forget to value and fully engage with our present reality—the floor right beneath our feet. But we can’t live in the future—or the past, for that matter. We can only live today. This moment. So we would do well—even as we wait—to open our eyes to what is right in front of us. We would do well to love the people just across the room, to appreciate the view such-as-it-is, and to give ourselves fully to whatever God has given us to do right now.
Get ready. The waiting room is often a place of preparation. It need not be a stagnant space. In fact, it can be the sight of great growth. A greenhouse of sorts—if you’ll pardon the mixing of the metaphors. It can be an opportunity to deepen our roots before we are called upon to spread our limbs and produce new fruit. Or maybe it’s more like a weight room—a place to build up our muscle mass before the big game. Regardless of which image holds appeal, we must make full use of the time. We must train thoroughly. That might mean going to to school. Taking a class. Reading good books. Sharpening our skills. Cultivating our character. Finding a mentor. Gaining experience. Volunteering our time. Refining our relational skills. Meeting with a counselor. Building a network. Assembling resources. Setting some goals. Making a plan and following through and practicing prayer. So when the time comes, when we are called to the next thing, we are all ready to go.
Find the fun. Life in the waiting room can be drab and difficult. The walls are grey. The chairs, uncomfortable. The magazines are outdated, and who actually reads Golf Digest anyhow? But we’ve heard that “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you respond to it.” And though it sounds cliché, we find that it rings true. So rather than resigning ourselves to the sadness and discouragement, rather than assuming we will only be happy when we bust out of this place, we can seek joy right in the midst. While Peter and I were waiting many years to be parents, we found fun in regular weekend getaways to nearby B&Bs. We hosted frequent dinner parties and took spontaneous movie dates and trained for a marathon because we had the time and the energy, and we knew that both would likely one day wane.
Foster hope. It’s easy for hope to fade when the wait drags on—when we hear everyone else’s name called but ours, when we begin to wonder if the receptionist even remembers that we’re sitting out here, playing Panda Pop on our phone. Truthfully, some of us eventually find that it’s easier not to hope at all, so we stuff our dreams into the bottom of our bag and try to forget that they exist at all. Maybe that’s because the object of our “hope” is our own desires. We hope in this sense: “I hope I get what I want.” And truthfully, this sort of hope is fragile. This sort of hope will surge and recede with every shift of the wind. There are no guarantees. Yet, still, we ought to believe. We ought to hope. It’s the object of our hope that ought to change. Our hope must be placed in something certain and sure. That is, God Himself. His character. His presence. His glory. And our eternal destiny as His children.
Draw close. When we feel stuck in the waiting room—and the days turn into months and the months turn into years—we may imagine that God is off somewhere behind closed doors, giving all of His time and attention to someone else. However, He not only created the waiting room, He inhabits it. It is actually the location of some of His most profound work. Jerome Daily calls our times of waiting an “Invitation to Intimacy.” So let’s accept that invitation. Let’s answer that call. Let’s climb up next to Him, lean in, and listen carefully for whatever He wants to whisper in our ear.
Originally posted on This Odd House:
12I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things
or that I have already reached perfection.
But I press on to possess that perfection
for which Christ Jesus first possessed me.
Good Friday at This Odd House started out “pretty good.”
The kids were home from school, and the LOML was home from work. We all cuddled in the big bed for a bit. I squeezed in a short run on the treadmill. The LOML Skyped his mum in England. Then around 9 a.m. he kicked me out of the house—in the best possible way. Told me to walk down to the Hidden Pearl, our new fabulous neighborhood coffee shop, to write. I protested for a moment. Amelia (2), true to form, had just sneaked a yogurt and smeared it all over the sofa. But the LOML offered to clean it up and insisted…
View original 1,104 more words
“Greenleaf’s Bull” by Jeffery Dale Starr.
Boy, have I missed writing at This Odd House these past many weeks. Ironically, I’ve done more writing than ever since I last posted here in January. To be exact, I’ve written–in collaboration with my beloved coauthor and husband–53,537 words of what is currently called 20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves. We turned the manuscript into the publisher last week. We just heard this morning that the acquisitions editor is happy with it. (Phew!) And if all goes according to plan, the book will be released in October.
It was quite a process, writing that book. I’ll share more about that journey–what God did in and around us–in a future post. But for now I am just eager to say, “Hi! I’m still here.” And “How are you?”
For me, this is the most meaningful week of the year. Holy Week. I’m sure many of you will agree.
A part of me wishes that I could just stop every else in my life this week and spend all of my time meditating on what Christ did for us on the cross. But another part of me recognizes–as I go to work and do laundry and grocery shop and try to parent two littles while I have laryngitis (a simultaneously frustrating and futile and amusing exercise)–that this is exactly the cock-eyed and crazy world He came to save.
So we do what we can this week to allow the truth of His death and resurrection penetrate our hard hearts and our loony lives.
Several years ago I spent Holy Week memorizing a dramatic monologue that I had been asked to deliver to my church on Easter morning. The monologue was of Mary Magdalene, meeting her risen Lord at the tomb. As I spent that entire week absorbed in her story, I connected with my own redemption in a way more real and raw. I lived it through her.
This week I find myself absorbed in a very different, but similarly centering, story. Flannery O’Connor’s “Greenleaf.” It’s one of my personal favorites. I wrote about why in this blog post several months ago: “(Pregnancy. Miscarriage.) Epiphany.”
In the story, the protagonist Mrs. May works tirelessly to protect and control her farm, her family, her entire world. And she is irritated to no end with a bull that repeatedly invades her property. The bull is a type of Christ, pictured in the opening scene standing outside her window with a crown of thorns caught in his horns. Throughout the story, the bull persistently penetrates the fences and the hedges that Mrs. May throws up to keep him out. But he will not be thwarted.
At the story’s climax, Mrs. May commands her hired hand, Mr. Greenleaf, to join her in the pasture where he must shoot the bull. But instead–as Mrs. May sits on the front fender of her vehicle, waiting for Mr. Greenleaf to do the deed–the bull charges at Mrs. May.
In O’Connor’s own words: “She stared at the violent black streak bounding toward her as if she had no sense of distance, as if she could not decide at once what his intention was, and the bull had buried his head in her lap, like a wild tormented lover, before her expression changed. One of his horns sank until it pierced her heart and the other curved around her side and held her in an unbreakable grip. She continued to stare straight ahead but the entire scene in front of her had changed–the tree line was a dark wound in a world that was nothing but sky–and she had the look of a person whose sight has been suddenly restored but who finds the light unbearable.”
That is our Lord. Patient, persistent, and penetrating. He pursues us to the most painful places because He knows that is where we are most ready to meet Him face to face. He simultaneously pierces our heart and cradles us close.
That is also why Holy Week matters so much. Because the cross is the ultimate evidence of this.
This week I’m working with several of my students to prepare a readers’ theater performance of “Greenleaf.” We’ll be presenting to our student body in our chapel service on April 15, and I pray that God speaks to them through it in the same way He spoke to me. I pray He uses the story to pierce their hearts as He used it to pierce mine.
If you haven’t read the story, try to get your hands on a copy this weekend.
Alternatively, in 2011 I performed an oral interpretation of cuttings from the story, after which Peter preached on the life of Jacob. You can find an MP3 of the whole presentation here.
Have a blessed Easter weekend!
2014 was my first full year of blogging. A year of finding my feet and figuring it out. And I still have a long way to go.
I still write long. I still write slow. And I’m still far from regular. I still haven’t managed to fit blogging into the weekly routine of my life. And if you’ve been following along these past few weeks, you know that I am probably going to be posting even less frequently here between now and the end of March as I attempt to write my first book with the help of my husband (20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves, Moody Publishers, to be released October 2015).
Too, this inaugural blogging year has been every bit the proverbial roller coaster of a ride. There have been times when I have wondered what I’ve gotten myself into. Why anyone would care to read my wonky words. Why I feel compelled to post some of my deepest and darkest struggles for all the world to see.
But–inevitably–when the ground is rushing toward me and I entertain the thought of leaping from the car at the first level straight–just then–I hear from one of you. In a comment or an e-mail or a Facebook message or even a conversation, you tell me a part of your story and you encourage me with some of the most soul-feeding words any writer could hope to hear.
“You said what I have always wanted to.”
Or “I needed to hear that today.”
Or simply “Me too.”
And I am reminded that I am not the point. That the point is you. And that the point is Him.
So thank you for visiting This Odd House. For opening yourself up to the conversation. For encouraging me to keep going. And for sharing what God is doing in your lives as well.
Finally, while we’re reflecting a bit on 2014, I thought I would add one more thing. Over the past few days, several bloggers I follow have shared their “Top Posts of 2014.” And it got me curious. I keep myself relatively in the dark on most of the This Odd House stats. But I thought it might be interesting to see what has resonated most.
So here they are. The top This Odd House posts of 2014…
1. 20 Things I Might Have Told My 20-Something Self. The starting place for our book project. On the surface it’s a simple little list-y piece. Yet I’m excited to still learn more about each of the 20 Things as we research and write the full-blown manuscript.
2. So You Want to Get Married. Proof that everyone likes a little love story. This is ours.
3. Tested by Fire. Here I share some of our journey through infertility. It’s a topic that too often remains in the shadows. And I’m happy to play a small role in bringing it into the light.
4. And the Walls Came Tumbling Down. Probably the hardest post to publish. The description of one my spiritually darkest times. But in response to this post, I received some of the most powerfully authentic e-mails from some of you who have struggled or are struggling in a similar way with the problem of pain.
5. Waiting for Navy’s Lips. A compelling story by my friend Alicia Reisinger on the birth of her daughter Navy and the Reisingers’ surprising introduction to the world of parenting and cleft repair.
So, thank you again for hanging out here. Happy New Year! And here’s to all it will undoubtedly hold!
I’m ashamed to admit that, for many years, I felt unable to fully enter into the Christmas spirit until the very last minute. As a college professor, the first few weeks of December have long been filled with advising students and administering exams and grading. Giant stacks of grading.
And because of my penchant for crossing one thing off my list before moving onto the next, each year I would force myself to plow through the mountains of papers before I could even think about buying any presents.
But with the arrival of our kids a few years ago, things at This Odd House have changed.
We now put our tree up as soon as it’s acceptable. We fill the Advent train with chocolate and rush to it each morning—before breakfast—counting the days. We buy some presents when we see them on clearance and tuck them in the closet until the appointed time. We have made a few of the crafts in the Truth in the Tinsel book multiple times. And this year we added a little “Jesse Tree” and portions of Ann Voskampf’s Unwrapping the Greatest Gift to the mix.
Yes, we Worralls have embraced the Advent season. Not perfectly or consistently, by any means. We miss some days and rush through others. But certainly with a new sense of anticipation and preparation, we are waiting for Christmas. Waiting for Him to come.
If you’ve been around this space at all during the past few months, you’ll know that we’ve been talking a lot about waiting. I’ve found it so helpful to hear your experiences of the phenomena and to record a few of my own. I’ve also surveyed some of Scripture and been sort of stunned by the prevalence of waiting in its pages.
And the more I’ve seen and heard, the more it’s been confirmed to me that waiting is so very central to the human experience. That God ordained this to be. That year after year He weaves waiting into the very fabric of our lives. That waiting causes us to slow down and refocus and number the days. That it is meant to be a time of preparation and anticipation. And that we learn things while we wait that we would never otherwise know.
Many people in God’s Word spent a surprisingly long time in the waiting room. Abraham (25 years). Joseph (13 and more). Moses (40 years, then 40 years again). Hannah (5-15 years). To name just a few.
And, as you know, God also waited to send His Son (100s, no, 1000s of years).
This year, though, my favorite Biblical passage on waiting has been John chapter 11. Perhaps an unusual one to reflect on during Christmas week. But it so clearly communicates the mind of God on waiting that I just have to share.
It’s the famous story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Give it a read again if you get the chance. You probably already know the climax of story, where Jesus called into the cave and the dead man walked out.
But there is a lot of important story before that point.
In the opening verses of the chapter, we learn that Lazarus was ill and that his sisters sent for Jesus, saying, “The one You love is sick.” Then in verses 4 and 6, John makes it clear that Jesus received the message. I love that John tells us twice. That he makes sure we know. “Jesus heard.”
He always hears.
But He doesn’t always hurry. And He certainly didn’t in this case.
For two whole crucial days, the passage tells us, Jesus stayed put. He didn’t rush to the scene. He let Lazarus die. And Mary and Martha and the other mourners grieved and wailed and wondered why He did not come.
In part, we know—from our vantage point—that Jesus wanted to make sure that Lazarus was, in fact, dead and that the people knew him to be. The Jews of the time believed that the soul of a dead person remained in the vicinity of the body, hoping to reenter it for three days. But once decomposition set in, the soul departed. In part, then, Jesus waited so that the dramatic resurrection He had planned could not be misconstrued as a simple resuscitation.
Jesus’ goal with this impending miracle was the glory of God. We know this because He said so. He told His disciples. Twice. “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God.” And He repeated this truth a third time at the tomb.
Then, too—though the glory of God could certainly be an end in itself—Jesus clearly states that there is an additional purpose. God’s glory would be on full display so that the people would believe. He repeated that point as well. In verses 15 and 25. And in verse 42, He prefaces the main event with a public prayer. “Thank you, Father, for hearing me. I say this on account of the people…that they may believe.”
Then He shouts into the dark tomb and calls forth life.
And many believe.
But we have to back up for one more minute. There is another detail in this story that we dare not miss. And that is His love. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus loved their brother. Remember? Their message was simply to Jesus was “the one You love is sick.” But John wants to make sure we know that Jesus didn’t just love Lazarus. He loved the two sisters as well. Verse 5 spells it out. “Jesus loved Martha and Mary and Lazarus.” It doesn’t get any clearer than that. Then in verse 36, the Jews also notice the love. It was hard to miss.
And there we have it. The John 11 formula.
One Divine Delay + Jesus’ Lavish Love = A Display of God’s Glory, which leads to Belief.
At Christmastime 2011 Peter and I were weary with waiting. And like Mary and Martha in the moment, I didn’t understand why Jesus seemed so slow. “Lord, if you had been here…we wouldn’t be in this mess. How can you stand silently by while we suffer so?”
I wrote recently about Daryl’s journey. How he came to us unexpectedly in 2009—after years of infertility and failed adoptions. How his case wound through the foster courts at a sometime snail’s pace. How we had six or seven case workers. Multiple continuances. And plenty of confusion and frustration and fear.
I also wrote a few weeks ago about our wait for Amelia. How we started the China adoption process in 2006 and were told that it would take eighteen months. How the wait grew to over six years. And how we wondered if she would ever come.
But then, in January of 2012, we finally saw her face. We received our referral and her picture, and we began to watch unfold what He had been planning all along.
In February we received our US embassy appointment. That all-important date. The final step in our six-year China adoption journey. The day we would receive Amelia’s American passport and be able to bring her home. The date we were given: March 26, 2012.
Days later we traveled by train to a courtroom in Chicago to petition for Daryl’s adoption as well. Peter and I and Daryl and Grandma Viv stood in a silent line while our attorney presented the papers. The judge reviewed the case and asked a few questions. Then he wrote his recommendation and said, “You don’t have to be here, but the court will finalize your adoption on March 26, 2012.”
Peter and Mum may have missed it. That divine detail. That God-sized exclamation point at the end of our long, run-on sentence.
But I turned to them right there in the courtroom, with jaw dropped and eyes wide and mind blown, and said, “That’s our embassy appointment date in China. That’s the same exact day that we will be finalizing everything with Amelia.” And their jaws dropped and their eyes went wide and their minds were blown as well with the glory of God.
And it strengthened our belief.
We will do some waiting today. Even as I write, Daryl is waiting for Daddy and our house guest to wake up. Amelia is waiting for her Christmas red toenails to dry. And waiting is hard—no matter your age or circumstances.
Later we will wait for the cookies to bake, for our friends to arrive, for the presents to be opened. We will continue to prepare and to anticipate. We will look for His arrival and His glory and His lavish love. And we will undoubtedly learn things that we would never have known otherwise.
While things have been a bit quiet here at thisoddhouse.org for the past few weeks, they have been far from quiet at This Odd House in McHenry.
In the midst of some sicknesses and the end-of-semester stress, we have also been celebrating the season in several special ways.
We put up our tree. And while it isn’t as wonky as last year, it’s still endearingly off-kilter.
Daryl sang a solo in his school’s Christmas program, and we couldn’t have been more proud. Amelia and Grandma have been crafting their hearts out, making all sorts of ornaments for our Jesse tree. (Pictures to come.)
I enjoyed speaking at the beautiful Getting Real Ministries’ annual Christmas Brunch.
Two days later, I had too much fun speaking with my good friend Gloria at the also-lovely Women of Grace’s Christmas Tea. And yes, I wore the same sweater to both events. It’s festive, but in a not-so-literal sort of way.
And that evening a bunch of my favorite women and I went into the city for MBI’s Candlelight Carols. I have the (daunting) task of writing the dramatic script for the program each year. But then my gifted friend, Lindsay Branson, directs a cast of equally-gifted students, and together they make it into much more than I could have imagined. All of our Moody music groups also bring their talents to bear. And it is a wonderful way to worship the coming King.
Love Our Carols Cast!
And—in the midst of all that—Peter and I have also been doing something that we’ve never, ever done before…
Negotiating a book deal with Moody Publishers!
We found out today that the paperwork is finally in the mail, so it seems official enough for me to officially tell you that Peter Worrall and I are writing a book! And for Christmas we’re getting the contract.
It’s not the This Odd House book that I set out to write eighteen months ago. (We’re still waiting and working on that.)
But this is the book that God clearly wants us to write right now. Over and over that has been confirmed.
It’s currently titled 20 Things We Would Have Told Our 20-Something Selves, based on the blog post/Relevant Magazine article I wrote with a similar name last spring. And it’s scheduled to be released in October 2015.
We are excited and up to our eyeballs in notes and research and ambitious ideas. We vacillate from naive optimism to periodic panic attacks. We enjoy working together, but we’ve never tackled anything of this magnitude. Prayers much appreciated!
I’ll be back here next week to share a piece on Advent that I’ve been writing in my mind for months. It seems like a fitting way to wrap up our series on waiting.
After that, I’ll have to take an official break from blogging for a bit and crawl into my cave in answer to this newest call.