Thwarted Expectations

In spite of discouragement and adversity, those who are happiest seem to have a way of learning from difficult times, becoming stronger, wiser and happier as a result. ~Joseph B. Wirthlin

Great expectations swirled around John for as long as he could remember. He was educated as a priest, admired by his community, an up and coming man.

He was sent by God for a special purpose. His cousin, Jesus, had also been set apart; his mother had told him.

Now John was hearing other stories. Unbelievable stories.

Healing diseases. Driving out demons. And now . . . Raising the dead.

So in Luke 7 John sends his disciples  to Jesus to ask if he is the one or if there is another to come.

What?!

You’re Jesus’s cousin. You know the stories. You hear about the miracles. And you ask if there is another?

How can you be sent from God and not know that it is God walking through your countryside, healing your people, destroying your enemy?

Maybe it’s because those who are supposed to know God best are against you.

God tells you to feed the homeless, and no one at church wants to help. The Father tells you to parent someone else’s children, and all your friends remind you of your advanced age.

God whispers, “Follow me to a distant land.” And your family shuns your ministry. God writes on your heart to teach your children at home, but you are met with disbelief and anger.

Jesus tells John’s disciples to return with a message: Remember what you have seen and heard, and do not stumble on account of me.

You, too, remember what you have seen and heard. Recall the message you received, and do not stumble.

No matter what the naysayers shout, snicker, or proclaim.


Then he replied to John’s disciples, “Go, report to John what you have seen and heard. Those who were blind are able to see. Those who were crippled now walk. People with skin diseases are cleansed. Those who were deaf now hear. Those who were dead are raised up. And good news is preached to the poor. Happy is anyone who doesn’t stumble along the way because of me.” Luke 7:22-23 CEB

Imitation: The Real Thing

Those who dive in the sea of affliction bring up rare pearls. ~Charles Spurgeon

Lynda Resnick paid a LOT of money for fake pearls. They were being auctioned through Sotheby’s and were expected to go for $300-$700. Resnick thought she would need to pay $25,000.

Neither Resnick nor Sotheby’s anticipated the value of these pearls.

At a final sale price of $211,000 they were the most expensive fake pearls ever sold.

What made these pearls so special? They originally belonged to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. Owning these pearls gave Lynda Resnick the right to copy them. At $200 per copy, she made millions.

Even though the pearls were copies, they were copies with credibility.

I often feel like a fake pearl. I am not worth much. I’m plain and simple. I don’t offer anything special. We all feel that way.

Your friend’s promotion is posted all over Facebook while you sink lower on the totem pole at work. Your cousin’s new baby is all the talk at the family reunion, while you stuff Aunt Rita’s pie in your face to stifle the tears that threaten to brim over at your barrenness.

Your high school reunion proves that your genes were always your worst enemy.  Yours is the only rusty car in the church parking lot. And why can’t anyone ever remember your name at these conferences!?

Fake pearls were bought at a great price, because Lynda Resnick saw value in them.

You too were bought at a great price. And it was none other than the King who saw your value.


Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls. When he found one very precious pearl, he went and sold all that he owned and bought it. Matthew 13:45-46 CEB

But Also

“As worship begins in holy expectancy, it ends in holy obedience. Holy obedience saves worship from becoming an opiate, an escape from the pressing needs of modern
life.” ~Richard Foster

Treachery reached out its dark arm, separating bone and muscle until the Kingdom of Israel could stand no longer. Hoshea in his palace in Samaria made a pact with the Egyptians that cost him his throne and cost his people their land.

Shalmaneser carried off King Hoshea, siezed the city, and destroyed the kingdom. The people were carried off into captivity. Then Shalmaneser replaced the Israelites with people from other nations.

But this was God’s land.

Lions attacked the new occupants, tearing into the flesh of young and old alike. There was no safe hiding place from the crouching, lurking enemy. The lions hunted continually, tearing the people limb from limb.

So a priest was sent back to Samaria to teach the people how to worship the God of their new home. And he taught them well.

32 They worshipped the Lord, but they also appointed all sorts of their own people to officiate for them as priests in the shrines at the high places. 33 They worshipped the Lord, but they also served their own gods in accordance with the customs of the nations from which they had been brought. 2 Kings 17 NIVUK

They worshipped the Lord . . . but they also.

You listen to Christian radio, but you also worry about the news from Europe and Asia, and you look to the leaders of our countries for deliverance and answers. You go to church on Sunday and give your tithes and gifts, but you also stare glumly at the Dow and squirrel away more money in retirement accounts.

They worshipped the Lord . . . but they also.

You wear Scriptures on your clothing, but you also talk yourself up hoping the ladder to success includes a rung for you. You pray in the house of God, but you also jealously long for your neighbor’s house, working harder and harder to buy the perfect home additions.

41 Even while these people were worshipping the Lord, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their ancestors did. 2 Kings 17 NIVUK

What do people see when they look at your worship? Do they say you worship the Lord . . . but you also . . .?


Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.’ 2 Kings 17:38-39 NIVUK

Good Job

I knew what my job was; it was to go out and meet the people and love them. ~Princess Diana

When Matt finished his doctorate our family traveled to Southern California to watch him graduate. Our young boys and I stood outside in the heat, sweat poring down my back. Matt’s name was called, people politely clapped, he walked across the stage, and . . . the next name was called.

That’s it?! I remember being so let down. I mean, he had worked for many long years to get this far. And not just him; we all had worked and sacrificed. Our family had eaten bean burritos and pasta with butter for YEARS. Where were the fireworks? Where was the crashing cannon? Shouldn’t the Blue Angels be zooming overhead?

Can I tell you a secret?

I like to be told when I do a good job. I even let my husband know when to praise me and how to say it.

“When you get home you need to notice how nice the yard looks. I spent five hours out there and my arms are shaking from the weed eater. It needs to be a really impressed, ‘Wow! Traci, what a great job you did. I can’t believe you did that all by yourself!'”

And if he walks in and says something of that sort, but I don’t feel the appreciation in his voice is at the appropriate level, I ask him to go back out and come in again. “This time with feeling, Honey.”

I’m not even joking.

You spend your weekend writing up report cards with personal comments on each student, and you wait for a thank you from parents and principal. Nothing. You buy flowers for the front yard at the homeless shelter and spend Monday evening working in the beds. No one speaks to you. No one?! You make dinner for an elderly couple at church and take it by on Wednesday afternoon. Maybe it just comes out in your conversation that evening at Bible study . . .

You want to do the nice things because it’s the right thing to do, but deep down you want people to notice that YOU are nice.

I tell my husband I’m just trying to help him be godly and follow the proverb: Let someone else praise you, and not your own mouth;
    an outsider, and not your own lips.” Proverbs 27:2 NIVUK

The truth is that it is hard to be selfless. We want someone to notice when we make an extra effort, when we go beyond expectations, when we . . . act like Christ.

And it is noticed. Jesus said when you do good deeds, do them in secret so that God can bless you. He also said when you pray do so in secret so that God will hear you. And he added when you fast, don’t let others know, and the Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6)

It isn’t easy, but the reward is much better than the instructed praise I give my husband.

I’m certain I will never ask God to go back out and try again.


“Let all that you do be done in love.” 1 Corinthians 16:14 ESV

Winter’s Work

God already knows what we’re made of, but perhaps He wants us to learn what we’re made of. I think we would all agree that we learn more from our tough times than from our easy times.~ John Bytheway

A good friend of mine was cleaning out old magazines and thought it would be nice to pass them along to me. They were writing magazines from about 2005 to 2012. I understand the gesture, but it meant that for several months a large box of magazines sat untouched in my office, creating clutter and mayhem in my orderly mind.

Finally, last weekend I browsed through the magazines to see if there was anything that might benefit me. Seeing that span of magazines all together gave me a perspective I wouldn’t have had if I had read the magazines over seven years, a little each month.

The common theme in each magazine was . . . You just have to do the work. There are days, even weeks, when you will write gobbledy gook. Write anyway. There are going to be long stretches without inspiration. Write in spite of it. There will be times when you don’t feel like it, don’t want to, can’t imagine. Guess what. Buck up and write.

Ben-Hadad, King of Aram, felt ambitious and called together 32 other kings. “Let’s go take over Israel.”

It sounded like a good idea to the other kings, and they headed out.

But Ahab, King of Israel, received a message from God. “Go ahead and fight these little turkeys. I’ll give them a flogging that’ll send them running.”

Ahab wasn’t so sure. “Who should I send out?” Success looked impossible, at the best unlikely.

God told him to call his junior officers and lead them out against the Arameans and the other armies. Ahab did as instructed- one of the few things he got right in life -and God answered with power and success.

And with further instructions.

“Spend the winter preparing because in the spring they’re coming back.”

So God tells Ahab to knock the snot out of the enemy, and when he does with obvious help from God, he is then told to get ready because the next time it will take more effort. Hmm, That doesn’t sound right.

I believe God asked me to write. And yet here I so often sit, staring at a blank screen, thumbing through old notes, surfing the net, scrolling through Facebook. If God wants me to write, why doesn’t he give me the words, the thoughts, the creative juices?

Because I have to do the work.

God calls you to something, too- parenting children, creating a work of art, teaching a lesson. Maybe he asks patience with your aging parents or with your students and their parents. Perhaps he is showing you an open door for a new position at work.

But instead of being easy, you find out you have to take tests. You have to get up really early. You have to study extra hard. You have to spend time with people who drive you crazy. You have to repeat yourself in newer, kinder ways. You feel like really bad, uninspired gobbledy gook.

Your success seems impossible, at least highly unlikely.

This is your winter. The time to prepare for the war ahead. Eat well, sleep well, exercise, and sharpen your sword.

God has called you.


The man of God came up and told the king of Israel, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Because the Arameans think the Lord is a god of the hills and not a god of the valleys, I will deliver this vast army into your hands, and you will know that I am the Lord.’” 1 Kings 20:28

Solid Foundations

If we are to go forward, we must go back and rediscover those precious values – that all reality hinges on moral foundations and that all reality has spiritual control. ~Martin Luther King, Jr.

I made a mistake this past week. I wore shoes.

OK. OK. Enough of the West Virginia hillbilly jokes.

I didn’t realize it, but I didn’t wear my stabilizing sneakers at all in the past week. How did I figure it out, you ask? My hip told me.

After six days I noticed I was beginning to limp and a sharp pain was taking up residence in my right hip joint. By the seventh day I was visibly limping, grabbing chairs and walls to steady myself as I stumbled across the floor.

The special sneakers are important for keeping me in balance, aligning my legs, hips, and back so that I move fluidly and with proper posture.

I had several appointments during the week, so I wore dress shoes and even flexible foam shoes that at least look like they should be worn in important situations. My sneakers are bright salmon orange with deep purple laces and a neon yellow swoosh on the side. Not so impressive when trying to look professional.

 

Solid foundations are important. They keep the body in alignment, strong and supple. They hold a house together for generations, sturdy and dependable. Foundations teach and instruct, building a basis for future growth.

Soon after Jesus’s ascension, the apostles were teaching and preaching in Jerusalem. Peter and John were imprisoned by the temple guard, priests, and Sadducees. The next day Peter and John were brought out and questioned why they were teaching in the name of Jesus. (Acts 4)

Their answer?

We have to stick by the foundation, especially the cornerstone of that foundation.

The ugly salmon sneakers with neon swoosh and purple laces did not appeal to the leaders of the Jews, but that was the very foundation that would keep them in alignment with God and the kingdom he was building.

Sometimes the foundation isn’t attractive or appealing to the situation you are facing. You try to keep your shoes on, but compromise with a different style. You need high heels at work to tiptoe around the office drama. You wear tap shoes to drown out the words of truth that could cost friendships. Boots insulate you from the people suffering on the sidewalks and street corners. You slide on soft slippers trying not to awaken the sleeping arguments you would rather avoid.

You convince yourself that you do  still have the foundation because, just look at your feet . . . Those are shoes.

Some time goes by and an ache begins to grow. Suddenly your balance is off, you grab chairs and walls to steady yourself, and you realize – While those are shoes on your feet, they are not a good foundation.

Stand in front of your life’s closet. Open the door.

Have you hidden a pair of orange sneakers under the shoe rack?


Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 NIV

Snow Blossoms

What, I sometimes wonder, would it be like if I lived in a country where winter is a matter of a few chilly days and a few weeks’ rain; where the sun is never far away, and the flowers bloom all year long? ~Anna Neagle

I crossed the border from Virginia into West Virginia. Pollen floated around me as I sped my way down the first of many hills.

Then it occurred to me . . . The trees aren’t blooming here, yet. That’s not pollen; it’s snow!

Spring break in West Virginia meant that I was able to experience a day of winter break instead. I sipped a hot cup of cinnamon tea and read a book. As the day progressed I watched the storm outside the living room window.

The apple tree clinging to the side of the hill shivered in its scanty springtime skirt. Tiny leaflets scattered around the bottom half of the tree, the naked branches at the top of the tree swaying in the wind.

Morning turned into afternoon and I stopped for a sandwich and a glass of milk. Gulping the last of the milk, I wandered into the living room where earlier I had spotted some chocolate peppermint Dove candies. The smooth chocolate melted in my mouth as I gazed at the snow globe outside my window.

But something seemed oddly different.

Though the snow was still swirling in windy rivulets across the porch and under the eaves, the apple tree seemed less naked, more colorful and clothed. That can’t be. Not in a snow storm.

Finally, as the day was ending, I stood at the window talking to Matt on the phone back in North Carolina. Now I was sure. Against the dark backdrop of more snowy storm clouds a yellowish veil of tiny leaflets dotted the entire tree.

It had snowed off and on all day, but the tree had continued to bloom anyway. Because no matter what the current weather was doing, the tree knew that spring would come, was coming, IS coming.

Sickness knocks you flat on your face, bankruptcy blacks your eye, a child breaks your heart. Maybe termites eat your house, a tornado rips it apart, or a flood washes it away.

Whatever may be the snowstorm freezing your resolve as you stand half-naked in the eyes of the world . . . Remember that spring will come, IS coming.

Don’t wait for the good weather. Just go ahead and bloom in the middle of the storm.


When you go through deep waters, I will be with you. When you go through rivers of difficulty, you will not drown. When you walk through the fire of oppression, you will not be burned up; the flames will not consume you. Isaiah 43:2 NLT

When the Word Is Quiet

The measure of a conversation is how much mutual recognition there is in it; how much shared there is in it. If you’re talking about what’s in your own head, or without thought to what people looking and listening will feel, you might as well be in a room talking to yourself. ~Dylan Moran

“Go on in the living room.” Katherine’s voice echoed down the hallway.

An old woman sat in the hard, wooden chair. White hair framed a glaring face.

“Go here. Go there. I just want to know why.” Mary struggled to speak, her voice barely a whisper. But her body was yelling loud enough.

I walked over to see what was going on.

A stroke took away most of Mary’s voice, and age has taken away her strength. Mary whispers everything she says. Katherine is hearing impaired and couldn’t understand Mary’s angry outburst.

I squatted next to Mary and asked what was wrong.

“No one ever tells me what’s going on. ‘Go here. Go there. Take a bath.’ But they never tell me why. I just want to know why.”

“Well, Miss Mary, I’m Traci. I come to read every week.” I placed my hand on her knee, and she looked in my eyes. “You always come in the living room and listen to me read. Would you like to come in today and listen?”

She covered my hand with her own. “Yes, I would.” She grasped the chair arm and began the painful process of standing. Katherine tried to help. “You go away.” Mary whisper-yelled at Katherine.

She grabbed her walker and followed me to the living room.

“I just want to know why.” I lift my eyes to heaven, but the answer is incomprehensible. “Why do I have to do this? Why do I have to go there?” Nothing. The answer is inaudible, and I am hard of hearing.

Mary didn’t follow me because she was desperate to hear my story that day. She followed me because I am familiar. She found me to be gentle and reassuring.

Sometimes I need a gentle, reassuring mediator, too. I cry out to God, but his voice is too quiet, my ears too deaf. I don’t know what to do, so I sit stubbornly in my chair glaring at the world in confusion.

Then the Spirit whispers words I mostly don’t understand, but they are gentle and familiar. I take Jesus’s hand and follow him to the Father’s throne room where I am a part of the story.

And so are you.


Every house has a builder, but the Builder behind them all is God. Moses did a good job in God’s house, but it was all servant work, getting things ready for what was to come. Christ as Son is in charge of the house. Now, if we can only keep a firm grip on this bold confidence, we’re the house! That’s why the Holy Spirit says, Today, please listen; don’t turn a deaf ear as in “the bitter uprising,” that time of wilderness testing! Hebrews 3:5-7 MSG

Good Gifts

God’s gifts put man’s best dreams to shame.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I bit into the bright green jellybean anticipating the tangy apple flavored sweetness. I screwed up my face and tried to swallow. Watermelon.

I really don’t like watermelon flavored candies.

I set the bag of jellybeans on the seat beside me and wondered how to get rid of them without offending the sweet little girl who had willingly offered me her bag of candies. How do I say thank you for something I don’t want?

God handed me a bagful of goodies recently. Some have screwed up my face in dislike and disgust. I’m sure they were meant to make me sit still and spend some much needed time with him, but when that directive came disguised as a boil in the crease of my leg, I set it aside on the chair next to me and wondered how to get around it.

A class I signed up for has stressed waiting and white space. So I have spent the day trying to fix problems, finish projects, and finalize preparations. White space? Who has time for that?

I need to visit my friends at the rest home, but the repairman can only come during my weekly visiting hour. Instead of enjoying the extra hour I’ll have to slow down, I curse the appointment that may make a big difference in our home.

The jellybeans were a child’s selfless offering to someone she loves, but all I tasted was bitter disappointment. The rest of the candy sits on the counter top now, unopened, untasted, unwanted.

I wonder how many bags of candy I have turned away from because the first taste was unexpected and disappointing?


And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 NIV

Are You Listening?

“Part of doing something is listening. We are listening. To the sun. To the stars. To the wind.”  ~Madeleine L’Engle, Swiftly Tilting Planet

As the mother of two very talkative sons, sometimes I don’t quite listen. Several years ago they were very, very interested in Star Wars. It was the only thing they talked about at breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And being stuck in the van with them meant being captive to their incessant light saber, hero, super-powers talking. Finally, I told them I would not listen to it anymore.

The thing is. . . I hadn’t been listening for a long time already. I had tuned out what they were saying because I didn’t want to hear it. I wasn’t interested in what they were discussing. I had more important things to deal with. I couldn’t be bothered.

Somehow that attitude transferred itself to other areas of my life. I half listened to friends while I thought about what I needed to be doing next. I “mm hm-ed” on the phone as I washed dishes and wished the speaker would hurry it up. I planned dinner while the kids told me the latest news, worked on plot twists while Matt unwound by telling me his own stories, and typed out a blog while my mother talked on the speaker phone.

So a few weeks ago, I decided it was time for me to start listening. People all around me have things to share, and I can be the ear they need to listen. I had no idea where I was about to be lead.

A few days into the “listening experiment” I asked God if he could help me to slow down and be an ear to someone who needed it that day. Then I headed into my busy day- drop Amos off at the orthodontist, stop by the dump to get rid of the recycling, head to the grocers, check at the pet store to see how my book is selling, and then back to get Amos. Forty-five minutes? No problem!

I dropped Amos off, stopped by the pet store- the owner was in a meeting, so I said I would come back- and then headed to the dump. On the way there I had to slam on the brakes, and recycling with a lidless kefir container in it went spilling all over the back of the van. I cleaned it up as best I could and thought I would stop in the restroom to wash at the grocery.

A shopping cart with a small girl, perhaps two years old, was parked in front of one of the stalls. I used the other and then went to wash up. A woman appeared out of the other stall and as the child cried, the mother exclaimed, “I just don’t get it! What do you think?” I looked over, and she held a positive pregnancy test. She went on to tell me that she had had an ultrasound that morning and was told the baby had died. The doctor prescribed a medication to help her get rid of the fetus, but she was afraid to hurt the baby if a mistake had been made. What did I think she should do?

Really, God?  I stayed with her a while, listened, offered my advice, and prayed for her. Then I headed  off to the pet store again.

There I discovered that the owner’s husband had had a heart attack and died the week before, her aunt had also died that week, and her son’s pet had died that morning. OK, God, I get it.

I realize that people are hurting around us all of the time. The woman in the stall next to you. The cashier at the pet store. People everywhere need a listening ear. But busyness and lack of interest turn down the volume so that we don’t have to hear what everyone else needs to say.

And then Matt preached it on Sunday. God wants to speak to us, but are we listening? Well of course I’m listening! I mean who wouldn’t want to hear God, right!?

Only maybe I am listening like I used to be listening, not noticing the woman next to me crying over the loss of a wanted child, not hearing the pain and fatigue in another’s voice who is struggling with loss. What if I am ignoring God because what he has to say isn’t easy to listen to or I don’t particularly want to hear what he has to say?

So now I add to my prayer, God let me be an ear to those who need to talk AND let me have ears to hear you, no matter what you have to say, — even if I have to listen to Star Wars.


Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4 NIV
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