Who’s in Your Boat?

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Photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash

This post first appeared here on The Glorious Table.

When I was eight years old, I sat out a tornado warning with my parents in a pickup truck on the side of the road. The truck swayed side to side as rain pelted its windshield, and thunder sounded as close as the back seat. The wind threatened to toss us into the ditch as the green sky darkened.

Outside, chaos raged. Inside, my parents’ arms wrapped around me, keeping me calm. Their presence assured me that even if the world out there was not all right, there with them, I could find peace.

Summer storms often light up the sky here in the Midwest. They can be sudden, just as my study of Scripture tells me that storms on the Sea of Galilee also came on quickly, giving little warning to fishermen in their boats. The workers usually stayed closer to the shore for that reason. Fishing boats were small and the lake large. Matthew records one such storm:

“Then Jesus got into the boat and started across the lake with his disciples. Suddenly, a fierce storm struck the lake, with waves breaking into the boat. But Jesus was sleeping. The disciples went and woke him up, shouting, ‘Lord, save us! We’re going to drown!’ Jesus responded, ‘Why are you afraid? You have so little faith!’ Then he got up and rebuked the wind and waves, and suddenly there was a great calm. The disciples were amazed. ‘Who is this man?’ they asked. ‘Even the winds and waves obey him!’” (Matthew 8:23-27 NLT)

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Photo by Matt Hardy on Unsplash

Imagine the howling wind, crashing waves, and harsh sea spray hitting you in the face and filling the boat. Envision the lightning flashes around you, knowing your mast is the highest point for miles. Can you feel the fear?

They’ve got Jesus, so it’s all OK, right?

“But Jesus was sleeping.” Curled up at the back of the boat, Jesus hadn’t a concern in the world.

These seasoned fishermen know this sea. Right now, uncharacteristically, they are terrified of it. They do not interpret Jesus’ untroubled sleep as great faith to be imitated. They see it as abandonment in their hour of need.

These professional watermen wake him, shout at him, blame him, and otherwise act like scared kids. What do they yell? “Rescue us!” Their words reflect faith or perhaps desperation, probably a mix of both.

Jesus responds in a way they clearly don’t expect. He raises his hand and tells the weather who’s boss.

The clouds break up. The water calms. The disciples’ jaws drop.

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Photo by Abigail Keenan on Unsplash

I think we forget that they didn’t know who he was. To the disciples, Jesus was a rabbi—a man who happened onto the scene and chose them. They didn’t know what we know. The transition that had to take place between, “Hey he’s a great guy! Smart, good, a little odd, but we’re lucky he picked us,” to “He is straight-up God” was not a day’s work.

It took scenes like this, when they saw a storm rendered powerless and realized the Lord of the wind and waves was standing two feet away. That probably seemed more terrifying than the storm.

Sometimes, even though we do know who he is, we can’t see the end of our story. We don’t know how it plays out. We only know the scene being shot, and that scene contains wind and rain and fear.

We know he’s God in those times, too, but we think he should have kept us out of the storm, and we’re still not sure he can get us through it.

Sometimes we’re all eight-year-olds sitting in the front of the pickup hollering and praying that it stops.

Here’s what the disciples had to learn: It isn’t trust to expect Jesus to keep us out of the storm. Trust is believing he will keep us through it.

It isn’t trust to expect Jesus to keep us out of the storm. Trust is believing He will keep us through it.

We often look at this story as an example what God will do for us. But the true point of story is not that he will calm all our storms. The point is that we find our peace in the midst of the storm in the one with the power to control it.

It tells us who he is and who is in charge.

God, I know I look at the storms too much and at who’s in my boat too little. I let fear overtake me, and I forget who is steering. Please help me to trust you to guide me through the storms and not demand you stop them. Help me trust you as the one who created the seas. Amen.

Scripture for Reflection

“Who kept the sea inside its boundaries as it burst from the womb, and as I clothed it with clouds and wrapped it in thick darkness? For I locked it behind barred gates, limiting its shores. I said, ‘This far and no farther will you come. Here your proud waves must stop!’” (Job 38:8-11 NLT)

“By his power the sea grew calm.” (Job 26:12 NLT)

Reach for More

What storm are you going through right now? It can be big, but it can also be the everyday grind of busyness and the struggle of time management.

Imagine, right now, turning around in that storm and seeing Jesus behind you. Is he holding the rudder, or are you? Who is steering the course, who is bailing water, who knows the way to shore? Write down your fears and, at your pace, hand them to him. Allow him to wrap his arms around you and calm your anxiousness. Find a picture of a shoreline and look at it to remind you he knows where he’s going.

Practicing What We Preach

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Sunday morning, I didn’t have a sermon. That wasn’t planned. Perhaps you noticed that the following morning, I didn’t have a blog either.

Let’s let me recap.

Monday

My husband stayed home from work with the stomach flu. I spent the day in a combination of caring for him and living in mortal fear that I could not escape this doom. (So far, I have.) Also, Monday was snowpocalypse. So there’s that.

Tuesday

while routinely driving my daughter to the train station for work, we got in an accident. A very young driver, probably in a hurry and certainly not paying attention, turned left and slammed into my driver door and fender. Hard. I walked away with a broken arm, and more importantly, both my daughter and the young woman were unharmed. Unfortunately, my beautiful, far too young, metallic peacock, best-beloved car did not fare as well. Sally Ride is no more.

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Wednesday

No one went to work, except the doctor who casted my arm, as all of Chicago hibernated in the deep freeze.

Thursday

We took our ailing middle cat to the vet, hoping that she could offer us some treatment. Instead, she offered us a lot of medication that we could try at home, but cautioned us that he would almost certainly die. In fact, it became traumatically clear during the course of the treatment there that we would have to relieve his suffering immediately, and our dear Pippin would not be coming home with us.

It’s hard to dictate those sentences (since I can’t type right now given said casted arm) because just saying the words is making me cry. This is not the cat that was diagnosed in December with cancer-–yet he also had the same disease, under the radar, hiding it well, just like a cat/middle child. We expect still to say goodbye to #1 cat very soon as well. Merry and Pippin will both be gone-–the fellowship will be no more. I’m not good at pet goodbyes. Who is?

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None of us felt quite certain we should even get out of bed on

Friday

Was it the same old week, or was it a brand-new month? I didn’t have long to wait for the answer. That morning, I came downstairs to a loud roaring sound in my hallway and water gushing all over the floor. Have you ever simultaneously panicked, laughed, and cried? It’s pretty strange.

This all comes barely a week after we got the text that my mother-in-law would refuse treatment for her cancer and go into hospice. We expected her to make that decision—it was the right and best thing for her. That doesn’t mean the final choice isn’t devastating.

There are many things you cannot do without water. Also, there’re many things you cannot do without your dominant hand.

I couldn’t do anything.

I couldn’t even wash my grapes for lunch. So I sat here wondering if the next item in the series of unfortunate events would be my death by listeria. Do grapes carry listeria? I don’t know. I just know that I was eating dirty grapes, and I could taste the dirtiness, and that nothing was right in this world.

(Also, I came to the realization that I should never audition for one of those survival shows. When all of the plumbers said they couldn’t make it out for two or three days, my first response was not,” What must we do to cook and clean and survive for three days?” It was,” Where is the nearest hotel with a hot tub?”)

I never imagined I would stand in front of a group of people and tell them I hadn’t done my job. I never imagined that I would just blow off my blog for a week. I like my image as a fighter. I like people to know I will just power through and get the job done.

Except I couldn’t. The words wouldn’t come, even had I had 10 minutes not punctuated by calls from insurance adjusters or other emergencies.

And that is okay.

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

You see, I preach and write a lot about letting go of perfectionism and expectations. I know how dangerous they are–I let them control my life for far too long. They still lurk in the shadows, because that is who I am. Hello, enneagram 5. My highest need is to appear competent.

Yet this is not what I teach others. Our Word of the year for 2019 at church is Peace. My personal word is Restore. Right now, I feel like January pretty much failed me on that one. But I know the One who can and will restore all things, and I know that sometimes before restoration comes death. This is not what I had suspected or planned, but if that is what it takes, then I will wait expectantly for his restoration.

Restoration Requires Death

Sometimes, we are forced to practice what we preach. Sometimes, that takes the form of telling people that we couldn’t do what they expected us to do. Sometimes, it means telling the truth about what we are capable of handling. Sometimes, it requires us to lean hard on the arms of the one who tells us we don’t have to do every thing and in fact, we can’t do anything without him.

Maybe that’s a different kind of restoration and peace. It doesn’t look like I expected it to. But Jesus told me to be a peacemaker–-and if that means that I lay down my idol of competence so that others do not feel they have to take it up, then I am grateful to make that kind of peace in someone else’s life.

Jesus restores. We have evidence. This hasn’t been the wonder and amazement that I thought restoration would be. It’s been the tearing away before the healing.

God loves me when I’m not competent. God loves me when I cannot do what I believe I should be able to do. God loves me when I stand in front of a group people and say, “I’ve got nothing.” Fortunately, so do they.

God loves you. Full stop. There is no qualifier. I pray for peace and restoration for you today. I know how much you might need it.

Word, 2019 Version

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So, the word of the year thing . . . I’ve meant to. Really. And what, it’s only January 17th as I write this. Maybe I’ll go with this popular sentiment I’ve seen floating around.

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Except February is just around the river bend.

I Do Love Words

I never picked a word last year because, well, one never picked me. I find it disingenuous to force the issue if no one word is calling to me. Or maybe I’m just too lazy to search. But this year, I know I want one. I just can’t quite decide which one. And one has not decided on me.

What I’m searching for is more a feeling than a word—and I can’t find the exact word for the feeling. This coming from someone who makes her living finding the right words.

Last year was hard. Exhausting. (Maybe if I had picked a word it would have made it better?)

It was also valuable and beautiful, but these things commingle often, don’t they? We’re already facing some potential significant loss in 2019, so I’m not certain the new year promises better things. I am certain they will also be valuable and beautiful, and I will find that the anchor of Jesus holds still, giving meaning and hope to both joy and loss.

Yet I am at a loss for the word that encompasses it all.

We’re All Just Tired. And Toxic.

Last year was emotionally exhausting, too. When the Oxford English Dictionary chose “toxic” as their word of 2018, they baptized an entire year with an overlay of anger. They’re not wrong.

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There are so many parts of 2018 I am angry about. So many things I simply cannot. I cannot with jailing children, erecting walls, shooting children, fine Nazis, drowning children . . . I cannot. I cannot with the defense of any of these things by people with whom I share a faith.

And yet . . . I also cannot let the toxins invade and make a captive of me. To quote, well, myself when I gave two talks on this topic last year,

“When we begin to attack other humans we are engaging in the tactics of the enemy, and he is not our friend. He will use us. We will end up being what we fight against.” 

We will end up being what we fight against.

I say “no” to that toxin in 2019.

So what words have I considered top define this longing?

Candidates have included:

  • Rest
  • Peace
  • Wonder
  • Joy
  • Adventure
  • Return
  • Restore
  • Simple
  • Me

(Yes, I’ve considered “me.” I have. I find no shame in that, even while I’ve looked for it, assuming that choosing “me” as a focus word for an entire year must contain more than a drop of self-absorption. It doesn’t. It’s time to be good to me for a bit.)

More Than a Feeling

What am I longing for this year?

  • A pulling back, a recalibrating of what I really need and what rabbit trails I don’t need to follow.
  • A reminder of what battles I don’t need to fight and which ones I really, truly do.
  • A restoration of some things that have fallen away.
  • A return to some of the joy-sparking things that I’ve let go. (Let’s channel Marie Kondo here, because why not?)
  • A peace in the midst of evil that isn’t going away but must not wash me out in its tide.
  • A solution to this perennial puzzle of what matters versus what demands my limited bandwidth.

A way to do this unhurried, unscheduled, restful thing perfectly so that I get it exactly right and accomplish all my other goals as well.

. . . . . .

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She appears skeptical. Photo by Thomas Jörn on Unsplash

I’m longing for wonder this year. The kind that gobsmacks you full in the face and and leaves you wide-eyed, smiling with dumb amazement that you never saw it before.

Because the thing about wonder is that, almost all the time, it’s always been there.

(Also, I wouldn’t mind bringing back the word “gobsmacked.” Because how perfectly descriptive of its own action is that word?)

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Photo by Kenny Krosky on Unsplash

Most years, I find a song as well as a word that I believe will, or has, defined my year. Like the words, they find me. This year, I think the song that has found me is Sarah Groves’ Expedition. She sings about going toward that next river bend—but unhurried, refusing to rush there just to say you’ve been. Not going down the river because you have to get to the next port or cross off the next point of interest on the to-do or to-see list.

Going because the bends are the exciting parts, and taking the trip slow allows us to savor those parts with wonder, not anticipate and strategize them until there’s nothing left but the same water you’ve traversed, thousands of times.

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Photo by Jack Anstey on Unsplash

In defiance of her words (you really should listen):

  • I rarely approve of extravagant, and never wasteful.
  • Striving is sometimes my middle name.
  • I don’t have time for deliberate and slow.
  • I always feel I have something to prove.

“Strategy” is among my top five StrengthsFinders, and I am an enneagram 5!!! Do you not understand these important realities, Sarah???

This simply floating stuff does not come naturally. At all.

Yet for this year, I want to venture downriver and see what God has for me there, and I want to embrace it without reservation of whether or not I have the time or the capability. (Enneagram 5’s don’t do anything unless they feel they will be undeniably capable. That’s also exhausting.) I want to go around the turns and marvel at the glory and wonder of it rather than have it already planned out and categorized.

I want to be gobsmacked.

(No, that is not going to be my word. Even though it would look great in calligraphy hanging on the wall. A conversation starter, to be sure.)

What’s your vote? What’s your feeling or longing for this year? Do you have a word? What should mine be? I’d love to talk with you about it. After all, if I want to focus on what matters, one of those things would be you.

 

Surprised by Peace

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May is my favorite month. I gaze out the kitchen window at the brilliant pink crabapple trees standing over blushing tulips. Lilacs come into the house in bunches. Bikes come out for long rides, during which we smell morning rain over the forest preserve prairie. Sound carefree? Don’t let it fool you. This kind of peace doesn’t come easy in May. It’s also my craziest month.

 

When our oldest daughter got married two years ago, I informed my other two daughters they had to follow suit and keep all the family weddings in May. We could all go away for one big weekend to celebrate four anniversaries, one birthday, and Mother’s Day.

What’s the answer to craziness that threatens to steal our peace? Click on to the rest of this post at The Glorious Table to find out.