Though the Vision Tarries

Did you know that God promised Abraham offspring SEVEN times in a 24 year span before Sarah actually conceived? Isaac was born 25 years after the original promise. Seven times. Twenty-five years. That’s a lot of patience; a lot of waiting. A lot of trusting.

The first promise was very wonderful, but very general, and it also had a directive.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” (Gen 12:1-3)

God’s promises often come with an imperative: Trust me. Wait on me. Seek me. And sometimes something very radical: Leave your country! Leave your job! Give that money away! I want to bless you; I want to do something radical with your life, but first you have to make a very bold step, leave the comfortable and walk on water

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The first prophetic word I ever received came in 1989 via a Jamaican evangelist. (Yes, I’m married to a Jamaican now; coincidence?) It was a very general word promising great blessing, but the imperative was to trust, wait and stay. Stay put. God called Abraham to leave and He called me to stay. That was my water-walk; my soul-stretch; my faith challenge. Have you ever felt like God gives other people words you wish He’d given you? Don’t fret. God gives you exactly the words you need to hear. His blessings are tailor made for you; don’t covet someone else’s; they wouldn’t fit you.

Back to Abraham. The second promise was a bit more specific. Now God is talking about land:

The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land” (12:7).

After Abraham pulled up the tent pegs and moved, God got more specific. Sometimes more clarity comes only when we obey the instructions given thus far. Still, Abraham must have scratched his head and wondered about the “offspring” part. He was old and they had no kids! But perhaps God meant this figuratively…. Anyway, at 75, Abraham didn’t worry about that yet.

And then Abraham gets in the flesh and does something that could have aborted his entire destiny and ruined the family line. He gives his wife away – to save his own hide! Because of fear, Abraham lies and tells Pharaoh that beautiful Sarah is his sister. So Pharaoh takes her into his palace and gives Abraham expensive gifts in return! There is a chance that Abraham would have never seen his wife again, no less have children with her. (I’m sure Pharaohs don’t share their women!). But God. God intervened and saved the mission (12:17-20). He would not let Abraham’s fears and cowardice destroy His plan.

Afterwards, God reaffirms his promise; he talks about the land again, and then says that Abraham’s descendents would be like the dust of the earth – uncountable! It gets better and better – and more and more impossible with each passing year.

Then comes promise number four. This time, Abraham questions God. “O Sovereign Lord, what good are all your blessings when I don’t even have a son?” (15:2) And he suggests an alternative: Eliezer the servant will be the heir. He’s trying to figure it out.

But the Lord says to him, “No, your servant will not be your heir, for you will have a son of your own who will be your heir.” Then the Lord took Abram outside and said to him, “Look up into the sky and count the stars if you can. That’s how many descendants you will have!” (15:4-5)

And Abraham’s flesh gets in the way again. This time, his own reasoning leads him astray. Sarah suggests that the son may come through Hagar and Abraham agrees. Close, well-meaning people suggest Ishmaels. They want to see the promise come to pass almost as much as we do, but they don’t have faith for the supernatural – and so they suggest the natural – and our rational minds grab onto it. At this point, Abraham is 86; eleven years into the wait, almost halfway there, and he decides to take matters into his own hands. Be careful about what you do halfway through! Often our spirits give way, our flesh takes over and it takes years to recover.

But the Lord’s purpose prevails.

Thirteen years later, when Abraham is 99 years old, God comes and make the promise again – and this time, he institutes a sign of the covenant: circumcision (chapter 17). And God makes it clear that Ishmael is not the answer. Sarah herself will have a son and HE will be the heir. This is promise number six. Imagine that. For 13 years, Abraham thinks that Ishmael is the fulfillment, but God speaks and says, “No; it is Isaac, who is not yet born.”

This time God mercifully gives Abraham a specific time: “I will return to you about this time next year and your wife, Sarah, will have a son” (18:10). This is the seventh promise.

A year later, despite human fear, cowardice, unbelief and some major boo boos, God fulfills His promise.

I told you about the first prophetic word over me. Well, over the next 14 years God reaffirmed his promises to me through many different prophets. There was more direction: get your passport ready. Go to the nations. Get busy serving. Reach out to internationals. Go as an ambassador for the Kingdom. Be God’s mouth-piece. And many others … And they slowly started to specify that part of the blessing was the husband I wanted so badly. Finally, in 2003, a prophet clearly said, “Very soon you will meet your husband.” And less than a year later, he walked through the doors of my church. We didn’t seriously date until a year later, but I did meet my husband 10 months after the promise. That’s “soon,” even according to my impatient timetable! And yes, there were Ishmaels before the promise, some suggested by a well-meaning friends.

But God’s purpose prevailed.

If you have received the same promise over and over for 10, 20, 30 years and it still hasn’t materialized, take heart! You’re in good company! I ask only if you have done the directives God gave you, and if you have, then stand and wait to see the fulfillment of the Lord. Beware of Ishmaels. Don’t fret if you’ve made major mistakes. God has fixed worse messes than yours. The promise will come to pass, despite your frailties, mistakes and sins. Stay humble, repentant and open. Though the vision tarries, it will not tarry.

“Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it. For the vision is yet for an appointed time; but at the end it will speak, and it will not lie. Though it tarries, wait for it; because it will surely come, it will not tarry” (Hab 2:2-3)

The Art of Contentment

“… I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:12-13).

Contentment doesn’t come naturally to me. It could be a beautifully sunny day and in the back of my mind, I’m thinking/worrying about what we’ll do if it rains tomorrow. Left to myself, living in the moment and enjoying the moment is as foreign to me as bungee jumping. My mind naturally gravitates toward the future: planning for and/or worrying about what it may hold. Sometimes this is an asset. My husband is grateful that I’m thinking about our upcoming road trip: what Isaac will need and what gifts to bring our hosts. Often my planning, however, gives way to anxiety and crowds out any present reality or joy. Today is robbed by tomorrow’s maybes.

But the Holy Spirit is using my son to change me. Earlier today Isaac and I were sitting outside on the grass, wallowing in the sun. It is the first nice day in a long time and I packed a picnic lunch, spread a blanket on the lawn and drank in the warmth. Isaac started out on my lap but in a moment took off crawling in the grass, then came back to the blanket and back to me curious about what I was eating. He took a small taste and a drink from his sippy cup and went back into the grass to see what treasure he might find. A twig. A dried leaf. A piece of his apple. And then he saw it: a dog in the distance and his eyes lit up and danced; he giggled and clapped (his new skill) and watched until the dog faded from sight. And I got to watch the whole thing. Then a bird hopped through the grass and lifted off into flight right before his eyes: another delight, more giggling and clapping. And my heart is light – and content. These are halcyon days.

During such moments, I hear the Holy Spirit whispering, “Enjoy it.” Enjoy the simplicity, the pace. Take in the details. Watch him learn. Though sometimes the days feel long and I long to be busy, conquering the world and accomplishing great tasks, intuitively I know that this season is short and if I wish it away, I will miss one of the greatest blessings of my life: watching my son grow from a baby, to a boy, to a man.

Busyness will find me again. It always does. But now, today, I am taking joy in the simple things of life. I am content though the only thing I have “accomplished” thus far is loading the dishwasher. I am content with the 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep we got last night before the first cry (sleeping through the night will come, in due time). Content with a moderately clean house. Content with an hour spent giggling and clapping in the sun.

I am ashamed of the golden moments I missed because my heart refused contentment, because I chose to worry about tomorrow rather than seeing the beauty of today. But I can only throw myself at the feet of Jesus and ask Him to forgive and change me – and on days like today, I see progress.

Learning to Enjoy Solitude

We’re all lonely sometimes. I used to think it was an aliment of single women; that married women have the companionship of their husbands whenever they wanted or needed it and that single women alone knew the angst of rattling around an empty house and tucking solo into bed. But I was wrong. I recently spoke with a friend who married a medical student. She married young, so didn’t have the struggles of long years of singlehood, but she did have to deal with the realities residency. During those years she saw her husband little and cultivated a deeper intimacy with God.

Suddenly I realized that though she married in her early 20’s and I just 2 weeks shy of 40, we had learned similar lessons. God taught us both to see times of solitude as opportunities to grow closer to Him. We both had to learn a kind of independence: independence from men, so that we could learn greater dependence on God. I don’t mean that wives should be entirely independent from their husbands; that couples should live two separate lives (like so many career couples do). But I do mean that we women should be able to navigate life emotionally, leaning on God, content, decisive and peaceful, regardless of whether a man or our man is around or not.

Single, I knew many Friday nights eating pizza and watching CSI and sunny Saturdays walking paths alone. But as I thought about several of my friends who married younger, they too have to deal with a lot of alone time. Some are doctor’s wives, some husbands started their own businesses, some men travel a lot. The women in several cases have babies or children to attend to while their husbands fly all over the world or work late hours. Then I remembered reading that Ruth Graham practically raised the kids herself because Billy Graham traveled so much in their early years of marriage (and beyond). Thinking of this, I was newly grateful for having married later, AFTER my husband finished his graduate work. If we had married during PhD years, he would have been scarce too. Nevertheless, having chosen to stay at home with our son, I do know long hours alone, and in those moments I find myself drawing from what I learned years ago: to fill the house with music, journal and read the Word (when Isaac’s sleeping, that is…) or call a friend. And I realize that times of solitude are a part of life – and they need not be lonely.

I find it ironic that we women, who are generally so relational, are often called to times of alone-ness. Men seem to navigate such seasons more easily; they just get busy, bear down and do the job. But women are generally happier when we can enjoy intimate conversation on a regular basis (like, every day!). And yet, for every woman I know, including myself, this isn’t possible. We’re single, or our husbands are busy, or we are busy studying or working or meeting the needs of a child. Our need for intimacy can never be satisfied by a husband or friends alone; there is truly a God-shaped hole that only He can fill. Sometimes I think God leads us into places of solitude to remind us that only HE is near ALL the time.

Hos 2:14-16 “Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and will make the Valley of Achor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the days of her youth, as in the day she came up out of Egypt. “In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’ “

Meditations on Motherhood

What have I done?

That question shouted at me as I looked down at my son. And despair nearly gripped my heart. Now, it wasn’t post partum depression, though I think I had a mild bout of that initially, too. No, it was a tidal wave of emotion that nearly knocked me over.

As I gazed at my son, inspecting every piece of him, from his exquisite eye lashes, to his perfect mouth, delicious checks and breathtaking toes, I felt such overwhelming love I didn’t know how to deal with it. And right on the heels of that, intense vulnerability – like my heart was on a platter. The love was scary and helpless. What if something happened to him? What if he got really sick, or someone hurt him? What if he died?? I couldn’t handle those thoughts. It’s not like I got super morbid and meditated on losing my son all the time. It’s just that the reality hit me that there were no guarantees and that I loved him so much I felt that my heart might be torn asunder if I lost him.

Life magazine pictures of starving babies and sad babies zoomed past my mind. And I suddenly remembered movies about sons who died in battle or amidst street violence. I thought of Hannah giving up Samuel when he was but three years old, and of course I thought of God himself, giving up HIS only begotten son to die such a terrible death. The scene of Mary, in Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion, loving her son while he was being crucified became larger than life, and tears welled up as I remembered the part when little boy Jesus fell and Mary rushed to console him. I LOVE MY SON! And that is both wonderful and terrifying at the same time.

I also thought of someone daring to harm him and tasted the sobering reality that I would kill for my son – and die for him.

Less morbid I envisioned him walking to a friend’s house, riding in someone else’s car, going to school, climbing, riding a bike – driving. And, Oh God, going off to college. I couldn’t go there. Stages of independence and they made me cry, too.

On a happy note, I also saw him making the winning goal, mastering the piano piece, bringing home the “A,” graciously receiving his diploma and looking beautiful and strong on his wedding day. Yet more tears.

I experienced this vulnerability when I married my husband, too. I had waited a long time for the right man, and here he was, handsome and intelligent and perfect for me in every way. Instantly movies where husbands died were out of the question. I fought fear the first time he flew away on a business trip without me. Lord, bring him back to me safe. And I hope, like every woman who is in love, that we will die together and remain married in heaven.

With my son, it is similar feelings of love, plus the reality of his utter dependence on ME. His vulnerability, his fragility, his inability to tell me what hurts and why he’s sad. Those realities create yet another layer of heart wrenching emotions.

With love comes pain. Is it worth it?

Yes. I wouldn’t trade it. Silly me.

On another day, I asked myself the same question: What have I done?

This time I wondered why I chose such constant inconvenience – as I died to self every day.

When I put him down for a nap, excitedly planning what I was going to do for the two hours he would surely sleep. Ahhh, he’s OUT, dead weight in my arms. This is going to be a good nap. I’m going to do laundry and bake and return that phone call and work on my sermon and finish that article and take a nap and, and, and …Wait; HE’S AWAKE! But that was only 15 MINUTES! I’m tired. I can’t deal. I have to deal. I have no choice. Dad’s at work; there’s no way out.

And then there was that intimate moment that very night, interrupted by the unexpected cry. The laundry that has grown exponentially, the clothes that don’t fit anymore (I want to strangle the dear friend who assured me that that pounds would just melt away because I was breast feeding. I envisioned losing a pound every time I bared my breast. NOT!). And just how does one run in and out of the store with an infant in a car seat? Nothing’s easy anymore.

And boredom… Yeah, let’s talk about that! Oh, I’m not bored when he’s asleep; there are worlds to conquer when he’s blissfully napping. But what about those awake times when we’ve rattled every rattle and squeezed every teddy and I am chief entertainer. I wonder if he’s too young to watch a movie? No wonder mothers get addicted to soaps and junk food. There’s a part of motherhood that is just plain BORING and bearing tedium is a cross, too.

And how will I do juggling an infant AND a toddler. Wow. I can’t go there. I have grace only for the moment.

With love comes death – to self. Is it worth it?

Yes. I wouldn’t trade it. Silly me.

Changing the Sheets (New Mom Series)

“I changed the sheets today!”

“Great,” my husband responded with his mind clearly on something else.

“I finally got it done,”he piped in. “I sent in my abstract for the conference this Fall; it will be good to present this time.”

Marvin was invited to speak at an international science conference and he was happy to finish one of the requirements. I wasn’t happy for him though. All I could think about was the difference in our accomplishments. I was so proud of myself for FINALLY remembering to change the sheets on our bed and he was preparing to speak about cutting edge research in front of some of the world’s top scientists.

How far I have fallen.

In the past, I received praise all the time from my boss and co-workers. Someone was always slapping me on the back and saying, “Well done!” Then in my ninth month of pregnancy, I resigned from my job to be a stay-at-home mom. I was looking forward to it, dreaming of all the things I’d get done. But the reality of an infant soon sank in. Get a lot done?! If I did the chores, cared for my son and retained my sanity, it was a good day.

These days, I waited with bated breath at the dinner table, hoping Marvin would compliment the meal (granted, it was only spaghetti and sauce from a jar). And I definitely wanted him to sing my praises for at least 10 minutes about the sheets.

When compliments didn’t come, I got mad. “Here we go; he’s taking me for granted,”I fretted.

I wanted him to notice every little thing I did, from cleaning the kitchen to washing his clothes. The truth is, he often thanks me for what I do and appreciates my new role, but it was never enough. I felt starved for attention, thanks, praise. And this was becoming a source of contention in our marriage and unhappiness in me.

And then, one day, the Holy Spirit whispered a simple verse into my heart, “do(ing) the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men” (Eph 6:6-7).

There it was, that verse speaking a simple truth, “Do it unto the Lord, Nicole… Don’t work for your husband’s praise; work for mine.” In truth, my husband can’t appreciate every thing I do. He can’t pat me on my back and say Thank You all the time. But God sees everything. He sees all the behind-the-scenes service of a wife and mother and is ever ready to say, “Well done,”if we will but listen.

Managing a home and raising a child are two of the most hidden jobs we can do. No one sees most of the work; they see the results: a warm, comfortable home and a happy child, but they don’t see the process, the mundane things that create those realities. But God does. Nothing escapes his notice and he ever exhorts and promises:

“Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” (Gal 6:9)