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When Unfair Stings

The sight of them stung. Seeing all their kids set me off. The venom stole in under my skin and I started to scratch.

Am I the only one who overreacts to the sting of the unfairness bee?

Discontent is a fretting humor which dries the brain, wastes the spirits, and corrodes and eats the comfort out of life. Discontent makes a man so that he does not enjoy what he possesses.  Thomas Watson

Their kids were invited to the birthday party. Ours were not.

There were chairs to spare for all their kids and not two more for ours? I scanned the room for a logical reason why our boys were excluded: age or distance or relation? Nope. None of those fit. And the heat and the itch of that venom spread fast like when the real wasp stung.

So where are the boys tonight? a friend asked.

At home, <scratch> I said.

Then scratching again, I mumbled- and this was a bad reaction- They weren’t invited.

Envy and discontent spread. The more I scratched, the more I itched, like an out of control allergic reaction.

I knew what I had to do.

Stop that scratching.

Stay in your own lane. Mom Considine

I had to heed my mama. I had to do what Mom tells the grandkids to do when they compare their gifts then complain: Stay in your own lane. 

Stay in your own lane when you or someone you love is not invited. Stay in your own lane when your friend is gifted with a two weeks of tropical timeshare as you save all year for your five days on the beach.  And when a friend’s lucky connection lands him a job you’d love to have. Stay in your lane- and oh, this can be so hard- when marriage and babies and health come easy to some but not so easy to you.

You can take Mom’s advice too. Don’t scratch when unequal or unfair tempts you to discontent. Do what you’re supposed to do. Don’t complain. Run the race marked out for you

But I needed a pit stop before I could steer back to my own lane. So I pulled over and gave myself a good talking  in the ladies’ room: The hosts invited Jim and me to their party. We had no right to any invite with or without sons. Then my own words to those sons echoed loud: It’s okay that Sam’s invited to Jack’s house and you’re not, Gabe. Life’s not fair. And that’s okay. 

Stay in your own lane.

Or do you begrudge my generosity?

Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity? -Jesus

Do you know that parable Jesus told about the vineyard owner who hired workers at 7 am and 9 am and noon and at 5 pm, too? It’s in Matthew 20, and here’s how it ends:

Now when those hired first came, they thought they would receive more, but each of them also received a denarius.11 And on receiving it they grumbled at the master of the house, 12 saying, ‘These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.’ 13 But he replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.15 Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?’

Does even reading that make you itch? The guys who worked 10 or 12 hours got the same amount as the guys who worked one hour? Really, Jesus? That seems so unfair!

Fair isn’t equal.

Fair is whatever God wants to do –Leif Enger

I don’t know if it’s fair. but it certainly wasn’t equal.

Wise teachers and parents tell their kids, Fair isn’t equal. It’s getting what you need. And in his wisdom God deemed those vastly unequal hourly rates, were exactly the right wages- fair is whatever God wants to do. And I remember, getting invited to work in the vineyard was itself a gift. Any invite is a gift. But unfairness stings and discontent spreads when we begrudge others’ generosity.

Russell Moore explores this in Jesus Doesn’t Keep the Minimum Wage Laws: Following Christ When God Doesn’t Seem Fair

We don’t think the way God is bringing us into the kingdom is fair. So we grumble. We don’t understand the free heartedness of God. God knows what he is doing in your life. He is doing what it takes to conform you to the image of Christ…What we want is for it to make sense now, so we compare to others. We grumble against God. And Jesus is saying, “Don’t you see? You get to work in this kingdom?”

We get to work in the God’s kingdom. Do we see? Do we see past the second causes and believe God is working through even unfair stings  to conform us to the image of Jesus? Seeing that by faith is Benadryl to my soul. And I hear Jesus tell me, “Abigail, I have done you no wrong. Didn’t you agree to come? Don’t begrudge my generosity.

But for some of us with stronger reactions, Benadryl’s not enough. We need an injection to help us see.

Our EpiPen against unfair: You follow me.

Complaining is not a bad habit. It’s evil and satanic. It is a repudiation of the Gospel. -David Prince

These three words are the strongest antidote to the soul-killing effect of discontent’s venom. If Benadryl slows the spread, then these three words are the EpiPen that stops it dead. 

Remember at the end of John’s Gospel, when the seven disciples had just finished fish and bread breakfast on the beach, cooked over coals by the resurrected Lord. Now Peter and Jesus are alone. Peter has just confessed his love and reaffirmed his call to follow Christ. All is well.

Then Jesus ends their little talk with some hard words for the Rock, to show him by what kind of death he was to glorify God. Peter turns and sees John, the disciple whom Jesus loved.  And I think the unfair bee stung Peter just then. Because he asks, “Lord, what about this man?”

I can hear Mom say,  Stay in your own lane, Peter. Jesus says it this way,

If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!

You follow me. Down a different, unequal but still grace-lined path.

Because overreactions can kill.

[T]he angry man lays all his comforts at the mercy of every wasp that will strike at him. –Matthew Henry

It might seem little, this little party invitation sting. You’re right, in a way it is. The stinger is tiny but the venom- actually the body’s over-reaction to the venom- can be deadly.

I know this. Because 20 years ago a single wasp nearly killed me. One little sting was all it took to land me in the ER with a racing heart and dizzy, with puffy Gumby-like limbs and an irresistible itch from my scalp to my soles. But the epinephrine injections stopped my body from its out-of-control anaphylactic response.

Basically, my immune system overreacted to the venom and released chemicals that led to horrible allergy symptoms. I overreacted. So it wasn’t the sting itself that brought me to the ER. It was my own body’s response to it. Attempting to protect itself from the sting, my body stung me worse.

And discontentment, like an anaphylactic reaction, is more deadly to our souls than “provocation” of the sting.

Be a spiritual bee. 

There is no provocation given us at any time but, if it be skillfully and graciously improved, there is good to be gotten by it…It is an ill will indeed out of which the spiritual bee cannot extract something profitable.-Matthew Henry

I could have let the sting come between the host of the party and me.  I could have kept scratching that unfair itch.

But really, I couldn’t have.

I’ll explain: After my scary, allergic reaction I knew I had a problem. With as much as I loved autumn running and hiking, the risk of a worse reaction was all-too-real.

So I signed up for five years of desensitization shots. They “taught” my body to handle the venom in the sting of even a hundred wasps and bees. And living years under God’s grace has trained  me not to react so badly.

Obviously,  I still react. The sight of the kids provoked me. It stung and I scratched.

Desensitize yourself by grace.

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. –David

But instead of continuing to scratch that itch, I auto-injected truth. Like how the lavishness of God’s grace to me is as far from fair and equal as east is from west. Like how complaining is conduct unbecoming a child of God. How scratching the itch by venting and complaining is not merely a bad habit. It is evil.

To gripe about unequal grace is a repudiation of the Gospel. And to move out of my lane and refuse the divine antidote- YOU FOLLOW ME- is to begrudge the God of all grace who gives to each one of us- not equally, but unequally and lavishly – as He wills. God gives us what we need to grow us up like Jesus. Our Father knows best and I want to be His spiritual bee.

So I left restroom and returned to the party room. My friend Meg’s son sat alone at our table. I plopped down and asked, How old are you now, Tim? You’re getting so big. Just then Meg came back with food for Tim and asked, So where are your guys anyway?

This time I didn’t scratch. They’re having some good Grandma and Grandpa time tonight.

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Still Teaching Me

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Grandma reading with great grandson Gabe, June, 2016.

Grandma was a teacher. Even though she’s been home with Jesus for a year- as we count time- Grandma is still teaching me. But not just me.

Grandma had lots of students.

Decade after decade after decade-33 years, I think- she taught first and second grade. She didn’t stop teaching when her own kids came. Grandma kept teaching right on through the raising of the five she bore plus the seven more that came when she married my widower Grandpa.

Grandma didn’t stop teaching when she retired from the Portage School District. She kept right on teaching her beloved Sunday school kids, up to her last few months. She taught those kids Adam and Ahab, Joshua and Jacob, Elijah and Deborah and David. And learning faith from Grandma means those lessons won’t soon be forgotten.

Grandma also taught the ladies she she affectionately called her “jail girls.”  Somehow Grandma found a righteous way into the prison system after she left the schools. How many girls learned real mother love and true life skills from Grandma, we’ll never know.

Grandma was always ready with a lesson.

One Saturday two months or so before Grandma passed, I happened to be there when one of her jail girls called. Grandma listened a while, nodding now, furrowing her brow then. And the lesson was ready:

Happiness comes from giving, she assured one who was consumed with what she was not getting.

Grandma was a teacher and grandma was a giver.

On her last Mother’s Day she explained to her Sunday school class, “Kids, Elaine is not well. Her body has a problem that will not get better. Ms. Betty will teach you now. I know you will listen well to her just like you listened to me.”
Grandma was still teaching then, lessons in grace and faith. And not just to her third graders.

 

Grandma taught lots of lessons.

 

And even though she’s been gone for a year, the lessons remain. Lessons like these:

Thank. I remember when I helped her into the tub last summer for one of her last beloved soaks in the big old tub. Maybe, in ignorance and haste, we even got her stoma gear wet and had to unpeel and reseal and it was a bother. But Grandma just said,

That’s great. Thank you. Hallelujah!- This feels so good. 

Grandma taught me gratitude.

Fight. It was the fight of her life, facing her death with strong, living faith, but Grandma was not fearful. George Washington said as he lay dying, I die hard, but I’m not afraid to go.

Grandma said the same thing, in her own way. When we’d ask her to rate her pain, she said,

I’m not in a pleasant place for pain. 

And she fought on, with her sword of the spirit and helmet of salvation. Strong in her faith, Grandma was taught me how to fight the good fight.

Joy. Grandma was- and still is, I’m sure- a merry, exuberant soul. I recited a verse last summer I’d been memorizing about being sealed for the day of redemption. Grandma fist pumped exultantly and said,

That’s me. I’m sealed.

Or when she told me that joke about the wife who told her husband, I’d like something that’s shiny medal and goes 0-150 in seconds. Grandma paused, then grinned. 

So her husband bought her a brand new scale. For sure, Grandma taught me to laugh.

IMG_4654Pray. It seemed such a strange inversion for a dying grandma to be praying for a healthy granddaughter. But she did. How she did! Before I left on my two hour ride home she’d pray travel mercies for me.

I remember, too, how she asked me to pray for her as she met with a troubled young soul weeks before she died.

Pray Lacy will see God’s love.

And Grandma taught me to pray.

Read. Not that I needed too much instruction here. But she also helped teach my son Gabe to read. To sound out words and think about them as he did. Last summer, while reading about a funny goat named King Puck, she corrected,

“Disappear” not “desire,” Gabe. 

And while her library shelves overflowed with books of all sorts, there was one she read by far the most. Every morning she’d read the next chapter, from the drawer in the kitchen table the Amish built special for that book. Then in bed at night, she’d open it again for more. Grandma taught me to crave that living Word.

Give. Even in the last months, Grandma kept a stash of candy in the pantry. In the last months an aunt would fill it up, but even before those days, when there no solid food would stay in Grandma’s stomach, Grandma made sure the jars were filled up.
That was nothing new. One of  my earliest memories of she and Grandpa from 35 years ago was how they’d dole out baggies of M&M’s- maybe to help keep us quiet in the pew. In M&M baggies and from ever-full candy jars, Grandma taught me to to give.

Sing. How Grandma loved to sing! So they came. Her family came Sunday night after Sunday night in Grandma’s last summer to sing. Uncle Nathan brought a box of hymnals and cousins and aunts and uncles would sing hymns. Grandma loved them all.

But one of her favorites was Trust And Obey. Her choice- one of Grandma’s funeral songs- is still teaching me.

When we walk with the Lord in the light of His Word, What a glory He sheds on our way!

While we do His good will, He abides with us still, And with all who will trust and obey.

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way

To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet. Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.

What He says we will do, where He sends we will go; Never fear, only trust and obey.

The book she loved to read the most- the book that taught her to thank and fight and rejoice and give- has in it this line: To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

So while Grandma is now happy in fellowship sweet, her lessons are still teaching me.

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4 Words You Don’t Want Stuck In Your Head (And 1 You Do)

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Both boys started at a brand new school this week. New teachers, new classmates, new lunch menus. They love it- especially lunch. We love it and are glad they love lunch. Our thumbs are up for different reasons, but three days in, the new school seems like a great fit.

And I’d be lying if I said, If only we had moved them here sooner hadn’t crossed my mind. If only we had enrolled them before the 7th grade and 4th, maybe they’d have missed some of those pitfalls.

I’d be lying if I denied If only’s criss-cross my mind.

If Only I Had…

We all think them. Sometimes it’s after a happy discovery. As in, If only I had known how much they’d love this broccoli-brownie recipe. They would have eaten cruciferous long before now- or like mine, If only they had gone to this school sooner. 

More often though, the If only I had’s that get stuck in our heads come when bad things happen. As in, If only we had left a minute earlier, there’d have been no accident. Or, If only I had called the doctor at the first pang, I’d have missed all this mess. 

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If only’s are some of the sneakiest is Satan’s vast arsenal. They are joy-taking, grumpy-making words. If we let them rest in our heads, they’ll paralyze our spiritual lives.

If-only-I-would-have’s drive out living hope with dead regret. 

Lethal Meditation

You cannot keep birds from flying over your head, Luther said, but you can keep them from building a nest in your hair. 

But the enemy would love us to be stuck in that rut with a nest of If only’s stuck on our heads. He’d love our If only’s to stink up the present and suck up our life-giving hope.

When we dwell on how life would have been better if we had only known this or done that, we let those dirty birds nest in our hair. Our if-only-I-had’s are a form of meditation- lethal, life-stealing type of meditation.

If only I had’s misplace our focus from the faithfulness and love of our all-wise God to how things would have gone, if I were god. If only I had’s keep us stuck on what cannot be undone. If only I knew’s tell us that we can only find purpose and joy if we know why- one of Satan’s most deadly lies.

Would You Stop The Wheels Of Providence?

If only’s steal joy from ourselves and glory from God. And the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. Joy and meaning come when we live out into this reason we were created, and glorify God (Isaiah 43:7). And we reflect His glory when we act, think, feel and live in ways that call attention to the goodness and greatness of God.

But settling in If-Only-Land does not call attention to the goodness and greatness of God. Instead, settling there is second guessing the goodness of the God who guides us with his counsel and leads us for his name’s sake. The God whose ways are inscrutable ways. Providential, interconnected ways.

When a child looks at a clock, it looks first at one wheel, and then at another wheel; he does not look at them all together or the dependence that one has upon another; but the workman has his eyes on them all together and sees the dependence of all, one upon another; so it is in God’s providence…So when God has ordered a thing for the present to be thus and thus, how do you know how many things depend upon this thing? God may have some work to do twenty years hence that depends on this passage of providence that falls out this day or this week.  Jeremiah Burroughs, Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment

When I allow If-only-I-had’s to nest on my head, I’m a child fixated on stopping one gear, not seeing how stopping this gear stops all the other connected gears. I don’t see that God may have a thousand good things that he has to bring about, and those thousand good things may depend on this one thing that I’m wishing had never been.

So, no: dwelling on if-only* is never good.

Learning from Scripture’s If Only We Had’s 

The Israelites lived in If-only Land. They may as well have coined the phrase. “The rabble with them began to crave other food, and again the Israelites started wailing and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat!’ (Num. 11:4). “If only we had died by the Lord’s hand in Egypt! There we sat around pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex. 16:3).

They let those birds nest. When Moses and Aaron warned them to leave If-Only Land, they refused to move on. So for forty years they remained stuck in that wilderness land.

Contrast that with King David’s “If-Only-I-Had.” His came after his rebel son Absalom died. At first glance his words sound a lot like the desperate rabble’s: “The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33)

But that’s where the comparison ends. When Joab saw the king camping in dangerous If-Only Land, he warned him. “Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants…So the king arose and took his seat in the gate,” (2 Samuel 19:7, 8).

Scripture’s If-only-I-had’s betray impatience with or mistrust in God. Dwelling on those four words reveal hearts that refuse to go at God’s pace to his place or hearts that would second guess the discipline of a loving Father.

Neither response reflects His grace and glory to a watching world.

The God of Hope

Eight years ago this month, my niece Hope was born. By that time, she was already home with Jesus. The loss of Hope was great. Scars remain and grief comes in waves and life is never the same.

But.

But Danielle and Drew know. They know there will come a joyful reunion one day. They know that the LORD will swallow up death forever and wipe away tears from all faces (Isaiah 25:8). They know that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4).

And they know- really know- intimately and in real life and real time- know the God of hope (Romans 15:13). He fills them with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit they abound in hope (Romans 15:14). They abound in hope because they know the God of hope. The God of Hope.

But there is something big they don’t know.

If Only I Knew Why

I have a handful of friends who have endured unthinkable, tragic loss.  If-only-I-knew-why has danced through every one of their heads. And without exception, each one has relinquished her demand to know and understand why.

Vaneetha Rendall Risner isn’t a personal friend, but she has also endured,”unspeakable, unexpected, and preventable,” loss. Vaneetha says, If-only-I-knew-why had her bound.

While I thought that freedom would be found in answers, true freedom was actually found in surrender. I didn’t need to figure it out. It didn’t need to make sense to me. I didn’t need to understand the details. I just needed to trust God. Trust him because he is infinitely wiser, more loving, and more purposeful than I am.

[I]f we could see what God sees, we would be stunned. There is much more taking place in the heavenly realms than we can fathom.

God is infinitely more purposeful than any of us. And he always has a reason. He’s probably got many, because He alone knows all the facts. John Piper says, “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” Or none.

By faith, we believe there are reasons. Good reasons. Reasons for delays in our plans and  for huge, unspeakable losses.

Even if we can’t name a single one.

If You Knew All The Facts…You’d Set Your Mind On Hope

Someone once said, God’s will is what you’d desire if you knew all the facts. I like that. It makes me see that most of my If only I had’s come when I don’t trust God knows all the facts. That’s when I end up in If-only Land with a nest on my head. 

So while the boy’s education to date isn’t exactly how I would have planned, I won’t look back. I know God guided us here this year. Not last year- there were too many gears, too many necessary and good connections. He brought us here this year, with His own hand.

Let me close with a little more about Hope.

In the the days and weeks and months after Hope’s birth, my sister and her husband did wonder why. We allwondered why. No test or doctor could explain why they couldn’t get to know Hope this side of heaven.

But Danielle and Drew did not let If-only’s trump hope in their heads. They traded 4 words for 1. They set their hope fully on grace.

And, boy, did that make their God look grand.

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

1 Peter 1:13

*If only’s in this post refer to morally-neutral choices we wish we had made in retrospect. They do not refer to the Spirit-given good conviction that we have sinned and need to repent. The language of repentance is not generally, If only I had, but Against you only have I sinned. But maybe your If only I had needs to be forgiven. More on that, here.