Exodus map

Disappointment —> His Appointment

organizer-791939__340.jpg

What’s the biggest disappointment of your life?

Maybe it’s a high hope that came smashing down with an injury, a breakup, a loss. Or maybe it was a noble dream- for healing, for children, for peace- that has slowly fizzled out.

I had some disappointment last week when some grand plans I had for myself and my family didn’t pan out. The details don’t matter. What matters infinitely more is that I learn to do disappointment well.

Because how I cope with my disappointment reflects a lot on my God.

For God’s Sake, Do Disappointment Well

My learning to cope has been slow. The devils of Self-pity and I-deserve are right there, crouching at my door, desiring to have me the second my plans fall through.

But I am learning.  Here are two things I know about coping with disappointment.

  1. Joy comes when we choose what we did not choose.
  2. Grumbling won’t make the bitter taste go away, but gratitude will.

But the third is new- or maybe it’s just a new spin on the first two.

See God’s Hand in the Crooked Path

In my disappointment, Ecclesiastes 7:14 gives me pause: Consider the work of God, for who can make straight what God has made crooked? 

Thomas Boston wrote a book on that one verse. It’s called The Crook in the Lot. Crook is short for crooked and lot is as in one’s “lot in life.”

Boston writes,

I am now meeting only what has been determined by his eternal plan. I know not what is the “reason” why it was appointed; but I see that God had resolved to do it, and that it is vain to resist him.”

When we are disappointed, can we say the same thing? That it’s not by chance or accident, but by His appointment?

Boston adds,

It is much, when we are afflicted, to be able to make this reflection. I had rather be afflicted, feeling that it is “the appointment of God,” than feeling that it is “by chance” or “hap-hazard.”

It speaks comfort to the afflicted children of God to consider that whatever the crook in your lot is, it is of God’s making and therefore you may look upon it kindly since it is your Father who made it for you. Question not but that there is a favorable design in it toward you.

And by some miracle of grace, that’s what saints do with their disappointment. They trust that there is a favorable design in their disappointment.

Because God makes no mistakes.

Too Wise and Too Loving to Err

John Paton and his pregnant wife Mary left Scotland to be missionaries to the New Hebrides islands in the South Pacific on April 16, 1858. They arrived on November 5th.  In March 1859, his wife and newborn son died.

Talk about a bitter taste and a crook in the lot.

After Paton buried his beloved wife and infant son, he said,

I felt her loss beyond all conception or description, in that dark land. It was very difficult to be resigned, left alone, and in sorrowful circumstances; but feeling immovably assured that my God and father was too wise and loving to err in anything that he does or permits, I looked up to the Lord for help, and struggled on in His work…

I do not pretend to see through the mystery of such visitations – wherein God calls away the young, the promising, and those sorely needed for his service here; but this I do know and feel, that, in the light of such dispensations, it becomes us all to love and serve our blessed Lord Jesus so that we may be ready at his call for death and eternity.

It does. In our disappointment, it becomes us all to rest assured of our God’s wisdom and love.

Love Leads in the Opposite Direction

I’ve been camping in the land Exodus lately and was greatly impacted by Tim Keller’s sermon on chapter 19.

The Israelites are three months out of Egypt but further from the Promised Land than they were before they left.

Exodus from Egypt map, ESV Study bible

God, for kind reasons of his own (Ex. 13:17), led the people in nearly the opposite direction of their destination and he took them into a desert. A mountainous, barren desert. A land far worse than Egypt.

I love how Keller explains this “history of grace,”

God says I’m going to take you over here, but I’m going to take you by way of a place that is farther from Egypt and a land that is worse than Egypt. And that’s where he meets them. And it is often so…

If you admit it, you’re further away from the the things you thought God would be giving you than you were when you trusted him and it seems like God is taking you in the opposite direction.

So often the history of grace in our lives follows this same path. God seems to be taking us away from where we thought we were going, but he’s still leading us to the Promised Land.

In other words, our disappointment is God’s appointment. That’s how God’s grace often comes.

Disappointment, His Appointment

It just so happens that the very same day I wept myself dry, I ran across this poem.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Change one letter, then I see
That the thwarting of my purpose
Is God’s better choice for me.
His appointment must be blessing,
Tho’ it may come in disguise,
For the end from the beginning
Open to His wisdom lies.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Whose?  The Lord, who loves me best,
Understands and knows me fully,
Who my faith and love would test;
For, like loving earthly parent,
He rejoices when He knows
That His child accepts, UNQUESTIONED,
All that from His wisdom flows.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
“No good thing will He withhold,”
From denials oft we gather
Treasures of His love untold,
Well He knows each broken purpose
Leads to fuller, deeper trust,
And the end of all His dealings
Proves our God is wise and just.

“Disappointment — His Appointment”
Lord, I take it, then, as such.
Like the clay in hands of potter,
Yielding wholly to Thy touch.
All my life’s plan in Thy moulding,
Not one single choice be mine;
Let me answer, unrepining —
“Father, not my will, but Thine.”

-Edith Lillian Young

No sugarcoating: “doing” disappointment this way is both a bitter pill and a sweet remedy. I cried hard last week. Coping with disappointment this way hurts my flesh. But as it does, it heals my soul.

Even when I don’t know why, I’m learning to change that one letter and see that His appointment is a better choice for me.

“For He performs that which is appointed for me…”

Job 23:14a

Exodus map

Like You Wrote It? When You’re Not Living The Dream

Like You Wrote It?

It didn’t sit right.

That America’s funny, wholesome family man- The Cosby Show was one of 3 sitcoms mom let us watch- would say something like that didn’t fit. It sounded smug, arrogant, proud.

I won’t comment on Bill Cosby’s fall from grace and imprisonment, except to say, It’s all so sad.

But Cosby’s comment does make more sense now.

These are not the exact words I heard on the TV interview two decades ago, but these are attributable, and they’re close. When asked about married life, Cosby said with that big easy grin of his,

We are living it now just like we wrote it.

It hit me wrong. Because even then, fresh out of grad school, newly married in my early 20’s, with a house and a job and good  friends, I may have been living somebody’s dream, but I knew I wasn’t living mine

My story had already taken some twists and turns I couldn’t have imagined, much less written 20 years ago. Let’s just say, I didn’t think I’d be playing these roles, with the “cast”  now. I’m not (mostly) living my dreams. This isn’t how I wrote the story.

Which is really no matter.

Playing The Part

Because, my life is not really my show.

C.S. Lewis explained like this: We do not know the play. We do not even know whether we are in Act I or Act V. We do not know who are the major and who the minor characters. The Author knows. We are led to expect that the Author will have something to say to each of us on the part that each of us has played.

The playing it well is what matters infinitely.

God wrote us each into this story, where He wanted us. He’s the Author of our salvation (Hebrews 12:2) and  the Director of our hearts (2 Thessalonians 3:5). And He casts each of us in his grand play to the praise of his glory (1 Corinthians 7:17).

And when we are on our set stages- and in our waiting stages- playing our roles with joy and thanks, we make Him look great.

Testify to Grace

Paul said something 2,000 years ago that ties all this story-play-dream stuff together for me.

In Acts 20 Paul shares some sobering last words with some old friends, church leaders from Ephesus. He explain that he will go to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to him there.

In other words, Paul didn’t know what turns his story will take. No worries, though, because not knowing the story didn’t stop him from playing his part well. Heres’s how he summed up that part (Acts 20:24):

But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 

Is that the aim of our lives too?

Different Stories, Same Aim

Our stories are so different. But, John Piper explains, in Christ,

We do all have the same essential goal: to magnify the glory and the greatness of the grace of God in Jesus Christ. This is the racecourse all Christians are running. The turns and the terrain are different. The aim is the same.

This means we embrace the fact that we do not write our own stories. We don’t know the next page, let alone the next chapter. The way there is unknown.

Our stories twist and turn,

[A]round the corner called future and disappears into the unknown. Therefore, the unwasted life is always lived one step from the unknown. This is what faith is for. “By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8). That’s what faith does.

I don’t want to waste my life. Which means I need to rest content with the unknown next chapters and with parts I wouldn’t have scripted this way.

Not Living the Dream is Still Alright With Me

So, no. I wouldn’t have written myself in this way- not into this marriage or this job, not these boys, this house, or this blog. (Well, I guess I do write the blog. But it wasn’t my dream. My friend Traci spurred it on.)

But I do know this story I’m in, with both its surprise twists and its storylines that feel more static than I’d write, was scripted by God. 

And- oft in sorrow, oft in woe– often way too slowly both for the characters around me and for me- I’m learning that it’s not so much what part I play but how I play that part that matters.

Oh, sure, sometimes I let my hungry eyes drift to what seem like others’ storybook lives and dream up different parts for me. But my aim is to play my part well, which is to testify to the grace of God.

And the great thing is, I don’t have to have to be living like I wrote it, living the dream, to do that.

In fact, God’s grace might just look that much greater when the testimony to it comes from one whose story is not just like he wrote it.

I know, O LORD, that the way of man is not in himself, that it is not in man who walks to direct his steps.

Jeremiah 10:23

Exodus map

Got a Teen? (Lean Hard)

If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a fifty times, probably ten in the last two weeks:

God picked Sam for us and He picked us for Sam. 

So this match is a good match. A perfect match, in fact. Even if we struggle sometimes and butt heads. Even if we wouldn’t have picked each other. 

Our family is perfectly fit together. Because God’s ways are perfect and all he does is good.  Because God is always good

Leaning Hard

I’ve never doubted that. But, boy, how I’ve had to lean into that truth a lot lately.

Because disappointment and frustration and troubles of diverse parent-child types have disturbed our peace and bad, scrambled weeks have come around more often than either one of us would wish.

Parenting keeps teaching me- driving me, really- to lean hard on my sovereign, good God.

You more experienced moms out there- I hear you.

You’re nodding, now, and saying, “Just you wait. Keep leaning, sister. Keep right on leaning on the everlasting arms.”

I know it. I’ve been mom to a teen for not quite all of one day, but already I know you are right. I need God’s help. Letting said son have the last word takes epic resurrection power.

And while physical dependence equals immaturity or weakness, dependence on God marks the strongest of saints.

To a Different Drummer

Today Sam turned 13. The “teen-scene” is new to all of us. But Sam has never been our puppet on a string.  From day one- when I first held that stoic 6-month old in the the airport terminal- Sam has always been his own man.

Way back to that furry red, Elmo-basket hat, Sam has marched to his own (thanks, Dad) bagpipes-and-drums beat.

To this prone to bossing mama, God gave a strong son, who wouldn’t be overborne.  And while I might have wished for a kid who would play the sports and read the books and make the friends that I might pick for him, that’s not Sam.

Because Sam’s my beloved son- our A#1. And training him is a big means that God is using to shape me. To train me to cry out and pray when things don’t go my way.

And, for the record, nothing that pushes us to pray is a bad thing.

Humbled And Exposed

So I refuse to write-off or ride out these teen-age years. No, I want to exploit these years.

I want to be shaped by every ounce of Christ-conforming experience that these teenage years afford.

It won’t be easy. It’s not easy. When A#1 calls me out- my motives,  my computer use, my eating habits, my tone of voice- it’s humbling. Having our selfish ways exposed is hard.

In Age of Opportunitywhich I’d highly recommend for parents of teens- Paul David Tripp, nails this truth.

The tumult of the teen years is not the only about the attitudes and actions of teens, but the thoughts, desires, attitudes and actions of parents as well. The teen years are hard for us because they tend to bring out the worst in us.

Those years are hard for us because they expose the wrong thoughts and desires of our own hearts….These years are hard for us because they rip back the curtain and expose us. This is why trials are so difficult, yet so useful in God’s hands.

We don’t radically change in a moment of trial. No, trials expose what we have always been. Trials bare things to which we would have otherwise been blind.

And seeing those things, so we can change these things, is a good thing.

Rats in the Cellar

And we rejoice in our suffering. In our exposures and in our parenting disappointments and broken dreams and let-downs.

C.S. Lewis called those things rats in the cellar. So, too, the teen years expose us. But really, so did the infant years and the toddler years. All the years are capable.

Now he catches me micromanaging his alarm clock, and arguing about video game time, and being stubborn about hoodies and tennis shoes.  These are my rats in the cellar now. Some of my rats.

Like when Sam crept out from a nap early and caught me red-handed eating a forbidden food for a 3- year old. My rats in the cellar were brownies in the pantry.

And my snacking habits were forever changed, because I’d been exposed.

That We Might Not Rely On Ourselves

So while conflict and clash in this little clan can sometimes feel like a royal battle, they’re not. Sometimes I am hard-pressed, but I am not crushed, I’m praying more, leaning more and relying more on my God to bring his perfect will to pass than I did before.

And all of that is good.

Because we like to think we can pull things off- even things like raising kids- on our own. I think Apostle Paul felt like he could handle anything. He was intelligent and articulate and influential.

And, as Ray Steadman explains,

[R]epeatedly God had to break that, to put him in circumstances he could not handle, that he might learn not to rely on himself, but on God, who raises the dead. That is the major reason, I think, for suffering, which is the pressure that is designed to destroy our determined stubbornness. Paul has learned to trust God to take him through whatever life throws at him, no matter what it is.

No matter if there’s a teen-ager in the house.

We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death.

But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

2 Corinthians 1:8b-9